Chapter 8: Growth Resources in Holistic Health, Biofeedback, and Body Therapies
If counseling and therapy are to enable whole-person growth they must use methods that raise the level of physical vitality as well as those which enliven the psychological dimensions of people’s lives. Most traditional psychotherapies have been just thatùtherapies for the psyche. By virtually ignoring the human body, they have exacerbated the dualistic mind-body split, which diminishes the vitality of both. Sam Keen observes:
The psycho-therapeutic method that evolved from Freud’s vision has been antisomatic and antierotic. It has been so concerned with producing a strong, realistic ego that it has more frequently enabled men [sic] to work than it has liberated them to love. The body has been considered the special province of the medical profession. This has been perpetuated by the division of labor made by the healing professions.(1)
In contrast to the professional compartmentalization in which psychotherapists traditionally have participated, wholeness- oriented counselors and therapists must seek to facilitate healing and growth in all dimensions of people’s lives, including the physical dimension.
This chapter highlights body enlivening resources from three interrelated thrusts in the contemporary health-therapy field — the holistic health movement, biofeedback, and the body therapies. Each thrust offers insights and methods that can help strengthen the physiological foundation of whole-person growth.
Growth Resources from Holistic Health
The holistic health movement is having an increasing impact among health professionals, including counselors and psycho- therapists. The movement includes an increasing number of persons from the medical professions who are not satisfied with either the philosophy or the results of main-line, highly specialized medical practice. The movement has also attracted many persons who are interested in nonorthodox healing methods. The whole-person philosophy of the movement makes closer peer collaboration among the various health-care professionals essential. Growth-oriented counselors and therapists should see themselves and be seen by other health professionals as an essential part of any whole-person health team.
The guiding principles of holistic health reflect emphases that are weak or missing in both the philosophy and practice of orthodox medicine. These principles coincide with some of the basic concerns of growth-oriented counseling and therapy:(2)
—Health is much more than the absence of sickness. It is the presence of high-level wellness. There are many degrees of wellness just as there are many degrees of sickness. Health professionals, including counselors and psychotherapists, should be committed to nurturing high-level wellness rather than simply waiting until people develop illnesses that require treatment. The technology of modern medicine, oriented to treating gross pathology and trauma by surgery, powerful drugs, and space-age technology, has little to do with either the degree of wellness of individuals or the general level of wellness in society.
—High-level wellness involves balanced and integrated interaction among all the interdependent dimensions of people’slives. Holistic health is concerned with increasing people’s wellness levels in the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, interpersonal, and environmental (3) areas; but its primary focus is the whole person, who is more than simply the sum of these various aspects.
—The keys to achieving and maintaining wellness are wellness-awareness and self-responsibility. Wellness-increasing behavior in one area of a person’s life tends to encourage wellness behavior in other areas. Persons who respect, enjoy, and care for their bodies by general wellness practices are less inclined to engage in self-hurting behavior such as smoking, chronic overeating, or over drinking of alcohol.
—Two major determinants of levels of wellness (or sickness) are one’s life-style and the level of chronic stress in one’s life. Changing to a wellness life-style and reducing stress can simultaneously help to increase the satisfactions in one’s life and reduce the risk of illness. Here is how Donald B. Ardell describes the potential rewards of a wellness life-style: “There is excitement, adventure, enjoyment, fulfillment for us on earth. A wellness lifestyle will not guarantee . . . that you experience these states but it can certainly bend the odds your way. At a minimum, you can expect that a healthy body, emotional equilibrium, and an alive mind will give you one hell of a good start. . . . Be well, drink deep, go for it.”(4)
Here are seven interrelated strategies that counselors and therapists can use to help clients raise their levels of wellness:(5)
(1) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should encourage increased self-responsibility by clients for their total health and for their life-styles. It’s important for wellness-enablers to communicate, by their general attitudes if not in words:
“You are in charge of your own life. Others [including health care professionals and counselors] have influence, can make things easier or more difficult, but in the end you must make your own choices and accept responsibility for what . . . health or disease occur in your life.” (6) This emphasis on self-responsibility seeks to counteract a major cause of unwellness in Western societies — the “medical model” in which people view themselves as passive “patients” and view physicians as having primary responsibility for their health and healing. Self-responsibility is the key to increased wellness in all areas of our lives. Even when factors beyond a person’s control play a role in causing illnesses, the responsibility for responding in the most constructive way possible still is with the individual. The awakening of self-responsibility is absolutely essential in any counseling or therapy that is to be growth-enabling. Self- responsibility for one’s wellness has many practical ramifications, including the six strategies described below.
(2) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should encourage clients to increase their nutritional awareness and practice sound nutrition as the foundation of high-level wellness. A vicious cycle operates in many people’s lives between their emotional problems and their eating, drinking, and smoking patterns. Many people use overeating (including eating enormous quantities of junk foods), smoking, and excessive drinking of alcohol as forms of self-medication in a vain attempt to treat their stress, depression, and low self-esteem. Unfortunately the use of junk food, alcohol, and nicotine as temporary, self-prescribed pain-reducers tends to produce even more pain in the long run. Many psychological and emotional problems apparently are exacerbated by poor nutrition. Furthermore, the level of zest and positive satisfactions in living are lowered in many people by poor nutrition and/or the overconsumption of food and alcohol. Most psychotherapists have focused their healing efforts on only the first side of the two-way interaction between how we feel and what we eat and drink. In contrast, whole-person approaches must direct their healing efforts to both sides, since both are causes as well as effects of levels of unwellness. Many people could raise their general level of wellness at the same time they enhance their appearance and self-image, by doing two things — drastically reducing or eliminating the intake of junk food, refined sugar, and other carbohydrates, saturated fats, alcohol, and nicotine; and adding more healthful foods to their diets including vegetable proteins, whole-grain cereals and bread, raw vegetables and fruits, and high fiber foods.(7)
(3) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should challenge clients to keep physically fit by exercising vigorously several times a week. The human body is designed, by evolutionary survival needs through the millennia, for vigorous physical activity. A Rutgers anthropologist declares: “When we run, we are . . . reviving the work of yesteryear, hunting-gathering work. The muscles, bones, cartilage, lungs, heart and mind of the primate best adapted to running want to be used. When we use them (within reason, and with appropriate concern for slowly increasing strength, stamina, etc., and correcting for age) we feel better. When we don’t run or do some similar exercise, we feel worse.” (8) Unfortunately, inactivity is a way of life and a serious health hazard for many people (45 percent of Americans say they never exercise). Chronic inactivity contributes to a wide variety of medical problems, including premature aging, obesity, heart disease, chronic fatigue, and hypertension. Apart from reducing the likelihood of illness, the benefits of keeping fit through exercise are impressive. Studies have shown that many people find jogging an effective way of lifting depression, releasing stress, and increasing feelings of self-esteem. Fast walking is one of the most healthful exercises. Finding a form of vigorous exercise that one enjoys is the secret of getting a double (health and pleasure) benefit from the activity.
