Posture, Elbows and Consciousness

Posh Soap Opera

I admit it--I watched all six seasons of Downton Abby. I loved the clothes! And Lady Violet’s barbs--no one can deliver scathing lines quite like Maggie Smith.

Peaceful Elbows

Lady Mary and Lady Edith almost always stood and walked with their elbows extended. Their formal gloves—some reaching midway up the upper arm—heightened the effect of their long, elegant arms and peaceful elbows. Apart from soapy inner dramas, their lives seemed to consist of graciously standing around, paying visits, dancing at fancy balls, and occasionally riding to hounds. These aristocratic women did little physical work. They didn't even dress themselves. I wonder what it must have felt like to inhabit elbows that had so little need to flex with effort.

Elbow Tension

As a Rolfing® practitioner, I've observed that tension in the elbows affects the whole body. Habitual flexion there, however slight, pulls the upper arm forward in its socket, starting a chain reaction that pulls the shoulder blades forward, and the collarbones and chest down, and the neck forward. Elbow tension often corresponds with flexion in the spine just behind the diaphragm, and that interferes with fullness of breath. The postural end result feels, and certainly looks, nothing like the upper crust ladies of Downton.

In myself, a slight chronic tension in the elbows expresses my need to get things done--my hands ever ready to reach forward to the next activity, to grasp the next idea. People who exhibit this pattern of chronic tension, myself included, tend to be people who are ready to help, ready to serve. Nurses and teachers. Mostly women.

Imaginary Gloves

I decide to pay attention to my elbows for a day or two.

I turn from the French Press on the counter and walk eight paces to the fridge for the cream. My elbows stay bent at a right angle the whole way. Perhaps I’m avoiding the effort required to bend my elbows a second time--it's the epitome of this habit. As I track the habit over several domestic hours--not trying to “correct” it--I see that the elbow flexion subtly folds my torso down around my diaphragm and forces my neck forward. Breathing becomes shallower.

I decide to purposely un-kink my elbows whenever I move from one thing to another. I pull on imaginary long gloves and just stand still for a moment. For a single beat of rest. At my computer, I let my hands rest in my lap while contemplating my next sentence.

After a few days of this attention I notice spaciousness across my throat as if my throat had forgotten how it feels to be touched by the air. I notice a faint ache in my left elbow as if letting go of its tension has entailed some deep reorganization. I think it's no coincidence that I reflect upon my elbows as I come to the final editing phase of Your Body Mandala: Posture, Perception and Presence.

© 2016 Mary Bond