Core Strokes : a holistic and transformative practice for self-development

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Core Strokes & Contact

Who am I really?

According to the Pathwork (Eva Pierrakos), our divine CORE (sometimes called, “the Center of Right Energy”) is the repository of endless joy, intuition and creativity. It contains wisdom, happiness and the answer to all questions about our growth and development. This CORE part of us would seem to be all we would ever want to be and express. It is also the part of us that knows no fear, understands and sends “units of recognition and transformation” (which we “Core Strokes people” call positive strokes) into the world and welcomes our very life task.

The Divine Qualities of our CORE (or Higher Self or true self) are Love, Power, Serenity and Wisdom. But these divine expressions become easily obscured by other layers in our personality (our Lower self and our Masks) which interpose themselves between our CORE and the world.

Our Lower Self is basically the selfish attitude about ourselves, our willful ignorance, our desire to destroy life and isolate the self. Here we have evil/demonic qualities (Self-Will, Submission, Fear).

The mask we wear

Our Mask Self is the person we think we ought to be for the world. It is our personal image according to our childhood experiences and our karmic splits we brought into this incarnation, but the basic image behind ALL masks is: ‘I’m not lovable, and not acceptable the way I am.’ We keep Mask Selves because we know we will not be accepted if our hate or selfishness is plain for all to see. We also as a consequence mask our Higher Self because we are somehow ashamed of our beauty and spiritual power as well.

In other words, in our Mask Self, we deny both the worst and the best in our selves. We create, with our Mask Self a safe, conventional but ultimately unfulfilling pseudo-truth about ourselves. We also try to live up to an ‘Idealized Self-Image’, which is always about perfection. The deeper truth about ourselves remains hidden until we go on the journey of self-discovery. The frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi says “know thyselves” in imperative form and indicates that man must stand and live according to his nature.

Man has to look at himself

But this is something difficult. As children we were made to feel ashamed of our especially lower selves, as well as very often of our masks. We feared that being honest about our negative feelings would cause us to be rejected by our parents, who often did not see our our beautiful essence.

So we covered our Lower Self feelings with a mask that we hoped would insure our lovability… As a child then, we were placed in a dilemma of having to give up an impulse or an essential resource in order to maintain the mutual contact with our caregivers. We understood that we needed to “behave properly”, because any badness as it is represented in the Lower Self was not permitted. In some cases we had to give up the contact all together, in order to keep our impulse…On a vibratory level neither of these pseudo-solutions, as they are called, feel good.

We have now successfully created what Wilhelm Reich – the “Psychoanalyst-grandfather of Body Psychotherapy – has called a protective or defensive “armor”. With such armor in place, conscious control no longer has to actively defend against certain impulses or desires. We end up with a relatively unconscious and ultimately unwanted inner prison of suppressed impulses like distrust, fear, hatred, cruelty, separateness and other forms of negativity.

The price we pay for this imprisonment of impulses, feelings and desires is off course that it also keeps us from pleasure, which is our birthright and from being in our natural “greatness”. All this is what Reich called a character structure, which is the organization of our psychic structure, which is also seen in our body and in our posture, and in our stereotypical ways of acting and reacting to situations, people and the planet altogether. Implicitly all character structures come about through breaks in mutual connection and when parts of our selves are not welcomed or even considered….It’s as simple as that.

Every time there is a break in mutual connection there is a break in development (called “developmental trauma”). Character armor as a result leads furthermore to emotional rigidity, poor contact with others (it’s the walls we build around us), and a feeling of “deadness.”

Examples of character defenses as shown in our MASK are submission and dependency as pseudo-solutions for Love, aggression and control as distortions of Power, or detachment and withdrawal as substitutes and caricatures for Serenity. Underneath the withdrawal then, we find confusion and chaos, loneliness, pain. Underneath control and aggression is collapse, helplessness, pain. Underneath submission is aggression, fear and frustration, pain. Most often all these patterns of fear, withdrawal and avoidance lead to a sensation of inadequacy and unnaturalness and off course…pain as a consequence of the distortion of the divine qualities, which exists in our CORE.

