Understanding How to Move and Manipulate Energy
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: March 24, 2016
Updated on: July 26, 2022
Energy is a palpable, animating life force—one that we can all understand in the context of how we feel from day-to-day (sluggish, over-tired, or on the flip side, invincible). Usually we attribute our low energy days to a lack of sleep or bad food. But it’s significantly more complicated than that, according to therapist Aimee Falchuk, who believes that our energetic systems might very well be impacted by physical, emotional, and cognitive blocks we’ve picked up from childhood. Falchuk, who practices a Reichian theory of body-centered psychotherapy from the school of Core Energetics, spends her time helping people free or move stuck emotional energy so that they can tap into their full potential. (For more from Falchuk, see her piece for us on how to use anger productively.)
Energy & Consciousness
We often complicate the word energy by trying to define it in scientific or mystical terms. All we need to understand energy is to get quiet and feel into ourselves or our surroundings. For example, when we feel present, our energy is grounded; when we feel attraction or repulsion, we may feel an energetic charge; when we laugh or cry, we may feel a discharge of our energy.
Certain situations or people can deplete our energy. Alternatively, in places where we don’t feel we are enough, we may cling onto others using their fuel source as our own. Even boundaries are a matter of energy: We may bind our energy when we want to create separation, and let our energy flow openly when we want to come close.
One of the first things we learn in school is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed—but that it can be altered. Energy can be sped up or slowed down. It can exist in a closed system in which the energy is held or bound, or it can exist in an open system in which the energy flows. Uncontained energy can cause a system to become frenetic or fragmented. Depleted energy can cause a system to collapse.
Despite its power, energy in of itself is a neutral force. It is consciousness that directs its movement. If we think of this in terms of the energy and consciousness of the human experience we may see that the more conscious we are, the more we direct our energy towards creation, connection, and evolution. The less conscious we are, the more our energy is used towards separation, stagnation, or even destruction.
In my practice I work with energy blocks and the restoration of energetic integrity. After all, we can all recall moments when we’ve felt in our flow. Our mind is open and flexible, our breath is deep and rhythmic, and we feel spacious in our body. When we are in flow, we hold a healthy balance between expansion and contraction, and activation (doing) and receptivity (being/allowing). We allow our reason (thinking), emotion (feeling) and will (doing), to work in partnership with each other. We have faith in ourselves and in the process, and we find ourselves appropriately undefended. We call this being in energetic integrity.
Most people I know, including myself, find these moments of energetic integrity short-lived. Many people will more often describe their energy as feeling blocked, stagnant, or stuck. Their thinking is fixed and narrow. Their breath is held, shallow, or uneven and certain muscles feel tight or weak. Energetically they feel ungrounded, over-bound (separate), under-bound (enmeshed), or fragmented. They find it difficult to hold a healthy balance between doing and being, giving and receiving. They are aggressive or submissive. They are either overly reasonable, overly emotional, or overly willful. They struggle with stubbornness, procrastination, perfectionism, obsessive thinking, exaggerated individualism, or conformity.
All of these are examples of energetic blocks:
A closed mind is an energetic block. When our belief system is fixed, we are blocked. I will often hear someone say, “this is just how it is,” or, “I’m just not that kind of person,” or “God doesn’t want me to have that.” These are cognitive blocks.
When we lack faith in the process or in ourselves, our energy is blocked. In this place we are unable to turn our will over. There is no surrender here. Instead, we force our energy onto situations or people because we do not trust we will get what we need—we believe the only way in is to force our way in. Our energetic grip is tight and controlling and creates a demand such as, “give it to me,” or, “I will make you love me.” We call this a forcing current of energy.
What Creates Energetic Blocks?
One of the pioneers of body psychotherapy, Wilhelm Reich, surmised that we block our own energy to defend against unwanted feelings or impulses. He referred to these blocks as “the physical instrument of emotional repression.” As he saw it, the blocking of energy was an adaptive strategy to manage life’s frustrations.
Take a young child, for example. Every night when her father comes home, she runs to him and jumps into his arms. Each time she does this her father pushes her away either overtly or subtly. The child, feeling the humiliation of her father’s “rejection,” begins to contract and restrict her excitement and physical impulse to run towards him. She also begins to formulate a story to make sense of the experience. She may tell herself that her love is too much or that physical contact is bad. She may conclude that showing a man how much she wants him will lead to rejection or abandonment. Over time, the containment of her impulses and drawn conclusions about her experience will have the effect of pulling back her energy, of contracting.
When we meet this little girl in her adult life we may see how this energetic contraction has impacted her life. We may see her struggle with expressing her feelings. She may describe her relationships as physically distant. She may have tendencies towards perfectionism and seek the safety of admiration and adoration over the risky nature of love and intimacy. She may have a narrative that includes: “I’m too much,” “I’m not enough,” “I must contain myself,” or, “I will not show anyone my needs and desires.” In summary, she lives by a life task whose goal is to avoid rejection and humiliation, and the pain associated with it, at all costs.
