Language of The Living Body

Wholeness of the mind through the body

A great deal has been written about using the postures to aid such conditions as arthritis, hypertension, etc. But I want to show that we can use the postures specifically to heal PEOPLE.

By people I mean the personality in the living body. But what are people, and what is a person? It is quite a complex subject. Yet if we cannot have some fairly clear view of what a person is, we will approach one in a hazy way. And, of course, the hazy approach might be toward oneself.

The term personality usually means the essence of all the characteristics and responses by which we differentiate between one person and another. One aspect of this is, of course, their body, its sex, shape, skin colouring, voice quality etc. But people have different ways of going about things. For instance a friend Bill, when I introduced a girl friend, took me to one side and asked me – seriously – if I realised women had smaller brains than men, and what on earth was I doing with a female. Bill was in his late forties and not married.

Even if I hadn’t been able to see or hear Bill, his response to the situation was recognisably different to that of other friends. If we could draw a graph of all Bill’s responses to life, his graph would be completely different from many people. In fact it might be that everyone had a slightly different graph, rather like finger prints. Nevertheless there would be similarities. Some people would be high in attraction to the opposite sex, others would be low. Some graphs would show highly  developed  intellects,  others  highly  developed emotional response, and so on.

To simplify this even further, instead of seeing the personality as a graph, consider it as represented by a house. Let us use a grand house which has many rooms. The rooms include a dining room, a nursery, a library, workshop, bedrooms, a games room, a small chapel, a large cellar, and an adequate sick bay. Dreams often use such a house to represent the different facets and functions of ourself. The dining room is our urge to eat; the sick bay our healing processes; the library our intellect; the bedroom our sex life or sleep; the cellar our unconscious; the nursery our childhood experiences, and the workshop our skills. Of course we have many other aspects of self than symbolised by this particular house. Some dream houses include a turret above the roof from which one can see the sky, stars, and countryside. It symbolises our sense of the cosmos and relationship with it.

For example many people are either centred on their genitals, stomach, emotions or intellect. To be whole we need a balance between our body its movements, our genitals, our hungers, our emotional feelings, our voice speech and song, our ability to see and gain understanding of what is viewed, our head with our thinking our memory and higher brain functions such as creativity, intuition and spiritual insight.

If we translate the different graphs of people into the rooms of the house, what we might see is that some people spend all their life in the kitchen and perhaps don’t even realise there is a beautiful library or turret in their house. As a personality their whole life is so bounded by their activities of caring for their children and doing the housework that they consider themselves to be only those things. Perhaps when their family leave home and husband dies or divorces they have a breakdown because there is nothing left for them or of them. Or perhaps we have a young man, Bill, whose life is spent in the boxing ring in the games room. He sees life as a fight in which he has to be tough and ready to defend himself. He considers himself to be a’ man .

If we look around we see some people trapped in the cellar of their instinctive drives and fears. Some people move about in the turret, library and dining room, but never go to the bedroom or games room. Others are frequently in the workshop, bedroom, and library, but do not even believe there is a turret or cellar. Wholeness means that we are not trapped in any one area of ourself. It has in it something similar to the yoga ideal of liberation, which in one sense means we are no longer locked into identification with any aspect of ourself.



Bringing this back to ways of wholeness through bodywork, a simple example will illustrate how it can function. Bill, the boxer, has a particular relationship with his body. His personality, identified as it is with the picture of himself as a tough, manly fighter, expresses through the body in postures and movements which express this image of himself. Any other urges which arise from the other facets of himself, such as tenderness, or feelings of vulnerability, may be pushed out of awareness. If we asked Bill to take on a yoga stretch such as the Tree (Vrksasana), and do it in the quiet mood it needs, he would move out of the usual ways he expresses physically. He would be gently moving beyond the boxing ring feelings in himself, into areas he may not have felt before.

Some macho males night feel foolish in the Tree because it is a soft, although concentrated, posture. But it is because of this very aspect of body work that it can be used toward personal wholeness. Therefore, if we build a theoretical map of the basic ways people are fragmented, and what sort of posture or movement would balance it, we have the start of useful therapeutic ways of using our body.

Many great thinkers and physicians have attempted to define a human being in a way useful in healing. Carl Jung said each one of us have a main way we relate to the world. We respond through our FEELINGS, or our THINKING, our SENSES, or our INTUITION. Overall, he said, we are either INTROVERT or EXTROVERT.

