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Energetic blockages and emotional release: Does massage play a part?

July 17, 2015 4 min read


Massage therapist hands on the face of a young woman receiving a massage

I consider myself to be fairly experienced at yoga, having done it regularly for five or six years. I have mainly opted for the power yoga style, choosing to combine fitness with meditation in a kind of  ‘kill two birds with one stone’ attitude. However, the style of yoga I found myself partaking in that morning was not what I would usually have gone for; I hadn’t bothered to check the schedule beforehand. The class was focusing largely on energetic release and techniques for removing blockages. I had been hoping for something more vigorous, but decided to go with the flow anyway and was pleasantly surprised to find that by the end of the session, my wavering mood had raised considerably.  I didn’t think to ask the teacher what the style was called, but it had got me thinking about how emotions are stored in the body, and ways to release them.

I have a good understanding of both biology and energy through my massage and Reiki training and my health and nutrition work, but I was impressed to have learned something new in the class that day. The teacher had us place three fingers just below the sternum and look for a sensitive spot just below them. We were then instructed to press a finger there and start to massage the area in a circular motion. I was surprised to find an extremely sensitive area of around 2cm in diameter that really hurt to touch; as soon as any pressure was applied it was painful. Judging by the exclamations around me, other class members were having a similar experience. The teacher explained that this area was linked to the emotions and that if it was regularly massaged the pain would start to fade and we would feel an emotional release. The concept seemed to tie in with reflexology, acupuncture or acupressure and reignited my interest in the workings of the energy channels we know as meridians.

Connecting the energetic dots

A week prior, I had been to see a massage therapist whom I’d never been treated by before. I went to treat my seized left shoulder – a recurring problem I’ve had for the last couple of years – and wanted to see if this therapist would succeed in relieving it quickly where others had previously failed. He accurately diagnosed me as having ‘computer syndrome’ and began using a combination of techniques on my shoulder; there were elements of Thai and sports massage, some physiotherapy-type exercises, and he also included some reflexology. While chatting to me about the energetic blockages his perceived in my body, he started to press on the underside of my right middle toe. I almost shot off the couch! The pain was immense. Nodding knowingly, he continued with the pressure and assured me that soon it would ease. Impatiently, I gritted my teeth and tried to keep still, and sure enough after around a minute it completely disappeared. Pressing on the other toes in the same manner caused no pain whatsoever, so I asked what the problem was with the middle toe. He explained that this toe was linked to the left shoulder, hence the pain I felt when he touched it. He asked me to check my left shoulder and on moving it around a little I noticed that the pain had indeed lessened further.

Another therapist and healer had once suggested to me that I was carrying all my ‘intuitive angst’ in this particular shoulder. It seemed to make sense as I had noticed that it had seized more frequently during periods of stress. On occasion, after massage it wasn’t just physical tension that seemed to be releasing – I sometimes felt peculiar mixtures of emotions bubbling up to the surface. It reminded me of times where I’d felt enraged for no apparent reason during Bikram yoga sessions! Perhaps pent up anger and sadness were being released by the movements.

When we ‘brush it under the carpet’, where is it really going?

It is definitely not a new concept that we store unresolved emotions in the cells and fibres of the body. Asia and the Middle East have known this for centuries, but I am not sure how many of us Westerners give it much consideration on a day-to-day basis. It also stands to reason that these would not be positive emotions, because let’s face it - we never have any reason to keep those in! Society doesn’t find them unattractive and they don’t seem to bring much conflict to the door.  So where does it go when we don’t express it? There is a lot of evidence to suggest that negativity is affects the physical body. If you become enraged, cortisol (and/or adrenaline) flood into the blood stream, and too much of it can break down muscle, bone and connective tissue. If you bang your head hard enough, you might feel a sudden uncontrollable rage well up from your solar plexus. The Alexander Technique is famed for its releasing of energetic blockages through correct alignment of the body. With this can come strange physical sensations and floods of emotion. Cranio-sacral therapy has been known to assist in the proper release of pent-up emotions, and Reiki has prompted many patients to burst into unexpected tears.

Do therapists have a responsibility to understand this process?

We all know about the damage done by poor posture or too much exercise, but how much do we know about the effects of negative thinking and unprocessed emotional challenges? We could argue that psychotherapists would be more equipped to deal with this, but surely that isn’t going to release tension held within the organism itself. What if it could be more quickly and easily released with strategic massage? With the right training and knowledge, we could benefit our clients immeasurably and probably increase our client base in the process. Would you like to see more options for this level of training in massage schools? How important is it that massage therapists train in this kind of knowledge? And do we have a responsibility as therapists to understand the ways in which we could be triggering latent emotional traumas that clients weren’t ready to address?



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