Dissolving the Layers of Emotional Body Armor

Dissolving the Layers of Emotional Body Armor

The human body and mind, medicine, psychology, spirituality and the paranormal have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I spent many nights sitting up in peyote meetings during my late adolescence while living among the Kiowa tribe in Southwestern Oklahoma and went on to apprentice with Horace Daukei, one of their last surviving traditional doctors. I was completely engrossed in the training I was undergoing, and yet I always wanted to learn more. It was during my apprenticeship with Horace that I began to read Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich and numerous others.

Wilhelm Reich initially studied under Sigmund Freud, who he viewed as a father figure. Reich later broke with Freud in his thirties feeling that he stayed too much in the mind and that psychoanalytic theory didn’t take the body into account. Reich was also frustrated with the slow pace of psychoanalysis, noting how it could go on for years without effecting healing of the deep emotional wounds.

Reich came up with the term character armor which he defined as a bodily expression of the conflict of our basic human needs, desires and authentic feelings with the unnatural attitudes and conditioning imposed upon us. Armoring forms when we hold back or repress our natural expression to conform to the expectations of family and society and by doing so it shapes our character. Armoring is a way of protecting ourselves from the pain of not expressing those parts of ourselves that society says we may not express.

Character defenses that we develop throughout our lives, usually start forming before we can even think or speak. Character armor forms in response to our attempt to cope with or adapt to our life situations with parents, caregivers and early schooling. Character armor, also referred to as emotional body armor, also forms in response to chronically stressful and traumatic events and contains the memories and emotions associated with these events. Our habitual demeanor, stance and attitude also becomes a part of our character armor. Depending on the combination of how our life unfolds and our individual temperament, our defensive structures either serve us by becoming more adaptive or they becomes problematic.

Emotional body armor manifests in the body as the habitual contraction of certain sets of muscles which then function as a unit. Armoring also occurs within the organs and tissues in various parts of the body.

Reich used a combination of breath and intensive body work to free up the contractions within specific muscle groups and to increase the flow of life force in the body. He used his thumbs and the palms of his hands to apply pressure to the jaw, neck, chest, back, thighs and other parts of the bodies of his patients to dissolve muscular armor. His intent was to gain access to and facilitate the release of the memories and emotions pertaining to past stressful and traumatic experiences that had resulted in body armoring.

In Reich’s model, the seven segments of emotional body armor are the ocular, oral, cervical, thoracic, diaphragmatic, abdominal and pelvic. The ocular segment pertains to sight, hearing and smell. It includes the eyes, eyelids, forehead and the deep muscles at the base of the occiput. The oral segment includes muscles controlling the chin, throat as well as those around the mouth. The cervical segment is comprised of the deep muscles of the neck such as the sternocleidomastoids and the tongue. The emotional functioning of armoring in the neck involves the holding back of anger and grief. A closing up of the throat takes place whenever we repress our true thoughts and feelings. The thoracic section contains the heart and lungs. The armoring resulting from anxiety held within this part of our body creates the constriction in our lungs that causes many of us to breathe shallowly. The diaphragmatic segment includes the diaphragm, solar plexus, the stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, kidneys and muscles along the lower thoracic vertebrae. The abdominal segment includes the large abdominal muscles along with the latissimus dorsi and sacrospinalis in the lower back. The pelvic segment includes all muscles of the pelvis and lower limbs.

Reich was in many respects a visionary and pioneer. He was the first to incorporate the body into psychology. His work centered around reuniting the body and mind. He believed that the split between the body and mind causes us to destroy each other and our planet.

As one psychoanalyst friend said, “Some of Reich’s theories were brilliant, but his life was a shit show.” There was a great deal of scandal and controversy surrounding Reich. He overemphasized sex and sexuality, had numerous affairs with his patients, acted out in ways that are characteristic of someone who was sexually abused as a child and was somewhat delusional in the later part of his life.

Contrary to popular thinking, it’s not enough to just free the emotions trapped within the body. There’s often a craziness about people who break down or remove much of the body armor and open the pathways of life force that have not done the deep emotional processing necessary to facilitate the healing of their deep emotional wounds. Most do not have access to the powerful forces or possess the gifts of healing that Native Americans and other indigenous people’s that heal and transform these wounded parts of the self.

