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Body and Mind

About Reichian Energetics

by John Lawson 2004, 2006 


Reichian Energetics

Reichian Energetics is a form of personal growth work based on the bioenergetic and character-analytic principles elaborated by Wilhelm Reich.  In this approach, the client works with a private instructor to overcome restrictions in functioning and to promote a more vital way of being.  The emphasis is on deeper, more natural breathing and on increased energy.  Patterns of chronic holding in the organism are identified, and their meaning is clarified.  As these patterns are loosened, the free flow of feeling and awareness is fostered, and the capacity for self-expression is stimulated.  At the same time, a greater degree of self-understanding and self-possession is established, facilitating an enhanced responsiveness to the challenges of life.  The goal of Reichian Energetics is genuine personality growth rooted in a deep identification with the life of the body.

Breathing and Energy

Breathing is an essential life function.  Healthy, relaxed breathing is deep and full with no significant blocks to the respiratory waves that undulate headward and footward along the axis of the body.  Natural breathing engages the vital organs and affects their motility.  When respiration is chronically blocked, patterns of neuromuscular tension and imbalance prevail.  The function and meaning of blocked respiration were elucidated by Wilhelm Reich.

Reich came out of the psychoanalytic tradition and was interested in the emotional basis of human problems.  He reached the understanding that difficulties of an emotional nature are reflected in disturbed breathing.  He saw that disturbed breathing, in turn, is rooted in patterns of organismic rigidity and inhibited motility that are the physical counterparts of psychological defenses.  These rigidities and defenses, emerging in the course of personal development, act as a kind of armor meant to serve as protection against perceived dangers.  Such armoring involves the disruption of feeling and energy movement  by means of contractions and imbalances in specific segments of the organism.  When the body is free of armoring, energy flows naturally and the individual experiences unimpeded contact with self, with others, and with the surrounding world.

Reich's discoveries suggested that a combined somatic and verbal emphasis could be employed as an effective method for promoting personal growth.  This emphasis is embodied in Reichian Energetics.

A Practical Approach

Reichian Energetics consists of a threefold approach:
The elements of this method may be separated for purposes of description, but in practice they form a unified whole based on the functional identity of mind and body.

Mind and Body

Mind and Body may be said to be functionally identical since they are rooted in the deep, energetic processes of the organism.  This means that the experience reflected in our minds is expressed in the form and movement of our bodies.  All of our behavior - from the forcefulness of our handshake to the rhythmicity of our heartbeat - reveals the nature of our subjective world.  By the same token, our subjective world is manifested in the behavior of our organism at both the voluntary and the involuntary levels.

By taking the underlying identity of mind and body seriously, we gain an important tool for understanding human problems and for working to resolve functional difficulties.  Specific issues which may be of concern - for example, a tight jaw, a low degree of self-esteem, a sunken chest, locked knees, a sense of futility - need not be viewed as isolated phenomena.  Rather, they can be seen as part of an overall pattern of experience and behavior that make up an individual's character structure.

Energy and Character

Character may be defined as a set of preferred habitual responses formed through personal experience of the environment.  The word "character" is derived from Greek and Latin words meaning "engraving tool" or the marks made by such a tool.  The personal development of each individual is engraved in that person's character.  In Reichian Energetics, we work directly with an individual's character structure to improve energetic functioning.

Since the quantity and quality of a person's energy are directly related to the depth and adequacy of breathing, it follows that when natural respiratory waves cannot flow freely through the body, the energy level must be insufficient.  The experience of the person becomes dammed up in stagnant pools of unresolved emotions encircled by rings of armor.  Understanding the arrangement of these muscular blocks or constrictions in the organism is the key to understanding character structure.  A chronically tight jaw, for example, can be analyzed mechanically in terms of the various muscle groups participating in the contraction, but this view is too limited.  In terms of the individual's character structure, we must inquire into the meaning of the tight jaw.  Does it represent a compulsive determination not to let go and cry?  Does it signify a holding back of rage?  Does it mask a longing to reach out for affection with the lips?  Does it express a denial of feelings of emptiness and despair?  Does it entail a combination of these and other factors relevant to the person's experience, and how is it related to patterns of holding in other parts of the body?  The exploration of these and other questions, combined with work to open up the breathing and increase the level of energy of the person, leads to improved functioning grounded in positive character change.

Grounding the Person

Grounding refers to the process of establishing a firm contact with reality and maintaining a down-to-earth outlook on life.  In somatic terms, this means achieving a solid sense of having one's feet on the ground and of being in one's body.  Gaining the capacity to tolerate the increased excitement that goes with greater personal energy is part of the process of healthy growth.  The energy of life must be grounded if it is to be used productively.

In Reichian Energetics, there are two principal means of grounding personal energy.  One involves the use of discussion. Issues of concern to the individual that arise in the process of confronting and working though restrictions in functioning are examined.  This provides an opportunity to gain a deepened perspective on who one is and where one is going in life.  The other aspect of grounding entails the use of a variety of somatic procedures which promote a strengthened capacity for self-containment and self-possession.  Alexander Lowen, a former student of Reich, has described many relevant techniques in his books, and there are others that have been developed and which can be used productively.

To be fully engaged in the adventure of life, we must allow the roots of our consciousness to sink deeply into our bodily processes.  In this way, our energetic experience can be strengthened to the greatest possible extent consistent with healthy personal balance.  When this happens, we sense that we have our feet on the ground.  We are not left hanging, and we can reach out for what we want without an inordinate fear of losing our balance.  We have a place to stand, and we are not terrorized at the thought of falling.  Being grounded, we discover a greater sense of personal security in simply being ourselves.

Effecting Change

Learning at the level of organic functioning brings about significant changes in behavior and experience.  Unsatisfactory habitual responses are replaced with a more selective way of doing things based on a more natural way of being.  In practice, this means that an increased openness to life and a restructuring of the character of experience must occur.  In Reichian Energetics, the criteria for judging the progress of such an enterprise are derived from Wilhelm Reich's fundamental perspective.  "Love, work and knowledge," he wrote, "are the wellsprings of our life. They should also govern it."

Private Instruction

John Lawson is a private instructor in Reichian Energetics.  He resides in Portland, Oregon, where he has maintained a practice since the early 1980's.  Mr. Lawson works with clients in individual sessions.  He also conducts workshops, and he lectures on a variety of topics relevant to the improved understanding of human functioning.  He is the author of various articles and monographs as well as the book The Affirmation of Life: A Reichian Energetic Perspective. 

Individual Sessions by Appointment
Reichian Energetics  Portland, Oregon
Telephone: 503-297-6686

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