By Navjot Randhawa
I have been reading a book on Bioenergetics (published in 1975). It is written by Alexander Lowen, an American physician and psychotherapist heavily influenced by Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst. It provides a western perspective on “the language of the body to heal the problems of the mind.” It talks about why yoga suddenly became so appealing to the Westerner. I found it quite enlightening so sharing a few excerpts and attempting to offer an analysis.
“The disenchantment with the antilife attitude of Western culture has led many people to an interest in Eastern religion, philosophy & disciplines. Most of these recognize the importance of some program of bodily exercise as essential to spiritual development. The widespread interest in yoga is a dramatic demonstration. I had looked into yoga before I met Reich, but it did not appeal to my Western mind. Yet throughout my work with Reich I was aware of some similarity between the practice of yoga and Reichian therapy. In both systems the main emphasis is on the importance of breathing. The difference between the two schools of thought was in their direction. In yoga the direction is inward, toward spiritual development; in Reichian therapy it is outward, toward creativity and joy. A reconciliation of these two views is surely needed, and it is my hope that bioenergetics can help. Several of the foremost yoga teachers in this country have expressed their personal appreciation for the understanding of the body that bioenergetics provides- an understanding that has enabled them to adapt yoga techniques to Western needs.
More recently other Oriental body disciplines have become popular in this country. Foremost is the t’ai chi ch’uan exercises the Chinese use. Both yoga and t’ai chi emphasize the importance of sensing the body, the achievement of coordination and grace and the attainment of spiritual feeling through an identification with the body. In this they contrast strongly with Western exercise programs which aim at power and control.”
Having lived between the East and the West, my understanding is that the different way of looking at the body and the mind in the two cultures stems from, broadly speaking, a different perception of the ego. While the east emphasizes the renunciation of the ego, everything in the Western culture ultimately is about boosting the ego. Therefore yoga here today has also become more of a show-off thing than a private practice meant to lead one towards liberation. No generalizations are good and therefore I say this with caution. It is more of a market study than a comment on a group of people.
The ego also plays a huge part in people’s attitude towards love and sex. Once taking care of one’s energy centres becomes a priority, lifestyles & attitudes automatically change. However of course any desire for change comes from inner experience of a sense of discomfort with oneself. That is where the search begins. Eventually, it is all about the balance between the heart and the mind as Dr.Lowen explains in these lines,
“The chronic muscular tensions blocking the free flow of excitation and feeling are frequently found in the diaphragm, in the muscles surrounding the pelvis and in the upper legs. Releasing them by using both a physical and a psychological approach makes people begin to feel “connected”. That is their word. Head, heart and genitals, or thinking, feeling and sex are no longer separate parts or separate functions. Sex becomes more and more an expression of love with a correspondingly greater pleasure. Invariably, any promiscuous behaviour which was previously engaged in ceases.”
Human life is truly fulfilling only when one is in harmony with oneself and others, when one feels truly connected to one’s being and that of others around him. Retreats are designed to help you achieve that harmony and to give you the motivation to make it your daily practice. An opening happens and most of the times, it is a magical opening. One becomes colour-blind, in the sense that every color is appealing. One is receptive to all kinds of experiences on the path of bringing all energies into balance, finding ultimately the balance between the East and West also within.