Beginner’s Guide to Freeing Massage

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Find­ing Emo­tion­al Balance

Emotions have received a bad rap. Or, at least emotions judged to be “bad or difficult” have.

You’ll no doubt have noticed that Body­work and Breath­work, by increas­ing chi, or ener­gy, bring up or shake up our feel­ings and our emo­tions. Feel­ings seem more pow­er­ful, more edgy.

This is so because of the re-bal­anc­ing of ener­gy that takes place in Body­work. As the mus­cles relax and as the flow of ener­gy strength­ens, past hurts and trau­mas release.

It is not unusu­al, for exam­ple, that work­ing on the upper chest release points will unearth painful mem­o­ries of “bro­ken heart” expe­ri­ences, and the recip­i­ent will feel like sobbing. 

As this ener­gy moves and the area begins to clear, the sad­ness may be replaced with great joy, and lov­ing feelings.

A full range of feel­ings exist simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the body — we choose to be unaware of the one we are NOT focussing on. Yet, many feel­ings exist simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in this area of the body.

In the West we are used to liv­ing in our heads and pass­ing judge­ments on every­thing, (right/wrong, good/bad are most com­mon.) We have also like­ly seg­re­gat­ed our emo­tions into two camps:

  • Grief and pain and anger are like­ly on the “bad” list; we want them to be over, or to not exist at all.
  • Love and joy and hap­pi­ness and pas­sion are usu­al­ly on the “good” list; we want them all the time.

The bal­ance of life — and how chi “looks” — is like a coin. In a three-dimen­sion­al world, there is no such thing as a one-sided coin. If hap­pi­ness is on one side of a coin, sad­ness must be on the oth­er side. If love is on one side, fear will inevitably be on the other.

And so it goes — to have one set of feel­ings, you have to have the oth­er. To expe­ri­ence one, you have to be will­ing to expe­ri­ence and express the other.

Our goal in this section is to come to terms with our emotions.

We will look at feel­ing our feel­ings, express­ing our feel­ings, and ful­ly expe­ri­enc­ing the range of our feel­ings in an open and hon­est way. We’ll look at the judge­ments we have about our feel­ings, then find ways to move past the judge­ments to peace­ful coex­is­tence with our feel­ing nature.

  • The first step in this process is to con­scious­ly give your­self per­mis­sion to feel your feelings.
  • Sec­ond­ly, as an emo­tion aris­es, it is impor­tant to acknowl­edge and name it.
  • Third­ly, in a safe, secure, and non-vio­lent way, you must express the feel­ing .

So, when you feel sad, say, “I’m feel­ing sad right now.” If the feel­ing “feels” like cry­ing, allow your­self to cry.

If you find yourself escaping to your head so you can ignore or judge the feeling, instead return gently to the feeling.

In Body­work, the painful feel­ings often emerge first. As they are expressed, the painful feel­ings are replaced or joined by plea­sur­able feel­ings. Again, notice the feeling.

Emo­tion­al Honesty

Often, when we feel a feel­ing emerg­ing, the first thing we ask our­selves is,

“What bad thing will happen 
if I express this feeling?”

I once worked with a client, doing both coun­selling and Body­work. She had told me a bit of the sto­ry of her tumul­tuous upbring­ing, which had a lot to do with her par­ents order­ing her to be whom they want­ed her to be (not uncom­mon, eh?)

I was work­ing on her chest points, and a lot of sad­ness was ris­ing to the sur­face. Then, poof, she put her feel­ings away.

She cried exact­ly one tear. I wait­ed. Her jaw shook, but no sound came out. I whis­pered, “Can you remem­ber when they first told you to keep your mouth shut?” She nod­ded and sighed. That’s was as far as she ever got with “let­ting go.”

My client had grown up in a home where the free expres­sion of emo­tions was extreme­ly restrict­ed. The expec­ta­tion was that the kids would be seen and not heard.

As an adult, she uncon­scious­ly chose to car­ry this crazy belief with her. She auto­mat­i­cal­ly sti­fled every ves­tige of emotion.

In the process, she tight­ened so many mus­cles to repress the anger and sad­ness that she was prac­ti­cal­ly giv­ing her­self a hernia. 

Moral of the sto­ry? We are kid­ding our­selves if we think an unex­pressed feel­ing ever goes away.

