Diafreotherapy: working on your body and your emotions

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CONTENTS:

 


DIAFREOTHERAPY: INTEGRATIVE PSYCHO-PHYSICAL THERAPY

'... I open and let through...'

Diafreo is a Greek word that means “I open and let through”. This method considers the interrelation between the body and the psyche, between the physical and the psychological. Ii is based on the belief that everything is constantly interconnected: your psyche, your body and your energy.

With some exceptions, we all have the same muscles and bones. But the shapes of our bodies differ greatly.

Interestingly enough, the shapes and “attitudes” of our bodies can tell a lot about our past. They are the result of each individual’s responses to their social and family environment in an attempt to adapt and survive.

We all strive to adapt to that environment by gradually:

ggg- locking certain parts of our bodies
ggg- learning to inhibit certain responses and
ggg- isolating conflicting stimuli relayed by our senses
ggg- Alternatively, maybe we were forced to subtly change a posture so as not to feel any more pain

That comes at a price:
ggg- a loss of spontaneity
ggg- a loss of our response capacity

ggg- a loss of the connection between certain areas in our memory
ggg-
a loss of flexibility and of the capacity to make some movements

As a result of that process, we have lost part of our identities, a loss which may be big or small depending on our personal histories.

The goal of Diafreotherapy is to achieve full harmony of the individual. With physical exercise as our basis, we liberate the inner tensions and unlock our awareness of our own bodies. By doing that, we aim to “bring back” each part of our bodies. By releasing all the experiences and feelings stored in our body memories, we recover our health and also every fragment of our suppressed identities.

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A holistic view different from the linear and analytical reasoning

The kind of body workout performed in Diafreotherapy is based mainly on the principles of muscular physiology laid down by Françoise Mézières, with touches of Thérèse de Bertherat’s anti-gymnastics. It also integrates the outcomes of research done by W. Reich and A. Lowen on muscular armouring and character types.

Malén Cirerol and Linda Jentl, who were Mézières’ and Bertherat’s direct disciples, developed a new method called Diafreotherapy after many years of research and professional and personal experiences.

Françoise Mézières, a revolutionary

She was a physical therapist and a professor at the Paris Physical Therapy School. She started her observations in the 1940’s and, based on those, she developed a method that would later be named after her: the Mézières method.

One of the main principles of that method is that the muscle system is organised and works in “chains” of muscles, the main one being the posterior muscle chain. This chain stretches from the cranium to the feet and is connected to the internal chain.

These muscle chains described by Ms. Mézières and the lateral chain described in Diafreotherapy are invariably and chronically shortened and hypertonic. The reason is, in our usual and daily movements, we constantly engage them in a contracted state, never in a stretched one. Thus these chains become gradually shorter over time.

This shortening process becomes accelerated as a response to physical trauma and degenerative processes.

Françoise Mézières’ theories could never be refuted because they can be proved in any individual. However, her method has spread and developed slowly and with difficulty. In many cases it has been adulterated and become overly technical, even by Mézières own followers. This is because, even though the method is based on compelling logic, its application is complex. More importantly, its theoretical foundations challenge the standard and accepted theory on how the muscle system works in the worlds of medicine, rehabilitation, gymnastics and even alternative therapies. The Mézières method keeps a holistic stance that challenges the common mindset, which is rooted in a sort of linear and analytical reasoning which has been instilled in each one of us.

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Our life histories shape our bodies


In Diafreotherapy, experience has taught us that said muscle chain shortening and chronic contraction processes are not caused by physical events only, as Méziéres purported; rather, they are also conditioned and accelerated by a process through which individuals strive to adapt to their environments and to any psychical traumas.

Our body’s shapes, postures and “attitudes”, acquired with the passing of time, allow us to modulate or even block the free flow of information coming from our nerves and senses. This mechanism inhibits or dampens their emotional impact. It also determines our response capacity, as it inhibits the emotional expression of our bodies and adapts it to the demands and constraints of our environment.

We express ourselves through our muscles

'... the profound and chronic tensions determine the shape of our bodies
and also what is usually called “character... '

To express our emotions we use our muscle system. The muscles in our faces, arms, legs, and even throats are constantly being contracted and inhibited in order to limit that expression.

