With today’s culture that’s so focused on the brain as the ruler of the kingdom, your physical body becomes the poor peasant doing time in the fields.
Ask yourself when you last really paid attention to the way your body feels. It’s probably more likely you’ve ignored your body’s signals and allowed your brain to exert its influence. Have you ever resisted your body’s urge to go to the bathroom? Forced yourself to stay awake for one more Netflix episode even when your body was exhausted and shutting down?
“We’re so centered on our minds culturally. The mind tells the body what to do,” says Sukie Baxter, a posture and movement therapist and founder of Whole Body Revolution. “But we have more nerve fibers running from our bodies to our brains than the other way around. There’s more sensory data going to the brain.”
The Seattle-based Baxter discovered a love of working with the body in college, when joining the rowing team produced some not-so-palatable physical challenges. She started working with an expert in posture and physical movement and was able to alleviate restrictions in her body. She went on to study rolfing, a physically manipulative form of bodywork; posture work; structural aging; somatic experiencing; and other bodywork practices. You can find her and her many articles online at wholebodyrevolution.com. Search for her on YouTube.com for videos of stretches and ways to work with your body.
Healthy posture is vital to a healthy life, though it’s not necessarily what you might expect. Maybe you read the words healthy posture and automatically stiffened up and pulled your shoulders back. That’s what Baxter sees happen regularly. But for her, good posture is fluid and what’s functional for the person based on whatever activities they do throughout the day. If somebody’s posture doesn’t allow freedom of movement, there will be friction — and that wears down your muscles and ages you over time.
“People say I’m getting stiffer, and it’s years of accumulated tension,” says Baxter. “If you don’t challenge movement, your brain will atrophy your body map. It will delete it. You don’t have the ability anymore. If you immobilize one joint, your brain will start to unmap that joint in a matter of days.”
It can also happen to those who have old injuries, such as Baxter’s client who had a cast around their knee at 25. At 45, they walked as though the cast was still there. It shaped their nervous system and if it remains unmapped, the restriction could last a lifetime.
Constricted posture also can trick your body into feeling stressed when no stress exists, which can then shift your nervous system into believing the whole world is a danger zone.
“When we address our posture we’re addressing our whole psychology,” Baxter says.
So how do we know if this is happening in our own bodies? Simple. It is happening. All the time, says Baxter. That’s just the way humans are built. It goes back to being trained to listen to our heads instead of our bodies.
“By the time we’re adults we’re walking heads,” she says. “We think we’re just a brain and our body carries us around. The more disconnected you are from your body, the more likely you are to be in a stressed-out state. Sensory data isn’t getting through to the brain.”
What’s a walking head to do? The answer is clear: Get back into your body. There are different ways to do that, but Baxter likes somatic practices, which are movements done with the intention of focusing on what it feels like internally versus the external appearance or result of the movement. Somatic practices help reconnect sensory data from the body to the brain.
This is where readers might automatically whisper to themselves: “I’ve really got to get to yoga more often.” And yes, Baxter says, yoga can be an option, though not necessarily. It’s all about embodiment. Some can do yoga in a disembodied way, meaning staying in their head versus their body. That goes for weightlifting or any number of activities.
“It’s not so much what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it,” she says. “Whatever subconscious pattern of tension is in your body, it will be present no matter what you’re doing. To break it up you have to shift awareness. It’s being in and experiencing their body, and that’s really new for people.”
The first step? Start to pay attention to the sensory information in your body without attaching a story to it. Just be present to the feeling, not what you think about it.
Then begin to notice what simple things make your body feel good, moving from the outside to the inside, which might be more challenging.
“For those not well-versed in feeling bodies, it’s easy to connect to things outside first — sun, pressure, the weight of your body on a chair or lying on the floor, the movement of cloth over skin,” says Baxter. “Once you get good at that, you can feel the differences in tension and pressure inside your own skin.”
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