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How To Release Trauma Through Body Work

Fred Krazeise's picture

body work trauma

I wanted to update an article that I wrote some time ago about tissue memory. We hold the memories of trauma in body and this is a phenomenon that I see often in my practice.

We need to expand our notion of what trauma actually is.

Most of us think of trauma as an event such as a serious car accident, or a physical or sexual assault. These are definitely traumatic events. But the definition of trauma also includes situations such as repeated, long-term emotional abuse, or even over-training that can cause the body to lock itself into a specific, recognized pattern. As a competitive runner in the 1980s, I can definitely relate to the latter, as my body today is devastated by the effects of running 100-miles or more a week when I was in my late 20's and early 30's. 

Noted acupuncturist Nicole Cutler, L. Ac. writes that "Traumas can be considered anything that keep us locked in a physical, emotional, behavioral or mental habit. Recovery from trauma is the process of the body finding balance and freeing itself from constraints. All too often, the recovery process is halted, preventing the traumatic occurrence from completing."

Eastern medicine and thought have long ago made the connection between our body and our mind. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes this idea one step further with the view that we are all connected to the earth and the surrounding universe. Most Native and aboriginal cultures recognize the mind / body connection as well as the deeper connection to the universe. Somehow we in the West fell off that wagon, and it’s only now that we’re trying to get back on.

Cutler identifies three examples of the body containing extraordinary memory capabilities that can be supported by Western science:

  1. Immune system response is enhanced by memory T-cells maintaining information about previous attacks by specific foreign antigens.
  2. Muscle memory improves the ability of top class sports people and musicians to perform optimally even under extreme pressure.
  3. Genetic research has demonstrated that the matrix composing our bodies' cells (DNA) possess a complex information storage system.
Tissue memory

In his groundbreaking book, Healing Ancient Wounds – A Renegade’s Wisdom author John Barnes describes how injuries and trauma encountered in life affect our minds as well as our bodies. He describes how during treatment of the body, all kinds of feelings and sensations can be released. These sensations may include shaking, pain, tremors, and emotions. Barnes says that feelings are released by triggering what he calls “tissue memory.”

Our body responds to triggers brought on by our five senses: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. These are called “proprioceptive triggers.” Powerful images of tragic events such as those that occurred on September 11th, can bring you back to that moment. You may vividly recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. Songs or music may also produce triggers. For me, the old Glenn Miller classic “Moonlight Serenade” brings me back to my wedding day. All of the emotions, the excitement of that first dance with my wife come flooding back to me. More than 20 years later, the images, emotions and memories associated with that song are still as strong as they were on the day I was married. And all it takes is a song!

Similarly, when fascia (the densely woven connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord) is released through touch, tissue memory can also be triggered. What is especially interesting about fascia is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one structure that exists from head to foot without interruption. As such, each part of the body is connected to each other. This is one reason why pain may occur in other parts of the body, away from the area of the original trauma.

When an area injured during trauma (whether it is an accident, abuse, invasive surgery) is released, all of the feelings, emotions, and sensations that you experienced during the initial event may also be released. The same fear, the same pain, the same anxiety may resurface, just as intensely as when the original trauma occurred. At the subconscious level, this is what your body has been feeling all along. In order to fully heal, these sensations must be fully felt so that they can be released.

Fully feeling

In her book, A Patient’s Guide to Understanding John F. Barnes Myofascial Release, physical therapist Cathy Covell writes:

"Fully feeling these sensations is easy to say, but not always easy to do. Remember that the sensations can feel as intense as they did during the initial trauma itself. Many times these sensations that occurred during the trauma were overwhelming, which is why we didn’t release them in the first place. One of our self-defense mechanisms that automatically take over when we are overwhelmed with pain, fear, etc. is to leave our body. What I mean is that we can become completely numb and stuff the pain and emotions. It can seem just as overwhelming when the tissue memory is triggered again."