Like many males I was turned off in my youth by the glorification of super-competitive sports in which I did not excel and by unimaginative physical education classes. During most of my young-adult years I did not exercise vigorously (except for foolish binges of overexertion on rare occasions such as mountain climbing, backpacking vacations). But during the last fifteen years I have discovered that jogging several times a week helps to energize my mind, reduce my depression, and tone up my body. Within the last two years I have found that a twenty-minute session of hatha (physical) yoga exercises, in the morning or evening, is remarkably enlivening.(9) The stretching and breathing exercises have enabled me to gradually recover body flexibility and awareness that I had lost through years of sedentary living. I feel generally more alive and energized now in the later mid-years than I did in my twenties and thirties!
(4) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should teach clients one or more of a variety of relaxation techniques for reducing stresses regularly. Chronic stress contributes to many types of physical, emotional, interpersonal, and psychosomatic problems. When the normal fight-or-flight response to stress (with its elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body tension) becomes a continuing pattern of living, the body pays a high price. Protracted unrelieved stress depletes the body’s remarkable self-defense and self-repair resources. Learning to reduce unnecessary stress and cope better with unavoidable stress is an essential ingredient in a wellness life-style.
There are many self-quieting techniques that counselors and therapists can teach to clients as well as practice themselves. One of the most popular of these, meditation, has been shown to produce significant physiological benefits including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and the increased flow of oxygen to the brain.(10) Other ways of entering one’s “serenity zone” include tensing and releasing all one’s muscles; breathing deeply for a few minutes; listening to tranquil music; soaking in a hot bubble bath; experiencing the rhythms and energies of nature; and reliving in one’s imagination a peaceful experience. A misconception that often serves as an excuse for not using stress-reducing techniques is the belief that they require large blocks of time and a quiet place. I know a young minister who reports that he can enter a serene inner space while waiting for a traffic light to change. This obviously isn’t the most ideal place to meditate, but his experience shows that a person who has learned methods of inner quieting can use them almost anywhere. I find that simply asking myself occasionally, “In what part of my body am I stressing myself?” increases my awareness of the need to release tensions regularly.
(5) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should encourage clients to live in an ecologically sound, environmentally aware way. High-level wellness life-styles should include a concern for other people and for the whole interdependent biosphere. To live in an environmentally aware manner means living in ways that respect and protect the biosphere so that it can become more wellness-sustaining for all living things. One can help, in small ways, by “living lightly on the earth” — e.g., by eating lower on the food chain, recycling reusable materials, conserving fossil fuel energy (and other nonrenewable re- sources), composting organic materials to enrich the soil, using solar energy, and taking part in environmental educational and political action organizations.
As Donald Ardell points out: “Living ecologically is a ‘no-lose’ proposition. Even if you personally do not change the world, you will find that doing well with less helps to make you feel better by giving the satisfaction that comes from doing your part.”(11) It is also healthful to shape one’s personal living space so that it nurtures wellness. For example, an abundance of plants has added a nurturing dimension to our home.
(6) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should encourage clients to evaluate as well as energize their life-style by developing a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. One’s personal values, priorities, and sense of life’s meaning inevitably guide and shape one’s life-style. For this reason, the continuing growth of one’s spiritual and value life undergirds other aspects of high-level wellness. Having an energizing awareness of the purpose and preciousness of one’s life is an invaluable resource for increasing physical as well as emotional and interpersonal wellness. A faith or philosophy of life that makes one aware of really belonging in the wider scheme of things provides a nurturing context of transpersonal meaning. There is a lively interest within holistic health circles in using the ancient heritage of spiritual healing within the context of medical and psychotherapeutic methods. This is based in part on the recognition that the self-healing, self-protective resources of one’s body are somehow linked with one’s faith and sense of meaning. As Hans Selye, pioneer researcher on stress, makes clear, it is our attitudes toward events in our lives that turn them into “distress” or “eustress” (good stress), not the events per se.(12) A sense of transpersonal purpose can help people cope constructively with enormous stress. The Wholistic Flealth Centers pioneered by Granger Westberg offer an innovative model of whole-person health care in which the spiritual dimension of healing is integrated with conventional medical resources. These centers are located in churches and staffed by a physician, a nurse, and a pastoral counselor. (See the book by Robert Cunningham, in the “For Further Exploration” section, for a description of these centers.)
(7) A wholeness-oriented counselor-therapist should encourage clients to laugh more, have more fun, chuckle at themselves, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Abundant laughter apparently has the power to activate the body’s own healing powers. This was the discovery that Norman Cousins made when he used old slapstick movies to help cure himself of an “irreversible” deterioration of his connective tissue.(13) The physician author of Laugh after Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor, reports that he has encountered a surprising number of persons who seemed to have laughed themselves back to health or have used humor to cope constructively with sickness.(14) A seventeenth-century British physician. Dr. Thomas Sydenham, put it well: “The arrival of one clown has more beneficial influence upon a town than 20 asses laden with drugs.”(15)
When doing holistic, growth therapy with male clients, it’s well to remember that men have a particularly urgent need to develop wellness life-styles. In America the life expectancy of men is about eight years less than that of women.(16) Two hypotheses have been advanced to explain the widening gap in male-female longevity. The biological explanation attributes men’s shorter life expectancy to genetic factors. The psycho-social explanation attributes it to the lethal demands and pressures that men internalize as they learn the male role. After a critical evaluation of both hypotheses, James Harrison of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine concludes: “The best available evidence confirms the psychosocial perspective that sex-role socialization accounts for the larger part of men’s shorter life expectancy.”(17) In all patriarchal cultures, men are socialized to try to be more successful and powerful than others; to always be strong, competitive, and independent; to not show “weak,” women-like feelings like dependency. But to the degree that men fulfill their socially programmed sex roles, they must deprive themselves of the satisfaction of many of their basic human needs. The significantly higher incidence among males of stress-related maladies (e.g., heart attacks, stomach ulcers, suicide, alcoholism) supports Harrison’s conclusion.
