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The Birth of Autogenic Training

Autor/autores: Heinrich Wallnöffer
Fecha Publicación: 31/03/2017
Área temática: Psicología general , Tratamientos .
Tipo de trabajo:  Artículo original
Autogenics Research

RESUMEN

The last living direct disciple of Johannes Heinrich Schultz gives a first-hand account of the birth and early development of Autogenic Training, recalling interesting anecdotes from his teacher. The initial aim to introduce the trainee to the experience of calmness has been misinterpreted in some quarters as if the method were just “tranquillity or relaxation exercises”.  The experience of tranquillity/peace when practising autogenic training is generated in the first place via relaxation of the muscles (and the signals of the muscles to the brainstem) and this would easily lead to the perception of the inner workings of the mind, in the words of Schultz, an “experiential evidence of redemptive character”.

Palabras clave: Autogenic Training. Psychotherapy. Relaxation. Suggestion. Psychoanalysis. Mindfulness


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International Journal of Autogenics Research
Vol. 1 - Núm. 1 - 2017

THE BIRTH OF AUTOGENIC TRAINING

1

Heinrich Walnoffer, MD
ABSTRACT
The last living direct disciple of Johannes Heinrich Schultz
gives

a

first-hand

account

of

the

birth

and

early

development of Autogenic Training, recalling interesting
anecdotes from his teacher. The initial aim to introduce the
trainee

to

the

experience

of

calmness

has

been

misinterpreted in some quarters as if the method were just
"tranquillity or relaxation exercises".

The experience of

tranquillity/peace when practising autogenic training is generated in the first place via relaxation
of the muscles (and the signals of the muscles to the brainstem) and this would easily lead to
the perception of the inner workings of the mind, in the words of Schultz, an "experiential
evidence of redemptive character".
Autogenic Training, Psychotherapy, Relaxation, Suggestion, Psychoanalysis, Mindfulness.

It gives me the greatest of pleasure to write an introduction for the publication of the newly
founded journal of the International Committee for Autogenic Therapy and the International
Society of Autogenic Training and Psychotherapy. In my capacity as a lecturer, medic and
author, and being the last living student of I.H.Schultz (HIS) I have put a great deal of effort
into promoting the popularity of the original autogenic training as taught by IHS.
IHS had requested: 'keep the teaching pure'. I have adhered to this since I am convinced that
IHS was fundamentally correct in many things. 'Keeping the teaching pure' certainly is sensible
if one wants to achieve what autogenic training in its original form can achieve.
Like his teacher, the famous physiologist Max Verworn (1863 ­ 1921), I.H. Schultz was a
passionate physiologist. As early as 1926, Schultz was already referring to the discoveries of
the two physiologists Allers and Scheminsky in his textbook. They had found out that skeletal
muscle releases action potentials even when only imagining movements and related activities.
In the same year, 1926, after many years of study, he introduced his 'autogenic organ exercises'
to the scientific community. In the very first sentence of this book, Schultz quotes from the
works of Oscar Vogt. `Thirty years ago Vogt emphasized that subjects trained in this way will
be able to recover in prophylactic rest periods and that they will be able to control their

1

Thanks are due to Dr. Edith Rom, for her careful translation of the original German text to English.

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symptoms and that they will be able to achieve clarifications from within of the psychogenesis
of their reactions (auto-analysis).'
This shows that Schultz was a psychotherapist who was thinking in terms of physiology and
psychoanalysis. These days the significance of this was not always appreciated.
His aim was to introduce the candidate to the experience of calmness and this can lead to the
misinterpretation of the exercises as being 'tranquillity or relaxation exercises'. The experience
of tranquillity/peace when practising autogenic training is generated in the first place via
relaxation of the muscles (and the signals of the muscles to the brainstem)
In the words of Schultz: If the instruction ' I am at peace' is understood well, the student should
appreciate that this instruction is not an exercise - it is just an experience. The first actual
exercise given to the student is the formula 'the right arm is heavy'.
The student needs to know that they must refrain from all external physical movements and that
they must attempt to 'only think' and 'to work only with mental concentration'. Nothing needs
to be 'done with the arm'. Only an 'abstract thought-work' should 'occur in the head'. The
formula 'I am calm' will only later develop into a target ideation to be aimed at.
At this point a second important aspect comes into play- the silence of the doctor (or nowadays
of the therapist). Schultz emphasized over and over again that autogenic training is practised
in absolute silence. 'The patient practises and the doctor is silent'. Reciting (the formula) would
result 'de facto' in heterohypnosis.
I.H. Schultz meticulously distinguished the two methods of concentration, the active, our
everyday used concentration and the passive, the autogenic concentration. This is one of the
basic pillars of autogenic thinking.

