Working With The Body As A Pathway To The Mind

While the role that the body plays in the realm of emotions has been recognized in the West as far back as the time of Freud, touching our client's bodies is strongly cautioned against by many experts and strictly forbidden by others.

Why explore Bodywork? Perhaps it is the rebel in me, a quest to learn of areas not deemed important enough or credible enough to teach me in graduate school. Perhaps this interest stems from the very same source that led me to experiment with drugs as an adolescent. Maybe it originates from my need for continuous expansion, exploration and growth.

In thinking back on my youth, I am reminded of a card that a father sent to his grown daughter years ago. On the front, the card depicts on the front, Santa Claus standing around a pole with his reindeer. Santa points at the pole and warns the reindeer not to stick their tongues on the pole. When you open the card, you see all the reindeer huddled around the pole, glued to it by their tongues. Santa is standing by with an all too recognizable and yet indescribable look on his face. The father signed the card, "Now I finally realize I have been blessed with reindeer children." I have never forgotten that card or this father who I've never met. Perhaps it is my own reindeer soul that calls me to areas beyond traditional boundaries. Whatever my motivation, it is my belief that we must be open to learn as much as we can in order to fully assist our clients. In rejecting only what I possess some understanding of first, and recognizing that what works for one individual can all too often fail another, I must then be prepared to reach out in as many forms as I can to reach where I at times must journey to. "Body work" may very well be one such form.

Recently, my daughter pulled some muscles in her neck while ice-skating. She was lying in bed the next day with a heating pad and asked, "Mommy, why does my neck hurt?" I was busy putting away clothes and answered her somewhat distractedly. "Because you hurt it, honey. When you fell down, you sprained muscles in your neck." "But why does it hurt, mommy" she asked again. I stopped what I was doing and sat down beside her. "Remember how I've told you that it is important to take care of your body? Well, when something happens that isn't good for your body, it tells you by hurting. It's like your body's way of talking to you, of crying for help and asking to be taken care of." She looked up at me with pained eyes that contained just a glimmer of hope and said, "If I take care of it right this minute, does that mean it will stop hurting?"

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A client shared with me that a friend and her 15-year-old daughter, Lindsay, were visiting one day. They were sitting at the table catching up as they had not seen one another since her friend's daughter was three years-old. Her daughter got up from the table and was walking towards the bathroom, when all of the sudden her body jerked violently, and she grabbed the radiator, startling them all. My client asked what had happened, and she said that she wasn't sure; she just felt as though she was going to fall. Her mother then reminded them that when Lindsay was about 18 months old; she had tripped over a toy and fallen headfirst into the radiator. Her nose had been bloodied and her head badly bruised. Lindsay had not been to my client's house since that time, as the family had moved away, and she had no conscious memory of this.

Within the past few years, I have begun to utilize bodywork when there seem to be no words or images available to explain a client's feelings. I have been astounded on more then one occasion by the information stored within the body. I have no doubt that not only does the body send us messages, but that it also remembers what we often consciously do not.

Anne Wilson Schaef, in Women's Reality (1981), remarks that it is her belief that all therapists working with women should either be skilled in bodywork (work with breathing and tension in the body) or should work conjointly with someone who does. She contends that we must learn how to facilitate the removal of "body blocks" (tenseness, numbness, deadness, etc.) in order to assist our clients to experience their feelings and work with them constructively. Schaef found that in working with the body's breathing and tension, the length of therapy could shorten.


Joan Turner, in a chapter entitled, "Let My Spirit Soar," from Healing Voices: Feminist Approaches to Therapy with Women (1990), describes how she integrates "body work" into psychotherapy focusing on the body while involving the mind, spirit, and soul.

