Our 12 body systems and its relation to Craniosacral Therapy. Unblocking the layers of restriction, adhesions, and tension.
The human body is an intricate machine, relying on different systems to function properly and maintain overall health and well-being. Each system performs distinct functions and is also connected and interdependent, working as a team. For example, the endocrine system works with the nervous system to release hormones and maintain homeostasis, while the digestive system works with the circulatory system to deliver digested nutrients to the cells.
The entire organism – body and mind
The mind is always busy analysing and interpreting our experiences and what is happening in the world around us. However, it is within the physical body that all our experiences, emotions, deep-seated fears, unresolved issues, and implicit memories are stored. In this blog we will explore the 12 bodily systems. Gaining insight into the functioning of each system, how it relates to craniosacral therapy (CST) and uncovering how issues might manifest, are crucial aspects for maintaining optimal health and preventing disease.
1. Integumentary system – mainly skin and nails - The gateway to sensation and protection. The skin is our largest and only visible organ. We showcase ourselves to the world through our skin. The skin acts as a barrier between our external and internal world. When we are uncomfortable in our own skin, we try to hide our skin, and ourselves. The skin serves as a protective barrier regulating what comes in and what comes out. The skin has the ability to absorb and exchange moisture, chemicals and energy. It operates as a physical shield, protecting us from falls and impacts. It marks our physical connection to the world and the boundary of us. When our boundaries get crossed, this is the place we experience sensations like itching, scratching, burning, and bruising. The skin is the receptor organ for our pleasure but also our pain. It allows us to touch and be touched.
Themes your skin may be holding:
How much do you show yourself? How much do you let in and how much to you let out? Can you receive? Are you shielding or protecting yourself? How comfortable are you showing yourself?
CST in relation to the skin
The skin, our largest sensory organ, houses 1000’s of nerve receptors that are directly connected to the brain. Through these nerve receptors, the skin relays the information it receives to the brain and the brain reacts accordingly. The skin is an ultra-sensitive information sensor, highly responsive to touch. Skin can be palpitated through assessing its suppleness, elasticity, resistance, and temperature, as well as by palpating the nerve receptors beneath it. This can be done anywhere on the body, such as digestive area, or around the neck and shoulders, giving vital information into its functioning or its connection to various systems. Through the gentle and non-invasive touch of craniosacral therapy, the nerve receptors provide feedback to the brain, facilitating a switch-off response and a whole bodily relaxation response.
2. Skeletal system - Movement - The skeletal system comprises bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints, collectively forming the framework that allows us to move and providing us our foundation, and flexibility, both physically and mentally. It allows us to stand, to move towards or away from something. The skeletal system helps to support the body and to protect the organs inside the body.
Checking in with the bones of your body –In which ways do you require more support in your life? How can you be more flexible in life? Are there areas where you could be less rigid or stubborn? How can you move more forward towards your desires and goals in life?
CST in relation to the skeletal system
In CST we attune ourselves to the subtle movements of the bones. The whole body moves in a certain rhythm, much like the beat of our heart or the rhythm of our breath. Just as tissues, fluids, and organs have their own rhythm, bones too move in a craniosacral motion. We evaluate whether the bones are in extension, flexion, shear or in torsion and if they are in a functional rhythm. Dysfunctions are addressed by tracing the expression of their craniosacral rhythm and allowing them to settle into a state of balanced neutrality. This approach is highly effective in addressing a wide range of issues, from hip problems to jaw to headaches, and concussion.
3. Fascial system– including the muscles, soft tissue – The web of connection.
The fascial and muscular system enables the body to move by contracting and relaxing. Tension and tightness, are often stored here, as muscles and tissues remain contracted over time. Fascia, our soft connective tissue, plays a crucial role in holding the body’s structural integrity. It forms a spiderweb-like matrix of connectivity, permeating our entire body, providing support and stability for muscles and organs. Fascia absorbs our tension and emotions and can hold repressed emotions and trauma through tissue memory. Serving as a mechanism to armour, control, brace, defend and ready for impact. This often results in issues such as back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and jaw pain. This system reflects our mental activities and thought patterns, representing the weight of excessive tension, worry, sadness, anger, and responsibilities.
Take a moment to connect with your muscles and tissues – How tense do you feel right now? How at ease or relaxed are you? What might you be bracing yourself for? Are there any emotions or tensions you are holding onto? Can you find a way to relax more? Can you let go?
CST in relation to fascia
Fascia is filled with nerve receptors that communicate with the nervous system. The best way to release fascia is by slow and gentle pressure, which is the base of craniosacral therapy. For example, when we palpate the occipital base at the back of the head where it meets the neck, we can assess how restricted, adhesive, dense or compact this area is, and which muscles or nerves are compressed, compromising blood flow or oxygen flow. Through slow and precise touch, we allow the area to unwind, muscles to relax, fascia to be released, opening up any restrictions and facilitating normal nerve functioning.
4. Circulatory system – The flow of life force. The circulatory system comprises the heart, blood vessels, arteries, veins, and capillaries. It is responsible for transporting blood, oxygen, nutrients, and hormones, while delivering vital energy throughout the body. The heart beats, pumping blood throughout the body and removing waste products. Blood is life’s essence, circulating, giving, and receiving in a constant flow back to the heart. The heart, our emotional home for our joy, love, passion but also our anxiety and stress. The heart is our first organ to function and our last.
Bring awareness to your heart. Feel the rhythmic beat of your heart. Feel the blood flowing through your body. What message is your heart giving you? Is there a constriction of life force within you? How much joy, connection, vitality, love and life force do you have in life? How can you be more receptive to receive greater love and connection in your life?
CST in relation to the circulatory system
The focal point of craniosacral therapy in relation to the circulatory system revolves around addressing the connective tissues, cranial nerves, and sympathetic ganglia (nerves converging together). Among these components, the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve enters the upper thorax region, the left vagus nerve passes behind the aorta and the heart. The connective tissue enveloping the heart, the pericardium, can be tight and has connections to various other structures such as the diaphragm, T2 and T5 vertebrae, the cranial base, as well as parts of the neck and jaw. Evaluating the symmetry, quality and motion of the vertebral movements, the pulling of the tissues into other areas, identifying any tension or emotional holding there may be restricting flow, and addressing the fascial structures and pathways of the vagus nerve, all contribute to positive outcomes. This allows the whole area to soften, to release adhesions, lowering facilitated (overactive) nerves, calming the sympathetic nervous system, lowering heart rate and increasing heart rate variability.
5. Nervous System – the transmitter of information. The nervous system consists of the central nervous system, housing the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, housing an intricate network of nerves that runs throughout the body. The nervous system transmits electrical signals throughout the body, forming a primary communication network, to make your arm move, your heart to beat or your food to be digested. It transmits information and interprets our sensory information. The nervous system contains the cranial nerves, including the pivotal vagus nerve. Responsible for the fight, flight, and freeze response, the nervous system dictates our interaction with both our internal and external world. The nervous system controls everything from our breathing and heartbeat to our thoughts, and movements. Behind many diseases and dysfunctions lies an imbalanced out of whack nervous system, with significant clinical applications.
