Interview with Denise LaBarre, Author of “Issues in Your Tissues”


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When I discovered Denise LaBarre’s book “Issues in Your Tissues,” it struck me immediately as exactly the bodywork book I’d been looking for. Through keenly observed stories of her own work with clients, Denise delves into the body-mind-emotion connection and then provides practical, easy-to-implement ideas for how to strengthen that connection and come home to the body. Denise was kind enough to sit down with me for a lively and in-depth conversation about her work and her book.

You have a fascinating and lengthy history with bodywork. What brought you to write “Issues in Your Tissues”?

Well, I’m a writer and words are my medium. And I noticed I was saying the same things to clients regardless of their age, education, even their level of health and fitness. Everyone who wound up on my table needed to open their breath. Everyone had lost at least partial connection with the wisdom in their bodies, and I realized I wanted to reach a broader audience than I could reach with just my hands through individual work.

Did you find that when you would talk to people about these things that there was a range of reactions in terms of how ready people were to hear it? What was your general experience with that?

There’s a huge range of their readiness, and what’s neat about working with individuals is that I can feel their body, I can feel their breath. I can watch and steer what I say to their receptivity. And I can get them physically breathing so there’s this huge opening to a different kind of receptivity. Our right brain receptivity is vast, but most of the time we’re in that logical, reasoning place that wants logical answers, and healing is not in the logical place.

What’s your conception of the mind-body-emotion-spirit connection, and how did it inform the writing of your book?

We talk a lot  about the mind-body connection but I haven’t seen a lot of places where people add emotions in, and it was one of the things I wanted to do with my work and the book. Because our entire society is geared toward being rational, being productive. We don’t breathe, we don’t feel. This is changing, but emotion is that link to all of that richness, and it’s socialized out of us so early.

So talking about emotion is important, and even more important is getting people comfortable feeling their anger, their sadness, their grief. When we’re able to experience our emotions we can move on from them rather than lugging them around as baggage.

So do you think that not feeling the emotions directly is what causes them to get stuck in our tissues?

Yeah, absolutely. If you feel something that makes you angry, it’s often felt as heat–just a pure energy running through you. If you allow the energy to run through you, it takes a couple of seconds, if that.

The resistance starts early. If you’re taught to constrict the way you naturally feel and experience emotion, as an adult you can be restricted on, say, the anger wavelength or the sadness wavelength.

It’s mainly part of the mind, then, this training that we get? It’s trained into the mind?

I think for example if a little kid is being bullied or abused in some way, especially if it’s coming from a parent or someone they love, there are conflicting emotions. They can become like a glob that’s too big to digest so it just all gets stuffed down. And it’s true that that’s too big a thing to digest for a little kid, but as an adult, that glob is somehow still in there and is added to over the years.

In the book you share many stories of clients you’ve worked with and how their outlook affects their physical bodies. How do our thinking patterns relate to our emotions and the way they’re stored in the body?

Well, imagine a little boy who’s told that if a person feels sadness he’s not a real man, or if he cries he’s not a real man. This little boy will have feelings of sadness or loss or tenderness or joy but he can’t express them, so there’s conflict and he makes a choice.

The energy gets stifled. It gets literally held, and it accumulates. Sometimes you can see someone who’s maybe been angry for a long time and they take up kickboxing or something similar, and some of that energy gets expelled in the course of movement. Or in yoga you can see people getting into certain poses where energy starts flowing, and a release occurs. The energy just needs to be allowed to flow.

And it’s a beautiful experience when it can, and when you feel that release. It’s amazing.

Yeah, and it’s a funny thing: when you’re in that state of releasing there’s no judgment, there’s no, “This is good or bad.” It just is. And it can be intense but it’s often a mixture of pain and joy and all of it. It’s just being.

You write, “One of life’s challenges is to recognize and relearn your own inner language, and to follow your body’s whisperings to improve your health.” How have we disconnected from this inner language, and what’s the first step we can take toward re-establishing that connection?

We disconnected early, and it’s a gradual process along the way. Most people are not completely disconnected. They’re disconnected in some ways but not others, perhaps. There are some people who can laugh really well but may not be able to cry easily.

