by Roger J. Woolger, PhD
The author demonstrates the inter-relationship of the mental, emotional, and etheric levels as they operate across lifetimes. He illustrates the application of these levels in several case studies: of acute sinusitis, of sexual frigidity, and of panic attacks connected with public speaking. He demonstrates the importance of working with all levels of functioning involved with the symptom.
In the previous part of this article (Woolger, 1987a), which discussed theoretical aspects of bodywork in past-life therapy, I noted how the three subtle bodies or energy fields affected each other. Using this perspective it is often quite simple to see how a thought (from the mental field) can influence feelings (in the emotional field). “I’m a failure” can easily generate some degree of ongoing depression in a person, for example. Further, we saw how feelings can exert a negative influence upon the energy or vitality of the system (by depressing the etheric field); such a person may literally experience low energy, which can manifest physically as poor appetite, shallow or constricted breathing, heart pains, or other forms of depletion.
Within the gross body, which suffers dissolution after death, every living being possesses an inner subtle body, which is formed of the sense-faculties, vital breaths, and inner organs. This is the body that goes on and on, from birth to birth, as the basis and vehicle of the reincarnated personality. It departs from the sheath of the gross body at the time of death, and then determines the nature of the new existence; for within it are left the traces—like scars or furrows—of all the perceptions, acts, desires, and movements of will of the past, all the propensities and trends, the heritage of habits and inclinations, and the peculiar readinesses to react this way or that, or not to react at all.
Heinrich Zimmer Philosophies of India (p. 324)
These principles have, in one form or another, been known for a long time to bodyworking psychotherapists of certain schools, especially those associated with Biofeedback techniques (themselves inspired by Yoga) and those influenced by Wilhelm Reich. Since Reich’s psychological perspective was basically Freudian when it came to searching for the origins of the negative thought or the emotional trauma, his followers usually assume that the obvious place to look is early childhood. But as we now know from copious reports of past-life regression sessions, the trauma or negative thought or attitude can just as easily arise in a previous lifetime. Indian Yoga doctrine (see the head quote by Zimmer) has always held that psychic and physical dispositions to negativity, to reiterated trauma, and to emotional patterning are passed from one life to another via the entity called the subtle body.
The past-life perspective, as more and more therapists are realizing, can often open up places where conventional therapy, which only probes early experience in this life, has reached a dead end. Cases entailing past lives may be complex, but the inter-relationship of the three levels—the mental, the emotional, and the etheric—can be shown to operate equally across lifetimes. In other words, Reichian principles can be applied to past-life stories as effectively as, and sometimes more so, they can be applied to current life issues in therapy.
To give a short example:
A middle-aged woman, whom I shall call Veronica, had suffered since late adolescence from severe sinusitis. She had had all kinds of medical treatments which had proven ineffective. Conventional psychotherapy revealed a connection between the onset of her chronic sinusitis and a certain residual sense of loneliness and mild depression. But, failing to find any loss or obvious emotional upheaval around adolescence, therapy basically failed to change her condition.
During a weekend introduction to past-life therapy, Veronica had the following experience. She found herself re-living the past life of a young Englishman, who had grown up in an orphanage, and who was conscripted into the army at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Like so many raw recruits, his combat experience was tragically short. He died within weeks of arriving in the trenches from a mustard gas assault on his particular unit.
The short period of boot camp and the camaraderie of the trenches had been one of intense emotional opening for this young man. As Veronica re-lived his death, she fell into paroxysms of intense weeping, which were clearly mixed with painful choking. When the catharsis, which continued overnight in the workshop, was over, she reported that she had realized that the young man’s untimely death by asphyxiation had prevented him from grieving for his lost comrades in arms.
What is remarkable is that she also reported that her sinuses had fully cleared for the first time in thirty years. The unfinished grief from the adolescent period of the past life had apparently been unconsciously re-activated when she was in adolescence, but because of the choking trauma, the tears of the past life had remained lodged, as it were, in her sinuses. All her problems with loneliness in this life immediately became clear to her.