Connect with your nervous system. Tune into the sensations of your nerves relaying information from your skin, tissues, organs, and senses. Ask yourself: Am I at ease? Do I feel relaxed? Where do my thoughts reside? How fast are they racing? How wired do I feel? Am I consciously observing, or am I on auto-pilot? How might I unwind and foster a deeper connection with my internal body?
CST and its relation to the nervous system
CST addresses the whole nervous system. “The central nervous system is contained and enclosed within the dural membranes and bathed in cerebrospinal fluid. The healthy and proper function of the CNS is therefore influenced by the balance and integrity of the membrane system and the free flow of Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CST encourages the free and unrestricted mobility of the membranes, the fluent fluctuation of the CSF and the integration of the CNS can therefore play a significant part in restoring and maintaining healthy function of the brain and spinal cord and therefor all the organs, muscles and other structures supplied form the CNS” (Attalee, T – Craniosacral Integration). Therapists work with the brain to discern involved areas, employing manual techniques manually: assessing the cranium, detecting electro-magnetic fields, hyperthermal areas or areas where emotional shock is stored such as in the right parietal lobe and/or resetting the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and serves as our fear centre. The peripheral nervous system comprises the autonomic nervous system and is divided into the’ fight-flight’ sympathetic system (SNS), activating the body to deal with external threats, tasks and emergencies and the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic system (PNS), concerned with digestion and building up resources. Within this system, the parasympathetic vagus nerve emerges bilaterally from the medulla oblongata in the brainstem, playing a crucial role in physical and mental health CST is recommended by leading trauma therapists as it is renowned for its ability to regulate the autonomic nervous system, by assisting the body in shifting from a dominant sympathetic to a parasympathetic state, enabling repair and healing to occur.
6. Respiratory System – The breath of life - The nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs, convey places where the external world meets the internal world through the breath, taking in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Each emotion is mirrored in the nuances of the breath, in its depth, duration, and quality. Panic and stress lead to shallow and rapid breathing. Fear makes you hold your breath, irritation makes you sigh, and sadness can make you gulp. Breathwork is taking the world by storm and it is a powerful medicine. You can to a great degree regulate your own physiology trough different breath techniques.
Direct your awareness to your breathing – feel the rhythm of your breath – feel each inhalation and each exhalation. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and notice your breath. What is the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation? Can you slow down your breathing? Do you trust people? Do you feel emotionally secure? What emotions are you feeling? Are you capable of self-regulating your breath, or do you rely on external influences?
CST and its relation to the respiratory system. “The clinical focus for lungs is on adhesions to pericardium or diaphragm, between the pleural layers, to the ribs or in connective tissues between lobes” (Cranial Intelligence, Summer and Haines) The upper lobes and pleura are associated with the C7 and T1 vertebrae.Techniques address the larynx, trachea and throat by engaging with the structures of the hyoid and layers of fascia. Notably, any tension within the neck fascia and respiratory system can influence the vagus nerve as well.
7. The Digestive system - The absorber - The digestive system is responsible for ingesting, breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating what cannot be digested. The digestive system runs from our mouth to our anus, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and associated organs and glands such as the pancreas, gall bladder, and liver, which aid in digestion. The digestive system is hypersensitive to our emotions, as it contains over 100 million interconnected neurons that maintain a strong link with our brain. This high level of neural connectivity makes it susceptible to psychosomatic (mind-body) reactions, often leading to discomfort such as bloating, tension, upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea. The digestive system plays a significant role in how we receive, process, and release emotions, how in flow we are with life, and how we engage with the emotions we receive from our environment. Digestive issues frequently manifest as physical reflections of underlying emotional states, such as anxiety, difficulty coping, challenges in processing emotions, and emotional holding. Anxiety particularly impacts the digestive tract, while shock and trauma may affect the pancreas, and emotions like anger can influence the liver and gall bladder.
Place your hands on your digestive organs – how does your gut feel? Can you sense any tightness, looseness, fullness or hardness? Is your gut receiving signals of anxious thoughts, stress, worry, or frustration? What emotions, feeling of injustice, anxieties, or past pains are you struggling to let go off? What is it that you need to release? What aspect of your life do you need to digest or assimilate more fully? Now, imagine that you shrink down to a miniature version of yourself and are placed inside your gut - what would you see, feel, and perceive? What sensations and insights would you gain? What messages would your gut like to communicate to you?
CST and the Digestive system. The digestive organs both have a motility ((inner breathing and movement created by the organ itself), and mobility (how the organ moves in relation to other structures). Organs rotate internally and externally around a certain axis and have a fluid-like quality. CS therapists palpate to assess the motility and mobility of organs, as well as their fascial connections. All organs are encapsulated by connective tissue such as membranes and ligaments. In good health these tissues move unrestricted and as they are attached to other bodily structures such as the diaphragm and spine, a restriction can have widespread effects. CS therapists listen to the tissues and their inherent motions, releasing restrictions, addressing fulcrums, and enhancing movement. As this system is directly related to the nervous system, therapists also evaluate sympathetic activation and address the associated sympathetic plexi and sympathetic chains, which can involve releasing somatic emotions.
8&9 - Excretory – purification and release. Reproductive – giver of life.
The excretory system filters out and eliminates waste products and toxins from the body. It includes organs such as the lungs, kidneys, bladder, liver and large intestine. The reproductive system contains the ovaries, uterus, wombs, and testes.
Put your hands and hold your awareness on any of these organs that resonate with you: What you are wanting to let go of? What and who do you need to eliminate from your life? What is no longer servicing you in your life? What do you want to let go off? What do you want to create? Organs often have hold deep emotional issues. What issues or emotions could be you holding in these organs? Can you let go of any anger (liver), grief (lungs) or fear( kidney)?
CST and its relation to the systems
Treating organs in CST is treating the autonomic nervous system function of the organ and surrounding fascia. With all organs below the ribs, the health of the breathing diaphragm plays an important role as well. For instance, the liver is enervated by the nerves of thoracic vertebrae’s T7 toT10 and the Vagus Nerve. By palpating the liver, we can assess its motility and mobility and any adhesions in the fascia around the liver, known as the peritoneum and for the kidneys assessing and treating the renal fascia. Large intestine through the motility, fascia, the valves and any adhesions, blockages and restrictions. The vagus nerve plays a big role in most organs as it carries 75% of the cranial parasympathetic function. The vagus nerve is a sensory network, telling the brain what’s going on in the digestive tract, in the lungs, heart, spleen, liver, and kidneys.
10. Endocrine System –The messenger. The endocrine systems consists of the pituitary gland, pineal gland, hypothalamus, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovary, testes, and pancreas. The endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones and sending messages throughout the body to regulate various bodily functions. Hormones produced by the endocrine system regulate everything from growth and development to metabolism and reproduction. For example, an adrenaline surge provides us with a rapid boost of energy.
