Two Brief Essays
following two brief essays were written by Dr. Lowen
between 1956-60. Since they are on the same theme as his major essay in
this volume, I felt it would be of value to publish them with it. I think
readers will be struck, as I am, with the consistency of themes. Because of
their clarity, succinctness, and usefulness in describing bioenergetic
analysis, I and my associates have kept copies of these essays available in our
office for our patients. While widely circulated over the years, they have
never been published.
analysis is more than a technique for treating emotional disturbances. In fact the technical aspects of bioenergetic therapy, though a
significant and major contribution to the treatment of emotional and
personality problems, are secondary in importance to the knowledge and
understanding which comprise the theoretical basis of this approach. To define
bioenergetic analysis, therefore, is to state the fundamental concepts upon
which both theory and technique rest.
I think such a statement is
important because people tend to confuse the specific techniques a person uses
with the understanding that justifies those techniques. I have never followed a
routine procedure in working with any patient, which is why I find it so
difficult to describe the technical procedures used in my own practice of
bioenergetic analysis. Technique or procedure will vary from therapist to
therapist. It is my hope, however, that the basic goals and understanding
described below are common to all who consider themselves part of this work.
1. The primary concept is
Wilhelm Reich’s thesis of the unity and antithesis of all living processes.
Reich originally used the term “vegetative functions” in his formulation which
extended to include all “living processes”. The unity and antithesis of the
body-mind functions is the best example of this concept. This principle implies
both a duality and a unity of mental and physical processes. Denying the
duality by saying that body and mind are one violates this principle. We
respect the duality when we recognize that conscious attitudes have
considerable influence on the total functioning of the organism. This allows us
to introduce the question of values into any discussion of human behaviour.
And, while we are aware that a person’s or a society’s values are often
unconsciously determined, we must also know that they can be consciously
altered in the interest of a better life.
However, one cannont easily effectuate the necessary changes in
conscious attitude by rational argument. Since the roots of our conscious
attitudes go deep into the unconscious memories and experiences of infancy and
childhood, the early history of the individual must be made conscious. This
objective can be achieved in many ways: psychoanalysis, hypnoanalysis, etc.
Making this repressed material conscious merely makes it available for
conscious manipulation. The history of psychoanalysis shows that repressed
material can be used for a better ego adjustment and not necessarily for a
healthier and fuller life. Adjustment may strengthen the ego but at the expense
of unconscious life processes.
2. A secondary concept, but no
less important than the first, is that unity is an organismic phenomenon. This
means that no matter how complicated any living organism is it functions on the
organismic level as a single cell. Reich postulated this view in his analogy of
the bladder. On the deepest level the organismic functions are expansion and
contraction, reaching out and pulling in or back, taking in and giving forth.
These basic life functions are regulated by what is known as the pleasure
principle. They are functions of the total organism, that is, of the organism
as a whole. The organ systems also function in this way but their processes do
not control the organismic functions but are, rather, dependent on them.
Modern scientific thinking
consistently runs counter to this concept. The best example is the recent work
done on the “pleasure center” in the brain.
Experiments have shown that when electrodes are placed in this area, many
animals will stimulate this area by pressing levers that send a small
electrical current into it. The avidity with which they seek this intracranial
stimulation suggests that the body responds to this stimulation with an
increased excitement or pleasure. According to Dr.
JH.J. Campbell of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, sensory stimulation
has the same effect and works in the same way. Sensory stimulation activates
impulses in the pleasure center. In a New York Times
article, Campbell says, “It is postulated that an absolutely essential
requirement of the animal nervous system is that the pleasure areas of the
brain must be kept activated.”
Psychiatrists have known for
some time that sensory deprivation leads to hallucination and schizophrenic
symptoms. We have all known that man is a pleasure-seeking animal. The
discovery that there is a brain center concerned with
pleasure does not advance our understanding of pleasure. There is a brain center for respiration but our knowledge of this fact does
not help us with problems of disturbed breathing. The nervous system has a
regulatory function, not a determining one. We don’t breathe because we have a
respiratory center, essential thought it may be a
normal respiration. We don’t seek pleasure because of pleasure center needs activation. Life is an excitatory process. The
loss of excitation is death. Breathing and pleasure are both necessary to maintain
the state of inner excitation or energy charge which is life. How eager we are
to grasp at a mechanism as if it held the key to life!
