Emotional releases during complementary therapy treatments
Massage can release emotional memories stored in muscles, as described above. The mechanism for such releases is probably complex. In some ways it appears similar to the releases of the anchoring exercise. The pressure of the massage on the muscles may recreate the tension that was locked into the muscles during the emotional or physical trauma. This may reinvoke the memories, just as happened with repeated pressure on the same spot on the body in the exercise above.
The emotional and physical releases may be further facilitated through the positive atmosphere created by the relaxing massage, combined with the compassionate touch of the therapist. These may create a safe space in which the unconscious mind overcomes its habitual defensive habits and permits the release of the buried original traumas. Similarly, these nurturing and supportive aspects of the massage may help to neutralize some of the negativity, just as the positive anchor paired with the negative one did.
Deeper forms of massage, such as Rolfing, put pressures on tendons and ligaments as well as on the muscles. These tissues may also hold traumatic memories. While such massages can be painful experiences, the emotional releases they facilitate bring benefits that by far outweigh the cost in therapeutic pains.
Gestalt therapy invites you to dialogue with any part of your body that spontaneously “speaks” during a therapy session. In gestalt therapy you form an image of a problem and then you imagine this problem is sitting in an empty chair that is opposite you. For instance, you may be struggling with chronic backaches. You would put your back pain on the empty chair and ask it what it is saying. Your would then change chairs and speak for the back pain, which might state, “I’m carrying too heavy a load, between my stressful job, my partner who has cancer, and my young children who need my attention a lot of the time.” You would then change back to your original seat and negotiate with your back over what parts of the load might be lightened.
Many years ago, I was working with Josh, a sixteen year-old client who was used to gestalt therapy. He came in one day, twirling between his thumb and first finger a flower that he had plucked on a short stem from a bush outside the clinic. I asked him what his fingers might be saying to the flower and what the flower might be feeling. His immediate, responses remain with me poignantly to this day:
Fingers: I don’t know.
Fingers: (prompted by therapist): How do you feel, being twirled like that?
Flower: It feels lousy being torn from my roots, being tossed around without any control any more.
Josh: Yeah, that’s how I feel. My parents moved because of my dad’s job changing, and I was torn out of the school I went to from the first grade.
This invitation for his fingers to speak opened a door into Josh’s feelings of frustration, hurt and anger that he had not been in touch with before.
Meditation and relaxation of the body may bring about spontaneous releases of buried emotional hurts . It appears as though the unconscious mind carefully guards the doors of closets where such hurts are locked away. The calming effects of meditation and relaxation may signal the unconscious mind that there are more resources in the present moment to deal with stresses, so that it can relax its guard and allow these buried materials to be released. Or perhaps the unconscious mind relaxes during meditation and the materials spontaneously surface of their own accord. When this happens unexpectedly, it may be unsettling, distressing, or even retraumatizing, and may be taken as a negative effect of meditation and relaxation rather than a positive one.
Yoga and other bodymind therapies such as the Alexander Technique , Bioenergetics , Feldenkrais and Rubenfeld therapies can bring about emotional releases. In some of these therapies there can be manual pressure by the therapist on the body, as in massage, but in many instances the therapy relies on the client placing her body in particular positions that temporarily increase tensions and then release them. Emotional releases may occur during these exercises, as memories associated with body tensions are activated.
Bioenergy healing may also bring about such releases, as in the veteran with backache described above. Healers may hold their hands very lightly touching the body, or may hold their hands several inches away from the body during treatments. During healing it is not a rare experience to have emotional releases occur. Healers suggest that the bioenergy body can hold memories just like the physical body can . Elmer Green coined the term energy cyst for these memories which appear to be stored in the bioenergy field. Therapists practicing many forms of bioenergy healing have reported such releases, including Barbara Brennan Healers, Carniosacral Therapy, Healing Touch, Qigong, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch and others.
Aromatherapy relies on the odors of various oils to produce particular effects. For instance, lavender is used to soothe and calm; lemongrass and rosemary to uplift and refresh; and orange is soporific . While it is unclear how odors produce these effects, we have in this sensory stimulation of the body a variety of therapeutic effects.
Homeopathy introduces substances into the body that produce physical and psychological effects which resonate with the properties of various chemicals.
The blending of symptom, substance, and symbol is beautifully illustrated by Edward Whitmont, a Jungian psychiatrist. Whitmont describes a man of about 40 who had acne, whom I call “Henry.” A single, strong dose of calcium carbonate (extracted from oyster shells), C1,000 was given. This produced temporary spasms of his finger muscles, similar to tetany symptoms which would be typical from parathyroid gland dysfunction. These spasms evoked memories in Henry from his childhood, when his mother taped his fingers to his bedside in a way that resembled their position during the spasms from the homeopathic calcium carbonate. His mother had done this to prevent him from masturbating. Vivid memories arose in Henry of his anger and shame from this experience. As a child he had completely repressed these memories in his unconscious mind. This somehow translated itself into his skin condition and a boisterous personality. With the release of these memories came a release of the spasms in his fingers. This also furthered his progress in psychotherapy.
Whitmont explains that every remedy has its particular spectrum of effects, its personality. When a person has a cluster of physical and psychological symptoms and personality traits that match those of a remedy, then that remedy can bring about a clearing of those symptoms and may also alter the accompanying personality traits. The art and challenge of the practice of homeopathy is to ask the right questions in order to identify the relevant symptom clusters. Without asking about specific symptoms, many of which would not be at all obvious or likely to be reported spontaneously, the best remedy might easily be missed.
Flower essences, taken orally, have similar effects . Clusters of psychological and physical symptoms respond to various flower essences.
What is most fascinating is that each skin area on the body may be associated with a remedy that can be helpful for problems in that part of the body . The remedies, however, are not given to address the physical symptoms. They are given to address various psychological problems that have no obvious relationship to the dermal area that was used to identify the relevant remedy. I must admit I have no theory to explain this aspect of body language.
*An expanded version of this article appears in Benor, DJ, The Body, International J of Healing and Caring – on line, http://www.ijhc.org September, 2002, 1-18.
(Continued in next column)