The first step to re-establishing the connection is to notice that you feel out of sync or out of balance. You might feel something’s missing and reach out in curiosity to see what that might be. The vehicle that I know works is breath. If you have this feeling that something is missing or there’s an intuitive knowing that you could be a lot more joyful or relaxed, it can manifest in really tangible ways, like your skin erupting, or pressure.

That’s your body saying, “You need to reset.” It’s easier to notice these things before they erupt. To re-establish that connection, notice what’s going on. Ask yourself and listen to your body, listen to the aches or pains, feel the tension between the shoulders and start by going inside with breath. Notice what’s going on below your neck. It’s a tuning inward rather than tuning outward, which happens in meditation, and happens in any of the practices that bring us inward.

In one of the stories you share, you advise a client to give himself permission to do the things he feels drawn to do, which some people might see as something they can’t afford to try. How and why is it important to give ourselves permission to follow our internal compass?

First I would ask someone to challenge the assumption that they can’t afford to try, if that’s their assumption. If you’re asking the question, “How can I afford to relax?” that question right there is a good indication that you need to relax.

It’s important to give ourselves permission to follow our inner compass because that’s our most reliable guide in this life. We can see how our minds play tricks on us. They’re always trying to maneuver and position us according to what’s going on outside, according to what seems important to our survival. The mind wants to maintain control. Our internal compass doesn’t lie, and I think we know that.

The mind is steering us toward that tribal fitting in that you were talking about earlier.

The tribal fitting in is there for a reason; we do need to be able to work together. And as adults you come back around full circle to realizing that socialization has its place but you need to re-gather, reconnect with that compass and that internal knowing, and as you do so that’s when you come to wholeness.

At one point in the book you write, “Emotional pain and physical pain are part of the same continuum.” Could you elaborate on that for us?

Pain is an interpretation of a sensation or an awareness, whether it’s physical or emotional. The physical body and the emotional body are vibrations and manifestations on the same continuum. Thought becomes an emotion, which becomes physical.

So the continuum is almost like sediment falling out of a solution. The energy is fluid and we experience it in the human body as a flow. It’s almost as if you sprinkle a thought into a cup of water, it’s the particle that settles down through the fluid of our emotions into the bottom of the glass, which is our physical body.

I was very interested in the way you wrote about surrender in the book. Could you speak to the role surrender plays in healing?

First I’d like to clarify that by surrender I mean letting go, not dropping all your defenses and giving up. When we clench, nothing else can happen. As long as your fists are closed, they’re not open to receive.

Surrender is allowing what is in you, what you are, to come forward and express itself. And if you’re not judging it, not clamping it down, then it is what it is. It’s not that there’s no pain but there’s no residue, no backlash. It just moves through. Healing is an allowing, which is a surrender.

Also, the mind has to surrender, because it’s the mind that wants to control things and is trying to keep you safe. And the best way I know to unlearn that is to practice. Feel some chunk of emotion that has felt scary, perhaps with help from a healer or an advocate, and realize that you won’t die. It’s like something that has to pass through your system–it’s better out.

It sounds like what you’re saying is that in order to do that, we need to feel safe.

Absolutely. Safety is the primary thing that needs to be established when I’m doing private sessions. And a lot of us didn’t have safe boundaries held for us when we were children, and a lot of times society doesn’t hold safe boundaries for us. Trusting your own internal compass is something that ideally you develop in childhood, and if you didn’t develop that trust then, it’s part of your work as an adult in order to come to wholeness.

Yeah, beautiful. So is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

This process of coming to wholeness is a journey. You can’t know where you’re going to go until you’ve taken a few steps. Trust is one of the biggest components of this journey and it develops as you go. It’s like developing your muscles as you walk. And I think if you set your compass on trust and be gentle with yourself, that’s a good start.

And, of course, physically, take a breath.

I do recommend my book, and that people buy or download the book and start reading. Start with laughing at the cartoons, start with play. Play is an important component in all of our work here as humans, and adults as a whole definitely don’t play as much they could.

Find Denise online at Healing Catalyst, on Facebook, and on Twitter.


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