In this case, which is typical of many, the release clearly begins on both the etheric and the emotional levels when both the sense of loss and the choking memory, now made conscious from the other life, surface spontaneously. The possibility of releasing the original feelings of grief had been blocked by the gassing trauma, so they had become imprinted, along with the choking, at an etheric level of subtle body transmission. To release one was, therefore, to release the other. Hence the unblocking of Veronica’s sinuses, which had been mimicking the fatal gas attack with all its unexpressed sadness all those years.
It was also extremely important for Veronica to realize why she felt so bereft in the past life and to make the connection to her present life. This completed the clearing of the mental level of the past life scar, without which she could easily have fallen back into old emotional patterns. She was now able, with the help of affirmations, to reverse negative thoughts like, “I’m all alone. Friendships never last,” into “I’m never alone; my friendships get longer and deeper all the time.”
When all three levels of clearing are not taken into account, there is often reversion to the earlier pattern. Working only at the etheric level, for example, rolfers, chiropractors, and other bodyworkers have privately admitted that even with the most skilled work of re-alignment and rebalancing at a postural or energy level, their clients will often revert to old patterns. This is due, I believe, to the fact that the emotional and mental levels of the posture or organic complaint have not been allowed to surface, so they continue to exert negative influence on the etheric body to the detriment of the physical organism.
Equally, certain types of therapy that only stress emotional cathartic release can often get stuck. In my practice I have often found clients who cannot get out of certain so-called “primal” emotions from early childhood, because the meaning of the trauma had not been raised in their previous therapy. Early childhood abandonment is so often a re-run of a past-life trauma of a similar, but often more severe nature, that it frequently requires only a minimum of further probing into a past-life background to arrive at insight and the beginning of healing. In such a way, for example, a client of mine reported: “I see now why being separated from my mother at three, when she went to the hospital, was so agonizing. I had lost my mother at three in a past life, when she was killed by soldiers, and I had died myself shortly afterwards.”
Therapeutic Strategies in Past-Life Bodywork
When working with clients who either have presenting complaints that are somatic as well as psychological or who have a history of recurrent illness or accidents, I have arrived at a number of rules of thumb:
- When taking a case history, always make sure the client tells you all his or her physical illnesses, accidents, or impairments (deafness, needing glasses, high blood pressure etc.) When noting them, ask if any emotional upheaval occurred shortly before or around the same period of his/her
- When the client is describing the particular presenting problem or symptom, ask him/her to describe what he/she is experiencing in his/her body as he/she talks to you.
- During the actual regression ensure that the person reports all of the story from within the body, not from some disembodied vantage point. (See also Woolger, 1986a)
- During the session, note all physical movements, tightening up, contortions, shallow breathing etc., especially when a trauma is being re-lived but little emotion is being
- Encourage those parts of the body that are reacting to the story (as in 3) to express themselves either physically, in words, or both. For example, with tight legs, say “Let yourself kick. Good! Now let your legs say what they want to say to this person.” The client then shouts, “Get away from me, you pig!” kicking the brutalizing figure imaginally in the past-life story.
- Whenever there is a specific pain reported or an organic problem, have the client focus in on the pain or the afflicted area, taking his/her consciousness right into its core and allowing images and feelings to emerge spontaneously. It is helpful to use guiding phrases such as, “What is the pain like? Is it sharp or dull? Does it come from inside your body or outside? What might be causing it? What does your body feel like doing?”
The last technique, of taking consciousness into the pain or afflicted area, is one well-known to practitioners of Buddhist Vipassana meditation. Steven Levine makes extremely valuable use of it in counseling individuals who are terminally ill (Levine, 1984). Here is a short example of how I have used it in past-life therapy:
Charlene was a career woman who had assiduously avoided any relationships that might lead to marriage. She has had a series of relationships where men left her for someone else, severely damaging her self-esteem. She was troubled by the discovery of cysts in both her breasts but wished to avoid surgery, if at all possible. I had her focus in on the hardened areas in her breasts and let any feelings and words surface. “They’re quite hard and useless. It’s so sad. I’m so tired. It’s as though they’ve dried up. I’ve nothing to give.”
With hardly any direction, she found herself in an industrial city in the north of England in the early 1800s. She was a young woman sitting against a wall slowly dying of starvation, with a baby futilely trying to suckle from her. The full extent of her bitterness and despair dawned upon her: “I don’t have anything to give; I’m disgusted with myself and my breasts.”
