Kinaesthetic Active Imagination: A Clinical Picture

Shayne Spitzer
London, England, UK
Association of Jungian Analysts

In this paper, I will try to provide an insight into Kinaesthetic Active Imagination as an integral part of analysis. I’ll briefly introduce the concept of ‘embodied implicit memory’ and shall then describe a session.

Implicit memory (Schore, 2001, Panksepp, 1998) is a component in our somatic memory. It is part of our memory; and a brain faculty present at birth. This form of memory is devoid of a conscious experience of recollection, but includes behavioural, emotional perceptual and somatosensory forms of memory. In adulthood, triggers of implicit memory recollections can be experienced as non-verbal sensations or behavioural impulses. ‘Embodied implicit memory’ (Spitzer, 2001) formulates in the analytic container, where traces of implicit memory may emerge through Kinaesthetic Active Imagination.


Karina was in her late twenties when she began analysis. She is an insightful woman, a talented artist in her own right. Karina’s conflicted feelings regarding emotional dependence and independence were verbal themes during her first year of analysis.

The sequence I have in mind started with Karina lying down with her back on the floor, her left arm by her side, and her right arm folded on her chest. Slowly Karina’s right arm – the arm nearest to where I was sitting – began to unfold, until it was fully open. Then her fingers unfolded to rest openly on the floor. Karina’s head slowly turned to the right, towards her out stretched arm, and to me. As her head began to move, the right side of her upper body began to sequentially follow the direction of the movement of the head. Her left arm remained in its original position throughout. The movement ended with her arriving at a place where her body was slightly tilted in the direction of her arm, hand, head and me. Although her eyes were closed, her face was open with an exploring, seeking, sniffing-like expression on her face.

The main image that remained with me from the latter part of the sequence was that of a young suckling infant, enthralled by a primitive instinct called the ‘rooting reflex’. I shared my rooting reflex association with my analysand, and it was an interpretation that made sense to her.

During the movement sequence, Karina’s left side remained still. I wondered how she experienced her left side and what meaning she attributed to it as opposed to her ‘moving’, ‘opening’ right side. Subsequent material that developed in the verbal part of the analysis concerned the independent capable Karina allowing a dependent and primal self to emerge in the presence of another.

This is an example of the body’s capacity to depict ambivalence and contradiction, as well as an ‘embodied implicit memory’. The body has a versatile, integrative language of its own as it gives physical form to psychological polarities. Karina’s process seemed to go hand in hand with Jung’s idea of the transcendent function. Her body captured contradiction through the left side keeping still and bound, whilst the right side surrendered to a primary instinct. This was not ‘pre choreographed’ by Karina to express ambiguity, but was an authentic formulation, the only way her psyche could give shape to such conflict.

Karina commented that most of the time her body and inner world resembled the detached quality of what the ‘left’ felt like. Her fear was that if she gave up what the ‘left side’ meant it would disappear and she would be engulfed by the dependent yearnings of the ‘right side’, something she feared she could not survive.

The formulation of our memory is an experience-dependent process. The rooting reflex sequence was a previously experienced and encoded mind-body occurrence, re-representing itself in the container of the analysis. I feel this ‘embodied implicit memory’ emerged through the process of Kinaesthetic Active Imagination. I experienced it as a living symbol of what was most needed and most feared in the analysis: a pre-verbal form of relatedness.

The rooting reflex experience brought Karina in touch with the need to ‘feed’, whilst still harbouring the fantasy of staying emotionally unattached. She began to understand that trying to live and love while fearing deep attachment was a major stumbling block in her life. The movement enabled a poignant realisation for my analysand and articulated two points in Karina analytic process. The first was how her body depicted the complex of ambiguity through the movement in the right side of her body versus the left side of her body. The second was the rooting reflex sequence, an embodied implicit memory, granting an experience between analyst and analysand, not previously possible in the work.

This was a transformational process where analysing how Karina experienced ambiguity in her own body, and attachment to myself, had an enriching effect on her analysis.