The events of our lives, the good and the bad, leave imprints in our body. There are a lot of memories stored in our brains, but there are also a lot of memories that have faded. Even though we may not immediately recall the memory – especially if it was traumatic – it lives in our body in the form of physical sensations and behavior patterns.
The physical sensations are powerful, especially when we experienced trauma or situations of extreme stress that caused our body to go into the “fight or flight” mode in order to cope. But even the memories that we may not consider stressful can leave an imprint on our body.
Remember the fear of standing up in front of your 5th grade classmates and freezing in the spelling bee, or working up the courage to ask someone out for a date? These are moments of stress and while they may not seem very big now, they were at the time. And it can explain why you get flushed when speaking in front of a crowd. Your body remembers the first experience.
So what can you do to release memories that are stored in your body? Animals tell us what to do.
When an animal goes through an experience that is traumatic or causes anxiety, they shake. Take the case of two dogs that know each other, but something happens and they get in a fight. Once the fight is over, both dogs shake. They do this to calm their nervous systems and quiet the “fight or flight” response. By shaking, they are able to release the physical memory of the situation.
Animals have tools to release trauma from the body and these tools work for humans too.
The first tool is to release the memory by movement. You can gentle shake your body, or you can put on music and dance around the room. If you are a runner, take off running until you feel physically and emotionally satisfied. Movement will help get the emotion out of your body.
The second tool is to feel the emotion. Many people have been taught that to be angry or afraid makes them a bad person. For many people, feeling emotions wasn’t allowed as a child, so today they go numb rather than feel. But feeling the discomfort is the only way to recover. In order to get out of pain, we must go through it. Give yourself permission to feel.
The third tool is to release emotions through non-judgment. Many times when we experience something uncomfortable, the first thing we do is turn to something that makes us feel better, like sweets or alcohol. Remember, the need to soothe yourself with things that may not be good for you doesn’t make you a bad person. If you over indulge, don’t judge yourself.
The fourth tool that animals share with us is the most important. They remind us that we must forgive ourselves for any past transgression. If we numbed our self with alcohol or drugs or some other self-destructive behavior, rather then feeling the pain, we need to forgive ourselves. We did the best we could at the time, and now we know better.
Everyone will experience pain in their life, but we don’t have to stay stuck in it. As Rumi, the 13th century poet wrote, “The cure for the pain is in the pain.” Our animals know this and they are willing to help us discover it too.