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Fenichel and the Body

‘The ego is first and foremost a body-ego,” says Freud in yoga poses The Ego and the Id. And he means by this that the distinction between ego and non-ego is first learned by the infant in yoga poses the discovery of its body in yoga poses such a way that in yoga poses its world of ideas its own body begins to be set off from the rest of the environment. (Fenichel, 1938, The Drive to Amass Wealth, 97)

The epigraph indicates the intellectual environment Fenichel entered when he arrived in yoga poses Berlin: a refined psychoanalysis about which he was passionate and a gymnast who obliged him to reflect on the contributions of body techniques and their impact on the psyche.

In an unpublished manuscript dating from 1926,70 Fenichel takes up the possibility of relating gymnastics and psychoanalysis. in yoga poses 1927, he revealed his thoughts on the subject at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. He proposed a first synthesis of his thoughts on the body and psyche in yoga poses an article published in yoga poses 1928, titled “The Libidinization of the Organs.” Fenichel preferred this wording, used by Freud,71 to that of psychosomatic or body-mind. According to this article, the psychological defense system also regulates the way the libido is connected to the physiological regulations. Like almost all of the male physicians of that generation, he mentions neither the nonacademics nor the women who inspired and influenced him (Clare Fenichel and Gindler are not even mentioned in yoga poses a footnote). He wrote the article as if his thought was a personal discovery, established on academic and psychoanalytic literature. Clearly, well before Reich’s arrival in yoga poses Berlin, the future founders of psychosomatic psychoanalysis, like Rado and Alexander, began to think about the coordination of psychoanalysis, the body, and physiology. I emphasize this because at the end of his life, Reich claimed that all of his Berlin colleagues would have learned everything in yoga poses this domain from him Already at this time, Fenichel intuitively distinguished the physiological dimension from the body of the physical therapists. This body, close to that of Gindler, is a coordination of muscle tone, breathing patterns, postural regulations, and the loops of the sensorimotor nervous system. in yoga poses this sense, it is possible to say that Fenichel initiated a systematic reflection on the way the body dimension participates in yoga poses the mechanisms that structure the regulatory system of the psyche. Fenichel (1945a, XIII) did not systematically distinguishing body and physiology, as I do in yoga poses the System of Dimensions of the Organism For him, body and physiology both make up the world of the organs. However, on the level of technical interventions, each domain is approached differently, and the body dimension is explicitly discussed.


When in yoga poses their everyday life they have not focused attention on the condition of their musculature, the latter exists in yoga poses a state of hypertonus, the degree of which varies with the muscle group and with the individual, and which may occasionally reach complete rigidity. Movements may involve not only unnecessary muscle groups (associated movements), but innervations which are unsuitable and of unnecessary intensity. When in yoga poses a state of rest, we are sometimes inclined to let certain groups become hypotonic, that is, to have an excessively lowered tension, so that their readiness to function is impeded or weakened. … in yoga poses brief, we are dealing here with a defect of varying degree of their “economization and rationalization” of the motor apparatus which is described by Homburger as characteristic of adults.

For Fenichel, once we admit that the psychological resistances simultaneously influence mind and behavior, it becomes necessary to be able to describe how these resistances structure the gestures and postures mobilized by a behavioral style. The association that Ferenczi and Reich made between behavioral style and defense system had a clinical basis. This observation allowed for an explanation by supposing that this connection had a neurological basis, like Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes. But Fenichel was not satisfied with this hypothesis. A behavioral style is often visibly and manifestly influenced by permanent muscular rigidities and sometimes with comical ways of breathing. Specialists in yoga poses body development show how many children grow up with different forms of scoliosis and lordosis and also respiratory patterns that all gymnastics teachers try to correct. All of this maintains itself “alone” (without permanent interventions by the nervous system) by muscular “dystonia” (hyper- and hypotonus) that have become permanent. Clearly, the neurological and physiological inhibition of movement is based on different mechanisms from those postulated by psychoanalysts for the psychological forms of inhibition.

Muscle tone is influenced not only by the nervous system but also by the quality of the irrigation of the tissues by blood. in yoga poses becoming rigid, the muscle tissues acquire a particular metabolic quality that will afterward influence the vegetative dynamics and the functioning of the sensorimotor system. It then becomes possible to conceptualize that the defense system which structures the ego is in yoga poses connection with the systems that structure and inhibit the behavioral repertoire. Fenichel notices that an organism’s dystonia cannot be entirely explained by physiologists who try to explain it according to the quality of nutrition, the quantity of athletic activity, and so on. There are clearly, behind all of this, bodily factors interacting with some mental dynamics that psychoanalysts could study. A polite person uses his muscles and joints differently than a quicktempered person. Fenichel believes that these traits are principally from the character, linked to an individual’s psychic structure. The character, such as defined by Abraham and Reich, 73 would then be produced by the interaction between socially constructed bodily practices and the dynamics activated by an organism’s drives.

This is how Fenichel arrived at the proposition that analyzing the dynamics of the body and behavior allows a privileged access to the emotional dynamics that regulate thoughts and behavior. He takes up the thesis well known by all body practitioners that chronic anxiety influences the muscle tone in yoga poses a lasting way and lifestyle can generate chronic hyper- and hypotension that can last a lifetime.74 These tensions can also considerably reduce the respiratory repertoire. Thus, many people can only breathe by moving their belly, while others breathe mostly by moving the thorax. These limitations evidently influence the dynamics of the metabolism, which diminishes the energetic resources available to the organism as a whole: motor and behavioral activity, the intensity of experienced affect, and attention.

Fenichel describes patients who tense every muscle in yoga poses their body to repress an affect that attempts to emerge when the psychological defenses that repress it are dissolving. An example is a patient who complains of feeling nothing but a great void within: her inside was so cramped, her chest and limbs so tense, that they “did not let anything come out” (Fenichel, 1928, 131).

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