The muscle chain shortening process —explained above— is directly related to the defence process. We may need to defend ourselves against information or situations that are traumatic and hard to handle to our psyche. Or, if we have suffered a fall or accident, we may need to protect ourselves against the painful stimuli by adopting certain movements, postures and antalgic chronic contractions.

Whichever the case may be, these tensions (which develop in order to block painful stimuli and to inhibit conflicting responses and movements) always follow the same paths as the muscle chains described by Mézières, with no exceptions.

Nonetheless, we are not born with this capacity to selectively exert control over the muscle and nervous systems. Babies can only voluntarily control their eyes and mouths. This control capacity develops and matures progressively as we grow up. The “locking processes” can be global or local and may affect different areas or functions (thus determining the future shape of our bodies). All this depends on: 1) the period of our lives when the inhibitory or traumatic experiences occurred, and 2) the degree of maturity at that time.

To maintain the locking mechanisms, we use our muscles and –to some extent- we may also “lock” our breathing. In Diafreotherapy, these profound and chronic tensions are called structural tensions. They appear and become established mainly as we grow up. They determine the shape of our bodies and also what is usually called “character”.

It is through the shape of our bodies and our bodily attitude that we engage in non-verbal communication, a type of communication that is subtle, unconscious most of the time, and constantly at work.

Let’s use as an example two men who walk down the street in front of us: one is pumping his chest and raising his chin prominently; the other is slightly bent over and looks to the ground. We do not receive the same message from them.

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‘Mr E. sought my advice because he’d heard about relaxation techniques. He says he constantly feels anxious and frightened, which keeps him from leading a normal life because he’s too scared to come out to the street, work and interact with others. Everything he does simply exacerbates his anxiety and he sees his quality of life drop quickly.
The reason is that he’s been diagnosed with heart valve failure, which requires undoubtedly risky surgery. Ever since then, all he does is listen to his heart, afraid that every heartbeat could be the last. He’s scared that anything might shake his balance: a mere cold, physical exercise, coughing and several other activities that everyone needs to do on a daily basis. He’s terrified and just can’t get over it.
While he’s lying on the mat, his thorax calls my eye. I think to myself: it’s like a cage, and his heart is like a trapped dickybird. His ribs don’t move when he breathes – actually they drop down. The muscles in his chest are like steel wires, and I can feel their contour when I lay my hand on them.
His skin is pale and sweaty. He is sweating profusely, which reminisces of those terror films where the director zooms in on the main character, his sweat running down his face, a conspicuous sign of fear and tension. But in this case the sweat has a very pungent smell. This is what many animals can pick up to figure who is in fear.
I try to lift his legs, and he folds them onto his stomach. He then raises his buttocks and lower back, at which point he stiffens the muscles in the back of his legs and also the muscles in his chest. Right next he gets a cramp and I have to lay him down.
As per the Diafreotherapy system, I check his arms and the muscles in his arms. I try to bend them but I can’t get past 30 degrees: his neck, chest and stomach become very tense. Of course, his face looks ever more frightened.
‘How are your legs?’ ‘I can’t feel them!’
‘How do you feel?’ ‘Fine, I’m fine!’
All of Mr. E’s system is in action to protect him against his fear, by contracting all of his muscles. This hampers his breathing and perception. Caged within that body, it’s impossible for him to feel his legs or to feel bad. He can only remain ‘on guard’ so as to keep his fear at bay, fear is the prevailing feeling throughout his system. All other feelings or sensations have been blocked, his sensitivity to them is inhibited.
The muscles that his body needs in order to perceive are contracted, they cannot escape their imposed tension and modulate. His glands are secreting hormones that get him ready to either run away or attack, in response to his cortex, which constantly sends alarm signals.’

Excerpt from the book La Memoria Corporal. Bases Teóricas de la Diafreoterapia,
by Luz Casasnovas (2009) Ed. Descleé de Brouwer.

 

The hidden pain

'... real culprit of the problem...'

The rearrangement of our muscle system very often succeeds in its purpose. This, however, involves drifting away from our “harmony axis” and blurs our perception of parts of ourselves. So begins a system of compensating forces which will only spiral up and interfere with the equilibrium of our minds and bodies.

Some time later, a pain or symptom may emerge in any spot of the muscle chain, but this is actually a consequence of an old, forgiven pain which we avoided back in the day.
It is only by observing how and why such compensating tensions, and by acting on them as a whole, that we will stand a chance to get to that old source of pain, the one which triggered the compensating spiral and which F. Mézières named “the hidden pain”.