Anoth­er client, a 17-year-old woman, men­tioned that she had been sad and weepy, and that her moth­er had spent a long time try­ing to cheer her up. When that did­n’t work, the mom had offered to “Stay with you and be sad with you.”

All my client want­ed was for her mom to stop try­ing to cheer her up, and leave the room, so she could cry her­self out.

This was unac­cept­able to mom, because mom had an issue around her daugh­ter cry­ing and being sad. 

For­tu­nate­ly, my client stuck to her guns and even­tu­al­ly ush­ered mom out of her room, cried her­self out, then rejoined the family.

The mom upset her­self through­out the entire episode — because the daugh­ter was­n’t deal­ing with her sad­ness “the right (read mom’s) way.” 

In a ses­sion with the mom, I encour­aged her to look, rather, at the results:

The daughter had learned to go to her room, grab a pillow and have her emotions!

After that turn­ing point, she’d asked her mom to hold her while she cried. Mom chose to do what she’d been asked to do; she stopped try­ing to manip­u­late her daugh­ter into doing what she thinks is best (or bet­ter put, what is more com­fort­able for the moth­er.)

The “Voodoo” of “Bad” Feelings — 
Every­one is Lost in the Cult of Happiness

We must look to our cul­ture to explain the phe­nom­e­non of dis­lik­ing our feel­ings, espe­cial­ly the “bad” ones. I put in the “bad” qual­i­fi­er, but would has­ten to note how many peo­ple also fear their good feelings.

I’m too hap­py. What can I do to stop myself?

You ever hear this one? “Oh boy. I’d bet­ter stop enjoy­ing myself this much or some­thing bad is going to happen.” 

The idea is that we should real­ly only feel “neu­tral.” Oth­er­wise, the gods are going to even things up. After all, “this much plea­sure can’t be good for you.” Right.

Adver­tis­ing is designed to con­vince peo­ple that they are not hap­py, and they’re not hap­py because they lack some­thing.

And, “coin­ci­den­tal­ly,” the thing that is (sup­pos­ed­ly) lack­ing is the 
pre­cise prod­uct being advertised.

So, the aver­age ad, either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly is saying,

“Hap­pi­ness is our nat­ur­al state. You’re not hap­py. There­fore, some­thing must be wrong with you. Inter­est­ing­ly, we have the exact prod­uct that will make every­thing all better.
Buy our car, (tam­pon, deodor­ant, dish deter­gent, what­ev­er) and you will be able to do any­thing, be any­thing, be admired, smell nice and have love­ly hands. 
And if per­chance you stop feel­ing hap­py, we’ll sell you more.

We buy into this (lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly) because we judge that we should be hap­py all the time. That every­one but us is hap­py all the time. Or that it’s just our fam­i­ly that is unhap­py or dys­func­tion­al, and that’s because of the kids, or because of my spouse, or how I was brought up.

We’re miserable, but we think no one else is. Let’s buy a cure, and, as the story goes, “live happily ever after.”

Nice, but it does­n’t work that way, although you’d nev­er know it by the sales racked up.

In truth, we are com­plex beings with a wide range of feel­ings. We get sad at movies, nos­tal­gic dri­ving home, weepy at sun­sets, incon­solable at death, ecsta­t­ic with tri­umph, heat­ed with pas­sion, orgas­mic in bed (and else­where, if you breathe — 😉 ) and we can lit­er­al­ly feel all of that, and more, at the drop of a hat, in a sin­gle hour — in a sin­gle minute.

Our nat­ur­al state is not hap­pi­ness.
Our nat­ur­al state is awake, aware, and 
feel­ing our feel­ings in their fullness.
To be ful­ly present requires the willingness 
to feel every­thing, at max­i­mum intensity.

Since we’ve spent our lives in a vain attempt to avoid pain, nat­u­ral­ly we teach our kids to run away from their feel­ings, lest they be hurt. How sil­ly, eh? We KNOW they’re going to be hurt, and yet we think we’re doing them a favour by pro­tect­ing them from being hurt. All we real­ly do is send them out into the world com­plete­ly unpre­pared for fail­ure, for pain, for heartbreak.

Yet out they go, and then (hope­ful­ly) they fig­ure it out by them­selves. And they also assume they’ve been betrayed, because mom­my and dad­dy lied to them. Or they think that they must be bad, because this stuff “should­n’t” hap­pen to “nor­mal, good people.”

