© 2016 Devaraj Nick Sandberg
What is Bioenergetics?
Bioenergetics is a body movement technique with a difference. The various different body positions are specifically designed to release “holding patterns” from the skin and muscle system of the body (the fascia). Thus Bioenergetics, whilst on the surface resembling Yoga, Pilates, or a gym workout, is actually radically different. There are hundreds of different Bioenergetic Exercises, and these work all over the body to remove holding patterns, and to bring life back to “dead spots” in the muscle system.
Free of holding patterns and “dead spots” your body will feel vibrantly alive. Each breath will be a delight, and simply paying attention to the feeling of your body will be incredibly pleasurable. Yet, for most of us, this natural state has been lost since at least the early teenage years, if not before.
The 2 Keys of Bioenergetics – There are 2 keys in Bioenergetics. The first is to keep yourself right on the edge of your “comfort zone.” If you allows keep comfortable you can’t get development. And if you’re always in pain it’s not good for you. So the key is to stay in the posture, whatever it is, and stay present in the moment to keep yourself right on the edge of what you can comfortably bear. The second key in Bioenergetics is to breath in a relaxed manner, in and out through the mouth from the belly. This relaxed breathing allows tension patterns to come up and be released.
Who Created Bioenergetics? – The creation of Bioenergetics is generally credited to Alexander Lowen (1910 – 2008), an American psychotherapist who was originally a student of Wilhelm Reich (himself a student of Carl Jung). However, different schools of Bioenergetics have arisen over the years, with different exercises and different general approaches rising with them. It’s fair to say that no single coherent source for Bioenergetics exists. Some claim that many of the exercises originated with Native Americans and other early ethnic groups, and that they were used to keep people in good shape for hunting, sex, and staying warm. The school that Alexander Lowen founded is these days presented under the banner of Bioenergetic Analysis and may be found online at http://www.bioenergetic-therapy.com.
What are Holding Patterns and “dead spots”?
As mentioned, when your body is in its natural state, free of holding patterns and “dead spots”, it will feel vibrantly alive. You literally feel life coursing through your veins. This is likely why so many ancient medicine systems – Chinese, Indian Ayurvedic, Native American – make “life energy” a tangible concept used for diagnostic purposes. Western medicine does not, as hard evidence for this “life energy” has not been found. But what also must be considered is that most Western scientists are likely themselves so full of holding patterns, they don’t actually feel their body in the way more traditional peoples do! Having no personal access to this oceanic feeling of simply being vibrantly alive reinforces their belief that there can be no such thing as “life energy.”
Holding patterns are areas of rigid, muscular tension that develop and remain in the body from early childhood. Likewise “dead spots” are areas where muscles have become unnaturally loose. Both of these have two principle sources – trauma and conditioning.
Where do we find all these holding patterns and dead-spots?
Simple answer is… all over the body. There’s no part of the body that isn’t affected and doesn’t to a degree become the repository of unexpressed feelings. That said, certain parts of the body are particularly affected, essentially the back, particularly the lower back, plus the neck and the backs of the legs. In seeking to look good, to present a good face to the world, the brain inevitably stores all the bits we don’t want to show in the back, where it perhaps hopes no one will notice! In addition, working with the face is particularly valuable also. In trying to keep a permanent “nice” expression on our face so we can create an incredible rigidity there. Unlocking the face, with specific Bioenergetic exercises, can leave your whole body feeling so much more relaxed.
What is Trauma?
Traumatic incidents in early life, such as accidents, abuse, or severe illnesses, leave their traces in the muscles of the body. The emotional reaction to early life trauma often cannot be expressed at the time and so a “stored emotional charge” is held in the muscles awaiting expression at some later date. This is how the developing body deals with these incidents. Unless these holding patterns are released so they will continue to dominate thinking and behaviour as the mind avoids encountering them through increasing fear.
What is Conditioning?
Conditioning is what happens to us as we grow up with our parents, enter school and join society. Many parents withhold giving love and positive attention to their children unless the child behaves in a way they deem “good.” Yet a child needs to experience unconditional love from its parents, at least for the first few years of its life. This is an innate need, as modern psychology now assers. In response to being conditioned to be “good”, children typically develop one of two attitudes. Some become compliant to authority and others resistant. Neither of these are natural. Compliance to authority general leads to “dead spots” in the muscle fascia and resistance to authority manifests as holding patterns of muscular rigidity. These attitudes of compliance or resistance tend to remain throughout our life unless the muscular patterns are worked on.
