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Body Symbolism: Psychological and Spiritual Meanings

Body symbolism reveals the inner meaning of each organ and part of the body. This allows for a greater understanding of health and illness. The spiritual meaning of the body can be a key to healing on all levels: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. 

Understanding the direct psychological connection between our physical bodies and our thoughts or emotions gives us a tool for self-healing. The patterns of our thoughts that have contributed to discomfort or disease can be altered by affirming new thoughts through affirmations or mantras.

BODY SYMBOLISM TABLE OF CONTENTS

Anatomy Spiritual Meaning of the Body

Human Body Diagram Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Posted by Mikael Haggstrom

Language, Idioms and Body Symbolism

The meanings associated with different parts of the body are often revealed in our common idioms and colloquial expressions. This correspondence between language and body meaning allows you to use affirmations or chant or sing with particular healing outcomes in mind.

I also like to use images of human anatomy for visualizations when chanting privately. I am thrilled by the capacity and the beauty of the human body. I love stories about extreme athletes and people with amazing physical abilities of all kinds.

As a child, I had planned to go into the medical field. However, as I observed life around me during my teenage years, the maladies of the mind and soul seemed much deeper than those of the body. I began to feel that the mind and spirit should be addressed first or at least simultaneously with the body.

This led me to study of the work of Louise Hay and other pioneers in the field of the mind-body connection. For decades there have been forerunners in metaphysics and psychology insisting that we recognize the importance of attitudes, emotions and beliefs in health and wellness.

These include Dr. John Sarno, Steven Ray Ozanich, Deb Shapiro, Joe Dispenza, Inna Segal, Bernie Siegel and more. Some of these experts have mapped out distinct connections between personality patterns, body symbolism and health conditions. Their books are great sources of information for finding ideas when I am creating my own healing mantras and affirmations.

By understanding the specific symbolic meaning of an aspect of the human body, you can be conscious of the benefits you seek to gain. When healing affirmations, mantras and positive self-talk are set to music, they can also be sung for potentially even more effective results. In my own life, I have created mantras with affirmations in both Sanskrit and English related to eyesight and vision, thyroid health, general vitality and more. Singing can help us to utilize the connection between speaking, chanting and the mind to heal the physical body.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Root Chakra Affirmations

Examples of Specific Body Symbolism

The meaning of specific areas of the body are covered in depth in subsequent articles linked after the brief descriptions below. Explore the symbolic nature of the human body!

CHEEK MEANING: Cheek meaning is revealed clearly in the language that we use to describe our bodies. A single part of the body can be heavily laden with many different meanings. And sometimes the meanings are highly amusing as well. This is particularly true of the cheek: the fleshy part of the face on either side of the nose between the eyes and ears. Learn about cheek idioms and read full article on Cheek Meaning.

CHIN MEANING: To “take it on the chin” is to stand up to something adverse or unfair. The chin can take the full brunt of criticism or adversity. This alludes to a blow on the chin in boxing or fighting. Taking it on the chin can also mean not to complain when bad things happen. A trembling chin shows emotions that are being held in check, especially grief or sadness. 

Root Chakra Affirmations Feet and Lower Body

FEET MEANING: Another part of the body highly laden with meaning is the feet. The feet represent the willingness to be on earth and engaged in life as in “putting your best foot forward.” In contrast with this, someone who is afraid to rock the boat may be “walking on eggshells.”

The feet are our foundation and grounding in life. To have your feet firmly on the ground is to be willing to be on earth and walk your own path. Problems with the feet can indicate corresponding emotional issues:

  • Feet that are knotted upward indicate someone who is afraid to disturb those around them.
  • Feet pointed outward indicate confusion about a direction in life.
  • Feet pointed inward indicate shame and resistance related to sexual and spiritual maturity.
  • Injury or disease of the feet can indicate concerns about security and lack of solid contact with the earth and the meeting of physical needs.
  • Injury to the feet can be blocking the desire to kick someone.
  • Problems with the feet may indicate a fear of the future and stepping forward in life.
  • Cold feet indicate withdrawal from an emotional situation.
  • Swollen feet are holding frustration about your direction in life. 