In Diafreotherapy we believe that this hidden pain is not always physical in nature exclusively, but rather it can have a psychical origin.

I recommend reading the example that Luz Casasnovas tells in his book Memoria Corporal. Bases Teóricas de la Diafreoterapia (Body Memory. Theoretical Bases of Diafreotherapy), in the chapter El Dolor Oculto (The Hidden Pain). It is in Spanish. Click here

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Chronic tensions affect all systems

This vicious circle, which maintains these tensions but is also fed by them, affects all systems: visceral, hormonal, circulatory, nervous, musculo-skeletal and also the energetic system.

In Diafreotherapy we do not diagnose nor do we treat a specific symptom or disease. However, experience shows that by regaining balance in the shape of a body (which is achieved by relieving chronic muscular tensions) the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems, and all their organs (which were compressed or “displaced”) recover or even improve their function.

It is striking how rarely we consider the potential dynamic and emotional origin of many disorders in our bodies.

So, for example, if somebody feels like they are going to cry, but they don’t want to, they will tighten the muscles in their necks (among others) to prevent the crying. When the crying is inhibited continuously or repeatedly, this response eventually becomes automatic and finally a chronic and unconscious tension builds up. Such tension will later interfere with the flow of tears, even if we really want or need to cry.

On top of that, this chronic stiffness of the muscles exerts a constant pressure on major blood vessels which irrigate the brain. The corresponding return blood flow will slow down brain irrigation to some extent, thus decreasing the supply of oxygen to this all-important organ. All this can have many knock-on effects which are hard to predict. In a nutshell, any and all changes in the shape of our bodies can affect its physiological function.

In this sense I consider interesting the reading the Cerebral Thoracic Opercular Syndrom about escalene muscles (it is in Spanish).

In Diafreotherapy we do a work on releasing the neck muscle complex with the corresponding benefits.

The changes in body shape cause changes in their physiological role.

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Shape determines function

The harmonious shape of our bodies is not the result of whim.

Everything is orchestrated seamlessly in such a way that every organ and every physiological and psychical function can receive the information, the blood flow and the space needed in order to function in a balanced manner.

This perfect assembly also allows each individual to adequately respond to the influx of information collected by all our systems and relayed by our senses. This information either comes from external stimuli or from our own feelings and emotions.

However, when this “shape of things” is modified by the tensions that life gradually introduces in our bodies, this harmonious arrangement is compromised and also compromises all our vital systems.

Let us think for a minute on how a watering system works in a garden.

If the hose is somewhere twisted or clogged by a stone, this will affect the watering efficiency for a broad area and damage the plants found in it. The right solution is not treating the plants, but restoring the watering system to the proper working order.

The same goes for the human body: an altered organ or communication link, or a compressed nerve or blood vessel, will inevitably damage their functioning and have consequences on the orchestration of the entire body. Symptoms or ailments will ensue, but it is unlikely that anyone will blame them on disorders in our muscular structures or psyches.

Participant: ‘I thought I had the perfect back, but it’s all sore. I swim every day and I thought my back was fit, but now I see it’s not’.

Therapist:  ‘In my opinion, based on your story, and seeing the structure of your body, it would seem that your muscles have hypertrophy. This means that you always use the same muscles by always doing the same physical activity (in your case, swimming). Now, with the exercises that we’ve done, you have relaxed and loosened those muscles. By doing that, their antagonists were forced to gain muscular tone. You say you feel sore: Maybe your “swimming muscles” were so contracted that, by getting them to loosen up, their antagonists have suffered a sort of “whiplash”, a very strong effort that they were not used to. That would be why now you can feel them. I wonder, do you have the feeling that you’ve discovered muscles of which you were unaware before?’

Participant: ‘That’s right, it’s exactly that!’

Talk and exhibition workshop at the Prana School of Yoga in Alicante, 14 January 2012

 

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How does Diafreotherapy work?

‘...The therapeutic space of Diafreo
provides the opportunity to offer a different answer.
Now we have other weapons at our disposal.
We are no longer the helpless individual who didn’t know how to respond...’


In Diafreo we practice a number of postures that are tailored to each individual. Their aim is to stretch our bodies’ muscle chains to the fullest extent possible. We carefully look for any compensating forces which may have appeared in different areas of the body in order to constantly maintain the length of these chains.

