Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Armor is An Adaptive Body Response to Anxiety
Body armor is what happens in the body when people have learned to shut down their anxious feelings by contracting parts of the body and suppressing their sensation. This is an adaptive response learned in childhood and continued in a fully developed adult through automatic character traits. Armor concentrates in certain areas of the body giving shape and form to its locking-down of the life force energy.
Without armor, a person has the energetic ability to pulsate with their own natural life-force energy. Pulsation is the expansion and contraction of waves of energy experienced as energetic movement through the body. Wilhelm Reich noticed that bodily pleasure and emotional health are characteristics of people who stream with their own pulsating life-force energy. He said in effect that orgasmic potency is incompatible with neurosis. He also recognized that emotionally healthy people have a capacity for full orgasmic potential in their body sensation. This is not just from sexual orgasm, but also that their full-body was capable of experiencing pleasure in erogenous zones without suppression of their sensation.
In contrast, Reich found that those with body armor usually have lost the ability to experience much sensation. Often, this is a loss of pleasure, but also can be a numbness that dulls sensation generally. Sometimes, pain registers as sensation when it is strong enough to overcome the deep numbness of the senses in an armored body. Thus chronic muscular pain, together with immobility and rigidity are closely related to armor accumulated in the body.
The Ideas of Wilhelm Reich about Body Armor
Body armoring often begins shortly after birth, according to Wilhelm Reich, and continues through all the developmental stages of childhood. Much more can be said about this in another blog, but Reich defined segments of the body that develop armor in correspondence with the psycho-sexual development first noticed by Sigmund Freud. This is not surprising as Reich was a psychoanalyst, and followed Freud’s original line of thinking about the libido even after Freud moved away from his own sexual theories. Thus segments of armor that Reich spoke of are associated with the development of character traits that mirror Freud’s psycho-sexual model for childhood development. This is the origin of the idea of body-mind unity of soma and psyche because they are linked in this development of character in body and mind. Reich considered them to be the same. He discovered that treating the body was often more effective than psychoanalysis alone without also treating the body armor. All modern somatic and mind-body modalities and therapies are sourced in his early work.
Reich’s Body Armor and Eastern Traditional Healing
Body armor is also often in the same locations as of chakras, which in yoga are energy centers located in the torso. In many of these areas of the body, we find sphincter muscles that expand and contract. These muscles are found around the eyes, mouth, throat, the anus and genitals. Their action is to open or close around an opening to the body, which correlates to the expansion and contraction of energy in the body, and the willingness to let that energy in, or to hold it within the body. Thus the body’s quality of being empty, or full, also known as Kyo or Jitsu in Shiatsu is a function of the forces of expansion or contraction playing out through the energy meridians and centers of the body. Reich identified expansion and contraction as a universal process at the root of all biological life and also in universal cosmology, much like the Chinese idea of the Yin and Yang found in all Asian healing modalities.
In the body, we also find muscular structures like the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor defines and contains sections of the body that also expand and contract, as well as muscles of the extremities that maintain tension allowing movement and action on objects in the world. The wave-like pulsation of moving energy in the entire body allows for a flow of emotions and sensations that can be felt and sensed. When armored, that flow is suppressed, and sensation is not fully felt. Releasing this flow is the work of Body-Mind De-armoring.
What Happens when Armor is Released?
When armor is relaxed and released, it is common for pleasure to be recovered, and the body will often convulse and tremble with a sudden surge of pulsating energy. When emotion is felt it too is experienced in waves, often of crying or laughing; rage or tenderness; or fear or desire as suppressed emotions are suddenly felt along with somatic sensation and changes in breathing. It is also common for memories that have been forgotten to be remembered. Thus early childhood trauma experienced in the body before the time of cognitive development can be made conscious, and available to be processed by an adult who is now capable of understanding these suppressed experiences.
Body Mind De-armoring supports the client in connecting their life to the constraints that are felt in their body. Armor is often sensitive to the touch when held with pressure. By allowing for a barely tolerable level of sensation into this sensitivity, and bringing awareness by breathing into the sensation these areas are triggered, allowing energy to move. This can bring a cathartic release, or alternatively, a peaceful relaxation to the body often felt with energetic releases, vocalizations, and body movements. It can take time for a client to fully process the work of even a single session. Chronic emotions can arise in the aftermath of a session which can last over a few days. This is not uncommon. One must be willing to allow what is released to be felt, tolerated, and made conscious. This is how healing takes place over a series of sessions held one or two times a month.
For more information about Body-Mind De-armoring, keep following the blogs I am writing, or contact me for a free consultation.
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