Gandhi famously said that true happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in perfect harmony. Call it harmony, call it alignment, call it peace amongst mind, body, and soul – but there’s an uncanny connection between the emotions we feel in our personal lives and our bodies.
This line of thinking was originally posited by Louise Hay in her highly regarded book, “Heal Your Body.” In it, she traces common physical ailments, sicknesses, and discomforts to an emotional cause. For example, she says that back pain may suggest that you aren’t feeling supported by life. Hip problems may signify an issue with making a decision and moving forward, and knee problems can point to stubborness.
Of course, each of these reads is highly subjective. It matters that it feels right to you. A chiropractor can bring your body back into alignment, but as long as you continue to feel the emotions that got you there in the first place, it’s only a matter of time until the pain returns, or misalignment strikes again.
How Emotions Impact Us Physically
There are a number of reasons why emotions impact us physically. Think back to a time when you were anxious about something that felt out of your control. The feeling of being anxious fires responses in the nervous system, creating that fight-or-flight response, same as our ancestors had when spotting a lion. However, we don’t run. We feel the feelings and sit still.
This causes a great deal of stress in the body, which we can interpret as physical pain. Stress, sadness, and other negative emotions experienced consistently can break down our immune systems, leaving them virtually defenseless against the germs that make us sick.
According to Chinese medicine, different emotions affect different organs. One example is the lungs with sadness and grief. We sigh when we’re sad because our lungs feel impacted, and need a big, deep breath. Worry is associated with the spleen, anger is associated with the liver, joy (or lack thereof) with the heart, fear with the kidneys, and so on. That’s why it’s important to work backwards: if you’re experiencing symptoms in one of these organs, you can ask yourself, “Where am I feeling this associated emotion in my life?”
The Tie Between Posture and Emotions
This is also important for our skeletal and muscular systems. We typically think of slouching when we are feeling down or have low energy. But actually, posture can be the cause that affects emotions. This phenomenon is referred to as “embodied cognition,” which asserts that it doesn’t actually all begin in our brains (or our hearts, with emotions.) Our bodies can affect our emotions.
Studies have been done on the relationship between mood and posture. When sitting upright with shoulders back (yes, check your posture right now), it signals to the brain that we are feeling confident and happy. The confidence actually comes from feeling taller, and therefore “bigger” and more self-assured.
Smiles are another example of embodied cognition. When we smile – regardless of if it’s forced or natural – it signals to the brain that we are happy, which releases happy neurotransmitters.
How to Find Your Own Connection
There are many great doctors, chiropractors, and medicines that can help when experiencing chronic ailments. But it’s also worth assessing the emotions behind them. Make sure to check your posture frequently, smile more often (even if it’s forced!) and be conscious of embodied cognition. You’ll come to understand yourself better once you’ve established common links between your emotions and your health – maybe your back always starts to hurt around the end of the month when bills are due, because you’re experiencing financial stress. Or, maybe you frequently get sore throats because you’re struggling with confidence speaking up at work.
Finding this connection is the same as finding control over how you feel – which you truly do always have control over.