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.