Mind & Meaning

Understanding Trauma And The Body’s Wisdom

November 13, 2023

Serenity Here
I devour health and wellness information, and love to share everything that works in my life, so you can use the same self care and lessons in yours!
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I ran across someone recently who was talking about trauma that she experienced as a child. She explained how it’s continued to have a significant effect on her choices, and life, as an adult. 

I can relate. I think there’s so many of us that can. 

Having a better understanding of the connection of trauma in the body, she was seeking out bodywork, to “release trauma.” 

This is a tricky one. 

Since the release of the best seller and widely known and respected book, The Body Keeps The Score, there has been a lot floating around about releasing trauma from the body. 

I too was intrigued originally. Searching out so many different things to “get rid of my trauma,” to make it go away, and move on with my life. 

To heal it.

But, at some point, I had to take a step back, and really ask some hard questions, because things started to get very confusing for me.

For starters, how do you heal it? And better yet, how does our body store it, and how then does it get released from the body? And then what – when it gets released? We’re healed?

I feel like as a trauma informed bodyworker, supporting people through massage therapy and craniosacral therapy –  and as a human having experienced significant trauma myself, it’s important to fully understand, and be able to explain to others what exactly that means. 

Because the truth is, we can’t release trauma, and we certainly don’t store the trauma itself in the body. We aren’t speaking literally. 

Something happened, and we experienced trauma from that event or multiple events. 

We can’t change that. It will always be. There is no magic eraser. 

What we can do is understand that there’s a mind-body connection. That the memory of the trauma is stored in our brain, and because we have a mind-body connection, our mind influences how our body reacts to the memory – and this can be an automatic reaction, sometimes one we’re not even conscious of, and sometimes one we don’t even connect to the traumatic event. 

Stored trauma in the body simply means, when we’re triggered by something that connects to the trauma – stored in our subconscious mind – our body reacts. 

When our body reacts consistently, that tension is physically stored in our body. It’s not the actual trauma, it’s the memory of the trauma that activates the tissues in our body in a specific way. 

It also affects the nervous system. It’s not simple, but to put it plainly, we have to spend more and more time activating our parasympathetic nervous system (rest), than our sympathetic system (fight, flight, freeze, fawn). 

The more time we spend activating the sympathetic system, the more physical symptoms appear in the body. 

Body work, like massage therapy and craniosacral play a role by giving the body a chance to go into a very deep resting state, that allows cellular healing to happen – to remind the mind and body what it feels like to be safe for a long period of time and to reset the nervous system. Along with working through the soft tissue to release tension that has been built over time, causing dis-ease. 

That’s how body work plays a role. In order to fully process the trauma, it goes much deeper, and that is beyond our scope. 

Trauma is an often-overlooked aspect of human suffering, and its impact on mental and physical health can be profound. It can hold people back from so many things in life. 

Thanks to the work of Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score), Gabor Maté, and Peter Levine we are starting to have such a better understanding. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into the complex relationship between trauma and the body, additional ways trauma can manifest physically, and the therapeutic techniques that can help. 

Let’s also explore the concept of “letting go” and the significance of understanding how the body “stores trauma.”

Understanding Trauma and Its Impact

Trauma, in its many forms, can have a profound impact on someone’s physical and psychological well-being. Traumatic experiences can range from major life events like accidents, abuse, and war to chronic stressors like childhood neglect, bullying, or emotional abuse. When these experiences overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, they can leave a lasting imprint on the body and mind.

The Body Keeps the Score

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s work, “The Body Keeps the Score,” underscores the idea that traumatic experiences are not just confined to memory; they become imprinted in the body. This concept challenges the conventional belief that trauma is purely psychological, highlighting the significance of the body’s role in processing and retaining traumatic memories. Understanding this is crucial for effective trauma healing.

Gabor Maté’s Insights

Gabor Maté, a renowned physician, has made significant contributions to the study of addiction and the impact of trauma on mental health. He emphasizes the strong connection between early-life trauma and the development of physical and mental health issues, including addiction. His work underscores the importance of addressing trauma to foster healing.

Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing

Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing approach focuses on the body’s natural capacity to heal from trauma. This therapeutic modality encourages individuals to tune into bodily sensations, which can help release the stored energy of trauma and restore balance. Somatic experiencing is built on the understanding that trauma disrupts the body’s natural ability to heal itself and that reconnecting with these bodily sensations is essential for recovery.

How Trauma Gets Stored in the Body

Trauma becomes stored in the body through a variety of ways. Often involving the brain, the nervous system, and the body’s physiological response to traumatic events, like we discussed earlier.  

The Fight or Flight Response

When we encounter a traumatic event, our bodies instinctively activate the “fight or flight” response. This response floods the body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing it to respond to a threat. In cases of extreme or prolonged trauma, this response can become chronic, leading to various health problems, including cardiovascular issues, digestive problems, and compromised immune function.


In some cases, the mind dissociates from the traumatic experience as a way to protect itself. However, the body may still remember the trauma even if the individual consciously does not. This can lead to unexplained physical symptoms and a sense of emotional numbness.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is a phenomenon where the body retains the physical sensations associated with traumatic experiences. These sensations can be triggered by various stimuli and can lead to chronic pain, tension, and discomfort.

