The Mind-Body Connection: Releasing Trauma from the Body

If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach over an upcoming event, you’re well aware of the mind-body connection and how emotions can appear in different parts of the body. Our bodies can carry the weight of our memories, emotions, and trauma. The idea of stored emotions manifesting physically in our systems is not a new hypothesis; it’s a scientific observation with tangible effects. Modern scientific research frequently explores the link between mental and physical health and the mind-body connection. Meanwhile, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has studied the connection between emotions and the body for over two thousand years.

Understanding how stress hormones or states like hyperarousal and dissociation contribute to the physical imprints of emotional trauma is pivotal. The mind-body connection suggests that emotional states can dictate our health, physical comfort, and gene expressions.

To grasp trauma and stored emotions, we must look into how our bodies hold onto past experiences and ways to let them go. It is necessary to explore the somatic element of emotions, how the body holds on to the past, and modalities that can release it. As trauma affects parts of the brain that are preverbal, Accelerated Resolution Therapy explores bodily approaches to healing that are inaccessible through talk and other traditional therapies.

How do emotions get trapped?

We’ve all experienced overwhelming emotions that seemed to outweigh our capacity to handle them in the moment. As a result, these feelings can get stuck and never fully processed or expressed. It’s like the emotional system hitting pause on a scary scene, leaving the emotions suspended in our body, unresolved, lurking, with nowhere to go.

Fight, Flight, Freeze State

Trauma has no sense of time, locking you in a perpetual “now” that’s saturated with panic or dread. Those stuck in a freeze state after a traumatic event sometimes feel a deep shame for not fighting back, their bodies trapped in patterns of immobility as if the danger never passed.


When you experience going numb in the middle of chaos—that’s dissociation. It serves as an emergency shield, dulling sensations, and emotions to protect you during trauma. But what starts as a temporary suppression can morph into a habit. Dissociation can become a default state whenever challenging emotions arise, further complicating the process of fully understanding and dealing with them.

Improper Memory Storage

Trauma can change how your brain works, especially your memory and ability to remember things. Instead of storing traumatic memories properly, our brain might turn them into pictures or body feelings. When something reminds us of the trauma, our brain might disconnect or replay the event, challenging recovery.

Hypervigilance, Overactive Nervous System, Stress Hormones

Picture your brain’s alarm system, the amygdala, stuck in a near-constant state of activity —that’s hypervigilance. It’s the brain gearing up for a never-ending battle, keeping your nervous system dialed up to eleven. This constant state of alert isn’t just tiring—it’s your new normal, born from a system thrown out of whack by relentless stress.

Energy Blockage

Bradley Nelson, author of “The Emotion Code”, suggests that unresolved emotions can become trapped in the body, potentially causing disruptions in energy flow that lead to health and emotional issues. His book theorizes that these trapped emotions create resonance, influencing nearby tissues. Once an emotion is felt, it can often stay in the body as a ball of energy, affecting a whole person until properly released.

What happens when you store trauma in the body?

Trauma and emotions can become stuck in your body, taking up residence in your muscles, nerves, and tissues. When you face a traumatic experience, your mind and body team up in response — but sometimes they don’t fully sync up again. That’s when emotions hang around, popping up through physical sensations and symptoms that you just can’t explain.

Chronic Stress has a trickle-down effect.

Stress is designed to be a short-lived, temporary experience. Your body isn’t built to handle a flood of stress hormones day in and day out. This trickle-down effect spills over into all systems, causing physical symptoms such as irregular heartbeats, brain fog, increased muscle tension, etc. Your whole physical being is under siege, all because of persistent, unaddressed stress.

Overactive immune system

Your immune system is like a bodyguard. It kicks out any potential threats to your health. Stored emotions can whip it into overdrive, sending it into a frenzy where it starts seeing threats everywhere, even where there aren’t. This hyper-vigilant state can lead to inflammation and several health issues.

Negative effect on self and relationships

Embedded emotions can shape your belief system and self-image, subconsciously driving your behavior. You may find your relationships feel the strain as these stored emotions push and pull at the bonds you have with others, sometimes without you even realizing why. Emotional baggage can weigh you down and make every interaction more strained.

The Mind-Body Connection According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes the mind-body connection to the heart, teaching that emotions are inextricable from physical health. In TCM, each organ correlates with a specific emotion, and imbalances can signal deeper health conditions. It’s a holistic approach, recognizing that emotional turmoil can manifest physically, and conversely, physical ailment can influence emotional well-being.

Where do we store emotions?

When traumatic events or overwhelming experiences occur, they often leave a lasting impact not just on our minds but on our bodies as well. The sensations linked to traumatic memories can take a physical form, connecting emotions with physical symptoms. A notable study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people tend to experience specific emotions in particular areas of the body. Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • Happiness often sparks sensations throughout the entire body.
  • Depression manifests as decreased limb sensations and increased activity in the chest area.
  • Anxiety can create a sensation in the chest region, signaling a rapid heartbeat or trouble breathing.
  • Love kindles a warm feeling through nearly all areas except the legs.
  • Anger typically ignites the upper chest and arms.

