Your heart is literally in a cage – twelve pairs of ribs connected to the spine and to chest bone protect the heart and lungs. This marvelous natural construction of bones and muscles is both strong and flexible. When you take a deep breath, the muscles between your ribs stretch and the whole chest expands, inviting breath into your body, inviting life and vitality. You are both protected and open. You are safe and you explore the world, you feel the flow of life.
Now imagine that somebody attacks your heart. They literally hit your chest with unbelievable force, so hard that you can’t take a breath. Your natural impulse is to protect your heart, protect yourself, protect your life. Your chest bone and the whole rib cage collapses, moves back, away from the attacker. Your shoulders move up and forward, and freeze. Your rib and back muscles freeze too, creating a shield on your back and a strong, iron-like belt around your chest. You can’t take a deep breath anymore.
For your body there’s no difference if somebody literally attacks your heart or if it is emotional pain and hurt. Reaction would be often the same – protect the heart, withdraw, freeze, create armor.
I see this body pattern on the massage table. I feel this iron belt of muscles going through the middle back. I see these frozen shoulders that never relax. I see chest that barely moves when a person takes a breath, or doesn’t move at all. I feel how well the heart is protected. “You will not hurt me again. Nobody will” – it says. “I am invisible. I am not here.”
I also know this pattern well from my own experience.
Heart in a cage of bones, muscles and fear.
It takes time. When I massage, it takes forever to gain the trust of heart in a cage. Sometimes it doesn’t trust at all and I feel like I was massaging a stone. You are safe, I whisper while massaging. Here and now you are safe, dear heart. I am sorry to feel how hurt you are. I am sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you – this is my mantra for a heart in a cage.
And then sometimes I witness a miracle. I feel like these frozen muscles melt. I feel how my hands and forearms can go few millimeters deeper into the body. I hear a sigh, deep inhale followed by an exhale of relief. I feel how this iron belt around the chest loosens up a little. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes laughter. Sometimes silence.
Welcome back, heart.