Growth Resources from Biofeedback
Biofeedback is an exciting development in the contemporary biomedical field. In many parts of the world, psychologists and psychotherapists are using biofeedback to throw new light on an age-old mystery — the relationship between the mind and the body. The evidence from this new technology affirms the deep interdependency of the physical and mental facets of human beings and the fact that whole-person healing and growth involves the harmonious, integrated
enhancement of both these dimensions. Biofeedback research also increases our awareness of the mind’s remarkable power to participate in enhancing both mental and physical health. Barbara Brown, pioneer biofeed-back researcher, reports that the new technology “points straight to the greatest mystery of all: the ability of the mind to control its own and the body’s sickness and health.”(18)
Biofeedback utilizes various instruments that measure bodily changes such as muscular tension, blood pressure, brain wave frequencies, skin temperature, and heart rate. The instruments feed back this information, via meters, tones, or lights, to the persons whose functions are being monitored, thus making them conscious of changes in their internal states of which they are ordinarily unaware. With practice, people can learn to control the body system being monitored and to continue this control, on their own, without the instruments.
The research on and the clinical applications of biofeedback illuminate the complexities and potentialities of the human mind. Barbara Brown declares: “I am still filled with awe and wonder when I record human brain waves in my laboratory . . . the more we probe, the more marvelous and labyrinthine the world of the mind-brain becomes.”(19) Biofeedback research shows that the mind can bring under some degree of voluntary control any physiological functions of which it becomes aware. Volitional control can be established, through biofeedback learning, over processes long believed to be totally subject to the involuntary control of the autonomic nervous system.
All this is dramatic evidence that the human will is not only alive and well but that its participation in mind-body wholeness can be much more inclusive than formerly believed. All forms of hard determinism, including those of Skinner and Freud, must now be corrected in light of this evidence. In the new phase of human evolution (described by Teilhard de Chardin and others) humankind is called to take a responsible part in choosing the directions of mental-spiritual evolution. Barbara Brown points out, “Biofeedback may provide the instrument to excise the cataracts of scientific vision that so long have prevented participation of the mind of man [sic] in the survival and evolution of his own consciousness and psyche.”(20)
The ability to learn to control one’s physiological functions is being used to treat many types of psychosomatic stress problems, including tension and migraine headaches, cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, and gastrointestinal difficulties of various kinds. Biofeedback is being used to retrain neuromuscular functioning after strokes. It is also proving useful in anxiety states and stress-related problems such as drug abuse, insomnia, and persistent pain. Brain-wave biofeedback training involving learning to increase one’s alpha waves (associated with a relaxed, tranquil feeling state) has been used with some success in treating neuroses, psychoses, and behavior problems.(21)
The applications of biofeedback to emotional, psychological, and interpersonal problems depends on what Alyce and Elmer Green, biofeedback researchers at the Menninger Foundation, call the “psychophysiological principle:” “Every change in the physiological state is accompanied by an appropriate change in the mental-emotional state, and conversely, every change in the mental-emotional state, conscious or unconscious, is accompanied by an appropriate change in the physiological state.”(22) Because of this correlation, learned control of bodily functions may help increase voluntary control over the psychological-emotional correlates of these changes. To illustrate, research has discovered that changes in our skin temperature and the degree of skin conductivity of small electrical impulses (both indications of our degree of general relaxation) are correlated with emotional changes. Such messages from our skin often reflect unconscious emotional responses more accurately than what we are aware of consciously. As the various bodily states that are correlated with optimal mental health and total growth become better understood, biofeedback may be used more widely and productively in psychotherapy and life enrichment work, and in precise evaluation of these.
Most psychotherapists who use biofeedback devices regard them only as adjunctive resources within psychotherapy. Once clients learn the simple procedures of monitoring their bodily changes, they can practice controlling these changes on their own. This do-it-yourself aspect can save the therapists’ time (and the clients’ money). It also can help clients develop feelings of autonomy and self-esteem. To discover that one can accomplish significant changes on one’s own and that one can control one’s body and feelings, tends to increase feelings of competence and hope for further growth. Howard Stone reports on the use of biofeedback in a pastoral counseling center in Arizona that biofeedback is useful in helping people with stress-related problems learn how to relax deeply. The therapist simply loans an inexpensive skin temperature thermometer to such clients (after explaining and demonstrating its use), suggesting that they use it between therapy sessions. By using the machine, clients learn how it feels when they are deeply relaxed and how to achieve this state. They can then relax without dependence on the feedback devices. Stone reports: “Methods such as progressive relaxation, yoga, TM and other meditative techniques have been used to help people relax. Biofeedback does the same thing . . . and does it much more rapidly since from the first session the client is able to see how he or she is actually learning to relax.”(23)
Brain-wave biofeedback is described by Elmer and Alyce Green as the “yoga of the West” because it helps people learn to change their consciousness to a state of alert quietness that is like that achieved by many meditative techniques. By learning to increase their output of alpha and theta waves, some people report meditation-like experiences of integration or centeredness.
Some researchers are exploring the relationship between the altered state of consciousness called “reverie” (produced by theta wave training) and enhancement of physical healing, problem solving, and creativity. Elmer Green reports that the gap between conscious and unconscious processes apparently is voluntarily narrowed during reverie and the creativity of the unconscious made more available to the persons.(24) As a tool for exploring the healing-growth potentials of various self-altered states of consciousness, biofeedback may help us develop resources for enriching our spiritual lives.