No discussion of emotional body armor would be complete without the mention of Wilhelm Reich. However, I do feel somewhat ambiguous about including him in this chapter because of the extent of his dysfunction and out of my concern that it may detract from the more important message I have to convey.

I have barely touched on Reich’s work. He did groundbreaking work in mapping out the way emotions are stored within the body. Rolfing, Alexander technique and other forms of body work are modeled after Reich’s teaching. I would encourage anyone interested in knowing more about character armor to explore what he has to offer and take that what you find that is of value.

Neck, shoulders and upper back

My neck, shoulders and upper back seemed to always be holding tremendous amounts of tension. I was getting deep tissue body work twice a month and often got relief by having friends use their elbows to press down into the muscles connecting my neck and shoulders and those between my shoulder blades. The body work would give me short term relief, but the tension would invariably return within a day or two.

I started breathing deeply while focusing all my awareness on the painful constriction that I was experiencing in my neck, upper back and shoulders while riding into New York City on a commuter train one afternoon. I felt as though I had a layer of armor about an inch-thick spread out across my neck, shoulders and upper back. Feelings associated with the struggles I have gone through began to surface. I could feel as though I had been in survival mode for the longest time, trying to the best of my ability to hold it together.

Breathing with my awareness focused on the tension held within in my neck, shoulders and upper back and any subsequent emotional content that surfaced began the process of dissolving the layers of emotional body armor. I made the tension in this part of my body the main point of focus in my daily meditation practice for the next six months.

My massage therapist was astounded by the difference she found in my neck, shoulders and upper back after six months of meditative practice with my attention focused on the areas of constriction. She said to me during the middle of the session “What did you do here? I normally have to spend an hour or more working on this part of your body. And then after all that hard work, the tension you’re holding causes your muscles to contract and then it all goes back to where it was. This time we were able to do the work in only fifteen minutes. Everything is holding in place, so now we have all this additional time for the other parts of your body that we normally don’t have time for.”

Healing old injuries

The coach in charge of my seventh-grade physical education class had us doing leg presses using a crude piece of weight lifting equipment that would have been more appropriate for high school and college football players. I felt a lot of pain and could hardly breathe when a vertebra slipped out of place during class while I was using the equipment. I never told anyone about the incident until many years later.

I did a number of exchanges with other alternative healthcare practitioners years ago when I was first starting out in my practice. An osteopathic physician told me that the vertebrae that had slipped out of place was twisted around. Some of the chiropractors who worked with me commented on how the injured section in the middle of my back seemed to be frozen. They were using as much force as they felt they safely could to adjust the vertebrae in the middle of my back, but they would stop at a certain point out of fear of injuring me.

I could feel the area around the twisted vertebrae tensing up when I started doing consistent meditation practice. I became acutely aware of a layer of armor that had formed around the old injury as I continued to breathe into the discomfort. And for some months thereafter I would focus my attention while meditating on the sensations I felt within and around the vertebrae that was out of alignment and the surrounding plate of armor.

Before long, the tension held within my middle back began to release. The vertebrae in the middle of my back would sometimes spontaneously adjust themselves as I leaned back or twisted to the side to stretch. The release I got from those adjustments felt so good.

With continued practice, I could feel the layers of armor dissolving in my middle back. Initially, it felt as though cracks were forming in the armor. After some time, I could feel some kind of gooey gelatinous stagnation emerging from those dissolving layers of armor. I could feel this old putrid emotional content surfacing that had been trapped within those hardened layers of armor for many years.

I was surprised to find that all of the stagnant content held within those layers of armor had cleared out one afternoon when I sat down to do practice after having returned from a vision quest, a traditional Native American healing practice that involves going out to fast alone in the mountains for four days and nights without food and water. The presence working within me during the vision quest to facilitate my healing had, much to my surprise, done the cleanup.

