Habitual posture. Habitual emotion. Habitual thought.

November 2, 2016 — 31 Comments

Observing people has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy setting myself down with a book in a local café, pretend that I’m reading and then take a look at how the bartender is stressing out over clients, how people are enjoying or disliking listening to the story of a friend, people fighting verbally in cycling traffic, awkward situations of people meeting an old friend they would rather avoid today, other observers realizing you’re also observing, all of that… I love it and every time it teaches me something.

Recently, this fascination of observing people’s daily behavior has gotten a bit more specific through the stuff I’ve been reading and the teachers I’ve met formally and on the streets. My observation has shifted towards the physical behavior of people: the postures they hold, hand gestures they use, their facial expressions, what parts they are holding when walking, etc.

What I try to do often, is when a certain posture intrigues me is try to mimick it and observe how it makes me feel or what I associate with that posture.

I have been focusing my attention on different closed and open positions – both static and dynamic – and what they communicate to me, and maybe communicate in a universal way that everyone intuitively understands.

Better than to explain it, you can test for yourself with some of the artworks, pictures and videos by either putting yourself in these postures or observing your first associative thoughts with the postures. Observe some of these paintings for example:

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Nick Cave’s posture and facial expression during this song:

Compare this to what the following communicate:

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Or Jack Lalanne “working out his face” and Henry Miller’s general playful open posture and mannerisms all over his documentary:

Also, one example everyone probably has heard of, is the test of the ‘fake smile’ research where they showed that holding a stick between your teeth – creating a fake smile – showed “physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.”

Further, one of my “street” teachers once shared with me that he used simple coordinative movements to relax people who were suffering form high stress and tension in a psychiatric hospital.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in his “Work” spoke about his method of using movement as a way to bring about certain thoughts and feelings:

You ask about the aim of the movements. To each position of the body corresponds a certain inner state and, on the other hand, to each inner state corresponds a certain posture. A man, in his life, has a certain number of habitual postures and he passes from one to another without stopping at those between.

A student of Gurdjieff, Jerry Brewster, in his Loft Tapes of group work sessions, explains it in a compelling vicious cycle of our habits. He shares that

Our habitual postures are connected to habitual emotions and habitual thoughts in a strange dance – if you have a certain association, then you take a certain posture and have a certain feeling, so it’s very difficult to think anything new, to feel anything new, or to sense in a new way – if you try to change it’s impossible because each center is supported by the other two.

Further, if beyond the intuitive understanding of this you want a scientific backing of this subject, Stanley Keleman has spent a lot of research on this topic that he named Emotional Anatomy.


Jerry Brewster talks about the importance of struggling with these habitual reactions physically, emotionally and mentally to make a change – to break this habit loop:

posture > emotion > thought

thought > posture > emotion

emotion > thought > posture

Brewster proposes that, “if I can interfere with a posture then I find I’m free of both the emotion and the thought tied to that posture.”

The first thing is to become aware of our postures we go back to when we have certain thoughts or emotions – this is where Gurdjieff claims that the problems lies because we do not know what our habits are but to me this is also where the fun part begins: from observation, you start to observe what your habitual postural habits are and start to play games with it.

Gurdjieff suggests that

Taking new, unaccustomed postures enables you to observe yourself inside differently from the way you usually do in ordinary conditions.

Therefore ways of using this knowledge in your daily life could be:

  1. to play through self-observation with your postural habits and the associations and identifications you make with these
  2. you can practice open static postures and dynamic movements to create the effect you’d like to evoke

For both of these it would mean that you will need to become aware (“to stop sleeping”) of your existing habits, and in best case that an honest and caring (group of) partner(s) helps you to become aware.

A couple of examples of the work of people I’ve met who promote this practice using movement as a tool I shared below.


31 responses to Habitual posture. Habitual emotion. Habitual thought.


    You may be interested in the work of Wilhelm Reich. He’s mostly know for his discovery of a biological form of energy he called orgone that is very similar to eastern descriptions of Chi and prana, but never mind about that for a moment. He was also a student of Freud and a practicing psychoanalyst. He discovered that people store feelings they can’t deal with in various muscles which become tens (and influence our posture). He called this body armoring. He proposed a therapy in which psychotherapy is supplemented with working on these subconscious muscle tensions. Most of this is in his book Character Analysis, although I find his ‘The Discovery of Orgone, Part 1’ indispensable for understanding his later work.


      Thank you Rudi, I am indeed very interested in Reich’s works – Kit Laughlin was the first person to refer me to them, he’s used Reich’s theory for his Stretch Therapy work. I’ve read his ‘The function of the orgasm’ but haven’t gotten into the others. Will check the one out you recommend. Thank you for leaving a comment!


        Hi, thanks for the cool post! Several people recommended Alexander Lowen here in the comments, and I would also wholeheartedly recommend his work – a great and very practical place to start is with his book The Way To Vibrant Health, where you will find illustrated exercises to work with releasing tensions in various places in the body, improving personal expression etc.


