May 22 to 25, 2014, I had the opportunity to participate in a Somato-Emotional Release workshop in Edmonton, Alberta, put on by the Upledger Institute. It combined elements of art therapy, gestalt therapy, psychosynthesis and craniosacral therapy. The principal intent of this combination is the facilitation of awareness of the many non-conscious influences from the psyche on our body. We are realizing repressed emotions in increments the psyche can handle. Why is that important in body work?
Modern science is now able to prove what most of us have known intuitively all of our lives: Our bodies are not functioning independently from our psyche. The industrial age was enarmoured with the idea that the human body is a machine that you can fix by means of chemistry or surgery. Like a car, the mind steps into it, drives it around until it breaks, and hands it over to the medical mechanic for repairs. I have had more than one patient who was deeply disappointed after a knee replacement that the pain was not gone, and the problem was not "fixed" after the procedure.
Candace Pert, PhD, describes in her book "Molecules of Emotion" her own scientific journey of discovery as she detected so called "peptides," molecules that carry information regarding emotions throughout our bodies. Their release into the system is triggered by emotion, but if isolated and then injected into the body, they trigger the same emotion without external stimulus. In other words: when you feel embarrassed by spilling coffe on your shirt just before an important presentation, the embarrassment peptides flood your body, make you blush, drive up your heart rate and blood pressure, and make your palms sweaty, not to mention stirring up a mental storm in your head. The same thing happens when you sit calmly in a laboratory, without coffee and in a clean shirt, if you get injected with a miniscule amount of the same peptides.
Emotions are physical events. They are normal, natural communications between our body and consciousness. The most basic emotions are joy, fear, anger, sadness and grief. Like the basic colors in art, these basic emotions combine in endless varietions, can be clear or opaque, bold or pastel. If they are experienced without resistance, they flow through us for a brief period of time and make room for the next feeling. Unfortunately, all of us live through events that are simply too intense for our psyche to handle at the time. Especially as young children, we can be overwhelmed by powerful emotions due to threats to our physical, emotional or spiritual nature. Our survival instinct takes over, and the emotions are repressed, often along with the memory of the event.
Other reasons for supressing emotions can be beliefs and value systems in our environment. "Men don't cry." "Nice girls don't get angry." My all time favorite: "You should not feel that way!" That one has driven me crazy for the past 50 years.
So what happens to the emotions that we do not allow to flow through us uninhibited? The body apparently stores them in our tissues. Some people doubt that this is possible. The same people generally don't have any problems accepting that a microchip can store vast amounts of digital information. Living cells are far more complex that a silicone chip. It would be hard to disprove that they can and do store emotions and memories. So far, this is a theory based on clinical observation.
The emotions we habitually repress rather than feel and express can become powerful forces that disrupt normal tissue functions, and they may force their way into expression through distorted and distructive pathways. They either wreak havoc in our social relationships or get turned against ourselves, causing disease – most often both.
Storing repressed emotions may be essential for survival right up to the point when it becomes too energy intensive and disruptive for normal physical and psychological function. No expert outside yourself can know when the time is right to let things go. But your Inner Wisdom knows. Your Inner Wisdom also knows how to safely re-integrate the energies previously restrained in what Dr. John Upledger named "energy cysts." Those are the areas of localized entropy in the body where emotional memories are stored at the expense of the holding tissues. We don't want to "get rid of" the energy holding the cyst together. We want to re-integrate and re-purpose it, so it can energize our health, vitality, and creativity. We acknowledge and release the emotion, which is meant to flow and make room for the next one. And we recycle the energy previously used to restrain the emotion.
During the class I took in Edmonton, we temporarily set aside logic and rational thinking. Instead, we used our active imagination in a combination of visualization, color drawings, inner dialogue, and craniosacral therapy to access our non-conscious and tap into our Inner Wisdom. I felt safe in the process, even as I touched on my deepest personal trauma. The process was guided by the intention to make the non-conscious conscious in increments the psyche can handle. All of us taking the class are trustworthy, dedicated, holistic healthcare professionals committed to our own healing journey. As Dr. John Upledger said, most likely paraphrasing Carl Jung: The best thing a therapist can bring to the treatment table is a more integrated therapist. I am working on it!