The Motoric (Muscular) Ego
capacity develops on the basis of the mind's recognition and
awareness of physiological function. The physical body is the
chapter brings together biological, neurological, developmental
and psychological theory to extend and illuminate a concept
fundamental to body psychotherapy: the muscular system as the
motoric ego. Body psychotherapy has always based its understanding
of the psyche on a knowledge of physical function. As developmental
theory (itself a multidisciplinary field) advances, this deepens
and affirms the concept of a body-mind. In the first two sections
I have highlighted key aspects of biology, neurology and development,
that reflect the current state of research and theoretical modelling,
drawing particularly on the work of Deane Juhan in Job's
Body: a Handbook for Bodyworkers and the work of Bonnie
Bainbridge Cohen, in her own words in Sensing, Feeling and
Action, and in Linda Hartley's Wisdom of the Body Moving; 
At this point I want to make a preliminary comparison:
Muscle is the fundamental structuring, mediating,
enabling tissue in the body - it is nourished by the organs, underpinned by bones, enveloped
by skin and connective tissue, and enlivened by the bodily fluids.
The infant and child's muscle is developed through contact
with the world, and in relation to space, and objects.
the history of psychoanalysis Ego has been conceived
as a mental structure - defined in widely differing ways
- which reflects the individual's habitual adjustment
to the external world. It incorporates early developmental
experience (as introjected objects), and, according to Reich,
holds at bay "the repressed drive demands of the id".
functions include containment, expression, repression and splitting.
Ego capacities include both facilitating the highest most complex
and deeply felt expression; and inhibiting, distorting and
turning against the self. Body psychotherapy works from the
premise that these defences and capabilities are directly embodied
in the musculature.
Biological Function of Muscles
- muscle mechanics
is designed for movement and is known as the motor system. The
qualities and tone of our individual muscles are reflected in
our posture and actions, from the minutest movement to our broadest
gestures. Muscle accounts for 70-85 % of our body weight, and
defines our size, contour, and feel. In addition, the musculature
helps generate heat in the body: 70% of the energy produced
by the muscles is released as warmth which permeates the body.
are three kinds of muscle: the muscle of the viscera, known
as smooth muscle; cardiac muscle; and skeletal muscle. Skeletal
muscle is known as striated muscle and it consists of elastic
fibres bound together in bundles. These are bound together
by a thick band, usually spindle shaped and contained in a membranous
sheath. This sheath is extended at the end to form strong fibrous
bands known as the tendons which fasten muscles to bone. In
conventional physiology muscle are considered to work in pairs,
or groups of pairs: the prime movers initiating or maintaining
a movement and the antagonists opposing or holding in
check that movement. Movement happens when one pair contracts,and
the opposing muscles lengthens.
and on the work of neurologist Antonio Damasio.
the evolution of the concept of muscle as the embodiment of
certain ego functions, the third section is a concise history
of contributions from Wilhelm Reich through to the integrative
model taught at Chiron. The fourth section interweaves the theory
from these different disciplines into a series of reflections
on muscular themes, which reveal the paradoxical qualities of
both muscle and the motoric ego.
complexity of the parallel functions of ego and muscle are explored
at the end of this chapter.“In
well-balanced activity, each half of the agonist-antagonist
pair contributes a substantially equal share to a given muscular
task […] Paired muscles in a precise spatial balance have substantially
similar tone levels; they stimulate and reinforce each other.
The antagonist of a muscle consistently called on for unbalanced
over activity deteriorates very rapidly. The agonist then tries
unsuccessfully to compensate for the weakened antagonist, [leading
to] progressive disorganisation of the body.” (Rolf, 109-110)
- energy conversion
musculature is the largest and most metabolically active organ
of the body. It metabolizes through movement. Nerve stimuli
cause the muscles to contract, and this causes chemical changes
in the muscle (the Krebs cycle). Deane Juhan compares muscle
to liquid crystal because of its characteristic capacity to
change rapidly from sol (fluid, ie. flaccid) to gel (flexed).
In addition the flow of blood to the muscle brings nutrients,
oxygen and hormones, in different combinations and concentrations.