      The TRE method is the answer for working on these subconscious muscle tensions. More about TRE (trauma an tension releasing exercises) by David Berceli — you can find at traumaprevention.com; treforlife.com


        I agree, I’ve been to a TRE workshop and use it occasionally to reset myself. I would usually recommend support of a trained practitioner as it can bring up deep long held emotions


      Hahahaha are you fucking nuts? Aside from there being no scientific evidence that this exists, you’re talking about a guy who invented a “Cloud Buster” device, to shoot… wait for it… “orgone” into the atmosphere (that is, to shoot a non-existent material which cannot be discovered and does not exist) to affect the weather. I’m not sure who’s more crazy, Wilhelm Reich or someone who believes in this crap!


        Jake… every new discovery is seen as nonsense in the beginning… ‘no scientific evidence’ is only true in the sense that it is not main stream consensus. If that’s as far as you want to go that’s fine, but by definition its taking a passive attitude towards scientific progress. The consensus is always 15-25 years behind the research.
        It silly to say that there is no evidence… Reich had en institute with a hundred or so scientists who worked on this for decades and all of that data is available from PORE.
        And this same energy has been discovered and described in roughly the same way. Reichbach called it intelllegy, Mesmer call it animal magnetism Tesla didn’t have a name for it but he was studying it as a form of static electricity, Hindus call it prana, Tibetans Fohat, Chinese call it Chi, the Japanese Ki. Whatever it is it has been discovered dozens of times now. Acupuncture is based on it, so is EFT. Biophontonics report similar properties. The physical structures of the meridians have been identified a ‘bogan duckts’ in our connective tissue. If it was complete nonsense as you suggest, why does it keep popping up? I might also note that since the 1990’s both cosmology and physics has been in a crisis because they seem to have mist a fundamental form of energy, dark energy, and matter, dark matter… so it seems to me that the idea that there is another form of energy isn’t all that crazy.
        In fact, I wonder what is more crazy… assuming something is crazy without actually reading the literature, just because it falls outside of your expectations or actually having a look and making up your own mind. I’ve read most of Reich work and research papers as well as tons of similar research by other people. In my opinion there’s something interesting there.


        In fact Reichs weather experiments have been reproduced, already from 2005 in Algeria and Eritrea, in desert greening experiments. “Cloudbusting” is a real phenomenon, maybe not accurately understood and explained but it is real.
        More info here:

        They said the same about Galileo – “are you fucking nuts, the Earth cannot move arround the sun”… Resistance is the usual reactions of the human monkey to change.


        Hi Jake, it is easy to judge when your ignorant. Have you ever seen an atom or electron?


        So why was he considered to be such a threat by the FDA, CIA, FBI etc etc?


      Going a step further, you would find Alexander Lowen, Reich’s student and founder of bioenergetic analysis (this has nothing to do with healing hands). In his book Bioenergetics you can find detailed analysis of emotion – posture connection and even some excercises that might help.


    Finding this blog gave me a very useful jolt, so thank you for that. You seem to be finding all the interesting stuff and ground it in a physical practice.
    It would be interesting if at some point on the blog your insights on the subject of purpose (with the practice of developing an aim and setting goals) came up. Do you want an overall meaningful aim or do you progress mainly organically?
    Have you read In search of the miraculous? When stripped to its bare essentials I find G’s system boils down to proper energy management, albeit within a spiritual context.
    The approach to the 3 foods as energy sources and the need for conscious shocks is especially interesting as a context for experiments.


      Sam, at this time I progress mainly organically. I feel like my ‘quest’ is finding the principles behind the traditions that speak to me such as greek philosophers, buddhism, taoism, esoteric teaching of Gurdjieff, Blavatsky, Alice Bailey,…, giants and lesser known in literature, etcetera etcetera – but not forgetting the teachers flaneuring around on the street. Maybe the quest is what I have found to keep me ‘busy and alive’ or maybe I will find something on this quest. At least I feel more awake. I have read In Search, but not finished completely. I need to become more coherent maybe. Maurice Nicoll’s work seems nice. Thank you for reminding me about the three foods: one of them was getting in my way for a second. Thanks for reaching out online. Olivier

    Scottie Lageirse November 6, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Great read Ollie! Lots of food for thought in there for me.


    Do you know about Rolfing ? A therapeutical method based on dealing with posture/attitude through the way you move/interact with the world and through the fascias…http://rolfing.org/


      Structural Integration is the term for the therapeutic method you are describing. Rolfing is the term used by graduates of one school of Structural Integration, of which there are many. Board Certification for Rolfers and graduates of other schools of Structural Integration is done through the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI). I believe it benefits the entire profession to clarify this and increase awareness of the term Structural Integration, as well as it showing respect for all schools teaching Structural Integration and carrying on the amazing work of Ida Rolf.