This was also confirmed in 1964, by three Japanese

researchers K.Harano, K Okawa and G Naruse. They could experimentally distinguish the two
forms of concentration well. With the modern technology and methods this is much easier now.
Please, allow me a few comments. This is not about one method being 'better' and the other
'worse' - for example: reciting the formulas or remaining silent. It is about knowing when to
apply one and when to apply the other.
Of course, there may be cases when one must, at least in the beginning, recite clearly and
distinctly, so that the trainee may be able to concentrate at all.
I will try to illustrate this with a personal story. I had witnessed that a very active and lively
colleague, Dr Gisela Eberlein, someone with whom I later struck up a good friendship, recited
the formulae with emphasis and employing all her personality. I asked Dr Schultz about this
approach and his concise answer was:

'let her speak if she needs to speak, my colleague'

The next point I would like to discuss is a psychoanalytical consideration. In many texts (in
particular in the English literature) one finds the formula 'my arm is heavy'. I.H.Schultz felt that
it is important when practising autogenics to develop a certain distance to one's self, a process

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of 'de-selfing'. The repetitive use of the term 'my' may become an obstacle to this desirable state
of 'de-selfing'.

How can one achieve the evenly suspended attention (gleichschwebende

Aufmerksamkeit) towards oneself later in the analytically advanced level, if all along we keep
talking of 'my arms', 'my heart' etc.
GENERALISATION
One last point: following I.H. Schultz the customary formula in the later stages of the process is
simply 'both arms are heavy', and nothing else. Under certain circumstances there may be a
benefit from using the term 'overall heaviness'. This may help the trainee to experience the
heaviness. To recommend the use of 'both legs are heavy' or a similar formula may prevent the
trainee from experiencing the generalisation.
How otherwise shall the trainee without outside intervention experience the sensation of
heaviness spreading, completely spontaneously and without 'doing', all over the body. One
should not overlook how strongly this kind of experience will shape the trainee.
The Autogenic Switch as the aim of AT and The concentrative (truly suggestive)
experience of The Switch
The trainee should experience the autogenic switch in a state of passive concentration. In simple
terms, this is the switch from sympathetic tone to vagal tone. In its course this is a multifaceted
process but as I.H.Schultz emphasised, in its indivisible unity it is an indivisible process.
There are 12 steps to the process.[1]
The subject must
(1)

agree and consent

(2)

focus oneself, excluding the outside world, and observe oneself critically

(3)

close the eyes and turn the concentration inwards

(4)

become aware of the body and dedicate themselves to

(5)

peace and

(6)

relaxation (5 and 6 turn into a stage of indifference),

(7)

This results in a reduction of alertness, which could be described as "de-wakefulness". In

this state the subject is less susceptible to external stimuli. Critical and spontaneous faculties
are reduced and are replaced with an 'inner focus'
(8)

Everything slows down (including physical aspects such as pulse, breathing etc) and one

arrives into the important state of 'distance to the self'
(9)

'De-selfing' which results in a greater susceptibility and suggestibility. Meanings

alter/change and may disintegrate, coherence decays, forms change and break down (the head
suddenly is gigantic or tiny, the borders of the self-get shifted or become loose.

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(10) Concerning the affects: the mood turns usually into the autochthonic relaxation ­ a
euphoria state. The relaxed person (switched person) feels himself more whole and more free.
(11)

Practitioners can justifiably speak of this process as being like a switch in state or of a

"dispersion or breaking of the circle". With respect to physiology and psychology, we now have
arrived at the concept of the 'organismic principle', which is valid for the autogenic training on
all levels.
One could say that this switch is concerned with a 'moving closer' towards the unconscious, both
in body and soul. One could certainly compare the switch to the transition from the state of
wakefulness to the state of sleep, but it is, of course, not the same. It should however be kept
in mind that the practising person is not asleep.
(12) When all of this has occurred, the individual enters what is offered up by the
unconscious. Schultz describes this state as "experiential evidence of redemptive character".
I believe that through the extensive work with various meditative techniques we have begun to
understand this human field a little bit better.
Clear borders and delineation
At this point, however, a very clear boundary should be drawn: autogenic psychotherapy should
not move away from its fundamental bases in physiological, psychological and psychoanalytical
ideas into a more or less religious or mystical field. I.H. Schultz always had firm ideas regarding
these limits and his friend, the medical doctor, priest and teacher Klaus Thomas, shared those
ideas. Both collaborated intensively in the Berlin working group 'doctor and pastor' for many
years.
People who have 'meditated' with some degree of success in any of the available methods will
understand immediately when we speak of experiential evidence. It is no accident then, that
I.H. Schultz wrote a (controversial) article about yoga. There are some areas of commonality
with other meditative practices such as Zen Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is mentioned in the
American AT literature.
Lastly, (it does not always have to follow this order), the majority of those practising AT will
enter into a world that we normally call the "world of images". Humans are visual beings (we
believe that 80% of sensory processing is visual!).

