Massage (or other types of bodywork) can sometimes facilitate the (often healthy) release of suppressed emotions, manifesting for example, in cries, or other emotional outbursts. This can be impressive and frightening for both, but most of the times there is nothing really to be afraid of. With a little confidence and preparation, which I hope this article can provide, you both can go through this with calm and grace, and emerge stronger and refreshed. Like countryside after a summer storm.
An emotional release in massage can be closely linked to the modification in the pattern of breathing which happens when the person enters a state of relaxation. Deeper “abdominal” breathing may start, as opposed to more “upper”, “thoracic” pattern breathing found in action (or in its extremes, panic). As the diaphragm relaxes, as it dives deeper into the abdomen pulling in air, it also softens its role as a functional barrier, or dam, against the rise of intense emotions. Indeed, intense emotional outbursts could represent unwelcome disruptions in daily life activities or social interactions. This is why, consciously or not, we regulate (through breathing notably) the flow of our emotions or keep them in check altogether (yes, sometimes we catastrophically fail, but that is yet another story). Note that this is a general, regulatory, adaptive function of breathing, where the diaphragm, the bigger, stronger respiratory muscle, plays a lead role. It is neither good or bad per se : rather it is the adjustment (or not) of a person to their situation/surroundings through breathing that is interesting to consider here.
So, in massage, the person might have an opportunity to relax. They might enter what is described as the “Rest and Digest” state/response, as opposed to the “Flee or Fight” response. In fact we somewhat hope that they do, as there is much soothing and healing potential there. And, emotions have to be digested too, just like the rest of what's been on our plates in the last days, weeks, and sometimes months. So, if some emotions have been “sitting“ on your friend's “stomach” waiting for an appropriate time when their digestion (physiological and psychological) could resume, now during the massage could be a good time - or so will their body feel. Most of the time this digestion will happen smoothly, without you or them even really noticing that that's what's going on (but if you listen, you might hear peristaltic mumbling ! ). Sometimes though, this process comes with a release, with an impressive intense, emotional out-burst. Other times yet, it will be just a lone tear, silently pearling from the corner of an eye, like a jewel (My take on it : don't touch it, don't erase it, don't dry it with a tissue, let it BE). Last but not least, note that the release of emotions in massage can also be (often is) linked to the person (more or less consciously) feeling that they are, at this moment, in your care, in your good hands, in a safe space and time to do so. To release, to be free. Indeed, the Rest and Digest response generally does not happen (or remains partial, incomplete) when the person does not feel safe (which is why chronic stress and anxiety can end up being tough health issues as well).
Following are some of advices, inspired by what I have learned, experienced in my years of practice, not only as a masseuse, but also as the person breaking down, raging or melting in tears, on the massage table.
The best attitude to adopt according to me is to:
Emily King, August 2016 (reviewed by M.G)