    Reich or Alexander Lowen. Alexander Lowen based a whole ‘body posture therapy’ on these posture analyses.. interesting, I think you may even find Alexander Lowen’s therapists… bio energetics movements/courses found their roots here…


    This is what we work with in Hanna Somatics too! Once it’s becoming clear that we are ‘oneness in ourselves’ we can make choices. It’s always fascinating to see clients change in such a profound and holistic way, finding freedom and independence in movement and thought. Thank you for your post!


    movement method called Cantienica does exacly this: changing postural habits while activating core muscles.. and through regular training people change their lives..


    I love this blog – grateful for the reminder that everything is truly connected. So much food for thought, thanks!
    I’m sure this is one of the reasons Transformational Breathing is so effective in releasing trauma etc. It uses touch (pressure points and other pressure or stretching), positioning the body according to your breath pattern, sound, movement etc while doing a full diaphragmatic circular breathing. The facilitator sees and feels where the energy blocks are and can actively assist the client in releasing that stuck energy.


    Olivier, you got an interesting name. That is to say.

    I really like your post. Blending in a whole variety into posture, emotion, movement etc. There is motion in emotion. No separation. What I really like is the upcoming movement of fighting monkey research. Very cool and non linear stuff.

    There is a good book out there called “embodiment” by Tschacher, Cantieni, Hüther and Storch. I have seen that Cantienica was mentioned before. Somadublin mentioned Hanna which is another very good approach besides Feldenkrais to reinvent yourself or to reeducate yourself. Taking that into consideration together with some Contact Improvisation style movements make the world a rounder thing.

    Keep up the good writing…



    John Stirk ‘the Original Body’


    I usually do it the other way. I connect and feel the enotion of the people and indeed, if I let my body free to move, my posture will change accordingly, in a way which is pretty accurate in mimicking then.


    Hi everyone! Very good article. It caught my attention via my FB friend and I liked it a lot. So thank you, dear authors. And I see there’s some discussion happenning which to me means this is a very important topic, and indeed it is. Yes, there are many different approaches to a body posture improvement and thus, inner state correction. I myself was a Pilates instructor for several years and doing hatha yoga too. All these and other approaches are helpful to some extent, and for some people they are able to give a great relief and improvemnt.

    And now comes the ‘BUT’… If I may share my delicate opinion now… Nothing can beat Mother Nature or our innate strive to real happiness and fulfilment in all levels of our being (if we stop blocking them). And we all (almost all) have the most natural, safe and highly effective mechanism to improve our posture – and it is by each correct step that we take while simply walking. In short, each correct step starting from both soles of the feet sets a wave of natural adjustments – to our body posture, all meridians and reflexology zones spreading its positive effect on all the systems of the body.

    There is a whole school already where they thoroughly and very sensitively approach a human ability of walking and it’s highest potential to boost self-healing and posture improving functions. And, of course, many people who start practice the correct way of walking (according to the way our bodies are designed) start feeling more joyful, happier and more open to positive changes, more grateful and vibrant.

    If anyone is interested to have a look at this approach – there are several resources I highly recommend:


    OR you may just watch this video here to begin with which is only 6.39 mins

    I would really be glad to hear your feedback if you do explore these materials.

    Tatiana Klimova, Moscow


    Hello Oliver. I map your conversation of posture/emotion/thought to a conversation that Tom Myers started about 10 years ago about the structural/chemical/electrical systems in the body. That essay was “Spatial Medicine”, and it is now integrated into the first chapter of his text “Anatomy Trains” (2e and later). The original essay was pulled from his website a while back, but it’s still available in the Internet Archive: https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20120515101550/http://www.anatomytrains.com:80/explore/spatialmedicine/expanded . When I was researching my response here, I noticed that Tom has published a paper on this: “Spatial Medicine – A call to ‘Arms’ ” (2013; http://www.bodyworkmovementtherapies.com/article/S1360-8592(13)00119-8/abstract ). I haven’t pulled that paper down yet, but I’m certain it is a fleshed-out version of the discussion from that earlier essay. The interdependencies you note are happening at scales from sub-cellular to our gross anatomy.

    Your drawings are brilliant. It’s particularly noteworthy that you emphasize the engaged glutes in the third drawing. Glutes should be engaged during movement but should be relaxed when standing. This is a lesson that Jonathan FitzGordon emphasizes in his CoreWalking programs.

    I noted “Jake” said there was no science to back up these ideas. He is mistaken. I’ll also point out the recent-but-vast body of knowledge we’re accumulating on cellular mechanotransduction. Gene expression in cells is heavily influenced by the tugs and oscillations of the extracellular matrix; changing our posture changes the very proteins that our cells are manufacturing. Anyone who wishes to pursue this discussion should look up Ingber’s paper “Cellular mechanotransduction: putting all the pieces together again.” (2006; freely available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16675838 ). Searching for these two words on sciencedirect is also enlightening: there were zero papers before ~1990. Today, there are over 400 papers published annually with those two words.

    This is a difficult topic for many to accept — including many in the industry. There is a perceived threat, and I do not completely understand it. When 1000 people are writing as eloquently as you do here, we will see a revolution. 🙂


    Very interesting. Thank you


    The voice is part of all. The voice is the thermometer of a structured posture http://www.louisemahler.com.au

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