The Emotional Side

On the home page of my website, I have written: “By integrating massage, energy work, creative play, and whole-person wellness approaches, I invite you to experience a unique blend of healing modalities to support your body, mind, and spirit.” What exactly does it mean that massage supports your mind, body, and spirit? That mind-body-spirit trifecta is often used to describe how massage and bodywork may not only address physical issues, but also issues related to the mind, emotions, and also one’s higher self. But how do we each experience this?

This weekend I purchased the latest issue of Massage & Bodywork Magazine and found myself immersed in an article by Stephanie Mines called “Whose Hand is This?: Attunement and Bodywork.” At one point in her piece, Mines writes, “The release of tension can never be solely a muscular event. In order for muscles to come out of contraction the mind must let go; with this letting go, memories are unleashed, along with the fear, anger, or horror that initiated the contraction.”

I can recall the first massages I ever received, close to ten years ago. I had a tremendously difficult time relaxing my arms during my sessions. I sought out massage to help relieve the tendinitis in my forearms due to computer work (I did a lot of layout and graphic design back then), but I somehow couldn’t let my arms go. I found myself helping my massage practitioner by lifting my arms for her as she was massaging them, and when she tried to jostle them, my arms were as stiff as bricks. It was clear that my tension and holding was not purely a “muscular event.” It became clear to me that not only was my mind causing my arms to contract, but so were my emotions. I learned, after many sessions, that my stress and worry and my need to stay “in control” were also contributing to my tense arms.

Mines also writes, “Our bodies are storehouses, veritable libraries containing volumes of life experiences.” What life experiences was I storing in my arms, which made them react in such a rigid manner? On a metaphorical level, what couldn’t I let go of? I had to explore these issues in conjunction with receiving good, therapeutic massage with a patient and mindful practitioner before I could relinquish control. Surprise, surprise: my tendinitis symptoms improved dramatically. And for the first time in my life, I could relax my arms so they were soft like noodles.

Try This:
Think about a place where you hold tension in your body. Now divide a sheet of paper in to three columns. The first column is for listing the physical reasons for this tension (i.e. too much computer work, work injury, posture, etc.), the second column is for listing what emotional issues might relate to this tension (i.e. work stress, financial worry, past issues related to abuse, etc.), and the third column is for exploring the metaphor embedded in this tension (i.e. my hip pain is a little girl with low self-esteem, my sore arm is a machine without an off-switch, my jaw is a rusty can opener). If you feel so inclined, post some of your writing here. I’d love to hear what you uncover.

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About Courtney Putnam

I first came to healing work through art and writing. Creating collage art and poetry in particular allowed me to deeply understand the benefit of self-expression in the healing process. But, I also began to see the benefit of bodywork (manual work in the form of massage and energywork in the form of Reiki) as keys to unlocking the emotional stresses we hold in our bodies. I became a Reiki practitioner in 2002, received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2003, received my massage license in the spring of 2006, and became a Reiki Master in 2010. In my practice I bring together these three areas -- the body, the mind, and the spirit (or energy body) -- so others may experience profound and positive change in their lives.
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