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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Catholic Autogenics

To develop self-awareness and trust in God

I will lie down in peace, and sleep comes at once
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

—Psalm 4:9

 

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General Introduction / Introduction to Autogenics / About the Training Time / Suggestions for Practice / The Breathing Warm-up / Phase 1: Heaviness / Phase 2: Warmth / Phase 3: A Calm Heart / Phase 4: Breathing / Phase 5: Stomach / Phase 6: Cool Forehead / Completion / Summary / Changing Unwanted Behavior

 
ALTHOUGH the most simple way to develop a constant awareness of the presence of God is to pray the Jesus Prayer constantly, most Catholics need more specific and direct training in how to develop a deep prayerful trust in God.

Through autogenics training you can learn a profound sense of bodily awareness that facilitates mental peace. The process is purely physiological, and yet it has psychological benefits as well, such that, when practiced in a specifically Catholic manner, the process can help to increase your awareness of and trust in God.

I learned autogenics years ago; it helped to get me through several master’s degrees, my Ph.D. training, my psychologist licensing exam, my private pilot training (as well as aerobatics practice). When I converted to the Catholic faith, Catholic prayer replaced my autogenics practice, but I attribute the depth of my prayer now to my previous autogenics training. Hence anyone who is Catholic can learn autogenics as a way to develop the self-awareness and psychological peace of mind that is necessary as a prelude to put complete trust in God through contemplative prayer.

   
Introduction to Autogenics

The word autogenics is composed of auto- (from the Greek autos, self) and -genous (a suffix meaning produced by, and reflecting the word genesis, creation); the word was chosen by Johannes Schultz,[1,2] a German doctor, to describe his original discovery first published in 1932. Today, autogenics training [3] teaches you to self-produce a feeling of warmth and heaviness throughout your body, thereby experiencing a profound state of physical relaxation, bodily health, and mental peace.

Once you become proficient at it, you can use autogenics to overcome addictions (such as smoking), change unwanted behaviors (such as overeating or masturbation), resolve phobias (such as fear of flying), and mitigate symptoms of physical ailments (such as high blood pressure).[4] If you tend to be a nervous or anxious person, autogenics can help you find an inner place of calmness and emotional peace. If you are a highly sensitive person, with autogenics you can learn to cope with environmental stimulation by dismissing it from your attention rather than feel overwhelmed by it. In fact, you can use autogenics to help overcome just about any psychological or physiological problem; the results will vary according to the severity of the problem and according to your own discipline and confidence.

 
About the Training Time

This training sequence takes about three months of twice-daily 15 minute sessions.

Keep in mind that this is not a training that can be rushed. So, please remember that even if you “complete” any phase (or part of a phase) according to the specified repetitions, if you don’t actually feel the results of what you are saying, then take the time to repeat the phase (or the item of the phase). Maybe it will take you four months instead of three. So what? The idea is not to “finish” the training but to learn the material. If you compare the initial “extra” work to the ultimate benefits over a lifetime, the burden will seem light indeed.

  

Some people ask about audio recordings for this training. But recordings only miss the point. Autogenics is not passive hypnosis; it requires much conscious effort to learn how to communicate with your body so as to take personal responsibility for your life.

  

 
Suggestions for Practice

Here are some suggestions for practice:


  

Practice in a quiet place, alone. If you prefer, you may use soft environmental sounds or classical instrumental music of a largo (very slow) tempo. Avoid all other music because your physiological responses will be unconsciously influenced by the melody and rhythm of the music.

Keep your eyes closed while practicing. Although you will need to open your eyes to read the instructions, just close your eyes again while you practice.


  

Although it can help the initial training to lie flat on your back on a carpeted floor, so as to enhance your ability to feel the heaviness of your arms and legs, you may sit in a reclining chair if you prefer.

  

After you have mastered the complete training sequence, you can use your autogenic routine under any other circumstances you like, whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying down.

  


  

Avoid eating, smoking, or drinking before practice. It’s best to practice before meals rather than after, because the digestive processes interferes with the relaxation process. Never practice after using any intoxicants.