As the early teenage years begin, and hormonal changes take place, so most of us become highly concerned with how we appear to others. We become hyper-sensitive to other people’s perceptions of us, particularly our peers. We learn in this time that as social beings we have needs. We want to form friendships and join a social group. We want to be attractive to the opposite sex, or same sex. And we want to find a job or social role that makes us feel we’re a part of society. These are natural social needs. How we try to get these needs met is by creating a “persona”, a front through which we can interact with the outside world. Our brain learns which emotions are “OK” to show, and what aspects need to be hidden or repressed.
Some people learn not to show anger, for example. Anger is our natural emotional response to any perceived sense of invasion (our body, our family, our ideas, our expectations, etc). Yet some learn that showing anger will prevent them from getting their needs met. So they learn to avoid situations where they could get angry – confrontational situations – and they learn to repress anger and not show it. This repression is what creates holding patterns. By constantly not allowing a natural emotional response to be shown so huge holding patterns and dead spots accumulate in the muscle system and are constantly reinforced.
Likewise, others learn not to show pain, to allow vulnerability. Again this is another natural emotional response that is frequently repressed through the belief that showing sadness or pain will prevent us from getting our needs met. Young men in particular often struggle to show pain or allow vulnerability. This is not because it is not present, rather that they believe that they need to maintain a front of invulnerability in order to be “one of the guys” or to attract women. Once again, this refusal to show these feelings becomes huge holding patterns that eventually controls our behaviour and blocks our ability to feel vibrantly alive in the moment.
Will Bioenergetics be useful for me?
Bioenergetics has several different applications.
Firstly, developing a daily Bioenergetics routine, of say 30 minutes length, will energize your body, keep you flexible, and progressively remove the blocks to your natural energy flow created by holding patterns. In this it is subtly more advanced than say, Yoga or a gym workout, both excellent in themselves, in that Bioenergetics specifically goes into the holding patterns and starts to unlock them. If you develop a routine and stick to it over a period of months you will notice big changes in how you are. You’ll notice that feel more open to other people, more able to really get things done and move ahead with plans, more able to keep and state your boundaries when needed, and you’ll have a greatly increased vibrancy and love of life. The “release” element of Bioenergetics is what makes the difference here.
Secondly, doing One-to-One Bioenergetics sessions with a teacher, or taking part in Bioenergetics workshops will enable you to really break through old holding patterns. Doing it on your own can work for a while, but some guidance is inevitably needed if you’re to go deeper. A skilled facilitator can see how you’re doing, on a deeper level, and knows when to push you further, and when you need to rest. Working directly with the body in this way does need an experienced hand at first. As holding patterns start to shift so the mind starts to engage with all the repressed feelings it has been pushing down. This is inevitably disconcerting. If we were OK with these feelings, whatever they are, we wouldn’t repress them. Frequently what happens is that, as repressed feelings and tensions arise, the mind starts to engage with inner narratives the bottom line of which is that you need a break now! A skilled and experienced practitioner will know when you actually do need a break and when you are simply engaging with mental resistance through fear of feeling.
Bioenergetics, like any body movement technique, needs a gentle start at first. It won’t help that you push yourself, or are pushed by someone, so hard that you end up thinking “Oh my God, I’m never doing this again!” Yet, once a basic familiarity has developed you can go deeper and deeper with more and more incredible benefits for your life. Massively increased vitality and a real feeling of sexiness. Deeper and more authentic relationships with others. The capacity to really succeed at work. It can all be yours.
How I use Bioenergetics in my Workshops and One-to-One Sessions
In my own workshops and one-to-one sessions I use Bioenergetics a lot. Sometimes I use Bioenergetics in conjunction with other therapies, particularly Emotional Expression. Bioenergetics “opens up the body”, bringing repressed feelings to the surface so they can be worked with. Sometimes I just guide the individual or group through a series of Bioenergetic postures, designed to work together to produce a beneficial effect.
What Is Bioenergetic Analysis?