 

Feet represent our “understanding” of life. Your feet are literally “standing under” your body. To put yourself under the tutelage of another is to be at their feet. For example, many religions refer to sitting at the feet of a spiritual master or deity.

Affirmations for the feet include: I move forward in life with joy and ease. My new direction in life is safe for me. My life is supported with abundance and loving relationships.

GALL BLADDER MEANING: The gall bladder is a small organ associated with the liver. The gall bladder releases bile and aids in the digestion of fats. In Oriental medicine, the gall bladder is associated with the wood element. On an emotional level, the gall bladder is connected to the ability to make decisions, movement and flexibility.

Problems with the gall bladder can indicate a fear of inappropriate expression, bitterness, hard thoughts and concern about minor details of the future. Deficiency in the functioning of the gall bladder can result in indecision, timidity, and easily becoming discouraged.

On the positive side, a healthy gall bladder supports courage, initiative and the ability to make changes, decision and decisive actions. Affirmations for the gall bladder include: I release the past joyously. Life is sweet. 

HAIR MEANING: Many cultures around the world, from Native Americans to Sikhs, believe that hair has a special significance. Cultural beliefs about our hair and how it can affect us go back as far as recorded history.

Some ancient cultures believed there is power in uncut hair. Long hair on a man was attached to a cultural as well as a ceremonial significance. For many cultures, long hair was a sign of courage, and nobility. Cutting hair in some cultures meant cowardice, or mourning. Other cultures simply valued the way a man looked with a handsome complexion, and long, dark hair.

In Ancient Greece, long male hair was a symbol of wealth and power, while a shaven head was appropriate for a slave. In the European middle ages, shorter hair often signified servitude and peasantry, while long hair was often attributed to freemen. The Gaelic Irish took great pride in their long hair, and a person could be heavily fined for cutting a man’s hair short against his will.

In ancient China and Korea, hair was regarded as a precious legacy from parents. Most people would never cut their hair after they became adults and cutting off one’s hair was a penalty for minor crimes. Before World War One men generally had longer hair and beards.

In the Old Testament, the Nazirites would go for long periods of time without cutting their hair to show devotion to God. Samson is one example; his strength depended upon his refraining from cutting his hair.”

MOUTH MEANING: Mouth meaning taps into the entire world of emotions and self-expression. The mouth is possibly the most psychologically conflicted feature of the face. The mouth is a central focus for both receiving and giving pleasure and pain. We use the mouth to take in food and drink, to praise and curse, to kiss and spit, to sing and to moan. Learn more about this fascinating facial feature in Mouth Meaning.

SHOULDER MEANING: Here’s another fairly universal example: the shoulders represent the ability to carry our experiences and responsibilities in life. If we are so busy with what we “should” do, have too much to do, or are caring for others with little time for ourselves, then our shoulders can become tense and rigid. A stiff or frozen shoulder may symbolize resistance to the pressure that life is exerting on you to perform and an unwillingness to let others or life itself help us to carry the burden.

Difficulties with the shoulders may indicate that you are living a life of duty and obligation. Pain in the shoulders may indicate a block in your expression of love towards others (hugging, reaching out). Hunched shoulders can be overwhelm by the burden of life. Shoulders that are raised or pulled back can project strength but hide feeling of inadequacy or show where feelings are being held back. 

Idioms and language connections to the shoulders include the following: he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; a chip on your shoulder (easily competitive or angered; a shoulder to cry on; put your shoulder to the wheel, square your shoulders; she’s got broad shoulders; a good head on his shoulders; shrug your shoulders; gave him the cold shoulder; rub shoulders with others.