Turner believes that the entry point to the body space and inner child is through the muscles. She uses a technique of deep tissue therapeutic massage. With her hands, thumbs and fingers, she focuses on the muscles that she describes as "needful" (tight, sore, knotted, and numb). The muscles respond by softening and relaxing, while the breath slows and deepens. The body begins to feel lighter. It is at this point that Turner believes awareness deepens. Turner proceeds to engage in psychotherapy while continuing to work on her client's body. She watches for signs from the body, responding to them, using them as cues to explore a particular issue or utilize a specific technique. She also calls the changes in the client's body to the client's attention, and they discuss the meaning of these changes, what the body is saying, what it needs, etc. Turner also utilizes journaling, homework assignments, etc. in her work with clients.

A client of Turner's, in writing about her experience, reported that she has learned to perceive her body as a messenger of "transformational images" that serve to facilitate awareness and growth. She adds that she became aware of her body as a teacher, as sacred, to be cared for, listened to, and nurtured.

"Sensitive Massage" is a personalized approach to healing which utilizes deep-breathing techniques and internally directed body imagery. This technique is very similar to Taylor's work although it is not necessarily used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Margaret Elke and Mel Risman (The Holistic Health Handbook, edited by Berkeley Holistic Health Center, 1978) describe the practitioner and client as functioning as a "meditative duet" during a sensitive massage session. Clients are urged to give over to what very often is a very sensual, nurturing experience. Elke and Risman believe that, during this process, clients may discover unconscious tensions, repressed emotions, and memory recalls, in addition to new pleasurable sensations. "Sensitive massage" often assists clients to become more aware, grounded and appreciative of their bodies.

"Sensitive Massage" is recommended for individuals who are in need of nurturing touch, who need to learn how to relax, who need to accept their sensuality, and who need to learn from their body language.


Reflexology refers for the most part, to the stimulation of reflex points on the feet and hands, although there are many other usable reflex points throughout the body.

There are many theories as to how Reflexology works. Explanations range from: energy points along the meridian lines are activated by reflexology; to each of the 72,000 nerve endings on each foot connects to a different body area. When the particular zone of the foot that is connected to it gets stimulated, the corresponding body area responds.

Lew Connor and Linda Mckim (The Holistic Health Handbook, edited by Berkeley Holistic Health Center, 1978) propose that Reflexology can assist the body by relaxing it and stimulating the blocked nerve endings, thus stimulating sluggish glands and organs to regain their normal functioning. Used frequently, maintain the authors, Reflexology can provide the body with a general toning to enhance vitality and one's sense of well being.

While I have a minimal understanding of Reflexology, I have found that providing foot massages while doing relaxation, hypnotherapy, and visualization have often been very helpful in my work. I believe the benefits stem from a number of sources, such as: (1) Foot massage enhances my client's ability to relax and serves very often to deepen the trance state; (2) It provides clients with an opportunity to be nurtured, thus increasing feelings of well-being, trust, and feeling cared for; (3) It is less invasive than massaging other areas of the body of which victims of sexual abuse in particular, are more protective; (4) It is less time consuming than doing a total body massage, and yet produces the desired effect of promoting relaxation; (5) feet are one of the most abused and neglected parts of the body; and (6) women often carry a lot of shame and embarrassment about their feet. Thus, it is a part of the body that particularly benefits from being cared for, caressed, and attended to.

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When performing a foot massage, the office is scented, soft music is playing, in addition to the sound of my water fountain trickling in the background. I provide the client with a comfortable eye pillow, if she wishes to use one, and a soft blanket. Then I make sure her spine is straight and a pillow supports her knees so that her legs are not locked straight. I use massage oil or lavender-scented lotion, providing my client is not allergic to either, and place her feet on a very soft furry piece of material. I ask her to begin by breathing deeply, in through her nose and out through her mouth, imagining that as she breathes in, she is breathing in peace, and as she breathes out she is breathing away all worries, tensions and cares. I also ask her once she is settled into her breathing to imagine a safe and peaceful place. I inform her that the place can be real or she can create one -or she can modify an existing place to more perfectly meet her needs. Next, I begin with one foot at a time by rubbing, stroking, massaging and kneading it. Once I have massaged each foot each for a minute or two, I proceed into visualization or hypnotherapy work while continuing the massage. I suggest that the client direct her breathing into the areas I am massaging first, and then instruct her to direct her breathing progressively into other parts of her body.

