Episode 45: Michele Newmark: Letting our Bodies Do The Talking
Meet Michele Newmark, Reichian Therapist and teacher for more than thirty years. According to Michele (and Reich), we humans spend an enormous part of our energy holding back basic needs and feelings which we've learned were not OK. Unreleased rage and/or psychosexual energy produce physical blocks within muscles and organs that act as a “body armor”, preventing the release of that energy. Reichian Therapy is a non-verbal "breathing" therapy. Whereas "talk" is a great way to avoid what you're feeling, there is no way to avoid your feelings while breathing during a Reichian Therapy session. Over time, chronically stiff and hard muscles that are blocking sensation and energy flow will soften. Eventually, the rage we hold in our muscles will surface, giving way to more feelings of pleasure, freeing blocked energy and sexual dysfunction. Join Michele and I as we delve into this fascinating therapy, and don’t miss Michele’s exercise for you to try at home.
Woman: This program is intended for mature audiences only.
Chip August: Welcome to “Sex, Love, and Intimacy,” I'm your host, Chip August. On today’s show, we're going to be talking about Reichian therapy. We're going to be talking with Michele Newmark who’s a friend of mine and also a Reichian therapist and a teacher in ways of giving and receiving pleasure. Michele has been involved in the academic and personal study of human sexuality since 1969. The basis of her work is grounded in Reichian therapy and the works of Dr. Wilhelm Reich.
She received one of her degrees and over 35 years of her personal training under the tutelage of Dr. Philip Curcuruto. She has a chiropractic orientation and then uses Dr. Philip Curcuruto’s “cranial-vegetotherapy,” which we're going to ask about. She also holds classes in “Tantra, Yoga and Breath: An Exploration of Sexual Energy” and “The Tantric Art of Self-Pleasuring for Women.” Michele currently has a private practice in Santa Rosa and in San Francisco at the Center for Healing and Expression. She is board-certified by The American College of Sexologists.
Michele Newmark: The other things you can do which is kind of like a basic Reich 101A technique is to gag yourself. That would mean like every morning, when you're brushing your teeth--I know this sounds gross but it's really quite an amazing thing to do--use your toothbrush or your fingers and literally gag yourself a few times. What this does is it opens up the whole chest.
Through oxygenating the tissues over a period of time, we can literally dissolve the tension that resides in our musculature, that’s nothing new to any of us these days. As this tension is liberated, there is also a corresponding liberation of our ability to feel pleasure again.
Chip August: Welcome to the show, Michele.
Michele Newmark: Hi, Chip. I'm so honored to be here.
Chip August: So let's just get right into it here. I'm just curious, I've read a little bit about Wilhelm Reich but who was Reich and what is Reichian therapy?
Michele Newmark: Dr. Reich was a colleague of Freud’s back in the ‘20s and, in fact, he worked with Freud for about six years until about 1928. He was a pioneer in body-oriented psychotherapy and he actually took off, basically, where Freud left off. He related the disease process to a sexual-stasis, oxygen-hunger condition of the body, whereas, Freud and his colleagues stated in their head. In fact, Reich’s premise was that you can't separate the head from the body. In fact, you can't even believe what comes out of the head until you fix the body because it's based on a sexually frustrated rageful body. That changes dramatically over the course of the therapeutic process.
Chip August: OK. Now right away, you used some big words and I got lost a little bit. That’s OK, this is good because I want to understand this. You said something about oxygen hunger. Oxygen hunger, sexual stasis, that was it. Could you say that like in common English?
Michele Newmark: Sure. It means you're not breathing, you're not oxygenating, and it means that you're incapable of orgasmic potency, you're not having orgasms. Reich found that this was the root cause of not only neurosis but just bringing in every psychological thing you can think of, but also the root cause and the basis for all our sickness and disease. He found that this tension, this excess tension from lack of sexual orgasm, which stays in the body, manifest and turns into disease.
There's nothing new about tension-causing disease. We all accept that now. In fact, I need to say a little thing about tension here because it's gotten a bad wrap. We need tension to function. Our body is based on a biomechanical process. We take tension from the air we breathe, the food we eat, our daily activity and we use this tension for our biomechanical processes - our heart pumping, things going across the cell membrane. All the movement in your body is a biomechanical process.
We use this tension and then the excess tension needs to be discharge from our organism. The way nature has provided us with a mechanism to discharge this tension is crying and the sexual orgasm, both of which are squashed out of birth and this is something that Reich came to identify. Now, of course, what symptoms we'll eventually have will depend upon our parents, our genetics, our grandparents, what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, what kind of poisons we take in.
