Stand tall.

As published in the Topanga New Times newspaper

To put it mildly, there is a lot going on in the world today. You may find yourself speaking your truth and using your voice now more than ever, standing up for what you believe in and rallying for justice. Believe it or not, your nonverbal self is also speaking volumes.

Think of your posture as a collection of polaroids, from the course of your life. That time you botched your lines in the school play? That snapshot is stuck to your perpetually tight neck muscles and forward jutting head. College break-up? Tape that photo to your hunched and rounded shoulders. Every experience we have, both positive and negative and some certainly more traumatic than others, causes a reaction in the physical body. Often times, the muscles that contract in response to a psycho- emotional stimulus never fully disengage. Over the years, each little moment translates to micro contractions of muscles that pull your posture out of proper alignment.

Wilhelm Reich called it character armoring, and I see it to some degree with every client in my bodywork practice. I also see it in myself at times. I was freshening up the other morning – which in itself is a luxury for the mom of school aged twins homeschooling during a pandemic – and feeling pretty solid about a good hair day until I spotted my posture in a side mirror. What a wake up call. I had the look of, frankly, what I am these days – an overwhelmed parent trying to do it all, ignoring the program of fear running in the background over just about everything, and grossly negligent of routine self-care. Because….Covid.

I flashed back to a time twenty years ago when I was a post producer of commercials and music videos. The stress of being a young woman in an ego driven male dominated pre-me too industry had gotten to me. I took matters into my own hands and began doing yoga several times a week. Not just the asana practice, but also breath work, a sweat lodge or two, and deep spiritual introspection. I remember running into an old friend about a year into this journey, and she remarked how different I looked. My energy, and also my posture. I’ll never forget how I felt when she told me how strong and calm I looked, that I carried myself so differently. For the first time in so long, my body reflected my inner being. I think I can get back to that place, I just need to get my muscles on board.

Awareness is the first step in standing tall, so your physical form matches the fiery spirit within. Perhaps you are inspired to glance at your stance in the mirror? As you read this, you may be sitting down and can take a moment to check in with yourself. Quiet the mind, and focus on the language of sensation: where does it hurt? Where is your body holding tension? Common areas are the jaw, the traps and tops of shoulders, the belly, tops of thighs, and even forearms. Imagine you have the gills of a fish in these muscles, and breathe into them. How do you feel? Where does it hurt? What sensations present?

Permission is step two; give yourself permission to let go. I am a big believer in ritual, a series of actions performed in a specific order for a sacred purpose. Talking to your muscles may seem a bit silly, but there is power in giving voice to the stress and trauma those muscles may be holding. You take your power back when you give permission to the body to put its burden down; in a way, you are telling yourself that any emotional wound to date no longer controls you.

Action is what must be taken for the all important step three. Bodywork in the form of trauma informed deep tissue like The Cotu Method is a wonderful tool to realign your posture and your presence. I believe it is necessary to touch the structural muscles associated with held trauma and emotion. Find a practitioner you are comfortable being honest and vulnerable with so that together you may create a safe space for meaningful release. Yoga, breath work, talk therapy, and somatic experiencing are all excellent adjuncts to bodywork, and I recommend a hybrid approach.

When you see a person with impeccable posture, you immediately form an opinion of that person as confidant, strong, brave, and powerful. Wouldn’t you like to project that image? Perhaps you already feel that way inside, and it is simply a matter of shedding an old skin and letting go of coping mechanisms that no longer serve a purpose.

Buckminster Fuller is quoted as saying, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Can this not be said of the human experience? We learn, we change, we grow. If we don’t address the fact that our bodies carry around past pain, and that causes our muscles to react in ways they aren’t meant to, then we keep our physical selves bound as a bud, unable to blossom. To truly move forward with conviction, away from the struggles of the past, we need to create a new model of being in our bodies. So stay safe, start a revolution….but first, stand tall.

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