Reich (1897-1957) was a Viennese psychiatrist and great admirer of Freud and worked with him in his psychoanalytic clinic in Vienna. Based on Freud’s libido theory, Reich began to scientifically investigate the role of repressed “life” energy in psychopathology and how this became trapped in the body tissues. He termed this energy “orgone”. Reich’s work can in some ways be described as the ‘physicalisation of psychoanalysis. In psychoanalysis the patient lies on the couch and talks, the analyst listens and offers interpretations. Through this work energy that has been trapped by repressive defences is freed up and the patient experiences relief from his psychological dis-ease. Reich however achieved this not by talking but by working with the body in a very physical way, the similarity between this and yoga is an obvious one.
He felt that when energy was blocked or inhibited in the body, symptoms arose and Reich therefore set about physically liberating this energy as a way of addressing symptoms. Once this energy was unblocked or released, its full expression was then encouraged via orgasm during intercourse or masturbation. The concept of blocked energy and freeing this energy is also a key theme in yoga practise. In contrast, once blocked energy has been released in yoga its movement is encouraged upwards, moving up the from the lower chakras to the crown chakra to be utilised for human development. Reich’s clinical work showed that energy was bound up and blocked all over the body and he set about finding ways to liberate this energy.
He used methods such as deep breathing and physical manipulation and he found that once he started to break through the patients body armour that people reacted with intense hatred and strong resistance at any attempt to disturb the neurotic equilibrium, via any breach to the proposed blockage . This reaction proved a major obstacle in the path of growth and development for Reich’s patients. Here too we can make comparisons with Ashtanga yoga. It is interesting to note that many yoga students do not breath properly. This is on many levels quite a striking observation, as during most yoga classes and throughout all popular yoga literature there is always an emphasis placed on breathing and how this is central to the practise of yoga. However in the minds of many students, this premise seems to have been unknowingly turned on its head and breathing has become the least important part of the practise. Central to the practise of Ashtanga yoga is a deep, and controlled breathing technique called Ujjayi pranayama. During the practise the breath is made strong and deep. The inhalations and exhalations are deep enough, to allow the student to synchronise their movement with the breath. For this synchronisation to happen strong, deep breathing is required, however there are students who are unconsciously averse to take full deep breath, and will throughout the practise take multiple, highly shallow breaths in the very uppermost part of the chest, and in some parts of the practise actually hold their breath. There is also an observed pattern where the practise will be stopped with ‘student made’ pauses which would thereby automatically disrupt the flow of the breath.
The physical manipulation used by Reich can also be likened to the physical ‘adjustment’ used in Ashtanga yoga, and here too the teacher can be met with resistance. Students can be extremely reluctant and uncomfortable during adjustment, as the physical adjustment serves to take the student into a deeper experience of the posture. Also the postures and movements in Ashtanga yoga are powerful in themselves without any physical adjustment. Students are required to go through the many possibilities of their range of movement, they are bending backwards, forwards, sideways, twisting, going upside down as well as learning how to support their entire bodyweight in many varied ways. So similar to the situation Reich described, we can also observe the unconscious resistances to work deeply within the yoga practise and these are summarised below;
Incorrect breathing technique (as mentioned above)
Inappropriate light heartedness/chattiness in the class (this can also be evoked by the teacher representing the teachers subconscious resistances)
Self contrived modifications of technique to the extent that the original technique has been more or less been evaded. This is often rationalised as a sensible protection against injury or likewise the posture itself may be described as an absurd contortion that is unfit for human practise.
False compliance with the technique- this could manifest as seeming to do the practise faithfully but on some level holding back, containing the practise so much that they are constantly in a comfort zone. This can also be rationalised as being careful and avoiding injury.
False modesty and rationalisation- here the student will claim that he has no need to do any “advanced postures” (basically what he is personally struggling with) and that he is happy with what he is doing. He will downplay the importance of that which makes him uncomfortable by putting it into the perspective of his whole life, thus diminishing its value to him and his personal development.
