By Johnnie, Hedier-Kuhn, CH

Tension is a force active in many aspects of our lives, yet when it becomes chronic in our emotional field and throughout the body it can usurp our ability to thrive.


Tension is an underlying pattern with various ailments (hypertension, pain, stress, insomnia, anxiety, and other mood imbalances). Many of us have experienced a tension headache during times of stress, or perhaps strained interpersonal relationships within family or workplace environments. Tension often exists between classes, racial groups, or between mainstream and fringe populations – not to mention the tensions we see around politics. In this way, tension can be seen as a catalyst for changes to policy and civil rights.


Without tension, the motors in our cars would not function, music would cease to exist; there would be no orgasm or ejaculation from which human life continues. The fascia and other connective tissues require tension to hold our bodies together, and without tension our digestive tract would lose its ability to process nutrients and wastes.


So do things like stress, anxiety, and insomnia cause tension in the body, or does excess tension cause those symptoms? It seems like the answer is both – we see a psychosomatic link between constraint in the mind and constraint in the body and its effects on one’s’ ability to sleep, cope with stress, or communicate compassionately with others.


Tension in the musculoskeletal system is a “hypertonic” state. This might show up as clenching muscles around the neck, jaw, back, or in areas where a cold injury has occurred. Physiologically, muscle tension is regulated and maintained by calcium and magnesium ions. Tension in the nervous system might show up as anxiety, bracing, defensiveness, or anger/aggression.


Reducing tensions in body and mind can therefore allow one to get to the root cause of an exaggerated stress response. In order to reduce tension, we must look at a combination of Vitalist practices, nutritional support, and herbal allies.


Magnesium depletion encourages hypertonic states in the body because its actions oppose and balance those of calcium. Not to mention its role in ATP (cellular energy) production in the body, which is needed (in part) for muscle cells to contract and relax. Magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, and it can be supplemented inexpensively.


In terms of herbal allies, consider two herbs that are particularly effective at reducing tension in the musculoskeletal system. Wood Betony (Stachys betonica), and California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) are well indicated with the presence of tension headaches, hypertonic muscles, and insomnia. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are two herbs that shine during times of anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations, and insomnia.


Our healing strategies would not be complete without focusing on staying hydrated, receiving acupuncture, body work such as massage or reiki, meditation and mindfulness practices, plus spending time in Nature.


By using a combination of healing modalities, we can start to reduce excess tension, soothe intense emotions, cope with stress better, digest food well, enrich our relationships, and affirm our own power as intelligent, compassionate, and creative humans.



  1. Hall, John E. “Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology” 13th Ed.
  2. Hoffmann, David. “An Herbal Guide to Stress Relief”



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John Whiteman
John Whiteman