Being over­ly pro­tec­tive accom­plish­es only one thing: we teach our kids, (and con­tin­ue to rein­force in our­selves,) the tech­niques of denial and min­i­miz­ing.

  • “I’m not heart­bro­ken, I’m just a lit­tle blue today.” 
  • “I’m sad, but it’s not impor­tant and I’ll get over it as soon as I get up and cook supper.” 
We’ve all learned to make our feel­ings small, shove them aside, and secret­ly judge our­selves to be weak and stu­pid for hav­ing them in the first place.
Let­ting Go of Judgement

The way past all of this is through hon­esty and open­ness and the will­ing­ness to take[tooltip tip=“We use the word respon­si­bil­i­ty in the form “able to respond.” A respon­si­ble per­son knows that every action has a con­se­quence, and this is an accept­able price to pay for being an adult.”]responsibility[/tooltip] for your choic­es and your emotions.

Of course, this hon­esty and open­ness has to be with our­selves before we can choose to be hon­est and open with others.

Pho­to by Cris­t­ian New­man on Unsplash

A friend recent­ly described going to a pro­fes­sion­al meet­ing. A new acquain­tance saw her, raced over to her table, gave her a huge hug and said, “Oh, my God! I’m so glad you’re here, I just love you so much!”

A hush came over the table. My friend smiled at the woman and thanked her sin­cere­ly, but the rest of the peo­ple at the table were clear­ly uncom­fort­able. The woman said, red faced, “I don’t know where that came from. I’m so sorry.”

Now, what hap­pened here is that the woman, in a moment of “loss of con­trol” expressed clear­ly what she was feel­ing in the moment. This, how­ev­er, is not some­thing that ordi­nar­i­ly hap­pens at pro­fes­sion­al gath­er­ings in the inhib­it­ed coun­try of Cana­da (nor else­where, truth be told.) 

Then, the woman, remem­ber­ing her trib­al train­ing, thor­ough­ly embar­rassed her­self, sim­ply because she let a feel­ing, an emo­tion, slip out.

My friend was not the least both­ered by the emo­tion, as she has spent a good deal of time learn­ing to live with and express her own feel­ings. She did what she could to be clear that she was pleased with this spon­ta­neous expres­sion, but the woman was already busy judg­ing and con­demn­ing herself. 

And the rest of the table lapsed into uncom­fort­able silence, most­ly based upon their own pro­jec­tions of hav­ing a lapse and doing the same thing — blurt­ing out a state­ment of their own pas­sion — and then hav­ing to deal with the heat of of their own embarrassment.

My point is most­ly this — the woman expressed what she was feel­ing. That inten­si­ty of feel­ing is our birthright and is clear­ly a part of us. What might life be like if we were will­ing to be more hon­est and open with such feel­ings? If we were to do so, we would have to stop judg­ing our feel­ings and learn to express them.

I used the above “pos­i­tive” exam­ple — the expres­sion of an emo­tion most judge as pos­i­tive — to indi­cat­ed the depth of the repres­sion of any emo­tion that exists in our soci­ety. Let’s now look at a “neg­a­tive” example.

I don’t know about you (obvi­ous­ly!) but when I get angry, my hand becomes a fist and I want to either hit some­thing or yell, or prefer­ably both. I often yell in the car, while dri­ving. I occa­sion­al­ly smack the steer­ing wheel. I dri­ve nails and dig dirt and chop wood. All are things I can put some of my aggres­sive ener­gy into.

Because I long ago decid­ed not to stuff my anger. And I also know that I have dis­si­pat­ed most of the anger in me, so far.

Do I con­sid­er myself a “bad” per­son because I get angry? No, of course not. Why would I? Is that going to keep me from anger? I judge that I have a wide range of emo­tions, and I judge that they have sur­vived the nat­ur­al selec­tion process for a reason.

Think about it. The The­o­ry of Evo­lu­tion indi­cates that evo­lu­tion works toward strength­en­ing what works and elim­i­nat­ing what does­n’t. Over mil­len­nia, of course. Emo­tions have always been a part of us. If they were super­flu­ous, they would be gone by now. Sim­ple as that.

On the next page, we’ll have a look at some Bodywork approaches to working with emotions. 

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