The interrelationship between mind and body is an ever-expanding
area of contemporary research. Modern research demonstrates that
our emotions accompany physiological changes. Fear can cause heart
palpitations. Anger can elevate blood pressure. Blocked anger and
fear can lead to a stroke. Ulcers and other gastrointestinal disturbances
often have been attributed to emotional factors. Arthritis, asthma,
hives, and even the common cold may have a psychosomatic component.
Indeed some cancer studies show that fear, hate,
and guilt may underlie many forms of cancer. Other findings show
that, compared to any type of psychotherapy, people suffering from
depression can be brought out of it faster with physical movement.
Psychosomatic illnesses appear to result from long-term sustained
internal stress caused by unacceptable repressed emotions. Of course,
all manner of psychological impairments and neurotic behavior can
also be attributed to the mind/body interrelationship.
Reichs Early Discoveries
Although these findings are contemporary, the mind,
body, emotions interrelationship was first systematically explored
and defined more than 50 years ago by natural scientist and psychoanalyst
Wilhelm Reich, M.D. Reichs studies provide many keys to understanding
how the body and human personality are related. These studies largely
remain unrecognized by the general public, psychotherapy, and the
Reich developed theories of how people use muscular
tensing to try to control or cut off emotions. Even more important
are his powerful techniques and exercises that help an individual
learn ways to release emotional repression and restore normal, healthy
integration of mind and body.
Emotion and the Child
To sense how emotional blocking begins, consider
the early years of human growth. Infants and children need the warmth
and touch of a loving environment to support and encourage development.
They need the freedom to risk, explore and do what is spontaneous
Yet for many children the free expression of feelings
and emotions is denied or punished by unknowing parents and society.
Instead children learn to hide and deny their true feelings. To
survive they develop a false sense of self. The child may shut out
emotional contact, deny feelings, and self-expression. The alive,
energetic, creative, and fulfilled authentic self is not allowed
As the child learns to physically suppress emotions,
physical tensions in muscles and organs develop. For example, if
a parent threatens, If you dont stop crying, Ill
give you something to cry about, the child responds by holding
the breath, tightening the jaw and chest, and choking down the feelings
in the throat. The punishment of natural expressions of fear, anger
and pain, teaches the child that it is unsafe to express such feelings.
The blocked emotions do not get expressed, and typically they are
The Habitual Protective Reaction
Emotional repression serves a protective function
and involves the entire body. By tightening specific parts of the
body, feelings are barricaded inside heavy walls of muscular and
physiological tension. In Reichian work, we call this process armoring.
Over time these repeated physiological tensions of the childs
reaction to the external world become habitual and unconscious.
Moreover into and throughout adulthood, this pattern
of repression through physiological armoring is repeated and reinforced
whenever the adult is confronted by a situation that brings up an
emotion or feeling that is unpleasant or threatening to the self.
Loss of Pleasure
Unfortunately, it is not only unpleasant feelings
that are blocked. The emotional deadening extends to our entire
feeling capacity. For the very same specific parts of the body
used to block anger, fear, and pain, are used to experience and
express love, trust, and joy. Thus, the individual loses more
and more of the natural ability to experience both pain and pleasure.
Obviously, in some individuals these blocks are more
pervasive and damaging than in others. Yet we all do pay the price
of a lost aliveness and a deadened capacity for feeling. As adults
most of us take for granted so much of our experiences that we have
little or no awareness of our reduced ability to feel. No longer
do we notice the loss of richness in our lives. We are dulled, deadened,
and estranged from ourselves and others.
The development of these rigid patterns of blocking
against unwanted feelings limits not only the experience
of both pain and pleasure, but also the expression of those
emotions. Since the same parts of the body are involved in the expression
of pain and pleasure, it follows that the release of blocked pain
is necessary for the full experience and expression of pleasure.
To release such blocks, a body-centered approach to personal
growth is needed.
Michael Nagel, M.A. teaches RADIX, a body-centered approach
to personal growth. He has more than 30 years experience with personal
growth disciplines. His articles on psychology and philosophy have
been published in journals, magazines, and books. For more information,
call: (360) 571-8619 or (503) 805-3135. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.