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The History of Pulsing

Pulsing was developed in the late 1970s by Curtis Turchin, a bodywork practitioner from the USA, trained in Postural Integration and the Trager Approach.

  1. Influences
    1. Trager approach
    2. Postural Integration
    3. Reichian therapy
    4. Alexander Technique
  2. The development of Pulsing
  3. Pulsing in the UK
  4. Pulsing today
  5. References

1. Influences

Pulsing was devised as a form of holistic, neo-Reichian therapy to encourage both emotional release and the dissolution of body armour. The rhythmic, rocking hands-on technique of Pulsing clearly derives from the Trager Approach, while the use of bioenergetic breathwork, deep massage and Gestalt dialogue indicate roots in Postural Integration. Turchin also placed much emphasis on freeing the neck so it is able to to function as a "flexible pathway between body and mind"[2], which is the key principle of the Alexander Technique.

1.1 The Trager Approach

As a young man in the early 1920s Milton Trager discovered that he had a gift for bodywork and healing, and spent his whole life developing what become known as the Trager Approach, a movement re-education system that uses gentle, rhythmic and natural movements to promote the release of deep-seated physical patterns. Given that Dr Trager lived for some time in Honolulu, it is possible that his approach was informed by Hawaiian bodywork and in particular by lomilomi massage.

1.2 Postural Integration

Postural Integration is a process-oriented (psychotherapeutic) bodymind therapy developed in the 1960s by Jack Painter. PI developed the deep massage therapy of Rolfing (officially called 'Structural Integration') within the context of Wilhelm Reich's theories of character analysis and body psychotherapy, particularly as developed by Alexander Lowen in Bioenergetics. It also incorporates elements of acupressure and Gestalt therapy.

1.3 Reichian therapy

In the 1920s and 30s Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst and former pupil of Sigmund Freud, developed his theory that psychological problems are not just 'in the mind' but are also embodied as 'character and body armour' - chronic, unconsciously-held muscular tensions that block awareness of feelings. We all know from everyday experience that body and mind are connected: when we are stressed we tend to hunch our shoulders, and maybe develop a headache; if we are angry and cannot speak out we clamp our jaw shut; when frightened we shrink into ourselves. Reich recognised that if the pressures we experience in childhood are sufficiently strong or persistent, these kinds of physical responses get locked into our muscles as chronic patterns of posture. Reichian therapy seeks to release body armour through physical, verbal and emotional expression.

1.4 Alexander Technique

FM Alexander was a 19th century Australian actor who developed chronic laryngitis. When doctors were unable to help him, he started seeking answers, and by observation came to realise that the problem was being caused by excessive tension in his neck and body. Slowly he learned to re-educate his body and cured his laryngitis. The Alexander Technique as taught today does not claim to cure illness, but seeks to reduce muscular tension and improve balance and co-ordination by re-educating bodily posture and movement, with particular emphasis on the head and neck as the 'primary control' centre.

2. The development of Pulsing

Turchin loved the Trager approach for "the unique rhythm of rocking which is close to the heart rate of the infant within the womb (120-160 beats/minute)" and its respectful and supportive approach to the client. He recognised that it had never been intended as a Reichian therapy, yet he also felt that it was the style of work most suited to assist in releasing character and body armour.[1]

He developed a whole body sequence of joint manipulation to encourage skeletal stretching, which challenges the muscles to lengthen and lose their rigidity as they conform to the changed skeletal pattern. Meanwhile, the rhythmic, rocking motions encourage the body to "re-experience its movement potential and position in space." [2]

He summarised the form of Pulsing as one that "combines Trager techniques, Reichian-style massage, bioenergetic breath release work and verbal psychotherapeutic techniques to achieve a holistic approach to body therapy."[2]

3. Pulsing in the UK

Curtis Turchin visited the UK in 1978 and gave a demonstration of Pulsing at the Open Centre, one of the longest-established centres for bodymind development in the UK. Deeply impressed, some of the participants persuaded him to return the following year and offer formal training.

Since the 1980s training in the UK has been carried out by two of the participants of the original UK training: Silke Ziehl and Guy Gladstone, both members of the Open Centre in London. As far as the author is aware, Turchin did not take Pulsing elsewhere; at least, it appears that Ziehl and Gladstone at the Open Centre became the sole centre for Pulsing worldwide.

4. Pulsing today

Ziehl and Gladstone continued to teach the original form of Pulsing in the UK, and a number of their trainees have been professional Pulsing practitioners for many years. One such trainee, Tovi Browning, has developed her flavour of Pulsing as "Holistic Pulsing", which has a presence in Australia, New Zealand and a few places in Europe. In 2010 Ziehl trained a few people as Master practitioners and teachers to ensure the continuation of Pulsing. One of them - Richard Lawton - assisted Guy Gladstone in his Pulsing trainings for many years, and in 2016 took over his Pulsing training program, which continues to run in London.

5. References

[1] Turchin, C (1979) 'Less Force is More Release', Energy and Character Vol 10 No. 1
[2] Turchin, C (1979) 'Pulsing', Energy and Character Vol 10 No. 2