Your Personal Bodymind Posture: Help and Hindrance
Have you ever noticed that you can tell a lot about a person’s mood, attitude, and even personality just by observing their body?
Let’s talk first about mood and the body.
A depressed person can look like their overall energy, or life force is literally “de-pressed”; pressed down. They may have a sunken or collapsed look to their chest, or whole body. Their arms may appear weak or hanging, reflecting a sense of powerlessness, or ineffectiveness in life. Their breath is often shallow. They are more still, less animated than those around them. At one time or another, most of us have been depressed, or even just episodically sad, so most of us know what it feels like to be in this body, to be stuck in this “posture”.
Likewise, it can be easy to identify someone who is angry, by their red face, clenched jaw, tense shoulders, intense eyes. You can almost feel the sparks flying out of them! Their energetic charge seems increased.
When someone is afraid, their energy, or overall countenance looks suspended, coiled, ready to flee. They can look like all their energy is raised up in the upper half of their body, light on their feet; not grounded and stable. Often you can even feel the jitters in your own body, just being near them.
Our bodies not only reflect our emotional experiences, our bodies participate along with our emotions in our integrated responses to life. I like to think of it as our bodies “posture” or sculpt our emotions.
One reason it’s powerful to make this connection is that shifting the body, literally changing your posture, has the reverse effect of shifting your mood, emotional state, attitude and outlook; even the way you perceive your circumstances.
Wherever you are sitting right now; slouch. Let your shoulders roll forward, and your chest collapse. Let all the muscles in your face go slack and breathe shallowly. Hold this “posture” for a few moments and notice what happens to your mood.
OK, OK now that’s enough of that! Sit up straight, open your chest, let your shoulders drop back, raise your chin, bring some brightness into your face by raising your eyebrows a bit, lift the corners of your mouth. Now notice your mood. Isn’t interesting that simply adopting the facial and physical expression of happiness has a positive effect on your mood? How about your overall energy level? How does your life or your day look different from this posture vs. the collapsed one?
Now the reason for knowing all this isn’t just so you can try to be in a positive mood all the time! Most of us are unconscious about how our bodies are participating in and expressing our mood and emotions. When we are not aware, our bodies and moods can become stuck in patterns that negatively affect our health and happiness. When you become aware of this connection you not only can address the underlying cause of your state, but you also can make choices about how you want to respond to your life.
Now let’s talk about how the body postures our attitudes and personality:
Our bodies not only adopt postures that reflect our moods and emotions in the moment, but over the course of our lives they develop habitual patterns, or “conditioned tendencies” that reflect our overall attitude, personality and approach to life.
The way you hold your body (or the way it holds you), and how you manage your emotional energy and express yourself are all learned (unconsciously) early in life in response to your environment!
When we are children, particularly in our earliest years, our unconscious developmental task is to determine “the rules” about who we are, what life is and what it takes to survive it. All of us, to some degree or another, experience emotional threats, whether it is simply that our good parents weren’t always able to respond exactly the way we needed them, exactly when we needed them to to assure us we were loved, to outright trauma in the form of overwhelm or neglect.
Most of us don’t get the impression that who we are is perfect and good and that we will be loved EXACTLY as we are, no matter what that is in every moment. In our culture, we learn that we need to be a certain way to be loved and accepted, and maybe even safe.
Even if our home environment was nothing but nurturing, when we hit the bigger world and school with all their social pressures and expectations, we have to adopt some strategies to feel ok about ourselves and in relationship.
So unconsciously we adopt what I call a “Bodymind Posture” to help us navigate life.
Each one of these “postures” includes a set of attitudes, beliefs about self and the world, emotional tendencies, and certain ways of holding our bodies and managing the energy or charge of our emotions. Each posture includes a combination of these strategies;
- Block: To stop the flow of the charge of emotions though our bodies and conscious awareness, we will unconsciously tighten muscles and constrict our connective tissue and even organs like the lungs to diminish breath. The two best ways to decrease the movement of painful emotional charge is to stop the breath and constrict the body. Chronic tension can lead to pain, diminished function and even exhaustion.
- Collapse: Or we might collapse our bodies (remember the depressed person we were talking about?) so no charge moves through us, leaving our bodies depleted and less vital. Sometimes we learn that we are safer when we are smaller than others and make their needs more important than our own.
- Disappear: Another good way to stop feeling our feelings and to try to be less visible to others, or simply escape a painful life situation is to disconnect. We may unconsciously want to decrease our sense of our own body and experience by literally dissipating our energy making the charge of our feelings less solid. In extreme cases this is called dissociation, but many of us employ this strategy in less dramatic ways. It’s called being spacey, vacant or “airy fairy”. It’s difficult to feel robust and strong and able to create our lives in this state.
- Overpower: Another way to deal with the charge of painful experiences is to “blow it out” and be controlling, domineering, or even aggressive, clearing a path around us as protection against vulnerability. This kind of energy management requires muscular tension and the generation of force and pressure, not a good state for the cardiovascular system!
These four Bodymind Postures by no means represent every possible strategy! They are meant not to reduce everyone into tight little categories! Every one is unique and comes up with their own patterns. This list is meant to serve only as a guide to help you begin to identify your own Bodymind Postures.
Most importantly, these patterns do not reflect pathology, nor are they descriptions of anything wrong with us or that we are “doing” to ourselves! They are part of the phenomenon of being human, going though our human lives. They are all tremendously creative and resourceful strategies!
The only problem is that they also greatly hamper our ability to live physically, emotionally and spiritually free, open and authentic lives!
What allows us to grow and heal is becoming conscious, with great compassion, of the ways that we have all had to adapt to get through life.
I urge you to explore these ideas in a mood of curiosity and respect, not self judgment.
Once aware, we can literally learn new ways of living emotionally and in these bodies of ours. Once aware of our automatic unconscious patterns, we can learn that we no longer need to protect and defend our selves in ways that compromise our freedom and health.
When you become conscious of the underlying expressions and needs hidden within your Bodymind Postures, your body will no longer have to try to help by acting them out. You can learn that it’s safe to live in a body that is open, free, alive and grounded.
I encourage you to be a curious observer of your own Bodymind. I will be talking more about these Bodymind Postures in future articles, and offer a more personal guided exploration in my workshops and training programs. Stay tuned for announcements about these in the near future!
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In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about these concepts here are some books that have influenced my approach:
“Bioenergetics” by Alexander Lowen MD
“Core Energetics” by John C. Pierrakos MD
“The Middle Passage: from Misery and Meaning in Midlife” by James Hollis
“Hands of Light” by Barbara Ann Brennan
Peace to you,