Using Bodywork to Release Emotions

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Emotions and Bodywork

The Bodywork Connection

Remember, Bodywork Theory suggests that illness is the result of “tightness,” which blocks the natural flow of energy. The chief cause of “tightness” is the repression of feelings, sensations, and emotions.

We are taught to “get hold of ourselves,” to force down our feelings, to “swallow” them. The resultant muscle tightening seems like a permanent feature of the body, until Bodywork and Breathwork come along to loosen things up. As soon as that happens, the emotion begins to flow.

Here are a few examples:

One client talked about sadness over her not so functional relationship with her father; this led to tears and deep sadness. Back in my therapist training days, I had attempted to extract some anger by pushing on her with a large pillow, asking her to imagine the pillow as dad. She got a bit angry, then immediately shifted to tears.

I was a “baby therapist;” I dropped the pillow, and encouraged the tears. The anger was ignored — I guess I wasn’t ready to help with that.

A few years later, she returned, with the same issue. I suggested Bodywork along with talk therapy.

I was working on her upper back, between her shoulders; this is a classic place for the storage of anger. She was uncomfortable and wiggling around a bit, and was also trying to cry — a frustration for her was that she was quite able to make crying sounds, but no tears came.

It was almost like there were no tears left — she was sort of doing the “crying” equivalent of the dry heaves. In past sessions, she would “try harder,” frustrate herself and then escape into her head, where she’d give herself grief for not crying.

However, her chi felt different this time. I started to focus on feeling her anger; to feel for her anger.

I moved down her spine, and the wiggling increased. I finally reached the indents on her butt where the sciatic nerve is close to the surface. I pushed, hard.

An amazing thing happened. She pushed up, hard into my elbow, and started to make noise. Her whole body tensed.

Then she said, “Everything is caught in my throat.”

This is a perfect demonstration of how the body is conditioned to clamp down.

Her throat constricted to keep her from letting the sound of her anger out.

I pushed harder, she pushed harder, and soon the sounds came, as well as pounding and kicking. This went on for around 20 minutes.

Afterward, she said,

“When I was growing up, it was OK to go to your room and cry; it was never OK to get angry. It simply wasn’t allowed.”

There it is: her description of the beginning of her repression, starting years and years ago. The tightening down, the clamping down. The anger, seething away in there, blocked, held down, and, because such tightness numbs us, it often goes unnoticed.

In other words, it doesn’t “physicalize” into observable behaviour. It may, though, show up as high blood pressure.

A coincidence? I think not.

Another client had done a ton of Bodywork. She’d dealt with her grief — her husband had been killed in a car wreck a few years earlier, and our focus had been on her chest, where her unexpressed grief “lived.” Many were the days that she screamed and cried out her sadness.

She returned after a year.

As in the past, I started on her upper back and chest, and nothing much happened. Then, my instincts led me to her stomach muscles. This is not a particularly easy area to work with, as it’s hard to apply pressure to the muscles without squishing internal organs, a definite no-no.

Here’s a picture of a good release method.

(And here’s the video of “belly work.”)

It would not be inaccurate to say, “All hell broke loose.” She screamed and screamed. Finally, she reached down and lifted my hands off. “I need a break. Stop.” I did.

5 minutes later, during which time she simply shook, I asked her if I could rest my hand on her stomach, using no pressure. She agreed.

5 seconds after I touched her stomach, the screaming and thrashing started again. She stopped after another 10 minutes.

Now, the interesting thing for me was that at no time, before, during or after, did she have a clue as to what she was screaming about. These was no “what” or “why” connected to the experience.

Indeed, the best she could do was to say, “You know that scene in the movie “Alien where the critter hops out of the guy’s chest? That’s what that felt like.”

Lordy, lordy, lordy, we need to get this stuff out of our systems. And the sad fact is, most people will go to early graves filled with enough unexpressed emotion to power a small town.

Expressing Emotions

Here’s a little procedure to help you to identify, name and express your emotions. Give it a try!

It’s best to do this with a partner, but if you can’t, do it yourself!

  1. Name the feeling. Find the feeling in your body, ask your body what it is, and then name it, out loud. This actually might be difficult, as we are not taught to differentiate emotions.
    • A client, who had expressed anger all over the place, for years, spent the week dumping the anger (see below) and not stuffing anything. He said, “After I let the anger go, I was aware of a ton of other feelings — sadness, grief, confusion.” Prior to this experience, all he could identify was his anger.
  2. With a partner, say, “I’m feeling (fill in the blank) right now over (whatever just happened to you) and I’d like to get it out. Will you stay with me while I do that?”
    • If your partner agrees, let your partner know where you feel the feeling (in my back, my shoulders, my stomach, etc.) Without a partner, just say and do all of this yourself.
  3. Now, find a quiet place. If you have kids and haven’t taught them about expressing emotions, it might be best if they aren’t around, initially. (see below, on teaching kids.)
    • Example: go into the basement rec. room after the kids go to bed on the second floor — and it might be even better with the kids out of the house.
  4. Decide how you want to express the feeling.
  5. Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes. Start expressing. Use colourful words and language. Although many will find this difficult, as many have been taught “Keep quiet!’, volume is essential to getting the feeling out. So, don’t just cry, sob. Don’t just swear, scream. Don’t just whine — really, really, loudly whine. Stomp. Hit the mattress. Flail. Rock. Just let go. Really lose it.
  6. When the timer goes off, ask yourself if you are done. If you are, thank your partner. Or thank yourself. (You may want to do that anyway.) If you are not done, or have another emotion to work on, reset the timer and go at it again.


  • Anger can often be expressed by yelling and stomping one’s feet. If you think you need to hit, try beating a mattress with a tennis racket. Or, go buy a heavy bag to clobber. Or drive nails into a board.
  • Sadness needs Kleenex, and a pillow to hug, and lots of breath and sound.
  • Anxiety might want to express by cuddling with someone, under a comforter. Or, in it’s extreme manifestations, you may want to go throw up. Anxiety is a stomach issue.

Following the exercises, above, talk with someone about your feelings and this experience. We need to do this (regularly, and especially in the face of tragedy) in order to keep from blowing a fuse or actually hurting someone.

What About Kids?

Kids need to be taught to do the above work, and always with an adult present to guide them.

For example, when kids hit people, they need a Time Out, facing a blank corner. After they spend 5 minutes sitting, and then spend 30 seconds being completely still and calm, there is the simple reminder, “We don’t hit people” (or cats, or whatever.)

15 minutes later, ask, “Are you still angry? (sad, whatever.) Let’s go work on it.” Then, follow the above ideas.

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