This produces variety of textures and qualities, which are
sensed by neural devices, and can be palpated. (Damasio, 1999,
system.“concentrating on the muscles, I was amazed to feel
the change in pulsation when she simply imagined moving.....it
was during this exploration that I got the sense of body as
tapas and how assessing the muscles in terms of different foods
actually helped me as a way into working. As I remember the
image of her tibialis anterior as uncooked aubergine, it is
as if I am physically feeling it again.” (massage student,
process of shortening and lengthening affects the muscles ecology
by pumping fluids. When there is chronic contraction, the pump
becomes a squeeze and fluid delivery is decreased. This causes
hormonal and chemical deposits to build up, creating denser
collagenous tissue. In addition continued contraction of a muscle
constitutes ‘work’ and therefore uses energy: sustained tension
levels - an orchestration
activity has the unique property of being mediated by the voluntary
nervous system, unlike other organs and tissues, making it the
closest of body systems to consciousness. In fact the muscle
system is a convergence or coherence zone for all levels of
brain functioning, from automated reflexive responses to highly
tuned skills. The cerebellum (an outcrop of the brain stem)
is important for automated or instinctual movements, such as
sucking. It is heavily dependent on sensory feedback. Meanwhile
the basal ganglia, within the brain stem, governs rhythmic and
ballistic movement (ie involcing forward motion, such as running),
as well as other vital life functions like heart-beat and respiration.
It is made up of different parts, which keep each other in check.
When dysfunctional it results in wild, involuntary movements,
or the opposite, muscle rigidity and tremor.
the cortex, the outer and most recent evolutionary layer of
the brain, relates to more complex and less stereotyped muscle
behaviour, such as manual dexterity and speech. The supplementary
motor and lateral premotor areas - parts of the cortex - dominate
when conscious control is required, and can override signals
from the brain stem. On the other hand, once certain skills
are learned, or habits acquired, the cerebellum and basal ganglia
can take over these activities, freeing up the cortex for other
roles. Many habitual movements become automatic – knitting,
driving, washing up – leaving our attention free for other activites.
When these learned movments need to be modified, we have to
concentrate again. In skilled activity, such as sports or playing
an instrument, there is an emphasis on learning good habits
from the start, because it is quite hard to undo patterns which
have become largely unconscious. This applies to emotional patterns
which have become fixed in the musculature as well.
highlights the significance of these two motor systems - the
alpha, originating from the cortex, and the gamma, from the
brain stem - whose interrelationship, both sensory and functional,
underpins the complexity of our conscious and unconscious movement.
human movement repertoire is incredibly varied, when compared
with the distinctive motions which characterize each species
of animal. We can imitate a cat or a mouse as a generic type
of movement. Our vast range of habitual, skilled and expressive
movements reflect our need and capacity for adaptation and expression
in a variety of physical and emotional environments.
- the instant 3-d map
Proprioception means 'to receive oneself'. Effectively, groups of receptors act as an ensemble providing
a sensory map or picture of movement. Golgi tendon organs measure
tension values and effort. The muscle spindles are sensitive
to the slightest changes in lengthening or shortening of the
muscle, and the speed at which these are occuring. Other receptors
note joint position, and changes in pressure in the body tissue.
The vestibular system – or ‘inner ear’ – also gives feedback
relating to balance and spatial orientation. This map is dynamic,
dense, and detailed; it continuously records changes in position,
movement and tension of the total muscular system.
this information is integrated to provide a substantial, three
dimensional sensory picture - like a felt hologram - which creates
a background depth which we experience as a sense of embodiment.
By contrast, states of dissociation and depersonalisation, where
'reality' is felt as thin and alien, reflect severely decreased
integration of proprioceptive signals. The extensive implications
of the bodies' capacity to internally represent itself - of
which muscular proprioception is a significant part - are currently
being integrated into neurology and cognitive psychology: science
is able now to provide the most detailed explanation for how
we feel and think through our bodies.
Although science is now catching up, Bonnie Cohen commentss,
"it is fascinating...and frustrating to me that the sensations
of movement and visceral activity have been excluded from the
"5 senses". As all sciences are reflections of the
socio-political -religous ideas of their time, it is appropriate
that the historical repression of bodily sensation in Western
Culture has been transmitted as a matter of scientific fact." (Cohen 114)
and sensorimotor integration
sensory map influences the motor system in two ways: adaptation/motor
learning (long-term influences) and immediate adjustments to
movement. In addition to proprioception, vision, hearing and
cognition are crucial to motor learning. Initially, vision may
have a dominant role over proprioception, ie. direct observation
or a visual image will accelerate the learning of a skill. But
once a movement is memorized the dominance of vision is reduced
in favour of proprioception.
