Biochemistry and Breathwork: A Close Look at Trauma and its Fertile Ground for Healing

March 21, 2021, Publisher: Monika Reimann

What do emotions have to do with healing? Does it help to just release emotions and feel better after, or is there more to it? And how does breathing exercises help to get free from emotional trauma?
Internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist Dr. Candace Pert was at the forefront of biochemical research exploring the relationship between emotions, feelings, and wellbeing. She spent many years researching how emotion gets held in our body, how trauma can freeze a response that was never completed and imprint itself into cellular memory.

She traced her questions back to neuropeptides, what she called the biochemicals of emotion, and found that these were receptor sites that she found not just in the brain, but all around the body, acting as a network of bi-directional information exchange. 
According to Dr. Pert, 98% of all information and data transfer occurs at these receptor sites, and only 2% (yes, you read it correctly) of information transfer occurs in the brain. Every one of our 60-70 trillion cells is covered with thousands of these receptor sites.
Neuropeptides and their receptors link biology and behaviour. They orchestrate many key bodily processes to ensure the smooth functioning of the organism, its survival, and its evolution. 

Storage of repressed emotions

An overwhelming experience perceived as physically or emotionally threatening can challenge the normal coping mechanism of the body and remain frozen in what we generally refer to as cellular memory. Repressed emotions are stored via something called neuropeptide ligands, which remain held in their receptors.

Imagine this to be like a lock to a door that needs a specific key. Once the key is in the lock, no other key can enter, and the door stays locked. Specific ligands (our imaginative keys) only fit in their respective receptors (our imaginative door locks), hinting to us that certain emotions can only be stored in the area of receptors that they fit into.

The molecules of the repressed emotion remain in cells and organs, held in the neuroreceptors. We perceive this as blocked energy if we pay attention. Over time layers of tension are created, inhibiting our body’s ability to self-heal. In other words, traumas create patterns of misalignment, overuse or depletion on some level, reflecting upon lessons not yet learned. 

How breathwork helps release repressed emotions

Emotions and bodily sensations are intricately intertwined and can be brought to consciousness through breathwork. For that to happen, we do not need to grasp this intellectually. All we need to do is to feel what is arising unconditionally. So simple, yet not so easy, it seems.

Once we allow emotion to be felt from a non-polarized view, free from judgment or meaning, the neuropeptides stored in the cells from a traumatic experience can be metabolized and released from our bodies through breath, sweat, etc. 
If we attach any story or meaning to the felt emotion, the opposite happens. We perpetuate its polarized existence and confirm the beliefs that have held it locked in our system. So, if you feel the emotion, get triggered, and express it, you are releasing the charge, but not the cellular imprinting. If the emotion lingers, you can be sure that you are feeding it energy, and that you are strengthening the habitual response.

Conscious connected breathing for insight and healing 

Becoming aware of this pattern, in itself, is the spark that initiates a healing response. Through conscious connected breathing, we can bring awareness to automated reactions and clear what holds us back, providing a fertile ground for insight.

We can turn our challenges into doorways to transformation. We are hard-wired to thrive, and we are not defined by our circumstances, but by our attitude towards them.