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Tips to help your body feel great, and describe our work at Breathe Easy Bodywork in San Rafael, CA. We do CranioSacral Therapy and integrated bodywork. Breathe Easy Bodywork is part of Breathing Retraining Center LLC.

I recently came across a fantastic article from 2008 for massage therapists on “Releasing Emotions Trapped in the Tissues” by one of the founders of modern CranioSacral Therapy, the late Dr. John Upledger. This is particularly relevant for those situations when you’ve “tried everything and nothing worked”.


“It’s well-known in the world of CranioSacral Therapy that emotions trapped in body tissues can lead to pain and other ailments. I discovered this several decades ago when I was a professor and clinical researcher at Michigan State University (MSU), yet the concept is far older still.

For centuries, people of Asia, the Middle East, the Baltic regions and numerous island nations have recognized the symptoms of trapped emotions and have practiced various forms of release.

In this day and age, it’s more critical than ever for hands-on practitioners to understand the options for releasing trapped emotions. Emotions have a powerful effect on our psyches, as well as our bodies. Positive emotions generate a sense of lightness and ease of movement. They can manifest as a desire to run, sing, smile and even dance. Negative emotions also generate body responses. They cause our shoulders to slump, our muscles to contract and our blood pressure to rise.

The negative emotions that become lodged in the tissues are the culprit in many cases of emotion-generated ailments. Emotions are designed to move through the body. When someone tells you a joke, your natural tendency is to laugh. The feeling it generates eventually moves through your body and out via the diaphragm and vocal cords. In the same way, if you stub your toe, you might experience a flash of anger and then curse or pound your fists into a pillow. These are all natural responses that allow emotions to effectively move through and then out of your body.

It gets fascinating when you look at the differences between the life cycles of positive emotions versus their negative counterparts. Emotions such as joy, humor and empowerment move freely through our bodies. We enjoy, even encourage their presence, so they can travel unimpeded through our bodies and efficiently complete their life cycle.

Negative emotions aren’t as welcome as positive emotions. When we experience sadness, anger, resentment, loneliness or sorrow, we feel it deeply. And because it hurts, we sometimes suppress those parts of ourselves to keep the pain from intensifying or spreading. Imbalances often occur when we resist an emotion and its natural path through the body. Resistance can cause an emotion to lock into body tissue, eventually leading to physical ailments.

Locating Trapped Emotions

As therapists who work hands-on with clients, we regularly see cases in whcih traditional medicine has been ineffective in providing relief from common impairments. Trapped emotions often are the underlying cause. We can locate the emotions when we encounter areas of the body so tight that the energy flow, fluid flow and craniosacral motion are all restricted.

These restricted flow patterns indicate an imbalance that the body needs help dealing with. Often, simply placing your hands there begins a natural process that releases the emotion. Other CranioSacral techniques also can cause the emotion to regain movement along its natural trajectory out of the body.

Intellectually, we also might be curious to learn which emotion created the disharmony. There certainly are times when an emotion will manifest or even declare itself. But what we are seeking is the release of the held emotion, not its identity. We are not psychoanalysts; we are body-based therapists. Our goal is to assist the body in its own natural self-corrective capabilities so it can regain its full health and function.

There are a variety of ways to release trapped emotions: acupuncture, journaling, talk therapy or even exercise. But the most reliable method I know of is SomatoEmotional Release (SER), a (CranioSacral) approach I developed along with biophysicist Zvi Karni at MSU. SER was designed specifically to release trapped emotions and allow the physical ailments that often accompany them to resolve naturally. The powerful results often include improved body functioning loss of pain, greater mobility and more enjoyment of life…”

More About SomatoEmotional Release, from The Upledger Institute

“Have you ever had an injury cause pain and discomfort long after it had healed? That’s not as unusual as you might think. Even when light-touch CranioSacral Therapy relieves tensions in your body tissues after an accident or injury, it’s sometimes necessary to release the trapped emotional energy to fully discharge the trauma and restore your body to good health. In those cases, you may spontaneously experience a SomatoEmotional Release (SER) in your CranioSacral Therapy session.

SomatoEmotional Release (SER) is based on university research conducted in the 1970s by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger and biophysicist Zvi Karni. Their clinical studies led to the discovery that the body frequently retains the emotional imprint of physical trauma, especially of intense feelings. These emotional imprints often get deposited in the body, creating areas called “energy cysts.”

Your body can adapt to energy cysts – those walled-off areas of emotion. But as you take on more stress from the daily bumps and bruises of life, your body can reach a tipping point and lose its ability to accommodate for the energy cysts. That’s when uncomfortable symptoms and dysfunctions can become difficult to suppress or ignore. When your body is ready to release an energy cyst, you may undergo a SomatoEmotional Release. Rest assured, your CranioSacral Therapist will create a safe environment for you to get in touch with these long-held emotions – even silently. Sometimes that’s all it takes to allow them to move out of your body.

Other times your therapist may ask your permission to gently dialogue with you in a way that helps you release the emotional energy from your tissues. You may even be supported with simple guided-visualization exercises that allow you to let go of those emotions without the need to analyze or understand them.

In a CranioSacral Therapy session, it’s also not unusual for your body to spontaneously return to the same position it was in when you first sustained your injury. This is completely natural and allows the trapped emotional energy to escape along the same pathway it took when it entered your body. When this happens, your tissues may soften and relax as the energy cyst is expelled. Then your body is free to return to its greatest levels of health and performance.

While each person’s response to an SER is different, common experiences include:

  • Spontaneous memories of the trauma that led to the trapped emotions.
  • The unexpected welling up of emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, frustration and guilt.
  • A sense of relief, lightness, exhilaration and joy once the emotions are released.

Whatever the response, SomatoEmotional Release is a completely natural process that occurs when your body is ready to release the final residue of painful, trapped emotions. It’s never forced, and your therapist is right there to support you every step of the way. ”

One of the things I love about these SER releases with CranioSacral Therapy is that you don’t have to re-live a bad experience to release the emotions.

To your good health,

Lisa Bowen, CMP

Breathe Easy Bodywork

Copied and synthesized from the following texts:

“Releasing Emotions Trapped in the Tissues” by John Upledger, DO, OMM.  Massage Today, June, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 06

“What is SomatoEmotional Release?”, an Upledger Institute flyer describing a class on learning the technique.

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<p>Potential symptoms related to TMJD.</p><p>For more information about how CranioSacral Therapy addresses TMJD, see <a href=""></a></p>

Potential symptoms related to TMJD.

For more information about how CranioSacral Therapy addresses TMJD, see

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For CranioSacral technies, here are two articles about CerebroSpinal Fluid, whose flow creates the rhythm that we listen for throughout the body:

Traditional understanding of CerebroSpinal Fluid:

New insights in movement of CerebroSpinal Fluid in relation to CranioSacral Therapy:

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