~Written by Renee Reusz~
In my kinesiology work I’ve always been most interested in learning about how posture and injuries relate. I find it particularly interesting to watch people outside of a clinical assessment, standing and moving naturally in their environment, letting all their “misalignments” reveal themselves. (My apologies to all of you who have caught me taking long, roaming looks up and down your body – I wasn’t checking you out, it was the slight curvature in your spine or barely perceptible limp in your gait that stole my attention). Using the way we hold and carry ourselves to evaluate imbalances in the body before and after an injury is helpful in planning a rehabilitation program, but at a more ethereal level, I’ve always appreciated posture for the way it is like a window into time, reflecting back a physical representation of one’s life story.
I was unable to articulate this subtle relationship with which our bodies mold our personal stories until I learned about cellular and tissue memory in the body during my Yoga therapy training. The idea being that we store memory not just in our minds but also in the cellular matrix and molecules of our tissue bodies. In her book The Forgotten Body, Elissa Cobb explains how every physical experience, thought and emotion is essentially a cascade of molecules and receptors within the body, and because cells have structures within them that store memory and hold our genetic DNA coding from generations before, it makes sense that our past and present life experiences can be stored in the various tissues of our cellular bodies.
Physical injuries, heredity, and activities are the more obvious examples of how our bodies shape around experience. I recently worked with a lady who had a painful injury to the left side of her rib cage and every time she leaned towards this area she felt pain. To avoid the pain she would chronically lean away from the pain, and over the course of a year her muscles reset to a new “normal” of her trunk leaning to the right. But less often considered in our in our postural deviations and muscular tone, are factors such as unexpressed emotion, thoughts and fears, cultural expectations, environmental stresses, and beliefs about self and others. Each of these contribute to how we hold ourselves and over time, this holding pattern becomes memorized through repeated transfer of information from cell to cell. There is a great quote in The Forgotten Body from Ken Dychtwald that considers posture in relationship to the emotional body, “The body begins to form around the feelings that animate it, and the feelings, in turn, become habituated and trapped within the body tissue, itself.” Consider the chronic hiking of your shoulders from years of taking on too much responsibility or the forward rounding upper back posture that protects you from threat and the vulnerability that comes with exposing the front body at the heart center. Whatever the story behindit, there are layers and years of soft tissue memory and energy coalesced in the tissue form.
What I find so interesting about this is how we can go months, years, and sometimes lifetimes being unaware of the manipulation and storage of memory in the tissues of the body until one day, one moment, your attention is called inwards and you experience your body outside the conditioned grooves that day-to-day living assumes. So often is the case for many of us when we first start practicing yoga. As Cobb explains, the silence and the moment-to-moment awareness cues in yoga are invitations to finally notice sensations, thoughts, and images that arise, and the physical postures, asanas, knead the body’s cells, moving energetic information and triggering cellular memories. Yoga provides the atmosphere that interrupts our patterned living and provides us with the opportunity to meet ourselves with fresh perspective at the level of bodily experience.
In Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy we use techniques like a simple touch, assisted movement, or cues to tune into your body as ways to connect with and bring awareness to the unconscious patterns of holding. For example, in one of my personal experiences of receiving a Phoenix Rising session, the practitioner did a gentle stretch of my arm, first on the right and then on the left. The right side was so tight; I could feel the resistance along the whole length of my inner arm to my wrist and hand. The muscles felt contracted and ready for action, bracing for the next task that I needed to take on. While my left arm was so loose, relaxed, and wiggly-jiggly. The contrast was stark; it made me pause for reflection. Of course I’m right handed and my muscles get worked much harder in my right arm, but the more I stayed with my awareness (and the more I told myself), I realized I felt hesitant of using my left arm – its lack of tone and unpredictability in action was revealing a fear within me stemming from my past. As if to say, “I don’t know if you are able to support me.” I had avoided the use of my left side because I related capricious, unpredictable aspects of personality to being let down emotionally… and I was surely not going to do this to myself. So I maintained a right dominant, living strong, always in control lifestyle to keep myself from this vulnerable feeling of emotional unpredictability. From this simple experience of noticing the extreme tension differences in my arms I gained so much awareness about how I’d been living and my relationships of the past.
Much like my experience there are layers to the layers of memory, history, and personal experience and we learn that a tightly held muscle or rotation in our hip stores valuable information about our past and present selves. In yoga and yoga therapy a simple stretch or pose becomes an invitation into the psychological and physiological web that form the matrix of the mind-body… a place from which we can let our bodies speak the stories of our past and reveal the ways in which our patterns of conditioning affect us. And sometimes, through this awareness, we learn a new way of standing in the present moment.
For more information or to contact Renee Reusz go to http://inbalancehealth.ca