Charlene was soon able to see that at a deep emotional level she had rejected herself as a nurturing mother and was carrying this old memory of failure in her breasts. The negative thoughts that went with this also contributed to her being rejected by men; she was really rejecting herself and the maternal function of her body. Her therapy consisted in forgiving the past-life body, dialoguing with the lost child, and re-affirming her potential as a mother and a woman.
The Case of Mike: Public Speaking Anxiety
Mike—whose name I have changed—was a social worker who suffered terrible panic attacks every time he had to make any kind of presentation to his colleagues at meetings. About an hour before the appointed time of a meeting, he reported, he would get uncontrollably nervous. His chest would get very tight, his breathing became constricted, and he would experience severe heart palpitations. In Mike’s case I did not need to encourage him to be aware of his body as he described his problem: “My palms are starting to sweat as I talk about it,” he said. He also described his tight chest and stomach.
Were these reactions new? By no means. Mike recognized them from childhood, where he remembered a painful experience at a talent show he had been forced to perform in. The over-riding feelings then as now were of fear and shame. And yet, neither as a child nor as an adult could he find any memory of anyone actually doing anything to humiliate or shame him.
Here is a condensed extract of how our exploration of these feelings and somatic reactions proceeded:
Therapist: So what does it feel like every time you go into one of your staff meetings?
Mike: Terrible panic. I feel like I’m gonna die (Touches his chest). Everything feels like it’s gonna shut down. I can feel my heart beating like crazy when I talk about it now.
Therapist: So what thoughts go with this? You’re clearly in a huge conflict.
Mike: I’ve got to do it, but I don’t wanna do it. Oh my God! No! How do I get out of it? (His stomach seems to be tensing up and his arms are becoming rigid).
Therapist: What does your stomach want to say?
Mike: I don’t want to do it. How do I get out of this? Oh God! It’s this terrible sinking feeling. My chest is all tight and my stomach feels like it’s gonna drop out.
Therapist: Stay with the feelings and what your stomach wants to say and just follow it.
Mike: I don’t want to. I want to be left alone. Please don’t make me! No, not in front of them all! I’m trapped. I can’t get out of it. (He is noticeably writhing from side to side now).
Therapist: Let yourself go into any other life story these words apply to.
Mike: I get a church. And a crowd. Yes, lots of people. Oh no! I don’t want to. Don’t make me!
Therapist: Say that to them, not to me. Stay with the images and your body.
Mike: It’s terrible, I’m afraid. I’m not gonna show my fear. They’re making me go there. Oh help! My hands and neck! They’re really hurting.
Therapist: What seems to be happening to you?
Mike: They’ve got my wrists bound behind me. Something’s touching my face. I can’t see. Now it’s my neck. Oh help! They’re gonna hang me!
Therapist: I want you to go all the way through it until it’s over. The pain will pass, but it needs to be released. Keep saying exactly what you feel as it happens.
Mike’s breathing now became intense as he lay writhing on my mattress. He reported tingling in his hands and feet and increasing panic fear in his stomach. His struggle increased until the end. He was obviously fighting the execution all the way. I encouraged him to do so, since this was where all his tension is locked up.
Mike: I can’t get out of it. I’m really stuck now. I don’t wanna be part of this, but there’s no way out. (There are clearly elements of birth trauma in this part of the story).
Therapist: What is your stomach saying?
Mike: I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna do this! I hate this. I can’t get out of it. I wanna leave.
Mike continued his death struggle as the hanged man for some while. He experienced huge electrical tingling in his hands, face, neck, chest, and stomach. He kicked violently, reproducing the desperate attempts to touch the earth his former self has been deprived of. A huge etheric release happened as the parts of the body that had held the subtle body imprint of the trauma re-lived the event. Finally, his body went limp, as he reached the moment of the past-life death. He wept, his chest heaving: “There was nothing I could do.” There was more release and opening in his chest. His breathing expanded considerably when the trauma was past.
