Harkey: Restricting Joy

Body-Connection Coach & LMT

“Every chronic tension represents a limitation on the individual’s ability to express himself. Most individuals in our culture suffer from considerable chronic tension in their musculature – in the neck, chest, lower back, and legs to name some areas – which binds them, restricting their grace in movement and destroying their ability to express themselves freely and fully.” ~Alexander Lowen in “Joy: Surrender to the Body and to Life”

This limited ability to express is two-fold. It is easy to imagine (perhaps because it closely resembles a memory) a situation where your arm or shoulder is very sore or perhaps even “frozen” and you don’t want to lift it. Further imagine you are in a group of friends and you want to tell a story about an amusing incident which occurred last week. How will your telling of the story be altered by the discomfort of your arm?

Your exuberance may also be inhibited by the physical limitation. Any pain or discomfort certainly could alter your mood, but the state of movement or non-movement also plays a role.

Darwin suggested that physical expression of an emotion intensified the emotion, and current behavioral science decided to test the hypothesis. According to this, it is possible to not FEEL as excited as you normally would be because of the restricted movement.

A number of studies in the past three decades have confirmed that limiting or facilitating certain facial expressions changes the perceived affect of the subject (see Strack 1988 and Soussignan 2002). These studies typically involve the subject positioning a pen in his mouth which moves the facial muscles into a smile and brings about increased feelings of happiness.

So, if creating or inhibiting muscular expression influences the felt emotion, how is your chronic tension possibly influencing your emotional state? Will you actually feel more fear or anxiety in life if you have chronic tension in your trapezius muscles? The upper traps are the major muscles to bring your shoulders to your ears and lifting your shoulders is a common physical sign of fear.

The general understanding of this principle is demonstrated when it is commented that a particular person is “stiff,” meaning “a person regarded as constrained, priggish, or overly formal” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/stiff). The physical and emotional states are often correlated in our metaphors and slang, such as hard-headed and stiff-necked.

In light of this, I find it valuable to consider the emotional aspect in addition to the physical when I work with a client. Perhaps you’ll also find it valuable to consider the holistic view when contemplating your own physiology and joy in life.

Editor’s note: Michelle Harkey is a Body-Connection Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist who specializes in assisting people to return to health and vitality through accessing the wisdom of the body and the genius of the mind. Learn more at http://www.michelleharkey.com/, https://www.facebook.com/MichelleHarkeyMentor?ref=hl and https://twitter.com/harkey_michelle.