The Incredible Way Your Emotions Are Causing You Physical Pain
Different emotions or thoughts can affect muscle tension: if we feel angry, irritable, depressed or stressed, we will probably be tensing our muscles as well. Next time you are late for an appointment, try to be aware of how much tension you are holding in your shoulders, neck or back; if we are constantly under pressure in our life, this tension will be present continually. During his years of discovery, Alexander realized that the body, mind and emotions did not only affect one another, they were, in fact, inseparable – he referred to this principle as psycho-physical unity. This fundamental principle of the Alexander Technique, which states that the body, mind and emotions are merely different facts of the same entity, means that if we change one thing we change all of them. It is easy to see this principle all around us: for example, the posture of a tennis player who is walking off the court after losing a match is totally different to the way the same player moves when he has just won a match. The way people stand at a bus stop waiting to go to work at a job that they do not enjoy will be very different from when the same people are just about to go on holiday. What we are thinking and feeling will directly affect the way we sit, stand and move. Since the whole basis of the Alexander Technique rests on the principle of psycho-physical unity, it follows that any physical habits we have will invariably affect our mental and emotional states as well. So if we are able to change the way that we perform our daily activities, our mental attitude to life will also change, and this, in turn, can alter how we feel emotionally.
It also follows then that feelings of unhappiness or unfulfillment of any kind must directly affect the way we use our physical bodies and this is why Alexander used the term ‘the use of the self’ and not just the ‘use of the body’, as the self-includes the way we think and feel. In other words, by applying the principles of inhibition and direction to our actions we can also alter the way in which we think and feel, and this can change our life for the better. As you will see from the case histories in chapter fourteen, it was not only people’s backs that changed – it was also the way they were living.
No one starts out in life feeling angry, frustrated, lacking in confidence or self-worth: these are habits of thought that we acquire throughout our lives and are not inherent to our mental or emotional makeup. All emotional or mental experiences, whether negative or positive, will affect our muscles accordingly. If these experiences are stressful and happen often enough, then the muscles learn to stay in a state of tension, which eventually becomes habitual. A good example of psycho-physical unity is a person suffering from depression. Although it is a mental illness, sometimes you can actually see the physical depression in their posture. The word depression is also used to describe a physical shape. So often, mental depression can manifest in the shape of the physical body and sometimes changing posture can alleviate despondent thoughts.
Releasing muscular tension throughout the body can sometimes result in releasing emotions, but do not be concerned as this is quite normal and any feelings that may arise will soon pass. As one becomes freer physically, there can also be a corresponding increase in mental and emotional freedom. It is much better, in my opinion, to have these unconscious tensions released rather than being trapped within the body, causing us to behave in detrimental ways both towards ourselves and others. It is important that we release the tension ourselves and learn ways of avoiding tension in the future as this helps us to become empowered to make conscious decisions that can change our lives for the better. It is often the case that a person approaches me purely because of a back or neck problem, yet they often say after a few Alexander lessons that they are feeling calmer, more alert and happier as a result of less muscular tension. Other people report that they are sleeping better or that their home life is more harmonious, while others are surprised because their confidence and self-esteem has increased.
1. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed.
2. Think of being in a stressful situation, such as being late for work and you have lost your car keys, and then imagine you get stuck in traffic on the way to work and then finally you get a puncture!
3. See if you can feel a change in the tension in your muscle, your breathing and heartbeat.
Now repeat a different scenario:
1. Again lie on the floor with your eyes closed.
2. This time think of relaxing on a beach or in your garden on a beautiful summer’s day. Imagine that you are feeling content and everything feels perfect.
3. After a few minutes see if you can feel a difference in muscle tension.
4. Is your breathing and heartbeat different than before?
Remember it is only your thinking that has changed, but you are probably aware that your thinking has affected your physical and emotional states. This exercise clearly demonstrates how the mind, body, and emotions are, in essence, one thing. Sometimes a back problem can be life’s way of slowing you down if things have become too frantic and stressed. If you can take stock and use this time to really examine your life, you may find that your backache is a symptom of stress, and if that is the case, try to make some fundamental changes to your life so that you become the master of time and not the other way around.
‘Back in Balance’ p 113-118 – by Richard Brennan
Alexander Technique Five Day Immersion Programme with Richard Brennan takes place from 14th to 18th May. More details here: www.emmauscentre.ie/programme/alexander-technique-immersion-2018/