Karen Horney, a woman psychiatrist, said there are three basic reactions or movements we make in life. They are TOWARD – AGAINST – AWAY. Toward is when we feel loving “toward” someone, or giving them something, or reach out to them warmly with our body. Against is when we dislike or oppose someone, push them away. Away is when we have interests outside or are disinterested in someone or walk away without a feeling connection.

It is also important to recognise that there is a MERGING and EMERGING aspect of human nature. When we are a baby in the womb, and even after we have been born, we are very “merged” with our mother. When making love, and there is a time of losing oneself during intimacy, there is a “merged” experience. When we grow and gradually depend less and less on our parents, then we are “emerging”. When we have got close to someone and then want to get on with other activities we “emerge”, or break the connection in the degree of intimacy which existed.

Perhaps the most comprehensive view of human nature is that represented by the yoga illustration of the chakras. But to start with, let us consider some of the views stated above. One of the fundamentals of human existence is expressed in sleeping and waking. These extremes enter into many other areas of life in some degree. Sleeping is a profound expression of introversion or withdrawal; while waking is an example of extroversion or self expression. The consideration of withdrawal and expression is a useful place to begin learning how to use the body in attaining wholeness.

Few of us express ourselves very fully. When we watch an athlete or gymnast and compare the way we walk or move with them, our own movements will probably appear withdrawn or not expressive. We seldom express our feelings very openly, or really explore our own creativity. Generally we can live with this state without great disturbance, but sometimes our non expressiveness becomes troublesome. We can call this state WITHDRAWAL.

Some years ago I was asked to help a woman in her sixties. She was experiencing rheumatic type pains in her arms, frequently felt depressed, and didn’t go out of her house much. Her physical movements were cautious, and so overall she comes within the category of being withdrawn. I helped her to begin making strong movements with her arms, and gradually with the rest of her body. This stimulated her feelings of pleasure in her body, helped her to express rather than withdraw, and within a few weeks she no longer had her arm pains. She started going out again, bought herself a new outfit of clothes, and her depression lifted.

Withdrawal shows itself in many degrees, and might be obviously vocal or emotional rather than physical. Also, withdrawal is given many names, such as the person being quiet; shy; lethargic; a drop out; cautious; nervous; depressed; etc. Sometimes a person confuses their withdrawal with their identity. In other words they say, “But that’s how I am. I’m just a quiet person.” What this really means is that their withdrawal is such a habit, or is so long standing, they believe it is them, rather than simply a way they express. So they may be trapped in it. Coming out of withdrawal is not simply a matter of leaping about and being “expressive”, however. If we are going to work with this situation we therefore need to understand a little of its causes.

As already explained, the everyday form of extreme withdrawal is sleep – and of course death. If we could not withdraw we could not balance our extroverted activities. We would be trapped in “Expression”. Prenatal life is also a form of healthy withdrawal. In adult life, withdrawal is only a problem when we cannot move easily in and out of it. If we consider how we moved out of the “withdrawal” of babyhood though, it helps us to understand how we may be stuck in it. Firstly we begin to express ourselves through reaching out for our needs, crying to be fed. If these are satisfied we can stretch further in learning to walk, talk, explore, climb, shout, and discover the complexities of social life and relationships. If at any point there is pain, shock or non satisfaction, the urge to extend oneself is either not satisfied, hurt or shocked, and draws back.

The subtle urges to reach out, to express oneself, to explore are life forces which lie behind the growth of ourselves as a person. We cannot see them as easily as one might a leg or head, so they are often overlooked. But they are vitally important. Four child specialists at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore carried out an experiment relevant to this. Twelve children, ranging in age from three to eleven, had been placed in their care. All of them were only half the average height for their age. Investigation had shown that all of them came from quarrelling, unhappy, disturbed families. They were placed in a convalescent home with a peaceful environment, and then grew rapidly. In a year one seven-year-old grew twelve inches.

Some of the children returned home, and despite their abnormally large appetites, their growth stopped. Tests on their growth hormones showed that within a few days of returning home the growth hormones ceased to circulate. In his book “The Puzzled Body” Caron Kent shows how adults whose impulse to grow had been withdrawn in childhood experienced amazing changes in their body when they released their growth energies.



