Scar Tissue and Muscle Memory

by Patia Braithwaite

I am a huge believer that emotion lives in the body — trauma, grief, nervousness and pain live in our limbs and muscles.

Muscle memory.
Scar tissue.

Some people get headaches when they are upset. I get the runs when I’m nervous. Our entire bodies yell, scream, and shout when we cannot open our mouths to release our pain. One way or another what is inside will make its way into the world.

About a week ago, I wrote a post about getting a Marma massage. I was overwhelmed by the sadness living in my body and I wanted it out. I wanted hands to remove obstacles. I wanted prodding and pushing to relieve the knots in my body, in my mind, and in my heart.

And so I booked a spa day.

As I walked into the spa and slipped into a plush robe, as I sipped jasmine tea and waited for my masseuse to call me in, I took deep breaths and tried to center myself. This is what you need, I said to myself. You deserve this. And when my body finally found itself on the table, and the warm oil hit my back, I knew I’d made the right choice.

“Relax,” my masseuse whispered. “Breathe”

I used to go to physical therapy — I have tendinitis in my knee and have spent the last five years in and out of physical therapy hoping to be healed (without really committing to the process). In physical therapy, they do something called “cross-friction massages.” There was nothing relaxing about these friction massages. My therapist would find marble sized instances of scar tissue underneath my skin and rub them until they were smoothed. The process was painful and irritating. I often wanted to punch my therapist I’m the face.

Sitting in that dark spa room being basted like a turkey with Ayurvedic oils and massaged into relaxation reminded me that sometimes healing and finding balance isn’t a peaceful process. There were parts of my marma massage that were very peaceful and relaxing, but there were moments where I was in pain. My masseuse hit painful pressure points in my feet, she worked through the knots that pepper my back and spine. She poked at the space underneath my shoulder blades.

I went into the spa looking for instant relaxation, but I found myself wincing and cringing thru much of the session.

“Relax,” she kept repeating. “Breathe.”

We’d love to just flow into inner peace, but sometimes its a bit more difficult. Sometimes healing is violent. Sometimes healing is aggressive. Sometimes healing feels like you an exorcising of daemons, a purging of poison…a cross-friction massage. Sometimes its a process of squeezing out the puss and blood and venom. Even a flower opening up into full bloom has to push — opening up into grace isn’t an easy task.

When my marma massage was over, I felt more grounded than I had in weeks. I was calmer, relaxed and lighter. My emotional knots were gone for the moment– my soul had room to sit in its rightful place. Today, as I still try to find and maintain my balance, I remember that growth is often uncomfortable and release is often scarier than holding on to pain.

Relax I remind myself as I squirm under the pressure.

Breathe.