Biofeedback instruments simply extend the range of the natural feedback from our bodies. A fringe benefit that both biofeedback and the body therapies can help give us is increased awareness of these vital messages from our bodies. Many of us live in asphalt and concrete cities cut off from full body awareness. We tend to insulate ourselves from the healing feedback from nature and from our bodies. Our bodies try to tell us to give ourselves a mini-vacation (five to ten minutes of relaxation) from the pressures of our frantic life-styles in a technological society. The message comes in coded forms such as a tension headache or chronic insomnia. Rather than listening to the wisdom of our bodies and changing our high-pressure life-styles, we pop an aspirin, a tranquilizer, or a psychic energizer.(25)
Growth Resources from the Body Therapies
The “body therapies” are actually a constellation of therapies and growth approaches that emphasize working directly with the body as a way of increasing wholeness. These approaches differ widely among themselves in both theory and methods.(26) They include Wilhelm Reich’s orgone therapy; Alexander Lowen’s bioenergetics; Ira Rolf’s structural integration (called “Rolfing”); Arthur Janov’s primal therapy; autogenic training, a deep relaxation method; sensory awareness methods; dance and movement therapies; and such Eastern body disciplines as t’ai-chi, Aikido Zen awareness training, and hatha yoga. Gestalt therapy and some feminist therapies also include a prominent emphasis on body awareness and empowerment.
The primary thrust of these somato-therapies — helping people increase their physical vitality — is one important dimension of any whole person approach to counseling or psychotherapy. According to the body therapy perspective, the basic alienation that impoverishes the health of many people is an inner estrangement from their bodies. In our success-worshiping left-brain society, we overvalue rationality, cognitive knowledge, control, analysis, and work, and separate these from aspects of ourselves that we undervalue — feelings, intuition, synthesis, body awareness, play, and other right-brain functions. To the degree that we are alienated from experiencing and affirming our bodies, our capacity for feeling deeply and for sensuousness, playfulness, and creativity is diminished.
In therapy with body-estranged people, direct work to enhance body awareness and energy is needed to help them reclaim their bodies. The goal of such body work is both to liberate the body’s trapped energies and pleasure potentials, and to help awaken those intellectual, creative, and spiritual capacities which have been dulled by body rejection. Wilhelm Reich (the foreparent of many body therapies) believed that the “body armor” of chronic muscular rigidity incorporates and continues to express the constricting early life experiences that created these somato-psychic defenses. He discovered that when these chronic muscular tensions dissolved during therapy, one of three biologically based feelings emerged into awareness –anxiety, anger, or sexual excitement. Alexander Lowen has modified Reich’s theory and methods in various ways.(27) He defines the main goal of therapy as freeing people from their chronic constrictions of breathing and muscular tensions so that their whole organism can experience a flow of life energy. He instructs clients in various body postures, exercises, and emotionally releasing verbalizing by which they can overcome the deadening of feelings and pleasure
resulting from blocked energy flow. Lowen reminds us that the blocks and the resources for growth are in our bodies as well as our minds: “Personality is much broader than consciousness. . . . It is an expression of the total being: of its physical vitality, of its muscular coordination, of its inner harmony and outward grace. The magnetism of a personality is . . . the radiance of an alive body in which the mental and physical aspects reflect each other.”(28) A strong sense of personal identity involves an integration of the body image and the self image. In Lowen’s words: “The ego depends for its sense of identity upon the perception of the body. If the body is charged and responsive, its pleasure function will be strong and meaningful, and the ego image will be grounded in body image.”(29) A person with diminished awareness of bodily feeling becomes
split into a disembodied spirit and disenchanted body. The ego, divorced from the body, is vulnerable and weak. When rejected, the nonrational, body-feelings side of us becomes “demonic,” breaking through in such distorted forms as destructive aggression, depression, compulsions, and feelings of schizoid detachment. Body therapies aim at helping people say yes to their bodies, joyfully and playfully. With the recovery of body-play, the capacity for greater mind-play (creativity) tends to be increased.
It is important to recognize that body alienation and deadening tend to occur in different ways for men and women in our culture. As a boy I was tall and “skinny” as well as shy, fearful, and unassertive. I was easily dominated by stronger, more aggressive boys. I grew up feeling as many men feel — that my body was inferior because it didn’t measure up to the image of the all-American male athlete. In my youth I tried various types of body-building in frantic efforts to make my body fit the image. These produced some modest “improvements.” I can resonate to Sam Keen’s description of his experience of body-alienation: “I had organized my body around the mirror, the opponent and the job. The body I had fabricated looked good, competed adequately and functioned efficiently, but it was tensed against the invasion of tenderness. I told it what to do, and for the most part it obeyed like a well-paid, sullen butler. It was better at work than at play.”(30) During my young adult years I drove my body relentlessly, seeking to make it serve my self-esteem needs to be a “successful” competitor in my work. I continued my I-it relationship with my body until it rebelled against the chronic stress I had kept it under. In my early forties, I discovered that I had developed diabetes due in part, I now see, to the chronic stress to which I subjected my body.
Girls are conditioned by our culture to equate their self-worth with being “pretty” and attractive to boys. Their feelings of personal value tend to be limited to the degree to which they can make their bodies fit the superficial Hollywood image of beauty. They tend, as do boys, to feel that their bodies are always on trial, being judged against idealized criteria to which they can never measure up fully.