As I begin to request her to direct her breathing into the areas I am massaging, I start just below the ball of her foot, about in the center. I take each of her feet in both hands, place my thumbs in the crevice-like area and slowly begin to apply pressure. Most of my massage movements are done with my thumbs moving them in a forward motion. The next area I concentrate on is the toe area, going from the toes down the foot from the outside to the inside. I switch from one foot to the other here, massaging the same area on both feet before moving to the next. I shift to the top of the feet, working again between the toes and finish by gently stroking the undersides of feet. Once I have completed the foot massage, if I am continuing with the hypnotherapy or visualization, I place a heated pad under the feet in order to continue providing the feet with a feeling of comfort while I complete my work.


Reichian therapy is based on the work of Wilhelm Reich who I feel compelled to add died in prison as a result of his highly controversial work with an invention he described as an "orgone accumulator." While many thought him mad by the time of his death, others were inspired to continue certain aspects of his work. Reich proposed among other things that neurotic character structure and repressed emotions are actually physiologically rooted in chronic muscle spasms. Each emotion involves an impulse to action. For example, sadness is a feeling that involves an impulse to cry, which is a physical event involving a certain kind of convulsive breathing, vocalizations, tearing, and facial expressions in addition to effecting the limbs. If the urge to cry is suppressed, the convulsive muscular impulses have to be suppressed by means of a conscious effort of holding or stiffening. One must also hold one's breath thus not only suppressing the sobs but also lowering the energy level by decreasing oxygen intake.

If the muscular holding becomes habitual points out Richard Hoff, (The Holistic Health Handbook, 1978) it turns into chronic spastic contractions of the musculature. These spasms become automatic and unconscious and cannot be voluntarily relaxed even in sleep. The long forgotten memories and feelings, while lying dormant, remain intact in the form of frozen impulses to action in the muscles. The totality of these chronic muscle spasms constitute what Reich termed "muscular armoring". "Muscular armoring" serves to defend individuals against both external and internal impulses. "Muscular armoring" is the physical aspect of our defenses, while character armoring is the psychical. These two defense mechanisms are inseparable.

Reich developed a variety of techniques for dissolving the muscular armoring, including:

1) Deep massage of spastic areas, especially while having the client breath deeply and expressing the pain with his or her voice, facial expression, and when appropriate, his or her body. Reich believed this to be a powerful route to the unconscious. Occasionally, maintains Hoffman, pressure on a single muscle spasm will produce a spontaneous outburst of repressed emotion, with a specific memory of a forgotten traumatic event.

2) Deep breathing, which according to Hoffman, may produce energy streamings, prickling or tingling sensations, spasms, tremors or spontaneous emotional releases.

3) Pushing down on the chest while the client exhales or screams is thought by Reichians to assist in loosening up energy blocks.

4) Work with facial expressions in order to assist in unblocking emotions since the face is a major organ of emotional expression.

5) Work with the gag reflex, yawning, the cough reflex and other convulsive reflexes tends to break down rigid armoring, according to Hoffman.

6) Maintaining "stress positions", particularly while engaging in deep breathing and expressing pain with one's voice and face, are said to loosen armor by stretching it, inducing tremors, irritating it and tiring it.

7) Active "bioenergetic" movements, such as stamping, pounding, kicking, tantrums, reaching out, shaking the head, shoulders, or other body parts. It is stressed that these movements should be accompanied by full breathing and appropriate sounds and facial expressions. Done over a period of time, Hoffman states that these movements tend to break down inhibitions and liberate genuine feeling.

