Posture and Stress

Have you ever noticed how your posture changes with different emotions or with stress? In my personal experience, as well as what I have seen in clients, during times of stress or emotional reactivity our nervous system takes over. When we are frightened or upset, the shoulders raise up in the “startled response.” When the nervous system registers that everything is okay, our shoulders relax and calming breath replaces held breath.

With different emotions our posture and our breathing change. With fear we tend to pull in and breathing gets rapid; with anger we usually tighten and exhale more rapidly; with sadness we tend not to exhale deeply, holding back tears and tightening the whole body. Unfortunately unless we listen to our bodies and respond to the stress or emotional needs, our nervous system stays stuck and does not release. Too often this becomes a repeating pattern. For greater depth and understanding of the trauma this causes the body, go to the Somatic Experience website or read Peter Levine’s book,Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

The good news is that release and change can occur as we listen to our bodies. One’s body may need rest, emotional expression or in some cases professional help to unwind the trauma in order to once again have a regulated autonomic nervous system.

Sometimes spending too much time at the computer will put our posture out of alignment, creating stress on our whole body/mind system. Then add in emotional upset and anything can happen: pain, accidents, feeling of out of alignment in all areas or our body/mind/spirit.

Pain and discomfort are our body’s way of getting us to listen. The good news is that when you do listen, you can bring about change and learn more about your self and your body’s needs; you can work with your reactions rather than feel you have no control. You can learn to push the pause button and not explode or implode. This of course takes patience and willingness to change some of the habitual responses.

Finding some form of body awareness or bodywork that you can do on a regular basis to support the changes you want to make is very helpful.

The first step is finding the desire to listen to your body, developing that relationship of awareness rather than ignoring it, and learning to appreciate all the myriad of possibilities your body is capable of when you are aware and honor it’s needs. It does not have to be expensive massage or body work, you can do self massage and find CD’s or DVD’s that guide you through movements and awareness.

Of course having lessons of Alexander technique or other forms of body awareness is always informative and supportive.

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for developing awareness:

1. Lying down in Rest position – lie on your back with support under your head so that your ears are in line with your shoulders your hips, your knees are up and feet flat and hip width apart. In this position you are supported and can relax and let your body lengthen and widen. Sensing any tension you can breathe into that area and let go. You can sense your skeleton and allow lengthening along the bones, releasing any holding in your joints. Let your breath take your ribs away from each other.

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2. Find a place to walk in nature, preferably one with lots of green. Being in nature is relaxing for the body, taking in the green color is soothing to the nervous system. Google Forest Therapy for more details and to see studies done in Japan regarding the benefits. Here is a link to an informative video about Forest Therapy:

3. Find ways to move your body that are enjoyable to you. This could be walking, dancing, lying on the floor and stretching. Finding pleasure in movement will encourage you to do it more often.

Here is a link to a great form of dance, 5 Rhythms which was founded by Gabrielle Roth.

4. I find consciously releasing held emotions from the body very helpful. Sedona Method is something you can do on your own and is very simple and beneficial.

Here is a link to free talks on releasing. (WRONG LINK)

Or, you can also Google “The Sedona Method” for more information.

5. Perhaps most important is to let yourself exhale. I find most people do not exhale fully, so taking time through out the day to exhale can make a big difference in stress level. It’s also a good thing to do when you are upset – remember counting to ten before you react to some upsetting moment? Add exhaling and the benefits increase.

6. There are many forms of meditation and meditation has been proven to reduce stress. Breathing through the Whole body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind Body and Breath by Will Johnson is a great read and gives one a deeper understanding of the body and breathing. Here is a link to his website:

All the best,