When the release of emotions causes parts of our bodies to contract

I make a daily practice of breathing into any feelings or sensations that arise in response to the interactions I have with other people or circumstances that are having an impact on me. I can sometimes feel unprocessed emotions and other stresses being held within my abdomen moving to my back. I have often felt the muscles throughout my back and other parts of my body tightening up whenever I sit down to breathe into the feelings and sensations that I’m experiencing within my body. I get similar feedback from many of the people that I have taught this practice to. Many people tell me that they can feel the stresses migrating to and then causing their neck and shoulders, throat, jaw and other parts of their bodies to tighten up. These stresses may also get stuck momentarily in their limbs as they’re attempting to work their way out of the body.

The tension that I feel within my neck, shoulders, upper back and other armored parts of my body will in many instances intensify as I breathe while focusing my attention on them. It often feels as though the muscles in my back have become swollen or inflamed after I continue to focus on them for some time.

The tensing up that I experience within my body can feel especially uncomfortable for some time afterwards. But I can feel the muscles in my back softening and becoming much more relaxed after a few hours or the by next day as the tension works itself out. The musculature in these areas becomes progressively softer and more pliable as I have continued to work with this practice over time.

Tension held within the visceral organs

Emotions have a powerful effect on our cognitive state as well as our physiology. Emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, frustration and resentment cause our bodies to tense up. Fear can accelerate our heart rate, tighten our throat and cause our stomach to churn.

Much of the emotion and stress that we fail to process remain trapped within the abdomen. People suffering from digestive disorders often experience tightness and tension within the intestines. Many of the people that show up in my classes and that work with me individually describe the tension they feel within their abdomen when I have them do the meditative practices I’m teaching and when I work with them on the table.

The practices I’m teaching help to dissolve tension held within the abdomen. The presence working through me during the individual healing sessions dissolves the layers of armor at an accelerated pace. This healing presence then transmutes the stagnant emotional content that had been held therein so that it can be digested and integrated as a functional aspect of the self. Physical toxins are also released from the body. The internal organs become softer, developing a more fluid quality and have a greater sense of aliveness about them, and therefore are able to function better.

What causes our bodies to become so densely armored?

Most of us are not all that conscious of our emotional states. We may know that we’re stressed out, and yet we’re not all that cognizant of what we’re actually feeling. And if we’re even aware of our feelings at all, we usually only experience them at a very superficial level. Most of us have never learned to work constructively with our emotions. Emotions that we are not able to feel and process will remain trapped within our bodies indefinitely.

Highly pressurized work environments that place overwhelming demands upon us can leave us feeling stressed out. Relationships and interactions with coworkers, superiors and people in our social and personal lives who subject us to verbal, emotional, psychological and physical abuse and sexual harassment elicit a wide range of unpleasant emotions and bodily sensations. All of those unprocessed emotions and other stresses go into creating armor.

The emotional states we experience when we feel the need to control other people or situations creates a lot of tension within our bodies. The struggle to survive that we go through when we’re in a difficult financial situation also causes our bodies to tense up.

We can easily become very desensitized or go numb when we’re subjected to ongoing stress. Parts of our consciousness start shutting down and then all that emotion remains trapped within our bodies. These stressful emotions cause a tensing up within our bodies. Parts of our bodies become armored when tensing up becomes a habitual pattern.

Why is it that the tension keeps going to certain parts of my body?

People have on many occasions asked me why the same parts of their bodies keep tensing up. We find ourselves facing many of the same challenges in our lives, dealing with many of the same kinds of issues and experiencing the many of the same emotions. The emotions and stresses that we’re unable to process tend to accumulate in the same parts of our bodies. I feel my neck, shoulders and back repeatedly tighten up when I’m under a lot of stress. Others tell me how they feel the stress going to their abdomen when they become upset. Emotional distress can for those suffering with colitis, irritable bowel and other digestive issues precipitate a flareup.

I have had different parts of my body tense up as a result of the various forms of intensive practices I do on a daily basis and from working my way down through the layers of my own woundedness. I have also experienced a wide range of acute mini healing crises after many of the vision quests that I have gone through.

Resistance to feeling

Many people have spent the majority of their lives disconnecting from their feelings, physical bodies and the realities of their everyday lives. And that accounts for much of the resistance people have when it comes to experiencing their own feelings. You have to truly experience your feelings for the armor to dissolve.