Reichian bodywork is methodical; there is a definite order to it. Its fundamental law is to start with the most superficial defenses and work gradually into the deeper layers at a rate that the client can tolerate.

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In his book, Hymns to An Unknown God, (1994), Sam Keen describes his experiences with bodywork. During his days as a reporter for Psychology Today, Keen submitted himself as a guinea pig in order to investigate Rolfing (structural integration) at the Esalen Institute. Rolfing involves manipulation of the connective tissue of all the major muscle groups in the body and is often very uncomfortable in the beginning.

When Ida Rolf began working on Keen's chest with her fingers, fists, and elbows, Keen reports that he felt himself begin to panic as it "hurt like hell." He later learned that the chronic tension in the muscles of his chest had formed a defensive armor that was physically, emotionally, and spiritually limiting. However, as he was not aware of this at the time, the first hour was an ordeal that led him to curse, moan, and wish for salvation. Once the trauma of the first hour gave way, Keen recalls that slight and yet unmistakable changes began to appear in his posture and stance in life. He noted that his leg muscles seemed freshly lubricated, allowing him freer movement and that his feet made more substantial contact with the ground. Encouraged by these observations he opted to continue with the process.

"...With my release from this and other long-held psychosomatic-spiritual defense systems, I experienced a new openness, ease, and expansiveness. My body became looser, as did my mind...There were other changes...Most important, I gained a direct sensuous and kinesthetic awareness of my total body."


Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that is a way of life versus a series of body postures. The literal meaning of the term yoga is "union". Renee Taylor, in his book, The Hunza-Yoga Way to Health And Longer Life, (1969), maintains that Yoga is a means of controlling one's thinking and moods, stating that:

"Yoga is an ancient yet still unsurpassed science of living. In Yoga, relaxation is an art, breathing a science, and mental control a means of harmonizing body, mind, and spirit."

Yoga utilizes such methods as deep rhythmic breathing, physical postures that serve to tone and strengthen various body parts, promote calmness, increase circulation, and includes relaxation methods and vocal and concentration exercises.

While my knowledge of Yoga is limited, I often suggest that clients consider attending a Yoga class. It has been my experience that our progress is enhanced by their participation in Yoga. I have been particularly impressed by the positive impact of Yoga on clients whom I have worked with in the past suffering from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.


Ilana Rubenfeld, a former professional musician turned bodywork counselor/teacher, has led over 800 workshops, presented at hundreds of conferences, and has established a center in New York where she offers a three year training program. She also serves on the faculties of New York University Continuing Education and the Graduate School of Social Work, the Open Center in New York, the Omega Institute, and has served on the faculty of the Eslan Institute for over 20 years.

Rubenfeld perceives every human being as a unique psychophysical pattern, possessing a distinct emotional agenda with an expression of its very own. According to Rubenfeld, the body serves as a functional metaphor and practical tool for reaching hidden levels of discord and revealing them to the client's awareness. The Rubenfeld practitioner assists the client to re-enter the original experience of an intense emotional event, rather than search out reasons for stress and disease. This is accomplished through subtle touch and nonintrusive collaboration with the client, where the practitioner intuitively helps to unleash negative emotions and guides the individual's inborn self-healing abilities. "Disease is but a message revealing a more subtle, inner message," claims Rubenfeld.

It is by using both real and imagined movement, in addition to intentional touch of the practitioner with the client's consent, that subtle changes take place in the nervous system, whereby deeper levels of meaning and emotion become more accessible over time.

Rubenfeld stresses the importance of the client taking the physical aspects of life into account by caring for the body. Her primary goal is to help individuals become their own therapists by assisting them to learn how to more effectively release and resolve emotions in everyday life. Rubenfeld maintains that once we learn to focus our awareness, we are able to more spontaneously modify habitual behaviors, as well as release and access stored memories.

