Comment: This is a short article I wrote as an introduction to my Anatomy and Expression workshop series. It gives a bit of insight into the intersect between body practice and our inner experience.
As I am working through a twist in yoga, the instructor kneels beside me, and with gentle support starts helping me move deeper. As my ribs start to move and my breathing opens I am surprised to hear sobs emerging. I have been working on the tension in my ribs and restrictions to my breathing for some time, but this was new.
The transition from physical tension to deepened experiencing is not news to any somatic practitioner who has been working for longer than a year or two. I still remember my first experience with this deepening as it occurred on my massage table. My client and I had been working together for some time, but this time she had sheets of tension through her neck and shoulders as a result of a car accident she had earlier that week. As I worked with the tension, she dissolved into tears. She remembered having to move into care-taking mode when she realized that it was an elderly man is who had been driving the car that hit her, and he looked more shocked and bewildered then she felt herself. It was only as she was able to drop into her body that her own reactions began to surface and the tensions that it held them began to soften up.
Despite the frequency of these occurrences in massage therapy and other somatic practices, little education is available in entry level training programs. The only training that is typically available for practitioners is through specialized trainings in trauma and processed centered therapies.
A first step in gaining access to this valuable information is looking at it through the lens of anatomy. In the early 1900s, Pioneer psychoanalyst and researcher, Wilhelm Reich, was already describing how particular muscles in the body formed distinctive patterns of tension that he called armoring. This led to the recognition of tension bands that form at typical levels of the body such as the neck or lower back. And more broadly, how patterns of tension will form as an expression of particular types of personality, often shaped in early childhood development.
Practitioners can benefit from the recognition of these patterns by responding more specifically to them. Slight shifts in techniques can be made through the recognition that the tensions showing in a person’s body are not just physical but have a story. Recognizing the signs of a stopped story in the body may lead to a referral to a practitioner who specializes in this area. In addition, clients can benefit through education about how unresponsive tension patterns may be related to armoured experience.