Bodywork can be used to change behaviour

Lead in

Bodywork? What do we mean by this? Today I am going to describe how you can use bodywork exercises to help change your behaviour and transform yourself.


In the presentation on Relaxation I introduced you to Relaxation as a skill that can be learnt. Understanding relaxation is a pre-requisite to using bodywork exercises successfully. In the presentation about Posture, I introduced you to the concept of resting and dynamic posture. If you have not viewed these presentations, you will find links to them in the description below.

Definition of bodywork

There are a number of different kinds of bodywork, including

Sports, which involve developing or building parts of the body for some particular performance

Body building, for developing muscular strength and endurance

Martial arts, where you learning traditional Asian hand fighting skills

Yoga, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi which consist of static or slow moving posture based exercises

While all kinds of bodywork benefit emotional fitness, each type of bodywork brings different benefits. In this presentation we focus on the slow moving posture based exercises of Yoga, Feldenkrais and others.

Benefits of bodywork

All the types of bodywork have different benefits including skill acquisition, posture, balance, physical fitness, strength and others. Yoga and Feldenkrais in particular can be used to rework the parts of your body that reinforce bad habits and help you to free your body up so you can acquire better habits and change permanently ingrained behaviours. At this time, the benefits of some bodywork disciplines is relatively unknown and there is a lot yet to be learnt.

The main event

The title of this presentation is ''Bodywork can be used to change behaviour''. How does this work? When we are fresh babes on this earth we have exemplary posture. We can sit on our sitting bones effortlessly, and stand and move with ease. As we develop, we all adopt body habits that can sometimes limit our potential and impede our functioning. These body habits, largely developed in childhood, become ingrained into both our habitual behaviour and our physiology and become our resting posture.

A child lacking in confidence, over time, might develop a slouch as a result of always feeling downtrodden, and their muscles, tendons and bones will develop in such a way that helps lock that in. The child could go into boot camp and under instruction quickly hold their chest up high, but they would have difficulty retaining that dynamic posture because they would be going against the ingrained habit, and they would soon slouch again. Resting and dynamic posture are described in more detail in the presentation on posture.

Changing posture permanently requires altering the structure of underlying muscles, tendons and bones and this requires time and effort.

Any bodywork exercise that changes alignment of the muscles, tendons and bones to help remove poor posture is contributing to a change in behaviour. If your posture is good, that influences what you think, how you feel about yourself and how you interact with people and the environment. It changes the way that you behave. You can use bodywork to change your posture and thus change your behaviour.


When you do stretch exercises such as Yoga, you use your muscles and bones to stretch ligaments and tendons in the body slowly and carefully. Ligaments and tendons are made out of fairly inflexible cartilage material but are elastic, which means they quickly return to their unstretched state. This state is remarkably stable over time and hard to change, but it can be altered through consistent and regular exercise over medium and long term.

If you have ever done Yoga you will notice improved flexibility of your body occurs eventually, just not after the first few sessions! Also there is a certain amount of pain and discomfort involved.

If you stretch a tendon or ligament too far it may break which can be very painful and sometimes require surgery to fix. Let's compare with muscles. These are different in that they are made of more flexible tissue. This tissue also tears when stretched, but so long as the injury is only small, the damage actually causes more muscle to grow. Body builders transform their muscles by causing multiple tiny muscle tears in their body tissue which stimulate the growth of micro muscles and so their muscle grows larger. Of course, muscles too, can be torn requiring rest, or even surgery to fix.

While the goal of stretching muscles is to make them bigger, the goal of stretching ligaments and tendons is to make them longer, or to make them better conform to the posture or behaviour that we aspire to. Muscles can be grown relatively quickly, and can be lost almost as quickly, but tendons and ligaments take much longer to transform and are much less likely to revert.

I go into this in more detail in a presentation about human performance.

Essentially the configuration of tendon, ligament and bone that we develop is relatively stable, which means that people who perform well at some task usually continue to perform well, provided they retain a certain level of practice and training. Human performance is remarkably consistent. A high performer at some skill will reliably and consistently perform well. This level of performance is maintained by parts of the body that are resistant to change, such as the tendons and ligaments.

Natural Talent or potential

It is possible to understand and recreate the physiological and mental conditions that enable a person to develop highly advanced physical skills. We know this. Just ask any sports coach. Typically, technique and training, along with blood sweat and tears will be required. New behaviours have to be learnt, those new behaviours practised exhaustively and multiple obstacles, personal, financial and physical, need to be overcome.

However, as a foundation for high performance, there usually has to exist something we call natural talent. The person has to have the potential to develop the skill in the first place. Sometimes this talent might be inborn or genetic, due to the individual's physiological characteristics, but more often than not it is something that has been fortuitously learnt during upbringing.

The inference I'd like to make here is that targeted use of stretch exercises on muscles, tendons and bones can be used to enhance potential or natural talent by altering the resting posture of relevant parts of the body such as the chest. Traditional Yoga and Feldenkrais may not include such exercises in their repertoire but the technology that they use is the same. I expand on this in the next two presentations on body grip and facial expressiveness.

Personal example

I have an example of my own to illustrate this. When I was younger I spoke very quietly. My voice was seriously constricted and weak which contributed to my lack of confidence, social anxiety and inability to assert myself. There was no natural talent in my voice. Over the decades I have used bodywork to alter the fundamentals of my voice through singing lessons, stretch, relaxation, posture and other exercises so that now I have a resonance and confidence that was not there before. I can sing and can be heard in conversations and able to assert myself across a room.


Bodywork exercises, and especially slow moving posture based exercises provide a means of changing your resting posture so that you can change and improve your performance in any number of tasks.

Challenge to audience

We all want to be good at doing things and some of us are. More of us could be good at doing things if we were able to understand how to open ourselves up to better performance. There is a whole new frontier of human potential that we could unleash through developing targeted stretch exercises. We could open the doors to understanding how human performance works so that we can find better ways to deal with the many failures and deficiencies that we experience as individuals.

References and further reading