The Art of Unclenching

Without knowing it, we can walk around all clenched up.

There’s the mental clench of thoughts we get stuck in. Or the embarrassing, agonizing, or frustrating experience that loops on furious repeat in our mind.

Then there’s the physical clench, or rather clenches, that hide around our body.

Right now, let’s do a quick inventory of our physical self - top of the head to the tip of the toes.

A few easily-missed places I clench: my jaw, my hamstrings and the muscles around my knees (when I’m standing), my hands (especially when I’m typing). And, of course, there’s the old standby of my shoulders jacked up to my earlobes.

If you were to x-ray in and look just at my muscles, you’d think I was nose to nose with a bear. When in reality, I’m at my computer, reading an article about the difference between affect and effect.

We weren’t born clenched; we join the world loose and unfettered. But you and I, we live in a stressful time. There aren’t lions in the next room, but there are constant threats to our emotional, spiritual, financial, familial, social safety. We breathe in a steady stream of fear that is metabolized as clenched muscles. And clenching only amplifies the stress we’re already under.

These grips and tensions hide so quietly around our body, we can acclimate to them without knowing it. So the art of unclenching is only the art of being aware we are clenched.

With awareness, we can release the tight squint around our eyes, release the clutch in our knees, release the rigidity in our neck. And let’s be prepared to release over and over again. These clenches have built homes in our bodies.

But the homes need not be permanent. Each release is like an exhale of the stress we breathe in. Each release is a gentle, firm thaw of clenching’s power. And each release returns our bodies closer to the state they entered the world in.

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Increasing JoyCaitie Whelan