Checking in with your endocrine system: What message would you like to send to your body, creating the right hormones? Where in your life would you like to experience more growth, manifestation and creation? Can you regulate your emotional life and consequently, your chemical messages more effectively? Are you constantly in a fight-or-flight mode, producing hormones that reflect that state or am you at ease and at rest?
CST and its relation to the endocrine system
The Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA-axis) is a physiological pathway that plays a significant role in our stress response. Many essential neurotransmitters are disrupted if this pathway is disturbed. The hypothalamus, which regulates emotional behaviours, hunger, thirst, hormonal balance and production, pleasure, sleep, body temperature and endorphins also controls a big part in our SNS – Fight-flight and PNS – rest and digest responses. When the hypothalamus perceives a stressor, it sends a signal to the pituitary gland, which then activates the adrenals to release adrenaline and cortisol. As stress or trauma increases, disruptions in sleep, appetite, happiness and motivation can occur. In severe cases, a freeze response might be triggered as a last-ditch attempt. You may start to develop 7 different symptoms but the cause is a disturbed Hypothalamus, which controls most of the physiological processes. This can lead to anxiety disorders, insomnia, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD, borderline personality, ADHD, Chronic Fatigue syndrome, or depression. In CST we address the HPA-axis by palpating the hypothalamus, placing the hands over that area of the brain, evaluating the rhythm, symmetry, quality and motion and balance out this brain structure.
The pituitary gland lies in the sphenoid bone of the cranium. We contact and influence this area by contacting the greater wings of the sphenoid, releasing any restrictions or asymmetrical movements that may impact the pituitary gland. The adrenals glands situated just above the kidneys, are mainly innervated by spinal nerves originating from T10-L1. Here palpation of the spinal nerves can help lower their firing range, achieve a state of balance and releasing tight surrounding fascia.
11&12 Immune –The defender and protector. Lymphatic -flow and cleansing.
The immune system is responsible for recognising and protecting the body from foreign and harmful invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. It is made up of a network of cells, tissues, glands (like the thymus), and organs such as the spleen, that work together to identify and destroy any foreign substances, keeping you healthy. The lymphatic system removes excess tissue fluids and produces immune and antibody cells to destroy bacteria. Stress and emotions influence the effectiveness of the body’s defence against infections. Chronic stress is known to weaken the immune system. Breakdown can also happen with prolonged grief, depression, overwhelm, repressed feelings, inner conflict, pressure, and loneliness. Lymphs can start to break down when one feels unsupported, unloved and rejected. In cases of auto-immune diseases the body turns against itself due to an excessive activation response against a perceived internal antigen (stressor). The immune system gets called up for action even when there is no actual bacteria or virus to fight. This disruption in communication can cause the immune system to mistakenly perceive the body’s own healthy cells as foreign entities, and will turn on itself and attack these healthy cells.
Checking in with your immune stress response. What is the relationship between your internal and external world? How do you differentiate between what is harmful and harmless? How in your life do you need to protect yourself more? How do you define the boundaries between your true self and what is not you? Do you have healthy boundaries? Do you give your power away? Can you say no to others? Are you capable of meeting your own needs? Can you drop within and focus on yourself? What elements in your external environment are you over actively protecting yourself from with allergies or what are you over actively protecting yourself from, within? How do you respond to different emotional states? What fundamental lesson might your immune system be attempting to convey through its present state of health and function?
CST and its relation to the Immune and Lymph System
The nervous system and the immune system engage in a continuous and reciprocal communication. Proper and healthy signalling is critical in maintaining the delicate balance between health and disease. When stress is perceived, and a response is triggered by the central nervous system, it sends signals to the pituitary and adrenal glands which in turn influence the effectiveness of the immune system. In CST we work with the central nervous system, releasing tension, modulating nerve firing and balancing brain structures. CST is known to induce deep states of calm and relaxation throughout the whole body, indirectly supporting the immune system's ability to function optimally. Craniosacral therapy balances the autonomic nervous system, which plays a crucial role in regulating immune responses. By enhancing the parasympathetic -rest and digest- response, and lowering the sympathetic -fight-flight - response, CST is effective in boosting the immune system, mapping inflammation and targeting tissues associated with the immune system.
Putting it all together
Ideally, the body should be treated holistically. Treating body parts as isolated, separate systems with a narrow focus, is limiting. Each system interacts and communicates with every other system. Therefore, it is very useful to work with the different body parts together, as symptom often arise when it has lost its relationship to the whole and has become separate and disconnected. Healing can occur on many levels: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Engaging in a body practice like CST, clients can go through many different stages and layers, it is not a magical one-off treatment, but rather a practice and a process. Like any effective therapy, healing, or relationship, it can take time to discover, change and transform. Over the years, I have treated hundreds of clients, each with their own unique health issues and symptoms but often with common denominators, similar overlapping patterns, and underlying emotional and mental struggles, manifesting as symptoms. Symptoms serves as messages from the body trying to tell us something, often sent in the language of pain, sensations, images, or mental and emotional discomfort. Stress, thoughts and feelings contribute to the breakdown of one or more systems. There is always an emotional association with the physical component of pain, illness, disease, and suffering.
References and highly recommended books for in-depth reading of the what's and how's of Craniosacral Therapy
Healing takes effort. Healing requires change. Healing takes time.
Are you living with a chronic disorder or symptom, are you living with pain, do you have 7 different symptoms, are you living with a nervous system and brain that is out of whack? There is unfortunately no magical chemical pill or magical thinking that will make it all disappear. Healing is non-linear. It is a twisting path, it can be 2 steps forward and one back, or 1 forward and 2 back. There can be a relapse, which is usually a good indicator of your triggers, but ultimately it is about the intervals between the symptoms getting longer, it is about change, connecting the dots, growth, resilience and making better choices.
The most FAQ I get is: how many sessions do I need? There are a hundred different answers to that question. Over the years I have learned to say: You will look back in 6 months’ time, and realise how far you have come, but it does require effort, change and time. If I can’t help, I refer on and sometimes a team of practitioners surround the one client. It takes a village to raise a child and sometimes it takes a village to heal a person. Some people come for a few sessions, some for 6 months and some for years.
Four fundamentals why chronic conditions built up over time:
So why does it take time to heal?
The above mentioned 4 fundamentals, change the brain and change our nervous system. You can have 7 different symptoms - digestive, hormonal, anxiety, lower back pain, teeth grinding, food intolerances, sleeping problems and go to the Dr for every symptom, taking a different pill for every ill but if you have a hypothalamus – the master controller of the body - that is out of whack, if you have a limbic system (the unconscious part of our brain) that registers fear all the time, if you have a brainstem that is continuously in fight or flight – it changes the physical landscape of your brain, it changes the way its functions and as our autonomic nervous system is tightly connected to the state of our brain, our nervous system is in a constant state of overload, highly sympathetically aroused, agitated and unable to come into homeostatic balance and be in a safe state. And this might all feel and be normal to you, as it your baseline. This takes time to address.
