The basic form of the “MOTIF Exercise” in the PSP approach seen through Gestalt therapy principles

NOTE [1]: This is a draft intended to be published (for the References, please  contact me)
NOTE [2]: This article is actually the 1st part of the draft. To see about the “SHARING” and the  “MATRIX” variations of this exercise, you may visit this link. 



Awareness is itself an experience (Yontef, 1993), and a key concept in Gestalt therapy, conceived much thorougher than in other modalities.
Awareness is also a natural skill of all humans, that can be further trimmed.
The motif exercise is a way to do so, not only in psychotherapy, but also in other fields involving in any way process and awareness work.
Especially in Gestalt therapy, this exercise can be seen as an “experiment”, able not only to enhance awareness, but also to produce significant material for further and deep therapeutic work.

The coral idea of this kinetic pattern is that the the person performing it engages in alternating cycles consisting
(a) of repetitive kinetically improvised patterns and
(b) of spontaneous smooth passages to new such kinetic patterns. In this way, the person trains to “surrender” to the spontaneous improvisational development of her experiential stream, while in parallel developing significantly awareness in its wholeness.

Key words: basic awareness, conscious awareness, awareness enrichment, process, kinetic pattern, experiment



This article is about the concept of the “motif”, that may be potentially useful as a secondary tool to Gestalt therapists involving body work in their practice.
The “motif” concept was born as part of my approach PSP (Process-Stage-Praxis), which is based entirely on Gestalt therapy ideas; especially, it has much to do with the words process and awareness.
Thus, it is rather useful to start with a short introductory note specifying my way to use such terminology.    


Introduction (1): about PSP.

PSP is an approach that I gradually developed while working as a Gestalt therapist.
The motif exercise is my personal personal way to expand my palette of tools as a Gestalt therapist.
However, as it is developed, it can be potentially useful to anybody working in any way with process and awareness.

PSP is not art therapy, music therapy drama therapy or dance therapy, it is not a psychotherapeutic modality by itself or a somatic therapy, it is not theatre.
PSP is simply a complementary tool potentially useful to someone working in these fields – especially in the field of psychotherapy, on both an individual and a group level.

PSP by no means substitutes the already acquired skills of the person who is using it in his work – it just complements and supports such skills.
PSP today has got many applications: in psychotherapy, education, organisations and the work field, art, social interventions, etc; it also by now includes a training in PSP itself level.
So, it is addressed to anybody working in the broader range of humanistic ideas: psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, educators, life-coachers, people working in the health or work field, artists, etc.

PSP is theoretically based, on one hand, exclusively on the principles and inspirations inherent in the philosophy on which is built the Gestalt therapy perspective; on the other hand, its praxis is based on some original concepts invented to support its practice (however, still, these concepts are based on the Gestalt therapy principles as well).
The motif exercise is a coral one between these concepts – another one is the “personal film”, which was presented also in BGJ – 2011, Vol. 20, No. 1, 34–41 (see this link).


Introduction (2): about the concepts of “process” and “awareness” in this article.

Firstly, by the word “process” I mean the flow, the stream of our usual everyday experience.
This stream involves three layers.
(1) The first one is mental: what happens in my mind.
(2) The second one is emotional, which regards affects, emotions, feelings and moods.
(3) The third one is physical-sensory: it has to do (3a) with what happens in my body, and (3b) with what my senses are importing as I phenomenologically live into the world.

And the word awareness, very roughly, can be seen as every human’s ability to be in tune with, or to sense from moment to moment what happens in her subjective physical and psychological experiential reality on all these three levels.
It is important to note that in Gestalt therapy awareness involves consciousness, but it is not just consciousness (which is a mental function); moreover, it is not just introspection (Yontef, 1993), and by no way just “self-observation” or “understanding”  with my mind.
So, in a simplified approach, we speak of body awareness, of mental awareness, of emotional awareness.