The “Playboy syndrome” reflects a special problem for women — the tendency within a male-dominated culture for many men and women to perceive and judge women first as bodies and second, if at all, as persons. To make matters worse, to be “feminine” in our culture, women have tended to deaden the natural assertiveness of their bodies and not allow themselves to enjoy their sexuality wholeheartedly. This is why feminist therapies emphasize helping women to accept and enjoy the sensuality of their bodies and express their energies assertively. The efforts of body therapists are directed at helping people learn to experience their bodies, their feelings, their assertiveness, and their capacities for body pleasure. Lowen declares: “As long as the body remains an object of the ego, it may fulfill the ego’s pride, but will never provide the joy and satisfaction that the ‘alive’ body offers.”(31)
The quality of one’s sexuality reflects the quality of one’s general body awareness. Body alienation weakens one’s sexuality — the general feelings and affirmation of one’s maleness or femaleness — and diminishes one’s sexual pleasuring. It also detaches sex from sexuality, making sex a performance motivated by the ego rather than by basic instinctual needs. “A decrease of sexuality leads inevitably to an increased preoccupation with sex. The attempt is made to recapture the lost feelings by exposing one’s self to sexual stimulation or engaging in sexual activity. The results are disastrous.”(32)
The somatic therapies aim at helping people awaken their dulled senses, recover sensuous awareness in their whole bodies, rediscover the wonder, spontaneity, and playfulness that they have lost under their load of lopsided rationality and overcontrol. When people begin to revive their aliveness, they often reclaim their “forsaken body with all the fervor of the lost child finding its loving mother.”(33)
The body therapies have important implications for spiritual enrichment. These therapies see the alive body as the foundation for all other growth, including spiritual growth. Lowen points out that “as long as the ego dominates the individual he cannot have the oceanic or transcendental experiences that make life meaningful.”(34) The body therapies reaffirm, by implication, the ancient Hebrew view of body-mind-spirit wholeness (as do holistic health and biofeedback). They reject the splitting apart, in the Greek and much of the Christian tradition, of body and spirit, nature and history, secular and sacred. They emphasize the crucial importance of affirming the deep “animal” roots of our humanness.(35) They call us to what Sam Keen calls an “incarnate existence” in which we affirm the sacred in the so-called secular, and thereby gain a new and profound respect for our bodies and for all living things.(36) The heart of vital religion says a resounding “yes!” to all dimensions of our lives including our bodies. Enlivening religion, as Keen makes clear, must be danced and not merely believed!
Although they provide some important growth resources, there is a significant inadequacy in some of the body therapies. This is the tendency toward body reductionism (which is most prominent in Reichian therapy) and the implicit assumption that body work constitutes the whole of therapy. From a holistic growth perspective, the main thrust of the body therapies is an essential, often neglected dimension of counseling and therapy, but it is only one dimension. The body therapy methods are used most productively when they are integrated with methods for helping people enliven themselves in all the other interdependent aspects of their psycho-social-spiritual-physical personhood.
Experiencing Body Enlivening Methods
In this section I will present several body-enlivening exercises that I have found helpful, describing them so that you can use them in self-nurture as well as with clients. The slash mark means, “Stop while you complete what has been suggested.”
Body Awareness and Grounding
As you sit, become aware of your body position in relation to the force of gravity./ To feel more firmly grounded, straighten your spine and put both of your feet solidly on the floor./ Picture and feel your rear supported by the chair; your chair and your feet supported by the floor; the floor supported by the building; the building supported by its foundation; the foundation supported by the solid earth beneath it./ Let your weight sink toward the earth and be supported by it./(37)
Cross your legs and arms tightly; be aware of your feelings./ Now uncross your legs and arms in an open, free stance./ How have your feelings and your body awareness changed?/ Sit with your hands palms down on your thighs. Close your eyes and tune in on how you experience this position./ Turn your palms upward. Close your eyes again and become aware of any change in your experience of yourself. Recall and relive in your imagination an experience when you felt threatened or rejected./ Be aware of your body’s response./ Now relive another experience when you felt safe, nurtured, loved./ What were the body messages you received as you relived that episode?/ During the next few days, practice being in touch with what occurs in your body, how alive or unalive it feels in different situations. Overall self-awareness can be increased by cultivating greater body-awareness.
Whole Body Aliveness
Take off your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror,/ Start with your head and move slowly toward your feet, looking at each area or part of your body for a while. Which parts feel energized and alive ?/ Be aware of how you feel about your body as a whole./ Which parts do you like? Which would you change if you could?/ Has this “body aliveness check” changed your awareness of your feelings in any part of your body?(38)
Shut your eyes and be aware of your center of energy — the place in your body that feels most alive./ Imagine that your energy is radiating from this center throughout your body. Feel its warming flow thawing the parts that feel less than fully alive./ Continue this until your whole body feels energized and alive.
Several body therapies emphasize breathing exercises as a means of freeing body awareness and energy flow. Breathing is our most fundamental means of self-nurture. As Fritz Perls pointed out, we breathe in shallow, constricted ways to block out threatening feelings. But in so doing we also diminish our feelings of excitement, sensual pleasure, and aliveness. In hatha yoga, “complete breathing” is used as a way to calm the mind, let go of stress, and increase the “life force” in the whole organism. Here is a hatha yoga exercise that can increase deep, nurturing breathing:
Exhale very deeply so that the lungs are emptied of air. Pull in your abdomen as far as possible to help the exhalation./ Begin a very slow inhalation through your nose. As you inhale, also begin to distend your abdomen. . . ./ Continue the slow inhalation. Slowly expand your chest as far as possible. Make this an exaggerated, expansion./ Continue the inhalation. Keep your chest expanded and now raise your shoulders [to create more space for air]. . . .This is the completed posture. Hold for a count of five./ Very slowly exhale completely through your nose and simultaneously allow your body to contract and relax. Exhale very deeply and, with a pause, repeat./ Perform the Complete Breath three times.”(39)
Here is a way of using your breathing to reduce bodily stress and become more centered in your mind: Tense and then relax all the muscles of your body several times./ As you practice breathing, as described above, close your eyes and concentrate all of your attention on your breathing./ On each exhalation, let your body tensions and your worries flow out with the air./ Focus your whole attention on one point — the slow, rhythmic flow of air in and out of your nostrils. If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your breathing./ Don’t try to make anything happen. Just “be” your breathing./ Let the length of each inhalation, exhalation, and the space between each breath increase as your mind and body grow quiet./ Say the word “one” gently with each exhalation, feeling your basic oneness — within yourself, with all of life and with Spirit./ Continue this focused breathing until you experience the temporary cessation of the usual flow of thoughts, sensations, images, and feelings in your consciousness./ Stay in this clear, serene consciousness for at least ten minutes./ (This centering method is the essential method used in several Eastern approaches to meditation.)