On the flip side - the shadow side of any kind of healing is that we may want to shift, change and heal but there can also be a strong part in us, that wants to maintain the status quo, that is afraid of change, that wants to keep things as they are, that part that wants to protect us and thinks it is keeping us safe by doing so. This applies in particular when it comes to big ticket items like work, relationships, family and identity. Something needs to change but the risk, payoff or uncertainty is too unknown, feels too unsafe, we know who we are, where we are, so we keep the status quo and work on everything else around it but the fulcrum….…..….That takes time.
How can CST help? What is healing?
Craniosacral addresses the soft tissue, fascia of the body for pain, releasing, melting and unwinding the fascia by changing the nerve receptors in the tissues. There are billions of sensory receptors in our tissues providing direct feedback to the brain. When the brain registers it can let go, tissues soften, melt, open and release the structures that is has been holding: joints, vertrebrae’s, bones, jaw. So good for chronic conditions like frozen shoulders, TMJ, neck and back problems, headaches and migraines but also concussion and whiplash.
The Central Nervous system – brain and spinal cord - drives every single symptom in the body. Craniosacral therapy addresses the central nervous system in an incremental way, allowing the nerve receptor in the fascia to go below their level of switching off, addressing the brainstem – the medulla, pons and midbrain and the different nerve nuclei that live here, it addresses the limbic system, the hypothalamus, the prefrontal cortex, the liquid system in our body, all hands on and in doing so changing the physiology in the body. It also allows the brain to go into deep delta or theta brainwaves, where the subconscious can become conscious and where magic can happen.
Tissues can also have what is known as - tissue memory, where experiences are held and stored in the body, known as a fulcrum or energy cyst in CST (physically felt as a localised area of increased entropy). When this fulcrum remains unresolved, the body has to compensate around it, body, mind and spirit. It can feed back into our nerves, our spinal cord, creating an interference that disrupts us physiologically, creating new pathways and compensatory patterns and it can disrupt us emotionally and mentally. The tissues, this fulcrum can contain an imprint of a memory, of sounds, smells, feelings and of the emotional response we had i.e. anger, fear, where fear may have become our default pattern.
CST can facilitate somatic-emotional release – releasing trapped, stored and imprinted emotions and memories from the body, from the tissues. Our tissues and cells can retain the memory of experienced trauma – known as tissue memory or implicit memory – that operates unconsciously, not something we can think of – that creates a charge in the body, a trigger, a symptom, sometimes this soma-emotional release can be accompanied by dialoguing with the body, where our awareness can become embodied. CST connects you back to your body, to your inner wisdom and out of your head.
My clients often hear me say – your thinking mind is only 5% of who you are, the brain receives up to ten billion pieces of information per second – all this information gets stored and put in order by our brainstem, and much like a relay station, only lets through what is deemed as important for survival - yet how much time do you spend in your thinking mind – best thing you can do is to get out of it and spend time in the 95% of who you truly are.
CST can create these deep ongoing experiences, where you can get to know yourself on a deeper level, creating an embodied awareness and transformative change of thought patterns, behaviours and feelings. Craniosacral is subtle, but its precise listening touch, locating where the body is struggling, where the body hugs the lesion, belies its power.
Putting it all together:
When we have an occasional headache, we take a pill and the headaches disappears, this is what we are accustomed to. Quick pill, quick fix. And we might think we can apply this when anxiety, stress or more chronic, symptoms/diseases start to pop. I was guilty of this myself, and thought surely this trauma that I have, will have blown over by the end of next month……
After 12 years of healing and self-development, I am a much more whole person and version of myself and I am still on the path. My healing has for the most part been in craniosacral therapy, as one of my teachers so adeptly said- CST is a little bit of science and a little bit of magic. As part of my village I also attend other complimentary modalities, from kinesiology to breathwork, homeopathy to retreats.
Although the fast and furious is hopefully behind me and I can remain healthy and in calmer waters, we are fluid beings and encounter new things every day. For me it is a life time purpose, dedication and service.
All I know is, that all my healing is something that no nurofen, valium, or any chemical pill could ever do, give, sustain or heal. Sometimes we have to go deep.
The greatest teacher: Life
Diploma - Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy Switzerland – Teacher Friedrich Wolf - Sutherland Model
Upledger – SER 1 Australia – Teacher Erin Riley
Horizontal Fascia – Rings of Layers of Tension, Shock, Unexpressed emotions and Trauma. Releasing through Craniosacral Therapy
All structures in the body are connected with each other through our fascia (connective tissue), either vertically or horizontally. Fascia covers our bones, organs, blood and lymph vessels and muscles, like an interactive spider web. Diaphragms are horizontal fascial layers, acting like an armour of muscles, tissue’s and tendons in key area's where different important anatomical structures and openings go through and with psycho emotional implications.
Diaphragms can mirror and interplay the state of each other in the tension of the fascia, which has an effect on the chemical, physiological, energetic, communication and exchange processes that take place in the fascia and can have deep effects when we work with diaphragms and adjust something (Summer & Haines - Cranial Intelligence).
The pelvic diaphragm is an area where people can store a lot of tension and deep patterns of life experiences, being a sensitive and personal area. There may have been traumatic experiences, abuse, inappropriate touch, looks, words, surgery or childbirth complications. Often tension related to fight and flight lies here and the emotions of fear, anxiety, protection, terror or panic. As craniosacral therapist we listen for the quality, symmetry and motion of the various parts in this area. We can feel for tightness, tension, restriction, rotations, pulls and twists, or lack of movement of the fascia, pelvic bones and joints. We can feel frozen states, we can feel if a charge is being held here, through the coccygeal ganglion of the sympathetic nervous system, working with any underlying tension patterns or emotions. As the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest relaxation state) emerges from our Sacrum (S2,3,4) through the sacral nerves, suppling the lower large intestines, reproduction organs and elimination, it is a great hold to bring calm, balance and homeostasis to the organs, tissues and muscles in this area enhancing their function and the parasympathetic nervous system overall.
The breathing diaphragm is seen as the most important horizontal tissue layer in the body. This diaphragm is intimately linked to our ability to breathe deeply and to breathe functionally. Breath work has taken the world by storm in the last few years and it is easy to see why. Highly recommend! The breathing diaphragm is a super powerful place in function, size and location. When there is a restriction in this area, it will have a knock-on effect to the rest of the body and breathing affects how we use this diaphragm. The breathing diaphragm plays a role in most health conditions from anxiety to insomnia to digestive disorders, to high blood pressure and pain.
The anatomical solar plexus is an essential part of our sympathetic nervous system, playing an important role in the functioning of our stomach, kidneys, liver and adrenal glands, as it prepares the body to respond to stress by making changes in its physiology and oa produce a fight or flight response.
Restrictions here can be of a physical nature, leading to a reduction in its ability to move well, affecting the exchange of air and therefore cell metabolism but also movement of abdominal venous blood, liver function, digestive processes and movement of the spinal column. (Cranial Intelligence 2010, G. Summer and S.Haines).
