Body Sense

Winter | 2014

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BRYAN'S STORY "I've had a few people start to cry on the table. As soon as I sense they are holding it in, I say, "You can let it out; you're in a safe place." They have recently lost loved ones, been dumped, found out a friend has cancer, and been cancer victims. One post-surgical, post-chemo treatment client cried and cried, and thanked me for letting her release her emotions and for my gentle approach. I just let them let it out, and I don't probe." SHEILA'S STORY "Some massage sessions evoke an emotional response. And some are more overt and dramatic than others. When a client begins to cry or share an emotional event, I maintain the cadence of my treatment rhythm. I assure the client that this response is normal and that all feelings are welcome here. I use more integrative strokes, and coming down the arm I include a two-handed "sandwich" hold to the client's hand. When we undergo stress, grief, or any kind of emotional pain, our physical reaction is to hunch over and protect our abdominal region. This is an autonomic nervous system response. You may have heard about the "fight-or-flight" physiological changes that happen when we feel threatened, including stress hormone production, increased heart rate, and even a change in posture. Likewise, during times of "survival" mode, the body's natural response is to protect the vital organs. The brain doesn't know if it's a saber-tooth tiger breathing down your neck or an uncompromising boss. In that compromised posture, you might be storing these emotions or holding stress in certain parts of the body—which is why you might sometimes have an emotional response during massage. When having the abdominal region worked on, be particularly aware that this could happen. It's kind of like the difference between being able to scratch the belly of a dog who is secure, happy, and trusting—and one who isn't. Trauma can be stored in muscles as early as infancy. Whether it's from a traumatic birth, getting shots, being sick, or scrapes and falls, humans store trauma in their muscles throughout their development. The therapist is there to help you become aware, acknowledge the emotional response, and help you move on from that muscle memory. A practicing massage therapist for more than 14 years, Angie Parris-Raney is also Body Sense magazine's advertising manager. Contact her at—your resource for all things bodywork 11 Holding Our Emotions in the Belly By Angie Parris-Raney I like to share with the client and say, "There is an issue in every tissue." This usually lightens the mood and the physiologic explanation about postures associated with emotion and the muscles they involve is helpful." HEATHER'S STORY "As I was performing abdominal massage, my client quickly sat up and started having a panic attack. I kept calm and put a cool towel on her forehead and assured her she was safe here. She started crying and started to confide in me, revealing a bad childhood memory. I told her this was out of my scope of practice and said her psychiatrist would be of more help. She thanked me the next day! She's currently being treated for anxiety and depression, and said she will return for massage therapy as soon as she feels stable. I kept calm and helped her in the moment, but I didn't try to be a mental health therapist." B S Darren Buford is editor of Body Sense magazine. Contact him at

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