I’ve been a medical massage therapist for nearly 17 years and I have been studying for my doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for the past year. In those years I’ve treated thousands of people. I’ve listened to their stories, documented their subjective complaints and noted my objective observations and treatment protocols. If I’ve learned anything from my hands and my patients complaints it’s that we all have a story to tell and its often the body that speaks louder than the mouth every could.
In my opinion, we all hold pieces of our story in our bodies. We tend to hold the most painful pieces of our story, the ones most difficult to process, deep within our bodies and our subconscious – most of the time we're are not even aware of our holding until we are touched. We carry the most painful parts of our story around like armor. You’ve seen this in people, you just might not have known what you were looking at. Ever noticed someone who is always slopped forward (as if they are tucking an imaginary tail), shoulders rounded, chest sunken, head and eyes shifted downwards. This is the emotional body armor of trauma, pain and protection (similar to the safety of the fetal position). These people have taken their traumas on as a personal poison, engulfing and encapsulating it as if that were to somehow ward off or segregated it from the rest of themselves or others. It is an acceptance of their pain and a very earnest attempt to carry on in the midst of it.
What about the overtly prided posture? This is an extremely contracted posture. The posterior muscles (along the spine and on the sides of the body) contract and “puff up” the chest, the arms and legs stiffen in an ever ready stance and hold muscle tension at its higher setting. These individuals are akin to the militia, ready for attack at a moment’s notice. Drastically different from the introspective and protective fetal position these individuals stress response dial is cranked to 10 and pushing the limits. They deflect their pain by projecting it forward using it as fuel for the next attack, an ever ready stance that never sleeps. Theses postures may look different but it is all amour.
Early in my career I treated a man who had recently lost his wife to cancer. He told me their story of struggle, emotional turmoil, suffering, pain and eventual loss. Despite his story he came to me with a bright disposition. He was muscular and looked very health and fit for his age; about mid 50’s. He said he felt pretty good except he was experiencing some pectoral tension. Being novice in my diagnostic ability I instructed him to start face down and I proceeded to give him a rather relaxing, medium pressure massage.
Our conversation was easy. I built report and trust as he shared freely with me the struggles of his recent loss and I empathized with him as I too had recently lost my grandmother to cancer. It wasn’t until I had him turn over and began massaging his pectoral muscles that I truly began to understand what he really needed. As soon as I touched his chest his breathing changed. He stopped talking and seemed to struggle with relaxation. I thought it was my application, not thinking to inquire and wanting to respect his silence, I continued with my work and quickly lost myself in it, mindlessly kneading into this new tight tissue I had discovered. Then it came. He started to convulse as if he were choking. I panicked a little, took my hands off him and asked, “What’s wrong?” At the question his confusion and attempts to withhold his emotions melted into deep, painful sobs. He grabbed his chest and cried. I didn’t know how to react so I leaned into my training and held my composure and immediately offered him a tissue and asked, “What can I do for you?” He said, “Continue.” And so I did. I was quite at first as I just held that space for him. Gradually he started to talk again, as if he were processing it all right then and there. It was such an intense moment.
It took me a couple days to process it. In retrospect I understand how unconsciously guarded he was. He could talk about his pain and that made him feel competent is his healing process but he was unaware of how much he was holding onto. Only when he was in a safe place, with someone he felt he could trust, did his emotions release. I cannot describe the look on his face after his session – he seemed lighter, happy and full of gratitude.
So coming back to you and yours. How do you handle stress? Do you notice where you might be holding stress or how you might be holding onto it? How are you today?
If you don’t have an immediate answer to that question, don’t worry about it. Instead ask yourself, “What are you feeling?” Have you ever inquired into where you feel what you are feeling? Look into your life, both mentally and physically and ask yourself, “Am I here right now?” Often times we are not in our body but more in our mind. We get caught up in all our thinking which distracts us from our actually being, like right now. Take a deep breath and feel it move in your body. Do you ribs widen when you take that breath? Or do they just lift at the top? Pay more attention to your body and less to your mind and see what happens!
If you’re like many of us, maybe you suffer from fatigue and energy inconsistency (that 1pm or 3pm drop in productivity). Ever wondered why? Well, are you exercising on a regular basis? How do you talk to yourself when you don’t accomplish your goals for the day? Do you have a network or quality friendships that you can lean on? Are you getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep every day? Quick to anger? If so, where do you tighten first? It’s these questions we don’t think to ask. It’s the practice of boundaries – “no baby, you can’t sleep in my bed tonight because mommy needs to rest, let me tuck you in.” It’s the purposeful effort to make time for you or to make time for friends or exercise. Its priorities.
Sometimes, actually, most times we need some help to get started on our path to wellness. Maybe CBD can help you get a solid 6-8 hours. Maybe it can help you be calm enough to pay attention to just exactly where you feel that tension when you’re triggered into anger (gut, jaw, fist?) When you get enough sleep you have more energy to commit to the gym or a walk. When you exercise you're less likely to feel depressed and more likely to want to be with friends. It’s the little things in life that often fill our cup. Be gracious and loving to yourself. Start small and listen.
When I left the Break-Free retreat at the end of that weekend in 2018 I had started my journey to asking myself some of the question I mentioned earlier. It was the beginning of my undoing, in the best way possible. 10 months after that retreat I packed up my family and moved all the way across the country from Seattle, Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Florida -I literally could not have gone any further east or I’d be swimming in the Atlantic. I left so I could attend graduate school to become an Acupuncture Physician. I closed both of my businesses including a private massage practice that I had maintained for over 12 years. I left the comfort of my home. The support of extended family and the security of knowing what was next. I left for the opportunity to create a life worth living. Whatever is happening in the world or in your world please know that you can always break free. Start small. Ask questions. Listen…. And then GO!
With love and light,
Yours in Health,
Alissa N. Steeb, LMT, ERYT, MMP