Yes and no. To both questions.
Here’s the deal.
Bodily exercises are indeed an important aspect of bioenergetic therapy and development work. These exercises include things like pushing a mattress and yelling; breathing deeply into an area of emotional pain and letting yourself really cry; or hitting a foam cube with a tennis racquet to engage your aggression and possible anger or other emotions.
The purpose of expressive bioenergetics exercise is not primarily for release of emotions (though this is sometimes an important byproduct when past hurts come up).
Many self-help and human potential classes involve this kind of cathartic expression. But the purpose and real value of this kind of expression can be lost. There are some problematic issues with this kind of technique used out of context in self-help work or seminars. People, for example, don’t get to process the meaning of the experience, or to follow-up on confusion or emotions that can emerge if significant memories gets triggered.
I’ll repeat, the purpose of expressive bioenergetics exercise is not primarily for release of emotions.
The true purpose of these kind of expressive bioenergetic exercises is to rediscover freedom of movement, energy, and feeling – and to experience that freedom and flow in the parts of the body that are involved in self-expression.
In bioenergetic work, we strongly value self-awareness, self-expression, and self-regulation. Self-regulation is a natural process of your body-mind finding balance; it does not mean “self-control.” Self-expression is the expression of the true authentic self. This means the expression of joy, pleasure, happiness, anger, fear, hurt, sadness – and more – in healthy and life-affirming ways.
Yes, it does sometimes happen that expressive or other exercises in bioenergetic work pull up emotions associated with past hurts, losses, and traumas. But again, this is not their purpose. When past experiences or emotions have been held back (repressed), some “letting off steam” can happen. If this is the only way such exercises are used (whether in therapy or in seminars that see such expressions as evidence of progress), then this can indeed be countertherapeutic.
The real purpose of such exercises is to support your current freedom to be and express your whole self, your authentic self. Such self-expression – with your body and mind expressing together – includes being able to express wants/needs, to connect with others, to have and communicate anger, sadness, longing, fear, to assert in service of yourself, to protect one’s self, and so on. It means being able to have and express both “tough” and “tender” feelings – as well as desires.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, we use both mental (e.g., distract) and physical (e.g., tense, hold breath) mechanisms to keep ourselves from having emotions and experiences we label “bad.” True self-expression involves free, balanced and integrated expression involving both the mind (ego) and body. Exercises help liberate the body and mind both to allow for such spontaneous expression.
In short, the ultimate goal of expressive exercises is not release – but rather prompt, healthy, and spontaneous self-expression.