A sensitive therapist, within the therapeutic environment, can help a client to fully connect mind and body and the client to safely release the sensations associated with the trauma. It is only through this kind of release that you can truly heal. Unless you completely let go, your body continues to experience the trauma at a subconscious level. If the body will not release, restrictions can form in the fascia, creating chronic pain and making it worse over time. The added stress on your body may also compromise your body’s immune system, which can lead to other forms of illness.

So how is trauma released during bodywork or massage?

According to Cutler, there are three things necessary for the body to release stored trauma:

  1. The inner resources to handle the experience that were not in place when the experience originally occurred. (In other words, the person has to be ready emotionally and physically to move past the event of the trauma. The person has to move past the victim stage to the survivor stage)
  2. Space for the traumatic energy to go when released. Being full of tension and stress does not allow space for the stored trauma to move into.
  3. Reconnection of the brain with the area of the body where the trauma is stored.

So, how does a therapist unlock these memories held within the physical body? Cutler states that there are techniques called "myofascial unwinding" that can help to locate and physically free "the restrictions in muscle and surrounding fascial tissue that house traumatic memories. As a skilled therapist holds and unwinds these tissue tensions, memories may surface and release, causing the body to spontaneously "replay" body movements associated with the memory of the trauma. This release initiates relaxation, unlocking the frozen components of the nervous system. Such a shift marks the reconnection of the brain with the tissue housing the trauma, allowing transformation and healing to ensue."

Within the therapeutic environment, with a competent and sensitive therapist, you have the ability to release and clear the pain and trauma of the past. When we fully let go of the pain of our past, we can embrace life in the present, and experience the love and beauty of living in the moment.

Have you ever experienced any kind of emotional release during bodywork? If so, how did the therapist handle it? If you have experienced emotional release during bodywork or massage, has it helped you reconcile and move past the trauma? Please share your stories.



Poker Gratis's picture

Poker Gratis

Discussão emocionante neste blogue, textos deste modo dão motivação a quem aparecer neste blogue :)
Entrega muito mais de este espaço, a todos os teus utilizadores.

Fred Krazeise's picture

Releasing Trauma

Dear Libbe,

Thank you for your comment. Your experience is very similar to what I do in my practice. I work with my clients to find the right combination of exercise, bodywork, nutrition, mindfulness, and other activities to help create a more balanced lifestyle. I look forward to reading more about your experience on your blog.



Libbe's picture

Release of stored trauma in the body

Hi Fred --

Great article. As an incest survivor with over 25 years of healing, I've experienced many methods of releasing memory repressed into amnesia but held in the body. Writing allowed me safe, self-controlled access to emotional pains in the early part of my healing. Rage release work (modeled on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' Life/Death/Transition grief release work) moved me through the more violent abuse memories. Bodywork of many varieties, including myofascial release and cranio-sacral somato-emotional release work, helped me move more stored trauma out of my body. On top of that, I've added health self-maintenance including weekly wellness chiropractic, acupuncture, supplements, and bio-mechanics exercises. These help me hold onto what's been healed and release anything new on a weekly basis. More specifics can be read about on my blog: IncestSurvivorHealing.wordpress.com. Thanks!

Fred Krazeise's picture

Integrative Bodywork

Dear Terrill,

You are absolutely correct. Visualization and breath work can definitely facilitate release. It's important for the therapist to integrate these techniques into the session. I find that I spend a good amount of time working with clients to re-learn how to breathe. We have breathing down pat in the womb and in the first few years of our life. Then as we transition from baby to infant to little adult and then big adult, our breath moves into our chest and we lose that ability to naturally breathe from the diaphragm.

Thank you Terrill, as always for your insights.

Love to you,

Terrill Welch's picture

Fred a very comprehensive

Fred a very comprehensive article. Broadening the definition of trauma helps us to take our experiences into the ordinary and to be able to own our everyday healing work. Most often massage or bodywork experiences have been released through visualization and breath work. Sometimes these experience have changed behaviour patterns immediately and sometimes it has been a longer integration period. I so agree with your recommendation of regular bodywork though I tend to do mine in series of 6-12 and then take a break and continue at a later date with another series. Each person seems to find what works for them. As always, thank you Fred!

