Though pleasure is ephemeral and insubstantial, hold fast to to it in your mind, for it contains the meaning of life.
Alexander Lowen, in Pleasure
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away at the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
Translated by Paul Reps in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
Pleasure. Aliveness. Joy.
As several of us bioenergetic therapists were processing the introductory Bioenergetic Basics workshop in December that we all led, Leslie Ann Costello, a local trainer who did her first bioenergetic workshop with me in 2005, mentioned the importance of pleasure as a unique emphasis of bioenergetic therapy. She mentioned this as one way it is different from many of the trauma focused therapies that are around these days. From the beginning, Alexander Lowen, founder of Bioenergetic Analysis, emphasized pleasure, aliveness, joy as the goal and result of bioenergetic therapy. It’s purpose is to help people grow into the full range of human experiencing, to fully reclaim and possess all that it means to be human. Or as it is reported one woman who completed bioenergetic therapy said, “For the price of a Cadillac, I got a whole new life.”
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.