Additionally, Perls defined 3 zones of awareness (Mann, 2010): the inner zone (processes of internal phenomena, like feelings, emotions, dreams, bodily sensations), the middle zone (cognitive processes, consciousness, memories, fantasies), the outer zone (processes of contact functions while we perceive our outer world and engage in interactions).
It is very important to underline that the motif exercise, even if it has primarily to do with the body, it can be used to enhance not only body awareness but also awareness on ALL these levels.
Finally, I see two fundamental kinds of awareness, the “basic” and the “conscious” one, which will be defined in what follows.


Notes about its theoretical foundation.

In everyday life we use our bodies in a rather constricted abstract area, defined by the socially “allowed” gestures and movements.
It is like a kind of a narrow “energetic egg”: we do not open much knees, elbows and hands, we do not bend our vertical axis. So, muscles, tenons, blood vessels and other anatomical elements work within a rather habitual functional range, producing messages that there is no need to be recorded by our awareness.
We do not feel our heart beat, we do not feel tension in our legs when we walk, etc.
And in every day activity, more or less, we are not aware of our bodies either because we do not need to be, or because we are familiar to its usual processes and to the messages generated by its various functional structures.

The motif exercise is based on a very simple idea: to move in a certain way that may renew and enrich the messages generated within our bodies, resulting, as we shall see, to important benefits regarding our awareness processes.
Such results can be a significant starting point for further therapy work. Someone may object by claiming that such enrichment of bodily messages can happen in any way pushing us beyond our habitual “energetic egg”: fitness, playing games involving physical activity, sex, etc.
However, the motif exercise aims to do so
(a) in a way that takes from the very beginning into account all the three awareness levels: mental, emotional, physical ones, knowing that in an holistic perspective physical movement produces also psychological movement, and
(b) in a way that can support the overall sense of the Gestalt therapy work.


The basic form of the motif exercise step by step.

…(1) Let us take any short repetitive movement involving any body members or groups of members: this is the 1st step of the exercise. Such improvised movement, is called in PSP a “motif”: a short repetitive kinetic pattern.

…(2) The 2nd step of the exercise is to go on repeating the pattern that I chose. It is like engaging in a kind of automatic movement.
While performing such a repetitive pattern, let us call the kind of awareness produced “basic” awareness.
By this term I mean a kind of awareness that does not involve much my cognitive functions, but mostly a primary bodily sense and primary emotions (affects). In basic awareness there can be thinking, but thinking is meant more as a process, than focusing consciously on abstract thoughts or in “consciously knowing what I am doing now”.
In other words, following Perls’s conception of the 3 zones of awareness, we could say that in this 2nd step the middle zone of awareness is not very strongly functioning, and also that there is not so much (or not at all) participation of our conscious thinking.
So, in the 2nd step of the exercise we have mainly basic awareness, mostly because of the repetitive character of the movement.

…(3) If I go on performing this motif, after a while, there is inevitably going to appear somewhere in my body a small tension, as a result of the movement.
If my motif is to raise up and down my hand, after a while, some tension in my arm or my shoulder, will be produced.
This is the 3rd step of the exercise: just by becoming aware of this tension, I “let” my motif (my body movement) to develop very smoothly, in a way that will balance this tension.
I shall raise in a different way my hand, I shall lift differently my shoulder, I shall bend slightly my whole body, I shall generally do whatever might at that moment spontaneously balance the tension.
I do not control, think of, or preplan this kinetic development. I simply “permit” my body to adjust by itself to a new dynamic balance, created by its own movement.
What happens in this 3rd step, happens within a range of my awareness involving also my mind and consciousness (the 3rd zone) because I have to “notice” (to grasp within  my consciousness) the tension produced during the 2nd step, so that to subsequently “permit” my body spontaneous response to it.
Thus, while the 2nd step had to do with a kind of “basic” awareness, this 3rd step has to do with a kind of awareness that we may call “conscious” awareness (I “understand” my own experience).

…(4) In a few seconds, very smoothly and harmonically, a new motif is composed, and this is the 4th step of the exercise. As soon as I bodily “settle” in this new motif, I start repeating it, engaging again in a rather automated movement of “basic” awareness.
This 4th step corresponds to the 2nd step of the exercise, that was repeating the original motif. After a while, a new tension is generated somewhere in my body, I become aware of it, and I permit again my body to discover its new dynamic balance: this 5th step corresponds to the 3rd one, but now the kinetic development happens on the basis of the new motif. And the exercise evolves through such cycles, until the person performing it reaches naturally a point of closure.


