Why Trees Bend
I grew up in Denver. To get to our family doctor, we traveled a long stretch down Monaco Boulevard. On both sides of the boulevard stood gigantic Oak trees bearing huge, thick branches that leaned towards the road. In the summer, it felt like traveling through one green tunnel. In the winter, it felt like moving through the human body; all veins and arteries.
“Why do they lean this way?” I asked my father.
“It’s the wind,” he told me. “How would you like to be blown all year round for sixty years?”
“But…it’s only windy in the winter. And anyway, both sides are leaning in.”
My father shook his head. “Not that wind,” he said. “Wind from the speeding vehicles. They create a kind of a current.”
From early childhood, all of us adapt to the various “winds” in our environment. Some of us are “blown” to hunch forward — perhaps in an effort to become smaller or avoid a fuller blow. Some of us are “blown” outward, puffing up our chest or lifting the chin to express an always-winning disposition as expectations may have required. And some of us have been “blown” to appear collapsed — in an effort to just go unnoticed…or disappear.
Noticing how you hold your body, how you walk, how you sit — all provide clues to your adaptation to life; your response to the specific set of circumstances in which you’ve found yourself. Does your body flow or become rigid and stiff? Do you tend to use lots of space? Or try hard to limit whatever space you have?
Gestures and postures are neither right nor wrong. They simply represent our best attempts to adjust and thrive. Often, however, what worked for us in the past may not be necessary or useful today. A child who learns that keeping silent and hidden is safer than being seen may have a difficult time reaching out or speaking up today as an adult. She may continue to hold her body with a submissive, withdrawn attitude that prevents others from knowing her as an individual with opinions and perspective. Even when she wants to reach out to others, she may have a hard time doing so, as her body remains stuck in the mode that says: I must remain unnoticed.
Try this: Sit in a chair for a few moments. Notice what is most natural for you: A slouch, a straight back, one leg over the other, head tilted to one side.
Now experiment. Change just one gesture at a time and notice if you experience any difference. Is it threatening to sit up straight? is it a relief to finally slouch? Is it uncomfortable to hold your head center? What does this mean to you?
Pay attention to any thoughts, feelings, or even images that come to mind. The more awareness you gather about why you hold your body the way you do, the more capacity you’ll have to explore a different way, should you choose.
On Monaco Boulevard, the trees still bend inward because they have to.
What about you?