Bioenergetic Analysis (BA) is the term coined by Alexander Lowen for the One-to-One Therapy System he developed to work with clients. Based upon Wilhelm’s Reich way of categorizing 5 types of people (Reichian Characterology), Lowen devised therapeutic strategies based on Bioenergetics for bringing each of these 5 body-types into balance.
Read more about Bioenergetic Analysis online here.
Read more about Reichian Body-types online here.
What are Trauma Release Exercises (TRE™)
Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) are a series of exercises, closely related to Bioenergetic postures, devised by American physician David Bercelli. The series is taught as a training and you can learn to either just do the exercises or become a facilitator. Many of the postures found in TRE are also found in Bioenergetics.
Find out more about TRE online here.
The Bow & The Arch – the most fundamental position in Bioenergetics
So having read all about Bioenergetics, now it’s time to look at some actual bodily postures. The most fundamental pair of postures, which work together, are called the Bow and the Arch. This pair serve to both ground you and release tension or dead-spots from your back.
- Wear loose clothing and have bare feet. This is needed for pretty much all Bioenergetics exercises.
Stand upright with your feet about 20-30 cms apart, no wider. Check that the outsides of your feet are roughly parallel, certainly that you’re not standing like a penguin.
- Look straight ahead with your eyes open. Relax your body a bit by dropping your shoulders and breathing through your mouth into your belly. This relaxed breathing in and out from the mouth from the belly is a key in most Bioenergetic exercises.
- Now allow your head to feel very, very heavy, like it’s a big lead cannonball. This weight in your head pulls it slowly downward until your chin touches your chest, or comes close.
- Now allow this weight to pull your whole upper body down until you are hanging with your hands just off the floor, or as close as you comfortably can get. Keep your eyes open and gently focused on something behind you.
- Remain in this hanging, arch-like posture for a certain specified time, 1 minute is good to start. Over time you can build it up to maybe 5 or 6 minutes, as you feel.
- Remember to breathe out through the mouth, in as relaxed fashion as you can, throughout. Remember also to keep yourself on the edge of your “comfort zone” throughout the exercise. Stay present, alert and feeling your body. Don’t let the position become painful and also don’t pull back so it’s too comfortable. Keep yourself on the edge of discomfort. This is the development zone.
- Whilst hanging there are a few things to pay attention to…
- Check that your neck is loose by regularly giving your head a little jiggle. People often lock the neck slightly upwards, which prevents them from relaxing into the position. Your head and arms should be hanging like a rag doll
- Check that your legs are not locked straight at the knees, but very slightly bent, rather as through a thread was attached to your tail-bone pulling it up towards the ceiling. Do not over bend the knees, otherwise the backs of your legs won’t release.
- Check that your knees push slightly outward, that they are not pulled in. Pulling the knees in is the classic “victim position” in bodywork. You don’t want to become a victim in life!
- Finally, try to put your weight more towards the front of your feet, rather than the heels. When you’re practiced in the Arch you can even keep your heels a few millimeters off the floor.
When you come out of the Arch position do so slowly. Gently come back up, vertebrae by vertebrae, as they say, with your head coming upright last. You can put your hands on your knees as you come up to support your lower back if you need to.
Once up you begin to move into the Bow position.
- Now that you’re back upright begin to raise your arms up above your head, pulling them back behind your ears. The arms are stretched right out and the fingers splayed. The head remain horizontal, eyes open, looking straight ahead.
- Now push your pelvis forward as far as you can.
- Maintain these two stretches – your arms high above your head and back behind the ears as far as they will go; your pelvis forwards so your body is like an archer’s bow, whilst all the time breathing through the mouth.
- Keep in this position for a specified time. 1 minute is good to start with and then build up to 5 or 6 minutes over time. Remember to breath fully through your mouth throughout and to keep yourself on the edge of your comfort zone.
- Once your time is up, gently bring your arms back to your sides, allow your body to straighten, and then move back into the Arch position.
The Bow and the Arch is usually done three times round, without a break. Arch, Bow, Arch, Bow, Arch, Bow. You can find a piece of music which is the length you want to do each posture for, and put it on repeat. This saves you having to look at a watch. Afterwards make sure you relax for a few minutes before doing anything else.
For more Bioenergetic postures please visit
© 2016 Devaraj Nick Sandberg
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