Regarding our muscular structure, by practicing these postures we are performing an isometric muscular workout. In other words, we exercise the muscle in question while it’s stretched as much as possible, which pulls all its connective tissue (the white matter in the muscle) and stimulates the myofibrils (the white matter in the muscle). In this way, we boost the strength and elasticity of our muscle system, rather than its stiffness and contraction capacity, which is what you would do if you were to exercise muscles when they are shortened (isotonic workout such as weight lifting and most gymnastic exercises).

By releasing the excess tension accumulated in the muscles belonging to the posterior chain, you are giving their antagonists a chance to regain their long-lost and much-needed muscular tone. Also our joints will no longer be roughly jerked by our shortened muscles and will recover their right function and location.

The Diafreotherapy working method distinguishes three stages:

- The symptoms stage: pain, discomfort, energetic and emotional imbalances, etc. We act on these through:

- The workout process: we stretch our muscle chains and work on our postures in general in order to offset any compensating forces and bad postures. We bring the body back to its axis, its center of balance. We work on the deep contractions that keep us tied up. We loosen the muscular armour and deactivate any mechanisms locking our breathing. In this way, we gain access to:

- The root cause or hidden pain. This may be emotional or physical in nature. This is the real cause of the problem. And we try and fix it from the present moment in time.

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Observing breathing and compensating forces


While practicing these postures, we must stay focused on our breathing (avoiding any interruptions or “respiratory locking”) and also look for any existing compensating forces continuously and eliminate them.

If we disregard these compensating forces, the shortening will be shifted to another segment. For example, if we stretch the back of the neck, the tension will move to a different spot (shoulders, waist, legs, feet, etc.) by means of a shortening mechanism, lordosis, rotations, sideward bending, respiratory lock on inhaling, etc., all of which has the purpose of preserving the overall chain length. This “capacity” of muscle chains to shift tensions to other spots is the reason why working analytically and locally on a single segment is largely ineffective.

Therefore, from a mechanical point of view, the aim of Diafreotherapy is to prevent alternative compensating responses and, in this way, to restore our muscles’ flexibility and to release any inhibited movements.

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When the root causes become apparent

‘...Live and feel the link between your body and your psyche.
Unlock your body’s capacity to express emotions...’

 

It is by bringing the body back to its axis, and by preventing alternative compensating responses, that we can bring out the root causes that truly triggered the imbalance or tension at a deeper level.

At this point we may identify an old and forgotten physical pain. Most often this is the so-called “hidden pain”, but its origin may also be rooted in memories, emotions, experiences, images or movements that were stored and embedded in physical contractions. As soon as we identify this information and these emotions hidden in our bodies, we will be able to release, allow and develop them and, by doing so, we will have a better understanding of ourselves. We’ll have new opportunities for expression and change.

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The involvement of the whole self

‘...Finding the resources that will make the feeling of confidence
stronger than the fear that prevents us from deactivating our defense mechanisms...’


The spiral of compensating forces, which shape and condition who we are throughout our lives, can cause various symptoms in our joints, organs or psyche.

Through body exercises we can restore our bodies’ physical balance. However, if we are to achieve a deep and long-term change, our whole self needs to be committed to transforming a system which had, until now, allowed us to adapt and survive with a certain degree of success.

The body workout will open all our inner paths, but these will also need to be activated again. This reactivation of every part of our bodies involves accepting all the information, feelings and expressions, including all the psychological connotations which they may bring up.

When an individual decides to open up their defence system, they need someone by their side as they re-live past or new experiences, somebody who can help them process and take them in. They need the therapist’s knowledge, readiness and support.

The therapist has the role to find the right way to help each individual find the best way to release their tensions and open up to a new perspective of their selves.

The therapist needs to be capable to watch and identify compensating and defence mechanisms in the body, which differ from one person to another. The therapist must know how to “unknot” the tensions, unlock any locked spots in the muscle chains, help the body to express its emotions, and figure out the evolution of any movements that have become set. The therapist also needs to be aware of the correspondence between certain body structures and a number of psychical structures, and to know which are the chronic muscular contractions associated to them.

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Know-how and self-development are the two elements that will qualify the Diafreotherapist to walk with an individual along his or her emotional process (a process that takes place in parallel with the release of all deep tensions) and to help them link their lives with the condition of their bodies.

