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How Emotional State Affects Our Physical Shape

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

At times we all either shrink away or pump ourselves up to handle a situation that we don’t like.  

Say the thought of public speaking makes you uncomfortable.  Imagine all the physical things that you might do to prepare: take a deep breath, stick your chest out, shoulders back, stiffen the back and upper lip.  Effectively what you’re doing is making yourself bigger to pump yourself up to do something.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the shrinking away.  An encounter with a bullying boss, overbearing partner or parent, or a social situation where you’re uncomfortable.  Maybe social niceties prevent you responding with the loud “Fuck off” that you’d like to.  So you find yourself “wishing the ground would just swallow you up”.  How can one’s body manifest that desire to disappear?  A sense of sinking in the front of the body, head and gaze coming forward and down, shoulders coming forward, breath becoming shallow.  You can probably think of more examples.

We all do this; the body manifests what we are feeling emotionally, and at times we will deploy the first strategy, at others the second, but each option changes our stature from the stature we are when we feel happy, comfortable and safe.  This oscillation around our comfortable, happy, safe stature is great as long as we come back to that stature when the situation allows.  Unfortunately, it’s possible for one of these strategies to be overused or become habitual.  As a Rolfer I’m not so interested in how or why this physical strategy became habitual; rather, I’m looking to help the client to find a strategy that better reflects them when they are happy and safe and help them return easily to a place of ease and grace.

Through the Rolfing 10-series, I would do this by giving attention to the areas that hold the client in their shape.  For the person who shrinks away I’d help the front line of the body to lengthen. I’d work on the tissue at the front of the shoulder that’s holding them forward.  I’d want to help this client to feel a sense of length up the front of the spine, and for them to feel the weight of the shoulder blades and let them rest down the back.  Homework and awareness exercises would be to feel physically lighthearted, to let the heart float up and let the shoulders rest down.  For the person who pumps up, I’d want to help them release tension in the lower back and the back of the hips, and gain an ability to let this area rest.  There’d be a lot of work on the legs and feet for both these persons, so that the changes we’re looking to make can be supported from below.

Our emotional state caused us to adopt one of the two physical strategies, now a change in our physical shape can bring us back to that peaceful emotional state: the happy middle ground between these two ways of being.  If after a 10-series a client can recognize that they’ve moved away from the happy middle ground and find their way back to feeling right in their body, then they’ll be more comfortable and adaptable when they find themselves in a situation they find stressful.

If you are interested to learn how Rolfing may benefit you, reach out to me via phone or email, or send me a note using my contact form.

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