Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
From a decade of working stress out of the body as a Massage Therapist, I have helped a lot of people improve their holding patterns by harnessing the power of the body-mind connection. And throughout my experience, if I had to generalize the 3 most common ways we carry stress, I’d highlight these 3 actions:
1. Narrowing: physically, we constrict by pulling our muscles inward. We squish ourselves. As if there is a force on both sides of us, compressing our shoulders into each other. I see the results of “narrowed bodies” all the time…shoulders hiked up and crunched forward - stretching the back muscles to a point of pain.
It’s interesting how many of us make an unconscious effort to be small…like peacocks hiding our feathers. When we are under pressure, we close off from the rest of the world, both physically and mentally. Physically our body narrows by folding into itself, and mentally our perception narrows by fixating on problems.
Photo by Aditya Wardhana on Unsplash
WIDEN UP! Challenge your body to widen! Drop your shoulders and imagine spreading out your feathers! And challenge your mind to widen! Broaden your vision to see beyond problems and beyond what’s stressing you out.
2. Contracting: of course when we are stressed, we unconsciously contract many of our muscles - however, the ones that I find particularly important for releasing stress, are the forehead muscles. If our forehead muscles are tense, so is our mind, and vise versa. When it comes to the body-mind connection, the forehead seems to be the first responder to negative and stressful thoughts.
When we physically force our forehead to relax, a mental shift happens in us. Our mind seems to relax and open up as well, allowing solutions to flow in. Suddenly letting go is much easier and we can stop gripping onto whatever thoughts are triggering the stress holding patterns in our body.
OPEN UP! Try it now, try un-crunching your forehead and smoothing out all of your worry-lines. Open up your head and open up your mind. See if you can notice the instant body-mind relief this simple exercise offers. And if you want some more guidance here, check out the Ego-Less Night-Long Meditation Retreat on our free app! There is an entire hour (the 3rd hour) of guided meditation that is dedicated to opening the forehead in order to relax the mind!
3.Hardening: when we are running on adrenaline and our nervous system is in fight/flight/freeze mode – our physical body hardens as if it’s trying to guard itself from the outside world and our entire rib cage stiffens up. This significantly impairs our ability to breathe properly, preventing our nervous system from downshifting into the restorative rest/digest mode.
Now the body isn’t the only thing that hardens when we are under too much pressure, our mind hardens as well. We become psychologically rigid, unforgiving and hyper-stern with ourselves. And the self-destructive combination of this mental punishment along with the physical withholding of air really, does us in. The more we harden ourselves, the harder life gets.
SOFTEN UP! Consciously soften your rib cage and diaphragm, untether your digestive organs to counteract the adrenaline in your body. Soften up your expectations of yourself and send yourself some much deserved love. Chances are, you are trying hard to do your best.
The next time that you catch your mind feeling stressed or catch your body carrying stress, WOS’up! Physically, widen your shoulders, open up your forehead, and soften your rib cage. Mentally, widen your perception, open your mind, and soften your heart. This is a simple and immediate way to help you stop carrying stress and free yourself from the body-mind stress cycle.