Our bodies and our minds are endlessly adaptable. There is quite literally an endless variety of adaptations that our bodies and our minds can make, allowing us to survive in even the harshest of mental or physical circumstances. Although this ability is useful in a wide variety of circumstances, it also the reason that emotions can get stuck in our bodies, negatively impacting our health as well as our mental well-being.
Physical and Emotional Traumas Both Have Physical Manifestations
When we break a leg, and are in a full leg cast for an extended period of time, our bodies adapt to the gait and manner of walking with one leg straight. Remove the cast, and for the first several days it’s difficult to walk normally again. Our physical body adapted. Without mirrors, physical therapy or the conscious desire to return to a normal gait, our limp might remain permanent, even though there is no physical reason to maintain the straight-legged gait.
The same is true with physical patterning with regard to emotion. Different emotions result in different physical posturing, and our body language changes depending on the emotions we are experiencing. Unlike a limp however, emotions are not tangible. We cannot simply look in a mirror and see where we are holding emotion in our bodies. Therefore, it can be difficult to identify and release the emotions that are unnecessarily being held in our bodies.
But just like the resulting limp from a broken leg, unnecessarily holding emotions in the body can be just as debilitating. Whether we call it baggage, triggers or psychological damage, emotional experiences impact our physical bodies. Since emotions cannot exist outside of the body, the only way to hold or express emotions, is through the body!
How Emotions Get Stuck in the Body
Think about your own body posturing when you are trying not to be noticed. Have you ever worn the wrong type of clothing to an event? Been awkwardly taller than those around you? Had a blouse that kept gaping open or a zipper that kept sliding down? Chances are, in an attempt to not be noticed, your body posturing changed. Perhaps you slouched, pulled your shoulders up and forward or hung and head. Maybe you presented the side of your body instead of meeting people head on, kept your arms crossed over your chest or literally tried to make your body compact, and smaller than it was.
Our feelings of embarrassment, nervousness, or our desire not to be noticed manifested in our bodies, in the form of tension in the shoulders, neck or chest, due to slouching, or pain in the knees, ankles or feet, due to slight squatting and keeping the body turned sideways. Our physicality reflected what was happening on an emotional level.
Over time, our bodies can get stuck in a variety of emotional holding patterns. Just like the limp from wearing as cast too long, we can slump, slouch, squat or protect out of habit, even when there is no longer an emotional reason to do so.
Emotional Holding Patterns That Cause Physical Symptoms
Take the case of long-time caregivers, who often have the tendency to slouch. Whether it’s from holding babies or from leaning over beds to check on patients, the emotions of nurturing, protecting, care and concern become synonymous with stooped posture. Over time, whenever those caregiver feel the same emotions they feel when checking on patients or children, the physical patterning of slouching follows suit. The emotions literally get stuck in the body’s muscles.
Although the caregiver might have enough strength and flexibility to physically stand up straight, on an emotional level, standing up straight is as emotionally threatening as asking that caregiver to stop feeling emotions of nurturing, care or concern.
How to Release Stuck Emotions From the Body
A good way to begin untangling the emotions from the body is to start noticing your body in a variety of situations. At home, at work, with friends or while you are alone. Notice how your body feels when you experience different emotions. Begin to see the correlation between your body’s posturing and your emotional state.
Notice what you feeling and where. Is it tension in the neck, back or shoulders? Is it a holding in your stomach or a gripping with your thighs? Do you have a pain in your foot, difficulty breathing, or clenching in your jaw or fists? Is there an obvious physical posture that is causing this tightness or sensation, such as slouching, leaning, gripping or holding?
Identifying both the emotion as well as the posture is the key. After identifying the emotion, analyze whether this emotion is currently present in your world today, possibly necessitating the physical posturing, or whether this patterning is a holdover from a past situation.
Sometimes simply recognizing holdover behavior is enough to release it. Other times, deeper psychological work may be necessary. In either event, one of the most effective ways to deal with physical patterning that is the result of an emotional issue, is to do this 30 second meditation.
Take a few deep breaths. As you are breathing, focus on feeling your body both physically as well as emotionally. Focus on aligning, straightening, expanding and opening your body. Feel like you are stacking your bones, one on top of the other, and that they are so perfectly balanced, you no longer need any muscular tension in order to keep your bones in place. Relax your muscles and breathe.
Focus on your emotional state. Gently let any stressful or negative emotions either float up, and out your body, or drain down, and out of your body. If you know the emotional trigger that caused your tension, affirm to yourself that that situation is in the past, and can no longer impacts you, or your body any longer. If you are not aware of your trigger, affirm for yourself that even though you are not aware of the root cause of your tension, you still unconditionally love and accept yourself. Affirm that from this point forward, you are no longer impacted by that, which in the past, caused you to hold tension or emotion in your physical body.
Take one more breath, imagining, visualizing or pretending that both your physical body and your emotions are uniting in a place of unity, peace, resilience and healthy harmony.
And so it is!