Being stuck in a “pendulum”-like movement.

We could say that the motif exercise consists of alternating cycles of (a) “automated” movement (of “basic” awareness – 2nd step) and (b) “passages” to new states of dynamic kinetic balance (“conscious” awareness and change of movement – 3rd step).
These cycles of automated movement and passages alternate between them through “cross-fades”: as fades-out of the ending cycle, intersecting with fades-in of the opening one.

Practically, such an alternation seems very simple, and in fact, for some people, to perform this exercise is a piece of cake.
However, even things seem so simple, in most cases, it is not so easy to perform the exercise, simply because we are not used to sense our body as a starting point to employ holistically all the 3 zones of awareness.

Very often, someone gets “stuck” in the 2nd step, engaging in a non-stop “pendulum”-like movement.
He cannot sense the produced tension, or, even when this tension is sensed, the person cannot “allow” his body to develop smoothly its movement in order to balance the tension.
He tries to preplan mentally the next (the 3rd step), to control the passage by “directing” it.

An amazing characteristic of this exercise is that such situations are immediately sensed by anyone watching the exercise performer.
Even if the viewer knows nothing of what we are here theoretically talking about, he senses immediately that the movement is not evolving spontaneously, that it is forced, “directed” to change.

A person “stuck” in a pendulum-like movement, may do one of the following “tricks” to unstuck, by slightly altering the motif.
He can make the motif bigger or smaller (increase or decrease the range of the movement), quicker or slower, less or more “dense” (engage more or less body members in the motif). J
ust by doing one or more of these “tricks”, new body messages are produced, stimulating his awareness, and the person usually comes unstuck from the 2nd step, passing naturally to the 3rd one.


Benefits of supporting awareness development through the motif exercise.

This exercise is based on body movement and body awareness.
However, it is important to underline once more, that its potential embraces awareness on the 3 levels of experience: mental, bodily, and emotional.
In other words, the body is our gate through which we pass to develop all zones of awareness on all our experiential layers.
First of all we have of course new body awareness, because as the motif (the kinetic pattern) develops, new groups of muscles, tenons, blood vessels and other anatomical elements contract, relax, cooperate, resulting in a flood of new messages stimulating new waves of body awareness.
However, the human being is a holistic being and the human experience is a holistic phenomenon too.
This is why this new body awareness inevitably creates new waves of awareness also to the person’s emotional and mental areas.
Thus, even this simple basic form of the exercise, is always an excellent training of our awareness (considered in its totality), supporting us to follow naturally the stream of our experience from instant to instant.

The person gets trained:

…(a) To trigger out new waves of bodily, mental and emotional awareness.

…(b) To concentrate and surrender to the here and now of the experience.

…(b) To alternate focus between “basic” and “conscious” awareness by employing or loosening the conscious – cognitive part of awareness.
Training in such an alternation is precious for therapy work, but also for everyday life: the “channels” connecting conscious and intuitive tuning with our experiential stream get significantly “smoothed-out”, and with proper therapeutic support this can become a meaningful tool for personal growth, healing, even in work with trauma and deep unfinished business.

…(c) To sense and follow the natural “syntax” (the cyclic form) of his developing experience: the person trains in passing smoothly from one experiential step to the next one, from one experiential cycle to the next one.
And this is an important outcome, especially if we think that in our technocratic lives, often our mental aspect dominates destructively our physical and emotional ones.
Moreover, we very often tend to neurotically “jump” from one contact cycle to the next one violently, without permitting the withdrawal phase.
To develop our awareness through the logic of this exercise, may be a significant step to remembering the value of following the natural evolvement of our contact processes; and so, we may support a mode of life in which we are more “present” in our selves in a Gestalt therapy perception, being naturally closer to our “wholeness” at every tiny instant.

…(d) If the exercise is performed as it is supposed to be performed, after its closure, there is usually a sense of deep satisfaction and pleasure.
This is because the exercise “tunes” the person to the flow of his experience by not forcing this flow – a rather rare luxury in our everyday life.