If you fall asleep during a session, repeat that routine in your next session.


  

You may practice in bed at night, but plan on falling asleep before you complete your cycle. Therefore, consider a practice session at night, in bed, to be in addition to your basic practice.


  

When you finish a session, relax with your eyes closed for a few seconds, and then get up slowly. (Orthostatic hypotension—a sudden drop in blood pressure due to standing up quickly—can cause you to faint.) Before you get up, you might want to count backwards from 5 to 1, timed to slow, deep breathing, and then say, “Eyes open. Supremely calm. Fully alert.”


  

During the training, you will be focusing intently on your inner experiences, to the exclusion of external events. Therefore, it is possible that you might encounter some kinds of hypnagogic (i.e., dream-like) depersonalization experiences in which bodily perceptions seem distorted. In general, just ignore these things and they will pass. If you find them exceptionally troubling, then you might want to consult with a psychologist to try to understand the particular meaning of these symptoms for you.

 
The Breathing Warm-up

Use this Warm-up before every autogenics practice session, even after you have become proficient at the more advanced exercises.

Begin a process of deep breathing, exhaling to a mental count that is twice as long as you inhale. With each breath cycle, increase the duration. For instance, inhale counting, “One,” exhale counting, “One, Two.” Inhale counting, “One, Two;” exhale counting, “One, Two, Three, Four.” Go up the scale to six counts in, twelve counts out. Then reverse: six counts in, twelve counts out; five counts in, ten counts out; and so on, down to one count in, two counts out.

 
Phase 1: Heaviness

After the Breathing Warm-up, begin this Phase 1 practice with your right arm. (But if you are left-handed, begin, in this as in all other exercises, on your left side.) Breathe deeply, one count in, one count out, and silently repeat the following formula—the first half of each phrase (the part before the “/”) as you inhale, the second half (the part after the “/”) as you exhale:

My right arm is getting / limp and heavy

8 times

My right arm is getting / heavier and heavier

8 times

My right arm / is completely heavy

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

Practice this routine two or three times a day, for three days. After that, continue with the same basic routine structure but with the following substitutions:

• My left arm is getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

Both my arms are getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

• My right leg is getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

• My left leg is getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

Both my legs are getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy, etc. — 3 days

 

The Phase 1 routine takes 21 days of practice.

 

At the end of the 21 days, your last cycle of this routine will temporarily be known as your final Heaviness Formula:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy

8 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and heavier

8 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 
Phase 2: Warmth

Begin with the Warm-up breathing exercise. Do the final Heaviness Formula with all the repetitions. (Heaviness—and the muscular relaxation it represents—is critical to the rest of the training. So you need to master it well right from the start.) At the end of the Heaviness Formula add this exercise for warmth:

My right arm is getting / limp and warm

8 times

My right arm is getting / warmer and warmer

8 times

My right arm / is completely warm

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

Practice this routine (the Heaviness Formula combined with the warmth exercises) two or three times a day, for three days. After that, continue with the same routine structure but with the following substitutions (remembering to do the Warm-up breathing exercise and the Heaviness Formula at the beginning of each practice session):

• My left arm is getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

Both my arms are getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

• My right leg is getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

• My left leg is getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

Both my legs are getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

My arms and legs are getting / limp and warm, etc. — 3 days

 

The Phase 2 routine takes 21 days of practice.

 

At the end of the 21 days, you may use a final Heavy/Warm Formula to sum up the first two Phase 2 exercises:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy and warm

8 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and warmer

8 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy and warm

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 

Practice this Heavy/Warm Formula (beginning with the Warm-up breathing exercise) two or three times a day for one week.

 
Phase 3: A Calm Heart

Do the Warm-up. Then begin the following routine which incorporates your previous work (the Heavy/Warm Formula) and adds the calm heart exercise:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy and warm

3 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and warmer

3 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy and warm

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My chest feels / warm and pleasant *

8 times

My heartbeat is / calm and steady

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

8 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

* This phrase helps to achieve a calm heart response, but it will be dropped after this exercise.

