We all have painful memories – failure, disappointments, suffering – hidden away in our brains, to be retrieved only when we choose to do so (which, of course, we rarely choose to do because the memories ARE painful). But memories are physical, not just abstract. Scientists know that memories and emotions can be triggered by stimulating certain areas of the brain. However, it may surprise you that emotions are also stored in our muscles and these emotions can be triggered through body work like Bowen therapy.
Muscle memory is the phenomena when deep emotions and memories of the past surface during body work. It’s amazing to think of our muscles, organs and cells as storage places for emotion and memory, yet this was the scientific research of Dr. Candace Pert, a neuropharmacologist. Pert states that “Your body is your subconscious mind. Our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.” We also know that emotions can be changed by body experiences, such as through body work like Bowenwork.
In an interview, Dr. Pert explains:
A feeling sparked in our mind will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just the brain […] You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways […] I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged […] in the body […] The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated.
Even with knowing this connection between the body and emotions, and even with my work with clients experiencing emotional memory recall, it still caught me off guard when old emotions resurfaced after I gave myself some Bowenwork for facial pain connected to a dental cavity. The main Bowen procedures for my facial pain were in the area of the TMJ (tempo-mandibular joint) and, in the days following treatment, I fluctuated between angry outbursts, tears of sadness, and self pity. I felt I was not being listened to and that my opinions were being discounted. In particular, I began to question where and now my beliefs fit into those of society or family, especially my beliefs on health and wellness which tend to be different from mainstream. I was feeling like a square peg in a round hole! So, as I often do when confused, I went for a hike in the woods. It is by losing myself in the colours, scents and sounds of nature that awareness rises up into consciousness, allowing clarity and focus to return.
Since receiving Bowenwork on my TMJ, the muscles had released and my lower jaw moved forward into a more correct position. (This realignment will require further orthodontic work to correct the dental bite.) In researching TMJ, I learned that childhood orthodontics often lead to TMJ problems in adulthood. I had worn braces when I was in grade 9 and 10. By coincidence (if you believe in coincidences), I met with someone who was part of the group that I hung out with in high school. Memories and feelings re-surfaced of that time of my life. I remembered feeling like I didn’t belong, like I didn’t fit in. I tried running with the “wild” crowd and with the “brainy” crowd, yet did not feel like I belonged in either. Where did I fit? Who was I? Why was I so different? Every teen, I’m sure, experiences similar questions. Then, as now, I felt alone in my confusion.
Once I became aware of the emotions from the past and the similarity of the emotions in the present, I was able to recognize my doubts and fears, and smile at my humanity. Candace Pert says to “Let the emotions bubble up. Let the chips fall where they may…the process of catharsis is not complete without saying things…To feel and understand means you have worked it all the way through. It has bubbled all the way to the surface. You’re integrating at higher and higher levels in the body, bringing emotions into consciousness.”
By simply acknowledging emotions, they are expressed. In being expressed, emotions can be released, even old emotions stored in muscle memory. Now I won’t pretend to completely understand my conflicts or to have “worked it all the way through” yet. But allowing my emotions to surface into awareness and to be able to name my emotions is the beginning of emotional exploration. Just as my lower jaw has moved forward, wavering as it tries to find the correct position, I too am moving forward, trying to find my position within the family, within the community, and in life.
 “Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine”, Candace Pert.