3. If we think organismically, we must think energetically. When I say
energetically, I refer to excitatory processes. This is the third principle
underlying bioenergetic analysis: namely, that that controlling factors of
health and illness are how much energy a person has and how this energy is used
by the body. The concept of energy is a quantitative factor. Without this
factor any understanding of personality lacks depth. Qualitative factors alone
are too superficial.
I shall illustrate the
difference with a simple example of a feeling. Anger is the description of a
feeling that is not the same for all people and all situations. As such, to say
that a patient got angry or released anger is a qualitative statement. One
wants to know how much anger, how ell focused and how long sustained. Only an
energetic concept permits us to measure the depth of feeling.
Only an energetic concept
permits us to evaluate the aliveness of a person. Every person is alive – but
how much, how intensely, how well organized? Since our work aims to help a
person become more alive, we must understand life as an energetic process. And
since breathing is the key to the energy metabolism of the body, it should not
be used simply as a device to release some feeling. Releasing feeling is
necessary but a deeper and fuller respiration is the real goal of therapy.
In the same way, muscular
tensions and rigidities must be viewed energetically. A muscular tension is not
a static phenomenon. A tension can be relaxed to allow a certain quantity of
energy through, but it will contract to block a larger charge or a greater
excitation. Since tensions do not develop overnight, they cannot be released by
a single experience. Often a single tension pattern will require consistent
work over a long period of time to effect a significant change in behaviour and
4. All the tension patterns of
an individual add up to his character structure. If what I have said about
single tension patterns is valid, it will be recognized that this structure is
extremely resistant to change. At best the changes are quantitative not
qualitative. One is stuck with his character structure but it can be more so or
less so. On this level any small change i experienced as significant by the
Energy, tension and character
are interrelated since the total tension pattern controls the amount and use of
the body energy. Therefore, bioenergetic analysis is basically a character
analytic method of seeing people. One cannot understand bioenergetic analysis
if one doesn’t know how the character structure develops and operates. And in
my opinion, one cannot do effective bioenergetic therapy if one does not know
how to deal with character problems psychologically and physically.
Here again, I must caution
against over-valuing feeling. An experience or a feeling with not result in any
character change unless it is consciously integrated into the personality and
seen in terms of the character. Experiences must be accompanied by insight if
they are to have a positive effect upon the personality. The most difficult
thing for therapists to learn is character analysis. While it is relatively
easy to give a person an experience or even open up a feeling, it is much more
difficult to help that person integrate the experience on a characterological
Since the character is the sum
total of all tension patterns, it is expressed in the form and motility of the
body. Reading the body characterologically is the sign of a good bioenergetic
therapist. Working with the body characterologically is what distinguishes
bioenergetic analysis from other body approaches which do not have the character
5. The fifth principle that
underlies bioenergetic therapy is grounding. This concept embraces grounding
the person in his body, in his sexuality and in his relation to the earth. An
animal is fully grounded in its body since it is completely and naturally in
touch with every part of its body. This quality gives its body the grace and
coordination that are typical of animal movements. To be grounded in one’s
sexuality is the equivalent of Reich’s concept of orgastic
potency. And to be grounded in the earth means that energy and feeling can
freely flow through the legs into the ground assuring a person of his footing,
his standing and his balance. When a person is grounded, he is rooted in the
universal processes of nature.
To the degree
that an individual is not grounded there is an unreality to his life. He may
have certain illusions about himself – who doesn’t? He may try to project
certain images. These aspects of unreality in a personality are often very
difficult to uncover. Their persistent presence prevents any full grounding
I would suggest that the
existence of these unrealities can be detected by the lack of humility in a
person, by his inability to accept failure, and by his fear of helplessness.
The individual who is grounded doesn’t seek to inflate his ego, doesn’t strive
for power, and most important, can recognize and accept his basic helplessness
as a creature.
If one keeps these five
principles in mind, it matters little how one approaches a patient. There is
room in the therapeutic armamentarium for every technique. They all work
sometimes. No one technique works all the time. What is important is not what
we do but how we understand life and the living process including ourselves.
