We recently wrote about muscle memory. Click here to read that post. It makes sense to follow that up with an explanation for how our work can apply.
Somatic work helps to give people the freedom of choice follow the same old pattern or to consciously change.
In the physical body, someone chooses one path of movement over another because of their movement history, body type and compensation patterns. Most of the time this is done unconsciously. The problem is that because of the quick adaptation of our neural pathways (muscle memory some call it) the more we do a particular movement pattern, the quicker we are to choose that pathway over another and we lose our options over time. This imbalance eventually leads to problems and injuries. This same process applies to emotions. If we choose one emotion to react with (because of our unconscious habits and emotional history), the body quickly learns to prepare for this reaction in the future, and the faster the reaction will occur, limiting the possibility for choices.
To give a concrete example:
Unresolved emotional trauma can manifest as anxiety or depression. Breathing in someone who is anxious or depressed can be unhealthy or inefficient. Usually their breathing is so challenged, some may have this diagnosed as asthma or allergies. Serious digestive problems can also be attributed to an inability to breathe well. Short and tight inhalations, which are typical in individuals who don’t cope well with stress, lead to an over adrenalized, revved-up nervous system and aching kidneys.
So much of this can be resolved by breaking down mal-addaptive breathing patterns and finding new places for the breath to reach. In doing so, you calm the nervous system, your organs, and create a physical environment in which the body can better function and the mind can find another way to process a stressful trigger. Breaking the previous breathing pattern and finding a new way to breathe is like release the hold the anxiety or depression may have. This is how therapeutic movement that helps to facilitate awareness of breathing and the body in direct relation is fantastic for releasing stored up emotion.
On an even deeper level:
The automatic reaction resides in the nervous system and in the emotional body, the endocrine system: Our hormones. The endocrine system is a global system, meaning that the hormones are not restricted to our nervous systems, but affect our entire body! For instance, if our body releases epinephrine (adrenaline) due to fear or anxiety, this causes the blood vessels to dilate, the digestive system to slow, the heart rate to increase, the pupils to dilate, and switches our metabolism to release triglycerides (fats) into the bloodstream to be used as fuel. etc. Now imagine that every time we experience fear, all of these things are happening! This affects the health of ALL of our organs at once! Not only that, but the more it happens, the faster this response happens, and the less options for other reactions we have. Over time, this can easily tax our whole body. Another example is if we are holding stress or anger.
This is one of the reasons why therapy and movement are SO important. Our job as movement educators is to educate our clients of these dangers and teach techniques to avoid chronic stress and maintain a happy, healthy life!