I recently asked a woman I’ve known for some time who is wound up way too tight why she stopped doing deep tissue body work. She then told me that she felt it wasn’t doing her any good. What she failed to understand is that she was holding onto incredible amounts of tension because she wasn’t dealing with all the anger, fear and other buried emotions that were causing so much constriction within her body. The emotions, memories and thought processes held within the body need to be brought into conscious awareness and then go through a digestive process, otherwise the muscle groups will only go back into contraction.

Most people find it difficult to free themselves of emotional body armor because they have become so accustomed to suppressing their feelings. And that’s why it’s so critically important for you to be working with the practice of breathing into your feelings and bodily sensations. Consistent practice will also make your body far more responsive to any therapeutic modalities you chose to work with.

There have been times when I wasn’t experiencing anywhere near the transformation I could have as a result of the vision quests because I wasn’t doing the consistent practice that would have facilitated the deep level processing needed to dissolve the layers of emotional body armor. The presence working to facilitate my healing while I was on the mountain couldn’t do as much to assist me because parts of my body — mind were so densely armored. I finally realized that I needed to let down my resistance to the emotions that I found so uncomfortable. I also needed to be making a consistent practice of breathing into any feelings and sensations that arose within me on a daily basis. And by working consistently with these practices, my body — mind developed the fluidity that made me far more responsive to the powerful forces working to effect healing on my behalf.

How long should I be doing this practice?

I have been working with the variations of the meditative practices that I have developed for many years now. I make a concerted effort to spend at least an hour a day breathing into any feelings and sensations that I experience within my body. In many instances I breathe softly and deeply while focusing my attention on the feelings or physical sensations that arise in response to my interactions with other people, my current set of life circumstances or the issues concerning me. Working consistently with these practices mitigates the stresses of everyday life. It also helps me to function more effectively in a wider range of circumstances.

I will often focus on the feelings and sensations that I experience within specific regions of the body such as the heart or abdomen. At other times I focus on the tension or the layers of armoring that I experience in parts of the body such as my neck, shoulders and upper back. I get much more powerful results when I can remain present with the feelings and bodily sensations for extended periods of time. I have in some instances sat while focusing on the feelings and bodily sensations for up to three, four and even more hours.

An hour of daily practice may seem like a huge commitment of time. That hour or more of consistent daily practice mitigates so much of the wear and tear of daily life. My body is more relaxed and I experience deeper and more restful sleep. I find myself becoming more effective in all that I do, therefore I get a lot more done.

Daily practice for dissolve emotional body armor

All of us are holding significant amounts of armoring in our bodies. Emotions that arise in response to the issues concerning us, our Interactions with other people and the circumstances of our daily lives that we find stressful that we are not able to process remain trapped within our bodies. Sadness, anger, grief and other specific emotions and the stresses resulting from work, relationships tend to situate themselves within certain organs or parts of the body. The armoring that forms within our bodies restricts our range of motion while decreasing the circulation of blood, oxygen and life force to specific parts of our bodies.

It is important for you to make a conscientious effort to sense those areas of your body where you feel tight or restricted. If you’re like most people, you’re holding tension within your neck and shoulders. The armoring resulting from anxiety held within the chest cavity creates the constriction in the lungs that causes you to breathe shallowly. Tension held within the abdomen can impede your digestion. Tightening in the pelvis can create a lack of sensation and sensitivity in the genitals. And that can have an adverse impact upon sexual function, possibly causing you to lose interest in sex. You may at times notice tension around your eyes and mouth. Tension held within the jaw may cause you to grind your teeth while you’re asleep. You may also discover that you’re holding tension in your arms, calves, thighs, buttocks and other areas of the body.

There are three basic steps to follow in doing meditative practice to dissolve the layers of emotional body armor. Start by finding a quiet place where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes and then allow yourself to become aware of the full range of feeling and sensation within your body.

 

  • Breathe softly and deeply while focusing your attention on any areas within your body where you feel tension. Center your awareness within these areas of tension. To the best of your ability, you want to feel as though you are breathing from the middle of those areas of tension.

 

  • The tension you’re experiencing in certain parts of your body may initially intensify. The tension may dissipate as you breathe into it or sometime later in the day or overnight. You will feel these parts of your body soften and becoming more relaxed as that happens.

