The body stores emotion – where are you holding yours? Burying our emotions can be harmful to our health, as we store our issues in our tissues. Valerie Teh, wellbeing practitioner at House of Wisdom, explains what it means to hold unprocessed emotional energy in five different parts of the body…
The body stores emotion
Why do we store emotions in the body?
There is a growing body of evidence in the scientific community to support what ancient healing traditions have known all along, which is that the body stores emotion. The body, mind and our experience of the world are all inextricably intertwined. Think about the last time you were angry, and bring your attention to what your physical experience of that emotion was. You likely gritted your teeth, tightened your jaw, furrowed your brow, and clenched your fists, on a conscious or subconscious level.
Now, cast your memory back to a time when you experienced grief. Your upper body perhaps collapsed forwards and inwards. Maybe you recall the space around the front upper part of your chest felt really small. If you cried, you might remember the sense of breathlessness in your throat and chest, and the irregular spasms of the lungs as the tears fell.
These powerful emotions, and so many others – including traumatic experiences – are felt and expressed in the body in an undeniably physical way. They can also become trapped in the body, as we are often socialised to suppress our feelings, swallow our words, hold back anger and grief, and not prioritise our need for pleasure. Instead of allowing emotions, which is energy in motion, to flow through our bodies, we end up accumulating them in particular parts of the body, which can then manifest in physical discomforts and ills.
The body stores emotion in different areas
What does it mean if the body stores emotion in these places:
Emotions of anger and resentment are often held in our jaw and around the mouth. If you often have a sore throat, mouth ulcers or grind your teeth at night, it could be a sign that there is an excess of overactive or stagnant energy in this part of your body.
How to release it
A quick and simple way to unlock tension from the jaw is to simulate the act of yawning – open your jaw as wide as is comfortable and take in a big breath, keeping the mouth open as you exhale, perhaps connecting the vocal cords to make a sound as you sigh out. You can do this whenever you notice tightness in the jaw space, whether it’s your check in before your self-care practice, or soon after a confrontation or high-stress situation.
If the pain is around your temples and temporomandibular joint (the point where your jawbone connects to your skull), try a self-massage that begins at your temples, then working your way down the bottom edge of your jawline with your thumbs and index fingers.
The space around our neck and throat is deeply connected with communication and self-expression. Correlating to the fifth chakra in the Tantric school of thought, a lot of people hold tension here, having held their tongue and swallowed what they wanted to express as a long-term pattern of behaviour, and perhaps feel compromised in their ability to speak up for themselves. Imbalances can also manifest in thyroid problems, swollen glands, and chronic neck pain.
How to release it
To relieve and rebalance in this area, invite free, embodied movement into the space around your neck, moving slowly enough for you to remain aware of the sensations and sounds that may arise. Breathing in and out of the mouth as you do this can also help to shift deeper-held stagnant energies in the throat. I often begin a movement or meditation session with this exercise, moving from the neck down to the middle and lower back to release any stuck energies from the spine and central nervous system.
While a lot of modern-day shoulder issues arise from unhealthy posture (are the heads of your shoulders passively slumped forward of your ears as you read this?), tight, painful shoulders could reflect that you are currently overburdened, or that you have experienced hurt and heartbreak, and are subconsciously trying to form some armouring around the front of your body in protection.
How to release it
To process any stuck or excessive emotions in the shoulders, take a big inhale and actively shrug the shoulders towards your ears, perhaps squeezing each shoulder head with the opposite hand. Feel the discomfort as you invite greater tension and energetic charge into this part of your body, and hold here as long as you can. When you are ready, exhale and soften your shoulders and arms, feeling the excess energy flow out and sweep through the rest of your body. Repeat a few times as needed.
The chest and the space around our heart is a highly potent place in our bodies. In traditional Chinese and Japanese medical traditions, it is where heaven and earth energies merge, while it unites the space of our physical and spiritual selves in the Tantric chakra system. This area often relates to powerful feelings of love, grief and depression; when tight, blocked or dis-eased, imbalances in the chest heart space can lead to poor mental health outcomes or even cardiac conditions.
How to release it
A breathing technique that underpins many wellbeing practices is the yogic Ujjayi Breath. Expanding the side ribs while inviting the breath in, and softening the side ribs while relaxing the breath out, can be a gentle yet transformative way to open up the spaces all around our ribcage, heart and lungs. It is a key component of Inner Axis, a balancing practice of Hatha Yoga and Qigong that I share that specifically targets stress, anxiety and depression.
When learning to breathe in this way, it can be helpful to place your hands around the sides of your ribcage so you feel the expansion and contraction with each breath. This breath can be practised with the mouth open (for beginners, think about fogging a mirror with your breath as you exhale, and reverse this as you inhale) or closed.
Pleasure, creativity and frustration, particularly related to sexuality and relationships, are emotions often connected to our hips and pelvic area. Stiffness in the hips, or a disconnect with one’s pelvic floor, can be signs that you are feeling uninspired in an area of your life – in love, career, or that you might be overdue a check-in with your creative outlets.
How to release it
To physically invite opening into the spaces around the hip and inner thighs, try any variation of Baddha Konasana – Cobbler’s Pose – an accessible and grounding pose that I often weave into a Yin Yoga session. From either a seated or reclined position, bring the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to fall out to the side. Your feet are as close to or as far from your hips as is comfortable in your body, and you can support the knees with a book, block or folded blanket if needed. Stay for 10+ deep, slow breaths, sending your awareness down to your pelvic floor as it flattens with each inhale, and relaxes with each exhale.
Valerie teaches restorative Inner Axis, Integrative Breathwork and Sound Meditation classes at House of Wisdom.
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