The body stores emotion – where are you holding yours? Burying our emotions can harm our health, as we store our issues in our tissues. Valerie Teh, a well-being practitioner, explains what it means to hold unprocessed emotional energy in five different parts of the body…
Why Do We Store Emotions in the Body?
There is a growing body of evidence in the scientific community to support what ancient healing traditions have known all along, which is that the body stores emotion. The body, mind, and our world experience are all inextricably intertwined. Think about the last time you were angry, and bring your attention to what your physical experience of that emotion was. You likely gritted your teeth, tightened your jaw, furrowed your brow, and clenched your fists, on a conscious or subconscious level.
Now, cast your memory back to a time when you experienced grief. Your upper body perhaps collapsed forwards and inwards. Maybe you recall the space around the front upper part of your chest felt really small. If you cried, you might remember the sense of breathlessness in your throat and chest, and the irregular spasms of the lungs as the tears fell.
These powerful emotions, and so many others – including traumatic experiences – are felt and expressed in the body in an undeniably physical way. They can also become trapped in the body, as we are often socialized to suppress our feelings, swallow our words, hold back anger and grief, and not prioritize our need for pleasure. Instead of allowing emotions, which are energy in motion, to flow through our bodies, we end up accumulating them in particular parts of the body, which can then manifest in physical discomforts and ills.
The Body Stores Emotion in Different Areas
What does it mean if the body stores emotion in these places:
Emotions of anger and resentment are often held in our jaw and around the mouth. If you often have a sore throat, mouth ulcers, or grind your teeth at night, it could be a sign that there is an excess of overactive or stagnant energy in this part of your body.
How to release emotion in Jaw
A quick and simple way to unlock tension from the jaw is to simulate the act of yawning – open your jaw as wide as is comfortable and take in a big breath, keeping the mouth open as you exhale, perhaps connecting the vocal cords to make a sound as you sigh out. You can do this whenever you notice tightness in the jaw space, whether it’s your check-in before your self-care practice, or soon after a confrontation or high-stress situation. If the pain is around your temples and temporomandibular joint (the point where your jawbone connects to your skull), try a self-massage that begins at your temples, then work your way down the bottom edge of your jawline with your thumbs and index fingers.
The space around our neck and throat is deeply connected with communication and self-expression. Correlating to the fifth chakra in the Tantric school of thought, a lot of people hold tension here, having held their tongue and swallowed what they wanted to express as a long-term pattern of behavior, and perhaps feel compromised in their ability to speak up for themselves. Imbalances can also manifest in thyroid problems, swollen glands, and chronic neck pain.
How to Release Emotion in the Neck
To relieve and rebalance in this area, invite free, embodied movement into the space around your neck, moving slowly enough for you to remain aware of the sensations and sounds that may arise. Breathing in and out of the mouth as you do this can also help to shift deeper-held stagnant energies in the throat. I often begin a movement or meditation session with this exercise, moving from the neck down to the middle and lower back to release any stuck energies from the spine and central nervous system.
While a lot of modern-day shoulder issues arise from unhealthy posture (are the heads of your shoulders passively slumped forward of your ears as you read this?), tight, painful shoulders could reflect that you are currently overburdened, or that you have experienced hurt and heartbreak, and are subconsciously trying to form some armoring around the front of your body in protection.
How to Release Emotion in Shoulders
To process any stuck or excessive emotions in the shoulders, take a big inhale and actively shrug the shoulders towards your ears, perhaps squeezing each shoulder head with the opposite hand. Feel the discomfort as you invite greater tension and energetic charge into this part of your body, and hold here as long as you can. When you are ready, exhale and soften your shoulders and arms, feeling the excess energy flow out and sweep through the rest of your body. Repeat a few times as needed.
The chest and the space around our heart is a highly potent places in our bodies. This area often relates to powerful feelings of love, grief, and depression; when tight, blocked, or dis-eased, imbalances in the chest heart space can lead to poor mental health outcomes or even cardiac conditions.
How to Release Emotion in the Chest
Expanding the side ribs while inviting the breath in, and softening the side ribs while relaxing the breath out, can be a gentle yet transformative way to open up the spaces all around our ribcage, heart, and lungs. When learning to breathe in this way, it can be helpful to place your hands around the sides of your ribcage so you feel the expansion and contraction with each breath. This breath can be practiced with the mouth open (for beginners, think about fogging a mirror with your breath as you exhale, and reverse this as you inhale) or closed.
Pleasure, creativity, and frustration, particularly related to sexuality and relationships, are emotions often connected to our hips and pelvic area. Stiffness in the hips, or a disconnect with one’s pelvic floor, can be signs that you are feeling uninspired in an area of your life – in love, career, or that you might be overdue check-in with your creative outlets.
How to Release Emotion in Hips
From either a seated or reclined position, bring the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to fall out to the side. Your feet are as close to or as far from your hips as is comfortable in your body, and you can support the knees with a book, block, or folded blanket if needed. Stay for 10+ deep, slow breaths, sending your awareness down to your pelvic floor as it flattens with each inhale, and relax with each exhale.