Five body types in breathwork & body psychotherapy that reveal your approach to life
When you experience yourself on a deeper level than the personality or ego, something genuine and profound starts to come to the forefront of your life.
As human beings we love to watch people. It’s in our nature and part of our relating with one another. At a glance, we know what we are attracted to, what we are afraid of, intrigued by or turned off by. The simple observation of someone’s body reveals a lot of information about them and also about ourselves. Studies show that body language amounts to about 80% of our overall communication – and yet most of that is unconscious. We all know the feeling of listening to someone whose words and body language are not quite aligned and that sense of incongruence it gives us.
Think of your body as a living library of all your lifetime experiences.
Your body emanates your state of health, energy levels, how comfortable you are in your power, sexuality and truth. It also reflects your emotional flow, joy and capacity for loving relationships. The body energetically signals this to the world, which gets communicated back in a constant loop.
To different degrees we’ve all been wounded in some way. It’s just a part of life, as are the opportunities that life keeps giving us to inspire our healing. Whether it’s terror, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal or rejection, approaching healing from the perspective of wholeness is central in breathwork and body-oriented psychotherapy. A healing response to the wound generates the qualities and strengths we need to bring our unique gift to the world, because the wound holds far more than just pain – it holds the key to our true identity. Every crisis or trigger in life, such as heartbreak, loss of a loved one, untruth or boundary crossed, also brings us face to face with our wound and can be the spark that ignites our empowerment and greatest potential for love. It also reveals where our growth and even life purpose lie – where our potential may be most bound up. Knowing about our body type and how it was formed deepens our compassion for and understanding of our unique journey in life. The ultimate purpose of this work is to become less defended so we can realise our wholeness, and live from that.
When we have experienced overwhelming emotional pain as a child, there’s almost always a compensatory mechanism in the body for avoiding that pain. The human response to pain is fear. Fear that cannot be processed when we are small will cause the body and the young mind to defend and protect. It’s a necessary and natural response. This actually shapes the body’s energy and physical form until it becomes a pattern. It then gets integrated with a corresponding trait in the personality. Ironically, the possibility for the greatest growth in our lives often lies within the parts of us that are most tightly held and deeply defended. It’s facing that with self-love and courage that makes all the difference in our adult lives.
One of the main tenets of breathwork is this: the body doesn’t lie. We find as therapists that charging up, moving or simply observing someone’s body provides us with a more accurate picture of what’s really going on, regardless of what it may outwardly seem. We look at a person’s level of energy, how they move and particularly how they breathe so we can see their energy in motion.
As frozen or blocked energy and associated beliefs are released out of the body, space is created, allowing for new thoughts, good feelings, attitudes to life and ways of being to take root and flower. Without this release, we find that affirmations, new thoughts or lifestyle changes just bounce off the blocks in the body.
What’s evident in working with bodies is that every individual person requires a different approach to healing, specific to their personal history, body type and to their character.
Through the work of Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, five main body types and corresponding personalities have been identified. We benefit from this kind of knowledge because it offers us a tool for understanding our unconscious defensive strategies and how we armour our body against feeling bad. It also helps us see our hidden motivations and highlights our patterns of avoiding or being magnetically drawn to certain things in life.
Everyone does this in unique ways. We all have aspects of each body type in combinations, but most people tend to find that one or two defence styles stand out most for them. This is because we developed one style of relating or defending with Mum and one with Dad in our formative years. If, for instance, one parent was controlling and the other absent, we will form different attachments and create different compensations relating with each parent. This forms part of our relation to the world later in life. We also see people heal one defence for a period of time and then other aspects of the personality begin to emerge. One will usually be more prevalent at any given time and, when doing transformative work, that’s what we focus on. If you don’t relate to any body type then you’re not deeply wounded, though it is rare for anyone to enter adulthood with total openness and flow in the system.
It is important to note here that a body type is just a style of defending against pain and is not the whole of who we are. Genetics also influence the shape and look of our bodies. We find, however, when there is wounding in someone’s history it will pull the body around and influence its structure.
Combining body knowledge with breath is a powerful mix. Breathwork reactivates your self-healing capacity… when you experience yourself on a deeper level than the personality or ego, something genuine and profound starts to come to the forefront of your life. Call it the real you.
Although volumes have been written about each body type, here’s a brief encapsulation. Enjoy!
