Body psychotherapy has it roots in the fact that repression of feelings corresponds to inhibition of the body. Human beings develop fixed and rigid postures and patterns of relating in order to protect themselves against emotional pain. These patterns, pervade the whole body/mind, reaching all the way down into biological mechanisms (e.g. our metabolism, our autonomic nervous system, our breathing etc.).
Body psychotherapy focuses on the interactions between the body and the mind and is founded on the principle of the body and mind working in functional unity.
Among many influencers of the body psychotherapy Elisa Gindler (1885-1961), German gymnastic teacher, certainly played very important role.
Gindler , as a young woman, was supposedly diagnosed with tuberculosis but was unable to afford staying in a sanatorium so she worked by herself to heal, whilst letting her “ill” lobe of her lung rest and changing the pattern of her breathing in the healthy one. In order to discover the possibilities for regeneration and health, she gave her complete attention to what was happening with herself at every moment in every activity, during the entire day.
“Unable to afford going to a sanitarium in the mountains, [Gindler] stayed at home and became interested in sensing her inner response to every activity at every moment during the day. While just coming out of the sleeping state she gave herself up to the first stirrings of the awakening organism, to its elemental desire for extending – and discovered how spontaneously breathing responded to the slightest movement. This process belonged to her need for regeneration, but also to her need to protect herself against noise from the outside and inside. She found that in this practice she came into a state where she was no longer disturbed by her own thoughts and worries.
And she came to experience … that calm in the physical field (Gelassenheit) is equivalent to “allowing” in contrast to “doing” or “controlling” or “resisting.” Lassen is also related to sensing the pull of gravity. There is an interdependence between sensing one’s weight (sensing the attraction of the earth on one’s substance) and trusting, self-confidence, finding a standing point – and calmness. This means “trusting, a deep confidence in the world, in life, in one’s organism. This was her discovery, and it became basic to all other research.” (Hengstenberg, 1985, pp.11-12)
In her notes for a course in 1954 Gindler herself expressed it this way: “To give oneself over and under a mental aspects means to be able to trust“.
Gindler developed techniques and exercises to help people to explore independently and develop individually a way to experience themselves and to learn from their own somatic behavior in all of life situations.
Gindler experimented with movements to strengthen the deeper layers of the muscular system and improve the circulation of oxygen, movements that reduced tensions that had been preventing the breathing muscles from functioning properly.
The biggest breathing muscle in the human body is the diaphragm, the lowering of which can only take place when the jaw and the throat are relaxed, the belly is free, and the psoas (major and minor) and hip joints allow free leg-movement and flexibility in the lower back. When these conditions do not obtain, the body compensates by lifting the shoulders, pulling up the chest bone, and contracting the sphincter muscles in the throat, movements which weaken the muscles which assist the breathing process. Thus, the compensatory muscles are overburdened and the fine organization of the body is disturbed; the natural capacity to use the breath as a healing force is lost.
For Gindler, breathing was a teacher. Simply being attentive to it is a way of learning how things are with one, of learning what needs to change for fuller functioning – for more reactivity in breathing and thus in the whole person.