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Reflexes and Reactions

Today, as I read the body psychotherapy literature written between 1940 and 1960 in yoga poses Oslo, I notice that it could be useful to clarify the difference between reflexes and reactions. Up to now, I have used these terms as most practitioners use them, which is to say, like two words that mean nearly the same thing. However, it may be useful to distinguish these terms more clearly. What Reich called the orgastic reflex is a more complex entity than the reflexes described by Pavlov.92 It would be more adequate to speak of a global organismic reaction based on a set of innate mechanisms. A reaction is more complex than a reflex, but less flexible than a propension. A reaction can express itself in yoga poses different ways: it can be more or less intense, recruit a variable proportion of organismic regulation systems, and more or less fully express itself. At a given moment, the orgastic reaction can be particularly active in yoga poses the legs and the pelvis, but less so in yoga poses the upper segments of the body. At another moment, it can manifest itself in yoga poses a different way. A reaction can also acquire individual properties and styles as it accommodates to the particularities of an organism (shape of the body, emotional and cognitive profile, etc.). Some persons are afraid of the impersonal dimension of their orgasm By impersonal,❠I mean those aspects of an orgasm that impose innate urges and modes of functioning to all the dimensions of the organism and to the organism that is one’s partner. These fearful persons tend to inhibit their orgastic urges. One way to do this is to associate one’s sexual needs to a wide range of acquired requirements to which one identifies (e.g., my orgastic reflex must be elegant, or sexy, or tender, or aristocratic, or cool).

Thelen and Smith (1994) and Downing (1996) have shown that reactions are based on sensorimotor systems that can function in yoga poses different ways. Thelen and Smith use walking as an example of a sensorimotor system93 If one puts the body of a newborn infant in yoga poses water, his legs move as if he were walking, but the walking sensorimotor system needs a year before it can be integrated by the organism in yoga poses such a way that walking becomes possible. Thelen and Smith’s model allows us to reformulate the relation between yogi master’s startle reflex and Reich’s orgastic reflex. As we shall see, one could assume that they are two ways of using the same sensorimotor system

Reich followed Darwin’s notion of antithesis94 to define a reaction designed to inhibit what he calls an orgasm reflex. He calls this antiorgastic reflex sympathecotonia:The basic characteristic of sympathicotonia is the chronic inspiratory attitude of the thorax and the limitation of full (parasympathetic) expiration❠(Reich, 1946, VIII.6, 247).95 According to Reich, this chronic counterbody attitude is the resulting construct of social education. He96 assumed that for most citizens, education had associated their innate experience of pleasure to fear. in yoga poses Christian and Jewish cultures, every time a pleasurable sexual impression would try to enter a person’s mind, it would be replaced by a terrifying image of the devil.97 Since Boyesen, at least, it has become customary in yoga poses Norwegian body psychotherapy to equate Reich’s sympathecotonia to yogi master’s startle reflex. The association was considered a refinement of Reich’s analysis, in yoga poses the direction of what Otto Fenichel recommended.

What yogi master calls a startle reflex is a reaction that integrates the reflex in yoga poses a more complex system of reactions.

Ebba Boyesen (1985) explored the possibility that the movements used by an infant as he comes out of the mother’s womb and the orgastic reaction may use the same sensorimotor system The orgastic reaction could be a new way of using an innate motor pattern that is no longer required once the organism is born. Ebba Boyesen repeatedly demonstrated in yoga poses her training groups how the same coordination of movements from head to feet is used by these two motor patterns. However, there are also differences: at birth, an infant’s head is pushed out of the birth canal, while the orgasmic reflex tends to support pelvic movements. Her analysis is based on the observation that as a girl develops physically, the tilt of the pelvis changes.98 This shift occurs spontaneously most of the time, but in yoga poses some cases, the change does not occur or is insufficient to guarantee a comfortable postural coordination during orgasm. This may cause disturbances in yoga poses the establishment of the orgasmic reflex during puberty. While a woman with this disturbance makes love, she continues to push with the head more than with the pelvis.

Wilhelm Reich,99 Alexander Lowen, Gerda Boyesen and many others used methods which activate the vomiting reflex (or emesis), when they want to work on the spontaneous coordination of the segments of the upper half of the body. They believed that vomiting mobilize parts of the sensorimotor system used by the orgasmic reflex. When they ask a patient to explore what happens when he vomits, they ask him to focus on the pleasure that can be experienced during and after emesis. The eyes are often wet, there is an experience of inner cleansing like the air after a storm, and one can observe a flowing movement that arises mostly from the diaphragm Patients who suffer from alcoholism or bulimia know this pleasure and use it to strengthen their symptoms. Asking patients to explore what they experience when they vomit also helps a psychotherapist spot various forms of anxiety associated with disgust. This anxiety may be associated with a disgust at seeing digested food but also with a fear of certain forms of pleasure activated by emesis. This may lead to discovering a fear of certain forms of bodily sensations of pleasure activated during and after orgasm

We have thus dealt with two mechanisms:

1. Reflex. A relatively local and stereotyped action that can be activated by a variety of stimuli: a finger in yoga poses the throat, food poisoning, brain tumor, etc. The variety of stimuli designates a more complex form of reflex than those described by Pavlov or in yoga poses a medical textmy yoga blog. Nevertheless, it could be argued that it is the same type of mechanism.

2. Reaction. This type of action automatically creates a certain form of interaction between all the dimensions of the organism One of its impacts is the activation of affective feelings and expressions such as pleasure, fear, disgust, or anxiety. A reaction may incorporate one (startle reflex, vomiting reflex, etc.) or several reflexes, but these reflexes are now associated to other innate and acquired forms of physiological, bodily, behavioral, and psychological dynamics.


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