The way you hold your body shapes the world for you.
To test this out, just try walking, speaking, thinking for a few minutes with your jaw tightly clenched, or your stomach muscles held rigid. Or raise your shoulders by half an inch. Or hold your breath – not completely, but just enough so your breath is high in your chest and you’re neither inhaling nor exhaling fully. Or tilt your head back just a little – five degrees or so more than you’re used to so that you’re looking down your nose. Or collapse, just a bit, in the middle – round your shoulders, bend forward just a touch, slouch.
You’ll find the world, and the world of possibilities for relating and acting, are subtly but palpably different in each.
So there’s much to be gained by paying attention to your body during the day, especially if you’re working with or leading others.
You could start, today, by paying attention to all the ways in which you contract throughout the day. You might be someone who starts the day quite contracted and clenched already. Even if you are, start to notice all the times you contract a little more.
When someone at home hadn’t put the bin out. When the train was a delayed a few minutes. When you got caught in a traffic jam. When you saw how many emails had arrived overnight. When you got called to an unexpected meeting. When someone didn’t like what you said. When a conversation didn’t go your way. When you didn’t get out to the gym. When your client didn’t buy. When it rained.
As your body contracts, step by step, watch how your irritability or your reactiveness change. What happens to your relationships, your openness, your capacity to think, your creativity? Is this the way you want to be in each of them?
And if, as a result of this, you’re noticing a correlation between your bodily contraction and your possibility in life, there are many things you can do to make a difference.
The simplest step might be just to remember to breathe – a full, long breath out and a full long breath in. It’s amazing how many people live their lives in a perpetual three-quarter held breath. Or relax your shoulders and your jaw for a moment. Or lie down for a while and let your back soften into the floor. Go for a massage. Swim. Run. Take up a yoga practice.
You don’t have to turn, day by day, into a contracted bundle of irritability. Unless of course, you want to.