There are times during or after a chiropractic treatment or massage when stored trauma from past experiences may come bubbling up to the surface. In these moments, it is especially important to stay present with your sensations, knowing that you are in a safe place.
I’m not a trained psychologist or counselor, so please take what I have to say here as my limited understanding around this issue; an understanding which has come from 20 years of doing body work and from my personal experiences through healing my own emotional trauma through meditation and bodywork.
This is written from the chiropractic perspective of the emotional subluxation model and the potential energy theory of subluxation as taught by Sue Brown, the chiropractor who developed the tonal technique of BGI (Bio Geometrical Integration). It is a topic that has the content to support several volumes. However, I have created a short version to help my clients unpack and approach what is happening when there are emerging emotions during or after a chiropractic visit.
In brief, the potential energy theory of subluxation states that every life experience we go through gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. If the body-mind-spirit cannot fully integrate a force that it is exposed to, it will store the un-integrated energy and information. It will carrie that force to process and learn from at a later time when there is more space, safety, and time to do so. In this model of subluxation all force is energy and carries information through vibration, i.e., amplitude and frequency. This is partially why it is called a tonal model.
This model also acknowledges physical, emotional, and chemical traumas as energetic forces that carry more information than body can’t process, adapt to, and learn from in the moment. An accumulation of unprocessed information will be stored as tension or distortion in the physical body and will result in dis-ease. This tension can be palpated in the muscular, skeletal, and ligamentous structures of the body and will also lead to tension or compression of the nervous system. In a situation like this, an adjustment can add the energy into a system which allows it to release some these patterns of tension. Sometimes you can then re-encounter the quality of the energy and the vibration of the force, whether physical, emotional, or chemical, that was stored in the system. It’s not uncommon for people to have a chemical taste in their mouth, recall a sports injury, or have a flood of emotions come bubbling up after an adjustment.
Often the emotions experienced during and after a traumatic event anchor that trauma into the physiology, long past the time in which the tissue itself has healed. Some of these emotions could be centered around
fear of the implications of that injury, grief for the lost opportunities that the injury represents in your life, or even an imprinting of the emotional atmosphere in which the injury took place. The root of such an emotional hook of an injury is most commonly centered around fear of an unwanted outcome. Sometimes this fear can be of pain or harm; other times the fear can be of the door closing on your desires or goals. Because we all need our health to accomplish our goals, loss of health is a direct threat to our ability to achieve them.
I’ll share a personal story as an example of this, because I think it will shed some light on how my perspectives on this have developed. The story starts with my fingers being smashed by a large boulder while descending a long climb in the backcountry. It was one of the most excruciating things that I’ve ever experienced, but almost greater than that was this incredible sinking fear in my stomach that radiated through my whole body. It centered around the fear of what this injury would mean for my future. My future as a bodyworker and a climber felt like it was threatened. This fear stuck around for much longer than the intense acute pain. It was amazing how the injury brought on strong emotions of anxiety, fear, and a sense of un-groundedness.
I was able to unpack these emotions during a meditation retreat about 3 years later. I realized that I had a history of several injuries up that one arm, so I started going through them one by one. I learned that as I recalled each incident and felt the physical sensations of the associated emotions while maintaining a state of equanimity, I was able to release the trauma. It took a while, because when I would first evoke the emotion associated with an injury, it would be so strong that it would pull me out of a state of peace and equanimity. Oftentimes, some of the physical pain of the injury would also arise. But gradually, I would be able to feel the sensations of the emotions and often traces of the physical pain while maintaining my sense of equanimity. I saw that just like breathing into a trigger point during a massage, or a yoga stretch, it’s uncomfortable, but with each breath you can let it soften and sink in a little deeper. I was able to recollect each injury and once I experienced the sensations of the associated emotions, while simultaneously being in a state of equanimity, the physical pain of the injury and the emotion would slowly disappear. “You’ve got to feel it to heal it” as one of my mentors would say.I share the story in the hopes to help people gain a tool to help people get more out of their sessions and to use in their own way if they so choose.
Ideally this can also works in present time. There can be hundreds of triggers every day that can pull us away from our center, pull us away from our peace. Sometimes we don’t have the capacity in that moment to experience the adversity and stay centered, so we distort or contract physically or emotionally, usually both. We will carry this distortion or contraction until we have the capacity to breath into it or integrate it at a later time. Sometimes it’s quick, for example: getting splashed with cold water unexpectedly, our shoulders instantly contract and contort into our neck and our whole spine gets stiff. When we realize that it’s just water and we warm up and take a few deep breaths, we’re able to slowly relax our shoulders and undistort our posture. We’re able to bring our awareness into that area and accept that the intense sensations were fleeting and consciously make a decision to relax.
What about that constant nagging back pain that has you contracting and distorting to avoid feeling the full intensity of the sensation? Imagine if you were to take just a 10 minute break a few times a day and try to just breath into that pain consciously. This would allow your body to return to a normal relaxed posture, even if it meant feeling the sensations of pain more intensely for a short period of time. It could also mean that you minimize some of the damage done by all the compensation patterns that are created to avoid pain.
Notice that with a relaxed posture, you can take a deeper breath all the way down to your belly. How do you think it would affect your day if every breath is fuller, sending not only fuel in the form of oxygen to every cell in your body, but also the healing movement of the breath through the spine? In turn, a fuller breath allows you to relax your spinal muscles, which will decrease the compression of your spine, and all of a sudden you’ve reversed the cycle. Instead of the pain making you contract and contort, bringing you more pain and health problems via multiple pathways, you’ve faced the pain and chosen to breathe into it. This is going to eventually decrease your pain and lead to health benefits.
It’s important to be gentle and kind with yourself; it’s ok if you didn’t have the capacity to process a trauma in real time and now have to do some unpacking. Our bodies have an amazing capacity to adapt, and contortion, or subluxation, is sometimes a part of that. One’s body can lose alignment to accommodate a wound while it heals or until we have the energy to process it at a later time. This is a survival mechanism. Imagine if we had to emotionally process everything in real time before we could flee from a dangerous situation or defend ourselves.
I’ll leave you with an affirmation: “I am so grateful for my ability to carry trauma. I realize that this ability is crucial to my survival. My ability to carry trauma allows me to unpack the content later in a safe place as a catalyst for spiritual growth.”