How Body Language Affects Our Thoughts, Feelings, and CommunicationBy
I’ve always been interested in body language – especially when I first encountered other cultures in my teens. I was interacting with people who moved and related to each other physically in ways that were quite foreign to my conservative WASP upbringing.
Sometimes people I hardly knew were touching me and coming so close as to feel way too intimate for me, and other times with people I liked there was a physical formality and distance which made me feel separated from them even though I knew they had honest affection. I was confused and wanted to investigate.
When I got to Duke University as an undergraduate, I wanted to study body language, but this school with a top psychology department had no classes that delved into such material – so I took acting classes where I not only studied body language, I experienced it. I tend to learn by doing anyway so this worked for me, although I don’t think I was quite prepared for how I had to breakdown my defenses, my well-honed conservative habit-patterns of movement & body position, in order to create the characters that were written -characters who lived very different lives from the one I had been living. I had to move my body in ways I never had.
I continued my study of acting at (the MFA program at) the Yale School of Drama, and after 35 years as a professional actress – performing on stage, TV and film -I believe the work on my physical “instrument” has not only been an integral part of my development as an actress – but of my maturing as a human being.
I’ve had to let go of old tensions and physical restrictions to embrace new ways of moving as different characters – which created a much greater sense of compassion and connectedness to the characters I played – as well as to anyone who had ever been in such situations. I developed a physical fluidity – which I later noticed encouraged a fluidity of mind and feeling.
When I became an acting teacher, I discovered that most acting teachers were not emphasizing body language as much as my training had, and I found that when I could align an actor’s body with his/her intention and emotional/psychological state, the result was a truthful, grounded performance.
When I became a mindfulness meditation teacher years later, I discovered that I could help people’s “inner” life (i.e. their relationship to their thoughts & sense of self), but then their habit of holding the body in restricted ways tended to re-create the old habitual unpleasant feelings that had been integral to developing their way of holding the body in the first place.
I’d hear people complain of unpleasant emotions returning – even after pivotal deep insights which led them to no longer identify with those emotions & thoughts in that way. I could feel their frustration and exasperation. And I would, of course, notice that they were holding their bodies in ways to create those emotions – i.e. if I had wanted an actor to have the negative emotions they were complaining of – I would have put the actor into the exact physical position to which the meditator was habitually returning. The meditators did not realize that their bodies were inviting the emotions back by creating a conducive environment for them.
I then began my programs to help people “unlock” these unhelpful physical habit patterns, creating a body that was free and supported all the inner growth and shifts that were happening. The body became a grounded environment that better encouraged freedom from previous habits of suffering.
Now my interest is to help anyone (not just actors & meditators) to understand how the body can be an easy tool for self-transformation and discovery – how one can make simple adjustments in the way the body is held and moved to create more ease and well-being in daily life – physically, mentally and emotionally.
I am fortunate to be able to offer this workshops through UCLArts and Healing under the title “Shifting Positions to Shift Perceptions: How our Body Language Affects How We Think and Feel.” If you are in the LA area, I invite you to join us and see for yourself how subtle shifts in body awareness can have dramatic impact on your happiness and well-being – and on how you communicate to the world.
And for those who cannot join us, if I had to over simplify what I teach into a 10 second soundbite, I’d encourage you to allow your spine to easily lengthen and to release everything from there. (And smiling also has a dramatic impact, so what the hell, throw a few smiles in there, too.)
May your life be filled with ease and happiness.