Outside In: How Bodywork Supports Transformation by Kristie Santana
Updated: May 28
Emotions, such as fear, are a form of energy. I do not mean that figuratively. I mean it as a rudimentary truth. All thoughts are experienced within us thanks to electrical activity firing in our brains and throughout our nervous system, resulting from chemical reactions that unfold at a rate beyond our comprehension.
Now imagine if that energy behaved as a parallel to our intake of caloric energy. We either transform it into an output of more energy, or we store it as fat. A considerable portion of that energic output is utilized to run the systems of our body. We burn calories through cell metabolism, and if we break down muscle tissue through exercise, we use some of that caloric energy to build more muscle. But if we take in way more caloric energy than we need, our body has to store it somewhere.
Trauma that we are unable to process gets stored. It is an influx of chemical energy that, if not used or released, gets locked away in our body’s tissues, primarily our fascia.
Fascia is the gossamer tissue that tethers all of our muscles and organs in place. It serves a dual purpose as flexible structural integrity and a means of neurological communication.
Most notably, fascia facilitates our reflex response. Fascia can contract independent of muscle tissue, meaning, before your mind can form thoughts intended for a group of muscles to get them to move for a specific reason, your pain receptors can communicate directly with the fascia and initiate a reflex response in a fraction of the time.
For millions of years, utilizing the energy of fear or pain into an intensely physical fight-or-flight response saved lives. The stronger that impulse was, the more likely it would be passed on to genetic survivors. But now, we often find ourselves navigating emotional trauma that does not require a reflexive dash from a predator. Either way, the energy is stored if not used.
There are two avenues with which to address this phenomenon.
Retrain our habitual Sympathetic responses to be more reflective of reality.
Aka: mindfulness. This practice helps us manage our emotional responses to be more congruent with the actual stimulus, and not the imagined outcome of a situation.
Release pent-up energy in the body via beneficial physical activity and therapeutic bodywork.
Fear produces a chemical known as TGF, which has been shown to thicken or constrict the Fascia. Keep in mind, fascia has its own pain receptors. Tighter, more constricted fascia activates those pain receptors, which sets in motion a feedback loop of constriction and immobility. And it does so with an evolutionary skillset once used to avoid pain. Fascia utilizes energy as a protective mechanism in the same way stored fat was an evolutionary protection against starvation, but has now become a source of chronic dysfunction.
Bodywork, like myofascial release, helps to ease and release that stored energy. Our body protects us from pain by blocking off access to an area that stores traumatic energy. Stored energy can also come from simple stagnation. It is more gradual, in the same way years of incremental increases in calorie consumption would lead to the same amount of weight gain as binging for a week on donuts. Constriction contributes to increases in inflammation, which ultimately lays the groundwork for degeneration and dysfunction both physically and mentally.
Therapeutic bodywork helps to unlock frozen components of the nervous system, reconnecting the nervous system to the tissue once “quarantined” due to held traumatic energy which allows transformation and healing to unfold. Like undamming a stream that once flowed through barren terrain.
Energy is real. It is at the foundation of how our bodies function. So whether we call it Chi, Prana, or Vibes, incorporating bodywork can play a pivotal role in our ability to move past stuck patterns and shape our lives, free of the constriction that once held us in place.