When we emerge from the womb, our being is confronted by a different world. In the womb there was little change. There was no otherness such as other objects or people to deal with. There was no need to reach out for one’s needs because food came automatically. In life outside the womb, food might not come automatically, certainly not as we mature. There are other people and objects to deal with. Change is occurring all the time. If as a baby we find no comfort or love when we are born, it could be that we do not have any urge to adapt to this new life. Perhaps we do not want to be involved in its change, its opposites, its need to find our own needs and to cope with other people. We may wish to stay in the womb condition. So although our body matures, we might not develop into an outgoing explorative person. We might “drop out”, or withdraw into alcoholism. In milder forms we might be quiet and inexpressive, not wishing to be involved in what is going on around us.

Therefore, when we use body movements or postures to help ourselves or someone else to wholeness, we may meet the feelings which are behind the withdrawal. There is no problem in that. We simply need to be aware that we might arouse the original feelings of hurt, shock, or decision, and when we do so be ready to feel and re-evaluate them.

In helpfully dealing with withdrawal we will need to know what postures express it. The two most direct are the Child Posture and the Corpse posture. In helping someone work on withdrawal I often use the Squat, as long as it is comfortable. Whatever posture we use, we need to start with eyes closed while in it, and let ourselves relax and feel comfortable in it. If you are aware of how you feel in the posture, you may not have a spontaneous urge to come out of it. That feeling is important, and must not be dismissed. It is the evidence of what has happened to your growth/expressive impulse, and must be honoured and worked with.

Let us assume you are working with the squat posture. While in it with eyes closed, let the head drop, muscles relax, and realise it is a physical expression of not having to look at people; of not expressing actively in the world. When you have got the feeling of relaxing, of withdrawing into a comfortable non-activity, gradually unfold and stand up. As you stand, breathe in. As you come erect take your arms slightly backwards to open and stretch your rib cage. Let the head go back slightly as well, so the whole posture is dynamic and open. Be aware of the different feeling in this posture than in the squat. Now move into the squat again. As you do down breathe out and relax. Move between the down, withdrawn posture, and the up, expressive, dynamic posture, noticing the different feeling in each. If you are using the yoga stretch the Child posture, you could emerge into the Camel.

But you need to be aware of the different feeling in each and learn to alternate between them with awareness. Whatever postures you use, aim at bringing more of yourself into the dynamic posture (more of your feelings, more pleasure, more awareness, or more energetic intention); and aim at letting go more in the withdrawn posture. Recognise that you need to be able to allow yourself a comfortable place, a resting place, a place of privacy. There is no sin about withdrawal. As already said, it is only a difficulty if you are stuck there.

That is sufficient for a general workout in regard to withdrawal. Once you become aware of the different feeling states in withdrawing and expressing, then you can use the same principle in many postures. If withdrawal is a real problem though, you will need to add a bit more to the practice. Use the same approach, but when in the withdrawn posture, do not automatically come up. Recognise your need to stay “down”. Give yourself permission to stay in the comfortable down position until you can feel an urge in yourself to get up. Don’t try to push away the urge to stay down. Watch it, put words to it expressive of how it feels. Notice any change of feeling. See if any impulse comes to move – not a thought, not a disciplined command. We are working with the subtle feelings which are behind withdrawal.

As you are down, see if you can recognise where or how the urge to stay “down” influences your everyday life. If you have not discovered a drive to get up within ten minutes, get up anyway, and come back to the posture on another day, until you can feel an urge from within yourself to stand up. It may take several practice sessions, so be patient. You may have been relating to that part of yourself in an impatient way before, feeling that it “must” get on with life. Such drives in us will not be bullied, but they will respond to being listened to. That, surely, is part of yoga – not to kill (any part of oneself), but to approach it with compassion.

Once you contact the feeling in you which is ready to emerge into the world and be involved in its change, its difficulties and opportunities, allow the feeling to flow into the expressive postures you do, and in body movements such as standing, walking, and working. Move between the squatting and standing again, letting the urge to express flow into the standing, and the ability to let go to be felt in the squatting. Many of the opposites in yoga, such as bending forward and backward, are ways of approaching such a balance between the different polarities of our being. Doing them with awareness of how we feel in them greatly increases their efficiency.

If we approach our body as if it were purely a muscular and mechanical function, we will miss a great deal of its mystery. The very movements we make are responses to thoughts and feelings. Some of our most exquisite movements arise out of love and tenderness, or patient craft. Because our body is made up of cells, and what we call SELF arises out of the feelings and consciousness life in those cells generates, we must honour the body with feelings and wisdom. If we approach it with those attitudes, it will speak to us more of its unique experience.


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