Emotional Memory

The emotional aspect of trauma is also stored in the body. Unresolved emotions from traumatic experiences can manifest as chronic anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders.

Understanding the various ways trauma is stored in the body is the first step in addressing it and promoting healing.

Therapeutic Approaches to Healing Trauma

Trauma-Informed Therapy

Trauma-informed therapy is a framework that acknowledges the impact of trauma on an individual’s well-being. Therapists trained in trauma-informed care create a safe and supportive environment that empowers clients to explore their experiences without retraumatization.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

EMDR is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Francine Shapiro that specifically targets traumatic memories. It involves a structured eight-phase process where the therapist helps the client process distressing memories, ultimately reducing their emotional charge.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors. While it is not exclusively designed for trauma, it can be beneficial in addressing symptoms such as anxiety and depression resulting from trauma.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation practices can help individuals reconnect with their bodies and be present in the moment. These practices promote self-awareness and self-compassion, which are crucial for healing from trauma.

Body-Centered Therapies

Several body-centered therapies can be particularly effective in addressing trauma stored in the body. These therapies include:

a. Massage Therapy: Massage therapy can help release physical tension and promote relaxation. It allows individuals to reconnect with their bodies and can be a valuable part of the healing process.

b. Yoga: Yoga combines physical postures, breathwork, and mindfulness to help individuals release physical and emotional tension. It promotes flexibility and self-awareness, making it a valuable tool for trauma recovery.

c. Craniosacral Therapy: This gentle, hands-on therapy focuses on the craniosacral system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. It can help release tension in the body and promote relaxation.

d. Somatic Experiencing: As mentioned earlier, somatic experiencing, developed by Peter Levine, is a body-centered therapy that helps individuals release trauma stored in the body through a guided process of bodily awareness.

How Body-Centered Therapies Help Release Trauma

Body-centered therapies, including massage, yoga, and craniosacral therapy, offer unique benefits in the context of trauma healing:

Reconnecting with the Body

Trauma often leads to a disconnection between an individual and their body. Body-centered therapies facilitate a reconnection by encouraging individuals to become more aware of their physical sensations. This reconnection can help individuals regain a sense of control and comfort in their own bodies.

Releasing Tension

Massage therapy and yoga, in particular, can release physical tension and stored trauma by promoting relaxation. Chronic muscular tension, often a result of traumatic experiences, can be addressed through these therapies.

Regulating the Nervous System

Body-centered therapies can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, which is often dysregulated by trauma. Yoga and somatic experiencing, for instance, teach individuals how to engage their parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and stress reduction.

Empowering Self-Healing

Body-centered therapies empower individuals to take an active role in their own healing. These therapies provide tools and practices that individuals can incorporate into their daily lives, extending the benefits of therapy beyond the treatment sessions.

Letting Go of Trauma from the Body

To release trauma from the body, it’s essential to understand that the process is not just about “letting go” but also about integration and transformation. 

Here are some steps to facilitate this process:

Acknowledge the Trauma: The first step is acknowledging that you’ve experienced trauma. Denial or avoidance can hinder the healing process.

Seek Professional Help: Trauma is complex, and it’s crucial to work with trained therapists who specialize in trauma treatment. They can help you navigate the process safely.

Develop a Mind-Body Connection: Engage in practices like yoga and meditation that promote the mind-body connection. Partake in activities like massage therapy, and craniosacral therapy, which can often lead to a deep sense of relaxation, allowing you to also reconnect with your body, and bringing you into a prolonged state of rest and relaxation. These practices can help you become more aware of your bodily sensations and emotions.

Practice Self-Compassion: Healing from trauma can be a long and challenging journey. Be gentle with yourself, and practice self-compassion. Understand that healing is not linear and that setbacks are a natural part of the process.

Release through Body-Centered Therapies: Incorporate body-centered therapies like massage, yoga, or craniosacral therapy into your healing journey. These therapies can help release stored tension and promote relaxation.

Express Emotions: Allow yourself to express your emotions in a safe and healthy way. This might involve journaling, talking to a trusted friend or therapist, or engaging in creative outlets like art or music.

Create a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with people who understand and support your healing process. A strong support system can make a significant difference.

Practice Patience: Healing is a process that takes time. Trust the process, and remember that you have the strength to overcome it. 

Remember that we heal from trauma, we don’t heal trauma. We are often left with a lot to sort through. It’s taken me decades to uncover, so be patient and trust the process. 

The concept that the body stores trauma is a powerful and transformative one, but also one that is delicate and important to fully understand. Understanding this relationship and addressing trauma through a holistic approach that includes body-centered therapies, as well as trauma-informed therapies, can be a path to healing and reclaiming your life.

By acknowledging the impact of trauma, seeking professional help, and engaging in body-centered therapies, individuals can reconnect with their bodies, release stored tension, and foster emotional and physical well-being. 

Healing from trauma is a journey, and it is possible with the right support, self-compassion, and the understanding that the body has the wisdom to heal itself when given the chance.

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