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A play on organs: visceral manipulation, emotions & the body

by Aviva Cohen, guest blogger (happybodyworks@gmail.com)

What are emotions?

From a Visceral Manipulation perspective, emotions are organs.

When you feel something that touches you deeply, you call it visceral. When you feel something with your body, you call it a gut reaction. When somebody has courage, you say they have heart. Our language has evolved with this awareness in it. When we feel, we activate our organs.

emotions-organsHow does this work? Briefly, the emotional part of our brain sends chemical messages through the nervous system to our organs, which the organs record in their cells. The organs, in turn, through the autonomic feed-back loop, send messages back.

The brain is always checking in with each system and cell in the body. In a sense the brain is going, “Hi, how are you? Are you good? Do you need anything? Can I send you some reinforcements?”

The organ goes, “Oh no I’m great, thank you.” Then the brain says, “Oh well, in that case, I’m dealing with a lot of emotion up here. I’m worried I’m going to be blitzed and have to shut down. I wouldn’t want to do that because my person is driving, and we could crash. I’m just going to discharge some of the extra emotion on to you. That’ll help me a lot. Thanks.”

The organ goes, “No prob, Boss! All in a day’s work.”

Our brain has its favourites. The thalamus in our brain, our emotional center, picks and chooses which organ it will send which overwhelming emotion to with utmost specificity, making each organ king, or queen, of a certain emotional domain.matisse

The interesting thing is, once the organ has been bathed enough in a certain emotion — when it’s been pickled, you could say — the organ will start to send that same message back.

Brain: “How are we doing spleen?”

Spleen: “Ya, ya. Those thoughts about that painful incident that happened when you were 4, still working on it Boss. Here’s another hit. Oh wait, let’s go get brother liver involved. He never forgets a thing. Brother liver?”

Liver: “I’m right here, what can I do for you?”

Spleen: “We need another dose of depression. Do you think you can do that?”

Liver: “I’m right on it! I have the whole file right here, play by play. It’s on it’s way to you, brain.”

So who gets what? Well, we all know a little bit about this. We mostly know that our kidneys will get fear and insecurity. Our liver takes our depression; our existential woes, our questions about existence and our search for definitions. Our stomach takes our social pressures; our need to stomach up for the job.

Sitting quietly behind it, is our spleen, recorder of all our deep seated traumas; the real issues behind our iron stomachs.lichtenstein

Next, our gallbladder: anyone having to organize a party, Thanksgiving or Christmas for the family, probably knows about gallbladder pain — most often felt on the left; it can feel like a heart attack. Or anyone running late for work, and the car won’t start, also knows about attacks of the gallbladder.

Gallbladder, the little pocket, or vial, resting strategically behind the giant liver, stores and releases our bile, the liquid made by the liver that breaks down fats into the digestive tract. Anyone getting in the way of someone planning a party or rushing to get to work knows about bile.

Our pancreas, the organ that releases insulin and helps balance our hormones, that can crave sweets and can make it impossible to say no to that chocolate cake staring you in the face, is a barometer for how much satisfaction we are getting in life, and what our feelings are about mortality, ours and our loved ones.

Our digestive tract. Ah, our mighty gut, which can tell us so much about how we feel in situations – this one actually shuts or opens depending on how we feel about a particular thing. It can cause us to withhold love, or give it in abundance; talk too little, or talk too much.

picassoOur reproductive organs are all about fairness in give and take.

Our bladder is all about control.

Our lungs: the balance between too much and too little. This is the terrain of claustrophobia and agoraphobia; fear of suffocation, and confrontation; fear of being dominated, dominating.

If you think about it, it’s all about the air we have access to, and the panic this can create if we don’t have enough. Are we comfortable under an open sky, are we running away to our cave to protect ourselves and our feeling of lack?

Our heart: I think we are all familiar with this one. The need to be loved; fear of not being loved. Excessive attachment. The need for symbiosis, fear of abandonment. Jealousy, distrust, fear of judgement. The gift of oneself. The need to be flattered and rewarded. Guilt, hatred, too great a pain, too powerful an emotion. Joy. I don’t think there is a person on earth who doesn’t know about heart.

