Eastern medicine and thought have long ago made the connection between our body and our mind. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes this idea one step further with the view that we are all connected to the earth and the surrounding universe. Most Native and aboriginal cultures recognize the mind / body connection as well as the deeper connection to the universe. Somehow we in the West fell off that wagon, and it’s only now that we’re trying to get back on.
In his groundbreaking book, “Healing Ancient Wounds – A Renegade’s Wisdom,” author John Barnes describes how injuries and trauma encountered in life affect our minds as well as our bodies. He describes how during treatment of the body, all kinds of feelings and sensations can be released. These sensations may include shaking, pain, tremors, and emotions. Barnes says that feelings are released by triggering what he calls “tissue memory.”
Our body responds to triggers brought on by our five senses: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. These are called “proprioceptive triggers.” Powerful images of tragic events such as those that occurred on September 11th, can bring you back to that moment. You may vividly recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. Songs or music may also produce triggers. For me, the old Glenn Miller classic “Moonlight Serenade,” brings me back to my wedding day. All of the emotions, the excitement of that first dance with my wife come flooding back to me. More than 20 years later, the images, emotions and memories associated with that song are still as strong as they were on the day I was married. And all it takes is a song!
Similarly, when fascia (the densely woven connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord) is released through touch, tissue memory can also be triggered. What is especially interesting about fascia is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one structure that exists from head to foot without interruption. As such, each part of the body is connected to each other. This is one reason why pain may occur in other parts of the body, away from the area of the original trauma.
When an area injured during trauma (whether it is an accident, abuse, invasive surgery) is released, all of the feelings, emotions, and sensations that you experienced during the initial event may also be released. The same fear, the same pain, the same anxiety may resurface, just as intensely as when the original trauma occurred. At the subconscious level, this is what your body has been feeling all along. In order to fully heal, these sensations must be fully felt so that they can be released.
In her book, “A Patient’s Guide to Understanding John F. Barnes Myofascial Release,” physical therapist Cathy Covell writes:
Fully feeling these sensations is easy to say, but not always easy to do. Remember that the sensations can feel as intense as they did during the initial trauma itself. Many times these sensations that occurred during the trauma were overwhelming, which is why we didn’t release them in the first place. One of our self-defense mechanisms that automatically take over when we are overwhelmed with pain, fear, etc. is to leave our body. What I mean is that we can become completely numb and stuff the pain and emotions. It can seem just as overwhelming when the tissue memory is triggered again.
A sensitive therapist, within the therapeutic environment, can help a client fully connect mind and body, and help the client to safely release the sensations associated with the trauma. It is only through this kind of release that you can truly heal. Unless you completely let go, your body continues to experience the trauma at a subconscious level. If the body doesn’t release, restrictions can form in the fascia, creating chronic pain and making it worse over time. The added stress on your body may also compromise your body’s immune system, which can lead to other forms of illness.
Within the therapeutic environment, with a competent and sensitive therapist, you have the ability to release and clear the pain and trauma of the past. When we fully let go of the pain of our past, we can embrace life in the present, and experience the love and beauty of living in the moment.