What’s chronic, repetitive, or inflamed in your inner or outer life?
When I read this “burning question” from Danielle LaPorte, my hand immediately and instinctively rubbed the knot in my shoulder that has been there since I was a kid. Sometimes it’s a dull ache. Sometimes it’s a sharp spasm. But it’s always there.
During the yoga retreat I attended in October, my amazing teacher Ariel led us in a thoughtful practice (until a torrential downpour caused us to have a dance party in the yoga pavilion, story for another day) to become aware of our natural posture. By leaning into our natural tendencies and exaggerating them, she explained how our physical patterns can reveal our emotional patterns.
One of my natural tendencies is to arch my back, splay open my ribs, and tilt my head back to jut my chin forward. It makes me naturally good at back bends but I have to rein it during in a lot of postures. You can kind of see it in the photo below; even though I’m working hard to pull my ribs in, there is a natural arch in my upper back.
The way we hold our bodies is a physical manifestation of our internal stories, beliefs about ourselves, and emotional patterns and behaviors.
This “natural” way of carrying myself is what causes the chronic pain in my neck, shoulders, and upper back. So what is the emotional posture underneath this physical one?
I’m so eager and ready to help and take care of people, it’s like I’m pressing my heart forward to meet them, peeling back my ribs to better expose it. Pushing out my chest pulls the crown of my head backward, a natural tendency to give without thinking, agreeing without assessing.
If you think about it metaphorically, my heart and my head are not in line.
While being empathetic is a strength, any strength is a weakness if it becomes too pronounced. Our greatest strengths can cause our greatest injuries. Being overly open causes me pain, physically and emotionally.
After identifying how “normal” felt and the underlying beliefs or patterns underneath the way we naturally want to hold ourselves, she had us “do it less” and see how that felt, and how changing our external patterns changed our internal patterns.
When I consciously pull my chin down, level my head and lean forward so that my back doesn’t arch I actually feel instant relief in my shoulders and upper back. But I feel an emotional shift, too. I feel grounded, calmer, less vulnerable and in more control. Instead of rushing out to others, I am letting them come to me.
Since I’ve returned from the retreat, I’ve tried to pay attention to this natural default, to correct both emotional and physical alignment. When I consciously pull back into alignment I am able to see the situation much more clearly and rationally. Instead of being immediately responsive to someone’s need or request, I think it through and make sure that it’s the right decision overall. I ask better questions. It’s actually caused me to change my mind and decide to do things differently.
For example, my immediate response to someone’s request was “of course by the end of the day!” But then I took a breath, pulled my head back over my heart, and asked, “does this need to be done today?” Turns out it didn’t. The result was a better product because I had more time and was less stressed.
To answer Danielle’s question: my chronic condition is my emotional posture. I think this is probably true of almost everyone – we hold the negative or unhealthy mental and emotional patterns in our minds and our bodies. Which means these aren’t just patterns and stories we are telling ourselves, but things we are communicating to the world about how we feel about ourselves.
How I carry myself tells the world who I think I am, teaching the world how to treat me so that those emotional patterns and beliefs are reinforced.
Noticing how we carry ourselves is a lot of work, because it is so automatic. But I urge you to pay attention and see if there are certain things you do – and what it says about who you are and how you feel about yourself in the world. If there’s an emotional pattern you want to change, it might need to start with how you carry yourself.
Take a moment to notice – what does your posture say about you? Does changing how you hold yourself change how you see the world? Do you think it would change how others see you?