Elsa Gindler Healing from Tuberculosis and Beginning her Work
This work originated with Elsa Gindler, Charlotte Selver’s teacher, at the turn of the century in Germany. It arose from a crisis in her life, in which she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She did not have money to go away for a cure. She simplified her life and gave acute attention to what was happening in her: learning to connect with breathing and discovering how to allow healing and replenishment through her own inner responsiveness. Much to her doctor’s amazement, she became cured of the tuberculosis. Through this process, she made discoveries that later became the foundation of her work.
Mary Alice Roche, a longtime student and colleague of Charlotte Selver wrote an article that describes the history of this work. In it she quotes, Gindler’s friend and colleague, Elfriede Hengstenberg (1985),
“Unable to afford going to a sanitarium in the mountains, [Gindler] stayed at home and became interested in sensing her inner response to every activity at every moment during the day. While just coming out of the sleeping state she gave herself up to the first stirrings of the awakening organism, to its elemental desire for extending – and discovered how spontaneously breathing responded to the slightest movement. This process belonged to her need for regeneration, but also to her need to protect herself against noise from the outside and inside. She found that in this practice she came into a state where she was no longer disturbed by her own thoughts and worries.
And she came to experience … that calm in the physical field (Gelassenheit) is equivalent to trust in the psychic field… It is a state of being in balance. The core of the word is lassen, “allowing” in contrast to “doing” or “controlling” or “resisting.” Lassen is also related to sensing the pull of gravity. There is an interdependence between sensing one’s weight (sensing the attraction of the earth on one’s substance) and trusting, self-confidence, finding a standing point – and calmness. This means “trusting, a deep confidence in the world, in life, in one’s organism. This was her discovery, and it became basic to all other research.”
(Hengstenberg, 1985, pp.11-12)
Gindler wrote, “The aim of my work is not learning certain movements, but rather the achievement of concentration. Only by means of concentration can we attain the full functioning of the physical apparatus in relation to mental and spiritual life…” (Gindler, 1978, pp.36-37).
Living with Fear – Surviving the Nazis
The impact of this work was far reaching. Gindler continued to teach in Berlin throughout World War II. She hid Jewish people in her studio and worked in subtle and powerful ways to help her students endure and meet what they were facing. One of her students, who was Jewish, Johanna Kulbach, describes her experience:
“The effect of the work was that I lost the fear. I was very much afraid. They were terrible times; we had bomb attacks and besides that we never knew when we were going to be put in a concentration camp – you never knew. I learned instead of staying in fear, to live in spite of it. That’s what I learned. So I got stronger and healthier, instead of really ill, as so many people did. I remember one time we experimented in making a fist and feeling out what it did to us. It was not only the fist that was tight; my stomach was in knots, my breathing was tight – it was total tightness. If you hold this for a while and are aware how tight you are, you yearn for letting go. Gindler kept us at this until I had a good sensation of what it is to be tight. Then slowly, slowly, the fist came open, and I tried to feel what changes happened. For the first time I experienced what it means to change after being afraid. . . That is what the work is: that you learn to sense where you hold, where living processes are not permitted to function. And when you are aware of the holding – where you are not allowing yourself to function – then it’s possible to let it go. But you have to sense it…”
(Kulbach, 1978, p.15).