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Edward W. L. Smith, who was influenced greatly by the work of Wilhelm Reich and Frederick Perls, wrote, The Body in Psychotherapy (1985). In his book, Smith describes techniques he believes facilitates body awareness in his clients. In utilizing these techniques, the therapist offers some relatively simple instructions, while the client's task is to direct attention and allow awareness to develop. This awareness provides the client and therapist with information regarding areas of the client's body of "diminished aliveness" or "blocks in the flow of that aliveness." Body awareness exercises also assist the client in taking a more active role in therapy, according to Smith, as it mobilizes him or her to take responsibility as the client is the ultimate source of information on him or herself in the therapy. The most important advantage perhaps to body awareness work says Smith, is that it can locate the precise locus for a body technique. The spot of tension or zone of heat provides the therapist with a map of the client's energy blocks and status.

There are several body phenomena which are looked for in body awareness work. Among such phenomena are hot spots, cold spots, tension, pain, numbness, paresthesias (prickling or tingling of the skin), vibrations and energy streamings.

Hot spots are areas on the surface of the skin which feel hot relative to surrounding areas. These "spots," according to Smith, may represent an area where energy has accumulated because of the individual's charging then holding energy in the hot area of the body, and thus not allowing it to be processed or discharged. Cold spots, on the other hand, Smith suggests, are areas on the body from which energy has been withdrawn, resulting in these areas being "deadened". Smith hypothesizes that these cold spots result from an individual's withdrawal of energy from an area which is held from full aliveness in order to protect the individual from some threat. "Going dead", says Smith, is a means of avoiding the aliveness which is forbidden by the unhealthy "introject" operating in the individual's dynamics. Smith asserts that this interpretation of hot spots appears to be clinically supported in the case, even of Raynaud's disease, a disease involving the constriction of blood vessels causing impaired circulation in the hands, feet, nose and ears.

Smith cites biofeedback literature providing evidence of the ability of individuals to learn voluntary control of skin temperature, pointing out that this very mechanism could operate on an unconscious level. Further, he refers to our "lived language" in support for attributing psychobiological meaning to hot and cold spots. For instance, when explaining a potential bride or groom's emerging hesitancy to go through with the wedding, the term, "cold feet" is often used. Other such terms are "the cold shoulder", hot headed", "hot under the collar", etc.

Smith views tension as the direct subjective experience of body armor.

"Where one feels tense is where one is contracting a muscle or group of muscles to avoid the flow of a contact/withdrawal cycle.

If tension is strong enough and long enough in duration, pain is experienced; often, tension and pain are experienced together.

Numbness follows from nerve pressure which results from tension. With muscle tension in certain areas, pressure is put on nerves resulting in a numbing or "going dead." Numbness is often accompanied by cold, since the tension may also be interfering with blood flow.

When a "deadened" area (cold and/or numb) begins to come back to life, there may be prickly feelings, tingling, or a creeping on the skin. These paresthesias are a note of optimism, in a sense. They indicate that the immediate crisis with the toxic introject is passed.

Reich used the term "streamings" to describe the deep current-like sensations which run up and down the body shortly before orgasm. To a lesser degree streamings may be experienced by relatively unarmored persons during very deep breathing. Streamings, then, can be taken as an indication that the body armor has largely dissolved and that the orgone (energy produced and expanded in homeostatic cycles) has begun flowing freely.

Before streaming of orgone is possible, there must be an increasing of the vibratory state of the body. As Lowen and Lowen (1977) have written, vibration is the key to aliveness. The healthy body is in a constant state of vibration, due to the energetic charge in the musculature. A lack of vibration can be taken to mean that the bioenergetic charge is greatly reduced or even absent. The quality of vibration gives some indication of the degree of musculature armoring.

Inviting clients to spend time, look inside, and note happenings in his or her body, is a step toward ending client's body alienation according to Smith. In offering the invitation of awareness, Smith advises that the therapist take his or her time in order to find appropriate pace and phrasing for the client. It is very important not to rush the client in this process.