The five body types
1. Ungrounded / fragmented
The essence of this body type is a lack of grounding and a feeling that being here is unsafe. This character is highly spiritual yet has difficulty manifesting a practical, successful material life. The issue is fear of fully being here.
Body – Usually tall, thin and wiry, fear in the eyes, asymmetrical, weak joints
Energy – Moves up and out, splits off to spirituality, fragments
Belief – It’s not safe to be here
- Detached and difficulty being present; reclusive
- Mask of serenity
- Trouble with money, committing to life and long-term relationships
- Weak boundaries; unable to maintain sense of self in social settings
- Intuitive and psychic with a connection to nature
This body type will achieve blissful states of meditation, a seemingly peaceful life out in nature, yet what they crave is a sense of ease and safety in belonging to humanity and fully occupying their body.
2. Collapsed / needy
The essence of this character is not getting their love needs met. They feel deprived. Though they have great ideas, there’s an overall depletion in their energy and they lack the conviction to follow their dreams to fulfilment. The issue is abandonment and lack of nurturing.
Body – Collapsed chest, sloping shoulders, lack of muscle tone
Energy – Depleted, lack of ‘charge’
Belief – There’s not enough for me, I’m not enough, I can’t do it on my own
- Needy or falsely independent
- Sell themselves out in order to be loved
- Resentful when they give too much; keep score of the giving and receiving in relationships; co-dependency
- Can talk a lot yet struggle to listen to others
- Depression and chronic fatigue
This body type heals by building and maintaining a charge of energy in the body through exercise, taking responsibility for their happiness, standing on their own two feet and carrying their dreams through to fruition. This is how they come to a relationship with a full cup.
The essence of this character is holding down and feeling trapped. The person’s desires and spontaneity have been stifled and cannot be expressed – they often say yes when they mean no and they struggle with self-expression and the experience of enjoyment and freedom.
Body – Compacted, stocky, grounded, solid muscle
Energy – Downward and compressed, holding down
Belief – It’s dangerous to follow my pleasurable urges
- Pleasing; kind face; good girl / good boy
- Big hearts
- Complain about being controlled but have difficulty living with freedom
- Can handle a lot of pressure but may eventually explode
- Closed upper chakras; lacking spiritual connection
This body type will have a strong network of loving friends, yet what they long for is total release of the pressure they feel inside and genuine freedom and pleasure in their being.
4. Upwards / controlling
The essence of this character is a feeling of betrayal; hence needing to maintain control in order to stay safe. They develop a false image of themselves around power. There is a lack of trust. They long to have the experience of being real and form genuine loving attachments, without the mask of power and control.
Body – V-shaped torso, large chest, fine ankles, prominent shoulders, piercing eyes; women can also have small shoulders with wide hips
Energy – Most energy is in the upper half of the body; ‘puffed up’
Belief – I can’t trust
- Often leaders or entrepreneurs
- Control and dominate; can be aggressive
- Situations are win/lose; strong need to be right
- Unable to be vulnerable; hyper-alert
This body type will be powerful in their professional life yet always maintain emotional safety, and hence are often lonely. The regret is that their identity is based on something false, yet what they long for is a real experience of themselves with others and the ability to trust in life.
5. Balanced without heart
The essence of this character is success in all areas of life except love. They fear and avoid vulnerability. The issue: their love has been rejected. They have a capacity to receive love, but giving love is dangerous. They tend to have love without sex or sex without love, and rarely do the two come together. They often come into therapy because of an affair or because of a lack of fulfilment.
Body – Symmetrical, healthy, head held high, stiff posture
Energy – Balanced and flowing around the body but not in the heart; high pelvic charge, externalised, withholding
Belief – It’s not safe to give my love
- Use ‘doing’ as a way of avoiding feeling an inner life
- Great achievers; successful lives and great resumés
- Perfectionistic as a cover for feeling empty; hoping to get love
- Separation between ‘hot sex’ and love
- Lead with pelvic energy rather than heart
This body type can tick all the boxes of outer success but will not be satisfied until their love and sex are integrated and they feel full from the inside out. Surrendering in relationship is the key.
Martin Wilks is a breathwork and body psychotherapy practitioner. Irena Lo Bue is a breath and bodyworker. Both are passionate about body-oriented psychotherapy, personal responsibility and helping people have radically fulfilling lives and relationships. They both live and work in Sydney.
Together they make Architects of Joy, hosting The Big Shift retreats on the outskirts of Sydney and running the One Year Intention Program based in Bondi, Sydney.
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