A few decades ago, the systematic study of body language was a real eye-opener to millions of people. For the first time we were able to fully appreciate how people communicate non-verbally.
You remember the basic idea, don’t you? Defensive attitudes are betrayed by folded arms, crossed legs, clenched fists, etc. An attitude of openness is conveyed by arms at one’s side or behind one’s back, and so on. This insight that we are always communicating with one another apparently rang true with the experience of many people.
These days there is a new approach to understanding the human person that goes beyond body language. It is the thesis that the shape and contours of our bodies have been influenced by our emotional conditioning.
The thesis that we are talking about goes beyond just looking at the face and the eyes of a person. The idea is that the very shape of our bodies is making a concrete statement about what is going on within us on a deeper level.
These insights were first revealed by Ken Dychtwald in his book Body-Mind. The author says that five principal factors influence the shape of our bodies. The first is, logically, heredity. We inherit many bodily characteristics from our parents.
Secondly, we are influenced by physical activity. For example, working outdoors for forty years, pounding nails, lifting 100 pound bags of cement, will shape our bodies into looking very different from an accountant who sits at his or her desk all day.
The third factor is nutrition. If we are heavy and puffy, for example, there is a good chance that eating the wrong foods has something to do with this.
Fourthly, we are influenced by our environment. The streets of Mumbai, the wheat fields of Soviet Georgia, and the island of Tahiti are three distinct environments, each with its health challenges and assets, that would determine a lot about how we look.
So far, probably everyone has no problem with what Dychtwald is saying. The fifth factor, however, is a little more controversial. He posits that our very bodies are shaped to some extent by our emotional life. We all recognize the fact that our bodies and minds are connected. For example, if we are angry, our faces may flush and our blood pressure rise. But what would happen if we were chronically tense and stressed? After years of holding a tense state of consciousness, would it not make sense that the muscles in our belly and chest would slowly shape themselves in a way that reflects a chronic state of nervousness with its accompanying tensions and blockages?
The book goes on to show how the shape of our spine, the thrust of our chin, the expansion of our chest and the way we walk are all influenced by emotional and psychological factors. We have all been challenged to “own” our feelings. Now it looks like we are being challenged to accept responsibility for even the shape and appearance of our own bodies.
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