Crying in the hands of my therapist

When I first started learning myofascial release in massage school, I was hideously nauseous every time a fellow student tried the new techniques on me. That reaction was present through a couple of weeks of near-daily work; I couldn’t tell if my disorientation and sense of illness came from my body adjusting to a new modality, from the fact that none of us was very good at that modality yet, or from the techniques successfully releasing fascia and all the emotion that had been bound along with it.

Once another student was working on a persistent spot of pain my back, and I felt more and more angry, more and more like she was inflicting some sort of hurt by touching it. Then one of my teachers, a gentle man whose experience I trusted, touched that spot. I burst into tears and all that hot anger made its way out of my body in a gooey mess all over my face.

In this lovely personal account of fascial release, Jessica Wolf writes about her experience with a practitioner whose sensitive, light work enabled Wolf’s “lungs to inflate like balloons”. Of the therapist’s touch on a chronically injured shoulder, she writes:

…Ever so gently, she slid one hand under my shoulder and then even more gently, laid her other hand on top of it, holding it as lightly as you would a baby bird, and in an instant I was sobbing uncontrollably.

What she was doing did not hurt and there was no sadness — or any specific feeling — attached to the crying. Tears streamed from my eyes, and my chest heaved. It went on like that for maybe five minutes, and then the crying stopped suddenly and completely, as if it had never happened at all.

And without moving a muscle, I could tell that my shoulder had changed.

That’s glorious. Wild. An experience of being in your particular body that’s mysterious, strange, and beautifully, satisfyingly cleansing. It’s exciting–and often disconcerting–to experience. It’s really exciting to facilitate.

Why do some bodywork sessions stir feelings up in a way that stays negative, and some in a way that you can let that boundedness go? Well, really, who knows. Your preference for modality makes a difference. So does your relationship to your body. So does everything that’s going on in your day and what mood you’re in. But in my own life, it has turned out to be all about the practitioner. I have felt disoriented and sick after acupuncture treatments, as I did in massage school; I left those acupuncturists and followed the recommendation of a dear friend to the work of a woman whose expertise and body geekery run deep, and in front of whom I have comfortably cried numerous times. I’ve found a colleague whose myofascial release offers the same opportunity, whenever I’m ready to take it.

I happen to value all those times my body has helped release tears, and vice versa. But not every bodywork session can be or needs to be a space for emotional release. You should never feel forced to have an emotional experience; many people don’t make a clear connection between their body and emotions, or don’t want to share their emotions in that kind of space. But the compassionate attention of the therapist and the trust between therapist and client that make a safe space for emotional release should be present in the session either way. So find the practitioner that’s right for you.