Experiences with strong emotional significance are almost
always transferred from the short- to the long-term memory,
along with the muscle patterns they stimulated.
motor activities do not rely on instantaneous feedback but adjust
to previous sensory input, stored in the form of sensory engrams,
in other words, habitual patterns. Proprioceptive feedback itself
is not neccessary for us to carry out movement – we can perform
familiar tasks quite mechanically. Crucially, however, in the
absence of proprioception, the motor system is incapable of
controlling fine or new learned movements, or of improving these
movements. (Lederman, 78) In other words, for change to occur,
sensory feedback is vital. The body needs to know itself,
in order to transform fixed patterns.
is the opening of ourselves to the experience of life. The
opening is a motor act; the experience is interaction between
motor and sensory happenings."(my emphasis) (Cohen, 118)
in the muscle
engrams record the information from the proprioceptors about
the state and position of the muscles, as well as the biochemical
activity associated with an event or person. Memories which
depend on language, facts, descriptions are known as explicit
or declarative memories. But another kind of memory, implicit
memory, involves procedures and internal states that are less
conscious. Sensing the muscle can help us to recall an emotional
situation or the position and posture connected to a point in
time. For example, if you forget what it is you are meant to
be doing, you can go back to the place and posture from which
the decision originated. In body psychotherapy, the use of muscular
self-awareness is a crucial clue to memory, repressed impulses
refers to “sensory, motor or autonomic recall” which form part
of a “mulit-site network” (Damasio, 1999, 221) He proposes
that our sense of self derives fundamentally from the activation
of memories from this multi-site network, which depicts in minute
detail the state of the organism from moment to moment.
(survival) and expression are an emergent property of neural
processes becoming synthesised through the muscular system.
In evolutionary terms, muscle links us with animals, which,
like us, can run, bite, grip, communicate through vivid language
of movement and expression. But development of the neo-cortex
also means we can suspend, suppress and distort or reformulate
instinctual behaviour. A clash of needs and perceptions internally
may create manifold and contradictory mental and muscle impulses.
I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.
I would not remember the tightening of my jaw
the rage that I'd missed my stop, the leap
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged........
Sharon Olds, 53
the extent that there is integration between systems, we have
the symphony of grace, purpose, congruence. Failures of integration
- from normal to extreme - diminish our sense of ourselves and
reflect our painful, complex and individual circumstances and
we talk of 'voluntary' muscles, and the cortex is associated
with 'conscious' activity, these assumptions are misleading.
Learned behaviours are initiated and controlled by engrams or
gestalts, memories of how specific actions have felt. "These
sensory memories function more like blueprints, or templates,
than they do like a linear sequence of commands....each quantum
of engrammatic memory contains the whole of a particular movement
[...] stored as an image or outline." (Juhan, 289)
when we think we are choosing an action deliberately, the manner
in which we do it is the sum of our history.
is interesting that with the increasing use of CC TV cameras
to catch criminals, the police are relying of the idiosyncrasies
of an individual’s gait to spot them when they are disguised.
This is because if someone is trying to ‘act natural’ they will
move in their habitual way)
Movement as Active Perception, Movement as Cognition
"movement is a perception....it is the first perception to develop
(the vestibular nerves, which register movement, are the first
to myelinate in utero) and therefore the most important for
survival;...as each experience sets a baseline for future experiences,
movement helps to establish the process of how we perceive;....how
we perceive movement becomes an integral part of how we perceive
through other senses." (Cohen, 114)
the sense organs, which we think of as part of the nervous system,
are intricately bound up with the musculature. For example,
muscles are a major component of the eyes. Sight is affected
by muscles in and around the eye, the eyelids, forehead, and
tear glands, as well as the deep muscles at the base of the
occiput, and all the muscles which orient the head in the direction
of what is being looked at. "[Bates, Kelly , Lowen] believe
that myopia is largely the result of traumatized eye muscles,
and that when the trauma or conflict is resolved, the muscle
of the eye are then freed to develop and form in a more natural,
vital fashion". (Dychtwald, 227)
points out that the senses operate at least dually: there is
the information from the sense organ itself; and a set of body
signals that indicate that the sense organ is engaged, so that
“you feel you are seeing something with your eyes” and
direct and focus them accordingly. (Damasio, 1994, 232) Similarly
we ‘prick up our ears’, sniff, lick or touch as we utilize our
all these cognitive processes, perception and action are inseparable"
(Santiago theory) "cognition
is an integral part of the way a living organism interacts
with its environment"(Capra, 268)
Movement and will
- having the capacity to move - derives from the Latin word
animus, meaning air, breath, life, consciousness.
