Physical Expression of Emotion
We recently wrote about the mind-body split that constitutes how many of us in the West see ourselves, where our bodies are something that we have but are not really us. One of the outcomes of this philosophical perspective is that we aren’t very aware of our physical bodies, and are especially unaware of how we transfer our emotional states into physical states like headaches, tight shoulders, a clenched jaw or fist, or any number of other manifestations.
In the realm of dysfunction we call this phenomenon psychosomatic. What it means is that patients transfer what should be experienced emotionally and intellectually into something that is experienced in the body, usually in the form of pain. Phantom headaches, backaches, stomach aches, and other ailments that don’t seem to have a physical cause and stump doctors can often be explained psychologically as psychosomatic, and the cure is spiritual not physical.
But really all of us transfer the emotional into the physical all the time and we can learn a lot about how we’re really feeling by taking back the right to be self-aware about our bodies, noticing when there is a change in equilibrium and noticing how all the various parts are feeling, tracing these feelings to the inner emotional states that inspire them.
The brain is really a two way system in that how you feel can affect the state of your physical body and the state of your physical body can affect how you feel. The brain doesn’t discriminate, a reason we have written that ‘fake it until you feel it’ is actually pretty good advice for how to get out of a downward spiral of depressed mood from a neuroscientific point of view.
If you can catch yourself hunching your shoulders, clenching your jaw, if you notice your chest tightening or perspiration forming on your brow, not only can you release the tension in areas you have muscle control over, but you can also take some time to mindfully become more aware of what it is you are feeling in the moment, giving these feelings the chance to tell you their important message.
Many of us carry a lot of tension in our bodies and we are not even aware of it. Just the act of consciously releasing all this tension can do wonders for you because you are telling your brain that you are calm and relaxed, which in turn will make it cut down on producing harmful stress hormones. The better you feel the better your body feels, and the better your body feels the better you feel. This is of course because you are your body.