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Smith also uses the exaggeration of a body action in order to facilitate body awareness, and points out that clients frequently make mini-movements or partial movements which suggests the action that follows from a present emotion. When Smith calls attention to the diminished movement, it is his experience that clients tend to report they are either unaware of the action or unclear about its meaning. It is Smith's opinion that in these situations, this "slip of the body" is an extended expression of the prohibited or repressed emotion. Smith contends that in inviting the client to repeat the diminished action in exaggerated form, the meaning often becomes obvious.

The information obtained via body awareness exercises is thought by Smith to be valuable to the therapist by identifying access points for therapeutic interventions, as well as to the client by contributing to his or her self-awareness.

Smith describes techniques of psychotherapeutic body interventions that are gentle and allow experiences to happen rather than being forceful as "soft" techniques.

One such very gentle technique involves inviting the client to assume a particular body posture which is paradigmatic of a particular emotion. By assuming this posture, the client may be able to recognize a blocked emotion. Postures generally stem from the therapist's intuition and vary from one client and emotion to another. However, there are certain common postures that Smith frequently uses, including: (1) The fetal posture, (2) the reaching posture, and (3) the spread eagle posture.

The fetal posture involves having the client lie down or sit and assume a fetal position. This posture is often associated with feeling safe and alone. The reaching posture requires that the individual lie down on his or her back with arms extended up, reaching out towards someone. This posture, says Smith, may induce a feeling of neediness; if held for a time, a feeling of abandonment or of a hopelessness may result. When utilizing the spread eagle posture, the client is asked to lie down with legs and arms spread out. This posture typically evokes feelings of vulnerability and insecurity and can be particularly effective with individuals who feel vulnerable and threatened and who may become aware of these feelings when in this posture.

If Smith observes that a client is holding a body part in a particular way, he sometimes rearranges the holding pattern and asks the client what the new position feels like. To facilitate this awareness, Smith may request that the client go back and forth between the two postures in order to more readily compare the two. An example of the use of this method in my own practice comes to mind. In working with a young woman who had a very difficult time talking about her abuse, I noticed that she frequently kept her arms close to her chest and fingers closed as if she were holding on very tightly to something. I asked her to open her hands and extend her arms out and away from her body. I then asked her to go back and forth between these two postures and compare the two. The client was able to talk about the feelings associated with both postures more fully.

Another "soft" technique utilized by Smith involves utilizing postures to evoke desired ego states. Smith believes that the desired ego state can be supported and facilitated by the posture assumed. For instance, Smith correlates the standing position with the parent ego state, the sitting position with the adult, and lying down with the child ego state. From time to time Smith has suggested a particular posture to a client who may be having difficulty staying in or entering a particular ego state.

Touching can be a form of bodywork. For instance, the therapist might touch a client to indicate caring and support. A therapist may also deliberately place his or her hands on the part of the client's body where some feeling is being inhibited or blocked. Smith reports that he might touch a client where an unusual body phenomenon is occurring and then say something such as "Just let go and breathe. Just feel my touch and allow whatever needs to happen, happen. Just notice your body sensations." Smith finds that skin to skin contact tends to be much more effective, although he maintains a respect for individual comfort level with such contact. I think it is important to note that survivors of sexual abuse may find skin to skin contact highly threatening and I myself approach the touching of clients with extreme caution.

Light and immobile touch is also often utilized in bodywork. When using such touch, the client is often asked to lie down and the therapist gently places his or her hands on areas of the body which may be armored or blocked. Places on the body where such contact is often made by Smith include: (1) lower abdomen; (2) upper abdomen; (3) back of the neck; and (4) center of the chest. Such touch is held until some response occurs. Smith often touches more than one area simultaneously. I have found the throat to be an important body area to touch when working with repressed or "silenced" material.

