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Natural Awakenings Ann Arbor Michigan

The Intersection of Posture, Stress and Digestion

Jun 30, 2019 02:00AM
Posture is much more than sitting up straight. Holding the head forward, chest depressed, and shoulders rounded, as if in a withdrawal response; lower back tight and arched, as if we are jumping into action under stress; or the back tight simply because it is holding open the contracted front are all elements of posture that can affect digestion.

When someone always stands with one leg straight and the other out to the side, or when one shoulder is low or the head is tipped to the side, that’s posture, too. The brain learns the tensions we hold in response to injury, which creates these postural asymmetries.

Most of what defines our involuntary posture has been learned by the endless practice that our brains get by reacting to stress. Tensions become deep habits that we can’t sense, and these habits hold us in certain positions.

Because posture is the involuntary habit of reaction to stress, the system soon thinks it’s in stress all the time because it stays functionally in the pattern of stress. We don’t digest well when we are in a state of fear or worry (tight front activation), and we don’t digest when we are angry or feeling aggressive (tight back activation). The tension control center of the brain runs these tensions automatically. We can’t feel the tensions accurately, but we do know it’s hard to relax.

We have a cavity below the diaphragm in the lower half of the torso that holds our viscera—the soft organs that do the hard work of digestion. The system digests well only under ideal conditions. We know that when we are resting and relaxing is when our belly gurgles and things start moving, and that’s when the system is happy to digest. We rest and digest.

It is possible to optimize the conditions for good digestion by means of somatic abdominal breathing ( to pandiculate the mid-section. Pandiculation is a voluntary contraction followed by a slow relax. A yawn is a pandiculation.

We must learn how to pandiculate our front and back stress tension patterns in order to take back control of them. By tightening the back a little voluntarily, we allow the front to open, giving room for the diaphragm to move the viscera. Then we exhale to resting neutral and exhale further by tightening the front a little to squeeze some air out. If we pandiculate our stress response patterns, we can get unstuck from them.

We are voluntary re-enacting stress tensions and restoring back voluntary control. Very slow repetition reinforces the escape from being stuck in stress, and our nervous system will be relaxed again.


Eric Cooper is a Clinical Somatic Educator in the Emerald Temple Healing Center, south of Chelsea. For more information, call 734-436-1041 or visit

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