Embodied Healing

Knitted acupressure garments for alleviating emotional struggles

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Until the summer of 2020, I thought I was only my mind and I never entirely questioned this misconception. Through the experience of a body memory resurfacing, I came to understand the intrinsic wisdom of the body for the first time. This was the beginning of The Healing Imprint, a project whose goal is to develop therapeutic garments, which activate this embodied knowledge in order to become aware of trauma, feel it and possibly heal it.

As a consequence of mind–body dualism, Western societies tend to implicitly praise the mind over the body. Science has become the only legitimate source of knowledge and the basis of education. In traditional psychotherapy, physicians and patients solely look at the misperformance of the mind. For a successful career path, one needs to be smart and efficient. Gyms are flooded with people taking care of their body while often being first and foremost concerned with their appearance. The body acts as a passive vessel that carries us through life and is often overlooked—at least as long as it functions well. The body has become a tool to perform, display, and function, rather than a source of knowledge and an authentic and valuable voice.

Despite its power as the communicator of our emotions, society does not set us up for recognizing the importance of a strong mind–body connection. To reevaluate the body and undermine this duality it’s necessary to transcend the taken-for-grantedness of the body and to gain understanding of it as a source of knowledge, subjectivity and identity, as well as an active agent in the treatment of trauma.

Massage balls to be inserted into therapeutic garments.
Small massage balls are inserted into the garment in order to stimulate specific acupoints, The Healing Imprint, Laura Deschl. Photo © Laura Deschl

The Healing Imprint has been developed to reunite mind and body in therapeutic processes. It’s a series of therapeutic garments that are designed to support the process of healing trauma, which can be defined as a life event that has exceeded the individual’s capabilities to cope. This being said, what counts as trauma is highly individual. What it has in common for all affected people are the long-lasting adverse consequences on both body and mind. Trauma can be considered the underlying factor of many mental illnesses. However, Western medicine’s spot treatment rarely examines the individual carefully enough to see beyond the diagnosis on paper. In this context, the body has an enormously overlooked potential for the treatment of mental disorders.

The project explores the therapeutic potential of combining knitted acupressure garments and a yoga-based embodied movement practice for emotional healing. Acupressure is the noninvasive derivative of acupuncture. Originating in Traditional Chinese Medicine, its benefit for mental health is to bring up buried emotions in the body. The textile has been designed with a grid through which small massage balls can be moved flexibly to any acupoint on the body. The garments’ aesthetic is similar to active or leisurewear, with merino wool giving it both a look and a feeling of comfort. A full set includes a bodysuit, gloves, socks and a pillow to not only stimulate acupoints on the body, but also on hands, feet and the head.

Detail of the design of a therapeutic garment.
Textile exploration with meridian pattern and embroidery, The Healing Imprint, Laura Deschl. Photo © Laura Deschl

Trauma commonly undermines one’s sense of self, as it disrupts the connection with our body and emotions. Many people with histories of trauma and emotional neglect experience their minds separate from their bodies due to a deep divide between the sense of self and sensory experiences. The goal of this project is to help patients learn about being in and with their bodies and thus bring them closer to their sense of self.

Both the nature of trauma and the Western medical system tends to perpetuate a disconnection from the body, often leaving traumatic underlying issues undetected. As a consequence of the persisting mind–body dualism, cognition, rationality, effectiveness and science tend to be glorified and considered superior to embodied ways of knowing. In contemporary times, all knowledge that is beyond rational reasoning tends to be dismissed as esotericism. This stigmatizes any knowledge based on a felt sense, subjective experiences, intuition and spirituality, which causes mistrust in many alternative healing practices.

The Healing Imprint is a direct textile interface for an individual to access embodied wisdom and self-awareness, and at the same time it  represents how design can merge diverse disciplines such as science, business, medicine, psychiatry and textile making to provide an approach that overcomes the division between the body and the brain. With an aesthetic embracing fashion and well-being cultures, the garment seeks to destigmatize the realm of mental health and the traces of trauma left on the body.

Main image: The garment´s efficiency can be heightened by practicing specific acuyoga asanas, The Healing Imprint, Laura Deschl. Photo © Iris Rijskamp


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