We took as long as he needed for the energy release to be complete and for all the feelings to be expressed and verbalized. Then we went back to the events that led up to the hanging. Mike remembered himself as an adolescent boy who had robbed a man, and then, in a tussle, knifed him. He was caught by the villagers and brought to trial, where he was condemned to death by hanging.
Mike remembered the jail cell, his huge public humiliation, and above all, the sense of doom and powerlessness that sat in his chest and stomach in the last hours before he was taken to the scaffold. Needless to say, as an adolescent in this story, his life force was very strong, which was mirrored in his physical resistance to dying. This is why I encouraged him physically to express all aspects of the struggle, to maximize the etheric release, aspects of which were clearly locked into his chest and stomach today.
The remainder of our work consisted in helping him disassociate the old trauma from its current life parallels. I suggested affirmations such as: “I am on the earth. I am fully in charge (for his stomach). I am proud of my work. There is nothing to be ashamed of any longer.”
One interesting corollary to his experience was that Mike then remembered that he had several times stolen unimportant things as a child, always feeling deeply ashamed and unworthy when he was caught. He realized how he had been unconsciously replaying the old story, testing to see if stealing would be as fatal as in the past life. He did not, until now, connect it to his public speaking anxiety.
In later sessions Mike reported almost total absence of panic feelings at meetings and a sense of greatly increased vitality and power in his life in general. The trapped and humiliated adolescent in him had been freed and was now contributing energy to his life instead of draining it.
The Case of Dorothy: Blocked Sexual Response
Dorothy was a married woman in her thirties who attended a large scale demonstration workshop of mine, where she had the courage to share her very painful problem with the large number of people present. Her session, which was recorded, has helped many people; both therapists and others who have heard it. I am presenting here an abbreviated version of the essence of our work (see Woolger, 1986b, for the whole session).
The issue Dorothy volunteered to work with was that she had absolutely no sex drive with her husband. As she sat down to work with me she admits to tremendous fear as she confronted the problem. I encouraged her to close her eyes and stay in touch with the fear, which, as so often happens, had nothing to do with the workshop, but was part of the story that wanted to surface.
Therapist: So what’s happening for you right now?
Dorothy: My body’s shaking and not as much, you know, but…
Therapist: What’s making you cry?
Dorothy: I don’t know.
Therapist: Okay just stay with it. Take a little breath. Just say in your own words, any way, what is troubling you deeply in your life right now.
Dorothy: I really love my husband but I just don’t have a sex drive. It’s like I feel that I really like holding and snuggling and just touching and spooning but when it comes to having intercourse, it’s like it just stops, I just stop.
Therapist: Stay with that feeling, “I just stop.” How do you just stop?
Dorothy: I don’t know.
Therapist: You do know. What happens in your body when you stop?
Dorothy: It becomes rigid.
Therapist: Can you show me that? (She draws her legs together and pulls her arms in). And where exactly is it rigid? Is it all the way down, all the way up?
Dorothy: Yes, it just feels like it is rigid.
Therapist: Just stay with that rigidity right now. You can exaggerate it if you like. What are the words or thoughts that come? Something like, “I don’t want to?”
Dorothy: Just don’t touch me. I don’t want to.
Therapist: Stay with “Don’t touch me.” Remember this may become someone else other than your husband, so just let anything come. I just want you to go with those words “don’t touch me.” (I encourage her to repeat these words several times and any others that come).
Dorothy: Don’t touch me. I don’t want it…I just don’t want it. I don’t have to do this. I just don’t have to do this. (She speaks angrily now).
Therapist: What are your legs doing?
Dorothy: Tight. My dress is being pushed up. It’s long…I’m trying to push it down.
Therapist: You’re trying to push it down, and your legs are trying to do what?
Dorothy: Just be tight.
Therapist: What are your legs saying?
Dorothy: I don’t know, but there’s a sword, I see a sword. I see some legs. (She is very tense now).
Therapist: Breathe! And your body is still tight? Just let the images come.
Dorothy: I see this green on his legs…He’s trying to have sex with me and I don’t want it.
Therapist: Tell him that.
Dorothy: I don’t want it. I don’t have to, I don’t want it…
Therapist: Go on. Loud as you like!
