The memory of our bodies

I was recently reminded while receiving my own self-care of how our bodies are a vessel that holds our life experiences. It is a container for everything, large or small, of memories long forgotten and also memories held in the front of our minds. These memories percolate through our human fabric, into our sinews and bones and through each of our trillions of cells – and they are held there until we find them again and invite them to unwind.

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

Having been a practitioner of Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Cranial Sacral Therapy for 6 years and counting, I’ve seen my fair share of bodies of all shapes and sizes – each and every one of them have amazing stories to tell me. There is an amazing duality between the fragility and resiliency of our bodies. It is from these two contrasting elements, like yin and yang, an alchemy is formed and healing takes place.

Each person’s pain is a story.
We guard and hold because we have been hurt. We slowly and unconsciously build an armor around ourselves, to shield our vulnerability to avoid being hurt again. Eventually, it becomes a pattern, a habit. It attaches to us and we wear it like a burden or a shadow. It causes us fear, shame and hesitation. It limits us from trusting, loving and unconditionally experiencing our lives.

I have witnessed how holding and guarding from physical, emotional, spiritual pain accumulate and disrupt normal functions in our bodies. In Cranial Sacral we call this an energy cyst (an energy accumulation) and in Chinese Medicine, we consider this stagnation of qi and blood.

This past October, I gave my hardworking, worry-wort, over-protective Chinese Immigrant parents their FIRST EVER session at Heart & Hands Health Collective.
I recall my dad’s lack of understanding of how his poor diet contributed to his gout and
my heartbroken, insomniac mother who insisted there was nothing wrong with her. After much fussing and fretting, I took pulses, check their tongues and administered their needles, then watched them peacefully drift into a deep, healing sleep. This was the first time I’d ever seen them so fully relaxed.

Watching them resting there, I contemplated the burdens and traumas they carried as immigrants in a strange, new land – historical, familial, multi-generational and even hereditary. Their integration into Canadian society subsisted on survival, conflicting cultural traditions and a lack of time and understanding for their emotional needs.
So, when I ask someone to “just relax”, it can be a complicated, loaded request. And having my fair share of traumas, cultural (un)conditioning as well as being a survivor of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, I consider what I hold within myself – a bubbling cauldron of heartaches and unfinished business of my own and of my ancestors.

When our bodies receive work such as acupuncture or Cranial Sacral, it enters a unique state where tensions/stagnations/blockages are allowed to unwind. The body becomes very still and quiet, but internally, this is where the magic happens. In Cranial Sacral, this is called “stillpoint”. With acupuncture, I was once told by an instructor that when the client falls asleep, the treatment is reaching very deep levels and the body is working to rebalance itself. The process of unravelling can play out across a whole spectrum from subtle and gradual to instantaneous and abrupt. I have observed a wide variety of manifestations, anything from shaking, twitching, trembling, discharging of heat, yawning, giggling and most poignant of all, crying.

The act of releasing is body-centred. human beings
To be free from intellectualizing, rationalizing, victimizing and diagnosing your issues and to get out of your goddamn head, so your body can let the stories go. There is an inherent wisdom in our bodies and that I am merely facilitating and supporting the healing process. And I am constantly reminded that we do not exist in separation of the body and mind. They are, in fact, reflections of one another and they can either support or impede our journey.

The story of our pain isn’t just verbal.
I can see it in your eyes, the tightness of your chest and your tired, rounded shoulders.
It can be a felt sense, tearful, wet eyes, clenching of the jaw, sweaty palms. The body speaks volumes if you are soft, open and watching.

With curiosity, compassion and patience I approach the bound-up, guarded bodies of each and every person I work with. I’m hoping my work will help to unravel the stories, so my clients can lighten their load. I am blessed each time a client has granted the beauty of their vulnerability and an unspoken agreement that we are now in relationship to heal one another.

Christina Chan, R.Ac.


“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
~Pema Chodron

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