This concept mirrors traditional Chinese Medicine’s ancient teachings, where emotions are intricately linked to different organs:

  • Heart: Joy
  • Lungs: Sadness and grief
  • Liver: Anger
  • Spleen: Worry
  • Kidneys: Fear

Acknowledging this connection between emotions and the body is crucial for physical and emotional health. Understanding where and how we store these feelings can be the first step in releasing them and paving the way for healing from trauma.

How to move emotions and stored trauma

Discovering how to move emotions and release stored trauma necessitates a dynamic, holistic approach—one that transcends traditional talk therapy. It’s not just about vocalizing feelings; it’s about engaging the body, tapping into the non-verbal intelligence that existed before we had words. Trauma survivors deeply crave regaining a sense of control—a state of agency—that they lost during moments of helplessness. Movement can foster this reclamation of power.


Yoga is a powerful practice supported by research attesting to its effectiveness in healing from trauma. Trauma-informed yoga facilitates a deeper connection with the body, allowing individuals to alter their perception of bodily sensations and form healthier relationships with themselves and others. Yoga can become a sanctuary for emotional release and personal transformation.


Mindfulness is about anchoring in the present, calmly observing sensations and emotions without judgment, like a serene witness to your own experience. This practice guides trauma survivors through the turbulence of unresolved trauma, imparting a steadiness that can withstand life’s storms. By being mindful, you become adept at recognizing and regulating distressing emotions without being overwhelmed.

Pillow slams and anger expression

Forcefully slamming a pillow on the floor can help move and resolve anger and frustration. This simple physical act allows for a cathartic release of pent-up emotions, providing a healthy channel for the fight response that often accompanies intense emotions. Smacking a pillow can mimic a sense of empowerment, giving you a feeling of resolution and restoring a sense of control.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi, the graceful martial art, uses slow, deliberate movements to bring the mind and body into harmony. Practicing can help you to improve spatial awareness and a sense of agency and make you feel more grounded and in control of your body and mind.


Your posture can reflect your emotional state, creating a loop that uplifts or weighs down your spirits. In her book “Presence”, Amy Cuddy illustrates how power poses can fundamentally alter your emotional landscape. We can steer our emotions in another direction by consciously adopting postures that give off feelings of confidence and openness.

Dancing, Theater, Movement

You can navigate your emotional and physical space with more freedom and joy through dancing. Similarly, theater provides a stage for stepping into powerful roles and can allow you to experience the embodiment of becoming a character. These artistic forms of movement can invite you to explore, express, and sometimes even help address and release pent-up emotions.

Body Scans

Body scans can work to bring about more mindfullness, illuminating our inner sensations and feelings. By methodically focusing on each part of the body and describing the sensations there, you learn to identify and name your experiences, breaking through the numbness to rediscover the ability to feel and recognize the presence of previously unnoticed emotions.

How Accelerated Resolution Therapy helps identify and move emotions

Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, is a unique approach to help people process stuck emotions and memories, especially after a traumatic event. It’s a bottom-up healing technique that’s gaining attention among trauma survivors. The idea is simple yet profound. Here’s the deal: ART guides you to feel your emotions, pinpoint them, and declare their spot in your body.

Ever felt like your chest tightened during stress, or your stomach knotted when anxious? That’s your body talking. ART taps into these physical sensations and helps you see the connection between mental strain and physical responses.

How ART Works to Move Emotions:

  1. Feeling Emotions: First, you embrace those intense emotions, letting them surface.
  2. Identifying Locations: Next, you find out where these emotions hang out in your body. Is it the shoulders, back, or somewhere else?
  3. Describing Sensations: Then, you describe these bodily sensations. How do they really feel?
  4. Processing: Finally, with professional guidance, paired with ART’s signature eye movements, you work through these sensations to desensitize and move past them.

Benefits of ART:

  • Eases muscle tension related to chronic stress.
  • Aids in healing from unresolved trauma.
  • Helps with memory processing of traumatic memories.
  • Moves and changes memories and emotions to reflect more positive experiences.

ART addresses traumatic experiences by acknowledging and releasing the emotions stored in our bodies. It’s a therapy that many health professionals regard as a potent tool for those tough, knotty feelings and unprocessed trauma. Find an ART-trained therapist near you.


Where Emotions Get Trapped In The Body and How to Release Them

Understanding Mind-Body Interaction from the Perspective of East Asian Medicine – PMC.

Bodily Maps of Emotions/ PNAS

How Emotions and Organs Are Connected in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial

Books — Amy J.C. Cuddy, PhD

The Emotion Code Book | Discover Healing