A basic affirmation for the shoulders is : “I carry my experiences easily. My burden is light.” Other affirmations include: “I choose to participate in life in ways that are right for me. I let go of all situations that are not serving my spirit. I have enough time for activities that bring me joy and freedom. I express love in ways that increase my joy. “

There are many songs in the repertoire of sacred music around the world about laying down our burdens. We can symbolically give our burdens over to a higher power such as a deity or life itself, potentially alleviating physical problems with the shoulders. Many mantras emphasize surrender to a spiritual teacher or a representative of God. In any of these situations, a mantra can be found or created that allows us to release our feelings into the physical world and potentially transform our physical bodies in a positive way.

STOMACH MEANING: Our digestive system is also full of contradictory meanings. Digestion is a process of absorption, nourishment and filtering. The emotional connections are related to honesty, emotional vulnerability, processing the experiences of life, inner power, inner strength and life force.

Problems with the stomach include the opposite conditions: indigestion, malabsorption, fear of intimacy, insecurity, holding onto toxic feelings, deep-seated fear of not being good enough, worry, concern about and fear of the future. To settle your feelings is to “settle your stomach.” To be highly disturbed is to be “sick to your stomach.” And you don’t want to handle difficult situations “on an empty stomach” (out of energy, strength or sustenance).

Because of the many central functions of the stomach, the idioms and language related to the stomach are highly varied. Someone who is honest and emotionally vulnerable may be said to “spill their guts.” We’ve all got “gut feelings” in “the pit of our stomach” that warn us of impending danger. To go “belly up” is to go bankrupt. When you want to have more than you can handle, your “eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

To “bust a gut” is to strain yourself, usually unnecessarily. If you can’t let go of a problem or agitation about a situation or person, it’s “eating you up.” If you are constantly thinking about your problems, you are “contemplating your navel.” To be nervous is to “have butterflies in your stomach.” You may have a “weak stomach” (easily disturbed) or a “strong stomach” (ready to handle most things) or a “cast-iron” stomach (can handle anything).

If you dislike someone, you just “can’t stomach them.” And when you really dislike someone, you “hate their guts.” That’s pretty telling right there. We don’t hate their kidneys or their forearms or their shoulders, we “hate their guts.” The guts are the core of the person, both literally and symbolically.

TOE MEANING: The toes represent the details of the future. Problems with the toes can indicate feelings of tiredness, confusion, anxiety and depression–like a small child who wants to hide from life. You may have the feeling that there are too many events and situations over which you have no control. You may be wanting to give up and run away, expect there is nowhere to run. A positive affirmation for the toes would be: “All details of the future take care of themselves. Change is safe for me.”

Author’s story: I was out walking one morning and noticed that the fourth toe on my right foot was a bit tender. To make matters worse, when I got back to my house I accidentally stubbed the very same toe with great force on a stationary bike in our basement. The pain took my breath away and I fell to my knees. When I recovered a bit, I went back to my busy life and tried to ignore the pain in my toe. By late afternoon, I took off my shoe to find that the toe was completely black and blue and swollen to the point that I wondered if I had actually broken my toe.

An approach that I commonly use to try and work with health issues is to write in my journal about everything that could possibly connected to whatever symbolism seems to be associated with the injury or condition.

I wrote in my journal for three hours that night, giving advice to several friends that I would never tell them in person because I respect their ability to make their own decisions and would not want to burden them with my feelings on top of everything else in their lives. At the same time, it gives me a way to recognize and respect my own feelings. After that, I tore out everything I had written and burned the pages to complete the process of release.

By the next morning the swelling had gone down and within a few days I was back to all of my usual activities. My children and husband had seen the toe that first day and were amazed days later when the bruising had almost completely faded and the joint was only slightly swollen. Perhaps the toe was not as badly injured as I had thought. Or maybe the emotional release helped. I’m convinced the loss of sleep to write in my journal that night was a good investment in my health.