a bold proposal Damasio suggests that there is a particular
region of the brain where the systems concerned with feeling,
attention, and working memory interact so intimately that the
constitute the source for the energy of both external action
(movement) and internal action (thought animation, reasoning)
The key region includes the anterior cingulate cortex, the supplementary
motor area , the third motor area and the motor cortex. (Remember
‘motor’ means to do with movement and therefore muscles). Together
they constitute an important sector of the frontal lobe. “Damage
to this sector not only produces impairment in movement, emotion
and attentiveness, but also causes a virtual suspension of the
animation of action and though processes such that reason is
no longer viable”. (Damasio, 1994, 72)
describes a patient with such damage, who was inanimate, though
capable of making gestures and movement, and of speech. She
was extremely impassive. As she emerged from this state, and
began to answer questions, she said she had not suffered any
anguish from this immobility. Rather, she said, “I really had
nothing to say”. Lack of mental and physical animation went
hand in hand.
is only rumour until it is in the muscle -
Muscle is literally developed thro ugh contact with
the world. In the beginning the uterine environment offers the
baby resistance to its own movement, as well as offering the
experience of the mother's movements. This is followed by birth
which requires powerful physical effort and an immense act of
will on the part of the birthing child. "As the head of
the birthing child pushes into and through the birth canal and
the tail of the spine and the feet respond by pushing against
the contracting walls of the womb, the push of the head transforms
into a reaching through to the new world outside." (Hartley,
development of voluntary - as opposed to reflexive - muscle
activity happens in a precisely differentiated sequence. Learning
gross and fine motor control takes place intensively in the
first seven years - sucking, manipulating objects, rolling,
crawling, walking, speaking, writing - but continues to be refined
throughout latency, adolescence and adulthood.
When the bare feet of the baby beat across the
The little white feet nod like white flowers in
They poise and run like ripples lapping across the water
brain and ego development are inseparable, and depend on sensory
and relational (human) feedback: "the greatest sensory
motor organisation occurs during adaptive response....each adaptive
response leads to further integration of sensations....[and]
leaves the brain in a more organised state." (Bernhardt,
54) The acquisiton of new skills leads to a sense of mastery,
and an increase in the capacity for reality testing, which strengthens
the ego. Common phrases about being able to "handle"
life, or "get a grip" or "put the best foot forward",
and "take a step in the right direction" sum up our
intuitive understanding of this connection.
and new input are vital to further development. However, trauma
and high levels of stress reduce the sensory field, which is
a key integrating system. Deficits and traumatic interactions
appear as a disturbance or imbalance in tonicity of specific
muscle groups, which affect the final shape, movement, and style
of the adult body.
means pitch or tension, and refers to the state or quality of
the muscle: it expresses the readiness of the muscle to act,
to respond, to relate. Hypertonus refers to highly toned
or tense muscle; hypotonus refers to low tone, or slackness.
illus.bab1.tif Tone is a product of the interplay of
: the health and maturity of the organs; the quality, or lack,
of dynamic support; the child's degree of mobility; and continuity
of or interruptions to meaningful emotional contact. Tone develops
from using the muscles and for this the infant requires motivation,
desire, and attention. The dynamics of meeting, overcoming,
yielding to gravity and balancing resistance - gained through
play with others and exploring a diverse and structured environment
- are vital food for the developing muscles. The weight of the
body being moved through space becomes the resistive force which
increases the strength and support of the larger, more powerful
"Postural tone begins to develop in utero....after birth,
the tone continues to be a response to gravity and is further
modified by the way we are related to physically, perceptually
and emotionally. Tone is relative and is reflective of the
interaction between one's inner and outer environment."
is the characteristic state of the infant in utero, where the
flexor muscles on the front of the body are toned so that the
body is curled up. Outside the womb, the developmental thrust
is towards extension, with the extensor muscles of the back
gaining tone until the point when the infant can fully arch.
This basic process overlaps with the gradual individuation of
flexion and extension in each limb. This develops through the
emergence of the reflexes, equilibrium responses, and the acquisition
of motor skills.
A balance between flexor and extensor muscles is reflected
in good overall tone and a sense of being grounded. Too much
tone in flexors either manifests in the tendency to curl up,
or in a compensatory attitude in the extensors, a braced attitude.
Flexion and extension underlie our most basic expressive movement
patterns. Flexion suggests containment, contraction, closing,
hiding, protecting, retreating, defending.
implies expansion, opening, reaching, pushing, showing, exposing,
moving outward/ toward.
You lie, snail-like, on your stomach - The authentic!
I dare not speak or touch, just
out of reach, beyond
Knowing too well the ways of our kind- running feet
The retreat, the narrowing spiral stretching
Cope, 'Depression' Denise
Levertov, 'Matins' (Adcock)
Psychological Function of Muscle
Reich - Muscle armour and character
Reich, the father of body psychotherapy and a major influence
on the development of bodywork, was the first to postulate a
direct connection between musculature and psychological function.
