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Effects of stress on the body


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"Many people are laboring under great stress, yet they feel that if they fail to carry on, this would admit to weakness, to defeat, to their failure as human beings. In this desperate strait, they set their jaws more firmly, stiffen their legs, lock their knees and struggle on"

— Alexander Lowen


We all long for happiness, so why are so many people unhappy? Is it outside events? Or is it something internal that has us longing for happiness, though not experiencing it in a deep, meaningful and lasting way? We’re led to believe that security, health and pleasure will lead us to happiness, but we know this simply isn’t the case. In the end, we all come to find that nothing outside us can give us internal peace.

What, then, is the impediment? Many people are surprised to find that what’s in the way of internal states like peace and happiness is that a great deal of our life’s energy is spent in an attempt to protect ourselves from harm and unpleasant experiences. From the moment of conception, a prime motivation is self-preservation. We consciously and unconsciously guard ourselves from psychological and physical damage, and this vigilance is the noise drowning out the voice of our Higher self; the voice that speaks to us of trust and acceptance, of peace, love, forgiveness and knowing. It’s this very attempt to avoid discomfort that becomes the walls which obscure the Truth of who we are. We expend a tremendous amount of energy to maintain these walls, often leaving us in states that we know too well, and find it difficult to transcend: states in which we’re chronically stressed and fatigued, dispirited, depressed, doubting, angry, frustrated, confused and separate.

This state, known as armoring, affects everyone. Armoring is characterized by a rigid thought system, emotional rigidity, which in turn leads to physical rigidity. Emotional and physical rigidity are one and the same. The body itself becomes armored as a result of the thoughts and emotions becoming harder. The concept of armoring was introduced by psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich and developed further by Alexander Lowen, M.D.

Reich stated , in 1936, “Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body.” He described character armoring, which he defined as “the sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against their emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity in the body, and lack of emotional contact.” He defined muscular armoring as “the sum total of muscular tension which an individual develops as a block against the breakthrough of emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation.” Reich maintained that the overall effect of character and muscular armoring created the individual.

Alexander Lowen, an associate of Reich, summed up this overall effect in the statement, “The character of the individual as it is manifested in his typical pattern of behavior is also portrayed on the somatic [body] level by the form and movement of the body. The body expression is the somatic view of the typical emotional expression which is seen on the psychic level as character. Defenses show up in both the psychic and bodily dimensions, and in the body as muscular armoring. ”

The drive for self-preservation is deeply unconscious. This drive doesn’t come with an “on/off” switch that we can flip when we would like to relax. This switch is hardwired in the “on” position regardless of what’s going on in life, which is why we can’t just shut off our mind when we would like for it to stop. Once in an armored state, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle in which being stressed leads to more and more stress, and as our stress levels build, this eventually leads to unhealthy symptoms. As armoring becomes our baseline state, our ability to meet our internal and external worlds with understanding diminishes, as does often our ability to make healthy choices.

As stress and tension develop in the psyche, or mind, the brain itself becomes stressed. The psyche/mind exists as energy, and the body, including the brain, is created from this energy in a process called projection. All physical form is a projection of the energy of mind. Think of this energy as “software” that is played by the brain and body, which are the “hardware.” In this case, however, the software creates the hardware. In other words, our thoughts and emotions—which are energy—create the body. The body projects out of energy. And when our thoughts and emotions, our inner landscape, our inner voice—when this voice becomes engaged in stressful dialogue, the only possible outcome is stress at the physical level. As armoring progresses and becomes the automatic, unconscious mental and emotional filtering system through which we meet the world, one of the most common physical manifestations that develops (and affects virtually everyone) is altered posture. Altered posture has devastating effects on our overall health and well being, particularly due to the pressure that it exerts on the nervous system. This pressure has much to do with the manner in which the spinal cord attaches to the bones of the spine.

Here’s the simplified version. The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a tough covering known as meninges. The meninges cover the brain and cord in the same way that your skin covers your body. The brain and cord are surrounded by meninges, and the meninges are surrounded by the skull and the bones of the spine, or vertebrae. The brain and cord are very delicate structures, and the meninges protect and support them. The meninges attach to the inside of the skull, which holds the brain firmly in place. Inside of the spinal bones, the meninges attach very firmly at the top of the neck and the bottom of the spine, holding the spinal cord in place. And it’s due to this very specific manner in which the spinal cord is anchored to the top and bottom of the spine that any change in posture will immediately translate into tension being applied to the spinal cord. This tension becomes much greater as posture worsens, exerting a chronic pulling and stretching force to the spinal cord as well as the brain.

To recap: psychological armoring becomes physical armoring. Physical armoring alters posture, and altered posture applies pressure to the brain and spinal cord. Chronic pressure on the brain and spinal cord is very damaging. Let’s review the nervous system in greater detail.

The nervous system consists of the brain, cranial nerves, spinal cord, and the nerves that continue from the spine to the approximately 100 trillion cells of the body. On average, each cell has eight nerve fibers attached to it. Additionally, cell membranes are covered with receptor sites that receive and bind chemicals called peptides. There are billions of peptides circulating throughout the body at every moment, and as they continually bind and unbind from cell membranes, they powerfully influence cellular function, thoughts and emotional states. Peptides bind to receptor sites based on the shape of both the peptide and the receptor site, functioning like a lock and key. When we’re stressed, our tissues stretch out, changing the shape of the receptors throughout the body. Stretched out receptors are less capable of binding peptides that select for relaxed, peaceful states, and predispose us to facilitated states such as frustration, anxiety, irritability and anger.

Once this state is established as a baseline way of experiencing the world, the focus of the healing power within is to perpetuate this armored state at all costs. This is because your interpretation of your life and environment is that it’s neither safe nor appropriate to select for peaceful, trusting states of physiology and consciousness. When you shift into an armored state instead of transcending life challenges, there is a repression of function. This is associated with a flattening, rather than a deepening of consciousness and the attempt to maintain this adaptive state. Once this state is established as a baseline state through which life is met, it becomes difficult to transcend without assistance such as Emergence Care, which is a powerful antidote for the contributing factors of a chronically armored state.

We enter into an armored state as an adaptive response to stress. Armoring is an attempt at self preservation. Armoring is a protection mode that we enter into because the brain lacks the capacity to deal with either the amount or the content of energy/information being perceived. Instead of processing the energy of stress, we store it in the body as tension. This tension is stored throughout the body in the head, neck, back, spine, ribs, shoulders, chest, hips, knees, pelvis, diaphragm, intestines, muscles, joints, ligaments, etc.

Tragically, an entire population is walking around in a state of armoring, oblivious that it’s even happening. The global effects of armoring impact everything from consciousness to genetic expression. Fortunately, this isn't the end of the story, but rather the beginning of one of happy endings.

Emergence Care is a powerful and unique healing art that harnesses the healing power of the higher levels of Mind, and allows this power to be directed into the energetic structures surrounding the body in a very specific way so that healing can occur. Emergence Care is an energetic enzyme that will enable you to break the bonds of the tension in your mind and body, liberating both this energy and the underlying patterns that created and sustained it in existence. As this tension dissipates, you’re able to experience a quality of life far greater than ever imagined as your body begins to move from a state of chronic armoring to a state of peace.

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