This may strike you as an odd question but… where are your shoulders right now? Are they tight and up around your ears? Slack and drooping? Curled forward or pulled back? Are you assuming they’re basically wherever they usually are?
Let’s take a moment to actually find out where they are. Wiggle your shoulders around. Take a breath. See where they settle. We’ll wait.
Caroline and I were listening to a recent talk by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, the founder of Somatic Coaching, and he said something that really struck us: “The body is the shape of our experience.” He means this quite literally. Having your shoulders tight and up, for example, is a posture connected to fear—a natural physical response to the experience of feeling fear or anxiety. It is the shape of that experience.
Significantly, the connection between body and emotion works both ways: Not only do we tighten up because we feel fear or anxiety—we are also predisposed to feel anxiety because we are in this shape.
This is why practices that work with the body are so impactful, especially for those of us for whom the body tends to be an afterthought—that thing that carries our heads from meeting to meeting, needs to be re-fueled now and again, and probably doesn’t look quite the way we wish it would. Which is to say, most of us.
Strozzi-Heckler says: “When I work with someone, I look to see how and where life has been lived in their bodies, and where life has been denied… I look at how they have allowed their energy to express aliveness and where they are rigid and lifeless. I listen to the stories they tell about their life, and I listen to how these stories live in their body. I’m interested in how they’ve shaped themselves around their stories and how this shaping brings them satisfaction or despair.”
Wait, you can tell all that just from looking at someone? Yes, you can.
We see this in our coaching work all the time. I vividly remember one woman who told us she had lost touch with her ambition and was feeling down, like she “couldn’t see a future” for herself. We asked her to show us how she moved through her day. She proceeded to walk across the floor cast eyes down, body heavy and curled in. Turns out, she delivered mail, typically carrying a weighty bag and keeping her eyes peeled for tripping hazards along her route. Can you picture the “shape of her experience” and how that might relate to her mood and what she could and couldn’t see ahead of her?
We spent time re-shaping her posture, having her stand tall, pull her shoulders back and down and look to the horizon and then up to the sky. As her body shifted and settled into this new expression, and opened up to a more expansive perspective, she burst into tears. And that was the moment that her mood finally lifted, that her mental map of what was and wasn’t possible was re-written.
The shifts that we see when we explore the connection of body to thoughts and emotions are not always this dramatic, but often, they are. Hence the question about where your shoulders are just now. If they’re tense, you can begin to shift that in less than a minute by taking three deep breaths and intentionally shifting your posture. Amazingly enough, you can do the same thing if they’re slack and sleepy. (Please note: Just reading these instructions and “understanding” them will have little to no impact, while actually taking the actions will.)
Intrigued? You can do a little deeper self-assessment by getting a pen and paper and writing down your answers to these questions…
How do I stand? Sit? Walk?
How do I hold my head, chest, shoulders?
How close do I get and how do I position myself to others? How often do I make eye contact?
What are my diet and exercise habits and standards?
What range of motion is available to me? Not available? What feels comfortable? Uncomfortable?
What do my answers suggest about my moods/emotions? My possibilities for taking action?
If you feel some resistance to doing this exercise, that’s natural. We humans are hard-wired to conserve energy, and change burns more calories than sticking to our habits. But make no mistake about it, change is possible. And working with, and moving, your body is a great place to start.
If you’d like to know more about any of this, please do contact us.