One classic Grecian Urn shows men in battle – shoulders raised, sword in right hand, shield in left. It is a timeless pose, seen reflected in many paintings and other forms of art. It is also something I’ve seen energetically in many of my clients. Whether we are aware of it or not, so many of us battle through life, fighting with a spouse, quarreling with children, holding one’s ground with a boss or colleague and even having internal arguments with oneself. And how does the physical body react to battle mode? It assumes the warrior’s stance with shoulders raised and tense, breath shallow and adrenalin pumping. In this day and age we may no longer be challenged to a duel or need to ride off to slay a dragon or clash swords on a battlefield, but the when stressed, our bodies are still combat-ready and the muscles reflect this attitude.
Take a moment, close your eyes and feel your body. Does it feel like your right shoulder is raised and pulled a little forward, being held tensely as if a heavy sword were in your hand? Or maybe your left shoulder is pulled slightly back and down with the imaginary weight of the shield protecting your chest? It is an archetypal and inherent holding pattern of the body that I have often seen imprinted in the muscles of my clients’ backs and shoulders when they come for bodywork. It is an unconscious posture that most people don’t even know they are doing; but battle is also so intrinsic to our Being that our muscles go through life armed and ready for combat.
In session, while massaging the right shoulder, I often ask the client if s/he needs to be so armed. I might ask what in life is making you carry the sword? – How heavy is it, how long have you been carrying it, how big is the blade, what precipitated picking up this imaginary sword, can you let it go and if you don’t feel ready to release the sword, can you at least shorten it into a knife or dirk that isn’t so heavy? These are all questions we can ask ourselves when the right shoulder is stressed and tight. And sometimes the answer can be no, that you need the sword at this time of life when the world is so threatening; at which point we dialogue about way of supporting the body as you carry this huge sword. But generally, an acknowledgement of not needing to be so armed is understood.
In carrying the shield on the left arm, the questions are similar – why do you feel you need to carry a shield, what are you shielding yourself from, when did you need to start the shielding, how big is the shield today and what part of the body feels most vulnerable that it needs protection? Very often this need for protection is multi-layered and has its origins in childhood. As with carrying a sword, the shield becomes a basic necessity for a child who otherwise can feel overwhelmed, defenseless and open to attack from all foes, imaginary or real. Children are often powerless against an overbearing parent, sibling, teacher or peer, so they learn to develop coping mechanisms to keep them safe. The warrior’s stance is prevalent in frightened and wary children, which left unrecognized can turn into a strong muscular dysfunction later in life.
Although counseling is important to explore inherent fears and distrust, massage with aromatherapy can help to ease the muscular patterning. General oils that are useful in alleviating fear are chamomile, lavender, geranium, marjoram, bergamot, frankincense, neroli, and sandalwood. These oils can be used in combination or alone in an aroma lamp, bath, or in a massage oil. They can be helpful for children as well as adults, although with children one would use only one drop of up to three essential oils in a formula. Carrying a metaphorical sword can weaken muscles and make them ache. For sore, tense muscles a combination of birch, eucalyptus, juniper, lavender, lemon, rosemary or black pepper will ease the fibers and soften the tissue. For stiffness with prolonged sword carry, essential oils like chamomile, tangerine, ginger, cajeput and the peppers will relax muscle rigidity.
Anger and repressed frustration can also be factors in taking up the sword. Hostility towards another can cause an automatic attack-and-defend stance in the body. Essentials to sooth powerful negative emotions are clary sage, frankincense, cypress, lavender, marjoram, petitgrain and chamomile oils. To ease the nervous anxieties that accompany attack-mode, some oils are bergamot, chamomile, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, patchouli and ylang ylang. These oils encourage balance and peace, bringing out the pacifist so battle is no longer desired.
Shielding is a deep emotional problem. Lack of self-worth, feelings of inadequacy, believing other’s criticisms or even self-criticism can throw up defenses internally. Gastric problems can ensue, causing bloating, nausea, cramping and diarrhea. Oils to calm nausea are cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, geranium, ginger, melissa and peppermint. These can be rubbed (in a carrier oil) on the belly in a clockwise motion or inhaled. Intestinal cramping can be alleviated with basil, bergamot, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, hyssop, juniper, marjoram, lavender, rose or sandalwood. Massage is good with a combination of up to 3 oils in a carrier oil rubbed on the belly area, or likewise, around the neck and shoulders to dispel the psycho- emotional energy.
There are numerous more ways to ease, release or calm the impact of warrior mode. You just need to tune in to your own body to see where and how this archetypal stance presents in your physical structure. Massage and bodywork are most effective as well as counseling, but first you have to realize that you are carrying the metaphorical sword and shield before you can choose to put it down. Can you indeed challenge yourself to stand in what the yogis call Tadasana, with your hands down by your side, neutral spine, open and easy. This pose is said to create space in the body as well as peace and calm in your being. With your hands by your side or outstretched in a greeting of friendship, the sword and the shield are left behind.