Lately in my Alexander Technique lessons, my teacher has been asking me about what I feel like when I move or sit or stand a certain way. Alexander deals a lot with posture and a recent homework assignment was to look up when I walk. Look up, as in not at the ground, which is what I do most of the time, apparently.
I have noticed multiple times over the last few weeks that when I look up and not down when I walk, I feel different. I feel different physically, of course, but I also feel different emotionally. I realized the first time I tried this “homework” that when I look up as I walk I feel more confident. I feel as if I am facing the world and not hiding from it. I feel like I am a part of my surroundings and not lost somewhere inside my head.
The thing I am discovering is that body language flows two ways: it can be an expression of what I am feeling and it can also trigger feelings. It can be the effect or the cause.
Some ways that I hold my body may have started out as a way to express what I was feeling but much of the way I move now is done out of habit. The thing is, if I started hunching over when I sit because I felt insecure and wanted to hide, now when I do it out of habit, those old feelings come up in me. Many, many times now, my posture contributes to how I feel more than it serves an expression of my feelings. Now when I sit up straight and lean back, I feel exposed, unprotected. I have gotten so used moving and holding myself in a self-protective way that it feels unnatural to lean back against a chair, to let myself be seen.
Other habits I have seem to work this same way — eating, for example. I started eating to cope with my emotions, and now I have a habit of eating a certain way — it is my knee-jerk response, my routine, my way to hide.
Another habit I have is being alone. It starts out as a response to feeling sad, or overwhelmed, or needing to recharge. Before I know it, I have immersed myself in solitude so completely that the thought of breaking the pattern feels like exposing myself; it feels unnatural.
The good news, of course, is precisely the two-way nature of this mind-body communication. I remember several months ago, I had gone out to dinner with a friend and a group of her friends. As we were waiting to be seated I realized that I was constricting my shoulders (this was soon after I started my Alexander lessons). Because I had been working on this body-awareness business, I consciously relaxed my shoulders. Suddenly, I felt more relaxed, less anxious, and I hadn’t even realized I was stressed.
Sometimes it feels like a “chicken or the egg” question, particularly with habits like being alone or slumping when I sit. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter. I am learning how to change one part of the conversation. The rest will come along soon enough.