Restrictions can be of a psycho-emotional element. Stress and trauma can be held in the diaphragm affecting the breathing mechanism. The volume of our breath, impacts our ability to feel emotionally. There is a huge interplay between our emotions, our nervous system and our breath. When emotions are involved our breathing changes, we all have experienced shallow rapid breaths or holding our breath when stressed, in fear or in shock. Unexpressed feelings can lead to restricted breathing, in order to not feel the pain. As the saying goes: When we stop breathing, we stop feeling and a lot of people restrict their breathing as a result. On an emotional level, stuck or unexpressed emotions, like grief, mourning, longing, fear, rage, anger affects the volume of the breath and our capacity to breathe deeply, as it affects our ability to flex the rib cage and expand the lungs. When this area can move freely and the lungs can expand freely and fully, it increases oxygen levels in the body, it activates the internal organs in the abdomen, enhances digestion, lung and heart movement, it increases energy levels and overall well-being. The lungs need to be able to expand not only up and out but also horizontally.
As craniosacral therapist we listen for the quality, symmetry and motion of the various parts in this area. We can feel for tightness and tension in the diaphragm and sympathetic hyper arousal in the solar plexus. We can assess the motility of the liver and the humming and the buzz of the adrenals. So many people breathe incorrectly, affecting their nervous system and the nerve output of the organs lying here. When breathing is shallow, compartmentalised, or restricted on one side, we try and address that and I personally incorporate functional breathing exercises. It is a great hold to bring calm, balance and homeostasis to the sympathetic outflow of nerves in the thoracic region bringing releases, softening and reorganisation of the organs and nervous system.
It is an area where the oesophagus, trachea, jugular vein and the almighty vagus nerve enters as it leaves the base of the skull and enters into the upper thorax, as well as an outlet for the carotid arteries and sympathetic nerve supply exiting from the thorax and passing up into the head (Attlee, Cranio-sacral Integration). Nothing is in isolation and this area has an intricate relationship with the jaw, the cranial base, the spine and the upper chest.
The thoracic inlet is an emotional and stress centre where we can get cut of, tense and process our emotional responses. Deep emotional factors can come into play like hurt, fear, rage, anger, resentment, love, hate and in particular our ability and permission to authentically express ourselves through our voice. Maybe we were cut off when we grew up, maybe we were not allowed to express our emotions, maybe we never spoke up, always meeting someone else’s needs. All the intensity and charge of our swallowed words, anger and unspoken emotions can lie here.
Chronic stress, tension and trauma can lead to disturbances like: chronic sore throats, tension in vocal cords, voice changes, neck tension, structural imbalance between head and chest, jaw problems, shoulder problems, heart palpitations, asthma and anxiety. As craniosacral therapists we listen for all the things described in above diaphragms, in addition here to allowing for the emotional expression, softening the whole area, open up the voice, the throat, the vagus nerve providing a deep sense of relaxation, releasing deep chronic fascial restrictions.
The Sub Occipital Region – Foramen Magnum - Cranial base
Clinical implications can lead to oa. headaches, jaw problems, teeth grinding, vertigo, ear problems, eye problems, vascular and neurological problems like trigeminal neuralgia and migraines. This area is super rich in significant structures passing through from the brain to the body and the body to the brain: arteries, cranial nerves related to upper shoulder muscles and neck muscles, the vagus nerve, regulating our parasympathetic relaxation – rest and digest state and organs and the superior cervical sympathetic ganglia. Here we release the sub occipital area, through compression, decompression and fascial release. This area is a great portal into the PNS and can have a profound influence on many structures inclusive of the heart, lungs and digestion system.
The Tentorium Cerebelli
The Tentorium is a fascial layer inside the head, attaching several cranium bones together and is a space where the brainstem lies (our survival brain, always on the lookout for danger, to keep us safe). As therapists, we can feel for tissue vibrations, pulsations, swirls twists or pulls in the tissues, in the attached cranial bones and address clinical implications like concussion, whiplash, sinus problems, migraines but also agitation, anxiety or emotional turmoil on a central nervous system level. Chronic fear, stress or trauma will affect the tentorium cerebelli, creating headaches, tightness in the head and occipital lobe, tension around the ear (can play a part in tinnitus) and is affected in fight and flight activation.
Putting it all together
The physical body holds all our tension, imprints and stories. When we hold tension, we contract our muscles and our fascia. This is a biological protective response. It is a way of bracing ourselves against feelings, emotions, tension and stress. But what may have been adaptive appropriate responses at some point can become maladaptive when chronic. The protective response will start to impact our well-being, and can lead to muscle spasm, decreased motility, postural misalignment, lock and store any trauma in the body and the body will have a hard time coming back into balance, into homeostasis.
Diaphragms form an important part in any craniosacral evaluation and treatment, as we evaluate the whole system and it being a portal into the deep fascial layers. The whole body is connected from top till toe in fascia, every pattern or symptom, can get reflected to other structures through the fascia. We do not only treat local, where symptoms may be present, as it may not reflect the pattern that is being carried through the body. For instance, if you have an injury in your foot, the pattern can be reflected through the whole system to the knees, pelvis and perhaps even upward.
We treat the psycho-emotional elements that play a role, as the body holds and maintains our stories and imprints. In craniosacral we release fascial tension and as physical structures and tissue releases, often emotional blockages are cleared simultaneously. Tension and stress lodges deeply and you have to go deeply to heal and release it, melting and releasing frozen or overwhelmed parts. Tissue Release can happen on several levels. As a client you may feel: Pulsations, heat release, stream of current or electricity going through, unwinding, digestive rumbling, a twitch, a tremor or having tears without exactly knowing why.
We have to go past the rational analytical thinking mind, past the protective muscular layers and enter deeply into the fascial layers, often with the lightest touch as Fascia is rich with proprioceptors. Releasing, stress, trauma, physical implications of tissue tension and emotional blockages, layer by layer, can have profound effects on your health and wellbeing.
Physical symptoms can often be the result of mental or emotional distress, due to suppressed or unexpressed emotions like anger, fear, quilt, shame, loyalty, grief, unworthiness, anxiety and any beliefs that we may hold about ourselves, that attribute to our emotions.
This is known as somatisation, where the body somatises the emotional component of what has been going on for them. One of the strengths of Craniosacral therapy (CST) is releasing these trapped emotions through biodynamic emotional trauma release or also known as somatoemotional release. Here we allow any emotions to be expressed, to be felt, and complemented through verbal dialoguing, movement or sound (expressing the voice) as a natural way to release any stored life events, experiences and trauma’s from the bodily tissues. This is often experienced as liberating, freeing, deeply insightful and life changing.