How can Visceral Manipulation help with the pain of emotions?

Visceral Manipulation is a gentle hands-on therapy that enhances fluid exchange between the cells, handing the power over to the organs to re-write the chemical script. What this says essentially is that by treating the body we can treat the mind.

lichtenstein2Too much emotion that the body can’t handle shuts it down. The brain sends whatever excess emotion it deems dangerous to keeping the person alert and functioning — able to fight off tigers or enjoy a great moment — somewhere else. It discharges into the organs.

In any social situation where a person needs to stay responsive, the big boss on top will send emotions (that he plans on processing later) to the great team of organs for storage.

But what happens when one situation follows on another situation, and we don’t have time to delve into our kidneys to release the fear we felt a minute ago; to bring back unpleasant stimuli to release it for good?

Well, the organ gets depleted. Too much depletion, and the organ gets sick.

Brain: “Pancreas how are you doing down there?”

Pancreas: “Not so great boss. Hey Boss, want to send me some more sugar?!”

Brain: “No problem, I’ve got some obsessive thoughts I can send too. And hey Pancreas, here’s some more pain about how much you hate your job. I can’t take it right now, and I think I might get fired if I blow up.”

Pancreas: “Ok Boss, anything for the team.”


How does Visceral Manipulation work with the body to help overworked organs?

By observing the same phenomenon in his patients over and over again in his lung disease Hospital in Grenoble, France, Jean-Pierre Barral was able to observe a pendulum-like rhythmical motion going on in his patients’ organs. “What?” you say. “Our organs are moving?”

Yes they are. And even more far-out, they are re-playing their creation story, on a beat of an 8-second cycle. Our organs keep time and have a rhythm.

What does that mean exactly? When our organs were being made cell-by-cell in utero, as they were being woven piece by piece through the miracle of life, they took a path from the umbilical cord connecting us to our mothers to their eventual configuration in our bodies. Our cells retain this memory and repeat it, doing it and undoing it over and over again 18,000 times a day. All our organs, in unison.

emotionPumping out, flying in, starting again. Like breathing, this is our craniosacral rhythm. Considered as a more primary kind of breathing, the organs expand and retract. An organ swells, the cells take up nutrients, gaining in vitality. The organ excretes, deflates, returning home to its center.

Any interruption in this process will impede the proper functioning of an organ. And not only a particular organ, but all the other organs, pumping and flying with in collective rhythm.

Now what does this have to do with emotion? Well, when our big boss on top discharges emotion onto our organs, guess how he does it? By altering this kind of body music.

So, our emotions discharge into the system of organs. This is a good thing; it keeps us sane, but an organ gets tired, sluggish. Or it gets excited, over-working, borrowing energy from another organ, at an interest rate you just don’t want to know about.

What happens to the 8 beat bar the brain was playing? It becomes a 4 beat bar, or a 16 beat bar. And it goes all funky, out-of-whack, like a swing pulled off kilter. And all the other organs try to improvise along with it, the liver-trombone, and the stomach-double base, the colon-piano, are all out of step, getting bumped into. It’s not nice music any more,  it’s a disharmonious orchestra, tuning its instruments on the fly and on borrowed time.

orchestra-treeThe feeling in the person is dis-harmony, imbalance, dis-ease. And of course, everything looks fine on an X-ray or MRI. Everything is in place. But it’s how it’s moving, what music it’s making, the dialogue going on between the organs and the brain, the musical play, if you will, being performed in the body, that’s the real issue.

Visceral Manipulation can help by offering a hands-on therapy where the practitioner listens and facilitates the re-harmonizing in the orchestra pit, re-energizing all the players, to the thrill and amazement of the brain, the big boss music producer on top.


Information in this article comes from: Barral Institute courses on Visceral Manipulation, offered by the International Association of Healthcare Educators; the book Understanding The Messages Of Your Body, Jean Pierre Barral, North Atlantic Books; and from my own practice of Visceral Manipulation.

Aviva Cohen lives and practices Visceral Manipulation and Cranial Sacral Therapy in Ottawa, Canada. She can be reached at happybodyworks@gmail.com.