‘ J. is a 12-year-old girl. She was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. She’s been treated with a full-body brace. In her words, this device hurts her, discomforts her, tortures her. The doctor prescribed it and her mom firmly believes and hopes it will correct the shape of her back, so J. wears the brace even when she sleeps.
J. is tall for her age. Her body is fully developed. She has a clever look that scouts and analyses what surrounds her. She looks intently at me, like begging. She doesn’t want to remain bent forever. She smiles and nods in approval of everything that her mother says.
I explain the type of exercises that we could do, and emphasise that our sessions can be long and painful. That doesn’t put her off, she wants to give it a try.
Our first meeting is easy because she is quite submissive. She does what I ask her to. She breathes deeply and tries to get it right. When I see this, I wonder if her submissiveness might have contributed to maintain her scoliosis’.


Excerpt from the book La Memoria Corporal. Bases Teóricas de la Diafreoterapia,
by Luz Casasnovas (2009) Ed. Descleé de Brouwer.

 

It is in this therapeutic setting that the client will have the opportunity to explore how their muscles work, which movements have been set, and which movements they are incapable of. The client will have the chance to match their muscular condition with his or her emotional life. The therapist will encourage the client to “listen” to the flow of their energy, and to grasp where, why and under what circumstances their muscles “lock” and can be unlocked again. In this setting, the client will find the means to understand and the tools to help themselves, in such a way that eventually the feeling of confidence will be stronger than the fear to remove their shields of defence.

Through our body exercises, the client will be able to observe and explore his or her everyday life. In which situations their muscles tend to contract and their breathing “locks”. Which are the painful or distressing perceptions or feelings that they need to isolate. The client will realise what is it that the “attitude” and structure of their bodies mean about their emotions, and how all that conditions their way to deal with the people around them.

As time goes by, the client will be able to relate all this to the story of his or her life.
Every physical condition is matched by a different emotional condition.

The observation of and adaptation to each personal process – no generalising allowed— determines the difference between a method and a technique.

Finally, the answers are always found within oneself. The therapist is nothing more than a “vehicle”, a process facilitator, but he or she never holds “the key”.

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Conquering the inner space

‘...Connect with the hidden pain and go past it.
Inhabit the body and access the inner space...’


Our stretch postures help release tensions.

But it is also very important to tune and liberate one of our most subtle senses, the kenesthetic sense, which determines our connection with our inner feelings.

It is our sensations in the deepest part of our selves that will allow us to dive in our “inner space”. This space is key and all-important: it holds the perception of and connection with the most authentic portion of our beings, with that area of brightness, peace and wisdom which the events in our lives have gradually covered and concealed to a certain degree. Once we regain our capacity to connect with that space, we’ll manage to “repair the cracks” in the structure of our selves, the inner structure that allows each of us to face all external conditions as such.

The Mézières method, one of the pillars of Diafreotherapy, is a precious and precise means to gain access to that space, because by releasing all deep tensions we’ll be able to open up the paths that lead to that space.

The stretch postures help us release tensions, but the individual’s commitment is also extremely important if we want to tune and liberate one of our subtlest senses, which opens up the link with our deepest selves, with this inner space which is of key importance. It’s the space that holds the perception of our selves. It has a lot to do with the way our selves are structured at the deepest level. It is this capacity to connect with the purest part of our beings and of our inner structures that allows us to face all external circumstances as such (Malen Cirerol).

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Text by Malén Cirerol,  modified and adapted with new texts by Toni Barber, Rocío Oliveira in http://diafreocadiz.wordpress.com/, Rafael Cabello-Campos and Rosa Maria de África and also by Luz Casasnovas in her book Memoria Corporal. Images from the 20th PromotionTraining Grup and drawings by Sara Garcia. Reproductions with permission.

 

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DIAFREO sessions

Toni Barber
Diafreotherapist
Integrative-holistic therapist

www.tonibarber.com

Telf: 653.145.353
e-
mail:
tonibarbervalles@gmail.com


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Articles of interest (in Spanish)

- Entrevista a Malén Cirerol

- Una visión dinámica de la salud

- El cuerpo antídoto de la locura

- Cansancio o recuperación

- El Dolor Oculto

- El sistema de la liebre

- El estrés mata

- El subsuelo de la mama

- La forma del cuerpo condiciona su función

• Mirando la pelvis con amor

• Por dónde te doblegas

• Por qué nos duele la espalda

 

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