Now, as you slowly exhale, imagine that your breath-energy is flowing out through your pelvic area, gently caressing and energizing your genitals. Let yourself enjoy this for a while./ Imagine that your breath-energy is flowing out through other areas of your body that need enlivening one area at a time./
Here is a delightful way to begin your day, described by Anne Kent Rush:
“Close your door. Be in a room you like. Choose some music to play which pleases you. Take off all your clothes. And dance! Dance for yourself. . . . Try not to think about what your movements look like from the outside. This is a chance to allow your inner rhythms and expressions to be. Every now and again stand still and allow any feelings or sensations inside of you to build and spread and move out into your limbs to become a motion. Try to open yourself and let any movements which your body, you, wants to make. . . . Forget your obligations. Forget any other people or thoughts. . . . Dance!”(40)
It is possible to “play” your favorite music in your imagination for a few minutes during the day to reduce stress and raise your energy level. Let the music in your mind envelop you and flow through your whole being./ If you are alone (or with understanding people) let your body do whatever it wishes, moving freely with the rhythms of the music./ When you finish, sit quietly for a few moments and savor the whole experience./
These exercises aim at draining off accumulated anger through big muscle movement so that pent-up anger won’t waste creative energy or produce chronic depression, stress, sexual diminution, or psychosomatic disorders. When you sense a build-up of frustration or anger, get a cardboard box and find a time when you can be alone in your garage or basement, wearing hard-toed shoes./ Close your eyes and picture the persons or situations which are the sources of our frustration or anger./ When you become aware of your negative feelings, open your eyes and express them by kicking the box and shouting whatever words or sounds well up in you as you kick. Let yourself go! Kick the box to shreds if you feel like it! Keep kicking until you experience a sense of release and lightness within yourself./ If you are depressed, but not aware of anger, try kicking violently anyway. You may find that this pulls the plug on repressed anger and lets it drain off harmlessly./ Another anger-releasing exercise is to pound a bed relentlessly with your fists or a tennis racket or kick the bed while lying on it.(41) Do this until the hurt and anger are drained off.
Violent hitting or kicking of inanimate objects brings into consciousness one’s fear and guilt about negative feelings and aggressiveness. Expressing these negative feelings (in spite of the fear and guilt) in ways that don’t hurt other people helps diminish the blocks that prevent anger from being expressed appropriately (in small installments) as it occurs, rather than building up as potentially destructive rage. Draining off repressed rage frees people to deal more constructively with reality, including changing whatever can be changed about their frustration-causing situation and relationships. The full release of supercharged negative feelings often allows positive feelings of warmth and love, strength and aliveness to flow within us again.
Healing and Nurture Through Touching
Eric Berne observed that the original interpersonal “strokes” we received as small children were the warm satisfactions of being touched. Although we gradually substitute emotional strokes such as recognition and praise as we grow older, our inner Child continues to yearn for physical contact with others. (In TA terms, such health-jeopardizing behavior as overeating and smoking are attempts to comfort oneself and to compensate for feelings of stroke-deprivation.) It is noteworthy that several thousand nurses and physicians have received training in a new technique called “Therapeutic Touch.” which is reminiscent of the laying on of hands, an ancient healing practice in the Christian heritage.
To experience the healing-nurturing energies of touching, I invite you to try this exercise with your spouse or a close friend. Ask the person to sit in a chair with eyes closed./ For a few minutes, practice centering, that is, getting in touch with the center of life energy within you. You may find it helpful to form an image of a warm, gentle, healing light entering and filling your whole body./ Gently put your hands on the other person’s head. See if you can sense the flow of life energy through your hands to the other person. All during the experience, visualize that person as radiantly healthy./ After ten minutes or so, gently lift your hands, suggesting that the other person sit quietly for a few minutes to stay with the experience./ After sharing what you each experienced, reverse the roles./ Ingrowth groups, a member who feels the need for nurture or healing can sit in the center while the others encircle and touch that person, surrounding her or him with life energy.
A Self-Healing Method
In their work with cancer patients, 0. Carl Simonton and Stephanie Matthews-Simonton have discovered that this exercise often helps people mobilize the self-healing forces within their bodies. (Methods like this should be used to augment, not to replace treatment by conventional medicine and psychotherapy.) The Simontons believe that this same approach can stimulate healing in many types of major or minor illness. The first six steps constitute one approach to full-body relaxation. Such relaxation methods can be taught to clients as do-it-yourself ways of coping with stress and anxiety: 1. Go to a quiet room with soft lighting. Shut the door. sit in a comfortable chair, feet flat on the floor, eyes closed./ 2. Become aware of your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, and as you let out each breath, mentally say the word “relax.”/ 3. Concentrate on your face and feel any tension in the muscles of your face and around your eyes./ Make a mental picture of this tension — it might be a rope tied in a knot or a clenched fist. Tense the muscles of your face, squeezing tightly, and then mentally picture them relaxing and becoming comfortable, like a limp rubber band./4. As the muscles of your face and eyes become relaxed, feel a wave of relaxation spreading through your body./ 5. Move slowly down your body doing the same thing — your jaw, neck, shoulders, back, upper and lower arms, hands, chest, abdomen, thighs, calves, ankles, feet — until every part of your body is more relaxed. For every part of your body, mentally picture the tension, then picture the tension melting away, allowing relaxation./ 6. Now picture yourself in pleasant, natural surroundings — wherever feels comfortable for you. Mentally fill in the details of color, sound, texture, temperature. Continue to picture yourself in a very relaxed state in this tranquil place for two or three minutes./ 7. Create a mental picture of any ailment or pain that you have now, visualizing it either realistically or symbolically,/ 8. Picture any treatment you are receiving and see it either eliminating the source of the ailment or pain or strengthening your body’s ability to heal itself./ 9. Picture your body’s natural defenses and natural healing processes eliminating the source of the ailment or pain. Picture your body’s own army of white blood cells coming into the area of pain or ailment, eliminating the infection or the source of the pain, actively bringing healing. Your white cells are strong and aggressive and very smart!/10. Picture yourself healthy and free of the ailment or pain and full of energy./ II. See yourself proceeding successfully toward meeting your goals in life, your purpose in life being fulfilled, your relationships with others becoming more meaning- ful and satisfying. Remember that having strong reasons for being well will help you get well./ 12. Give yourself a mental pat on the back for participating in your own recovery./ See yourself doing this relaxation-mental imagery exercise three times a day for five to fifteen minutes — in the morning on rising, at noon after lunch, and at night before going to bed — staying awake and alert as you do it./ 13. Let the muscles of your eyelids lighten up, become ready to open your eyes, and become aware of the room./14. Now let your eyes open and you are ready to resume your usual activities.(42) (I often add the following step between 9 and 10: “Picture yourself surrounded by a warm, healing light — the light of the Spirit of love. Let this light flow through your whole body and mind.”)