 

Practice this routine two or three times a day for two weeks.

 
Phase 4: Breathing

Do the Warm-up. Then begin the following routine which incorporates all your previous work and adds command of your breathing as well:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy and warm

3 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and warmer

3 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy and warm

3 times

My heartbeat is / calm and steady

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My breathing is / supremely calm

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 

Practice this routine two or three times a day for two weeks.

By this time you will probably have begun to notice some pleasant and surprising effects from your practice. But continue on to further refine your sense of bodily command.

 
Phase 5: Stomach

Do the Warm-up. Then begin the following routine which helps you add a radiant feeling of central warmth and peace to your body:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy and warm

3 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and warmer

3 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy and warm

3 times

My heartbeat is / calm and steady

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My breathing is / supremely calm

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My stomach is getting / soft and warm

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 

Practice this routine two or three times a day for two weeks.

 
Phase 6: Cool Forehead

Do the Warm-up. Then begin the following routine which helps you add a calm, stabilizing sensation of coolness to your forehead:

My arms and legs are getting / limp and heavy and warm

3 times

My arms and legs are getting / heavier and warmer

3 times

My arms and legs are / completely heavy and warm

3 times

My heartbeat is / calm and steady

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My breathing is / supremely calm

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My stomach is getting / soft and warm

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

My forehead is / cool

8 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Glory to God / in the highest

3 times

Jesus / I trust in You

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 

Practice this routine two or three times a day for two weeks.

 
Completion

By this time you should have mastered all the six phases of the basic training. Your final condensed autogenics formula will now be as follows:

Warm-up (as in previous sessions)

My arms and legs are / heavy and warm

3 times

My heartbeat and breathing are / calm and steady

3 times

My stomach is / soft and warm

3 times

My forehead is / cool

3 times

I feel / supremely calm

3 times

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God / have mercy on me

3 times

 
Summary

To maintain your proficiency, practice the final condensed autogenics formula at least once a day. If you maintain your practice faithfully, you will find that by using only one or two cycles of the final routine you can achieve a pleasant and calm mental state under almost any circumstances.

But make no mistake: It takes long, hard practice to master the exercises, and they take you only as far as your own intelligence and desire will allow.

May you go far.

And, if you do go far, please send a donation to this website to express your gratitude for what you have received here.

 
Changing Unwanted Behavior

In general, changing unwanted behavior involves three basic steps:

1.

To know how ugly the behavior is and how much damage it causes to yourself and to others.

2.

To know the damage caused by the behavior.

3.

To know the benefits of new and different behavior.

It isn’t sufficient, however, that you “know” these things intellectually; it is important to know them by feeling them in the depths of your heart.

Autogenics can be helpful in changing unwanted behavior because you can use your autogenics skills to work through each of the three basic steps of change by actually feeling the elements of each step with the help of autogenic visualization and suggestion.

Be advised though that some long-standing personality problems have roots deep in unconscious conflicts, so you may need professional psychotherapy rather than autogenics. Still, even in these cases, the autogenics approach can be worth a try.

So here’s how to do it.

First, enter a state of relaxation by practicing your condensed autogenics formula. This is important because the next two steps (if done properly) will arouse considerable anxiety, and you need to be able to reduce that anxiety again with your autogenics skills.

Second, create a negative mood state in which you visualize the harmful and disgusting effects of the unwanted behavior. For example, if you bite your fingernails, see the ugly, raw nails; notice how uncomfortable and embarrassed you feel; see your fingers getting scarred and deformed. If you smoke cigarettes, smell the stench of the smoke on your clothes and body; see the stains on your fingers and teeth; notice your shortness of breath and coughing; visualize the poisons coating your lungs and other internal organs. After the intense negativity of this mood has been felt fully, reduce the anxiety with relaxation.

Third, contemplate how miserable and wretched your life will be if you do not change your behavior. For example, if you bite your fingernails, see yourself socially inhibited, fearful, and lonely, hiding your hands from view everywhere you go. If you smoke cigarettes, see yourself wheezing for breath and dying of cancer. Imagine your children suffering from their own addictions because of your negative influence. After the intense negativity of this mood has been felt fully, reduce the anxiety with relaxation.

