Knowing, or rather, embodying the Enneagram has changed my life, and I think it can change yours as well.
The Enneagram personality system gives us incredibly beautiful, accurate, insightful and helpful descriptions of human nature. It’s information I can’t imagine living without and has been useful in every relationship in my life.
Having several Enneagram certifications, however, gave me tons of information and understanding about why I was the way I was and why others were the way they were, but it didn’t really help me make the changes I wanted in my life, or more specifically, changes in how I reacted when emotionally challenged. Being painfully shy, I was reluctant to engage with people I was most interested in, to stand up for myself and let my voice be heard, to defend myself when unjustly criticized, and to really believe I deserved my dreams.
Almost immediately upon learning the Enneagram, I started to create my Body Wisdom system, which includes EnneaMotion and Somatic Focusing.
EnneaMotion is an experiential approach that uses movement to explore and understand the Enneagram types. It creates neural pathways so we can embody the gifts of each type.
Somatic Focusing (more on this in another article) uses the same principles and creates new neural pathways for emotions you want more of.
Embodying the Gifts of Each Type
As a type Four (the Individualist: strengths include emotional breadth, depth and empathy; challenges include getting stuck in a downward spiral of longing and a belief in one’s inadequacy), I had no self-confidence. Type Eights (the Leader: strengths include grounded confidence, being decisive and easily taking charge; challenges include being a controlling, manipulative bully) used to scare me. I’d been around a lot of the unhealthy type Eight qualities growing up, and promised myself I’d never be like that. You know the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” Well, I did that. In my commitment to not be loud, controlling or manipulative, I lost my voice, couldn’t speak up for myself, was easily taken advantage of.
EnneaMotion exercises guide us in exploring the range of emotional behaviors of each type — when they’re emotionally healthy, when they’re on auto-pilot and therefore less conscious, and when they’ve spun all the way down to being pathologically unhealthy, which I sometimes refer to as that type’s shadow.
There are a lot of reasons for covering this range. In short, it increases our compassion and understanding when we or others get that way, and it stokes our motivation for wanting to embody the opposite, the healthy attributes of that type.
I see my workshop room as a ritual container where there are no “real life” consequences. In other words, we can experience any emotion, a scary one, an angry, sad or grief-filled emotion, any inner experience we don't like or want, in a way that can be cathartic and healing, which brings understanding, helps move us to the other side of it and can help us create an antidote for when that emotion starts to arise in real life, outside our ritual container.
Initially, it frightened me to do the movement exercise for the shadow side of type Eight. It was big scary energy for me. Though this doesn’t make rational sense, I thought it would make my body explode, or that I would do something I’d regret, that you wouldn’t like me anymore or I’d lose you as a friend.
However, since this happened in a ritual container, I persisted and allowed the experience to unfold. I’d call the results a miracle.
I learned that anger is just energy. It happens to be a lot of energy. And, it doesn’t “make” me “do” anything. I learned to simply stand in that energy. I didn’t have to react. I could listen, and then speak and be heard. If the other person persisted in their anger, I might turn the volume up a bit — be more solid in my physical stance, more succinct in my language and speak more firmly.
I was being heard! Self-confidence came to me! I no longer felt invisible!
Finally Getting Un-Stuck
All the years of telling myself to speak up, to be more confident, to hold my ground, never worked. I remained stuck in my old patterns. But DOING these exercises with the range including the essential qualities representing the gifts and virtues of each type, and the shadow aspects of each type, created new patterns and a new way of being for me.
The physical aspect of this work engages the brain differently than when we read or listen to lectures and talks. This approach actually creates new neural pathways for new patterns, new ways of thinking, feeling and being. We can choose to repeat the patterns we want in an ongoing practice, like a meditation practice. This trains and strengthens the new pathways until they become a part of our comfort zone that we can easily draw from.
My clients often ask, “How long does it take for this to work?” I’ve heard so many answers to this question from others. My answer is that it can be immediate.
In my coaching and other programs, you learn techniques for easily and quickly energizing different pathways. As soon as you notice you’ve been triggered and the old response that you don’t like is starting to arise, you have the opportunity and a method for turning that situation around. You can easily recall and energize the new, preferred neural pathway. It will change you physically, and will change how you think, feel and respond to life. You get un-stuck, and this is magical!
As you practice this work and start to embody the gifts of each type, you are doing three important things that will change your life.
Emotional Range. You will have increased your emotional range. Instead of just being “in a box” of whatever type you are, and knowing your box and being perhaps stuck in patterns of emotional responses, you will have created the neural pathways for a hugely expanded range of new emotions, ie the healthy attributes of each of the nine Enneagram types.
