While most bodywork experts agree that tension and pain in the body are largely caused by how we move (or don’t move enough) throughout the day, a growing number of practitioners cite emotional stress as another factor. Deb Shapiro, author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind (Sounds True, May 2006), says that understanding how parts of the body connect to certain emotions can help us get in touch with neglected areas of our subconscious.
“And the great thing about that is tapping into the root of the problem on an emotional level can heal chronic pain,” she says.
Here’s what your tension spots could be trying to tell you.
The neck is a two-way communicator: You take in life-sustaining food, water, and air through the neck, and at the same time, emotions, feelings, and thoughts are expressed outwardly through your voice. Stiffness here can indicate resistance, usually to other ways of thinking.
This is where you carry the weight of your responsibilities, whether it’s work, family, or mortgage payments. Creative energy flows from here, moving into your arms and hands, where it emerges in what you do in the world. Tense shoulders can also indicate resistance, perhaps to the responsibilities you feel you must maintain, or pressure that’s put on you to perform.
This area, the reverse side from the heart, is where you can store repressed anger, resentment, guilt, or shame.
Your core allows you to bend and move, representing your ability to be psychologically and emotionally flexible. Stiffness in the mid back can reflect an inner stiffness, holding on to a fear, or inability to go with the flow.
This part of the body supports your weight from above, and it’s related to your notions of survival, security, and self-support. If you’re feeling insecure—or as though you’re unable to meet other people’s expectations—that pressure can manifest in the low back.
Although seemingly soft, the glutes are often the most tense and clenched muscles in the body. This area has to do with elimination and release, so control and power issues are often held here.
These muscles are connected to the knees—which we use to bow down to a higher being—and so tight hamstrings can often mean that a deeper level of surrender is needed. The thighs and hamstrings also hold on to past conflicts, such as traumatic childhood memories, anger, or resentment. This area is also closely associated with sexuality and intimacy.