body-psychology: guest post by Connor McClenahan

Hi Readers, I had a great conversation with a client recently who agreed to write it up for all of you to enjoy too. Write any questions in the comments below and I’ll get some answers for you from my guest writer. Susan

Hi, my name is Connor McClenahan, and I am currently studying for my doctorate in psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. While I am by no means a professional, I have encountered some ideas in my studies that Susan asked me to share.

We live in a culture that separates mind and body. Many people have a belief that our bodies are secular houses for our sacred emotional souls. However, Body-psychotherapy affirms the body as an intimate part of the self.

Body-psychotherapy looks at how emotions are expressed in the body throughout life. It claims that the body’s expressions, posture, and muscular pattern tell the story of a person’s emotional history and personality. Just as words are the means for expressing ideas, so our bodies are the means for expressing emotions. Think about what you do when you want to express emotion to someone: You may move your hands, change your facial expression, or change your posture. When certain emotions are repeatedly experienced their pattern becomes engrained in the structure of one’s body.

Let me give an example: A girl grows up in a house where she is constantly afraid of her unpredictable mother. Whenever she’s around her, she raises and tightens her shoulders and breathes short breaths. As a woman, she will have a holding pattern in her muscles that reflect her emotional experience. She may often experience tight shoulders and shortness of breath, accompanied by the thought that her world is unpredictable (like her mother). She may also appear to have a collapsed chest and high shoulders. Her body is an expression of her painful emotional history.

Want to test it out? This exercise will help you see the intimate connection between your emotions and your body:

  1. Collapse your shoulders down and inward.  Allow your spine to slouch.  Sit with it… how do you feel?
  2.  Stand up, let your shoulders rotate back and down, keep your spine straight, your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent.  Stand there for a second.  How do you feel now?

In position #1, you probably felt sad or defeated.  In position #2, you probably felt competent and self-assured.  For some fun, try doing position #1 while trying to feel self-confident, or position #2 while trying to feel defeated.  It’s pretty difficult to do without changing your body!

If you feel repeated soreness or tightness in your muscles, it may be worth spending some time processing through your own emotional history.  A Body-psychotherapist may be able to help you explore, understand, and heal not only your muscular patterns, but your emotional history that holds it.  Of course, massages will still help your sore muscles.  No wonder massages seem to not only relax your muscles, but your mind as well.

Here are some resources if you’d like to know more:


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