“The body never lies”. Its tensions and movements, tone and color, posture and proportions, all express the person and the vitality within. The body speaks of one’s emotional history and deepest feelings, one’s personality and character. A drooping head, slumped shoulders, a caved-in chest, and a slow, burdened gait reflect feelings of weakness and defeat; while a head carried erect, shoulders straight and loose, a chest breathing fully and easily, and a light gait tell of energy and confident promise.
Such physical patterns become fixed by time, effecting growth and body structure. They characterize not just the moment, but the person. Rather than simply a present disappointment, the crushed posture of hopelessness could be pointing to a lifetime of endless frustration and bitter failure. Fixed muscular patterns in the body are central to a person’s way of being in the world. They form in response to family and early environment.
The parental responses to the child’s physical or emotional needs are the most important determinants of fixed patterns. A mother who responds with love and understanding gives the nourishment of security, satisfaction, and pleasure. Lack of this nourishment is the emotional crippling which the physical body reveals. To meet early psychological splitting between truth of the child’s negative feelings and struggle against disintegration due to the unexplainable, irrational, unjustifiable situation of needs not met, the child creates tensions to block his fear and pain and deaden the impulses which lead to these feelings.
Whatever the feeling, it is also expressed physically, and becomes a way of holding oneself, a fixed muscular pattern and set attitude toward life. These attitudes and fixed muscular patterns reflect, enhance, and sustain one another. It is as if the body sees what the mind believes and the heart feels, and adjusts itself accordingly. This gives rise to a way of holding oneself (as pride can swell the chest and fear can contract the shoulders). The muscular pattern in turn sustains the attitude.
Each muscular pattern or block is associated with a particular underlying feeling, so the number of basic patterns is to some extent limited. There is no limit, however, to the shades and subtleties of their combinations. These underlying feelings and their interactions with the forces of growth produce the infinite variety of personalities. To see these patterns, and read the messages they contain, one needs a willingness to be affected by whatever is there, on a heart level. They are expressions of the core of a human being. A person’s body, his behavior, his personality, the way he moves, what he talks about, his attitudes, dreams, perceptions, posture, are all parts of a unitary whole.
In a person with emotional blocks, chronic muscle tension interrupts the free flow of feelings into expression, and energy blocks result. With the growth of a habit, awareness dims. The feeling itself may slip from consciousness, and situations which arouse it may be avoided. It is this habit of lack of awareness which is a block. The pattern of muscle tensions in the blocks affects movement, posture, growth, and therefore structure. Blocks impede the flow of energy in the body, and Kurtz and Prestera detail energy flows, the relationships of blocks to specific body parts, and resultant structural patterns in the remainder of this book.
The process of undoing blocks involves arduous and persistent work on physical, emotional and mental levels. The insidious, interlocking nature of fearful attitudes, habitual muscle tensions, blocked feelings and restricted awareness makes any change both difficult and delicate. The physical work may involve exercises like yoga or bioenergetics, or active intervention through a variety of techniques (Alexander, Feldenkrais, Aston’s patterning, Rolfing, massage, chiropractic, postural exercises) to build the capacity to handle deep emotional changes and release of energy. Deep change requires recontacting and reexperiencing the feelings, the irrational fears, and removing the self-imposed limits.
“It is wise to remember that a person’s patterns always contain pain and fear. They are intimate, and the embodiments of much suffering. Skill is required and compassion is essential if one is going to make contact with them and help dissolve them. A long time in the making, they do not yield easily. Force does not work, but tenderness, respect, loving understanding, and a commitment to be honest will often be enough. Strength and courage are needed to break free. For ultimately, these patterns are bonds which imprison man’s spirit. They bind us to self-concern and painfully isolate us from each other. It is first by seeing them and then understanding them that we can best free each other from their grip.”