THE BODY AS A LABORATORY OF THE SOUL – Listening to the Language of the Body as a Path to Healing
HOW UNDERSTANDING THE “MIND-BODY CONNECTION” HAS CHANGED MY LIFE
I am a body psychotherapist. Throughout my career, I have been fascinated by the connection between body, emotions, mind and soul. Everything I do as a holistic practitioner is guided by this perspective. It is just so very powerful! The understanding of how body and mind are intertwined allows a client to take full charge of their own health, and it gives a skilled practitioner an incredibly powerful access to a client’s essence.
Personally, I was lucky to have had very early experiences when someone was teaching me this. As a medical student in the early 1970’s in Vienna, I was a rather nervous and ungrounded person. Lack of concentration, sleepless nights, and constant exam fears were part of my daily experience. I was in a constant “flight or fight” mode, and sometimes I was “frozen” in response to deep stress. Looking back, I see that I had clinical signs of depression.
I know now that there were good reasons for this. They came from my privileged-but-stressful upbringing and environment of emotional malnourishment due to an early loss of both of my parents. I was completely clueless and unprepared for the “big world”, and simply in great need for some serious help.
As I said, I was lucky! My first “Soul Doctor” (that is the German description for a psychiatrist) was a gentle, middle-aged physician-psychotherapist. Dr. Wallnoefer had already made a name for himself teaching “Autogenic Training” to his patients, physicians, and medical students. We did not call it that at the time, but his teaching was all about the Mind-Body Connection in Medicine. I was sold both on his kind personality as a doctor and his interesting method. Soon, I joined his “Autogenic Training” program, and later, a psychotherapy group.
HOW I HAVE LEARNED TO HAVE MENTAL POWER OVER MY BODY
“Autogenics Training” is a rather simple method. Nowadays, we would call it “self-hypnosis”, a “self-relaxation exercise”, or even meditation. You go through prescribed stages of body awareness and are asked to visualize (“feel”) various body parts get warm and heavy. And it was true: when I “visualized” my right hand becoming warm and heavy, I felt it swelling up just a little, experienced it as pulsating with a warm sensation and my hand was indeed resting heavily on my thigh.
What a miracle! It was the first time that I experienced real power over my body – just by using my mind! I got hooked on learning how to influence my ‘”Autonomic Nervous System”. Those are the parts of the body that are usually not (or very little) under our conscious control, such as heart rhythm, breathing, digestion, temperature control, sweat, etc. Along the way, I improved markedly as person and as a student, and (to me, quite miraculously!) graduated as a physician. Even now, 30-something years later, hopefully wiser and more experienced, my life as a health practitioner is still revolving around these same powerful concepts that I had learned then.
EMOTIONS ARISE FROM THE BODY (REALLY!)
We all have felt it before. Modern neurobiology can even prove it with science. We now know for sure that our emotions arise from the body. Consider this: You would not even have emotions without your own physical body. In complex cascades of biochemical processes, our body translates inner movements of energy (“emotions”) into outer expression (“action”). To my surprise, I constantly run into people who are not aware of this! This is the current understanding of neurobiology, and the various scientific investigations into the mechanisms that make us a human being. We also owe a lot of gratitude to the new insights and advances coming from PTSD & trauma science, and modern versions of psychosomatic medicine.
WE ARE ONE INSEPARABLE UNIT OF BEING
In my practice, I see it every day: Whatever a client’s set of physical limitations or emotional conflicts may be, working with the body and mind, together as one inseparable unit – will naturally facilitate any healing process more expediently. Addressing a person on all levels of being – body/mind/soul – is grounding that person’s being in reality and authentic human experience. A deep sense of relaxation is the result. Aaaahh….one can exhale.
LEARNING THE “LANGUAGE OF THE BODY” AS A PATH TO HEALING
Over the years, I have learned to interpret the “Language of the Body”. By tracking the basic patterns of muscular holding patterns of my clients and correlating them to mental unconscious attitudes, I can observe certain behavioral patterns. These are called “defenses”. In my line of work, we call the very specific patterns of body-posture, core-beliefs and characteristic behaviors a“Character Structure”. They are understood as survival mechanisms, patterns of often self-destructive, self-limiting, or socially inappropriate behaviors. Often they are expressions of specific unconscious emotional conflicts and primitive survival mechanisms that are derived from childhood and unconsciously compounded and preserved in adulthood. The great and hopeful thing about understanding the nature of character structures is, that once clients become conscious of their life-limiting survival patterns they (often) can reverse them.
THE PSYCHOBIOLOGY OF INTER-RELATEDNESS
What I have learned for myself over the years is that we are certainly not alone. Whether we know it or not, we are the children of our ancestors and also a part of a much larger field of consciousness. We call it the “Knowing Field” in Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellations approach. It describes an energetic dimension that includes the self, couple, family, society, planet, and beyond.
As a somatic practitioner, I therefore have in my tool box an understanding that I call the “psychobiology of relatedness”. This describes the specific mechanisms in which I relate to myself and also to everybody and everything around me. It is mind-boggling to realize how the body communicates with itself and its surroundings via the brain, nervous system, hormones, neurotransmitters, immune substances, the energetic systems (chakras and aura), etc. A profound understanding of these holographic mechanisms of inter-relatedness helps me to get in touch with the larger life force (the source of “life energy”) of a person and – together with my client – influence it as it presents itself in health and illness.
THE BASIC CONCEPTS OF BODY-CENTERED PSYCHOTHERAPY
This body-based way of psychotherapy has been pioneered by Wilhelm Reich, M.D., (Medical Orgonomy) and further developed by Alexander Lowen, M.D. (bioenergetics), and John Pierrakos, M.D. (Core Energetics), amongst many other schools. Originally arising from psychoanalytic work in the 1940s, and augmented by many elements from deep bodywork, breathwork, and movement therapy in the 1970s, many of the foundational concepts are now well proven scientifically, and some even have become a part of the tool box of established mainstream psychotherapy.
Also called “Somatic Psychology”, this approach is grounded in an understanding of the intricate interactions between body, mind, emotion and spirit.
MIND-BODY-EMOTIONS AND EVEN SPIRIT ARE SEEN AS ONE.
People say, “The body does not lie”. I whole-heartedly agree! “Reading” the energy of the body and allowing its expressions to flow freely becomes an integral aspect of any body-based psychotherapeutic intervention. This “movement of energy” is an essential prerequisite for the psycho-emotional resolution of physical illness patterns which are seen as coming from the un-processed childhood defense patterns. Truth, authenticity and embodied reality – as the opposite of distortion, denial, and unconsciousness – thus becomes in itself- a healing modality.
Kuno Bachbauer, MD, LMFT, Graduated from University of Vienna Medical School in 1978. Unsatisfied with the scope of traditional medicine, he soon focused on exploring various personal growth methods that included both the body and spirituality. Kuno is a holistic psychotherapist and is certified in Core Energetics Evolutionary Process and on the Senior Faculty of the Institute of Core Energetics East, N.Y. He has also taught Core Energetics to students in Brazil, Mexico and Australia. He is regarded as an innovative, creative and dynamic teacher and presenter.