But ultimately, our susceptibility is this damming, this sexual stasis, this damming of sexual energy that we inhibit and we don’t let go and release. Of course, we do this by holding our breath. We learned at a very early age to hold our breath and stop our breathing, and this becomes a chronic problem to follow us the rest of our lives.
Chip August: Actually, it's perfect. I wanted to talk about holding our breath and also about this suppression of our sexuality. I think many of the people listening are going to wonder a little bit about like--first of all, do little infants really have sexuality? Then second, how does this suppression occur? What are you saying, really?
Michele Newmark: Well, first of all, yes, we are born sexual and we die sexual. Yes, babies as far back as infants, have a sexual expression. They have an orgasmic discharge and they accomplish this--their little bodies have tension, too, and they release this through their crying, through sucking. Two mechanisms again that are squashed out of them. A lot of babies aren't given the suckling and the warmth of contact that they need to have, and their crying is interrupted.
People do this in a variety of ways, indirectly or directly. Some people are aware they're doing it, most people are doing it without even being aware that they're doing it. If you have two adults, two parents that don’t cry, there is no way they're going to let their babies cry. They will find a way to stop it, and over time, that becomes automatic. Just the same if you have two parents who are not comfortable with their sexuality and having unsatisfied in sex, they're not going to allow their kids to be sexual.
Yes, babies and kids are sexual. If you leave children alone--babies included--everything is mouth and genitals. So the obvious right away is one of the ways we sexually [xx] our children just by putting diapers on them, believe it or not, because babies have no way to reach their genitals. If you look at babies and children that are naked, their hands are all over their genitals. So most of these babies who have diapers all the time, they’ve already been conditioned that they don’t touch genitals. Then, when they are in the situation where they can touch their genitals, of course, Mommy or Daddy or somebody moves their hands away. So they get lots of indirect messages directly related to their genitals.
Chip August: So we grow up with sort of these natural functions that are being pushed down--we’re not really being encouraged to cry, we're not really being encouraged to be sexual beings, it's all sort of being channeled. I think anybody listening certainly has her own experiences of how our sexuality gets channeled. Also, there's a moment when parents just want us to stop expressing ourselves in ways that make our parents uncomfortable. Is the work that you do then trying to find a way back into that sort of infantile state?
Michele Newmark: Not so much as finding our way back into an infantile state but just finding our way back into an expression of this energy that Reich called “orgone energy” or life energy, the energy that runs through us, around us, chi, prana, God, whatever you call this cosmic ocean that surrounds us. The therapeutic process is used to bring us back to allowing that energy to flow through us, this energy a Reich found, flows from head to toe in an up and down manner until we learn to close down against it. When we learn to close down against it, we learn to stop our ability to have this free flow of energy and, ultimately, orgasmic potency.
Chip August: So if I understand, as I learn to let the energy flow through me again, there's a way that my body rediscovers it's inability to feel its sexuality--to feel, just to feel.
Michele Newmark: To feel, period, to feel. The ultimate ability to feel, of course, is our sexual pleasure, our ability to have pleasure, which Reich also brought to the table, was the basis for a healthy and happy well being life. If we don’t have pleasure, we don’t enjoy life, period.
Chip August: Now if I understand this, the thing that--at least from my mind--really separates you from all the other people--OK, so the idea that we had feelings and really our personality suppressed as a child--it has existed since Freud really--but I think, what I hear when you talking, when we've talked personally is you don’t think words are the best way to necessarily get at that. You don’t think like having somebody sit and tell their story over and over again is really the best path, you think that the body itself knows the way out. Is that right?
Michele Newmark: Yes. Reich, who was a pioneer in the body-oriented therapies, he understood the effect that breathing had on the sexual and emotional response. He found that when a person’s breathing was restricted and that there was little spinal movement, the person’s emotional and sexual expression was also limited. So back actually to your question, yes, he's feeling was that talking about your problems or your story is actually just a great way to avoid your feeling.
Chip August: So if I'm not talking, what do I do? [laughs] What does therapy look like? What's the work?
Michele Newmark: You breathe. But first, I do want to say that all the talk therapy--and there's a huge umbrella there--they're vitally important and necessary. I'm not saying that they're not. It's really important to be able to organize and understand our thoughts because we gain access to why we behave and feel the way we do.
