Bodywork 101

Bodywork Overview and Index

Zen Bodywork Psychotherapy
We begin our Body­work explo­ration by
con­sid­er­ing how our bod­ies work.

In this process, we’ll look at expand­ing our bound­aries and tak­ing down the walls that keep us apart. We’ll:

  • dis­cuss ener­gy, or chi,
  • think about tight­ness and muscles,
  • look at how we become human egos, and
  • pro­pose a way to step past the con­di­tion­ing that keeps us locked down in tight lit­tle boxes.


square box

I don’t want to spend pages on human development issues, but need to note a few things:

As Ben Wong once said,

“All ill­ness is the result of the tight­ness of the square box.” More about Ben

As infants, we are taught to form a “self” — and we do this by learn­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between “me” and “not me.” We learn to repress our­selves by tight­en­ing our bod­ies and breath­ing halt­ing­ly and shal­low­ly. We find our­selves locked in a prison of tight mus­cles and shal­low beliefs, hav­ing repressed much about our­selves — hav­ing repressed much of our pas­sion.

This process hap­pens as we are social­ized into the rules and roles of:
» our family, 
» our soci­ety and 
» the groups to which we belong.

Such groups work to pro­mote only those aspects of our full natures that fit in to their pre-con­ceived mind-set of what’s accept­able, while sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ing us to repress what does­n’t “fit.”

Thus, the tight­ness of our per­son­al “square box” is to some extent deter­mined by the val­ues and inten­tions of those around us, and by how much of our essen­tial natures we learned to sup­press.

The main phys­i­cal mech­a­nism of this suppression
is mus­cu­lar tightness.

This tight­ness is then played out in emo­tion­al tight­ness (lim­it­ed emo­tions, some emo­tions judged as good, oth­ers judged bad and hence avoid­ed.) Emo­tion­al tight­ness is exhib­it­ed in a per­son­’s resis­tance to ful­ly feel­ing the range of their emotions.

We’ll devote a chap­ter to this, but suf­fice it to say that we tend, in gen­er­al, to pro­mote “good” emo­tions and to deny, sup­press or bury “bad” emo­tions. This is one issue that Body­work addresses.

More on this later, except to note that letting go of blockages will mean an increase in the flow of chi, and most people find this to be a powerful experience.

Pre­lim­i­nary Focus — how YOU see YOU

Our goal in this sec­tion of The Essen­tials of Body­work is to acquaint you with your body — how you walk, car­ry your­self — and what tight­ness and lack of mobil­i­ty in cer­tain areas of your body mean.

  • In the Breath­work sec­tion, we’ll look at breath­ing techniques. 

  • In the Exer­cis­es sec­tion, we’ll explore hands-on part­ner work designed to help the chi, or ener­gy, to flow more freely.

The Story Behind the Pain 

Body­work the­o­ry sug­gests that our bod­ies hold with­in their phys­i­cal struc­ture the sto­ry of our unre­solved issues and past trau­mas, phys­i­cal and psychological. 

Body­work emerged from the insights of Wil­helm Reich, a 20th cen­tu­ry psy­cho­an­a­lyst. He was the first to iden­ti­fy what he called “char­ac­ter traits,” and he decid­ed that such traits were reac­tions to the per­son­’s reject­ed emotions. 

The char­ac­ter traits were, in a sense, main­tained in place by “char­ac­ter armour.” His idea was that peo­ple devel­oped rigid per­son­al­i­ties made up of var­i­ous inter­nal aspects — these aspects, if left unex­am­ined, became rigid states as opposed to flex­i­ble choic­es.

Reich decid­ed that char­ac­ter traits were held in place by the per­son­’s “char­ac­ter armour,” which is an actu­al tight­en­ing of the mus­cles of the body. He fur­ther dis­cov­ered that guid­ing clients into their tight­ness, (through Breath­work and apply­ing pres­sure to the body) helped clients to break through the char­ac­ter armour, and from there to begin to dis­as­sem­ble the inef­fec­tive char­ac­ter traits. 

In the fol­low­ing pages, we explore The Phoenix Cen­tre’s approach to Breath­work and Body­work. This overview will be help­ful for begin­ning stu­dents of Body­work, and prac­ti­tion­ers alike.

From our per­spec­tive, Body­work almost always involves teach­ing clients to breathe prop­er­ly (a great way to get peo­ple “into their bod­ies”) and deep, hard pres­sure into the blocked areas of the body. This helps the client to release the pent up emo­tion, often through yelling and cry­ing, fol­lowed by a mus­cu­lar shak­ing and release, often fol­lowed by a sense of well being and laugh­ter. This process often takes mul­ti­ple week­ly sessions.

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