Language, Idioms and Body Symbolism

The meanings associated with different parts of the body are often revealed in our common idioms and colloquial expressions. This correspondence between language and body meaning allows you to use affirmations or chant or sing with particular healing outcomes in mind.

I also like to use images of human anatomy for visualizations when chanting privately. I am thrilled by the capacity and the beauty of the human body. I love stories about extreme athletes and people with amazing physical abilities of all kinds.

As a child, I had planned to go into the medical field. However, as I observed life around me during my teenage years, the maladies of the mind and soul seemed much deeper than those of the body. I began to feel that the mind and spirit should be addressed first or at least simultaneously with the body.

This led me to study of the work of Louise Hay and other pioneers in the field of the mind-body connection. For decades there have been forerunners in metaphysics and psychology insisting that we recognize the importance of attitudes, emotions and beliefs in health and wellness.

These include Dr. John Sarno, Steven Ray Ozanich, Deb Shapiro, Joe Dispenza, Inna Segal, Bernie Siegel and more. Some of these experts have mapped out distinct connections between personality patterns, body symbolism and health conditions. Their books are great sources of information for finding ideas when I am creating my own healing mantras and affirmations.

By understanding the specific symbolic meaning of an aspect of the human body, you can be conscious of the benefits you seek to gain. When healing affirmations, mantras and positive self-talk are set to music, they can also be sung for potentially even more effective results. In my own life, I have created mantras with affirmations in both Sanskrit and English related to eyesight and vision, thyroid health, general vitality and more. Singing can help us to utilize the connection between speaking, chanting and the mind to heal the physical body.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Root Chakra Affirmations

Discovering Body Symbolism

I woke up in the middle of the night nearly a decade ago, overwhelmed and angry. I felt like I had been thrown into the game of life without a rule book. I had studied metaphysics and self-transformative practices for years, but my results at the time were sporadic. Sometimes life was wonderful. Sometimes I felt confounded with too many difficult challenges.

Then from somewhere the thought came to me: “I will put my laws in their inward parts, and in their hearts I will write them.” This Biblical quote (Jeremiah 31:33) was only vaguely familiar to me. All the same, in that instant I knew that every bone and muscle and fiber of my being was the living, breathing rule book demonstrating the laws of life.

Everything I needed to know was literally written in every cell, organ and limb of my physical body. All I had to do was read the pulsating messages written in blood and sweat and flesh. My physical body was reflecting my thoughts and experiences. As others have said before me, biography had become biology. The invisible had become visible. I could read the script of my life‒past, present and the trajectory for my future‒in my physical form.

I believe that our bodies are designed to last in health and vibrancy for a long time, possibly for centuries, of creative, joyful living. The words and sounds that we choose to vocalize and those that we sing are creating and recreating us constantly. This is one of the reasons that I generally prefer chanting as a spiritual practice when compared with meditation or silent prayer. Sound affects matter. And that matters to me.

Unfortunately, our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, words and lifestyle choices are sometimes the weapons of our own chosen self-destruction. If we accept the premise that God, as the energy of life, is literally with us in every breath and heartbeat, we need only read the messages written in our bodies with true honesty and courage to know how to heal ourselves. This does not discount medical attention but is an adjunct to reasonable health measures.

This is not to judge ourselves or others for maladies of the body or soul, but a way to have compassion for ourselves and others. I will also say that there are saints among us that accept disabilities or diseases on behalf of others. Not everyone is the cause or source of their own suffering. Some conditions may be sacrificial and do not reflect the thoughts or consciousness of the person bearing that burden in any way.

Connecting with the Body

I find it fascinating that healing the body through giving homage and praise to the body itself is a principle that seems to be universal. This principle has been rediscovered in modern times by practitioners of positive thinking and New Thought Christianity. Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, founders of the Unity School of Christianity, both healed themselves of tuberculosis using this approach. Myrtle Fillmore relates her experience:

“Life is simply a form of energy and has to be guided and directed in man’s body by his intelligence. How do we communicate with intelligence? By thinking and talking, of course…. I told the life in my liver that I was not torpid or inert, but full of vigor and energy. I told the life in my stomach that it was not weak or inefficient, but energetic, strong and intelligent….