But that’s where it ends. It doesn’t address what Reich found, which is that the problem, the condition is in the body. You could talk until you're blue in the face and get all kinds of clarity, but until you treat the body, you're stuck with the neurosis, you're stuck with the dysfunction. You're stuck with the lack of sexual gratification and joy in your life and pleasure.
Chip August: Yes. It's that relationship between insight and action, that insight is fine but insight without action is kind of hollow.
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Chip August: Welcome back. You're listening to “Sex, Love, and Intimacy,” I'm your host, Chip August. I'm talking to Michele Newmark, we are talking about Reichian therapy where right now, when we took the break, we were just starting to get in to this whole thought about the relationship between breath and the body and the value of words and sort of the trap of the words. So as I understand this, you're saying, “Yes, words will get you insight, but there's a thing that you can do through your breath that no amount of insight is going to do.
Michele Newmark: I probably should say that one of the ways we get armored, which is a term that Reich used to describe the chronic muscular contraction of the body, that we learn to shut down and contract our musculature against other feelings that happened to us as children that this contraction is so tight and so hard, it's like we have a suit of armor. One needs to dissolve this armor, this muscle contraction that entraps the body.
What he found was that through breathing, through oxygenating the tissues over a period of time, we can literally dissolve the tension that resides in our musculature, that’s nothing new to any of us these days. As this tension is liberated, there is also a corresponding liberation of our ability to feel pleasure again and, ultimately, our orgasmic potency.
Chip August: OK, now, when you say breathing, you don’t mean just--like I'm sitting here right now, I'm breathing in, I'm breathing out. You mean something more than that, yes?
Michele Newmark: Absolutely. It's much more, I would consider it like a therapeutic breath. We're all breathing but because of this armoring process that we took on from the moment we were born, we're actually breathing very shallow. We're not breathing to our full capacity, we're not even aware of that. So the therapy itself is a series or exercises, if you will, that are specific to really get you working. There's dozens different ways that I would have somebody breathe, but there's also a lot of sounds and movement incorporated --kicking, hitting, sounds that are very important, anything that will allow movement to this otherwise nonmoving organism.
In fact, my job as a Reichian therapist is to look at this body before me and ask myself, “Where in this otherwise nonmoving organism can I help reestablish movement?” That, along with what your body is telling me in a session will determine how I have you breathe, what sounds I have you make. I have to say, for something that as seemingly as simple and as elementary as breathing, it is unbelievably profound what happens when people really breathe the way I have them breathe in a Reichian therapy session.
Chip August: So what does happen? What kinds of things do happen when people really learn to breathe?
Michele Newmark: Usually at first, there's a lot of fear and anxiety because most people can't handle a lot of oxygenation of their tissues at first. So they’ll take in more oxygen than they can handle so there's a lot of tingling, a lot of buzzing. You can get a lot of chronic spasms of the extremities to the point where they're in almost a paralysis for just a few moments, and it scares people.
But after they continue with the process over weeks and months, their bodies become comfortable with breathing--what a concept--those kinds of responses don’t happen anymore and they can breathe and breathe fully without any kind of physical reaction. Emotionally and psychologically and physically, there are volumes of responses that happen--of course, which Reich wrote about--a lot of emotional release.
All of us have so much rage and so much crying stuck in us that that usually always comes out. How soon, it depends upon the person. There are people that come to see me, within days and weeks, they're able to emote and get out crying and experience their rage which really blows people’s minds when they get a hit of what kind of rage is in them. People really don’t have a clue. When that happens, it can be very frightening.
I've had people in therapy with me for eight to 10 years and they're still not able to let go enough to cry. They're indoctrination and their upbringing were so horrific and so stifling that what they’ve been able to do in the last eight years is really learn how to breathe. But they still can't cry so it's--and then everything in between. But ultimately, it's the emotional response. When you liberate the rage and you liberate the tears, you make room to find your orgasm and your pleasure.
Chip August: OK, this liberating rage. Certainly, for many men--I think for women, too--this is not a trivial thing. I think, we men often have the story that if I really experience my rage or I really let it go, I would destroy someone or I will hurt myself or hurt others. Women have this--well, I think, in English, the only word for a woman filled with rage is bitch, you know, it's a negative connotation. Is it really good to touch the stuff and let it go? Shouldn’t we just learn how to push it down?
Michele Newmark: You know, I'd been a master of provoking people’s anger here. [laughs] I'd been hit, I'd been attacked, and yes, you're right, I have had to learn to be very skilled at eliciting people’s rage and helping people find that, and protect myself! [laughs] I have to say, 30 years later, I've become very adept at it. But yes, it can be huge, it can be scary, and I'm in an extremely vulnerable position and I do have to protect myself.
