I recently wrote a blog titled, “Posture: Chicken or the Egg.” The basic premise was how posture could dictate a person’s emotional state and vice versa. The simple act of lifting one’s chest could help lift a person’s spirit. Allowing the chest to drop could also encourage depression. Unfortunately, this concept seemed to be confirmed when a onetime client passed away last week.
To protect his anonymity, we will call him Blake. Blake came to see me last autumn because he and his wife were concerned about his posture and his overall health. He was 87 years old and presented a posture that looked like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was the typical, unfortunate shape many elderly individuals adopt – hunched over, head drooping down to his chest, knees buckling, with poor balance and very small footsteps. Such a posture is usually something that subtly and insidiously takes years to develop. It is not something you would expect to happen over just a couple of months, but that was the case when it came to Blake.
I was shocked when he and his wife told me he had been very active and in very good shape up until the beginning of the summer (just four months before walking in my door). He did not appear to be an active man. I suspected some type of physical trauma must have taken place for his structure to collapse to such a degree. Did he have a fall or injure his back? Did he break some bones or even sprain an ankle? Were there any surgeries or major illnesses in the last year or so? No. Nothing of the sort! Almost overnight he went from an energetic, active man to a weakened, Quasimodo-like figure.
Then his wife told me his passion in life had been to take his Christian studies into the local jails in an attempt to help the inmates turn their lives around. However, earlier in the year, due to circumstances beyond his control, permission to continue his missionary work had been denied. That, she felt, was when his posture took a turn for the worse. He was so emotionally connected to his work, that when it was no longer allowed, he went into a deep psychological and physical depression. Although he experienced temporary improvement with a few exercises, it was ultimately his psyche that was too hurt. Could this have ultimately brought on his demise?
Is it too farfetched and hard to believe? I don’t think so. It was only a few years ago that the New England Journal of Medicine reported about “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Officially called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (after the Japanese word for an octopus trap, which the affected heart resembles), is a form of acute heart failure. It is often temporary and benign, but can also result in death. Emotional events such as a breakup, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job — have been attributed as triggers.
This is not to say that Blake died of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It is merely to suggest that the mind-body connection is a lot more powerful than we westerners give it credit. It rather suggests that we should continue to strive for elements and actions in our lives which create a sense of peace, self-worth, and happiness. If not for an emotional state of balance but for a higher level of health and wellness.
What elements in your life do you value most? What would happen to your world if they were ripped away? What are the elements in your life that drain your happiness and self-worth? It is not the most pleasant thing to think about, but it may be worth some consideration. Are you able to design an “insurance policy” around the things that matter most and let go of the things that tax your health and happiness? If you can, it may just add years to your life and life to your years.