CST addresses any kind of standalone acute physical symptoms and also addresses any physical symptoms that may have an emotional root at the core of their condition. Almost everything that we experience in life enters into our body through our connective tissue (fascia): physical stress, emotional stress or any force coming into the body will cause our tissue to react and contract. For instance, when we have an accident or a fall, not only the physical impact of that force but also the emotional effect like anger, pain, anxiety or fright, can enter into our tissue’s, depending on the strength of the impact and our capacity to deal with it at the time. Fascia is capable of retaining the memory of an injury or trauma, known as tissue memory. For example, if we see a cyclist coming towards us at full speed and we cannot jump back in time, then not only the physical force released by the collision of our body against the cyclist but also the emotional power of fear or anger will enter into our fascia. If this remains unresolved, it can be walled off and stored within the body, causing pain. Also, of equal importance, if we endured a physical impact during a particular emotional or anxious time in our life, that impact may be aggravated by the emotional tension that we already carried within us at the time. This can particularly be valid for people that seem to be slow in recovery, do not properly heal or experience a change in emotional behaviour on top of their pain. Often the reason this happens is due to the unresolved emotional tension and emotional charge, that they are still (subconsciously) carrying in their body.
CST also addresses any kind of mental or emotional condition that has a traumatic or emotional root at the core of the condition. When we experience an adverse life experience or trauma (and most of us, do), the body has the capability to repress it from our consciousness and into our body. This often happens as a protective survival mechanism, as perhaps it was too painful or we did not have the resources or capacity to really understand what was going on and act accordingly. An intelligent innate response from the body, as a defence mechanism, is to shut it down and hid it away in the body. We can often remain driven by these emotional patterns and beliefs patterns, without being fully aware of it (see addiction blog).
We can also hide things in our body and out of our conscious awareness, when we don’t want feel or deal with our emotions. CST has been at the root of healing many of my own physical and emotional conditions. One emergency operation left me leaving the intensive care unit minus one organ. I healed the scar tissue with CST but also the pain and the underlying emotion of anger. I was unaware I held that anger and that it was the anger that caused the pain to continue. When that anger boiled to the surface during a session, my therapist gently asked – what lies underneath that anger? My subconscious mind blurred: “the knife of the surgeon without my consent”. And just like that, it disappeared.
Weird? No not at all! I experience it all the time with my clients. Some clients are well versed in mind-body therapies and happily go down the road of inquisitive dialoguing during the treatment, be it for physical pain or emotional pain. Some clients purely come for physical pain and are often surprised when a memory or an emotion comes up, seemingly out of nowhere, that has been lying beneath the surface and out of their awareness for years, but often with great significance and in relation to their condition.
A client came to see me for headaches. During intake she expressed that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. She had been in talk therapy for a while, had made good progress and heard that Craniosacral could assist with her headaches and also release residual emotional elements of her trauma.
In Cranio we really learn to listen to the body through our hands, through the rich proprioceptors in our fingers. We can feel where the body is struggling or where it may be frozen, restricted, out of balance, in a holding pattern or open and flowing. As I was assessing her body through manual palpation, her tissues guided me to her liver and I rested my hands on her liver. I could feel the heat in her liver and the internal motility being out of sync and I sensed a lot of stored emotions. I stayed there, until I felt that the client had gone into parasympathetic nervous system safe mode. When I felt the tissues open, release and the clients craniosacral system ready, I gently asked: what is your liver holding? And before I could take another breath, she said: “anger, so much anger – he was my friend, I thought he would look after me, he was the one person I trusted”. As the anger and the heat was released from her liver, the liver wobbled and came back into unrestrictive functioning, as her tears simultaneously flowed. A perfect combination where she answered both verbally and somatically through her body.
For some people this may be enough for one session, ensuring it is rounded and complete for that session. Little by little and bit by bit-which is known as titration in somatic work. With other people we may be able to take it bit further, this is always assessed in the moment and how the body and the craniosacral system responds. If for instance a client has gone back into sympathetic stress response, into arousal or overwhelm, we would not go any further or even discuss the trauma but purely stay with bringing the client back into a grounded and well-resourced state.
In this particular case the client was grounded, resourced and established in talk therapy. As I further assessed and followed the new movement generated by her body, my hands palpated her sphenoid bone and found their way in particular to her frontal bone and eye sockets. I could feel tissue oscillations, twists and side bends going on beneath my hands. I had no idea what was about to unfold but when I gently asked about the sensations around her eyes and eye sockets, she delved into a deeper understanding that during the assault she had been very drunk, practically in a comatose state and had been unable to keep her eyes open. This made sense as through palpations her tissues had led me to her liver and eyes as the source of her headaches. I dived into some further dialoguing with her to ensure she was not triggered back into the event and in a subsequent session, she was able to express, to safely feel and to release the trapped emotions. She returned fully and completely to life as she had known it, headache free.
Putting it all together
As craniosacral therapists, we often experience that physical and emotional releases take place simultaneously, as the physical body and emotional body are inextricably linked. Emotions can lie at the core of any pain. Our memory may have been suppressed, our mind may have forgotten, but the body remembers. Keeping memories, experiences and emotions beneath the surface comes at a cost, often through pain, anger, unhappiness, restlessness, addiction, anxiety or irritability. It also takes a lot of energy to keep things repressed and frozen. CST is an excellent therapy to release suppressed emotions and tensions that have resulted from physical or emotional trauma, through physical touch, verbal dialoguing and emotional release. Fascia carries our emotional tension with a certain charge in our body, once these supressed emotions are allowed to come up and released, symptoms can be dealt with and resolve.
As one of my client’s wrote in her testimonial on expressing trauma through the body: “I was suffering from involuntary muscle movements & cognitive short circuiting. My doctor found nothing wrong with me; sadly, not all health professionals are trauma informed. Craniosacral has been invaluable; treatments are non-invasive yet powerful. My mind, body and life are back on track now, I am forever grateful. And there is absolutely no need to feel self-conscious about your symptoms, I think she has seen it all”.
The first part described how trauma and our biological stress responses are implicated in all addictions and the benefit of CST. In this second part we will look at the addicts brain and the relevance and importance of working with the brain in CST, as it is rewarding, life changing and totally underestimated in the inclusion of any kind of holistic treatment, be it for trauma, addiction, chronic pain, insomnia or concussion. There are so many bones, cranial nerves, glands, membranes, sutures and cranial foramina - openings that allow passage of cranial nerves, tissues and blood vessels to go through - to work with, with far reaching implications, when there is any kind of dysfunction in the cranium. It is important that all structures in the cranium are functioning properly, in order to maintain optimal function and general health. In my clinics I see clients with all kinds of addiction: from alcohol, work, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex, opioids, behavioural to food addiction, sometimes all combined in one, well almost.
All addictions use the same brain systems and chemicals, creating an altered physiological state, to escape emotional and mental pain, anger, anxiety, deep-seated fear, feeling powerless, less than, loneliness and disconnection. Addiction engages the brains reward (endorphins) system, the reinforcement-motivation (dopamine) system and the brains executive functions, where impulse control and self-regulation lies.
The three dominant brain systems involved in addiction are:
1. The Endorphins (Opioid) System - Attachment-reward system
Endorphins are our natural opiates and feel-good chemicals, produced inside the brains pituitary gland. They are our natural pain reliever for stress and discomfort and play a key role in how we react to both physical and emotional pain, as they calm the nervous system, slow down muscle contraction in the gut and diminishes saliva secretion in the mouth. Endorphins are released during rewarding activities like eating, exercise, work or sex. Endorphins are responsible for the pleasure-reward seeking behaviours that stimulates the addiction, as our brain rewards us when we engage in something that brings us pleasure, reduces pain, triggers the chemistry of love and connection and results in a feeling of general wellbeing.