Usually, there's been so much time that’s transpired between me working with this person and the relationship that ensues between, there is a modicum of control. I say that loosely because pure rage, like pure orgasm, is involuntary. There is no fucking control. It's killer time! But there's enough of a control that most of the time, people are able to keep it where it's happening which is on the bed that I work on.
You know, I was driving home one night from my office in San Francisco and I thought, “Gee, I've been yelled at, cussed at, spit on. I've been shoved and hit and attacked. Wow! I'm really successful!” [laughs]
Chip August: Well, I think, the thing I worry about is to make the whole man and attack somebody. I think that my big fear is, “Do I train someone now that when they feel anger, they immediately lash out in rage and hurt people.”
Michele Newmark: Well, first of all, it's not a training. You're helping them to spontaneously feel their involuntary urges that have gotten repressed over the years. No, if they’ve spent an hour raging with me and crying and getting it out on the bed, they're going to go home melted and soft and loving and just this yearning to merge with their loved ones whether it be their partners or their children. That’s what they're going to feel. When we leave an office and we're still angry and we don’t feel we've had a chance to really get rid of it, then we go home and we're still irritable and we take it out on our partners and on our co-workers.
So I see absolute magic and bliss, in fact, I've all the time, get calls from partners and spouses and go, “What did you do to my wife? What did you do to my boyfriend? I want some of that. He's never been so soft and loving and yearning. What's going on?” So I become the cushion that absorbs all of that shits so that they can go home and just be loving and nice and undulating and juicy. [laughs]
Chip August: That seems like the perfect note to take a break on. We're going to take a short break. You're listening to “Sex, Love, and Intimacy.” I'm your host, Chip August, we're talking to Michele Newmark and we are talking about sex and sexuality and what our body knows. Please do come back in the next segment. Michele has an exercise or two for you to try at home. We'll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back. You're listening to “Sex, Love, and Intimacy.” I'm your host, Chip August. I'm talking to Michele Newmark, she's a Reichian therapist. We were just talking a whole lot about rage and anger and I noticed there was a nice natural transition into talking about pleasure. So I'd kind of like to transition us a little into talking about pleasure. Yes, I notice in your credentials that a lot of what you teach is about pleasure. Can we talk about pleasure a little bit?
Michele Newmark: I like to talk about pleasure. [laughs] It's my favorite thing.
Chip August: I have a bias that we are a country that was founded, here in America, we're a country that was founded by puritans. So pleasure is sort of a dirty word in some ways, it's a bad thing. Yes, you know, like life is toil and then you die. So why is pleasure important?
Michele Newmark: Well, first of all, if you want to have good health, one has to have pleasure. First of all, you have to understand the mechanism of pleasure, which thanks to Reich, we understand this. Pleasure is, basically, a free flow of energy within our organism. Everything is in a constant state of contraction expansion down to the one celled thing in your body. Everything is expanding and contracting. When we learn to close down against this energy in us, we learn to close down to those plasmatic streamings of energy. When we close down to that streaming of energy, we close down to the movement in our body.
Life is movement, without movement, your heart doesn’t work, your lungs don’t work, you have no peristalsis in your intestines. So you have to have movement. The more movement you are able to have in your body, the more you will feel pleasure because pleasure is, basically, just energy streaming through your body.
Chip August: I think, this is why when you watch children, 2 years olds, unsupervised, what you see them do is dance and twirl.
Michele Newmark: Yes, they're all about movement. If you also watch them, they're very body-oriented, very mouth, genital, touchy, feely-oriented until some adult comes along and says, “You can't feel that.” Then of course, they equate this nice feeling and flowing energy in their body, this pleasure with no-no and there lies the beginning of what Reich calls pleasure anxiety, which--because we're all a part of this, this antisexual culture--we're all victims of pleasure anxiety.
Chip August: All right. Now, say more. I assume pleasure anxiety just means, “I'm afraid I get anxious when I feel pleasure.”
Michele Newmark: Yes, fear and worry and apprehensiveness about pleasure because it's not something that is involuntarily indigenous to us the way it should be so we have discomfort about it because we're not used to it. I'm sure you’ve had experiences or I've worked with people where they’ll tell you they had the best night of sex they ever had. “Man, their sex was so fucking hot, it was the best!” Then the next day or a couple of days after, they had the worst fight they ever had.