"Muscular rigidity....represents the most essential
part of the process of repression ....and is the basis of its
continued preservation." (1947, 39) Muscle rigidity became
known as armour, and its function, according to Reich, was to
bind or block "basic biological excitations", such
as anxiety, hate or sexual feelings. It is the functional equivalent
of the ego's binding of unacceptable impulses. Its origin is
in the infant or child's habitual inhibition of impulses and
expressions of feeling in situations of unpleasure, typically
the disapproval of its parents and significant others. The child
learns to tense the muscles to hold back the movement or feeling
- whether it is a facial expression, or an undesired behaviour
- and when this is done repeatedly, the muscular holding pattern
becomes chronic and unconscious.
The muscular inhibition of an impulse is a concrete and visible
manifestation of the parental or environmental prohibition.
It is the physical manifestation of the process of introjection. (Johnson, .68)
characterised muscular armour as being divided into seven horizontal
segments, from the ocular segments to the legs, depending on
the emotional function of each area.
He also recognised how an individual's muscular armour
carried the nuance and idiom of his sense of identity. He described
a patient whose "reserved countenance...noble stride and...
patrician bearing" was very striking. Reich told him that
he was playing the role of an English lord, and this led directly
to the patient's revelation of a long-standing fantasy that
he had an aristocratic lineage, in contrast to his status as
the son of "an insignificant Jewish merchant". (1947,
194-5) In this example the identity has a defensive function
correlative with the patient's attempt to remain "above
it all", ie. on top of his feelings. Today we might also
note that the fantasy is also an effect of internalised anti-Semitism.
"Every muscular rigidity contains the history and meaning
of its origin."(1947 )
– “the central mechanism”
grasped the fundamental role of breathing in controlling emotions.
Before fim the French psychologist, Janet
direct manipulation of the muscles, including pressure on muscle
insertions, became an intrinsic part of Reich's characterological
work. Supported and interwoven with verbal analysis, this helped
support vegetative changes, cathartic release - such as sobbing
or shouting - and softening and enlivening of the musculature.
Reich's language of therapeutic "attack" and "breaking
down defences" comes across today as inappropriately aggressive,
but the basic principle of addressing muscular armour as part
of a broader therapeutic endeavour has had a far reaching influence.
startle reflex and the somatic compromise
recognised the activation and incompletion of the startle reflex
as an important pattern underlying habitual muscular contraction.
(see Bones chapter) The inhibited reflex results in contractive
patterns retained as micro-gestures. This is the startle remnant,
which co-exists with the maintenance of a tendency to hold the
diaphragm in an inspiratory tension, and other vegetative holding
patterns, to create what Boyesen called the somatic compromise.
In extreme cases, the gesture, such as ducking the head, and
moving the shoulders forward to protect the heart, is visibly
reified in the musculature.
emphasises that the failure of the parental environment is a
key factor in the development of the somatic compromise. Both
Reich and Boyesen focussed on the effects of repressive parenting
on children, but paid less attention to the infant's need for
holding, before they have attained significant voluntary muscle
Falling anxiety - which can relate to the absence of good
enough psychological as well as physical holding - can set up
some of the deepest patterns of underlying muscular rigidity.
David Boadella writes, "how we handle the infant in these
first early hours and days establishes basic patterns in how
he holds his body, his muscular organisation as he resists and
opposes or surrenders to gravity." (Life, 59)
the biodynamic model the musculature became more broadly associated
with ego function and self-regulation: "the ego regulates
the id's vertical upsurge by means of the horizontal counterforce
of the bodies' musculature". (Clov,INN) The muscles are seen as a structural
container. 'Horizontal' functions are to do with agency, the
ability to translate ideas into action, to interacting in and
with the world. The muscular system embodies the 'motoric ego'
. The 'vertical', embodied in the alimentary or 'id-canal'
is the instinctual force of feeling and impulse. Ideally, vertical
and horizontal work together in 'dynamic equilibrium', creating
psychological, physical and energetic balance, reflected in
good muscle tone. As Boadella phrases it, "the inner organ
language of the vegetative system" is integrated with
"the outer muscle language of the muscular-skeletal system"
(Roots, 17) This constitutes
ego-strength, a psychological term to which Gerda Boyesen gives
a physiological dimension.
the ego has a pseudo-strength - ie. the person has a capacity
to act, and to do, but little sense of sponteneity or meaning
- this is reflected in rigid muscles. There may be heavy armouring
in places of the body to which expression has been denied. By
contrast, the ego weak person is overwhelmed by the feelings
and impulses of the id, and has difficulty containing the charge
or bringing it to fruition in the world. He or she is ungrounded,
finding it hard to focus and identify needs, and easily thrown
off balance. From Lilemor Johnson, Gerda learned about the underdevelopment
of muscle which relates to problems in early development, and
this is reflected in the ego weak person's flaccidity of muscle
and tendency to collapse. Low muscle tone is related to over-active
or compensatory fantasy; high muscle tone is related to control.
