In fact, I remember the neighbors who lived in the apartment downstairs: two sisters and a brother, all in their seventies at least. We had to go by their door every time we walked four flights up or down on that creaking staircase to each successive beautiful herringbone landing. The front door of each apartment was framed in glass. There was always the flicker of the curtain moving as someone checked out who was going by. I guess it was more interesting than watching TV for them to speculate about what other people were up to.
For my mother, living in an environment where her every move was observed, it would be reasonable to expect a little bit of self-consciousness. Add to that the sheer force of the mandate she had been living with since she was small: the proclamation that divorce is a sin and it's easy to think that might cross her mind when she felt judged in any way. She was also someone who was very hard on herself because she valued other people and what they thought. She was always the first person people came to when they had a problem.
Yet, who did she have to go to? For her, it was all about being strong, even in the face of shame about being a single mother - that on top of all the usual difficulties of raising three kids on her own without a lot of money. For my part, a young sixteen year-old observing her mother from the growing detachment of adolescence, I knew instinctively that this was nothing for her to be ashamed of, but there was nothing I could do for her. What mother would listen to her teenage daughter giving advice about the topic of marriage and divorce? I could sense her shame and see it in her self-carriage. It made her smaller. It made her shrink not just emotionally, but physically, every time she went somewhere that reminded her of what she thought she "should" be. Her life blueprint was that she should happily married. There was no way for her to resolve that unless she dropped that old fifties social expectation that every woman of her generation was raised with and programmed to expect.
This kind of programming is subliminal. My mother wasn't stupid or naïve. She had been studying to be a doctor when my parents met at the ETH in Zürich. Yet, because of conflict with her own mother, she gave it all up to marry a man who could whisk her far, far away to America. Shame begins it's subtle control over our way of moving through life when our expectations do not match how things turn out.
The posture of shame causes a collapsing of the head over the heart. It's as if the person is trying to make themselves smaller, or as if they would rather be invisible. As Brené Brown, who is an expert on shame, has commented, there is a public aspect to shame.
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations" ~Brené Brown
As mature adults, rather than people run by social mores, we might hope that we could prevent ourselves from succumbing to the pressure to conform. But the truth is, we may not even realize we are compromising our posture by making ourselves smaller, as if that could prevent people from seeing us. Or, perhaps it's a subconscious attempt to avoid seeing shame or sadness in ourselves that makes us shorten, become smaller and become prone to physical pain if it lasts for years.
This is an example of how the body speaks its mind and we don't listen. We ignore it by not feeling, or we don't choose to feel and therefor it goes unnoticed. Either way, it may become self-evident by looking in the mirror. There may be a visually discernible shrinking from some aspect of life. Or, it may manifests as pain in the neck or throat - generally the pain shows up in the area above the blockage. This is consistent with my previous experience as an acupressure practitioner, as well as in my experience as a Feldenkrais practitioner.
Alternatively, it might only show up as a vague sense of discomfort or blockage inside the throat. It may manifest as an inability to speak up, or to be assertive, or as a feeling of not being enough...These are all ways the body tries to signal to consciousness that something is amiss. What's to be done? Instead of tuning out, tune in! Awareness Through Movement (ATM) classes are a perfect chance to tune in every week, to prevent the buildup of such patterns over time. Otherwise, you miss such subtle signals that something is amiss in the first place. This makes it impossible to do the inner work that can alleviate the ravages of memories or experiences in the past which have left us feeling less than the person we would like to be.
Numerous cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies which reveal that only 5% of our decisions, emotions, actions and behavior is conscious. The remaining 95% of what we do is generated in various non-conscious ways.Not only is our behavior unconscious, for the most part, so is the use of the muscles of the eyes in reading, as well as the way we stand when happy or sad. In ATM classes, awareness of how we move in space is an ability that grows more and more accessible by going to a lot of classes. Every lesson includes the opportunity to expand the ability to be aware of the way the body is holding tension - or releasing it - using a process of a body scan before and after the lesson to assess the shift from tension to ease. This allows students to improve sensitivity and consciousness of subtle cues that the body provides when something is amiss.
The less conscious we are, the more likely we are to compromise our posture as a result of unexamined, uncleared life circumstances. Emotions, too, are powerful indicators of something out of whack. When they are left to increase over decades, because we pay no attention, illness is another problem which can easily result because the structure of the cells is physically blocked. Circulation is impaired. This blockage compromises immunity, as well as often being a source of pain due to an imbalance in length between the flexors and the extensors.
The head weighs an average of 15 pounds...what happens when it is chronically held in a position in front of the skeleton because there is a holding or bracing in the chest just below the throat due to shame? Functional movement means integration of emotions that are calling out like a banner trying to get noticed. Don't let your body's call for alignment go unheeded! Awareness Through Movement is an answer to emotional disturbance that does not require endlessly talking about the past. It allows you to release unconscious patterns by providing the nervous system with vital time to process a more functional way of standing or moving and walking.
For me, the magic moment happens when I stand up off the floor after a lesson to find that somehow, I have become free of an old pattern that made me feel like I was being shut down. The process of ATM itself allows for a state change, such that what no longer serves is spontaneously released through a reorganization of the nervous system and how it governs posture and mobility in space. Sometimes, a latent pattern that only shows up in times of stress becomes conscious because the lessons allow the brain time to process what cannot be processed in the fast pace of daily life. This is possible because every lesson allows time for learning to listen to the body, learning to witness one's own experience and the history of the self that lies written in the everyday aches and pains we live with.
If you don't like how you feel, it's time to reorganize how you move.