Armoring is living memory.

Wilhelm Reich demonstrated that at the level of the body, all defense mechanisms show as chronic holding, energetic under- or overcharged areas and “energy blocks”. Energy blocks, John C. Pierrakos, MD (a student of Reich and founder of Core Energetics) said, are stagnated pools of vital substance that accumulate in the defensive perimeter and “armor” it in dysfunctional patterns or character structures.

When we become armored, our pulsation, an intrinsic aspect of life which reflects the dynamic cycle of expansion and contraction (Chuck Kelley, followed by Will Davis prefer to call it “in-strokes” and “out-strokes”) in all life processes, is interrupted and the movement restricted. The energy flow throughout our body is impeded and inevitably impacts our breath, movement, health, vitality and sexuality.

Reich showed that the body is “living memory” and carries in it the signs and traces of our personal life experience as well as our familial heritage. All kinds of traumatic experiences and learned fears, “impregnate” our character and influence our posture. We may experience this in our lives as a hyper-vulnerability, a lack of sensation, aliveness, a stiffness or tension.

Armoring is demonstrable and therefore we can work with it.

Muscular (and myofascial) armoring needs to be understood as a part of our emotional defense system. It can be palpated as muscle hypertension or hypotension. It can also be observed as impairment in movement. Patterns of armoring do not strictly follow the pathways of voluntary motor nerves but rather show up as bands or segments, as Wilhelm Reich found out. That is because armoring is more a result of autonomic nervous system activity and so follows involuntary patterns more than voluntary motor patterns.

The chronic perpetuation of the defense may have the consequence of hardening (= rigid, hyper-response) and consolidation or of weakening (hypo-response) of the muscular aspect, which then holds the particular defense pattern, including the mental-emotional aspects, indefinitely in place.

This process is by definition unconscious and resists change. This is a problem, but it may be — slowly and with effort — reversed with body-centered psychotherapy.

Releasing muscular armoring through myofascial tissues massage.

Armoring in the myofascial tissues

Wilhelm Reich introduced the term “muscular armoring”, but today we know that psychological imprinting applies to other tissues in the body as well, importantly the connective tissue category of “(myo)fascia”. The fascia is a system of fibers that surround nearly all the soft tissues of the body (organs, muscles, etc.), serving to wrap, hold together, link up, and support these structures. We can clinically distinguish between fascia and muscle tissue even though they are intertwined. In Core Strokes, we hold a significant focus on the de-armoring, harmonization and regulation of the myofascial system.

From an anatomical-physiological point of view, the fascia is a more primitive, less differentiated structure than is voluntary musculature, and it functions more along with the reflex system than the voluntary system. Thus it is more dominant very early in life, before the voluntary has had a chance to take hold, and it is also more involved in shock trauma situations where again, the voluntary system is overwhelmed by the involuntary. Restricted fascia can have the tensile strength of up to 2000 pounds per square inch. Also our lymphatic network is located within our fascia. Since the lymphatic system does not have a heart like the circulatory system to pump the lymph, it relies on our bodies movement by the muscles and fascia to squeeze the lymphatic vessels and push the lymph through the system like a low-pressure hose. Unresolved birth issues and other traumatic experiences can be felt in the fascial network and the science has shown that this network is intimately linked to our immune system. Specialized white blood cells in lymph kill off harmful bacteria and viruses. Essentially, the lymphatic system is a cleaning crew for the body.

Releasing the armor, developing the pilot, wrapping the soul with ego with Core Strokes and Postural, Energetic and Emotional Myofascial Integration.

Jack Painter, PhD – founder of the famous Postural Integration® method – helped us understand that in order to aid the person in the process of release (de-armoring) at the level of the fascia we need a perspective of character style. Depending on the character pattern, myofascial armoring can be seen in the way the fascia is dispersed in clumps, collapses, has the quality of a liquid balloon, is dense, thick or thin, stringy, soft and malleable on the outside, fibrous or stringy deeper down or squishy with lack of tone and responsiveness, ….There exist many variants in other words.

