Tightness I can’t run from

I’m endlessly fascinated with myself. I can spend a lot of time rolling on the floor, noticing, wondering, sensing, but I easily forget that I can. My lists of things I want to do, I think I should do, and I have to do keep my attention from the quiet whisperings of my interceptors.  Until a hip finally screams, notice me!

“Tightness in your joints is movement you wanted to make but couldn’t,” the workshop leader said.  My aching joints said, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”  Now years later I can’t recall who said this. Maybe it was Body Psychotherapist Susan Aposhyan, who says that when we don’t move through a stress producing event (or thought) the options left for our muscles are to hold, or to bind, or to collapse.

So when we can’t, or we believe we can’t, respond by fleeing or fighting our way out of the upsetting situation, what do we do with all that energy? Hold, bind, collapse.  And we sure won’t want our response seen, so the binding, holding or collapsing will be close to the core, effecting the torso or hips or shoulders.

Which of these responses to being thwarted are you most familiar with?  Holding is a stop, a freeze, no breath, no sound, no movement.  Binding is a pull inward, being small, tightening, protecting.  Collapsing, is giving up, becoming deflated, exhausted, weak.  Try experiencing the differences in your body.  It takes a little discernment. Be endlessly fascinated with yourself.  What are each of them like? And how are they different?  If your curiosity is piqued, give yourself a few breaths and a little movement to fully relax and feel embodied, then bring to mind something that is distressful.  Can you sense how your muscles respond?  What is your familiar choice?

It’s misleading to speak of a response that is below conscious awareness as a “choice” or a “decision,” which makes it sound like a thinking process. Thinking is much too slow and awkward when it comes to safety and survival.  This is a nervous system choice, a very smart body reaction.  This is why, Dr. Stephen Porges coined the term “neuroception” for the body’s process of sensing, perceiving, and acting. It’s an autonomic process which may or may not inform our conscious awareness.

Me? What’s my tried and true solution?  I bind. It’s my strategy when I experience unpleasantness that I perceive I can’t get away from.  I take the energy my body is rallying for action and tighten it down.  I bet I’ve been doing this for over 60 years. It’s a well-established pattern, no thinking, no evaluation needed, pure neuroception.  Now my joints can be a bit achy and tight from all that binding.  It’s true most of the time I don’t have to jump out of the way of a runaway truck or fight off a pouncing cougar.  Historically our biological strategies weren’t designed to attack an overdrawn bank account, there’s nothing to pounce on, so where does that energy go?  You got it: to hold, bind, or collapse.

There are techniques I’ve gleaned from movement modalities and traditions, actions to lessen the effects of binding.  I vibrate and shake, while keeping the range of movement minimal and the vibration maximal. Opening my throat and allowing a little sound increases the benefits.  Or I move slowly, gently, yielding to gravity with a focus on flow, and at times imagine lubricating my joints with warm fragrant oil.  Stretching or the action of lengthening isn’t very effective for this tension. It is movement which provides the responsive resiliency I desire.

Being endlessly fascinated with myself, I’m training to notice when something distresses me and then move the energy through my limbs.  If there is a particular situation I wanted to get away from, I take some time in my own private space to explore the impulses. Slowly with awareness, I play with both fighting and running away movement.  Mostly it’s the accumulated dings and bangs of life that I want to clear out.  Someday I might not instantly bind.  Someday I will find that tiny space between sensory awareness and conscious awareness to make the choice to move in the moment.  If not, I can take the time and space to un-bind the energy later, moving my muscles and joints in full expressive vitality. I no longer want to wait until my tight joints begin screaming at me.


About karenkirsch

I am a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist and Laban Movement Analyst. I have a Masters degree in Somatic Psychology with training in Interpersonal Neurobiology, Body Mind Centering, Dance Therapy and other mind/body disciplines. My passion is to help people integrate sensate understanding into the practice of daily living and encourage gentle exploration grounded in sound anatomical and neurological principles.
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