I don't actually like massages that much. I've only gotten them a handful of times, but I always felt like I couldn't relax enough to actually enjoy the experience. Every time the therapist lifts her hands and replaces them on my back, I flinch. And occasionally, she'll hit a tender spot and a lump will form in my throat.
According to Bill Reddy, a licensed acupuncturist and director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium, this isn't an uncommon experience. In fact, plenty of women actually cry during massage or acupuncture. "There's a belief that when you have an emotional or traumatic experience, that you hold those unresolved emotions in your fascia, connective tissue that surrounds your muscles and organs," he explains. He uses the example of a car crash: "Let's say you're sitting at a red light at a busy intersection, and you see that a car is going to hit you. You can't drive forward because cars are crossing the intersection, so you freeze physically. And your car gets struck." The panic you felt at that moment gets "stored" in your fascia like muscle memory.
"So when you undergo something that taps into the fascia—deep tissue massage or acupuncture—you release that trauma that's held in your tissue, and that's why you might cry for seemingly no reason," Reddy says. (It can happen during yoga too.)
There are even some therapies that try to take advantage of the body's ability to trap emotions and memories in certain areas. SomatoEmotional Release, for example, combines bodywork with talk therapy. (Still not as strange as the bite massage.)
If it happens to you, you can certainly talk to your acupuncturist or massage therapist about what's going on and try to take note of what areas of the body seem most likely to trigger a response. But you can also just ride it out. Even if you don't know exactly what memory is bringing up the emotions, Reddy says the experience is typically beneficial—it means you're releasing negative feelings that have been trapped inside you, sometimes for years. As Reddy says, "Clearing something out means you're on your way to healing." (Curious to know more? Here's 8 Alternative Mental Health Therapies—Explained.)