Subconscious Holding Patterns in the Body

I see many patients who have recurring pain, often in the same place, sometimes a few different locations. In some cases it is work or activity related or some combination of the two, but there is another element that is often overlooked-- subconscious holding patterns. Since they are subconscious, it comes as no surprise that they would be overlooked, but they are sometimes the main culprit of a person's pain. Some people have come to me exasperated, not understanding why they are in so much pain. I will notice that without realizing it they are actively tensing their whole bodies as they speak and express themselves. Their mental tension becomes physical, but only the latter seems to be screaming out for attention. Pain is our body's way of telling us there is something wrong. It is asking that we listen. I believe we live in a time where the conception of mind and body are coming back together, but I still observe a large gap in the two. They can't be separated. When we are stressed, it is biological and physical. We produce excessive cortisol, the stress hormone. We tense our bodies and contract specific tissues. Some people squeeze their butts, some people raise their shoulders and curl their chest inwards, which is a protective movement, some squeeze their thighs together or clench their jaws. The manifestation may be different, but the mechanism is the same. 

Tension in the mind leads to tension in the body. And we may not be aware of either. We may not think that we are stressed or tense in our minds. We become accustomed to this state of being in general and do not even know how tense we are until something takes us out of it. As an example, many patients will say to me, "I had no idea how stuck that shoulder was until you touched it." Sometimes I am working on the legs and my patient is squeezing their hamstring. I usually don't have to feel it to know; I can actually see it pop out. I will let the person know and they are usually surprised. And this is completely ok. The first step in healing is forgiving ourselves for what we don't know we are doing or have done. The second step is increasing mindfulness and awareness.

How can we become more mindful of these holding patterns and release them? First we have to identify the problem and assign it priority. It helps to say it out loud, even write it down somewhere. "I have a subconscious holding pattern which is causing tension and pain in my body and requires my attention". Secondly, we have to schedule check-ins with ourselves. This can be something you mentally commit to. Perhaps you set a reminder or alarm on your phone to do a check-in in the morning and night. The more we do it and the more we prioritize our well being actively in this way, the more awareness we will have of our bodies and minds. Awareness will become a habit instead of something distant to us. The subconscious will become conscious. So how do we check in? Start by taking a few deep, but comfortable breaths and bring your attention to the body. I recommend the "body scan". Bring your attention to your head, scalp, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw, and neck. Pause at each for long enough to notice the state it is in. See how much you can let go. As you cascade down the body in this way, stopping at specific muscles, you will notice there is so much letting go you can do. Think of it as conserving energy! That's a lot of energy spent wastefully-- it is work to contract our muscles. Even if you don't have the time where you are for a full body scan, a few deep breaths and a general check-in can be very helpful.

When we hold mentally and physically we are really grasping and clenching for something that feels secure to us. The image that comes to mind is someone grabbing for dear life onto a branch of a tree when their feet are 6 inches from the ground. What are we so afraid of? What will happen if we let go? Relaxation may be uncomfortable if it's unfamiliar, but it is objectively good for us. When we are relaxed and well, we suffer less and as such interact with people in a more patient and gentler way. By letting go of our own tension, we do a service not only to ourselves but the world.