Assuming that flexion is a defensive reaction (notice how your body curls forward when you’re startled), character knots are places where we pull away to protect ourselves rather than engaging whole-heartedly with the world. They are places of inner conflict where we fight against what we are doing, and yet they feel comfortable because we’re so used to them.
In the Advanced Training, we learned about how to find and feel character knots in ourselves and in others. Because it is such a small motion of the spine, we cannot stop someone from reinforcing their knots. All we can do is help them become aware of the habitual clenching and give them tactile and verbal feedback about whether they are initiating movement by releasing or tightening their knots.
I have a character knot at about the level of my diaphragm, and another at the bottom of my neck. It takes quite a bit of focus to find them and even more to feel the whole knotted movement of pulling down and forward, as well as the way the rest of my body pulls against the knot. When I can stay with the feeling of the diaphragm knot, it brings up a deep sadness, the quality of heartbreaking disappointment. There is no story associated with this feeling; I’m not remembering something sad or imagining a difficult interaction. Only the sensation of my heart sinking, pulling my face down and leaving me feeling heavy and tired. It’s tricky to stay with this subtle feeling and not get distracted by the louder sensations of pulling myself up and away from the knot. Above the knot I pull back hard, lifting my chest and my gaze and pinning my shoulders down. It is a strong, determined feeling. A sense of readiness to meet the world with pride and confidence.
Between the part that pulls me down and the part that pulls me up is a tension, a feeling of being stretched thin, a fierce brittleness that worries “Oh no! I might not be able to get it all done, and then who knows what horrible things will happen…” It is a vague but familiar dis-ease.
If, instead of overpowering it with an opposite pull, I seek to let go of my knot right before I breathe, there is an uncomfortable feeling of groundless searching, like I’ve forgotten how to breathe. Like a wave has crashed over my head and spun me around so much that I can’t tell which way is up. I am so used to orienting to the pull of my character knots that I feel lost without them.
If I manage to keep relaxing my knots through this moment of disorientation, I experience the stomach-dropping feeling of a fast upward elevator and then an invigorating sense of well-being. I am here and vulnerable and full of feelings, but okay. There is a deep sense of peace with how things are, a joyful appreciation for the sensations of free breathing and easy uprightness. It’s unsettling, but good - a satisfying feeling of embodied ease and vivid presence.
As I practice unwinding my character knots over and over again, it gets easier. Maybe after I let go 10,000 times the tension will dissolve forever. In the meantime, I'll try to enjoy both the comforting tension and the disorienting, invigorating softness of letting go.