Endorphins also play a critical role in the emotional bonding between parent and infant and forms the basis of our attachment system. Attachment is the biological impetus for physical and emotional closeness with firstly our parents and later on with other people. When we grow up in a functional household, receive attentive care, nurturing and loving responses, our brain gets flooded with endorphins. Young children who did not receive nurturing love and attentive presence to boost their internal chemical happy hormones are often also not able to self-regulate as well and rely on external dopamine hits. Secure attachment may be difficult when you have been hurt in your primary relationship. You may long to connect and to belong but any form of closeness or intimacy may pose too much of a threat to the nervous system and brain. They will try to escape their distress and are at greater risk for seeking chemical or behavioural satisfaction from external sources in life, as our early attachment style drives a lot of our behaviour and impulse control. Overall, the less effective our own internal chemical happiness is, the more driven we are to seek joy or relief through addictions or other compulsions that are perceived as rewarding and boosts our endorphins levels to receive that hit.
2.The dopamine apparatus - Incentive – motivation system
The brains incentive-motivation system controls our motivation and pleasure by releasing dopamine when we initiate in pleasure seeking and life-sustaining activities like eating, sex, forming new partnerships, exploring and engaging in new activities. Incentive feelings like desire, wanting and craving are all central to increasing dopamine levels and key to the reinforcing patters of addictions. As dopamine levels are increased, it will motivate us to do it again as it makes us feel more energised, inspired, focussed and happier. Addiction elevates dopamine in the reward circuit. Speed, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, porn, eating all tap directly into this system by flooding the reward circuit with dopamine. When we have learned for instance, that eating a chocolate bar or candy makes us feel good and is pleasurable - the likelihood of doing it again is greater,especially when we lack other self-regulation practices. Dopamine release is triggered in a brain center called the nucleus accumbens, located on the underside of the front brain, and plays a major component in the incentive circuit. graphic Sarah Huges - thesagon.online
Food, sex, novelty seeking behaviour, intense exercise all trigger dopamine release in the NA. Research shows that the existence of relatively few developed or damaged dopamine receptors may be one of the biological bases of addictive behaviours, as we are driven to make up for any loss of dopamine activity. Consistent dopamine releases causes our brain to create new neural pathways leading to desensitisation. The nucleus accumbens also acts as a liaison with the limbic system, which is also known as the emotional brain.
The limbic system consist oa of the Hippocampus (memory conversion) and Amygdala (emotion). The limbic system interprets thoughts, feelings and processes our emotions like love, joy, pleasure, pain, anger and fear. It determines whether we go towards something or away, it makes it possible to feel love, compassion and to have healthy social interactions. When properly developed our emotional brain is a reliable guide to life. When impaired or confused - it can trouble us and addictions is one of its main dysfunctions.
3. The Self-regulation circuits
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) sits in the front of our front brain, acting like the CEO with highly specialised functions like complex planning, problem solving, decision making, impulse control, rational judgement, balancing short-term vs long term consequences and inhibiting harmful impulses.
Gabor Maté describes in his excellent book – In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts - studies that link addiction to a specific centre of the prefrontal cortex – the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The OFC has an abundant supply of opioid and dopamine receptors and is responsible for inhibiting inappropriate action and helping to postpone reward seeking behaviour, both not functioning well in addicts.
Of interest and linking why it is so important to work with trauma and the brain, is that neurological traces of early formative events are embedded in the OFC. The emotional traces of psychological and physical trauma/abandonment are encoded in nerve patterns in the OFC, including experiences you cannot consciously recall (implicit memories). The brain structures to conscious recall develop during the first years of life but aspects of the implicit memory system which stores emotional memories are present at birth, priming the OFC unconsciously, as it interprets stimulus through the lens of its experiences.
Maté further describes how through its connections with the limbic system, the OFC serves as its mission control room for our emotional lives. The OFC receives input from all our sensory area’s - vision, touch, taste, smell and sound and regulates how we process our emotions and how we react to them, based on past and present experiences. The OFC decides the emotional value of a stimuli and its personal meaning, our likes, dislikes, preference or aversion and decides in a micro second, what we focus on. The Prefrontal cortex is often impaired as a result of life experiences, leading to poor impulse control when it is highly activated during cravings disrupting self-regulation circuits.
CST and the Brain
In CST we feel, listen and work with all the structures in and around the brain – below the main ones implicated in addiction:
Pituitary gland (the master gland –producing endorphins) is located inside the sella turcica of the sphenoid bone. In CST we assess for any cranial base dysfunctions – between the occipital bone and sphenoid bone. There can be torsion, side-bending or lateral strains imposed upon this area with clinical significance. It is important that the sphenoid bone is able to move optimally, with no lesions within the cranium in order to maintain its subtle movement to optimise the release of hormones.
All the above described brain structures are rich and important sources for CST, as the brain can start to initiate its own healing process by creating change in thought processes, wiring, emotions and behaviour. CST is no quick fix and attending other recovery programs is vital too. The pain that runs far back, runs deep. It takes time, dedication, recognition, effort and a real desire in wanting to change. One day at a time.
Part 3 – The Addicts physiology and bodily symptoms
Headaches and Migraines can be seen as part of the same family and tend to fall on a continuum — where you can occasionally experience mild headaches or on the total other side of the spectrum experience severe migraines.
What exactly is a headache?
A headache is a pain sensation that can appear anywhere in the head. The pain or pressure is usually on the temples, around the forehead, the side or back of the head and/or neck. The intensity can vary from very light to very strong and a headache can last from a few hours to days. The pain is often described as dull and on both sides of the head. Headaches often come on more slowly and gradual and can increase in their intensity. Headaches often occur with muscle aches and pains from the shoulders up, to the back of the head.
The 2 most common primary headaches are:
Headaches can be triggered by factors like: stress, teeth grinding, TMJ problems, lack of fluids, fatigue, certain foods, alcohol and drugs, low blood sugar, eyestrain, bright lights, heat and poor posture. Most headaches are tension headaches and can be a result of muscle tension in the neck and head area. This can lead to a contraction of blood vessels and nerves surrounding your skull – in particular Cranial Nerve 11 – the Accessory Nerve (see blog- Cranial Nerves) which innervates the trapezius shoulder muscle and sternocleidomastoid (SCM) (ie movement of the head and neck muscles). If this nerve is not functioning properly than the Traps and SCM are not properly innervated and will lack a proper tonus, causing headaches and stiff necks.
What exactly is a Migraine?
Migraines are more a disease of the nervous system and cause neurological symptoms. Migraines are can lie on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe to debilitating. Migraines are often on one side of the head, throbbing or pounding pain. Migraines are often accompanied by a variety of other symptoms caused by autonomic dysfunction like eg: nausea, blurred vision, aura, sensitivity to noise or light, increased thirst, irritability, difficulty concentrating and digestive problems. A migraine can last from minutes, to hours to days and often ranges from moderate to severe throbbing pain. Migraines tend to occur on one side of the head, symptoms are more severe, with sharp or throbbing pain. Migraines can last from hours to 4 days.
