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Body and Character in yoga poses Bioenergetics

Ekman’s general theory on the somatic expressions of emotions is close to and contemporary of that which Alexander Lowen developed and included in yoga poses his Bioenergetics. This proposition is developed from two themes:

1. Closer to Darwin than Ekman, Lowen does not distinguish basic emotions and works with the forms of expression that mobilize the whole body. Thus, sadness44 is associated with tears but also with the desire to hold someone in yoga poses one’s arms and a loss of strength in yoga poses one’s feet. As with Ekman, these links are direct and necessary. For Lowen, an incomplete or inhibited form of emotional expression destabilizes the organismic mechanisms of regulation and consequently all of the dimensions of the organism (mind, behavior, language, body, and metabolism). 45 What is linear in yoga poses this proposition is the idea that an emotion can only mobilize and express itself in yoga poses one way (or in yoga poses using a restricted repertoire of behaviors). For Lowen, there is a functional identity between body and mind.

2. Lowen (1975) and Keleman (1985) also associate the shape of the body and the character. Their argumentation is that when the organism of an infant grows up, it calibrates itself according to its environment. If some of its emotional expressions are rejected by its social environment, the infant will tense the muscles mobilized by the inhibited expression to impede the expression which is felt. If this form of repression of the emotional expression repeats itself, these tensions become permanent and inhibit the capacity to feel those emotions. These tensions then influence the way the dimensions of the organism will develop, which includes the shape of the skeleton and the quality of the tissues. This form of argumentation is close to Gall’s phrenology, but applied to muscles and emotions.

Most of the psychotherapists who follow Alexander Lowen’s recommendations diagnose a form of psychopathology in yoga poses every individual who does not use the expected emotional repertoire. To modify a patient’s character structure, one must soften the chronic muscular tensions, which have become rigid to repress certain emotions that have now become unconscious. The patient attends conditioning sessions where he must learn to yell when he feels anger, cry when he is sad, and open his mouth when he is happy. These expressions are presented to the patient as necessary forms of the organism’s auto-regulation and the only way to communicate what is felt to another. Lowen thus rejoins the theories that presuppose a direct link between feeling and emotional expression that would be innate and necessary for a sound development of body and mind. An individual cannot diminish his sadness if he does not cry with another.46 If a patient behaves as these theories foresee, it often happens that the therapist gratifies his patient by finding him more authentic, more spontaneous, and more real than he is. If the patient’s affects use other forms of expression, the patient is considered to be a slave to his defense mechanisms and, consequently, subject to a psychopathology.

Another more recent model of this type used in yoga poses body psychotherapy is that of the action systems proposed by Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, and Clare Pain (2006, 6). These action systems combine somatic mechanisms, feelings, emotions, and imagery. Each action system is linked to a series of emotions that are the only ones that can allow the system to function adequately. According to these authors, there would be eight basic action systems: defenses, attachment, exploration, regulation of energy, compassion for others, socialization, play, and sexuality. This system is more flexible than either Ekman’s and Lowen’s systems, which make it easier to use in yoga poses psychotherapy. An action system includes more than the face and does not necessarily require the mobilization of particular muscles as a function of an emotion whose mental contours are clearly defined. This model is sufficiently systemic as to allow a mixture of direct and indirect relations between the different mechanisms associated with the action system Nonetheless, the customary critique applies to this list. Why this list and not another?

An example of the most extreme formulation of this type is the Bodynamic manual written by Lisbeth Marcher and Sonja Fich (2010), in yoga poses which they relate precise muscles and connective tissues with psychological functions such as to feel alive, autonomous, romantic, sexually alive, solitary, or to be in yoga poses contact with one’s needs. The tone of the muscles also allows for the evaluation of a person’s will and opinions. Having said this, each psychological faculty distinguished by the authors is associated to such a large number of particular muscles that the apparently linear aspects of this model loses some of its strength.

The weak points in yoga poses these types of propositions are:

1. It is not possible to propose a robust list of basic affects.

2. There is no theory that can identify specific affects with sufficiently clear boundaries as to be able to relate them to a unique and necessary sensorimotor schema.

3. If one accepts the hypothesis that every innate propensity needs to be calibrated, it is not possible to thinks that every human being needs to calibrate in yoga poses the same way.

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