…(e) After the exercise, the out-coming new awareness as well as the experience of the exercise can be excellent material for further work, if the motif exercise is realised in a psychotherapeutic or self-knowledge setting.


The motif exercise on the level of the the microstructure of experience

In the 2nd step of the exercise, in which the performer of the exercise engages in an automated repetitive kinetic pattern (on the level of “basic” awareness), it seems at first that nothing happens.
Then, seemingly just by chance, some body tension appears leading to the 3rd step.
However, things are a little more complex if we see the human experience on its micro-structure.

Today, we could say that the human experience gets composed on two cooperating and interweaving layers. One layer involves mental elements (what we “understand” with our minds); the other one involves direct, live elements that have to do with our bodies and primary emotions (often called affects), produced by our embodied functions.
The first level, the mental – conscious one, is only about 12% of our experience; the 2nd one, is about 88% and mostly is unconscious  (Stern, 2004).

Moreover, this stream is not only unfolding ceaselessly instant by instant; also, in a way, the unconscious elementary units of our experience composing this stream, articulate between each other forming larger and larger experiential chains as bigger and more complex experiential sequences are being composed.

Now, returning to our exercise, even if we think that during the 2nd step of the exercise nothing happens, this has to do only with the mental – conscious level of our experience.
As we repeat the motif, at every instant, new minor direct and live elements on a bodily and emotional (affect) level are continuously generating.
We may not “understand” or “record” them mentally; but they keep on being generated, they link to each other moment by moment forming longer and longer sequences, and finally they produce an experiential chain (the tension), that is able to appear in (can be “recoded” by) our mind and consciousness.
And as we become consciously aware of this tension, we advance to the 3rd step, which is to bodily build a spontaneous new kinetic pattern balancing the tension.
The motif exercise is actually based on the idea of such a sequential (step by step) composition of human experience considered on its micro structure.


The motif exercise and the idea of self-organisation in the complex systems theory.

From a systems theory point of view, the goal of the motif exercise is actually to train further a feature that characterises all complex systems: the ability to self-organise.
More specifically, today we know that no complex system can remain unchangeable. In any state of balance there are always little qualitative processes taking place; and at some moment such processes produce quantitative changes, that create the next system’s state of balance.
This next state of balance is unpredictable during the time that the little qualitative processes happen, because such processes are not linear; they are probabilistically evolving through random energy concentrations and fluctuations formed as the system’s parts interact.
When the next state of dynamic balance appears, we may say that the system manifested an “emergent property” that characterises the wholeness of the system and is not an exclusive feature of none of its elements if considered separately.   

The 2nd step of the exercise is a kind of dynamic balance of the wholeness of our organism (of our “system”).

In this way of thinking, during the 2nd step of the exercise (the one with the repetitive movement and of basic awareness), what happens is actually this self-organisation process of the participant’s system.
It is not important that he does not cognitively “understand” the infinite little processes and changes generated by the minor interactions between the constituting elements of his organism – system; they do happen, they do articulate between them forming longer and longer experiential chains, and at a certain point, such chains are able to enter the participant’s conscious awareness.
At that instant he senses the tension, and as he balances it by changing his motif, we may say that he self-organises manifesting also an “emergent property”: his ability to pass to a new state of kinetic balance.

In this link you may see about the “MATRIX VARIATION” of the “MOTIF EXERCISE”.



The PSP motif exercise is a way to support further any kind of work involving process and awareness, with a complementary tool having to do with embodied interaction.
It is a rather simple idea in its basic form, though with a significant potential in its numerous variations.
It can be the starting point for deep work in psychotherapy (in individual and group settings), but also practically useful when applied in process and awareness work in other fields.
As the whole conception of this exercise is based entirely on the Gestalt therapy view about the phenomenological aspects of human experience, as well on the fundamental Gestalt therapy concepts of process and awareness, it can possibly find a rich ground of applications in many aspects of Gestalt therapy.


To see about the “SHARING” and the  “MATRIX” variations of this exercise, you may visit this link. 

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