• Karen O'Moore

Wilhelm Reich: Body Armouring and Tantra

This month’s blog is going to look at the work of Wilhelm Reich in a little more detail, but with particular reference to body armouring and somatic trauma release. Reich, who was trained as a scientist, was during the early 20thCentury up until the 1940’s a major force in the field of body-mind sciences. Under his theories of Orgonomy (the science of Orgone energy), he postulated that Orgone energy was a demonstrable, universal and primordial energy particularly associated with sex and the feelings of pleasure. Reich was interested in how this energy interacted with the human condition and began to establish concepts of armouring within the body and in particular how we develop muscular armouring to block this flow of energy. This muscular armouring was connected to character armouring (attitudes developed to block emotions such as anxiety, rage and sexual excitation) and created the individual. As Alexander Lowen explained: The individual’s character, manifested as their behaviour, is also manifested somatically as form and movement of the body. That is the expression in the body is reflective of the emotional expression of the individual’s character and the defences that are present in both show up somatically as body armouring.

Reich subsequently developed his theory of segmental armouring, by which we reach our psychic equilibrium. Reich postulated that there were seven segments and this correlates with the seven chakras of eastern philosophy. These ideas were expanded under bioenergetics and core energetic into five primary character structures: The Unwanted Child (schizoid), The Needy Child (Oral), The Endurer (Masochistic), The Controller/Leader (Psychopath) and The perfectionist/Obsessional (Rigid). These character’s are fixations of the energy movement within the body and are, according to Reich, predictable outcomes and can tell us much about an individual’s personal history. Physical blocks in the body, within a segment being overcharged with energy and an adjoining segment being undercharged and tension manifesting at the boundary of them. There is interaction and regulation between all seven segments and also with the chakras of eastern philosophy. Dr. Anodea Judith, in her book “Eastern body, Western Mind” looks in more detail at the correlation between the chakra system and Reich’s theories.

As children, we automatically create tensions when faced with situations we cannot handle or are fearful of, this a healthy response. It becomes unhealthy, however, when the muscle becomes contracted and stuck and body armouring occurs. As explained above, not only is the flow of energy blocked, but lot of energy is expended simply to maintain the armouring itself and this can lead to illnesses, stress and relationship issues. Reich saw that Parental or social punishments against the youthful expression of emotion, or of sexual love, led to internalised repression by contracting muscles and binding the energy down within the body. This created a powerful conflict of internal tension, which if became chronic formed the neuro-muscular armouring which not only protected from painful experiences, but also from emotions and capacity for pleasure and happiness in life, including or especially their capacity for sexual excitation and pleasurable orgastic release. This blocked up energy then becomes the source of all kinds of irrational behaviour. It is unfortunate that nature and culture, instinct and morality, sexuality and achievement, are considered incompatible in the life that we live today. Unless we permit ourselves natural sexual gratification we deserve (and establishing healthy archetypes in children and adolescents), then we continue to perpetuate neuroses, compulsions and irresponsible behaviours. It is perhaps more unfortunate that Reich’s work was misinterpreted and his books burned in America while he himself died in prison there in 1957.

The mystic OSHO viewed Reich as a modern Tantric Visionary and as a scientist and humanist I shudder when I hear of book burnings and deaths in prison.

He belongs to us. I give him posthumous sannyas.

(Osho - Sermons in Stones #7)

There are similarities and dissimilarities between Tantra and Reichian theories: With Reich the body mind and spirit were seen as aspects of the same whole. In an open, unblocked and loving individual sexual pleasure and a full orgasm would result in the full experiencing of the release of sexual tension and charge. Reich was, however, concerned with relieving people of their neurotic and pathological symptoms and behaviour and felt that loving release of sexual energy through orgastic experience and temporary loss of ego consciousness contained within that, was the highest emotional achievement that and individual could experience and would lead to a freedom from neuroses and lead to a long, healthy and satisfying life. Similarly, Tantra sees the mind and body as a whole and takes the view that a blocked and unaware individual will be unable to experience sexuality in its fullness. Both therefore look at sexuality as an indication of the physical and emotional health of the individual, that changing sexuality requires preparation of the body and mind totality. Finally, they both argue that the focus is on building and enjoying the sexual energy generated, rather than it continued loss and unfulfilled release. One major difference is, however, the idea within Tantra that orgastic release was not the ultimate expression and that the orgasm could be played with to allow the Sexual (Kundalini) energy to move up the spine and explore and develop higher centres and perspectives with more accent on spiritual and transpersonal development rather than therapeutically assisted alleviation of body/mind trauma, body armouring and energy blocks.

However, all this is not saying that Tantra is not useful in alleviating body armouring and energy blocks, quite the reverse it is an immensely powerful means of doing so, its ultimate aims are simply different. It is about bringing your awareness experientially into your body via breath, Sound, Movement and Touch and in doing so becoming aware of areas of numbness, Pain, Disease or ill-health. Whether it is by using breathing techniques or Tantra Massage techniques, by activating our energies we can release blocked emotions and energy and heal old trauma and hurts. We become more present (or using the latest buzzword: Mindful) and connected with our sexual energy and becoming more open and intimate with ourselves. Not only does that promote healing, but can change the nature of how we relate to others. In my opinion though, combining modern cognitive behavioural and coaching techniques adds yet another aspect to dissipating body-armouring. The fusion of eastern and western philosophies and techniques, of experiential and talking therapies: Tantra, Coaching, Psychotherapy, Hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the catch all term “Mindfulness” all can be skilfully employed to not only prepare your mind/body for the necessary changes but to put those changes in place.

Mark Sutton January 2015

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