According to sources, body memory is speculation that the body itself is capable of storing and recording memories in addition to the brain’s function. These memories are emotional, kinesthetic and chemical in nature and are stored away at the cellular level of the body. Although studies suggest some storage of memories on a cellular level, this still needs to be backed up by concrete evidence. However, cross-disciplinary research on body memory indicates evidence which does not entirely negate the presence of body memory. This thereby provides merit and helps disciplinary people to understand how recreating those emotional, kinesthetic and chemical states can help one to retrieve a particular body memory. The body is perceptive in such a way that even before it communicates through gestures or speech, it creates a feeling of being with the experience. Thus, body memory is also known as habit-body (Riva, 2018).
The body memory has not found to be on the conscious level. Preferably, something more automatic, called the implicit memory wherein the dispositions of perception and behaviour mediate through the body. This memory is formed when the person ‘does’ something, thus what it does perseveres as a style of existence and not an explicit memory. It is involved in remembering by and through the body rather than something about the body. In such a case, the body not only becomes a source of perception or experience but also one of communication. To communicate, the body needs to store it to consequently retrieve it; hence, becoming the storehouse of the memory for those experiences as well. When understood as a process not limited to the physical body but extending to the internal system, it becomes a sensorimotor and interactive field one conducts self in.
Here, it is also essential to understand that body memory encapsulates the visible or touchable body. It also involves the capacity of the body to see, touch and sense the experiences to develop a totality of it. These experiences do not stand out individually in the memory; instead, they are superimposed on the other. However, with the superimposition and repetition of the collective experience, an individual forms a habit which is governed as implicit bodily knowledge and skill (Fuchs, 2011).
Body memories are classified in many types, but for an easier understanding, the following given by Peter Levine (2015) can be considered:
Learned motor actions: These are action patterns which are learnt through repetition, can be modified and are aided by higher brain regions such as a person playing the piano
Emergency responses: These are instinctual behaviours such as fight, flight, freeze
Attraction or repulsion: Body’s inclination towards nurturing and growth encouraging sources and aversion towards harm
Researchers say the distinction between these memories may not be that essential as all of them can be derived through different bodily dimensions. When individuals experience situations where their fight, flight or freeze mode may get activated, and the body feels such an intense event; it rarely forgets the feeling. In such cases, individuals may become hypersensitive or insensitive to any danger. They may remain on guard to protect themselves. This unfinished need to defend oneself may get trapped in the body and mind, waiting to be triggered. It can show up as restless shaking of legs, backaches/lower back pains, unannounced and frequent headaches, anxious thoughts or clenched jaws.
Phantom pain is another exciting example of how the body may have a memory. Phantom pain occurs when an individual has an amputated arm or leg but continues to feel the pain in that limb. Sometimes these individuals think that the amputated limb is still a part of their body. They continue to feel sensations like itching or prickling in those areas. In contrast, others report that the missing limb still feels the weather changes. Phantom pain can also occur in the body even when one does not have an amputated limb. This manifests in various parts of the body without any real cause (Farkas, n.d.). People mention headaches or pain in backs, which feel very real to them but do not have any biological reasons. Louise Hay talks about this in her book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’, which shows in many ways how anxiety, depression and traumatic memories can get stored in the body.
Perhaps the reason why memories are connected so intricately with the body is that the part of the brain responsible for storing sensory information is also in part related to keeping emotional memories. For example, a whiff of the pizza smell can trigger the memory of that one time a person went out for a pizza with their friend. An experiment done on rats also indicated that the sensory cortices are responsible for memories related to senses coupled with personal information. This was done by conditioning rats to associate a sound with an electric shock. One group of rats called the experimental group received a lesion on their cortex.
In contrast, the other group (control group) did not receive any lesions in the same area. After being exposed to the sounds again, the rats from the experimental froze much less than their mates in the control group, showing the link between memory and fear (Rettner, 2010). Thus, some event affecting the senses but not being stored in the brain may make the body more alert to the stimuli and respond accordingly.
Since body memories are somatic in nature, a touch on a particular body area of an individual may evoke specific memories. These memories are charged on high emotional intensity and surface in a more ‘state dependant’ fashion. This means when the memory is prompted by an external stimulus mainly triggered through sensory-based memory recall (like touch, smell or noise) or physiological arousal (like high heart rate) and physical postures, an individual may experience some memories resurfacing (Muscolinov, n.d.). A massage called rolfing massage is also used to release memories lodged in the muscles and tissues. Individuals undergoing this are informed beforehand that they may feel some emotional release through the procedure. Some chiropractors also mention an emotional release experienced by their clients after the session(s). In psychotherapy, somatic sharing is used to liberate the person from the bodily presence of distressing emotions, among other techniques.
Some wild animals also display emotional discharge from their bodies after an intense experience, like how a deer escaping from the mouth of a cheetah goes through consequent shivers and shudders after the event (Larry, 2013). This has been understood as an evolutionary response to rid the body of trauma. Indeed it may take it time for humans as well to focus a bit more on the body and see the multiple ways in which it tries to communicate.
Farkas, T. (n.d.). Your Body Has Its Own Memory. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/depressionhelp/2018/11/your-body-has-its-own-memory.html
Fuchs, T. (2011). Body Memory and the Unconscious. 86–103.
Larry. (2013). Body Memory . http://www.larrysroadmap.com/memory/body-memory/
Muscolinov, J. (n.d.). Where Does Somatic Memory in the Body Reside? Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://learnmuscles.com/blog/2018/02/17/where-does-somatic-memory-in-the-body-reside/
Levine, P. (2015). Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Working with Traumatic Memory
Rettner, R. (2010). Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed . Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/8426-brain-link-sounds-smells-memory-revealed.html
Riva, G. (2018). The neuroscience of body memory: From the self through the space to the others. Cortex, 104(June), 241–260. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.07.013