I had, however, a colleague, Karl

Wongschowsky, who experienced the rich and analytically clarifying events exclusively in musical
form.
New possibilities in the context of "neurobiology of psychotherapy"
In the field of AT, we can expect many exciting developments to take place worldwide in the
future.

This is evident from looking at the textbook by Günter Schipek (and the linked

congresses
heading

etc),

neurobiology

of

psychotherapy,

Schattauer

2011.

Under

the

'synergetics of autogenic pyschophysical relaxation' the authors Volker Berlitz, Birol

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Cotuk, Andreas Besting, Gero Müller, Manfred Lambertz, Nicolai Maass und Uwe Heinricks
demonstrate how heart rate variability differs between 'autogenic training experts' and those
who do not practice AT. This goes beyond what is done within the routine therapy with ATP and
points towards the possibility of use of HRV in the daily life of the AT trainer.
Looking back at history: the patellar tendon reflex
Schultz, a passionate physiologist, reported on the patellar tendon reflex very early on in his
publications. He used it to describe the ratio of vagal to sympathetic tone (the level of alertness)
and to measure relatively exactly the capacity for relaxation in various situations. This also
revealed that terminating the training does not on its own achieve the switch back to the
sympathetic tone (Diagram 13. 'Aus' in minute 12 with taking back the arms) back to the level
of the pre-training alertness. One also needs to take back the legs (Diagram 13 AKT at minute
18) in order to return to the previous level of alertness or even more.

Present state of research
As mentioned before, the possibilities of the work described in the textbook by Schiepek far
exceed those of routine practice. With modern equipment we have the ability to measure the
heart rate variability of our trainees, and with that their vagus-sympathetic ratio, with adequate
precision. This measurement allows us to monitor the progress and essential capacity for
relaxation of the subjects.

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In principle, the training is concerned with the balance between the sympathetic and the
parasympathetic system and the adaptability of this ratio. Talking of the vagus, there is also the
distinction between a faster and a slower variation of distribution.
The vagus is attracting more and more attention in the modern literature regarding our
understanding of the prevention and treatment of illnesses. "You may need the vagus nerve to
understand pathophysiology and to treat diseases." [2]
I am using the equipment from BioSign and a laptop. This allows me to carry out/conduct
relatively simple but structured studies and long-term measurements.
One gets essentially two results: the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) state diagram and the
rank diagram.
The ANS status diagram shows the actual state of vagus and sympathetic system. The Rank
diagram gives information about the most important parameters of the measurements of HRV.
I believe it would be very useful for all those interested in autogenic training to also extend their

interest to HRV. I will now show you some diagrams, which will illustrate these concepts.

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In the state diagram above, the position marked by the black dot shows the momentary balance
between the parasympathetic and sympathetic system. In this case it is closer to the
parasympathetic, as represented by the green. Its position in the upper third vertically indicates
a higher capacity for self-regulation.

The above Rang diagram of those short term HRV parameters shows good values in in all areas
for this person. The stress index indicated in the diagram was developed by Professor Baevsky
for the Russian space medicine programme and is applicable to the physically healthy
individual. [3],[4] If a trainee develops results similar to those above the training can be
considered to have been successful.
In contrast, this second rank diagram shows a strongly sympathetically determined state for a
person who is in a state of tension (perhaps healthy tension?)