[Boadella and Biosynthesis
and horizontal grounding
David Smith 'Movement and Character' integrating Laban's work
Bodynamic concept: muscle as a resource
the Bodynamic Institute in
, Lisbeth Marcher has integrated Reich's and Johnson's discoveries,
with an in-depth understanding of psychomotor development. She
emphasises that sensory -motor development takes place in relation
to people and the environment. For the growing infant and child,
each new level of development, new motor capacities provide
possibilities for new sensory experience, new perspectives,
and new possibilities for interacting with the world. In addition,
for the ego to develop, "the child needs to acquire forms
for the containment of energy, for protecting the self against
overwhelming external stimulus and for distancing the self from
internal stimulus that cannot be regulated." (Marcher,
59) Muscles are thus understood as being a resource which enable
motor activity, containment, self-regulation and reality testing.
sequence of muscle development is quite specific, and Marcher
has developed a diagnostic technique called 'body mapping',
which consists of testing the major muscles for their hyper
or hypo responsiveness. It is based on the notion that muscles
have a dual response to stress, becoming either hyper- or hypotonic.
If a stressor is relatively light or comes at an age where there
has been sufficient development , the muscle is likely to become
hypertonic. If the stressor is relatively massive, or is premature
for a child's developmental stage, the muscle will be hypotonic.
The distribution of muscular tonicity, its pattern and degree
reflects each person's complex and unique history
- an integrative model
theory, developed at Chiron, draws on the theory and practice
of Gestalt, developmental models, Reichian, Jungian and Object
Relations. This is an integrative model based on understanding
and responding to the client's habitual fixed relational postures.
It explores how these muscular attitudes impact on the therapist
through direct observation and bodily resonance (countertransference).
In this sense, muscle carries the charge in the transference-countertransference
following is a brief summary of themes, many of which have already
implied in earlier sections of this chapter.
from the Latin, in-tendere - to stretch toward
and quality reflects ego capacity to the degree that we are
organically organized for any given activity. This means being
able to focus our attention and intention on an activity and
feel adequate to the task.Muscles reflect our sense of purpose,
or lack of purpose. illus. meliss1.tif
I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.
can use brisk muscular activity - walking, cleaning, exercise
- to shore up the ego in times of strain. Taken to an extreme,
physical activity for its own sake can be mechanical, even robotic.
When activity is disconnected from an inner source, we refer
to 'going through the motions', a phrase associated with a
person who is in shock or severely depressed. Or we may see
it as manic activity, a flight from the internal world.
muscle is a vehicle for expressing and fulfilling our selves:
The hands that hammered in those nails
emptied that kettle one last time
are these two hands
and they have caught the baby leaping
from between trembling legs
and they have worked the vacuum aspirator
and stroked the sweated temples
and steered the boat....
Image, Identity and Identification
It is not the body-object described by biologists that actually
exists, but the body as lived in by the subject. (Beauvoir, 1953, 69)
muscular system carries our ego identity in the broadest sense.
How we use our muscle, our characteristic posture, gait, gesture
reflects and communicates a great deal about our gender, class,
race, culture, and lifestyle, as well as our developmental history.
Embedded in our muscles are all the skills, habits, expressions
and defences we have acquired. The range of our learning includes
normal development skills, such as feeding, and walking; specific
skills - such as weaving, carpentry, juggling, driving; character
attitudes, such as defiance or deference; patterns stemming
from trauma, including birth trauma; and identifications made
identification happens to a significant extent through mirroring
or mimicking another's physical stance and movements, or echoing
their shape or rhythm. Identification is one of our earliest
expressions of an emotional tie with another. It may be deliberate
and purposeful - as when learning a skill - or it may be unconscious,
stemming largely from emotional needs or defences. It is a major
psychological tool of the human species, enabling us to survive,
to understand others, and make connections with families or
groups that we use to define ourselves.
