Recently I had a woman come in for a massage session that was suffering from pain in her neck, upper back and lower back that she said she had been dealing with for about 7 months. She had had MRIs and x-rays that showed nothing wrong and doctors suggested pain pills. She had gone to acupuncture and had massage with little improvement and was really struggling with anxiety as a result of worry and pain.
During the interview I asked where the pain was, what she thought might be causing it and also asked what was going on in her life 7-9 months ago, before the pain. I asked about her family and her relationship with her husband and children. She also mentioned that her religion is a big part of her life and very important to her.
She had a great marriage with a very supportive husband and children. She had had no big changes in her life 7-9 months ago and was at a loss as to what was the cause. I explained that I thought we needed to get her in a relaxed state and then start addressing the areas with pain and see what was going on.
This is not an unusual case. I see many clients, men and women, that have unexplained and chronic pain and are looking for answers. They have been to the doctors, had tests, been given medication and either found no relief or little change in the problem.
I have another client that is in her seventies and suffers debilitating neck pain. Watching her move and her posture told me that there was some trauma involved but I kept this to myself. In getting to know her better and talking about her life, I learned that as a child her mother would yell at her and grab her by her neck when she was angry at her. The client had tears run down her face as she realized there was a connection.
My theory is based only on my own experience and what I have seen with clients over that last several years…
We are a whole being, not to be limited by being labeled by a pain or an injury or a disease. When something can’t be labeled or diagnosed, then the person is sometimes told that it is “in your head” and is not taken seriously. When something begins on a physical level, it actually started on a mental or emotional level as an experience; trauma, tragedy, emotion or thought. In some cases it started with an injury and then the emotional and mental aspects start forming around it.
I have had friends and clients that have been cancer victims and survivors and in my experience, I see cancer as an emotional disease; Grief or loss in the breasts, anxiety or being overwhelmed in the brain, deep lack of self-esteem or abuse in the genitals.
In my work with those in pain, I see bodies in physical hyper vigilance as if preparing for attack/stress and many times these people are disconnected in some way with their own body.
Peter Levine is well known for his work on Somatic Experiencing and healing trauma. In his book, “Waking the Tiger”, he talks about how animals, such as a gazelle being chased by a cheetah, will immobilize or “freeze” just before being attacked. This is an instinctive state, one of three states of mammals and reptiles. The other two are flight or fight.
This immobile state is actually part of survival. Also known as “playing possum”, some predators will think the impala dead and not eat the impala, or may drag the prey off and hide it for later and the Impala will awaken and escape. In this immobile state it also will not experience pain and will not suffer if attacked and eaten. If the impala escapes, it will actually shake off the effects of this state and continue on without any lasting effects.
Trauma is part of life on earth. It cannot be avoided. Trauma can be in any form; verbal, emotional or physical, from birth to death we have trauma as small as smashing your finger with a hammer or as large as near death experiences. However, we feel shame at our perceived ability to handle what comes into our lives and don’t allow ourselves to move progressive through the natural stages to release the effects and move on.
We also create more pain and suffering by our thoughts and “self talk”. We feel like we are lacking on some level and become “stuck” emotionally, mentally, spiritually and eventually physically.
Many Eastern systems of healing and Shamanic practices believe that the organs and systems of the body hold emotions and experiences and when out of balance will suffer pain and “dis-ease”. Dis-ease being the body out of ease within.
One good sample of this belief is Louise L. Hay’s book, “You Can Heal Your Life”. She shares her story of healing “incurable” vaginal cancer. She suffered sexual abuse from a young age until she was fifteen and led a life of pain and suffering until she was able to find the way to heal herself mentally and emotionally and then the healing happened on a physical level and her doctors were amazed at no cancer in her body six months after her diagnosis.
In her book, she discusses the effects that life experiences can have on us physically and how we can move through these experiences in a healthy way and/or address issues that are creating dis-ease or pain. She also lists body parts and possible connections to emotions and beliefs and how these beliefs and emotions can affect us on the physical level.
In my own life, I have seen miracles. When I was a young girl, my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer and through much prayer and fasting of our family and church, the cancer was gone. I believe my mother needed to know she was loved and needed. Her marriage was loveless and our home was violent and I believe she saw herself as unloved and worthless. After her healing, she divorced my father and was able to build a better and happier life for all of us.
With massage I am able to help reconnect people with their bodies and relieve pain temporarily, but I also find that massage is only a small part of what goes on when working with some clients. Interviewing and probing help uncover sources of injury or emotions that can be connected to what is happening in their bodies. By them being able to make the connection it helps uncover the root of the problem and get them on the road to permanent recovery from pain.
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