Keep Your Chin Up

+ woman profile July 09 26781140_sSlumped shoulders, lowered head, eyes downcast. This posture reflects emotional and spiritual pain. We’ve all experienced it and witnessed it in people around us. The physical posture communicates a heaviness of body and spirit, an inwardness of focus, a feeling that it’s a challenge to meet the world.

Often, when we’re depressed, feeling life’s challenges to be difficult, or just feeling “off,” people will glibly advise us, “Keep your chin up.” While this suggestion feels a little annoying, I wondered if I could find a way to see it as helpful. I find it interesting to listen at times to these common expressions and to try to glean what might be useful in them.

While I certainly don’t think that artificially thrusting my chin upward will do me a lot of good, it does occur to me that gently shifting my body positioning by tiny degrees might help me shift my inner state as well. So, I tried a physical experiment. Starting with my shoulders, head and eyes lowered, I tried to lift my chin while keeping my eyes downcast, and found that it felt pretty awkward. Another approach, raising my eyes but keeping my chin lowered was also a little strange for my body. Lifting the chin seems to also bring the shoulders up. So, maybe “keep your chin up” influences the eyes, chin, and shoulders as a package deal. And I found that shifting the whole position made me feel better.

An opportunity to try this out came up recently. About a minute after I wrote in June’s musing about my husband’s layoff from his job two years ago, he was laid off from his current job! Ok, it wasn’t a minute after I wrote, it was two days, but that’s close enough, don’t you think? Feeling a little overwhelmed and saddened by the situation, I purposefully lifted my chin and leveled my gaze toward a point far off on the horizon. Focusing on the larger picture that the view provided, I asked to see/feel the larger picture of our situation. I held my head up and invited myself to face this moment “head-on.” It helped, and continues to be a supportive exercise for me.

I have learned about “lifting up” the body from a few situations. One was in a meditation class I took years ago. After having us relax, center down, settle our energy and focus on the deeper part of ourselves, the teacher had us lift up our hearts. I physically lifted my breastbone a tiny bit, and found it to be a nice counterbalance to the inner deepening we had done. I remember sitting up a little straighter and breathing more fully as a result.

Another lifting has been in my visioning practices, where I noticed myself picking a focal point that is often down a bit visually. I’ve started to pick a point in the room that is closer to eye level, or on the horizon, or a bit above the horizon. It seems to lift my energy, and, again, counterbalance the downward sag that settles into my body so easily.

Finally, I’ve found that keeping my chin up, or my head in a level position, when I am working with clients on the healing table is better for my body. After developing some chronic upper back and neck soreness, I realized that I often tipped and dropped my head as I was listening to the client and to my intuitive inner guidance. By simply keeping my head and chin level and balanced, the nagging neck and shoulder pain has eased.

There is some scientific evidence supporting “lifting.” Marsha Linehan has developed a technique called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. One of her exercises has people put their mouth into a position of a half smile. It has been found that even this somewhat artificially imposed position helps to shift the person’s inner mood.

I liked that this exercise called for a “half” smile–we’re not required to put on a big “happy face,” which might feel too unbelievable. This half smile helps the person move incrementally towards a better place. The work has been studied and documented to be effective. Linehan states, “…your body communicates with your mind.” It sure does! The body-mind connection goes both ways.

So, now, when I’m in a heavy mood, or something is weighing me down, I experiment with lifting my heart with a deep breath, lifting my eyes, and keeping my chin up. I still smile (or half smile) at the slight corniness of “Keep your chin up,” but have found that it might have some substance, after all! I’m reminded of a Biblical quotation: “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Perhaps the lifting up itself is as helpful as the hills and all they represented to the psalmist.

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