Experiments have shown that stress and anxiety constrict the blood vessels of the hands and thus lower hand temperature. As one becomes more relaxed, hand temperature tends to rise. Many people can learn to raise their hand temperature voluntarily by learning how to relax. To experience a simple biofeedback technique for monitoring your degree of relaxation, obtain a sensitive thermometer and hold the bulb securely in your fingertips./ Note the temperature./ Then use the following technique. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap while you repeat these words to yourself slowly and silently: “I feel quite quiet. My whole body is relaxed and comfortable. My right arm is heavy and warm. My left arm is heavy and warm. My right hand is becoming warmer. My left hand is becoming warmer. Warmth is flowing into my hands. They are warm. I can feel the warmth flowing down into my right hand. It is warm and relaxed. I can feel the warmth flowing down into my left hand. It is warm and relaxed. My hands are warm and heavy.”(43) Keep repeating the last sentence to yourself every fifteen seconds. Check the thermometer periodically. Psychologists have found that “the secret of voluntary hand-warming is the development of a passive relaxed attitude.”(44) If biofeedback from the thermometer is experienced as a challenge by you, it may, like other stresses, actually decrease your hand temperature by keeping you from relaxing. Discovering that you can control the “involuntary” response of the sympathetic nervous system (which regulates skin temperature) by intentionally relaxing, can enhance the awareness, “I’m in charge of me, including my body!”
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in Holistic Health
Ardell, Donald B. High Level Wellness, An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs, and Disease. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1977. A discussion of how we can increase our wellness and that of society. Includes a Resource Guide to books in the field.
Benson, Herbert. The Relaxation Response. New York: William Morrow, 1975. Evaluates a variety of stress-reduction methods including transcendental meditation, autogenic training, progressive relaxation, Zen, and yoga approaches to meditation. Suggests a simplified method of meditation.
Boston Women’s Health Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women, rev. 2nd ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976. A guide to understanding and being responsible for one’s own health.
Cousins, Norman. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. New York: W. W, Norton, 1979. A description of his self-healing.
Cunningham, Robert M., Jr. The Wholistic Health Centers: A New Direction in Health Care. Battle Creek, Mich.: W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 1977. Describes the centers developed by
Granger E. Westberg.
Gornez, Joan. How Not to Die Young. New York: Pocket Books, 1973. Shows how your life-style causes your body to obsolesce prematurely.
Illich, Ivan. Medical Nemesis. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. Gives evidence that some aspects of the medical establishment have become a threat to health.
Keck, L. Robert. The Spirit of Synergy. Nashville: Abingdon. 1978. Holistic approaches to religion and health, emphasizing “meditative prayer.”
Kelsey, Morton. The Other Side of Silence. New York: Paulist Press, 1976. A guide to Christian meditation.
Lappe, Frances Moore. Diet for a Small Planet. New York: Ballantine, 1975. Critiques our food production, distribution, and consumption patterns from both personal and planetary health perspectives. Gives suggestions and recipes for living healthier, lower on the food chain.
Leonard, George. The Ultimate Athlete. New York: Viking Press, 1974. Explores the celebration of physical fitness and suggests new health-enabling forms of exercise.
McCamy, John, and Presley, James. Human Life Styling: Keeping Whole in the 20th Century.
New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Includes a nutritional guide and a chapter on environmental wholeness.
Pelletier, Kenneth R. Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer. New York: Delta, 1977. Preventing stress disorders by holistic approaches, including meditation, autogenic training, and biofeedback.
Sanford, John A. Healing and Wholeness. New York: Paulist Press, 1977. A Jungian analyst discusses healing resources in early Christianity, the Greek healing mysteries, C. G. Jung, and among American Indians.
Selye, Hans. Stress Without Distress. New York: Signet, 1974. Suggests ways of using stress as challenge and pleasure and avoiding stress as frustration, fear, or anger.
Shealy, C. Norman. 90 Days to Self Health. New York: Dial Press, 1977. A program of stress control, nutrition, exercise, relaxation, and freedom from overweight, alcohol, and smoking.
Simonton, 0. Carl; Matthews-Simonton, Stephanie; and Creighton, James. Getting Well Again, A Step-by-step, Self-Help Guide to Overcoming Cancer for Patients and Their Families. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1978. Explores personality factors in cancer and then describes ways to mobilize self-healing resources.
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in Biofeedback
Brown, Barbara B. New Mind, New Body, Bio-Feedback: New Directions for the Mind. New York: Bantam Books, 1975. A discussion of the nature and significance of biofeedback with chapters on skin, muscle, and brain-wave applications.
—Stress and the Art of Biofeedback. New York: Harper, 1977. The therapeutic uses of biofeedback for a variety of medical and psychological problems.
Green, Elmer, and Green, Alyce. Beyond Biofeedback. New York: Delta, 1977. An exploration of volition, creativity, and a new human self-image as these are illuminated by biofeedback research.
Green, Elmer. “Biofeedback for Mind-Body Self-Regulation, Healing and Creativity,” in Biofeedback and Self Control, 1972, David Shapiro, et al., eds. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1973, chap. 11. Explores physiological healing and mental creativity as they are illuminated by the findings of biofeedback.
White, John, ed. Frontiers of Consciousness. New York: Avon Books, 1975. Includes two papers on biofeedback as well as two on meditation research.
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in Body Therapies
Fadiman, James, and Frager, Robert. “Wilhelm Reich and the Psychology of the Body,” in Personality and Personal Growth. New York: Harper, 1976, chap. 4. Discusses and evaluates Reich’s major concepts as well as other body-oriented systems of growth including bioenergetics, structural integration, the Alexander technique, sensory awareness, hatha yoga, t’ai-chi, and Aikido.
