One of my first experiences with chiropractic came at age 12 when I sought care for scoliosis that was diagnosed during a school physical. This happened amid a change from my local public elementary school to a farther private college-preparatory middle and high school where I knew one person, my 15-year-old neighbor. Immediately following a thoracic adjustment delivered by a local (tonal) chiropractor in Overland Park, Kansas, I started bawling. In spite of the fact that I rarely showed emotion in front of anyone, the tears were flowing and there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. The chiropractor, after ensuring that I wasn’t in pain, explained that people store their emotions in their physical body, which can be released by the adjustment. It clicked. All the changes I was experiencing in my life were reflected in my tissues, and the adjustment I received gave me a second chance to express and integrate my feelings around my change in schools … or at least that’s how I understand it now.
Many of my colleagues know that I am now an avid adjuster of the BGI framework who is eager to tell just about anyone about Sue Brown’s potential energy theory of subluxation. This subluxation theory states (yes, you get to hear it too) that among the many stressors and experiences that we have on this Earth journey, there are some that we are unable to integrate in the moment. When we are unable to integrate these experiences, the energy that makes them up remains with us, but holds a tone that is dissonant from the rest of our field – it becomes a subluxation. Once integrated through the adjustment, the stored potential energy that makes up a subluxation is transformed into usable energy that contributes to an evolution in our consciousness that propels us on our path. This theory has framed my concept of gratitude around the subluxation by allowing me to see every experience as an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve.
While these stories of emotional release are extremely common in chiropractic, and many of us understand that the release of stored emotion represents healing taking place beyond the limitations of the physical frame, this concept can be harder to broach with patients who are more in tune with their physical than emotional body. The way the physical body stores the potential energy of a subluxation is often through pain, which is intended to be a warning signal – something meant for us to stop and process before we continue down a path that could hurt us more, especially from a survival standpoint. This makes sense when, for example, we sprain our ankle and the pain it produces prevents us from going on long hikes or walks that would further irritate an unstable joint, potentially leaving us dead meat for a predator. Emotional distress, on the other hand, is something that our culture has taught us to suppress rather than express, leading to a backup storage of past experiences left to process in our tissues. These, too, set into our physical body as subluxations and may be pain-producing, but they are seldom talked about.
I recently had a 63-year-old patient express to me in the health center that she feels like she has spent her whole life running one step ahead of what she described as a tsunami of thinking, feeling and expressing. When I asked if she thought that her physical symptoms may be a product of her lack of sitting with these feelings, she said undoubtedly yes. But when I provided her with homework to cry (my exact words might have been “ugly cry”), scream or throw a temper tantrum, she looked at me doubtfully as though she would rather just show up for her twice-weekly adjustments and manage her physical pain than trudge through the abyss of digging up and feeling past emotional traumas. I must say, the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is complete you-know-what.
Later in the health center, after seeing the “tsunami of emotions” patient, I saw a patient closer to my age, who has debilitating back and shoulder pain held within her trapezius muscle. On palpation, it became apparent that her traps were hypertonic because they were holding onto old emotional traumas and belief systems (ironically, the traps held the feeling of being trapped). My mentor in the health center, Dr. Herby Bell, helped me a lot with this patient as we both gently broached with her the subject of the role of feeling in healing. This case has caused me to understand that our role as a chiropractor is not just to adjust our patients, which we know may bring up emotional traumas to be healed, but to hold the space for our patients to just be in their most authentic expression – to give them the permission that society denies them to feel and to feel more.
You may want to hear that I succeeded in getting my patients to cry it out or scream at the top of their lungs and that they are now healed. Or maybe you would want to hear that they had an atlas misalignment which, once corrected, led to a spontaneous release and healing. Unfortunately, neither of these things happened. The patients continue to go along in their lives looking for a place to feel safe enough to express all of themselves authentically, and I sincerely hope that they find it and that maybe the Life West Health Center is that place. Sometimes it’s hard for us to accept as healers and helpers that it’s not always our job to take away other people’s pain, but to let them sit with it as a part of their own journey. And that by taking the pain away, we are removing the lesson that comes along with it, thus inhibiting their growth through this messy and beautiful process that is living.
This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Lifelines, the Life West student magazine.