Fourth, create a positive mood state in which you visualize the beneficial effects of new, healthy behavior, all the while your anxiety from the previous step begins to dissolve. For example, if you now bite your fingernails, see yourself as you could be with beautiful nails, moving your hands gracefully and without embarrassment. If you now smoke cigarettes, see yourself as you could be, calm and confident, relaxed and able to concentrate, free of frustration and tension, a positive influence on others.

Fifth, reinforce your positive mood with positive statements of validation. Repeat them several times. Create your own, or select from the following examples.

  

Be careful, though, not to tell yourself lies. If you try to claim that you have the most brilliant mind imaginable, that you will trample all competition underfoot, or that you will become the greatest such-and-such the world has ever seen, then such grandiosity will lead you right into self-destruction and everlasting doom. But if you complete the autogenics training successfully, all the statements below are honest and humble reflections of the discipline, patience, and respect for your body that the training requires.

When I call upon Christ’s mercy, I am restrained from every evil impulse.

When I maintain constant emotional awareness and keep guard over my thoughts, words, and actions, I will be serving God, myself, and my neighbor.

My confidence is strong and steady. With trust in God I can deal with everything as it happens. I have no need for [cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, drugs, etc]. Substances no longer control me.

My [fingernails, hair, thumb] are[/is] an important part of my body, so I will care for them[/it] with kindness. I have no need to harm them[/it] or [bite, twist, pull, suck, etc.] them[/it].

I have no need to rush or be concerned about my speech. I can talk slowly and clearly. Just as I can take one calm breath after another, I can speak calmly, one articulate syllable at a time. I have no need to stutter.

I can work calmly and confidently. My mind will not wander. My self-confidence will not be bothered by small mistakes. I can meet all obstacles with confidence.

I approach all tasks with a calm focus on the matter at hand. I do not lose my concentration by distractions. I act with discipline and resolve when I trust in God.

I listen to and respect my own body. I can present myself to others with modesty, respect, and dignity. I will listen to and respect others.

With trust in God, I can remain calm, relaxed, and composed in any situation.

With divine grace I can dissolve tension and anxiety before it builds.

All cravings will pass within 10 minutes. I have the patience to trust in God to remain calm and to wait.

My calmness and patience can result in compassion and understanding. I can get along well with anyone. I will return kindness to any insult.

My experience of peace and calm is not threatened by anything outside myself. I have no need for rivals; I renounce jealousy. I wish good to all persons.

There are no “good” days or “bad” days. I can do what needs to be done at all times. I uphold my promises and value my word. In God, an unlimited source of inspiration is available to help me.

Sixth, conclude with a simple closure to the relaxation session. Take a few deep breaths and affirm that “I feel supremely calm. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. Schultz, J. H., & Luthe, W. (1959). Autogenic training: A psychophysiologic approach in psychotherapy. New York: Grune and Stratton.
 
2. Schultz, J. H., & Luthe, W. (1969). Autogenic therapy: Vol. 1. Autogenic methods. New York: Grune and Stratton.
 
3. The autogenics exercises presented here have been adapted from Ostrander, S., & Schroeder, L. (1979). Superlearning. New York: Dell Publishing Co.
 
4. Relaxation practice can help to alleviate a person’s anxiety about the developing symptoms of any disease, and that’s good because if a person stays calm, then anxiety won’t fan the flames of the symptoms. This doesn’t mean that relaxation practice can “cure” a disease, but relaxation can delay the progress of a disease and minimize the symptoms. Nevertheless, it’s always possible that a person of strong belief can use autogenic suggestions to so minimize the negative effects of the symptoms that the person does not become incapacitated to such an extent as other persons without such relaxation practice. Therefore, it’s well worth the try—and not just for the specific symptoms of a disease, but especially because Autogenics practice could promote a generally enhanced quality of life. All that matters is that you believe in the depths of your heart that there will be benefits.

 

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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.