I stamp like the bear I call like the wind of the thaw
I leap like the sea spring-running.
sun-struck daughters splutter
and chuckle and bang their spoons:
is singing at breakfast and dancing!
has many aspects to it but to understand how muscles are involved
in this process, it is useful to compare the phenomena of imprinting
in animals. Imprinting was studied by Konrad Lorenz, who observed
that when ducklings hatch they respond to the first thing that
moves - in this experiment, him - follow it and treat it as
mother. He found that if he reintroduced them to the real mother,
they still continued to treat him as mother, and carried on
copying his movements.
complicates identity because it is multiplicitous, generating
layer upon layer of history and potential. illus. head1.tif From object relations, we derive the understanding that it is
not just individual figures that we internalize but actually
relationships between ourselves and others. For example, a girl
bullied by her elder sister may identify with her (identification
with the aggressor), and carry in her body both the frightening
object and the frightened one (herself). The sister's movements
of swaggering, threatening, hitting are remembered internally
as a particular set of movements, while the experience of being
the victim is held in a feeling of being paralysed. Later in
life, moving in a certain way may be unconsciously associated
with power and danger, whilst being still may be associated
of body image explored by psychologists and psychoanalysts comes
over as rather static, and overly visual. But it has highlighted our culture's narcissistic obsession
with the body, and the body as battleground for control between,
for example, a mother and daughter.It has been usefully taken up in
art and movement therapy, as well as body psychotherapy, as
a way of helping the client access and represent feelings about
Arnold Schwartenegger articulates the narcissistic
attitude: You don't really see a muscle as part of you....the
bicep has to be longer, or the tricep thicker...You look at
it and it doesn't even seem to belong to you. Like a sculpture,
you form it. (Schwartzenegger, Wood, 122)
Patterns and Archetypes
all fixed patterns are limiting. The reflexes which makes you
put your hands out to break a fall, or which enable you to swallow,
or which sustain uterine contractions during labour are part
of our human inheritance. They can be considered the physiological
equivalents of psychological archetypes, deep patterns or imprints
which connect us to our species and are intrinsic to survival
and reproduction. A physical reflex may constitute a literal
response to a tangible event, or it may appear as a form of
memory (often a traumatic memory), or as a symbolic communication.
Examples such as feeding, gagging or birth reflexes carry powerful
object-relational dynamics, often embodying deeply unconscious
statements of relationships and orientation.
as an object in space and time
beginning of the loss of reality testing in schizophrenia lies
in a patient's misinterpretation of sensations arising in his
own body." (FO, 24)
representations of the body proper in action [..] offer a
spatial and temporal framework, a metric on which other
representations could be grounded. The representation of what
we now construct as space with three dimensions would be engendered
in the brain, on the basis of the body’s anatomy and patterns
of movement in the environment.” (Damasio, 1994, 235)
is the tissue with which we surely feel the present moment.
Bones grow over decades, connective tissue tends to change over
months or years.But muscles can go through contraction, extension,
and holding all in the course of moments" RN
is contractile and excitable and therefore instantly responsive,
enabling us to move and react with skill, speed, and sponteneity.
We have seen how muscular stiffness (armour) indicates an emotional
inhibition, but hyperflexibility can represent the opposite
polarity, "passivity and a highly emotive consciousness”,
a lack of internal structure and rapidly fluctuating ego states.
(Maps, 38) Muscle has the function of stabilising the flow of energy,
whether it is conceived of as metabolic or psychic energy. The
musculature regulates through movement, or contracting against
the impulse - hence the function of exercise, or compulsive
actions or gestures, such as foot tapping, in 'using up' or
'diverting' psychic energy.
provides shape and structure in the body, defining and making boundaries between sections of the body, and between the
individual's internal structure and the outer world. Cross restrictions
The muscular mass can provide a sense of substance and structure
beneath the superficial boundary of the skin. Likewise, Reich
described the ego as a "buffer in the struggle between
id and the outer world".
we repeatedly use the muscles for pushing away, and not pulling
musculature provides a crucial container for binding and organising
energy, and its capacity to do so is reflected in the tonus
and differentiation of the muscles.
"The ego is as strong as the amount of energy it can meet
without there being shock". (Gvirtzman, 39)
can lie. The expression never lies. Although most people are
unaware of it, it is the immediate manifestation of character"
(Reich 19 73: 171) Or as it is put in NLP "you cannot not
communicate." The totality of muscular patterns, both
chronic and temporary, conscious and unconscious, creates a
constant stream of information and communication. For example,
we sense whether someone's smile is genuine or not. This is
possible because involuntary expression is activated subcortically
(in the limbic system), whilst deliberate expression is activated
through the cortex, or 'higher' brain. The genuine smile actually
engages an additional set of muscles around the eyes, and we
intuitively know that "smiling with the eyes" indicates
a deeper level of feeling than a smile which looks "plastered
on."  Despite the musculature’s capacity to inhibit impulse, it represents
as it conceals. This is the paradox: it expresses even as it
defends against, and it conserves as it wards off feeling. Like
the [...] impulse and the inhibition of the same impulse can
be localised in the same muscle group [....] the conflict between
impulse and defence, with which we are so familiar in the psychic
realm, has a direct correlation in physiological behaviour.
