Who was Alexander Lowen?
Alexander Lowen (1910 -2008) was an American physician and Psychotherapist. He was a systematic thinker and writer and his work was much more accessible than Reich. Lowen
seems to have been guided to the practical usefulness of Reich’s theories so that his books provide a source for people to make practical changes to their lives. While he first started as a therapist in 1942, his work became very popular in the 60s and 70s, before receding in the self-entitled culture of the 80s but he leaves with us a legacy of work relating to body oriented Psychotherapy such as Bioenergetics, the Way to Vibrant Health, The Betrayal of the Body and Joy.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s he was a student of Willhelm Reich. Lowen was grounded in Reich’s Concept of Character and Body armouring: The former being habitual defense patterns, formed from automatic and chronically active ego defences and the latter being physical patterns of chronic muscle tension that stem from character armouring. Reich also put forward that there are 7 segments of “body armouring” that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body. The armouring develop as a defense against the breakthrough of overwhelming sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation. Over time these defenses may present as chronic muscle tension, Psychological issues and other patterns of physical and emotional distress
Together with John Pierrakos, he refined Reich’s theories into the Bioenergetics and Core Energetics body psychotherapy systems.
Bioenergetics essentially believes that what affects the body affects the mind, and what affects the mind affects the body. The psychological defences we use to handle the pain and stress of life appear in the body as unique muscular patterns that inhibit self-expression which can be identified and understood by looking at the structure, movement, and breathing patterns in a person’s body. In observing these defense systems Lowen identified five basic character structures which arose out of the fixation of the flow of energy within the body keeping the body in a state of sympathetic nervous system activation and can cause physical changes to occur as fat is laid down in response and the development of bone, muscle and fascia affected. These 5 basic archetypal character structures, Lowen believed were predictable outcomes of the segmental Armouring theory of Reich and that by observing the body one could determine much of a person’s life history. The Character structures are formed via the interaction of the 7 segments, not just one. Further, though Reich did not know about the Chakra system, the 7 segments are roughly aligned with this system: one on a physical sense and one in a psychic energy sense. The concepts from the latter have been linked to the segmental armouring and character structures by Anodea Judith in the book "Eastern Body, Western Mind"
These theories forms a major part of restoring balance, each week we work with a segment from Reich’s segmental armouring theory, we look in depth at one of the 5 character structures and relate this to the relevant Chakras system.