 

  • Emotional content stored in these areas of armoring may begin to surface. Breathe softly and deeply while immersing your awareness within any conflicted emotions and stresses related to work, family, your love life and other areas of concern that surface. The feelings and bodily sensations you experience will go through a series of changes. Feelings and sensation may become more diffuse or intensify or move to other parts of your body. Other feelings and sensations will often emerge. Continue to follow any feelings or any sensations that arise as they go through their progression.

 

Preventing the buildup of emotional body armor

Breathing into your feelings and bodily sensations initiates a much deeper level of body — mind processing. This deep level processing is what’s needed to diffuse and then digest so much of the stresses of daily life and your own emotional responses to the issues and events that are having an impact upon you. Dissolving and then digesting these stresses before they can build up helps to prevent the formation of emotional body armor.

Digesting your internal response to stressful life experiences will not completely stop the formation of emotional body armor. But it will keep your body in a more fluid and relaxed state. Be sure to make use of the various therapeutic interventions to help you break down and dissolve the armoring that you are not able to do completely process on your own.

The importance of combining your practice with therapeutic interventions

Any time there is armoring in the body, there is a numbing, deadening, distortion of and disconnect from parts of our consciousness. We’re not all that cognizant of the emotions and corresponding thought processes that operate outside of our conscious waking awareness. These areas of numbing cloud and distort our vision and create blind spots that prevent us clearly sensing and perceiving ourselves, others and the world we live in.

Meditative practices such as those that I’m teaching are a crucially important part of the process of dissolving the layers of emotional body armor. Focusing our awareness on these armored parts of our bodies while breathing softly and deeply into any feelings or physical sensations that we experience gives us an opportunity to awaken, heal and then integrate these aspect of ourselves that exist in a numbed or deadened state. We also need to be making use of various therapeutic interventions to facilitate those aspects of the healing process that we cannot fully do on our own.

We may have difficulty accessing some areas of armoring within the body because of the desensitization that has occurred. Therapeutic interventions such as deep tissue body work, acupuncture and the work we do with gifted healers or the vision quest will enable us to reconnect with the parts of ourselves that we have lost touch with. Once these emotions are brought to the surface, we can more readily do the work necessary to process them.

The emotions and stresses that we fail to process remain trapped within our bodies indefinitely. Deep tissue body work helps to break down the dense layers of armor held within the neck, shoulders, back and other parts of our bodies. Deep tissue body work also helps to release the stressful emotions that remain trapped within that causes parts of our bodies to become so densely armored.

Gifted healers such as myself act as a conduit in that we allow other forces or beings to work through us to facilitate healing within the body – mind that would not otherwise be possible. This healing presence breaks down the dense layers of emotional body armor. The stagnant and charged emotional content that emerges is then transmuted so that it can be digested and integrated as a functional aspect of the self.

Therapeutic interventions help to make the emotions held within our bodies more accessible so that we can work constructively with them. My emotions have a more fluid and visceral quality after I receive deep tissue body work. I have on many occasions experienced all kinds of convoluted emotional content emerging that I had not previously been able to access that had been stored within my body after I’ve had the opportunity to work with a gifted healer. I make a concerted effort to breathe into the emotional content that surfaces while it is still more accessible.

My mentor Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian Tribe, passed on portions his own healing gifts to me. He would then have me go out alone into the mountains to fast for four days and nights without food and water. The vision quest is the most powerful of all the healing interventions I have experienced. Parts of the process feel like a near death experience as the memories of past traumas and other impactful events, many of which I had completely forgotten, begin to cycle rapidly through my awareness. In many instances I will experience the emotions associated with these events more powerfully than I did at the time they occurred. While all this is happening, I can feel another presence working within me to transmute the suffering I had internalized and create new models that facilitate healthier expression.

My body – mind is in a wide-open state after going through the vision quest. Breathing into all the feelings and sensations that I experience during and after the vision quest facilitates an even more powerful transformation. Taking the time to do additional meditative practice keeps the healing process initiated by the vision quest going for much longer.

Waves of emotion

We spend much of our lives attempting to manage our anxiety by keeping it under control. We often shut down or run away when anxiety and other unsettling emotions make their way to the surface. We need to teach ourselves to remain ever more present to any feelings or bodily sensations that arise. And by doing so we will increase our tolerance for anxiety and all of the other feelings that we’ve tried so hard to push out of our awareness.

