How Emotional Trauma Gets Physically Stored In Your Body

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On Being with Krista Tippett is one of my favorite downloads. 

Mama Tippett has one of those deep, throaty voices and it always sounds like she's smiling wickedly. And she picks the best guests to interview. She recently chatted with psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk about how trauma manifests in our physical bodies. Basically, van der Kolk’s research found that when we go through a traumatic experience—be it a childhood trauma, a bad breakup, a miscarriage, a physical attack—our body stores that information somehow.

Over time, the trauma we store can physically manifest in different ways (like joint stiffness, or poor heart rate variability, even bizarre skin conditions). Certain practices like yoga, massage, or myofascial release like foam rolling can actually help us work through trauma physically.

Van der Kolk specifically points out Rolfing, a type of intensive therapeutic massage treatment in which the muscle is torn away from the fascia. It sounds way worse than it is—it actually feels kind of wonderful. But van der Kolk found that Rolfing did an amazing job of helping people, himself included, get over past trauma because it loosens up the muscles and fascia. Physical release begets emotional release, in a way.

I’m always fascinated by how intelligent our bodies are, and how true that mind-body connection really is. Research continues to prove that our mental state is intrinsically linked to the health of our physical body. Wouldn’t it be cool if in the future, psychiatrists recommend foam rolling instead of Prozac? Yoga in lieu of Abilify? Reiki over Xanax …?

Michelle Pellizzon