A couple of years ago, I was attending a conference in Berkeley and a friend pointed out a man in the crowd. "I wonder who he is," - she said. "Boy, does he look healthy." It turned out to be Ken Dychtwald.
Ken first began investigating the relationship between the body and the mind while constructing biofeedback instruments as an undergraduate electrical engineering student. Not long after that, he visited the Esalen institute in Big Sur as a participant in a body work seminar. As part of the course, the group leader made a careful examination of his body and then, without asking him a single question, went on to tell him about his relationship with his mother and father, described his attitudes toward life, love, relationships, movement, change, and performance, and outlined his major personality strengths and weaknesses.
"Everything he said, every observation he made, was entirely correct," Ken remembers. "I was amazed. How did he do it? How could he possibly know so much about my feelings and experiences by looking at my body? I'd revealed none of my personal life to him.
''There was only one possible explanation—somehow my body was presenting him with information that he was noticing and reading back to me. This simple, yet profound, experience convinced me that I was going to have to put some serious effort into studying the relationship between the body and the mind."
Ken spent the next ten years in an intense study of body work. These explorations have included the study of yoga, t’ai chi, bioenergetics, acupuncture, physical fitness, and massage. He also obtained a Ph.D. in psychology and, combining all these interests, he wrote the book Bodymind. Many of the concepts explored in our conversation are expanded further in his book.
Ken has served as the co-director of SAGE, a program aimed at helping older people find ways to lead healthful, fulfilled lives. He is now president of the National Association for Humanistic Gerontology and an advisory editor of Medical Self-Care Magazine.
TF: How did you happen to leave college to study at the Esalen Institute?
KD: By the end of my junior year, that was 1970, I'd read every book on awareness, growth, and body work I could find. The authors of many of the best books turned out to be at Esalen. It was clear to me that something new was going on out there that wasn't happening on my campus. I decided to go right to the source. It was probably the smartest thing I ever did. I spent six months at Esalen, taking dozens of workshops—yoga workshops, encounter workshops, massage workshops, sensitivity workshops, t'ai chi workshops.
You were also saying that Maslow's book, Toward a Psychology of Being, was a very, important one for you around that time.
Yes. It's a great book. It provided the whole context within which I was starting to think. It talks about life as being a continuum, with sickness and problems on one end and creativity and vitality, aliveness and brilliance on the other. Maslow suggests that we should experience ourselves as including that whole continuum. We are both the problems and the brilliance. He talks about a kind of growth in which we come to accept both. He calls this kind of acceptance "actualization." I would recommend that book to anyone interested in body work or personal growth.
Another important book was Will Schutz's Joy. It spoke of honesty and sensitivity and authenticity. It was a very revolutionary book when it came out in 1967. Since then these ideas have been widely accepted in education and religion and psychology.