Emotional Flexibility. EnneaMotion exercises guide you in and out of 27 different emotional states: 9 Enneagram types x 3 levels of emotional health for each one. This experience teaches us that we actually have the flexibility to step in and out of any emotion. That means when we’re triggered, we don’t have to stay that way. We have a choice. We have a new range of options for how to respond. And, we’ve trained ourselves in the flexibility of stepping in and out of different emotions, and so we know and have experienced that we can choose a different neural pathway. This will change how we think, feel and react when our buttons get pushed.
Emotional Intelligence. Emotional range + emotional flexibility = increased emotional intelligence. Much has now been written about emotional intelligence. Not so much has been written about how to increase it. If you increase your range and flexibility in this way, you will increase your emotional intelligence. This improves all your relationships, is a greater predictor of success than your IQ, and will give you more ease, peace and joy in your life.
Since emotional intelligence includes having the ability to respond to life’s challenges in whatever way best supports the highest and best outcome for all, that means it would be useful to be able to respond like a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 and have all of these qualities in our “comfort zone.”
What Would You Like to Embody?
Below are some examples of what my students and clients, and what you, too, can embody with EnneaMotion. The choices are endless and it’s impossible to capture them all here. The exercises are focused on “custom-designing” these phrases to most accurately capture what each individual most wants and needs. The phrases are not things anyone “thought up.” Instead, the process shifts the body’s energy into what the body prefers. This preferred energy is anchored in the body. And then we have the body inform the mind about what that is, anchoring it further in the brain. This creates and strengthens the new neural pathway. Then it’s there for you to recall whenever you want or need it.
With that in mind, here are just some examples of what people have embodied by doing these exercises.
Below there are columns that represent what each type is “known for” and what each type “most needs.”
The “known for” column represents attributes or gifts that each type is known for. If you are not this type, it could be useful for you to practice saying these words to yourself, and to feel the intention of these words in your body as a way to begin cultivating this strength.
If you are that type, this quality probably comes rather easily to you.
“Most Needs” — The “Gift Gone Wrong”
As is often the case, there is what I call the “gift gone wrong.” It’s “too much of a good thing.” Imagine someone who is confident. Confidence is a good thing! But too much confidence can lead to arrogance. Imagine someone who is focused on a goal. Who wouldn’t want that? But what if that person ONLY focused on their goal, and treated emotions as something that was inefficient and got in the way. How do you think that person’s relationships would be going?!
When you look at the columns for your type, it would be useful for you to practice saying these words in the “most needs” column, and to feel the intention of these words in your body as a way to begin cultivating this strength.
If you don’t know your type, select one phrase for each type from either column that best captures something you want more of, not something that already comes naturally for you. Practice saying these words over and over again like a mantra. And feel the intention of these words in your body.
|Known For||Most Needs|
|Type One, the Perfectionist||gracefully aligned with perfection||calm and accepting|
|Type Two, the Nurturer||nurturing and helping others||receiving|
|Type Three, the Achiever||accomplishing the goal||I value deep heart contact|
|Type Four, the Individualist||deep emotional range||I am free of my old story|
|Type Five, the Observer||focused and concentrated||engaging with the world|
|Type Six, the Loyalist||loyalty and commitment||I trust my inner knowing|
|Type Seven, the Enthusiast||joy, adventure and spontaneity||joyful, radiant stillness|
|Type Eight, the Leader||confident and decisive||I speak gently from my heart|
|Type Nine, the Peacemaker||calm and serene||My needs matter|
Change Can Be Easy
You might notice the emotional range you would develop if you were to embody what’s in the list above. One thing I know for sure is that if you do this work, you will increase your emotional range, flexibility and emotional intelligence. And this is key to living the most fulfilling life you could want, with ease, peace and joy.
Andrea Isaacs is a speaker, coach and trainer, and has been changing the lives of thousands of people around the world since 1994 when she created her Body Wisdom system to increase emotional intelligence, improve relationships and have more happiness. Her unique system teaches us how to embody the gifts of all Enneagram personality styles, transforms shyness to confidence, anxiety to tranquility, judgment to acceptance, and to stop saying “Yes” when you mean “No.” Based on brain science, her system is fast, deep and life-changing. Her clients have said: “For the first time, I believe my opinions matter and that I matter,” and “My inner critic has softened, and even when criticized, I maintain a deep acceptance of myself and others.” In 1994, so co-created and became co-founding editor-publisher of the Enneagram Monthly, a founding faculty member for the Enneagram Institute’s Part II training, was on the IEA Board of Directors for six years, and was one of the only women presenting at the Mankind Project’s 25-year anniversary event. She is the author of “Body Wisdom for Lasting Change” published in The Change 2.” To learn more about Andrea, click here.