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From the Work with I.H. Schultz
I would like to describe to you a memorable personal encounter, that exemplified the principle
of "allowing things to happen".
During my work in medical journalism, I regularly interviewed scientists. During that time, I
had major difficulties with a patient. I had the feeling that no progress was made during
therapy. I therefore asked for a meeting with the master and soon was sitting with him at his
desk. The medical history was rather extensive, I started to tell, reported my worries and spoke
and spoke and in my enthusiasm, I realized only at the end of the hour that I.H.S had not said
one word. I was silent for a moment. Then my big request: 'Professor, please, tell me now
what I should do!' I.H. Schultz was quiet for a moment and very kindly got up and said: ' Let it
happen, Wallnöfer ­ and now we go to have a cup of tea. `My catharsis had been good for me,
and without any special advice, my patient soon was surprisingly better.
That does not mean that Schultz could not get very direct and specific, whether it be in a
physiological-medical or psychoanalytical sense. Anyone who knows his written works, his
lectures and teaching knows how clearly thought -through and precise his instructions could be.

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Quotations from I.H. Schultz
On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Johannes Heinrich Schultz, Professor Helmuth Stolze,
director of the Lindauer Therapiewochen, organized a panel discussion (29.4.1984)
During the panel discussion several noteworthy issues were emphasised that illustrated why the
autogenic training has found a special place in the curriculum of psychotherapeutic training:
1. The unity of body and soul experienced in AT;
2. The significance of the concept of 'autogenic' in the psychotherapeutic working agreement
between patient and doctor;
3. The effect of learning and the formulation of intent appropriate for the specific personality;
4. The element of autoanalysis which justifies naming AT as one of the revealing procedures and
5. The fostering of self-healing forces.
For the occasion of this panel discussion, Professor Stolze printed my collection of characteristic
quotations from the works of I.H. Schultz as an introduction.[5]
Quotations from the works of I. H. Schultz in the words of Professor Wallnoefer, 1979 in original
translation
· To let things happen (letting happen) is the decisive attitude.
· It cannot be emphasized enough that real Autogenic Training is a completely individual matter
and everybody has really and truly to go his own natural way.
· Out of the world of will, doing, decision and action, the trainee devotes himself (is turning
himself) with closed eyes towards a world of a creative inner development of self-produced
internal images.
· Every active effort neutralizes the effect of -the training.
· Every struggling active intention (every willing), even thinking actively and/or determinedly,
are incompatible with the inner attitude of passivity and receiving.
· Do not think, do not give orders to yourself-and do not try to do anything.
· One should explain to every trainee that he will only succeed if he is ready to dedicate himself
to the self-imposed inner formulae in a real collectedly concentrated manner (in equestrian sport
one speaks of "collection"). One should establish an inward directed relaxed and receiving
concentration, which is in a sharp contra-position to an extremely tense form of concentration.
· Many things happening today under the name of "Autogenic Training" have nothing in common
with our method. The name AT is today often misused for propaganda (marketing) purposes.
· Person to person relationships (human being to human being) requires an inner equality, an
understanding of the other's peculiarity (individuality) and with it all his living conditions.
· Loosening relaxation as vivid general behaviour leads - figuratively speaking - towards a wider
inner space: where there was first a feeling of confinement regarding the outer circumstances

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and of-distress regarding the inner situation, a free harmony (consonance) with the outside
world and a resonance free of turmoil in the inner world will become possible.
· In this sense our work leads towards the highest goal of' psychotherapy (the highest stratum
of existential values), to self-realization.
Middle and Advanced Level of Autogenic Therapy
Finally, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts regarding middle and advanced
analytical techniques of AT that I developed at the Psychiatric Clinic of Vienna. An example of
those advanced techniques is "Revealing through 'Gestalten' before and after the AT". This is
essentially a creative process which enables the uncovering of analytical problems (e.g. oedipus,
sexuality).
In principle, the method consists of asking the person to "create (gestalten)" before and after
the half hour of AT training for 5 minutes. This may be with paint, pencils or coloured plasticine,
typically using the eight "Lüscher-colours". The usage of those eight Lüscher test colours is of
great advantage for the later psychological assessment. After the exercise the group or individual
work through the results with the trainer.
The first exhibition with samples from that creative process was opened by the inventor of the
"Guided Affective Imagery Experience", Professor Hanskarl Leuner, in 1971 at the Psychiatric
Clinic of Vienna. The exhibition was shown again during the Lindauer weeks of psychotherapy
in 1972.
Next I would like to look at an example that arose out of that process.

Infantile symbols may emerge and become recognisable
The above figure was produced by a psychosomatic patient.

He first drew a symbol for the

vulva (arrowed), which he recognised as such. He then quickly inserted a green mast with a
yellow sail, turning it into a boat and then added more boats etc. A striking feature is the
undefined rectangle with doodle in the upper right corner. The picture shows the emergence of
repressed sexual desires in the setting of a strict catholic marriage.