Anxiety is the basis for much of the contraction held within our bodies. Bringing that anxiety to the forefront of my awareness gives me the opportunity to do the deep level processing that releases the areas of constriction within my body. I have on many occasions experienced waves of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, loss, loneliness, emptiness, a sense of disconnection and of being lost as I go through the process of dissolving successive layers of emotional body armor.

People have asked me on numerous occasions why would anyone want these feelings to surface. I respond by telling them that we want to be bringing these feelings to surface, otherwise we’re going to be holding them within our bodies indefinitely. Charged emotions, when held within operate from the subconscious mind. Conflicted thoughts and fearful, anxious, angry and painful feelings held outside of our conscious awareness act as powerful sets of drivers that are the underlying basis of our addictions. They cause us to attract and be attracted to unhealthy partners and to stay in destructive relationships. And they perpetuate numerous other dysfunctional holding patterns.

Stagnant emotional content trapped on the inside also accelerates the aging process by causing our bodies to break down at a more rapid pace. Bringing these emotions up so they can be digested and then integrated gives us the opportunity to heal the deep emotional wounds. These wounded parts of us once integrated can then become functional aspects of ourselves. The more we do this practice, the more integrated, present and powerful we become.

Having these feelings surface can feel disconcerting at times. With continued practice, we will develop a much greater tolerance for powerful feelings. Along with that comes a greater appreciation for the fact that we’re experiencing an expanded range of feeling. Working with our feelings in this way increases our intellectual and emotional range along with our overall awareness. It also increases our capacity to be active and engaged participants in life.

Reconnecting and then staying connected to what matters most

One of the unfortunate consequences of not being all that conscious of our feelings and our physical bodies is that we tend to lose touch with the authentic core residing deep within. We’re more likely to get caught up in the dramas and distractions of everyday life. And when that happens we can easily get sidetracked and then lose touch with our greater purpose.

The armoring resulting from the emotions and other stresses we fail to process restricts the natural flow of emotion and the movement of life force throughout our bodies. We may experience this as a lack of sensation, aliveness, a stiffness or tension. Not only does armoring restrict the body. It also stifles so much of our creativity and the expression of our authentic selves. Over time it causes a deadening of consciousness.

Much of the practice I do on a daily basis is done with the intent of stripping down successive layers of body armor. I then work to transmute and then digest any subsequent memories and emotional content that surfaces. And in the process of doing so I’m able to build a much stronger and healthier foundation. I’m working to facilitate the same kind of transformative process in everyone I work with.

Breaking down and dissolving the layers of emotional body armor allows the blood, oxygen and life force to flow more freely throughout your body. Releasing this constriction will give you greater flexibility thereby increasing your overall physical range of motion.

Dissolving the layers of emotional body armor is a very freeing process. Your emotions will flow more readily and thought processes becomes more flexible and expansive. Religious, cultural and familial baggage picked up along the way loses much of its grip as it becomes more transparent. The holding patterns that have kept you stuck and limited your range of motion lose much of their power over you. And you will more easily see through the drama of everyday life.

Working consistently with the practices I’m sharing with you to dissolve the layers of emotional body armor will help you to reconnect with your feelings and physical body. You will become more fully present in your body in a way that will make it easier for you to embrace life. An inner warmth will begin to emerge and your capacity to love and be loved will grow stronger. You will become more spontaneous in your words and actions. You will find yourself seeing, feeling and becoming so much more aware of what’s going on in and around you as your sensory range continues to expand. Your deeper instinctual nature will also grow stronger. And with that comes a vast wealth of additional insight and understanding.

It’s through your feelings and physical body that you will gain access to the authentic core that resides deep with. Deepening this connection to your inner being makes it possible for you to stay connected to what matters most.

©Copyright 2018 Ben Oofana. All Rights Reserved. This content may be copied in full, with copyright, creation and contact information intact, without specific permission.

Ben Oofana is a healer who began his training with Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian tribe. Call (913) 927-4281 to learn more or to schedule an individual session.

A very big thank you to Ken Flett for allowing me to use Armour as the image for this blog post: Be sure to check out Ken’s Website where you can see more of his work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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