A brief description of bioenergetic analysis.
analysis is a technique for:
the personality in terms of the body
all functions of the personality by mobilizing the energy bound by muscular
an individual’s capacity to experience pleasure by resolving the
characterological attitudes that have become structured in the body and that,
therefore, interfere with is rhythmic and unitary movements
Every physical expression of the body has a
meaning: the quality of a handshake, the posture, the look in the eyes, the
tone of the voice, the way of moving, etc. If these expressions are fixed and
habitual, they tell a story of past experience. The interpretation of fixed,
physical attitudes and the work upon chronic muscular tensions which underlie
them add a new dimension of reality to the therapeutic experience.
All distortions and denials of reality are
compensated by special body attitudes. For example, the neurotic
individual who is afraid of his feelings of fear, covers them by an exaggerated
expression of courage which is manifested in a fixed postural attitude. His
shoulders are squared off, his chest is inflated and his belly is sucked in.
The patient is not aware that his attitude is a defense
against fear until he finds that he cannot drop his shoulders, relax his chest
or let his belly out. When the muscular tensions are released, the fear and its
historical cause often rise to consciousness.
working with the body, two principles are paramount:
1. Any limitation of motility is both a result
and a cause of emotional difficulties. It arises as the result of an unresolved
infantile conflict, but the persistence of the tension creates present day
emotional difficulties that clash with the demands of adult reality. Very
physical rigidity interferes with and prevents a unitary response to
Any restriction of natural respiration is both the result and cause of anxiety.
Anxiety in childhood situations disturbs natural respiration. If the
anxiety-producing situation persists and is prolonged, the disturbance of
respiration becomes structured in thoracic and abdominal tension. The inability
to breathe freely under emotional stress is the physiological basis for the
experience of anxiety in such stressful situations.
and coordination of physical responses depend upon the integration of the
respiratory movements and the aggressive moments of the body. To the degree
that respiration and motility are freed from the restrictions of chronic
tensions, the physical function of the patient will improve. To that degree,
his contract with reality on the physical level will expand and deepen. But
this will happen only if there is a concomitant and corresponding improvement
in his grasp of reality on the psychic and interpersonal levels which are not
accompanied by an analogous improvement in his physical functioning.
special movements and body positions, the patient in bioenergetic therapy gains
a deeper contact with his body and a better feeling for it. From this contact
and feeling he begins to understand the relation between his present physical
state and the experiences of his infancy and childhood which related it. He
learns that his denial of his body is a rejection of his need for love in order
to avoid hurt and disappointment. He can interpret his rigidities as a defense against an overwhelming rage. He can sense that
this immobility stems from a deepseated fear of
aggression. Given the opportunity to express his rage by pounding or kicking
the couch, and given the chance to voice his negativity, he discovers that he will
not be abandoned or destroyed for expressing his feelings. Through the
acceptance of his body and its feelings the individual broadens his contact
with all other aspects of reality.
the body is the base of all reality functions, any increase in a person’s
contact with his body would produce a significant improvement in his self image (body image), in his interpersonal
relationships, in the quality of his thinking and feeling, and in his enjoyment
article was published in the first issue of the clinical journal (Volume 1 Number 1 Spring 1984) of the International Institute for
Bioenergetic Analysis. More information …
clinical journal of the IIBA, is published annually and is distributed to all
members of the international organization. Its purpose is to further elaborate
theoretical and scientific concepts and to make links to enhance communication
and broaden our connection with other schools of therapy, as well as with
academic psychology, medicine, and other psychosomatic schools of thought. The
journal publishes reports on empirical research, theoretical papers, and case
studies. Some local IIBA Societies produce journals in their native languages.
This journal has been published in English since 1985, making it the oldest
journal for the IIBA.
International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis (IIBA) is a non-profit
organization dedicated to the spread of Bioenergetic Analysis in the world and
to the support and encouragement of its members in their work as Bioenergetic
The IIBA was
founded by Alexander Lowen, M.D. Registered in the Register of Associations of
the Government of Catalonia (Spain): 44520. Spanish Vat-Number: G65432429.
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Bioenergetic Analysis | The Clinical Journal of the International Institute for
Bioenergetic Analysis | Volume 1 Number 1