A friend of mine sent me a few videos on the topic of Bioenergetics recently. Bioenergetics is kind of a group-based and body-based psychological therapy where people act out their aggressions and fears. I’ve heard about this kind of thing, and knew it was referenced alot, especially in the 1960s.
Based on the brief introduction I’ve had there seems to be a fair amount of conceptual overlap with S.N. Goenka’s style of Vipassana training even though meditation is (ideally) physically static.
With Bioenergetics patients are put in situations of physical stress and encouraged to act out scenes of their past in order to release the mental and physical stress. This approach seems to require some certainty on the part the patient and therapist that trauma has been inflicted by a specific event, person, or persons. Once established, the group and therapist work backwards to try and undo it. One way is by replacing ‘somatic markers’ left in the body by the trauma with more neutral ones through physical touch by others and psychosomatic exercises. This may be vaguely similar to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) where the patient is encouraged to visualize different, more positive outcomes to nonconstructive stories about the past or future that run through their mind with some degree of frequency. In one of the NLP books I read, it is referred to as replaying the same “tapes” (i.e. recordings) in the mind over and over. Bioenergetics is different, however, in that it has a direct, physical, touch component to the therapy while the physical markers (and presumably the mental tapes) get overwritten. By releasing the harmful, residual tensions in the body, one is more at peace in their body and therefore, it is assumed, their life.
With Vipassana it’s implied that everything comes out in the wash through their simple technique of body scanning, without having to define or discuss specifics about our past hangups or trauma with anyone. Things come up in the mind without our having to interpret or attest to them in any way as being a root cause of our problems. The hard part in Vipassana is to simply observe without reacting (and thereby perpetuate) the things that have been disturbing us.
Vipassana, through the awareness of sensation on the body, provides a recognition of specific tensions in the body. While we may not know the event or mental condition associated with these tensions specifically, the technique instructs us not to be concerned with such specifics, and allows us to release the tension naturally, by training us to allow it to pass regardless, rather than clinging to it out of fear or anger about it, as is our habit.