When I was a student at the Brenneke School of Massage, I had the opportunity to work with Heida Brenneke, the founder and then-president of the school. I took a class from her in Autogenics, which is a relaxation technique using visualizations. Not only was the experience of Autogenics powerful for me personally, but so were Heida's words.
I remember a particular moment in the class when a student was describing neck pain and Heida guided him through some Autogenics techniques. She asked the student to make the pain bigger so that it was as large as it could possibly be. The student breathed and imagined his discomfort as a balloon getting bigger and bigger. As balloons are apt to do, it burst when it hit its limit in size. And so did the student's pain: it burst and the pain lessened.
Then she asked the student to notice any emotion residing in his neck. The student described a feeling of anger lingering in his neck and some frustration, too. As before, Heida then asked the student to imagine this anger and frustration getting bigger and bigger like a balloon. The anger was like a big red balloon, and like the pain, when it expanded to its limit it burst in a therapeutic release.
When Heida asked the student how he felt after these two exercises, he noted feeling lighter and centered. His neck pain had reduced so much it was only a tiny sensation of tension, no where near the discomfort as before. Heida then said (and I remember these words so clearly):
"I believe there is always an emotional component to physical pain. Even if there is just a little bit, only a tiny emotion there. But there is something."
Next time you are experiencing some physical discomfort, try tapping into what emotions might be stuck in an area of your body. Does your ankle hold inflammation and also sadness? Do your shoulders hold tightness and also a feeling of burden? See if you can identify a bit of emotion hiding inside your body and attend to those emotions. See what they have to tell you, and care for them just as you would your sore muscles or achy joints.
Art piece above: "A Giving Heart," mixed media collage by Courtney Putnam.