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Can emotional trauma be stored in the physical body?

Someone who got heavily bullied might walk with his shoulders hunched forwards, whereas the CEO who bursts with self-confidence will sit across from you with his knees wide open (guess what, it is believed that confident men love to show their ‘business’). We can read so much information from someones body posture, how is that exactly possible? Decennia ago science already showed that a closed body posture negatively influences your mood in that moment in time, whereas an open posture has a positive influence on mood. But does this work the other way around as well? Could positive / negative experiences not only get stored in our mind, but also in our physical body? 'Your issues are stored in your tissues' is a popular saying in the field of alternative medicine. The idea that your body, specifically your connective tissue (fascia), can store emotional memories is a well-accepted principle within disciplines such as Yin Yoga, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), etc. As a Thai massage therapist myself, I believe this just as easily as the idea that we’re breathing oxygen. On a daily basis I see emotions being liberated when the physical body is being opened. Even better; you can often predict which emotions release with the opening of which body parts. When it comes to centuries old medicinal traditions (Ayurveda, TCM), this all makes perfect sense. These traditions are based on the idea that there are energy lines running through the body (known as meridians, nadis, SEN, etc) where our vital life energy runs through. These energy lines correspond to organs and emotions. When you experience physical, emotional or energetic trauma, these energy lines can get blocked and your physical body falls ill. However, when you unblock these energy lines by physically opening the body, the life energy can flow freely again (the principle behind different healing practices). Such a stored trauma, be it physical or emotional, which previously prevented the body from keeping itself balanced, can now be released and the body can heal itself again. Like the Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent once said: “In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was reached through the movement of energy”. For some people this might sound logical and easily acceptable. After all, some therapies that are based on this principle (think of acupuncture) are now being widely applied and combined with conventional medicine. However, in case this is a far-from-your-bed-show, don’t leave me just yet. Modern science seems to find quite some evidence lately that confirm these traditional theories. Let’s zoom in on Traditional Chinese Medicine. A popular treatment in TCM is called acupuncture; tiny needles are placed in the skin on specific acupoints that are located on the meridians; the energy lines that TCM is based upon. Apart from the many studies that have proven the efficacy of acupuncture as treatment for chronic pain conditions (which the skeptics among us might attribute to the placebo effect), research has also confirmed the mere physical presence of these energy lines and acupoints. It turns out that light is spreading about 20% better through lines in the body corresponding with the meridians than in reference lines. Also, a high energy metabolism takes place on the location of the meridians, which is even higher on the exact location of the acupoints. Another study showed that these acupoints can be stimulated by the resonance of music. Furthermore, in agreement with TCM theories, there seems to be a ‘cross-over’ effect: stimulating one meridian affects other meridians. In short, there is evidence that the energy lines that TCM is based on can be traced in the physical body. So where exactly are they located in our body? When it comes to location of the meridians and acupoints, ultrasounds and postmortem research show that these are primarily located in our connective tissues, or more specifically in the fascia, both between and within the muscles. Interestingly, this is exactly the tissue that the recently developed but quickly rising in popularity discipline Yin Yoga is focussed on; opening of our connective tissue so that our life energy can flow free again. Sounds vague? You can easily experience this for yourself. Give it a try at home: take a Yin yoga position that is meant to open your hips, while trying to relax your muscles as much as possible. This way, the stress of the stretch won’t affect your muscles so much, but rather work on the connective tissue. This tissue needs about 30-60 seconds to slowly start to open up. To facilitate this, don’t push yourself to the limit into the pose, but rather look for a 90% stretch. Stay here for about 3 minutes without making any movement. You’ll see that this exercise might not only be uncomfortable physically, but also mentally. Many people might experience, especially the first times, feelings of frustration. Is this a coincidence? Not according to TCM; the meridians of the liver and gal bladder run through the hip area, and these meridians are associated with feeling of resp. anger and frustration whenever they are blocked (or kindness when energy is flowing freely!). In need again of a scientific reality check? While science leaves plenty of room for future studies researching the relationship between energy lines and the emotions that they’re associated with in traditional Asian philosophies, in 2017 a study has been done that tried to quantify this relationship. Results showed a clear association: the liver was linked to anger, the heart to happiness, the lungs to sadness, etc.. To conclude, science has clearly shown evidence for the validity of century old ideas that the body contains energy lines that are connected to organs and emotions. This supports the idea that emotional trauma will affect the physical body. However, modern medicine often tends to ignore this idea completely. How often has your GP advised you to, in addition to your regular treatment for physical problems, process your emotional traumas (big or small, we all have them..)? Many will never have experienced this. And when we’re being completely honest with ourselves, maybe we wouldn’t have received it very well either? Does that mean that modern medicine is a step back compared to traditional medicine? On the contrary!!! The advances in both knowledge and technology over the past centuries are literally life savers. Imagine getting to the hospital with a gaping abdominal wound and the doctor recommends balancing your energy lines through acupuncture or massage so that the body can heal itself better… I’d prefer a modern medicine doctor in an emergency room! Nevertheless, traditional and modern medicine do not always have to be mutually exclusive. Think about chronic diseases that did not develop from an acute injury, but developed over a long period of time. All that time prior to the full expression of symptoms and a doctors diagnosis, the body hadn’t been able to balance itself, leaving room for a disease to brood under the surface. In these cases, a so-called ‘holistic’ treatment, where not only physical but also emotional and energetic causes and solutions are being examined, could provide many benefits. Both as a cure as well as to prevent disease. In need of some emotional release and curious to Yin yoga? Try it out with this short video!

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