Time and time again we are asked why we focus on the body in our work in Living Ubuntu. Below is an explanation by Alexander Lowen, founder of Bioenergetics.
“At the outset it must be recognized that most therapeutic efforts fail to help the individual resolve his conflicts and find peace of mind. In my opinion, there are two basic reasons for this failure. One is a lack of understanding by the therapist of the nature of the problem, and the second, related to the first, is too great a dependence on insight to change behavior.
Throughout this book I have emphasized that one needs to look at the body, to observe its movements and read its expression, to understand the individual and to evaluate and treat emotional disturbances. These disturbances are structured in the body and manifested in its loss of gracefulness. An analysis or therapy that focuses largely on the presenting complaint or symptom is not a holistic approach because it does not comprehend the whole individual. The goal of gracefulness cannot be achieved by working solely through the mind. It is a mistake to believe that deep emotional conflicts can be resolved through conscious reasoning alone.
The far greater part of our actions and behavior is governed by feelings and impulses of which we may or may not be aware. Analysis attempts to bring these unconscious forces, threatening as they may be, to consciousness. Psychoanalysis depends largely on free association, slips of the tongue, the interpretation of dreams, and the analysis of transference to shed light on the unconscious. Jungian analysis relies more heavily on dream interpretation. But because such methods are indirect, in most cases they do not reach deep enough. Even if patients become aware of some of their unconscious motivations, such insight does not generally lead to significant change. Neurotic attitudes and behavior are largely structured in the body by chronic muscular tensions over which the mind has no control. These tensions have to be released before any real resolution of conflict can occur.
Bioenergetics is a more powerful and effective technique than analysis alone because it offers a more direct route to the unconscious. By reading the body’s language, the therapist is able to see a patient’s personality conflicts immediately in areas of rigidity and chronic tension. By working with the body as described in earlier chapters, the patient learns to sense these tensions and to get in touch directly with his unconscious. Such an approach does not neglect the use of verbal analysis, including the interpretation of dreams and the analysis of resistance and transference, but its primary focus is the body. Rigidity is softened, chronic tensions are released, and the body is freed to feel the life of the spirit. In effect the body recovers its natural gracefulness.
In most cases a person cannot accomplish this alone. Feelings that have been suppressed are generally too frightening to be experienced without the support and understanding of a therapist, who acts as a guide to the patient’s unconscious. How good a guide he is depends on the extent to which he has explored the unknown world of his own unconscious. I like to compare the therapeutic experience with Dante’s account of his adventures in The Divine Comedy. When the poet finds himself lost in a wood with three wild beasts ahead of him, he calls upon Beatrice, his protector in heaven. Because the way home passes through hell and purgatory. Beatrice sends the Roman poet Virgil to guide him. As they traverse hell, Dante sees the punishments visited upon sinners. The passage is dangerous because a false step could leave him stuck in one of hell’s pits. Only with Virgil’s guidance does Dante make it safely through hell and purgatory. The patient in therapy goes through a similar experience on the path to self-knowledge and health. His own private hell consists of the painful feelings he suppresses in the interest of survival despair, panic, rage, humiliation. The chronic muscular tensions these suppressed feelings cause cannot be fully released until the feelings are brought to consciousness and expressed. That process requires the help of a therapist who has traversed his own hell, learning its dangers and finding his own way out.“
From Spirituality of the Body by Alexander Lowen, M.D. Pg 74-75.
Alexander Lowen is a world renowned psychiatrist and the creator of Bioenergetic Analyis, the revolutionary therapy that uses the language of the body to heal the problems of the mind. He has authored 14 books including Narcissism, Betrayal of the Body, Joy, Bioenergetics, The Way to Vibrant Health, Pleasure, Language of the Body and Honoring the Body.