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How I Found Courage in My Shoulders – And You Can Too

Tammy Wise teaching shoulder exercises in her meditation class. Photo credit and copyright: Steve Friedman.
In her running series, Tao Minister and mind-body strength expert Tammy Wise is exploring the various areas of the Psyche-Muscular Blueprint. With each column she teaches us to connect to a different area of our internal systems so that we may achieve our best selves. Here, she shows us that we don’t need to shoulder our burdens literally – we can maintain our integrity, our sanity, and our posture if we only have the nerve!

By Tammy Wise

Teaching my first mind/body strength training classBodyLogos­was hands-down one of the scariest moments of my life. I was sure I’d be laughed out of the studio. 

The fitness center had a full roster of high-intensity classes that day, all led by instructors who screamed nonstop boot camp commands into their microphones over blaring bass beats. Then there was me… with my soft background music and my meditative voice that encouraged students to connect their feelings to a muscle, while actually urging them to use less effort! Would anyone listen? Could anyone even hear me? 

Instead of being laughed at, tears flowed. Students found release, experienced as relief, in their strength training. And I found self-acceptance, experienced as love, in the courage to be my own person.

BodyLogos is my life’s calling, the path I’ve been on for the past 20 years. But to begin teaching BodyLogos to others, a real and lasting mind/body strength training method that connects each of us to our Divine will, I had to truly exemplify it. I had to face my fears.

That didn’t mean acting fearless despite being terrified. It meant recognizing my fear as a source of energy that would propel me forward, rather than tension that would hold me back.

The BodyLogos technique is based on the understanding that you can’t build strength through tension, because strength is the flow of energy, while tension is the stagnation of energy. This isn’t to say you’re doomed to be powerless if you’re tense. Just that it’s necessary to rethink the power you give to what’s tensing you up; to remind yourself that although tension may have you momentarily frozen, you can get unstuck. Your shoulders can help free you.

What Are Your Shoulders Saying?

Before that first BodyLogos class, I was briefly frozen. Besides experiencing the worst dry mouth ever, my shoulders were up to my ears —a hallmark position of a tense body.

So, here’s what I did: While waiting to enter the studio, I silently strength trained. I channeled, more so surrendered, my tension into aligned strength. As I mingled with students, I breathed my shoulders down, deliberately positioning them in their widest possible placement—the central area between the front and back sides of the body, called the coronal plane.

Your shoulder muscles correspond with your morals and values. As the broadest aspect of your skeletal frame, the shoulder muscles shape your body’s stature, just as your morals and values shape your life. Your shoulder carriage communicates the strength and fortitude in which you stand by and stand for your beliefs. (The full Psyche-Muscular Blueprint is explained in this previous article).

On that first day of class, my shoulders raised and narrowed, I doubted my convictions. I didn’t know if students would accept my integration of Tao, fitness, and meditation as worthy teachings. I was introducing new ideas about how the body has an emotional intelligence separate from the mind, which made me feel emotionally exposed, like a crab without a shell.

But because I understood what my shoulders were saying, I could shift them to support me in being authentic and vulnerable—to help me be courageous. 

Our shoulders show the integrity of our posture to the outside world; moreover, they illustrate the degree of integrity we enforce within ourselves. Relaxed, wide shoulders align you with your integrity, with the reward of even more strength and stability.

“The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibilities this entails.” – Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Tammy demonstrates how to align your shoulders.

How to Align Your Shoulders

In physical or mental movement, attention can often be fixed on the endpoint rather than the starting point. After all, the final destination of any effort is where we collect admiration and praise. By using a fixed outside resistance, you can recognize the opposing forces that broaden the shoulder muscles across the coronal plane and remove the distraction of a destination altogether. This approach connects you to the quiet inner life force—your Spirit Self—for recognition, and awakens an inner source of admiration and praise for a new and personal sense of value.

  • Stand in a doorway with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Place the backs of your hands and wrists against the doorframe.
  • Use your shoulder muscles to press against the doorframe with 75% muscle intensity. Hold this intensity for 60 seconds, being sure to keep your shoulders dropped and your arms relatively passive.
  • As you hold in this position, don’t be tempted to increase your intensity from 75% to 100%. When you over-assert, you actually narrow rather than expand the shoulders, creating tension not strength.
  • When the minute is up, step out of the doorframe and relax your arm and shoulder muscles. Notice the weightlessness of your arms; they may even float up through the coronal plane with no effort or intention.

Tammy demonstrates the shoulder roll to ease tension.

Now, to Banish the Doubt

The inclination to lift your shoulders toward your ears, i.e., to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, adds tension in both the superior and posterior shoulder muscles. Deliberately rolling the shoulders forward disengages the defensive stance that keeps them desperately safeguarding, and instead allows for a calm restructuring.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Wrap your arms across the front of your body and grab your opposite shoulders or shoulder blades.
  • Take a deep breath. Release through your exhale by first rolling the nose toward the chest, then relaxing the tops of the shoulders forward and down, and then directing the elbows to your belly button. Hold the stretch for another 2-3 deep breaths.
  • Continue to relax the superior shoulders and neck, as the posterior shoulders and upper back begin to roll up by dropping through the shoulder blades. As the spine and neck realign, the superior shoulders and arms drop down at your sides.
  • Experience the chest’s lift as prominent and the shoulders’ width as easeful. Maintain this undefended posture for as long as possible. Notice what breaks the ease.

Some shoulders resist acting on their own and expanding to their widest possible position. The back and arm muscles are their favorite cohorts, and momentum is their favorite vice to employ to help in a challenge. When training your shoulders, work with a reasonable weight that the shoulders can manage solo, and allow them to find their independence. As they resist, attempt, and ultimately succeed in working independently, you will witness the courage it takes to be your own person.

Be mindful that the outward broadening of your shoulders happens from an inward connection with your Dan Tien—your center of gravity in your low abdomen—whereby multiple viewpoints, beliefs, and values are what keep you stable. Concentrate on preserving your shoulders’ alignment with gentle insistence, as if their placement is what you value most in life. Demanding instant perfection fosters resentment and builds tension, but gentle perseverance cultivates integrity.

THE PSYCHE-MUSCULAR SYSTEM MAP by Tammy Wise

To learn more about releasing shoulder tension, visit BodyLogos.com’s straightforward guide at https://bodylogos.com/2018/05/give-up-on-perfection-and-embrace-certainty/.

For Tammy’s guide to understanding your Dan Tien, go here, and for her introduction the Psyche-Muscular Blueprint, go here.

Tammy Wise is a Tao Minister, mind-body strength expert, and founder of the BodyLogos holistic fitness method. Her writing and methodology has been widely featured in media including New YorkTimeOut New YorkFitnessShape, and Natural Health magazines. She is currently writing and producing a BodyLogos book and 3-D video system for online. Learn more about her training, holistic treatments, and products at bodylogos.com, or follow her on Twitter at @BodyLogos.

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