Welcome to the home of Fredericton Bioenergetics, the somatic psychology part of my psychology practice in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Bioenergetic therapy is a pretty venerable tradition, at least in psychotherapy terms. Contemporary practice of bioenergetics owes its name and lot more to Alexander Lowen, who developed and named the model in the 1950’s. Prior to that, Lowen was a student of Wilhelm Reich, who had been a student of Freud. Reich broke with Freud around a number of issues, but one of them was a belief that there is a real form of energy that gives life to the body. Freud had originally postulated this “libido” but backed off to framing it as metaphoric. Reich persisted, though, and spent much of his life exploring orgone energy.
For Freud and his followers, character structures referred to characteristic patterns of psychological and behavioural defenses. Reich took this a step further, suggesting strongly that people’s bodies would take on characteristic tensions and armouring as a result of the behavioural defenses they employed. Thus people who were round-shouldered, for example, could reasonably be expected to use collapse and helplessness as a defense when stressed.
This concept of body-as-character bloomed under Lowen. He kept Reich’s concept of energy, though leaving the name “orgone” behind, and developed clinical skill at reading energy patterns in the bodies of his patients. He also developed a number of body-based interventions to help people to become “self-aware, self-expressive, and self-possessed.” To be all of these three things was to be fully human, and fully oneself, and the goal for Lowenian bioenergetics.
How do you learn new information? We usually think of learning as the process we tried to engage in school. Someone told us something, and we “learned” it, meaning that we could, perhaps, parrot it back, or maybe even state the concept in other words (“in your own words…”). However, learning happens in lots of ways. I have learned more through my cooking experiments than from any cookbook or cooking class. When I notice that my cake is flat, or that my smoke detector is going off, or that this soup is just not, ummm, right….then I have an opportunity to learn something from my body’s response. This is more bottom-up than top down.
When we feel a “gut reaction” or some kind of unaccountability in our bodies, and we acknowledge and use that information, we are using bottom-up processing to help us manage top-down information. We’ve spent years and years refining our top-down methods, and really ignoring the messages that have been available through less verbal channels. It makes sense, though, for us to use, actively and with awareness, all of the information we have to make decisions, to problem solve, and to just check in with ourselves.
Try this: take a moment to just sit and notice your breathing. You might find yourself paying attention to how your body sits in the chair, or how your feet feel on the floor, but try to attend to the ways that air moves into and out of your body. Then open up a little space to see what else is in there? What else do you notice besides the fact that you are breathing? What other sensations are available to you? Just check it out and see if there is anything happening inside you that you might not have been aware of before you took time to check in on your bottom-up processes.