Fox, Matthew. Whee! We, Wee, All the Way Home . . . A Guide to the New Sensual Spirituality. Wilmington, N.C.: Consortium Books, 1976. Explores playfully the mystical ecstasies that can be experienced in nature, the arts, friendship, sexuality, sports, and thinking. One chapter deals with the sensuality of Jesus and the Hebraic prophets.
Gunther, Bernard. Sense Relaxation. New York: Collier, 1968. Also What to Do Til the Messiah Comes. Collier, 1971. Sensory awakening exercises illustrated by beautiful photos.
Hittleman, Richard L. Yoga for Physical Fitness. New York: Warner Books, 1964. An illustrated do-it-yourself book on hatha yoga exercises. Lowen, Alexander. The Betrayal of the Body. New
York: Collier Macmillan, 1967. A discussion of bioenergetics’ understanding of psychological-body problems and methods of reclaiming the body.
—The Language of the Body. New York: Macmillan, 1971. An introduction to the key concepts of bioenergetics.
— “Sexuality, Sex and Human Potential,” in Human Potentialities, the Challenge and the Promise, Herbert Otto, ed. St. Louis: Warren H. Green, 1968, chap. 10. Discusses the bioenergetic understanding of sexuality as this relates to human potentializing.
Reich, Wilhelm. The Function of the Orgasm. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1973. Includes a discussion of bioenergy and character analysis and his therapy. Rush, Anne Kent. Getting Clear: Body Work for Women. New York: Random House, 1973. Two hundred eighty-one body enlivening exercises. Useful for men as well as women. Voices: Journal of the American Academy ofPsychotherapists, issue on Psychotherapy and the Body, vol. 12, no. 2, issue 44.
1. “Sing the Body Electric,” Psychology Today, October 1970, p. 56.
2. These principles are drawn from various sources, the most prominent of which is Ardell’s High Level Wellness (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1977).
3. For an exploration of the six basic dimensions of wholeness see my book Growth Counseling, chap. 1.
4. High Level Wellness, p. 293.
5. For more details about the first five strategies, see Ardell’s High Level Wellness, Part II, from which many of the suggestions in this section were taken.
6. Ibid., p. 98.
7. See the books by Ardell, Lappe, McCamy and Presley, and Shealy and Woodruff for
8. Lionel Tiger, “My Turn: A Very Old Animal Called Man,” Newsweek, September 4, 1978, p. 13.
9. See Richard L. Hittleman, Yoga for Physical Fitness (New York: Wamer Books, 1964) for a do-it-yourself approach to hatha yoga.
10. See Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response (West Caldwell, N.J.: Morrow, 1975), pp. 70-71.
11. High Level Wellness, p. 166.
12. See Selye’s Stress Without Distress (New York: Signet Books, 1974).
13. See Cousins’ Anatomy of an Illness (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979).
14. See Raymond Moody, Laugh after Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor (Jacksonville, Fla.: Headwaters Press, 1978).
15. Quoted by Richard Saltus in “Holistic Health Crusaders Seek End to Illness Crisis,” Santa Barbara News Press, March 6, 1978.
16. In 1977, the life expectancy for white females was 77.7, compared with 69.9 for white males; nonwhite females have an expectancy of 73.8 and nonwhite males 65.0. Information from the National Center for Health Statistics, reported in the Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1978.
17. James Harrison, “Warning: The Male Sex Role May Be Dangerous to Your Health,” Journal
of Social Issues, vol. 34, no. I, p. 65.
18. New Mind, New Body (New York: Bantam Books, 1975), p. II.
19. Ibid., pp. 350-51.
20. Ibid., p. 262.
21. For a review of these applications of biofeedback, see Brown’s Stress and the Art of Biofeedback (New York: Harper. 1977), pp. 162-65.
22. “Biofeedback: Research and Therapy,” in New Ways to Health, Nils 0. Jacobson, ed. (Stockholm: Natur ock Kultur, 1975), p. 1.
23. Letter from Howard Stone, February 20, 1976.
24. See “Biofeedback for Mind-Body Self Regulation: Healing and Creativity,” in Biofeedback 1972 (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 152-66.
25. Hazel Henderson emphasized this point in a talk at the School of Theology at Claremont, February 25, 1977.
26. For a summary of the key ideas of several body therapies see Robert A. Harper, The New Psychotherapies (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975), chap. 8.
27. Lowen does not believe, as Reich did, that the sexual orgasm is the only key to mental health. He also makes less use than did Reich of direct body contact by the therapist. His approach to body therapy does not fall into the body-reductionism of Reich’s approach, at least to the same degree.
28. “Sexuality, Sex and the Human Potential,” in Human Potentialities, Herbert Otto, ed. (St. Louis: Warren H. Green, 1968), p. 172.
29. The Betrayal of the Body (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1967), pp. 37-38.
30. “The New Carnality,” Psychology Today, October, 1970, p. 59.
31. Betrayal of the Body, p. 209.
32. “Sexuality, Sex and the Human Potential,” p. 178.
33. Betrayal of the Body, p. 231.
34. Ibid., p. 259.
35. It seems clear that recognizing and respecting our own animal roots is the key to respecting other animals, including the many that are on the “endangered species” list. Respecting our animal roots may even be a key to removing humankind from this list!
36. See the concluding essay of Keen’s book, To a Dancing God (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), entitled “The Importance of Being Carnal — Notes for a Visceral Theology.”
37. Adapted from Rush, Getting Clear, pp. 49-50.
38. Ibid., p. 4. For detailed instructions for using this exercise in sexual therapy (and enrichment) see William Hartmann and Virginia Fifthian’s Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction (Long Beach, Calif.: Center for Marital and Sexual Studies, 1972), pp. 98-138.
39. Hittleman, Yoga for Physical Fitness, pp. 94-96.
40. Rush, Getting Clear: Body Work for Women (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 281.
41. See Betrayal, p. 223, for Lowen’s discussion of this exercise.
42. This exercise is condensed from 0. Carl Simonton and Matthews-Simonton, Getting Well Again (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1978), pp. 131-37.
43. Richard S. Surwit, “Warming Thoughts for a Cold Winter,” Psychology Today, December, 1978, p. 115. This exercise is a form of “autogenic training,” a relaxation technique developed by two German psychiatrists, J. H. Schultz and W. Luthe.
44. Ibid., p. 115.