If another person can read your emotion by looking at your body, then your body is helping you to create the emotion. Most people think of facial expression and body language as primarily expressing emotion, but it is not hard to demonstrate that they also help us create our feelings. We don’t feel empowered in a fetal position. It is difficult to cry while standing at attention.
We each acquire habits of movement and facial expression that reflect our inner world. Some of us go through life with tight shoulders looking like we expect to be hit. Others hunch our shoulders like we are carrying the weight of the world. Some acquire a persistent expression of anger, sadness, weariness or worry. As our posture and facial expressions become habitual, our feeling states may become less spontaneous as well. Maybe we know how to do sad very well, but we don’t know the behaviors of joy. If we are stuck in habit our options are limited.
Becoming aware of what we usually do, we can start to choose new responses. Wanting to be spontaneous and authentic in our emotions, we must observe how we create them. We must observe our thoughts, feelings, movements, behaviors and personal habits, including speech, diet, sleep and relationships. If we sleep little, skip meals, focus on disaster, worry much, isolate ourselves and curl up in a ball, our emotions are completely predictable. As we learn to recognize how our behavior influences our emotions, we can start to become responsible for our emotions. We are less a victim of circumstance and more of an empowered person.
Observe your emotions and how they change as you enact different postures and movement patterns. Take your time, tune in to your subtle feelings and try these:
Put up your dukes. Stand in a fighting pose with your fists up tightly clenched. How do you feel?
Look upward. Stretch your arm above your head with elbows bent and wrists relaxed.
Does that feel different? What’s it like?
Sit in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Do you notice an emotional change of tone?
Sit with elbows on your thighs and hands over your face. Does this make you happy?
Look downward and hold your arms as if you are holding a baby. Experiment with other postures you might use to hold a baby. Notice how you feel. For extra points, say something and see if you slip into baby talk.
Wring your hands.
Hold your arms as if you are giving someone a hug.
Put your palms together, tilt your head and place your hands against your cheek as if it were sleepy time.
Look down, cross your wrists and place your hands on opposite shoulders.
Stand with your feet firmly planted at shoulder width. Look straight ahead, shoulders back, chest up, but relaxed and breathing freely.
Try on different expressions and notice the emotional response you get from the act:
Look up with your mouth open
Shift your jaw one way or the other and shift your eyes to one side or the other.
Look forward and smile broadly.
Half smile with eyes looking down.
When you are ready to meditate, sit in an upright meditation position with a half smile and eyes downward.
© 2003 Tom Barrett