At other times, impulse and inhibition are distributed among
various muscle groups" WR 330
are constructed to work around tension, operating in complementary
or opposing pairs. Feeling our muscles can give us the experiential
sense of dynamism and division, force against force, as in wrestling
or struggling against another, or ourselves. As we are jammed
in internal conflict, the stuckness is palpable in the knots
and tensions in our musculature. Muscle has a paradoxical function:
it 'pulls us together' - organises us into a familiar pattern,
including energetic withdrawal and binding of anxiety, rage,
sadness - even as its tension embody our splits.
is constriction around my neck and in a diagonal line down my
back. By holding certain of my muscles, I literally seem to
create the physical sensation of being split off from myself.....And
now...I feel a different kind of muscular patterning. I feel
excited and can feel the muscles around my chest extend. The
muscles in my face which control smiling are starting to contract.
I wonder is there any part of my experience which is not expressed
with my muscles?"
notice I am straining muscles around my diaphragm, contracting
muscles in my neck and high up next to my occiput. Its a feeling
that I want to batten everything down .......I want to grasp
the truth with my muscles."
"I feel this deep sense of habit in my muscular patterning,
the sense of wanting to withdraw, and hold and contract while
pushing and straining. Its all a muscular trip. I have the image
of a friend smiling and feel something happening in my heart,
and my face muscles contract and extend into a broad smile.
My diaphragm flutters, my throat constricts again. There seems
to be no ending."
stream-of-consciousness report gives clues to the hidden conflicts
beneath the surface eloquence, as attention moves from one aspect
or impulse to another. The mental image, or topography of
the postural model of the body is continuously being constructed
and destroyed. (Schilder in Levy 9)
rhythmicity of one's movements, the alternation of muscular
tension and relaxation in movement go together with the capacity
for linguistic modulation and general musicality" (Reich,
CA, 345) Just as the musculature can reflect the strain of holding
together conflicted parts, so too it can embody through an individual's
grace, and intricacy of movement an extraordinary synthesis
of sponteneity and acquired skill.
O body swayed to music, oh brightening glance
how can we know the dancer from the dance?
a therapeutic context there may be a 'coming together' in the
client, visible in the musculature as a deepened breath, aliveness
and congruence in their presence - a 'bodyshift' equivalent
to, and sometimes accompanied by, a conscious insight.
and Ego: Parallel Functions
rather than just using psychological/analytical models and clinical
experience as the basis for defining ego, I have tried to extend
the notion of ego by deepening my understanding of neurology
and physiology, particularly of the muscle. Of course the totality
of ego functions depends on the body as a whole - it arises
out of the interaction of multiple systems. But the biological
and developmental function of muscle has important parallels
with ego, and I believe the concept of the motoric ego is sufficiently
robust to bear expanding.
is the system we think of when we talk about the body working.
In psychoanalysis "working through" implies the ego's
struggle to integrate. Both muscle and ego go through stages
of profound change between foetal life, infancy and adulthood
: a development which is not just a growth in size, but the
evolution to a more highly organised state. The adult ego of
the mother or her substitute 'holds' the baby while it progressively
learns to hold itself; the earth/floor or parent holds the baby
as it lies until it is able through rolling, crawling and finally
standing to hold itself up against gravity.
analyst Micheal Balint, who was influenced by Reich and Ferenzci,
and who articulated the difference between benign and malign
regression, noted the parallel responses of ego and muscle to
the viscissitudes of life. "When the strain is too great,
the child has two ways of recovering his balance. Either his
ego may be overwhelmed by the growing excitation and a state
of panic sets in, which then finds relief in an outbreak of
affect and unco-ordinated movements. Or else it will do its
utmost and call up all his energies to stem the excitation.
The first method resembles a clonic,
and the second a tonic spasm [...] these two modes of reaction
are the ego's primal forms of defence." 
and ego both have a characteristic capacity to divide against
themselves in order to hold a peripheral structure together,
and protect a deeper structure. As NickTotton puts it, Reich's
discovery was that "the ego[....] pits muscular energy
against itself - using muscular tension to inhibit muscular
impulse." The capacity of the ego/muscles for "interrupting,
holding back [...] can be a deliberate temporary reaction or
it can be a chronic fixed habitual pattern which is outside
awareness. The first one is an important source of creativity
(Jung's opus contra naturam). Its the latter which Reich considered
to be the root of neurosis." (Soth, 17)
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