I told my limbs that they were active and strong. I went to all of the life centers in my body and spoke words of Truth to them—words of strength and power…. I did not become discouraged at their being slow to wake up, but kept right on, both silently and aloud, declaring the words of Truth, until the organs responded.”

Myrtle Fillmore’s health began to improve immediately, she was completely free of tuberculosis in two years, and she went on to live another forty years founding and running a church and spiritual organization.

Many mantras for healing have simple meanings along  lines similar to Myrtle Fillmore’s approach such as: “I give honor to my shoulder” or “I welcome the healing sun to strengthen my eyes” or “I praise the spirit that strengthens me.”

Synergy of the Body and Spirit

Ultimately my personal goal is to go beyond achieving physical health through chanting and other spiritual practices and move towards having a true synergy of the body and the soul. In many traditions the body represents the Divine Mother and the spirit is symbolized by the Divine Father. I would like to experience the spirit flowing through my body freely rather than feeling the need for unending control and discipline.

Even in intensive sports, there must be a way to channel energy so that the physical body does not break down from overuse. Why should the physical body deteriorate if it is a reflection and expression of the eternal spirit? This does not make sense to me. There are yogis and saints who display all kinds of supernatural abilities such as slowing or stopping their hearts or going into breathless states for extended periods of time. Why is this the exception and not the norm?

Maybe our bodies begin to fail because we are trying to strengthen and master the physical body through sheer force ‒manipulating muscles, bones and joints‒rather than viewing the body as the pliable vessel of energy or spirit. Many martial arts masters do not necessarily even look strong, but they can do things that the strongest men in the world cannot do because they have learned to use their body as a channel for energy. There must be a way of channeling chi or prana so that the body is restored rather than destroyed in the process of living.

There have been miracle workers throughout the ages: Jesus and Buddha and Christian saints and Babaji and more. Babaji, an Eastern master and spiritual teacher, is called the Eternal Youth. He is purported to have lived for thousands of years, coming in and out of his body as desired or needed to assist mankind. Read full article on Babaji and his counterpart Mataji.

This is the stuff of legends to be sure, but science is also beginning to document individuals who can live without eating and those who are immune to poisonous snakes and those who live with little to no sleep. Stan Lee’s episodic series called Superhumans documents many of these modern people with remarkable abilities.

Spiritual Meaning of the Body

Illustration by Rose Karlsen
Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved

Mantras, Yantras & Body Symbolism

Mantra Yoga is a practice that unites the body and soul. Sound is a conduit between the world of the spirit or energy and the world of the earth. There seems to be a fairly direct conversion of energy into matter. Quantum physics is demonstrating that particles and waves merge and shift into one another constantly.

The work of Hans Jenny in the science of cymatics demonstrates that forms are created by various tones and sounds. There is a clear congruency between sound and geometric forms. This directly ties into the practice of both mantras and the use of yantras or sacred geometry.

Creating a Spiritual Body

When we speak, and especially when we chant or sing, we may be creating geometric forms in our own bodies and in the matter around us. This is quite a science and a lifetime study. There is also a concept in Christianity that one day we will have an eternal body: “this corruptible must put on incorruption” [1 Corinthians 15: 53]. This is called the “body glorious” or the “body celestial.” The same concept exists in many religions in different forms: the idea that there is an eternal body that we can create or receive.

Chanting, toning and sacred singing are among the tools that have an impact on both matter and spirit. Perhaps a combination of efforts will lead to achieving an eternal form, if that is indeed desirable for one or many. Various other yogic techniques may also be part of the equation.