Integrative therapy using deep tissue massage, with Dirk Marivoet.

In Core Strokes™ sessions the practitioner helps the client to let go of the holding patterns with targeted “strokes” (in our view these are “units of recognition”) and also to invite him/her to come out with a new part of themselves, or an old part of themselves that has been hiding in their body as symptoms. The presence of the therapist should give the client the courage to begin revealing (become conscious), purifying and transforming all that is coming to the surface from the inner depths. We like to call these inner depths the Dynamic Ground (in agreement with Michael Washburn), the seat of the deepest level of the unconscious, the inherited or collective unconscious.

Core Strokes: Keeping the balance between bodywork and ego processes

Core Strokes uses the information in the body as a way of acquiring information about the unconscious. In the therapy we always stay in contact with the ego processes of the client by use of a “witness figure” and the strengthening of what Albert Pesso – another pioneer of body psychotherapy- calls “the Pilot”. As a client or “worker”, you can thus discover whether your ego is rather collapsed, underdeveloped, weak or rather exaggerated, excessively aggressive, and/or controlling, but not really strong (overdeveloped). In Core Strokes we help the client in both cases with “ego repair”. This is directly related to the inclusion of the body in this therapy. With what Al Pesso calls “ego wrapping”, we apply consciousness, name, accept, and give a place to a portion of the soul/self when it makes its appearance. We also use “antidoting” with ideal symbolic figures, so that the client can experience in the “virtual body” what could have been in the past had there been fortunate circumstances, interactions and figures been available. This is the place in our minds where we can rehearse the future and claim our potential for fulfillment and happiness. The ego system becomes more healthy, is able to drop the mask(s) and character defense mechanisms and yields to the Higher Spiritual Self, says John Pierrakos.

The result of an integrated myofascial system

It is very interesting to see how a healthy functioning ego is dependent on an integrated myofascial network. When the biological cells are not in a state of distortion (basically in rigidity or in chaos), but in balance and well integrated, the permeable (ego-)skin, which is functionally identical with the myofascial network helps regulate the balance between receptivity, power and outward expressivity. Here our work with Postural, Energetic and Emotional Myofascial Integration techniques help us perceive and regulate the flow of energy from the Core in relationship with another person’s Core. Thus we learn to act healthily within all 5 dimensions of personality (the physical, the emotional, the mental, the will and the spiritual). The integrated person is at home in their own body – “temple of the soul” and at home in the world in good relationship with others.

Training opportunities

The basics of Core Strokes ™ can be learned in 4 separate one week long modules. Ida Rolf, the founder of Structural Integration has said, “Seeing is touch at a distance.”  “Touch is seeing up close.” In Core Strokes we see up close how emotions, feelings and thoughts can be released and integrated simultaneously. For more information about introductory workshops, the training curriculum, application, places and conditions, you can find information elsewhere on this website.

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Individual therapy sessions

Dirk Marivoet psychotherapist in Belgium

Dirk Marivoet, MSc is European certified psychotherapist (ECP) and certified psychomotor therapist (University of Louvain). He is the founder and director of the International Institute for Bodymind Integration (IBI) and an international teacher in several Body Oriented Psychotherapy Schools. After more than 35 years of working and teaching in the field of integrative and holistic therapy, he created his own comprehensive synthesis and approach : Core Strokes, which he offers worldwide in the form of professional trainings, workshops and individual sessions. In the past, Dirk worked and taught at the University Psychiatric Centers of Louvain for 11 years. He is a certified Trainer and Supervisor for Postural Integration, Energetic Integration, Reichian Bodywork and Pelvic-Heart Integration (Jack Painter, PhD), a Core Energetics Teacher and Supervisor (John Pierrakos, MD) and president of the Core Science Foundation. He lives in Ghent (Belgium).

In Ghent (Belgium), Europe, the rest of the world and online.

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