The Freedom to Feel
A Review of the Hebrew edition of Alexander Lowen's Book
Joy - The Surrender to the Body and to Life
By Iris Argeband
The book Joy, the first in Hebrew and one of fourteen books written by Lowen, lays out his doctrine that the path to mental well-being of joy and pleasure passes through the somatic and verbal expression of repressed emotions as a result of early attachment, especially feelings of fear, anger and sadness.
In his clinical work as a psychotherapist over the span of decades, Lowen has identified the link between traumatic early attachment and its physical manifestation in shallow breathing, chronic muscular tension, limited range of motion and a split between body and mind. Lowen's influence is evident today among psychotherapists and therapists from different approaches who give space to feelings and emotions in the body as an integral part of treatment.
A familiar example is professor Basel van der Kollek, one of the leaders in world trauma research and author of the book, The Body Keeps the Score, who emphasizes in his work a therapeutic process that combines Top Down, meaning psychological conversations and understanding, together with Bottom up, meaning a space to process the patient's physical experience.
Lowen writes in a fascinating, clear and direct way while reasoning from a psychological perspective and enriching with his personal story, many case stories and practical tools for treatment. The Hebrew translation is eloquent and fluid and brings with it an Israeli flavor. Yaniv Gefner, who published the book, was Lowen's client and shared about his experience as a patient in the introduction to the book, which I read with curiosity and interest. From the first chapter Lowen gets my full attention as he writes candidly about how most of his patients come out of the session feeling good but that these feelings dissipated quickly.
The book is read as a road map and its chapters go through sadness, anger, love, fear, passion and sexuality, as a way to understand the resistances and survival defenses that arise on the way to surrendering to the body, and to experiencing joy as a natural state of being. Lowen gives a central place to grounding as a person's connection to his body and to the reality of his life, and to breathing as affected by his emotional state. Where the reduction in respiration reflects the prevention of an emotional response, and fuller breathing deepens the experience of emotion and brings with it a sense of vitality and presence.
Lowen views therapy as a journey of self-discovery and self-love. He sees it as developing the deep and intimate acquaintance with the body while also acknowledging the role of the therapist as a guide who has gone through a continuous process of his own self-discovery. A process of increasing self-awareness of feelings and emotions, self-expression, dealing with fears, of self-acceptance and the freedom to be.
In the chapter on love, Lowen writes about the longing for love that cannot be realized as long as there is fear of loss or rejection. The longing represents the child whose needs have not been met and in adulthood he restores these connections in the hope for their satisfaction. Lowen suggests that only the individual himself can fulfill this satisfaction out of his ability to be open to himself and to life:
"Just as one falls in love, one can fall out of love, and that happens too often because we are disappointed by the fact that the other person doesn’t fulfill us. We do not realize that no one can fulfill us but ourselves and that our fulfillment stems from being fully open to ourselves and to life. When the arrow of love pierces our armor and reaches our heart, we are opened to life and joy but we do not stay open. Our egos slowly reassert their power, questioning, distrusting and controlling. The opening is seen as a breach in our defensive position which we must heal or close. Falling in love is not the answer, being in love is -- that is, being open. First it is necessary to be open to one’s self, to one’s deepest feelings, and for that one needs to be free from fear, shame or guilt.”
He adds that the surrender to the body and its emotions is the surrender to love that is realized in the range of feelings, emotions, and expressions in the relationship:
“The surrender to love involves the ability to share one’s self fully with one’s partner. Love is not a matter of giving but of being open. But that openness has to be first with one’s self, then with another. It involves being in touch with one’s deepest feelings and then being able to express those feelings appropriately… The surrender to the body and its feelings is the surrender to love.”
I came to read the book Joy after getting acquainted with Lowen and his books, and with a deep appreciation for his life’s work along with my impression of him as strong minded and determined. In this book, I discovered a softer and rounder side of Lowen with a spiritual connection that is especially present in the final chapter that connects passion and spirit, defining spirituality as feelings of excitement in relation to nature, life and the universe. The book was written at a time when, he said, he had undergone a transformation in his feelings and understandings about life and his work as a therapist. He describes this period as puberty along with connection to it:
"In 1995, I published Joy: The Surrender to the Body. The 1990s were a period of transformation in my feelings, in my understanding of life and in my work as a therapist. I describe this period as growing older and growing wiser.”
As a Biosynthesis Somatic Psychotherapist, I have wondered about the effectiveness of the exercises, some of which rely on an auxiliary device used in Bioenergetic Analysis. After reading the book, I came to realize that some of the exercises can be adapted and there are other exercises that can be a source of inspiration for any therapist who wants to integrate the body in the clinical work.
In conclusion, reading the book is highly recommended for therapists and people who want to more precisely listen to their body, to pay attention to the feelings and emotions in the body, and to their acceptance and expressions in the world. To deepen the process, it is recommended to be accompanied by a therapist. The book contains in it many years of clinical experience and is an important source of knowledge, a necessary resource and an excellent guide on the path to health, confidence, and well-being.
1. A. Bessel, van der Kolk, (2014) The Body Keeps the Score
2. Lowen, Alexander (2020) Joy - The Surrender to the Body and to Life
3. Lowen, Alexander (2004), Honoring the Body