Emotions Influence the Posture

Emotions Influence the Posture

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Your posture is like your signature in physical space. It represents the unique characteristics and style that are unmistakably yours.

The way you hold yourself and move about is a physical expression of your individuality and your personality. From your posture, stance and gait, your friends can recognize you from afar or quite often even in the dark, even if they are unable to see your face.

Emotions are deeply embedded in the body. All babies first express their emotions through their body. As they grow older, they learn to use other modalities, such as speech to express their emotions. However, emotions are stored in the body. Your posture is shaped and molded by your unique blend of emotions.

Emotions move us to take action. The word, "emotion" itself involves motion of some kind. For example, love leads us to put our arms around a person, while anger might lead us to attack someone.

Tension is created by "intention," the intention to do something for or against someone. Therefore, emotions create tension. Tension wants to be discharged. Muscles and connective tissues, in collaboration with the bones, help us to move towards or move away, surrender or simply freeze.

Emotions tone, tense and "program" muscles and other connective tissues and they can go on doing it for as long as an emotion is present in our system. Since an emotion can last a long time, stored in the muscles and connective tissues, it gets translated into your posture. Over a period of time, the habitual and predominant use of a particular emotion creates our own signature stamp, our posture.

Let me tell you a personal story. Back in days when I was growing up, a usual and customary punishment for behaving badly was a slap in the face. My brother was really good in sensing when a slap was coming his way. The moment he saw it coming, he would cover his face with his elbows, creating a strong shield for his face. You could hit him on the head or the elbows, but you couldn't touch his face.

We all use a "shield" of some kind whenever we feel attacked. We instantly raise our when we experience fear. The shield more often is an internal work and not observable from the outside.

To continue with the example, say, every time "John's" parents yelled at him or he felt he might be yelled at, he, externally or internally shrank a bit, lowered his head, and raised his shoulders to shield himself. He started using this shield a lot. Every time, he felt physically, verbally or emotionally attacked, he raised his shield. Thus, for thousands of times, responding to internal alarms, he would shrink his upper body, lower the head and lift the shoulders.

Then, John started school. Every time he sensed a threat from his teacher or another child, he raised his shield. In fact, by this time, his shield was always up, both at home and school, but it went up a little more when he consciously sensed a threat.

Here is the picture of John as an adult: his shoulders would habitually stay up, the neck would remain sunk into the shoulders, and the head would lean forward to present a characteristic hint of defensiveness in his posture.

This was an example of a defensive posture. Likewise, people form depressive-, aggressive-, or relaxed and self-assured posture depending on their characteristic emotion or blend of emotions. When they experience other emotions, their muscles move correspondingly, but only temporarily. Once the emotional event passes, they return to their usual posture. A posture stores particular emotions and thoughts below an individual's level of awareness.

How can we use this information? The same mind-body connection that was formed negatively can be utilized positively. Said in another way, by changing your posture, you may not only change negative emotions, but also cultivate a positive attitude and experience positive emotions.

Doing appropriate exercises designed to counteract your usual posture, over a period of time, you may be able to train your muscles to stay in a corrected posture. By paying steady attention and growing constant awareness, you can correct your posture whenever you try to go back to the old habit.

Even temporary posture manipulation has benefits. When you feel stressed out and pressured from a problem, hold your head high, lengthen the spine and open the chest. Keep your head, shoulders, hips and lower legs in a straight line. It may help you to feel differently about the situation.

But don't stop there. While maintaining the straightened and aligned posture, tense your whole body, take in a deep breath and feel it traveling throughout the body, from the nose to the toes. Then, while blowing your breath out, release and relax the entire body from head to toes.

Not only might you be feeling differently at this point, you may even begin to think differently about your problem.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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