Bodywork can be used to change behaviour

Lead in - speed 1.9

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.


To get the most out of this presentation you should view the previous presentations on relaxation, posture and stretch and hold.  In the presentation about muscle, tendon and bone configuration, I introduced you to the concept of habitual structure and held structure. 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 skill

Barbell Deadlift Training

Body building, for developing muscular strength and endurance

People doing martial arts

Martial arts, where you learn traditional Asian hand fighting skills

Yoga, Feldenkrais, tai chi and others which consist of static or slow moving posture based exercises.  You've probably heard of yoga and tai chi.  Feldenkrais is a lesser known discipline with similar goals to yoga.

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, which, as discussed in the previous presentation involve stretch and hold exercises.

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 contain bad habits and they can help you to free your body up so you can acquire better habits and change permanently ingrained behaviours. At this time, the benefits of many bodywork disciplines is relatively unknown and there is a lot yet to be learnt. We endeavour to explore this further in this series of presentations.

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 what we have already defined as our habitual structure.

Boy slouching

Boy standing up straight

Let's illustrate using the concepts of habitual structure and held structure, which we discussed in the presentation on muscle, tendon and bone configuration.  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, which then becomes their habitual structure.  The child could, under instruction, quickly hold their chest up high, taking on a held structure, but they would have difficulty retaining that posture because they would be going against the ingrained habit, and they would soon slouch again.

It is easy to dynamically change our posture to meet immediate demand, but changing posture permanently, i.e. habitual structure, requires altering the configuration of underlying muscles, tendons and bones and that takes 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. Your posture 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. If your habitual structure is good, then your thoughts, how you feel about yourself and how you interact with others will also be good.  If your habitual structure is bad, then that will negatively influence your thoughts, feelings and relationships.  You can use bodywork to change your habitual structure and thus change your behaviour.


When you do stretch and hold 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.  Being inflexible means that they don't easily stretch.  Being elastic means they quickly return to their unstretched state. 

If you have ever done yoga you will notice improved flexibility of your body will occur 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 require rest or medical treatment, so there is no fast track to improvement.

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.

The goal of stretching muscles is to make them bigger, and 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.  This characteristic is highly beneficial because it helps maintain reliable and consistent performance in any skills we acquire.  On the flip side, it means that if we have acquired poor habitual structure, then it can be hard work to get out of it.

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

In relation to performance, the configuration of tendon, ligament and bone that we develop in our body 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. Similarly someone who performs badly will continue to do so unless they make changes.  Human performance is remarkably consistent. A high performer at some skill will reliably and consistently perform well. A low performer will reliably and consistently perform badly.  This level of performance is maintained by parts of the body that are resistant to change, such as the tendons and ligaments.  This is why competitors in elite sports such as can be seen at the Olympic games are able to produce consistently good performances year after year and why some are consistently better than others.  Understanding this is crucial in understanding how you can use bodywork to change your behaviour and transform yourself.

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. In other words, that talent might be developmental, which means that some circumstances occurred during upbringing which led the person to develop the characteristic.  If a characteristic is developmental, then that means that almost anyone has the potential to have it.

The following statement is something that I intend to build upon in later presentations:  For those of us who, due to our own circumstances, failed to develop characteristics that we desire, it is possible that targeted use of stretch and hold exercises on muscles, tendons and bones can be used to re-engineer your body to develop those characteristics, by altering the habitual structure of relevant parts of the body such as the chest and face. The best bodywork techniques for this are those which are similar to traditional yoga and Feldenkrais. I expand on this in the next two presentations on body grip and facial expressiveness.

Personal example


Bodywork exercises, and especially static or slow moving posture based exercises provide a means of changing your habitual structure so that you can change and improve your performance in chosen 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 and hold 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