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A Valentine's Primer from Your Bodyworker

As a bodyworker I love to look at artwork, especially if it was painted or sculpted by an artist who understands anatomy.

Take for instance, the above painting by Bouguereau, A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros (1880). It’s obviously a rich painting of color and texture but notice that even the construction of the characters seem to form a heart shape. And in that structure a story is being told of a girl trying to avoid being pierced by this incarnation of “Love” who will most likely ruin her life.

Her body is poised in a playful defense and her back is arched. She’s on her toes to help ward off the inevitable. She does not look as if she is going anywhere. If she were to flee, she’d be on her heels ready to run. Imagine if you will, this frozen posture forever in time. The poor girl’s back would be compressed and she would end up with sciatica. She’d have sloping shoulders and have arm and wrist problems And talk about a foot cramp in the arches!

Now take a look at this altered rendition of the Mona Lisa. Her shoulders are relaxed and comfortable. Her hands are crossed in a manner which is at ease and even though facing down, they give her a sense of grace and confidence. The most interesting part of this painting is not her iconic smile but how open and warm her chest is. I find myself drawn to her gaze, but I always end up wondering how warm and lovely an embrace from her might feel.

Having an open heart is a wonderful thing but it can take a lot of work and energy being “open”. When we deal with an open heart, we must also be truthful and honest and with ourselves which is sometimes difficult and painful. However, when we are available to the joys of an open heart. We are revitalized, inviting, open to the possibilities to face all of the challenges which with it comes. We are empowered, confident and calm.

There is a controversial theory by social psychologist Amy Cuddy that says we can change the perception of how we and others view ourselves just by changing our body posture. The controversy arises when her theory claims that certain postures can raise the level of chemicals in our body chemistry that allows us to feel more confident and in charge. She utilizes the old saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it” and by changing how you stand, sit or hold your arms you are able to make the difference in your personal life and work environment.

Structural Bodywork helps you explore such postures by releasing fascia from past negative experiences and traumas. And it allows you to look and feel the “part” without faking it. Bodywork also releases the same types of hormones into your system such as serotonin, dopamine and testosterone, while decreasing natural hormones such as cortisol.

There is, however little talk of what actually happens to our bodies when the heart is damaged or closed off. Why is it important? What happens when the actual physical organ, the heart is physically constricted or blocked?

Emotion and attitude can cause the body to slump forward and block energy, constricting blood flow to the arteries and valves. Just look at the young girl in the painting again. She’s arched forward, encapsulating her heart in a protective posture but she is also compressing her chest, in turn closing her openness to heart expression.

Did you know that the heart will pump 200 million liters of blood around your body in your lifetime. Over an average lifetime a heart will beat more that 2.5 billion times. Blood will flow through the whole of your body three times every minute--that's every day for the your entire life. So imagine how much work that girl is putting into fending Eros off! How much blood and energy she is holding back in this terribly constricting posture. And Eros? He’s in full expression and his skin tone is pink and vibrant. Lots of blood flow there!

Just a little more about the heart, it is nestled between the left and right lung, in most cases al little to the left. It's protected by our sternum and the surrounding rib cage. The muscles in the rib cage are attached all around your upper torso and provide a strong cage that acts like a protective barrier. When the girl is collapsing forward, she is constricting her lungs and her diaphragm, her breath becomes shortened and strained.

The heart is a strong and durable muscle (all of our organs are made of muscle, visceral muscle). It is an incredibly fascinating piece of machinery that provides nourishment, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. And it does this 24/7 until the day we die. When you clasp both hands together what you get is the approximate size of your heart.

Something else that’s interesting about the heart it can actually be unfolded like a tightly wound sleeping bag. I make this point to specifically address that the unwinding, the “unfolding” or opening of one’s heart can be done but only with intention and much care--because in so doing, matters of the heart can be unfurled and released but if done too quickly and without care can be damaging.

Now back to Valentine’s Day and the emotional and physical elements of being in love—or not.

Take a look at these paintings again. Let’s mimic the posture of the young girl, slump your shoulders and stretch out your arms in defense. Come to the tips of your toes and poise your feet to hold off, hold firm. How long can you stay there without being uncomfortable or developing a cramp.

Now put your body in the posture of Mona Lisa, sit, with your arms and hands at your lap, shoulders lowered and relaxed. Breath into your chest and lungs and arch your lower back and exhale. . You become open and inviting to what is around you. Not only can you feel more relaxed but maybe even more confident.

When we deal with sadness, despair, fear or depression, our physicality, that is our structural integrity can be compromised, so this organ, this machine the size of two fists together, cannot be expected to function optimally when compressed by slouching. A posture that is heavy and conclave can hardly pump all that blood to the destinations that it is intended without a lot more effort?


When we use poor posture what we are doing is constricting the arteries, veins of our neck and jugular. We are compressing the heart and making them work that much harder. This can slow down our blood flow, not only to the body but constrict oxygen to the brain as well. When the body slumps forward and the pectorals pull tight and shorten, we retard the lymph nodes and block the passage of waste and toxins.

Studies have been conducted as recently as November, 2017 from the British Heart Foundation that say “A broken heart can cause as much damage as having a heart attack; severe emotional stresses are found to cause permanent injury to the organ”. Someone with no visible heart condition can show symptoms’ of a heart attack which can be diagnosed as stress “cardiomyopyopathy”.

There is no possible way that we as human beings can avoid having a broken heart--it comes with the spiritual contract if you believe in such things. The trick is to avoid wallowing in it. Becoming complacent and or fixed to a body structure that is slumped forward and compressed, should be avoided over the long-term.

This Valentine’s Day celebrate a day of having an open heart—to the ones you love, to yourself and to the world. Take a walk. Give and receive hugs. Go out into the world knowing that your heart is protected by your ribs and your sternum. Let your chest be exposed and confident. Revel in the emotions of love and self-love and allow your body to be energized. And make an appointment for yourself and your loved ones with your trusted bodyworker. Open your heart knowing that it is strong and confident enough to take on whatever may come.

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