Our Bodies as Rock Cairns

By: jEnergy - March 13, 2009

My body, the landmark

On a long hike in Utah last spring, I quickly learned how to navigate trails using tiny stacks of stones strategically placed and delicately balanced throughout the park. The manmade cairns were used as landmarks to ensure hikers navigated the path.

In ancient times, cairns were often erected as monuments. Throughout history the stone piles have guided explorers and travelers on their paths.

Our bodies are the vehicles that guide us through life. The physical stacking of our bones provides a framework for which we can stand, walk, dance, jump, and transport ourselves. The physical and emotional guidance our bodies provide us each and every day is not unlike the ancient markers. When we face turmoil, our bodies physically manifest those struggles. The intricate balancing act that occurs within our bones and muscles mimics the emotional and mental balance we strive for each day.

Next time you find yourself on a physical or emotional journey, use your body as your cairn. Notice ease, tightness, tenderness, pain, or imbalance, and allow it to assist in your discovery process. The clues your body provides will lead you to a deeper understanding of your mental state. Sometimes the body will naturally adjust as your mind clears. Other times, it may help to modify your physique to achieve a desired result. If you’re headed to a job interview, think about how your rounded posture may be leading you down instead of forward. Think of how much easier it will be to convey you have a good head on your shoulders to a potential employer if it really is!

My body, the structural frame

Human anatomy is highly influenced by gravity; therefore we must reinforce our structural integrity and refine our balance just to stay upright. In an effort to keep from toppling over, we often hold ourselves with tension and rigidity. Tension leaves the body unbalanced and vulnerable. Just as rigidity spells disaster in an earthquake, it harms the body’s relationship with gravity. Our bodies must be strong, yet pliable to withstand natural forces, such as uneven sidewalks, desk jobs, and aging.

Just as the stones of a cairn are precisely placed, our bodies are designed to move efficiently and precisely. The cairns stand strong against outside forces, but if one stone slips out of place, it tumbles down. It’s important that our bodies feel “stacked” or the integrity of our entire structure is compromised and we’ll feel residual pain and wear-and-tear.

We spend much of our childhoods mimicking the body language, posture, and patterns of our parents and siblings, along with what’s considered “fashionable” in the media. Familial and cultural models determine our shape, along with accidents, traumas, illness, and other life stresses. Your body’s shape not only dictates your appearance, but your ability to gracefully move through space.

Posture also says a lot about your mood or temperament. When we feel aggressive or extroverted, we tend to stand tall, with the chest lifted and back arched in a wide, grounded stance. In a passive or self-conscious state, we may slouch with the pelvis tucked under or the weight shifted to side.

Stand tall. Feel the feet contact the floor. Explore the weight shift as you stack and unstuck the ankles, knees, and hips. Notice your body’s natural tendencies. Next, bring your attention to your rib cage and shoulder girdles. Do they rest in front of your toes, or behind your ankle bones? Do your ears sit directly over the center of your shoulders? All these landmarks in the body determine how hard your muscles have to work to keep you upright. Muscles may become tight, elongated, or weak to support unbalanced posture, and some may hinder the proper function of others. For healthy individuals, standing, sitting, and walking should feel relatively effortless. The breath, voice, and digestive organs should feel light and free. Without good posture, our bodies are working overtime—and they’re not getting paid.

The cairn analogy stops there. Our bodies shouldn’t FEEL like stone. We just want to use our stones (bones) to guide us and keep us balanced as we learn how to partner with whatever physical or emotional gravity we’re faced with in everyday life!

About the Submitter


Jennifer is a certified STOTT Pilates instructor and ACE-certified group fitness instructor. With over 10 years experience teaching dance and conditioning, she has worked with all ages, fitness levels, and many special populations. Jennifer continuously refines her knowledge and skills through top-ranked schools such as The Kane School, Stott Pilates, Erika Bloom Pilates Plus, and Real Pilates NYC.

Public Comments

  • By: electricfortune

    Sunday, March 15, 2009 - 2:05pm

    Interesting! This is what I like about the philosophies behind yoga and pilates--that our mind/body can be aligned (and that we can achieve balance between effort and ease).

    The artist Andy Goldsworthy has become a famous modern artist of rock cairns and other natural works of art. There's a great documentary on him called Rivers and Tides.

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