Missing classes or keeping practise down to the bare minimum, on the premise of boredom, or of having better things to do with their life. This will be in spite of the fact that the student is, on some level, aware of the personal value the practise has to them.
Chopping and changing between different types of yoga and bodywork as soon as any depth is approached in one.
Placing excessive emphasis on the physical aspect of the practise with a marked denial or refusal to see it in its fuller context. Here students may successfully bypass the deeper work of yoga by reducing it to a workout that keeps them slim and healthy. By doing so however, they are also creating a false dichotomy between mind and body.
It is also worth mentioning that there is even stronger resistance that is seen in students of yoga (or patients in psychoanalysis), that demonstrate an extreme resistance to any therapeutic work. Such students/patients may only attend very briefly or even just once and immediately get a sense of the ‘body armour’ being breeched. For some this is more than enough to develop and powerful aversion to the method and vow never to come back again. They can be recognised by the emotionally charged strength of their refusal to continue and the tone of absoluteness in their voice. Following on from this group there are also those who on some level recognise the potential for introspective work in such practises and so will never participate or even discuss participating. For this group such practise is not even on their radar as their elaborate structures and mechanisms that have been put in place, their house of cards, would not be able to tolerate any insight or adjustment. Both groups, but particularly the latter may even hold a derisory attitude to the disciplines in questions and on the surface consider them fanciful and self indulgent. This is their answer to spending more than a few minutes with themselves.
These responses and resistance, commonly seen in yoga practise are similar to what Reich found, when he spoke about the energy that actually held the blockages in place. He spoke of it as being of a destructive nature and covered up by opposing character attitudes. Where aggression, action, decision, for taking a stand were called for, there was instead consideration, kindness, politeness, restraint and false modesty. Reich felt that the repressed energy he touched on in therapy remained mostly unconscious and dormant but defensively bound up in the patients constrictive body armour. Synonymous with Reich’s body armour we see students in yoga that have a body that resembles a cage, a tight, unmoving structure where everything is held in and bound tightly together in a fiercely restrictive expression. They seem to be saying “I’m not going to move and you can’t make me”. Such students are usually linked in with physiotherapists or chiropracters, usually to their detriment, as they will be given ‘good medical’ reasons, backed up by MRI scans, not to move. Here their resistance has been rationalised via a medicalisation process, leaving them no clue as to what else maybe bound up within that ‘held’ rigidity.
In contrast to the above student you have students that will refuse to support their body weight. Their body doesn’t resemble a rigid cage, on the contrary it has a much softer and amorphous quality to it. They will flop and flail around in classes seemingly unable to use their body as one integrated piece that is held together by internal strength. They will give a variety of reasons for this ranging from womanhood, weak wrists or short arms.
In yoga practise, breaches to this ‘body armour’ are protected again and this is seen when students, through unconscious anxiety, will avoid any aspects of the practise that threaten its integrity. Reich also spoke about the aggression or strong emotions that would flare up in the sessions, describing it as appearing aimless and confused and that it seemed to cover up a deep feeling of insecurity or a pathological egotism. The energy was a pathological, not healthy, rationally directed aggression. Such releases are also commonly observed during Ashtanga yoga practise, where laughter, tears or even anger will flare up but would also have the confused and aimless aspect to them. Students will often say “where did that come from?” In these situations yoga students may be advised to just allow the emotions to move through them and to experience them as fully and as honestly as they can. They are encouraged to enquire into the nature and origins of the these emotions, appreciating the different levels at work, on the one level there is the yoga practise/teacher that seems to have caused them, but to appreciate that on another level it reflects something a lot older and deeper. Such releases are usually unexpected and reflect, in my view, something of what Reich is talking about- releasing blocked energy via the breaches in ‘body armour’ that are constantly going on during practise, if of course the student allows it. They should be seen as highly positive experiences and welcomed on the basis of potential self development and transformation and bear a similarity to the catharsis experience in Reichian body work.