Over the past few years, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that somatic bodywork can have lasting healing effects on our nervous system and overall health and well-being. After all, it makes sense that our conscious mind can recall memories of the past, but to think bodywork like TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises) or straight-up dancing could powerfully heal
“The body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other”, says Dr. Candace Pert.
Years and decades can go by and you may have mentally forgotten about an emotionally powerful experience, but the fact is, it still has a piece of real estate in the body. Almost like a memory gets stored in your brain where the emotion gets stored in your body and in the cells themselves.
Now here’s where we go even deeper. Our physical bodies are held in different energetic patterns. What happens for a lot of us is that in a heated argument or an emotionally dense situation, our emotional energy gets bound up and literally stuck in the body if we don’t fully process it. It basically gets congested, like an energetic traffic jam.
Our emotional system is also like this fluid network throughout the entire body. Amaral even describes in the episode that the tip of the tailbone will tuck under when we feel victimized or traumatized. Proving to us that emotions don’t just happen in your head and go away, but actually get deeply experienced in different areas of your body and within the cells (and sometimes stick around far longer than we want them to..).
Some researchers share that untreated past trauma can have big implications on your health and some healers would even suggest all physical ailments, disease and poor health is rooted in some kind of unprocessed trauma or emotion.
The truth is, the experiences you had as a child or young adult that fall under the category of big T or little t trauma are not just “in your head”. Those experiences created shockwaves in your mind and body and literally leave an imprint in your system that can linger around for years or decades if unprocessed.
So what do we do about it?
In general, we have to start connecting back into our bodies. We have this way in Western Culture of disassociating from our emotions – contorting ourselves and lessening our expression to make other people more comfortable or come off as ‘perfect’. After all, this kind of somatic healing work involves a lot of shaking, crying, screaming, howling, and just general weird noises and body movements. It’s actually HOW emotion naturally gets expressed, but yeah it’s a little unusual. And let’s be fair, the last thing a lot of us want to do is come off as some howling weirdo.
So what happens to that everyday anxiety, stress and grief? Well, it has no way of exiting the body so it just ends up renting space in our nervous system, muscles, organs, and connective tissue.
Basically, our desire to express this perfectly kept demeanor and ‘normal’ way of being is actually just hurting our system on a massive level. Our way of disassociating is perpetuating and preserving the lifetime of those hard experiences.
There’s been a ton of research in this area and the fact that Goop Lab has come out with an entire series on Netflix dedicated to this topic tells me that it soon won’t be so weird to primal scream into a pillow on a weekly basis.
Experts are now saying that it would be wise to incorporate bodywork and energetic healing into our daily routines, just as a lot of us have adopted meditation, yoga, and daily movement. After all, bodywork is an ancient practice that’s just finding its way back into our lives, so let’s just imagine it as ‘Spiritual Hygiene’.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular practices in body and energy work and everything you need to dip a toe (or full-on cannonball) into the spiritual wellness pool.
You may have heard a ‘buzz’ about fascia or myofascial release, which is a restorative and physically therapeutic practice creeping its way onto the scene. Part of the reason that fascia has been so misunderstood is that it has no particular form. That’s right, it’s literally a specialized system that shape-shifts around your body like a spider web woven around every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. Pretty wild right?
What’s even crazier is that trauma can literally create myofascial restrictions or ‘build up’ that produces intense pressure in the body and nervous system.
Overall, myofascial release is a super effective remedy for both physical and emotional pain.
The Autonomic Nervous System, which is composed of two networks – the sympathetic nervous system, which helps us to be aroused, alarmed, on edge; and the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to relax, and which is important for healing and rest. In Western culture, a lot of us are dealing with overstimulation which keeps our sympathetic nervous system constantly aroused. This is exhausting on the mind and body and can lead to feelings of burnout, physical pain, and eventually illness. We absolutely NEED to be able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to calm down and heal, which comes from participating in a number of different practices, but one of the best, most joyful ways is dance!
Ecstatic dance takes this to a whole new level as it invites you to be completely IN the body, moving freely and without thought, restrictions, rules, or guidelines really. Ecstatic dance is known to reduce stress on a physiological and mental level as it has the power to ground you back into the present moment, lower the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, and get you out of the fight-flight mode and into a state of bliss and contentment. You can quite literally shake out all your stress and worries.
– Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) or ‘Shaking’
– Crying, Primal Screaming, or any form of intentional and guided emotional release
– Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
– Cold Water Immersion: otherwise known as ice-baths, plunges pools and cold water therapy
– Sensory Deprivation Tank: otherwise known as ‘floating’
The idea is to find a technique that works for YOU. This could mean finding a community or group of friends to ecstatic dance together, or just throwing some tunes and shaking it out in the comforts of your home. It could also look like finding a coach, mentor, therapist or bodywork specialist that you feel aligned with to explore this work. The key is to find something that your body responds to in a positive way that feels therapeutic, relaxing, and transformative.
Feature image by Cece Di Paolo