How Emotions Influence our Bodies

I am sure we can all relate at one time or another to the common phrase “I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders”.  When life brings challenges and stresses in our professions, finances, relationships, we can physically feel like there is added weight to our shoulders. Similarly, I am sure we can all relate to feeling “the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders” when stresses are relieved, conflicts are resolved, and all seems to be right in our world.

I could go on with cliche sayings we have adopted into our vocabulary to describe what we are feeling in our hearts, minds, and bodies.  We are complex beings, created to be, and comprised of heart, mind, body, and soul.  That can be good…and that can be bad!  If our lives were full of mountain top experience after mountain top experience things would be easy, right?!  Having a great childhood and school experience, figuring out the perfect profession and having the job of your dreams land in your lap (of course you are getting paid exceptionally well!), meeting and falling in love with the love of your life, having the financial resources to live comfortably and serve your community, having great health, so on and so forth.  You get the idea.  I venture to guess that no one reading this has had that life experience.  Most of us have experienced disappointments, loss, rejection, broken relationships, traumas (both physical and emotional), set backs in our health….the “valley” experiences that bring a heaviness to life.

You are probably wondering by now, where in the world is Dixie going with this?!  How does this relate to Rolfing?  Well, I am going to tell you, so stay with me!

What Does Rolfing Have To Do With How I am feeling?!

From a Rolfing perspective, what all this means is that our bodies are an outward expression of, and influenced by, what we have and will experience emotionally.  There is a strong connection between the heart, mind, body, and soul.  This is why people describe the physical pain they experience when their heart gets broken by someone in their life. Posturally, when that happens we work to protect our heart, closing it off from being hurt again–rounding our shoulders, dropping our head, bringing our arms in closer to our body, making ourselves less visible to the world around us.  On the flip side, when people get great news in their life, there is a sense of euphoria, and they feel like they are “walking on air” with shoulders back, head lifted, chest open, and a spring in their step.

From more of a physical standpoint, maybe the shoulder, ankle, or hip you injured was labeled by a doctor and now known by you as your “bad” shoulder, ankle, or hip.  Words are very powerful and impact us deeply, and we begin to frame our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us largely on the influence of what others have spoken into us.  Ideally, they would all be words of encouragement and uplifting–“you are so talented”….”you are so clever”….”you are so creative”. These words build us up, giving us confidence and resiliency in life.  I hardly need to go into the negative statements that have the opposite effect in tearing us down, making us feel small, destroying our confidence and the ability to rebound against life’s hard experiences.  That shoulder, ankle, or hip, that has been labeled as “bad”, even though healed with no experienced pain, influences how you view and use your body, causes you to favor and compensate, and prevent that area from being fully integrated with the rest of your body.

Moshe Feldenkrais, creator of the Feldenkrais Method, noticed through his movement work with clients that negative emotional expressions had a direct correlation to shortening in the flexor muscles of the body (these are the muscles on the front of the body).  When this it the case, the body has to expend more energy just to remain upright leading to fatique and “depression”.   Whether due to physical injuries or a hard life that has impacted you, your body will respond posturally–with restrictive tissues, inhibited breath, and impaired movement.  Over time these patterns, if not addressed, will become more permanent.

This is one of the reasons Rolfing is often sought out by people in life transitions (moving, divorce, career changes)–these are emotionally stressful events and impact the physical being.  In helping clients to experience openness and freedom in their bodies, there is an opportunity and potential created with Rolfing for clients to experience emotional release.  With the tissue restrictions removed, the held emotions can surface.  Additionally, with the client no longer requiring energy to fight to stay upright, they have new energy to expend in other areas of their life–and towards the things that are healthy, uplifting and life-giving.

Going through Rolfing training we are primarily focused on analyzing the structure of the body to identify where there are inhibited areas, compressions, and rotations that compromise the well-being of the whole body.  Because of this, I am guilty of being a people-watcher…at the airport, in the grocery store….watching how people are moving (or not moving) in their bodies, how they are holding themselves, and I find myself wondering what their life story is, because I know there are life experiences that influence how they feel and move in their bodies.

Dr. Rolf’s was quoted as saying, “I work on the body because it is the only thing I can get my hands on.” This statement is in response to the complex nature of who we are, and that our overall wellness is made up of components of the physical, emotional, and spiritual.  Dr. Rolf was saying that these other components are important to being healthy, but by working with what I can see and touch, I can influence their overall wellness and how they feel and perceive themselves and the world around them.

As a Rolfer, when working with a client, I ask the question, “where can I help this body gain better ease?” My hope is to create the opportunity for the body and for the client to get back ease in their structure, to regain fluid movement throughout the body, to get reacquainted with their body, and to have confidence and welcome back to the whole those parts of the body that have been discounted and resented.

What is your body saying about you?

There are a couple of things I hope you take away from this article.  One, how is your outward body reflecting what you are experiencing on the inside?  Are you stressed?  Tired?  Overwhelmed?  Are you recognizing that there are parts of your body you resent and have disassociated with because you were told they would never get back to 100%?  Now you know that the emotional aspect of who you are is going to influence how you carry yourself in the world.  Just know, there is always the opportunity and potential to feel better in your body.

Two, as I have grown more in my practice and experience of working with clients, I have become more perceptive to people around me….and hopefully more gracious and compassionate.  As you go about your day to day, you will start to look at people differently now, and if you see that person hunched over, trying to be small and disappear into the wallpaper at work, or maybe the agitated person in the Starbucks line that is rude and impatient to everyone around—maybe this is an opportunity for compassion and kindness. Who knows what has happened in their life or that day to cause them to act that way.  Positive words can be just as powerful, if not more, than the negative, and have great impact to lifting someone’s spirits, and this physically lightens the body, resulting in walking taller, projecting the heart out, and holding the head high.

I hope this article has been insightful not only into your own understanding of how your emotions impact your structure, but also into how you perceive and respond to those around you.  May we go forth being a bright light of encouragement and compassion to those we come in contact with each day.

Many Blessings,