Dorothy: I DON’T WANT IT! You don’t have to do this. You do not have any right. He’s saying it’s his right. He’s my husband and it’s his right. I’m saying no…I have to stop him…I just want to hit him…
Therapist: Feel it in your body…Just say all the words that come.
Dorothy: You bastard!…I don’t have to do this. I’ll never do this again. Never going to do this again!…It’s not right.
I helped point Dorothy’s awareness to how this phrase “I’m never going to do this again” underlay her sexual whole resistance to her husband. Almost immediately she reported that she was not feeling it any more, that she was gone.
I had her look back to see what happened and a gruesome scene emerged. The husband had killed her, apparently thrusting his sword into her genitals. There was blood everywhere. She did not recognize the woman. It was clearly a past-life self.
On my further questioning Dorothy was still aware of tension in her genitals. This alerted me to the fact that the trauma was by no means cleared. There was still a lot of emotional hurt and anger locked in there, so I encouraged her to express these feeling from her wounded genitals.
Dorothy: He used his sword. Damn him. Damn you!…
Therapist: Loud as you like!
Dorothy: DAMN YOU!
Therapist: Any other words in there to say to him?
Dorothy: You’ll never do this again! (Having her address these words directly to the past-life husband is important; they belong to this man, not her present husband).
I helped Dorothy see and remember the whole of this bloody death, checking out whether there were still any feelings being held in the body. I asked her to breathe to any parts of her body where she felt pain, since the breath facilitates etheric release. It seemed that we had already reached the core of the wounded area, for very shortly she said:
Dorothy: It doesn’t hurt any more…
Therapist: Are you in the body still? What are you getting?
Dorothy: This blue-green light, really beautiful.
Therapist: Yes, stay with that light. I want you to be in the blue and green light but also look back and see that body on the ground with all the blood…
Dorothy: She’s not on the ground. She’s on a chaise or something.
Therapist: I just want you to be aware that you’re not in that body now.
At this point, we reached an important opportunity for detaching from the trauma completely. The etheric release seemed complete since there was no more pain and her legs were quite relaxed now. In addition, the emotional release had been accomplished by expressing the buried hurt and rage at her cruel past-life husband. To help consolidate all this I suggested some affirmations.
Dorothy: I’m not in that body now. I let go of all the pain that woman felt. I let go of the trauma in my genitals. I let go of trauma all over my body.
And because of the very negative thought, “I’ll never do this again,” regarding the sexual act, I had her repeat at the end of the session, which included other material, the affirmation:
Dorothy: It’s OK to do it again. It won’t kill me this time.
What this case demonstrates is that it is possible to work through quite severe trauma very effectively provided that the whole body is engaged. When fully encouraged, etheric and emotional release can be accomplished very swiftly. Painful as it looks to the observer, it is actually a huge relief for the experiencer, as everyone in the workshop could attest from the way Dorothy looked after our work.
Many therapists whom I have watched work order the client out of the body when trauma arises, invoke healing guides, white light, color, etc. This may work for them, but I have found that more often than not this strategy just drives the trauma further into hiding, which is to say, deeper into the body. As we saw with Dorothy, when genuine release occurred, she experienced peace, the dispersal of her genital pain, the spontaneous appearance of a blue-green healing light, and full insight into her symptoms. In subtle body language, she had cleared old traumatic imprints at the etheric, the emotional, and the mental levels, leaving her free to pursue a happy and fulfilled sex-life with her husband.
Levine, Stephen. Meetings at the Edge. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1984.
Woolger, Roger J. “Imaginal Techniques in Past-Life Therapy,” Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. 1, Issue 1. Riverside, California, 1986a.
Woolger, Roger J. “Jungian Psychology and Past-Life Therapy: Common Boundary Annual Conference, Fall 1986.” Talk and demonstration: 2 tapes, 1986b (available from Laughing Bear Productions, 5 River Road, New Paltz, NY 12561, for $20, including shipping).
Woolger, Roger J. “Subtle Body, Dense Mind, Part One: Theoretical Aspects of Past-Life Bodywork,” Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. 2. Issue 1, Riverside, CA, 1987a.
Woolger, Roger J. Other Lives, Other Selves, New York: Doubleday, 1987.