It's kind of like this rebound phenomenon that happen because we can't handle too much pleasure. So we have all these pleasure and then that armored neurotic voice in us says, “You can't do that. That Judeo Christian moral ethics that we're raised which says you can't feel this is bad.” So we contract and rebound and we have an opposite reaction to the pleasure. I see that a lot in my work.
Chip August: You try to teach people how to re-experience pleasure, how to lose that anxiety? Again, does the breathing teach us to stop being anxious?
Michele Newmark: Once again, you don’t have to teach this. When people breathe and they reestablish their healthy, deep breathing, this normal pulsatory plasmatic streaming of pleasure is reestablished automatically. It's not something that they have to think about or train to do. It just happens automatically.
Chip August: Then I notice, you had a component that you call Tantra. What's that?
Michele Newmark: As a student of Sexology and Reich, Tantra was a shoo in, for God’s sake. Tantra, basically in it's original meaning, was the ability to let go so completely that you were able to feel at one with this great cosmic ocean around you. Then, of course, to work with a partner and the two of you build this life energy, this orgone as Reich called it, this chi, this prana, this God inside you, together became an amazing facility for people to achieve this sexual union together. Tantra is basically all about letting go so completely that you can allow this energy to flow freely through you and around you in your own organism.
Chip August: You know, I could talk to you about this stuff forever, and the time just keeps ticking away, I hate this but the time just ticks away. If people want to know more about what you do, I mean, I think you’ve probably picked interest on like five different subjects for anybody who’s listening. If people wanted to know more about what you do or schedule time with you or come do some of the workshops you do, how would they find you?
Michele Newmark: They could visit my website at my center which is www.TheCenter-SF.org.
Chip August: Listeners, I want you to know, as always, we'll have a link to Michele’s center and a link to Michele on our website. Just go to PersonalLifeMedia.com where you can get links. In addition, we transcribe every episode of “Sex, Love, and Intimacy,” so if you want to print or you want to read or cut and forward a copy, you can always find it on my Episode Pages at PersonalLifeMedia.com.
The audience for this show keeps growing and growing and growing month after month. So if you think of someone who might like the show, would you please just maybe copy this link and send it to them and they're going to have a chance to meet Michele and get the chance to get involve with and here, all of what's going on.
We like to wrap up the show with exercises, which I think people can do at home, and you and I talked about this a little on the break and you have some ideas. So I'm going to hand this over to you.
Michele Newmark: Thank you. First of all, if you want better sex, better orgasms, better health, you’ve got to fuck and breathe people, OK? Breathe and, unfortunately, that’s where the work comes in because we only will breathe limitedly. But a couple of things that you can take with you, is when you're having sex with your partner, check in with yourself. Are you breathing? And I don’t mean nose breathing. I mean, open your mouth, breathe through your mouth and allow sounds and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much your pleasure will increase.
The other thing you can do which is kind of like a basic Reich 101A technique is to gag yourself. That would mean, like every morning, when you're brushing your teeth--I know this sounds gross but it's really quite an amazing thing to do--use your toothbrush or your fingers and literally gag yourself a few times. What this does is it opens up the whole chest. It's highly invaluable for speakers and people who use their voice. It reduces anxiety and it causes a vibration on the chest, which goes down to the diaphragm, which is the main organ of respiration, and literally it's like therapy on the inside. It's very sexy.
Chip August: So just to be clear. She said “gag yourself” and I thought, “Oh, so, you get a scarf and you--no, no, we're talking about the gag reflex in your throat. You want to put a finger or a toothbrush down your throat a little bit and have that gag reflex. I've done this actually and you'll find that--at first it's very weird and for many, very uncomfortable, although some of us learned this in college when we’d had a little too much to drink. But the truth is you do get used to it in a while--used to is not exactly the right word--but you do get more familiar with what's actually happening. Yes, it's quite a powerful thing.
What a wonderful interview. I can think of a hundred more questions to ask you, but sadly, we're out of time. Listeners, if you have comments about the show or you have ideas for future shows, please send me an email, you can reach me at [email protected]. I do have a voicemail, you can call me at 206-350-5333. If you use the voicemail, please make sure that you leave your name and also say that it's for our show, “Sex, Love, and Intimacy” and also, your question or your comment.
I think we're just running out of time here. So I want to say thank you once again, Michele.
Michele Newmark: Thanks, Chip. I adore you.
Chip August: I want to you, listeners, please tune in again. This brings us to the end of another show of “Sex, Love, and Intimacy.”
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