Fred Krazeise's picture

Creating a Sacred Space and Safe Haven


Thanks for sharing your experience. It is absolutely vital that the therapist create a safe, nurturing and loving space for the client, and then help the client to remain within that space. In cases where there has been real physical or emotional trauma, the client may actually relive part of that experience. So, it's vital that the therapist be there to help the client establish new patterns.

Peace dear friend,

Dana Theus's picture

Yes, you

Wonderful post on all levels, Fred. And yes, I have had body work that released emotions in a positive and healing way - with you. Other therapists I'd been with didn't overtly recognize to me that this might/would/did happen and so I shut down their full release. You did not do that, encouraging me to go ahead and breathe and BE into the release. It's a true gift you give. Thank you. I have never relived an explicit memory, but there's no question that the release is there. I don't have to know what it is for it to be real.

And Hello, Richard! So nice to see you here in the pink!

Fred Krazeise's picture

A New Definition of Trauma


One of the points I wanted to raise in this post was to lay out a new definition of what we consider to be trauma. Traumas can be considered anything that keep us locked in a physical, emotional, behavioral or mental habit. These patterns then need to be released, which is exactly what you experienced. The bodywork can help to bring these feelings to the surface where they can ultimately be released.

My recommendation is to get regular bodywork - as often as you can!


Laurie Erdman's picture

Signing up now

Can't think of a better way to start the new year.


Cheers to being free,


Go to www.LaurieErdman.com to download an excerpt of my current creative project: Exiting The Hamster. 

Laurie Erdman's picture

Powerful stuff

Thanks for this informative post. I always like learning the mechanism behind mind-body treatments.

I haven't experienced a massage releasing a trauma. However, my last massage :) did release some emotions about stuff I had been angry about and wasn't even aware of. It also allowed me to verbalize those feelings instead of stuffing them down.

I used to get massages to chip out the knots. But now I get them to heal my body, and now my spirit. I look forward to my next massage.


Cheers to being free,


Go to www.LaurieErdman.com to download an excerpt of my current creative project: Exiting The Hamster. 

Fred Krazeise's picture

Thank you both

Dear Richard and Jennifer,

Thank you both for your comments. Richard, I shall check out Hive Health. I've been receiving interest from all over the world since I started writing about how the body remembers and the concept of tissue memory. Thanks for the information.

Jennifer - there are so many things that we hold as patterns in our body. Regular bodywork, in all of its forms is incredibly therapeutic and can help us to release those patterns so that we can connect to ourselves and to the universe.


Jennifer Shelton's picture

Rosen Bodywork

Went to see a Reiki therapist for the first time a few years ago. She was also trained in Rosen BodyWork and suggested I come for a few sessions. As you probably know, Rosen specifically works with the body to release memories. In one session, I actually remembered/re-lived my experience of being in the hospital for a month as a one year old! Very therapeutic.


Astrologer, Educator &
Founder of FemCentral, the Virtual Institute for Women 

RICHARD Harrison's picture

Loved this article

Fred, I am relatively new to the fitness world and with every passing day have come to understand that there's a lot more to it than sweat and workouts. This was another one of those days. Your descriptions of the not-so-subtle effects of trauma on out structures down to the cellular levels and the long lasting nature of events of the past have provided me with some Aha! insights of a personal nature as well as a completely new perspective on the use and importance of massage therapy. I have recommended your writing to a number of friends, cross posted the article link to my FB page and subscribed to your website. I would also like to recommend that you consider a guest blog here: http://www.hivehealthmedia.com/contact/article-submission/ . The readers at Hive Health are a slightly different constituency than at Owning Pink but are just as worthy of your observations. Happy Holidays! -richard

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