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After the training the person, who is considered as completely without talent for drawing, takes
a brown pencil and draws the image below. In it there is a woman and a curtain-like structure
on the right. The patient commented: "That is me, always behind a curtain! Never really there!
I have never seen my wife naked!"[6]

In the next two pictures are the self-explanatory imagery of an oedipal problem. They were
produced by the son of an alcoholic.

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Finally I would like to make a brief reference to the "analytical advanced level of autogenic
psychotherapy". We named the founding committee (under Professor Luigi Peresson on
15.12.1982 in Padua) the 'European Committee for the analytically oriented (!) advanced
Autogenic Training'. This title was chosen so as to not upset the psychoanalysts too much. It is
an essential aim of this method that the trainee learns to achieve "evenly suspended attention
toward themselves". This is an attitude that Freud required of the analyst.
Techniques used in the analytical advanced level of Autogenic Training
-

The silence

-

The silent, observant listening

-

The 'neutral', 'abstinent' questioning

-

The careful pointing out

-

The 'exact' repetition of a sentence or phrase or passage

-

The interpretation

-

The dealing/coping with the regression

-

The working through appearing symbols

-

The uncovering of negative connotations

-

The working with 'slips of the tongue'

-

The 'Carte Blanche' method of Wolfgang Luthe

-

The confidential group

-

The analytical-group dynamic developments

I will give a simple illustration of "slip of the tongue" occurring when using the formula ' the
heart beats calm and strongly'. In the case of a young mother, this formula turned into 'the
heart stays calm and still', associated with panic. The strictly catholic mother had had an
abortion several years previously.

Now, her boy was at home in bed with a high

temperature. She feared that God was going to take this child from her as a punishment. It
should be obvious that this course of events required quite some analytical work.
I have reached the end of my attempt to give a short but meaningful report from my 'autogenic
life'. We are obviously standing at the beginning of a new era in the field of AT with many new
possibilities due to advances in the field of physiology. It is no coincidence that an internationally
respected psychoanalyst has initiated this new development by founding the International
Society of Autogenic Therapy and Autogenic Psychotherapy.

It is also no coincidence

that Professor Luis De Rivera was a friend and co-worker of an important representative of ATP
on the other side of the world, Professor Wolfgang Luthe. The publication of Professor De
Rivera's work "Autogenic Abreaction and Psychoanalysis" (1977) was and is a great
psychoanalytical moment for Autogenic Training[7]. I have just heard from one of the most
important proponents of autogenic training and hypnosis in Japan. Professor Hitoshi Kasai of

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Tohoku University, (student of Professor Sasaki), informed me that Japanese colleagues are also
involved in ISATAP.
I wish the best of luck and success to all of us who have made this step into the future
of autogenic psychotherapy and the autogenic idea. May the concept of 'autogenics' become
more widespread and prevail in a world currently dominated by materialism. This world has lost
sight of the personal future of humanity (self-realization). May AT assert itself successfully.
REFERENCES
1. Schultz, I. H.: Das Autogene Training. Konzentrative Selbst Entspannung. 13. Auflage,
Stuttgart 1970 S.: 322
2. Marijke de Cook Boris Mravec and Yori Gidron, clinical science (2012) 122, 323-328 (nach R.
Beise, BioSign
3. Dr. Reinhard Beise, BioSign GmbH: Anleitung zum H R V-Scanner. München
4. BioSign GmbH: Anleitung zum H R V-Scanner. München 2009
5. Wallnöfer, H. in Stolze, H.: Zitate aus den Werken von J.H. Schultz, in: Johann Heinrich
Schultz

und

sein

Autogenes

Training.

Die

Bedeutung

der

psychotherapeutischen

Weiterbildung. Prax. Psychother. Psychosom. Vol. 29, 1984, pag. 209
6. Wallnöfer, H.: Vom Autogenen Training zur Autogenen Psychotherapie, in: Wallnöfer, H.,
Walter,H., Martin, M.: Die Geschichte der Psychotherapie in Österreich. Norderstedt 2014,
pag. 32 ­ 49.
7. de Rivera J.L.G.: Autogenic Abreaction and Psychoanalysis in: Luthe, W. & Antonelli F.:
Autogenic Methods: Application and Perspectives, Roma, 1977

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Un uomo appassionato della vita come della ricerca scientifica e divulgativa, un grande che ha dato esempio a me come tanti altri appassionati del t.a. grazie Maestro!

luciano palladino
Psicólogo - Italia
Fecha: 09/11/2018



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