What is Vegetotherapy and Bodywork?

Extract from "Between Psyche and Soma - Introduction to Biodynamic Psychology." Gerda Boyesen 1979.

One of the methods I often used is known as "dynamic relaxation". What happens when someone relaxes? First of all there is a feeling of well-being; tensions are felt less, and they loosen a little. But as someone goes further into deep relaxation, the muscular tensions begin to dissolve and the dynamic process overcomes his resistances. This is the true secret of biodynamic therapy; it is a matter of letting the psychodynamic process emerge from the depths of the body so the emotions rise up of their own accord and are discharged, accompanied by vegetative abreactions. This produces an authentic transformation. Dynamic relaxation can be induced by massage, by psychotherapy, or by simply lying down.

It works on a simple principle: the patient feels so secure that he no longer needs his defences. The defences can then dissolve and the repressed emotions return to consciousness, where they can be abreacted.

“I made a distinction between patients who had a dynamic process going on within them, and the more "wooden" or "rigid" patients who needed my intervention.

With the first group of patients it was simply a matter of speaking directly to their unconscious, their id, their body - not to their conscious mind. For example, I would say: "Feel your body... let it breathe..." and then simply allow the unconscious to rise into consciousness. Nothing more was needed. The therapist's voice and his choice of words are extremely effective therapeutic tools, and can be used to speak either to the conscious or to the unconscious mind.

With the second group of patients, I would begin by speaking to their conscious mind: "Try to feel your chest sink down into you when you breathe out." If they moved into a dynamic process, I would then speak to their unconscious: "Just allow it to happen..."

Gerda Boyesen

'Vegetotherapy' is the name given to a theoretical and practical bodywork therapy developed by Dr Wilhelm Reich. It involves specialised bodywork techniques and working with the breath to liberate the "vegetative" or autonomic nervous system response [unconscious or involuntary mechanisms in the body] as an aid to restoring homoeostasis and health. Dr Reich demonstrated how 'horizontal' rings or 'segments' in the body, if armoured, impeded the spontaneous 'vertical' updrift of energy. These armour rings had to be loosened through bodywork, vegetotherapy and, where needed, work with expression or image and psychotherapy, in order to promote the full circulation of life-energy.

Biodynamic vegetotherapy works with impulses that "impinge from within" and with the seven "segments" of the body - pelvis, abdomen, diaphragm, chest, throat, mouth/jaw and eyes. It aims to establish or re-establish the "streamings" which re-connect the vegetative (life-energy) currents to the psychic structures in order to facilitate re-pair and re-generation on all levels. Re-connection to the streamings allows the armour to dissolve. Once the body armouring begins to dissolve, layer by layer, and the life-energy begins to flow again more freely there is a 'biodynamic updrift' of hitherto unavailable unconscious material. When this flow or updrift is re-established, the biodynamic practitioner may concentrate on encouraging the client to recognise his or her own 'stimuli from within'.

In fact these "stimuli from within" are the stirrings of the person's alive core, now literally pressing for acknowledgment. The "stimuli from within" may come in any form - from the tiniest muscular twitching, to faint shreds of memories, to deeper or more expansive breathing, or to expression of deep emotion. Sometimes, old memories and past feelings which have been lost or buried in the body depths may come back to the surface of consciousness, leading to insights, profound psychological clearance, transformation and relief.

The biodynamic process offers the opportunity for a fundamental biological and psychological purification. As neurosis is cleared out of the body on all levels the person becomes free from all constriction and the "Primary Personality" is recovered in all its aspects. Wilhelm Reich and Gerda Boyesen's methods and findings are extremely crucial to an in-depth understanding of the extent of human suffering and pain when we are disturbed in the full libidinous and joyful pulsation of health.

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