Utilizing breathing is a common technique of bodywork. Smith points out that because breathing provides the source of oxygen for metabolism, inadequate or insufficient breathing reduces vitality leading to such complaints as exhaustion, fatigue, tension, irritability, coldness, depression and lethargy. If such a breathing style becomes chronic, then arterioles may become constricted and the red blood cell count can drop, cautions Smith.

It is the task of the therapist, states Smith in addressing a client's breathing pattern, to teach the client to breathe deeply and fully with their whole body. Normally, this begins with calling the client's attention to the times that he or she is holding his or her breath or has decreased the rate and depth of his or her breathing significantly. It is not uncommon for a client to need to be reminded to "breathe" repeatedly during a single session.

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One method of instructing a client to breathe fully involves placing one hand upon the client's midchest and the other upon the client's upper abdomen. The client is then instructed to lift the therapist's hands while breathing and then let them fall, thus contracting and expanding both the chest and abdomen. I ask that the client use his or her own hands vs. placing mine on the client's abdomen. Once again, I feel it necessary to caution against violating the client's personal boundaries.

According to Smith, stretching of tight places in the body helps to induce aliveness. While the client is stretching one body part and then the other, the therapist invites the client to share any memories or emotional reactions while stretching.

Smith defines "Hard" techniques as those interventions which are neither gentle nor subtle, but instead are uncomfortable, at times painful, and often dramatic. Smith cautions that these techniques require considerable judgment and care, otherwise they may induce highly traumatic experiences for the client.

Often, preliminary work engaged in before utilizing "hard" techniques involves grounding the client (developing the ability to be self-supported or self-contained). The use of such stress postures as the bow, the one-legged stance, lying with the legs in the air, and wall sitting can be useful first steps in facilitating grounding. The client shifts all his or her weight to one leg, bends the knee, and extends the other leg with the heel only slightly touching the floor when assuming the one legged stance. The straight leg is used only for balance in this stance. When the client experiences vibrations in the stressed leg, the client reverses the position. When engaged in the wall-sitting stance, the client takes a seated position with his or her back against the wall, with thighs parallel to the floor, without benefit of a chair. The client is instructed not to brace his or her arms against the thighs for support. The client remains in this stance until the vibrations in the legs can be felt. With all of the stress postures, deep breathing through the mouth and vocalized exhalations are encouraged. Each of these stances assists the client in experiencing him or herself in contact with the ground.

Using deep pressure on spastic muscles is a common technique used by many therapists who engage in bodywork. Typically, the therapist mobilizes the client's breathing and then works on the armored muscles by applying deep pressure or deep muscle massage.

Alexander Lowen, author of Pleasure: A Creative Approach to Life, describes the principles and practices of bioenergetic therapy as based on "...the functional identity of the mind and the body. This means that any real change in a person's thinking and, therefore, in his behavior and feeling, is conditioned upon a change in the functioning of his body."


For centuries healers around the world have been aware of the human body's energy field. Because most of us are unable to see this energy field with our eyes, we have tended to ignore it. Yet each of us have experienced it. Whenever you have entered a room and sensed the tension between individuals who are in distress or who have been arguing, you have experienced their energy field. When you sense the presence of another before seeing them, you have tapped into his/her energy field. We are constantly emitting and receiving energy. Wayne Kristberg, author of The Invisible Wound: A New Approach To Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse, provides an example of how this energy field can be demonstrated. He suggests that an individual close his/her eyes and hold their hands over their ears; while a friend slowly begins to approach from approximately ten feet away. Typically, the individual will sense the energy of the friend before the friend is standing within a foot away. This is because the friend has entered the individual's energy field. The energy field extends not only outward from one's body, but also permeates the body completely; absorbed in each atom and cell. It is within the bodies' energy system, that the body holds the memories of one's past experiences, including the memory of sexual and physical abuse.

