Freedom, Grace & Beauty: Alexander Lowen & Bioenergetics

Freedom, grace and beauty are the natural attributes of every animal organism. Freedom is the absence of inner restraint to the flow of feeling, grace is the expression of this flow in movement, while beauty is a manifestation of the inner harmony such a flow engenders. They denote a healthy body and also, therefore, a healthy mind.
The primary nature of every human being is to be open to life and love. Being guarded, armoured, distrustful and enclosed is second nature in our culture. It is the means we adopt to protect ourselves against being hurt, but when such attitudes become characterological or structured in the personality, they constitute a more severe hurt and create a greater crippling than the one originally suffered.

I picked up Alexander Lowen’s Bioenergetics mainly for it’s bright and appealing cover (see below). The blurb on the back was esoteric and slightly outrageous and I thought I’d give it a try, be entertained, maybe learn something, but probably not finish it (or just keep it on the shelf ’cause it looks cool). Many months later, on the start of another road trip, I decided to give it a go.

Immediately I was surprised by the direct, first person language the book used. Lowen begins by describing his journey to Bioenergetics as a therapy and I was, again, surprised at how intertwined it was with my favourite subject; psychoanalysis. Lowen was also interested in psychoanalysis and could see a connection between mental illness and physical illness, which had yet to be explored by the practicing field. Then he discovered Wilhelm Reich* who was looking in to these connections.

Reich’s therapy mainly involved a breathing technique combined with analysis to get his patients to loosen up. The whole idea is to listen to the body and respond spontaneously to it’s movements of energy. It reminded me a lot of meditation and yoga practices but Lowen only touches on the fact that the physical theories are so obvious in eastern medicine. (He merely mentions that the flow of energy within the body is represented in many religious philosophies.) Having done yoga (with excellent teachers, mind you), I know from experience the feeling of energy flowing through the body. In particular the wave that flows when breathing deeply.

Intriguing Book Cover Design

In the first chapter, Lowen has only discussed the very basic levels of Bioenergetics. We see that there is a major connection between peoples body language and their mental state. Lowen extends this to include tense muscles corresponding to a tense mind.

When I am anxious, I get an incredibly tight chest and the feeling that my heart is racing and I cannot breathe. Lowen would tell me that this is because my flow, not just energetically but in my blood stream as well, has been drawn quickly into my heart and throat. Restricting my breathing and cutting off circulation to my brain (it’s hard to think when your anxious). If only I could remember to breathe during this situation then I would be far less likely to make rash decisions. (Basically the same as counting to 10 when you’re mad before making your next move.)

The mind and body are one in the same. One does not happen without the other; like the concept of yin and yang. To understand this connection, harness it and release it, is to be somewhat lightened in both a physical and mental way.

I’m interested to see where this book takes me and if I can apply any of the teachings directly or indirectly via my yoga practice. I’ve already started thinking more deeply about where my neuroses come from, but, ya know, it’s therapy, it’s a process.