The Emotional-Physical Body Connection

“Traditional” Western rationality has the need to dissect and separate everything down to its components in an attempt to give everything meaning.  And, then, strategies are developed to treat those individual components.  When it comes to our health and wellness, there is a growing understanding that there is no separation of the physical, emotional, energetic, and spiritual components of our “being”.  It is when these aspects of Life are out of balance that it is easiest for disease to manifest in us.

Let’s look closer at the word disease to understand it better.  The word ‘ease’ means “absence of difficulty or effort”, to “make (something unpleasant, painful, or intense) less serious or severe”, and “move carefully, gradually, or gently”.  So, when you have dis-ease in your Life, there is more difficulty to your Life and it takes more effort for you to fully experience It.  Your experiences are more unpleasant, painful, and you respond more intensely to Life.  This ultimately affects how you carry yourself, your energy level, and what you attract in Life.  It affects your relationship to yourself as well as everyone around you.

There are, now, several amazing books available that talk about how there is a symbiotic relationship between our physical body and our emotional well-being, which is often referred to as our emotional body.  How you emotionally react to an event, or trauma, affects neurotransmitters (the inter-cellular messengers of the nervous system) and hormones (the messengers that travel through the blood).  The longer you exist in a particular state-of-mind, the more it can reinforce your emotional and cognitive state because, as the popular neuroscience phrase goes, “Nerve cells that fire together, wire together”.  Your energetic, emotional, and physical wellness are, thus, are directly related to the longevity of the situation.

For the rest of your body, your state-of-mind can affect tissue and organ health.  A couple of examples of how your body is affected can be seen in the blood vessels, thyroid, and kidneys.  Your blood vessels affect your blood pressure which, as most of us know, is the common way of measuring stress levels in the body.  If your thyroid is affected, so too may be your metabolism, vitamin D, and calcium/magnesium balance, which affects how well your muscles contract and relax.  If your kidneys are affected, your hydration, blood acidity, vitamin D, and electrolyte levels are at risk of being affected.  One of the key electrolyte balances is sodium and potassium because their concentration affects how well your nerves conduct signals.  Of course all organs and tissues are affected.  I have chosen to only mention a few that directly affect how well your body responds to massage . . . and Life.

Now, let’s show how the physical body reflects, reinforces, and feeds back into our emotional, energetic, and spiritual well-being.  Are you familiar with the following phrases?

“…monkey on your back.”
“…carrying the weight of the world (on your/their shoulders)”
“…weighed down like a bag of hammers”
“I feel like I am falling apart.” Or, “Get it together!“
“…Spinning out of control”
“…suffering from a broken heart.”

All of these phrases either directly associate a mental/emotional state with part of the body and/or imply strain acting on it. As you read them, some of the phrases may have even invoked past memories and their associated emotions. You may have even felt your body start to tense-up and start to move into a position in space associated with those experiences or emotions. This is just one example of the physical and emotional body connection.

There is plenty of information available discussing how our current mental and physical states impact each other, but what about “deeper” aspects of our psyche?  There is new research verifying what supports what the bodywork industry and several books (listed at the end) have been saying for decades about the unconsciousness that flows through us.  We know it by many names: body consciousness, life force energy, Kundalini, Prana, Chi, Qi, Ki, etc.  We ‘Westerners’ are just now catching up to what many ‘Eastern’ cultures have known for a long time regarding the brain-body inter-dependence.

So how does our body posture affect our body consciousness, mental state, unconscious intent/desires and vise-versa?  Or, simply, what does it tell us about ourselves?

The feet and legs reflect how we (take a) stand and walk through life.  Do we have healthy arches?  Are we flat-footed (too grounded/weighed down)?  Or, is there too high of an arch (not grounded enough)?  Are there bunions or hammer toes (to claw at the ground for stability)?

Hips and ‘core’: Our hip-stabilizing muscles are the first part of us that contract when an experience catches us off-balance.  A forward-tilted pelvic is like a pistol cocked-back with energy waiting to fire.  A backward-tilted pelvis is the opposite, unable to hold a ‘charge’ of energy.  Body torsion is an acting-out against, or bracing to prepare for, a force coming at us.

The chest and breath are our connection and relationship to life.  It is how we process our experiences in Life.  A depressed rib cage is the inability to breathe and/or not wanting to experience Life.  An expanded/barrel chest is the inability to let go of experiences.

So far, I have talked about the body regions that relate to what is before us, our initial/preparatory reaction(s) to an experience and how we relate to Life.  The next logical step is the response, output, and/or interaction with the world around us. As our body consciousness rises up through us, and processes Life, it splits into two paths to create this interaction.  The first ‘path’ of interaction can be thought of as the communication channel.

The neck/throat is our voice and the desire to be heard.  It is the vocal interaction with the world around us.  Because our voice is made possible by the breath, it plays a double role in the processing and reacting of our body consciousness.

Moving up from the neck, our head is our guidance, direction, and momentum in life.  Where the head goes, the body goes.  Just as the feet ground us and connects us to the Earth, our head guides us with intuition (our third eye) and a connection to our higher selves and the divine.

The second ‘output’ channel of our body consciousness is that of the physical interaction with the world around us.

Our shoulders and arms are our physical control of our experiences and the world around us.  Are we pushing out or resisting against the world?  Are they reaching out for help?  And, are we rounding our shoulders forward from carrying too much weight?  Or, are they that way from feeling tied up, confined, trying to hide (from embarrassment), or trying to protect ourselves?

To learn more about this amazing complex inter-dependence within us, and how massage can help to release unwanted emotions and trauma within us, please visit my Releasing Emotional Energy and  Myofascial Unwinding pages.

Here are a few books that I have read that discuss the mind-body connection:

  • “The Body Reveals: What Your Body Says About You”, by Ron Kurtz and Hector Prestera, M.D.  This is the first of the books that I have read. It is good and very easy to understand.
  • “Emotional Anatomy”, by Stanley Keleman.  I don’t necessary agree with the authors opinions but the pictures are great.
  • “Healing Ancient Wounds: The Renegade’s Wisdom”, by John F. Barnes, PT.  I just bought it at a class and plan on reading it next. John makes it required reading for anyone wishing to undergo treatment by him.

The following books are highly recommended, are in my collection, and I keep saying that I am going to read:

  • “What’s In Your Web? Stories of Fascial Freedom”, by Phil Tavolacci, MSPT, PT.
  • “The Psychology of the Body”, by Elliot Greene and Barbara Goodrich-Dunn.  This is a Lippincott Williams& Wilkins text that is promoted within the massage industry.  It is definitely more tailored toward instructing massage students.
  • “The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life”, by Robert O. Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden.  This is a popular book with a lot of scientific/biological information in it.
  • “Bioenergetics: The revolutionary therapy that uses the language of the body to heal the problems of the mind”, by Alexander Lowen, M.D.  Dr. Lowen is/was one of the most influential people in the last century to write about the subject.
  • “Orgone, Reich & Eros: Wilhelm Reich’s Theory of Life Energy”, by W. Edward Mann