Be alert, you may be the prisoner of the fake you! You may find that you live in a jail that is made from powerful and artificial components of human society.
Master Waysun Liao, in Chi
In the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, Max goes to the land of the wild things and he discovers (spoiler alert!) he is the wildest thing of all.
This is like bioenergetic therapy. One of the exercises I do in my workshops and groups is to work the jaw. We all hold a lot of tension there, from holding back all the things we want to say to people, and don’t. From wanting to “bite people’s heads off,” when we don’t. So we work the muscles and then I have them growl, first in general and then to each other. Most people end up laughing because it is such a relief—all the times we have wanted to growl at people and we haven’t. I saw a red squirrel the other day, chattering away, and his chattering vibrated his whole body. Maybe we can learn to express ourselves with our whole body; maybe we can learn to voice our soul from the soles of our feet.
The wild self, the natural self, is often pushed down by our civilized self and we feel embarrassed when we let it out. This has been called the “id,” the “it”—talk about disowning a part of one’s self. And the ego, our talking thinking self, has for uncountable time been trying to blame all the bad stuff on it—human violence, for example, when that often is the result of the ego and superego. In “The Americanization of Emily,” Charlie, played by James Garner, blames war on the people trying to be good. “It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny.” Think of all the religious wars.
Reich, whose work led to bioenergetics, branched off from Freud before the latter started talking about, ego, id, and superego. Reich’s work focused on developing the concept of libido which eventually became body energy, “bioenergy.”
So in the workshops what I want to help people discover, what I too want to discover is that untamed alive part of ourselves, because that is closer to our core self than the everyday thinking self is, and it is the part of us that feels connected to the life and people around us.
In The Practice of the Wild, poet and deep ecologist Gary Snyder talks about the body as the wild part of ourselves, our wilderness, and that our conscious mind is trying to civilize our wilderness. Some radical political theory goes even further and talks about how we “colonize” and exploit ourself. Fritz Perls in Gestalt simplified this into the top dog/under dog division he worked with so often in his therapy,
However, you frame it, the bottom line is there are parts of ourself that are working for goals we have drawn from our culture, our family and our thinking self, that don’t match what the rest of us, our body, our senses, imagination, and emotions want. This incongruence can make us sick, unhappy, depressed, anxious. In the protest rallies in the 60s and 70s, the speaker would yell, “What do you want?” “Freedom,” everyone yelled. “When do you want it?” “Now.” So what do you want?
Trauma release exercises (TRE ) are a a form of physical exercises to increase the tremor reflex, a natural response for releasing the muscular tension that accompanies stress and trauma.
While I was in Florida recently doing my workshops, I talked to an old friend Sherry Mills about these exercises. David Berceli, MD, the founder of TRE, had asked her to develop the certification program, which she worked on for over seven years. These exercises are very similar, sometimes identical, to bioenergetic exercises. Sherry confirmed that Dr. Berceli had in fact consulted with Dr. Alexander Lowen, founder of bioenergetics, about developing these exercises. Lowen was very supportive. Both TRE and bioenergetic exercises help develop the tremor reflex or muscle vibration that releases tension. “Good vibrations” as the song goes.
TRE has been very successful. Even the Department of Defense has done some research on them. to deal with PTSD. While the exercises have spread around the world, especially in Europe, Asia and Africa, they’ve been slow to develop a following in the USA. It is interesting to note there are also three times as many bioenergetic therapists in Europe as in the USA, which seems to highlight the lack of interest for this kind of body oriented work in this country, although interest is growing.
Another method, spontaneous qi gong, developed out of the Chinese qi gong tradition, does much the same thing, working with shaking and moving the body to develop spontaneous releases of tension and emotion. In China people do this openly in the parks.
So all these methods move to the same objective—to develop the “shaking dog” response. In the cartoons, the dog gets out of the scary situation and he starts to shake until he’s done, and then trots away as if nothing had happened. This is a natural mammalian response to stress and trauma. Over the span of human existence, people have developed ways to initiate this natural response. In our rational and scientific age, we left these methods behind. But in current times, we are beginning to rediscover this response —to free up the body so can continue living fully in the world.