In his book The Body of Life, Thomas Hanna writes about several studies conducted at Magill University over 30 years ago involving measuring muscle tension and emotion. They found that there was not only a correlation between thinking and muscle tension, but that there was a change in tension depending upon whether the subjects’ thoughts were pleasant or unpleasant. This work by Robert Malmo proved that one’s thoughts – and especially those that are emotionally charged – create muscular tension in the body – even when one is not moving!
Hanna went on to discover that there are three very specific brain stem responses to stress that, when invoked repeatedly, create habituated muscular tension:
- Green Light Reflex
- Red Light Reflex
- Trauma Reflex
When we talk about emotions it’s impossible to separate out the bodily feelings – or somatic awareness – from the emotion. Have you ever noticed that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when someone you don’t really like walks into the room – or when you read a newspaper article that upsets you? Have you ever noticed how you respond to good news? If you watch a soccer player celebrate a goal, they jump in the air, they throw their arms up, their backs straighten and their entire body lengthens in joy. And next time you’re upset about something and don’t want to talk about it, notice what you feel like. Neck tight? Back? Jaw set?
This is just a beginning, but an important one. Gaining an appreciation for how your brain affects your body can open up a world of possibilities that you might not have been aware of.