Job loss, death, divorce, break-ups, financial strain, and the many challenges life presents are painful and traumatic. Sadness is stored within our bodies, sometime long after we think we’ve moved on. Addressing the issues in the tissues can in fact help individuals move more quickly through the grieving process to help reclaim stability and, ultimately, happiness. And massage can play a key role.
I define grief as a mental and emotional experience, usually triggered by a traumatic loss, that has physiological correlates associated with deep pain.
For instance, we are all familiar with the term “heartache.” It is commonly accepted that if a person experiences a traumatic emotional event (such as the loss of a lover or the death of a family member), this mental and emotional state often results in a definite physical sensation. We can feel the grief in a specific part of our body. Our insides actually hurt. Because our culture does not deal with the grieving individual effectively, I believe such grief can create long-lasting physical imbalances in the human body.
Degriefing is the process of recognizing mental and physical pain which accompanies grief and treating it with a combination of somatic therapies. Unlocking and removing grief from an individual’s body can heal not only physical symptoms, but mental and emotional wounds, as well.
While conventional therapies may be effective, they usually do not begin to address the physical imbalances induced by a traumatic loss or great sorrow. The individual’s mental state might be temporarily lifted, but the physical state often remains unchanged. Therefore, complete healing can be illusive.
Grief can be stored in the body, although sometimes we grieve and it passes through us in a relatively short period of time. For instance, when we expect the death of an elderly individual, the sadness is more easily tolerated, and our body and mind accept the loss relatively easily. That can be called “simple, uncomplicated grief.”
However, in today’s society, we experience many types of loss and sorrow that are not dealt with effectively. From childhood through adulthood, we experience many traumatic events which leave permanent, physical scars or imbalances. That’s called complicated, unresolved grief, which I believe can reside in the muscles, fascia and tissues of the body. I have found through emotional release during massage that clients have gotten in touch with memories long dismissed, repressed or forgotten.
Recently, even modern Western science has discovered that seemingly non-physical constructs such as memory, intuition and emotion have physical correlates. They don’t know how these things are recorded, but they are starting to acknowledge that the body can retain mental experiences. When grief is recorded in our bodies and retained, the individual suffers. That’s why Degriefing is an effective, exponential technique that is based on combining compassionate touch and communication.
Integration With Bodywork
Many individuals I have treated respond well to professional bodywork, which often opens energy channels and chakras. A variety of therapeutic massage techniques, such as Swedish, Shiatsu, lymphatic massage, polarity and reiki can effectively be combined. There are many modalities that combine extremely well for this work and create a truly exponential effect.
Massage, primarily intended to induce relaxation, is also powerful for stress reduction and is tremendously beneficial for the maintenance of well-being. The goal of the Degriefing process is to actually unlock blockages, which have developed in our bodies, and shift the systems to a more harmonious state. It may be helpful to explain to your massage practitioner your emotional state so that she/he can address the session with a clear intention of healing and integrating.
Other valuable therapies for releasing grief include acupuncture, dance therapy, deep massage, compassionate touch therapy and vibration therapy. I often use tuning forks and Tibetan bowls in my work. I’ve used auditory treatments and even long distance healing. These treatments are equally effective, as they can help restore the body’s natural balance.
From the perspective of self-preservation, it is necessary that the body hold on to emotion. But to move forward requires getting on the other side of self-preservation. For people carrying pain and sadness, massage and bodywork can help you get there.
By Lyn Prashant, founder of the DegriefingTM Process, completed JFK University‘s Graduate Psychology Grief Certification Program and has a private therapeutic bodywork, yoga and grief counseling practice in Marin County, Calif. She teaches the Somatic Aspects of Grief class at U.C. Berkeley Extension, co-coordinates the U.C.Berkeley symposium “Changing Paradigms of Loss and Grief,” and teaches “Degriefing for Bodyworkers” at Alive and Well Institute of Conscious Bodywork. Her forthcoming book is titled The New Art of Degriefing: Transforming Grief Using Body/Mind Therapies for Health-care professionals, counselors, clergy, caregivers and bodyworkers. For information call 415/457-2272, view www.degriefing.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portions of this article were excerpted from Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2000.
Copyright since 2000. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
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