Mantra Yoga is a form of self-investigation. What feelings arise and what is the impact on the physical body? When you chant do you feel spacey or grounded or uncomfortable or elated? These may be keys to evaluating your own psychological and emotional states. I am fortunate in that regard: when I am chanting, I often feel like I am falling in love.

There seems to be a huge leap from the desire to simply be free of ailments of the body and mind to the possibility of an eternal body. I am fascinated by the research being done by scientists like Candace Pert (learn more on her website) who demonstrates how thoughts are converted to chemicals in the body. There is also much work being done with somatic psychology, and even reports of people with multiple personalities whose physical forms change when they shift from one personality to another. There are records of people whose eye color, scars, eyesight and conditions like diabetes appear and disappear when they are existing as one personality versus another. That is amazing!

All of these things show that the body is quite fluid. Perhaps the body is far more fluid than we have thought in the past. For example, the human lymph system is a critical part of health and wellness. You can learn more at The Amazing Lymph System on the Essential Drops of Joy website.

Anything that is fluid is instantly affected by sound. Sound is a bridge that unites the physical and the spiritual. That is a great place to start. A practice like chanting that involves the emotions, the mind, the heart and the physical body may allow ordinary, flawed people like me to transform ourselves into more glorious beings on one level or another. At least it is a grand experiment.

Ultimately a dedicated spiritual path, including whatever practices appeal deeply to you, can lead to a harmonious relationship between the body and soul. Maybe there are multiple answers to the long-standing question of old age, disease, and death. I am looking for a way to find those answers and to achieve results without going into a cave for a lifetime or more. For me, chanting is a path that can work on many levels while I am living in the modern world and fulfilling my responsibilities. There are other tools I have found to be helpful like breath-centered meditation and hiking in the mountains. However, mantra yoga is my primary spiritual and self-creative practice.

Working with Your Body Script

Body Script™ is the use of physiognomy, oriental diagnosis, body language and symbolic anatomy to ascertain mental and emotional connections and meanings related to specific aspects of the physical body. Body Script™ is the understanding that our bodies outpicture our thoughts and feelings in a concrete, knowable way.

Reading the body gives us clues to our own personality patterns. The changing of these patterns will then be reflected in changes in the physical body. Body Script™ is therefore not fixed, but is an art and science art based on the feedback system of the body which can be utilized for ongoing personal growth and wholeness.

In our ignorance, we may be killing ourselves quickly or slowly. Our thoughts and feelings and beliefs and lifestyle choices are the weapons of our chosen self-destruction. Ultimately, all death from illness and “natural causes” could be considered a form of suicide. If we accept the premise that God is literally with us in every breath and heartbeat, we need only read His rulebook in our bodies with true honesty and courage to know how to heal ourselves. This does not discount medical attention, but is an adjunct to reasonable health measures.

Resources:
Heal Your Body by Louise Hay
The Secret Language of Your Body by Inna Segal
Your Body Speaks Your Mind by Deb Shapiro
The Healing Secrets of the Ages by Catherine Ponder
Body Symbolism by Richard Rybicki, M.S.W.

Kathleen Karlsen Video Resources Thumbnail

Author Kathleen Karlsen

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

Kathleen’s Books

Vocal Medicine reveals Kathleen Karlsen’s personal journey and years of research into mantras, chanting and kirtan. Learn more about using mantras and singing to invigorate your life! Explore the chakras and the impact of sound in every area of your life. 

Flower Symbols by Kathleen Karlsen features fascinating information about the folklore of the world’s most beloved flowers. Flowers accompany us in nearly every major event in life. This book is a perfect gift for every flower lover in your life! 

SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE BODY SUMMARY

The spiritual meaning of the body can be a key to healing on all levels: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Understanding the direct psychological connection between our physical bodies and our thoughts or emotions can help us to utilize the connection between chanting and the mind to heal the physical body. The patterns of our thoughts that have created discomfort or disease can be altered by choosing new thoughts and chanting them as mantras or sung affirmations.

Share with a friend today!

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