According to Kristberg, the trauma and pain of sexual abuse is centralized and stored in the pelvic area. When an individual undergoes recovery work to externalize or release the stored pain, a sensation of emptiness in the pelvic region may be experienced as a tingling sensation, a sense of relaxation or of lightness in this area. After undergoing intense emotional release work, most survivors feel significant relief. Kristberg contends that it is important to then focus awareness and direct healing energy into the now "empty place" in order to maximize healing. If one does not guide healing energy into the wound, once emotional release work is completed, Kristberg warns that the "energy hole" will reestablish the previous pattern of held pain. This is due to the fact that the body has become accustomed to carrying the energy pattern associated with the held pain. If a new energy pattern is not introduced after the pain is released, the original pattern of pain will reemerge.

Held pain can be externalized by a number of means, including bodywork, shouting, screaming, etc. While this release is occurring, the held energy is being pushed out and away from the body. During this process, Kristberg recommends that the individual doing the work should find a position that is most effective for letting out the emotional energy. As the emotions related to the trauma begin to be released, initial feelings of terror, intense fear, grief, or anger may be experienced. The body may begin to tremble or shake, or one might begin to yell or scream.

Energy tends to be manifested in two primary forms reports Kristberg: toxic energy and healing energy. Toxic energy consists of energy that has been held in or repressed, and often includes unexpressed anger, terror, grief, loss, rage, guilt, shame, etc. Once this energy is released it becomes "nontoxic." Healing energy, on the other hand, flows freely and is unrepressed. It is often experienced as feelings of peace, contentment, happiness, joy, etc. When healing energy is directed into the wound, Kristberg advises his clients to visualize the energy in the form of a color or image that represents healing to them.

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Biofeedback provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate the connections between an individual's psychological and physiological activity. Biofeedback instruments offer an immediate and objective source of information to the client and practitioner regarding the client's mind/body interaction. The physiological effects of such emotions as fear, anger, etc. can be demonstrated to the client, and psychosomatic disorders can be more concretely explained.

Biofeedback, as well as meditative practices, emphasizes the importance of attaining a state of relaxation in order to facilitate the achievement of insight and growth. It is also the goal of both practices to develop a state of harmony between the mind and body.

Biofeedback as explained by Kenneth Pelletier is based on three basic principles:

1) An individual can regulate any neurophysiological or biological function which can be monitored and amplified by electronic instrumentation, and then fed back to the individual through any one of the five senses.

2) Every change in an individual's physiological state is accompanied by a corresponding change in the mental emotional state, whether it be conscious or unconscious. Every change in the mental emotional state, conscious or unconscious produces a change in the physiological state.

3) A deep state of relaxation is conducive to the establishment of voluntary control of many autonomic or involuntarily nervous system functions, such as heart rate, brain waves, muscle tension, body temperature, white blood cell levels and stomach-acidity.

Biofeedback is described by Pelletier as one of the many approaches which places responsibility for health, well being and even personal growth upon the individual. When utilizing biofeedback with a client, the therapist can demonstrate the tremendous influence one can have over one's body processes, thus empowering the individual.

In working with individual's suffering from anxiety, phobias and panic disorder, I often now use a small hand held biofeedback monitor which measures galvanic skin resistance, which is a reflection of sweat gland activity and pore size. When an individual becomes disturbed or aroused to any extent, the monitor emits a high pitched buzz tone; when calm and relaxed, the tone is transformed into a slow popping sound. This is an extremely primitive machine and tremendously inferior to the more advanced instruments utilized in biofeedback. It does, however, demonstrate to clients how their emotions and thoughts impact their body functioning. I have found it to be extremely useful in instructing clients in the importance of utilizing relaxation techniques in order to alleviate anxiety, as well as other stress related disturbances. I am finding biofeedback particularly helpful in my work with victims of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

While bodywork remains an area that I am just now beginning to learn about and utilize, I am convinced that one must not neglect the body in endeavors to reach matters of the mind, for they are too often interwoven.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 12). Working With The Body As A Pathway To The Mind, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: July 18, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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