This adaptive life task of avoidance directs all her energy towards ensuring its fulfillment. She will most likely rely on her will to control herself and situations around her. She will most likely live in her head where reason and intellect reside and where, with the help of her strong will, her emotions and impulses can be contained. The energy of rage and grief resulting from the original experience with her father will most likely be masked by the energy of withholding, aggression, or a numbing of her felt experience. She may report being misunderstood as cold and unfeeling. And yet this couldn’t be further from the truth of who she really is. For underneath the maneuvering and manipulation of her energy, underneath all of her distorted beliefs, is the truth that is her energetic life force. It is the energy of the child following the natural impulse to run and jump into the arms of life.
Restoring Energetic Integrity
The restoration of energetic integrity requires a bit of self exploration, the willingness to take the time and the risk. The task before us asks us to do the work to become more conscious. It asks us to take responsibility for the ways we use our energy to defend and stay separate. It asks us to get to know our belief systems and the images we hold as absolutes. It asks us to feel into our body and energy and notice the places we distort and the places we refuse to bring life to. The image of a man placing his hands on his throat saying, “I will never speak up again,” or a woman with a tight shoulder girdle unwilling to reach her arms forward and ask for help comes to mind.
As you begin to become more conscious of your energy, pieces of the puzzle will come together. You may begin to see the ways you use your energy to defend against certain experiences and emotions. You may begin to see how your energy has been used as part of an adaptive strategy, how it has served you and how it no longer does. You will hopefully begin to appreciate how using your energy in this way holds you back from the potential that comes with embracing your full life force.
I believe this process isn’t just for our own personal growth. If we can understand the relationship between our own energy and consciousness, than we may be able to understand the relationship between energy and consciousness in the systems we live in, such as in our families, our political system, money, war, and the way we treat our planet. What if, for example, we understood war as the energetic distortion of power and creativity? Or what if we viewed the compulsive striving for economic wealth as a cognitive distortion of safety and scarcity/abundance?
Energetic distortions can be found almost everywhere in our society and in ourselves, and are maintained through our lack of consciousness. If we can begin to understand the contortion of energy, and do the hard work to transform it back to its natural flow, we have a good chance of effecting real change in ourselves and in the world we live in.
Helpful Tips in Getting to Know Your Energy System:
Note: This is a process of becoming aware. You can’t do it all at once so embody a spirit of curiosity and be willing to go slow.
Thoughts are forms of energy. Become aware of your thinking. Start with your first thought of the day and go from there. Make a list. Notice your word choice and where your thinking feels fixed (this is how it is) or flexible (this is how it could be).
Throughout the course of your day, just stop. Close your eyes. Go inward and feel into where you are. Do you feel present? What is the nature of your breath? Are you holding it? How do you feel in your body? Restricted? Relaxed? Tired and collapsed? Awake and alive?
Move. Move your body. Different parts at a time. What happens when you move? Notice if any thoughts or feelings come up. Are there certain parts of your body that when energized by movement, stir something up in you? Do you feel you need to contain your energy or do you let yourself move?
Make sound. By yourself, or with others, let your voice out. Energize your “yes” and “no.” Notice if one is easier than the other. Are you even willing to make noise? Just notice without judgment.
Where are there forcing currents in your life? Where do you feel a relentless demand of yourself or another? Where are you forcing your will onto people or situations?
What happens to your energy in the presence of others? Take note of your breath and your body. Do you expand or contract?
Play with boundaries. Find a friend willing to explore energetic boundaries. Stand a certain distance from each other. As one of you steps towards the other, notice when you begin to feel their energy. See what happens to you as another’s energy enters your own energy field. Do you lose yourself at all? Do you feel less grounded? Do you feel you can use your voice and speak up and ask her or him to come closer or back away?
Make a list of different feelings. Free associate with each feeling. What is your relationship to that feeling? What are your beliefs or images about those feelings? Where do you tend to feel those feelings, if at all, in your body?
Where are you most comfortable meeting the world? Do you lead with reason (thinker), emotion (feeler), or will (doer)? If you lead with one, how do you feel about the others? What parts of your body do you meet the world with? Your head, heart, hands?
Seek another’s experience of your energy and observe the energy of others. How do you feel in their presence? Are you invited in or kept at bay? Do you feel they hold back, hold in, hold up, collapse, or scatter their energy? Tune in and feel into it. Don’t figure it out, feel it out.
New Yorkers, take note: Aimee is doing a workshop in NYC on Saturday, May 7th from 10am to 6pm, called Bridging the Political Divide: Awakening Our Political Consciousness. Email Aimee to claim a space.
Aimee Falchuk, MPH, M.Ed., CCEP is the co-founder of Core Boston where she has a private practice. Aimee is also an emergency services clinician.