Headaches and migraines are mostly treated with over the counter and prescription medicine like painkillers, beta-blockers, anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription medicine to stimulate serotonin, with the aim to reduce inflammation and constricted blood vessels.
Does Craniosacral therapy help with headaches and migraines? Yes. Don’t take it just from me – as an ex-headache/migraine suffer – but there are multiple anecdotal and scientific studies to prove so as well. (attach BMC Complimentary study).
Craniosacral therapy can have great effect in particular when the migraines and headaches are caused by tension, neck and shoulder problems, jaw problems, sutural immobility in the cranial bones and/or a distressed and overwhelmed nervous system. My own personal headaches and migraines came from a strong tension pattern and after a whiplash accident – full blow migraines for months – where – as best as I can describe it - all the Christmas lights in my head were on full blast and flared up, along the nerve pathways in my head.
CST can address all above factors as well as any dysfunctions in the autonomic nervous system, neuro-musculoskeletal level and psycho-emotional level which can all be factors contributing to cause of migraines and headaches. It is however not a quick fix especially if it has been a long-standing pattern and will need a succession of treatments to go through all the layers and adjustments.
Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), is the conductor of the inner orchestra in our body, responsible for the control of our bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, blood pressure, sweating and digestive processes. The ANS is always humming at a certain beat and how well it operates, determines our physical, mental and emotional health.
In previous blogs I have written about the ANS. Our ANS was previously seen as having only 2 main divisions: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), fight or flight and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), relax and digest. Stephen Porges, Polyvagal Theory describes a new model of our nervous system. Porges describes how we respond to threats in 3 different biologically pre-programmed hierarchical ways. In this new model the PNS is divided into 2 branches, each with their own unique pathways and neural influences. Here, the PNS is divided into the Ventral Vagus Nerve (VNN) branch (also known as our Social Engagement System) and the Dorsal Vagus Nerve branch (DVN) which is characterised by immobilisation, freeze, shut down and withdrawal. This new model has great implications for the advancement of our health and well-being both practically and in therapy as each of these states, comes with their own set of physiological and emotional states, well-being and behaviours. (blog: Depression, Anxiety and Vagus Nerve). In this blog we will delve into the VVN, our Social Engagement System, the implications on our health and well-being and how craniosacral therapy can successfully help.
The Social Engagement System.
The Ventral Vagus Nerve (VVN) is associated with increases in health and emotional wellbeing as it generates positive states of relaxation and social engagement. Our Social Engagement system is functioning optimally when we feel safe and connected to the world and other people. Throughout the day we constantly receive cues and triggers through our senses and fascia, which acts like a 2nd nervous system. We have an external environment -the outside world but we also have an internal environment-the physiology of our body, like diving into a deep sea, so much is happening underneath the surface, wave after wave. Our subconscious internal filtering system will immediately evaluate whether we are safe or need to take action. This happens without us even being aware of it or having to think about it. When we feel safe, we can relax, expand, go forward and step out into the world. When there is stress or a perceived threat in our minds, we rely on our social engagement system to establish a sense of safety and connection. This can be achieved through a conversation, a call for help, making eye contact, or hearing a calming voice. This will send signals down to our heart and lungs, slowing down our heart rate and deepening our breathing. It very much functions as a foot brake - a Vagal Brake - and has a calming and soothing effect on our nervous system.
Picture the opposite: For example, a person says something to you that causes you to feel upset. What happens? We tend to change our facial expression signalling our upset, the tone of our voice changes often to an angrier, louder or higher pitch, we seek validation, we pick up the phone and talk to someone. If the social engagement system fails to resolve the stress and it remains active in our body, then we will automatically resort to the older biological response, one step down the ladder into fight/flight, with the Sympathetic Nervous system kicking in.
What are the areas innervated by the VVN?
The VVN innervates the areas above the diaphragm: face, throat, voice box, larynx, middle ear, heart, lungs and serves the social engagement system. This system is regulated by 5 cranial nerves and when these nerves function well, we can enjoy optimal physical and emotional health including great friendship, support, bonding and loving relationships. When we are socially engaged, we can be creative, positive, productive and happy. Socially engaged means we are free from threats, danger, unnecessary worries and in good physical health. The Social Engagement System guides us in orientation, communication and facial expression and comprises the following cranial nerves, which all originate in the brainstem.
Behaviours we display when Socially Engaged:
When our ANS is in a state of stress or shutdown we often have problems with our physical health, emotional states and relationships. Therefore, it makes total sense to have an optimal working nervous system and Craniosacral Therapy is one of the best modalities to address the nervous system. Craniosacral therapy assists our clients to shift into their social nervous system, inhibiting the SNS, improving vagal tone, addressing the cranial nerves and has a great and positive effect on regulating the entire nervous system.
Clients typically report a significant reduction or disappearance of their physical symptoms but also an increased sense of happiness, connection, oneness and openness with the world and feeling safe. This is because clients have come out of Fight or Flight and gone into Ventral Vagus Healing, which is connected to increases in health and emotional well-being.
Here, the goal of Craniosacral treatments is:
On the flip side what I have also experienced is that clients who are in excessive overwhelm or in a depressed, dissociated dorsal vagus state, may experience a sudden increase in anxiety or sleepless nights. This causes them to question if they are on the right track and why this would happen. One thing to consider is that it can actually be a good sign as it means the body is coming out of shut down Dorsal State, up the hierarchical ladder and is shifting into Fight and Flight, Sympathetic State, which may mean perhaps a temporarily increase in anxiousness or other aroused states. Here as Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists we can assist them in finding a sense a safety through resourcing, grounding, embodiment, breathing, so they can start feeling safe and shift into their social engagement system. In biodynamic craniosacral therapy we can also guide clients through their internal emotions and enhancing their capacity for self-regulation, which is important to maintain a good nervous system.
Polyvagal Wrap up
The application of the polyvagal theory in craniosacral therapy makes total sense for physical symptoms and particularly for Trauma, Depression, Anxiety, Chronic and Complex Pain and illnesses. In past blogs I have written about my own personal trauma and the extensive Dr’s rounds which brought no luck in addressing or alleviating any of my symptoms, as the primary innate biological forces that controlled my symptoms seemed to be overlooked, disregarded and not addressed. I was at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder and totally not socially engaged. For months I was in shut down, collapse, disassociation and hibernation, with little recollection. I was in Dorsal Vagus State and off-line. As for Ventral State and the associated nerves: I could not bear any bright lights or flashes and my ears were high pitched ringing. To my embarrassment as I could not hide it, my voice had gone up a few notches higher, due to my high level of anxiety. As the physical part (but emotional part also played a role as brain stem implicated) of the trauma was to my neck and head, my SCM and Trigeminus were in hyper tonus and over firing on a neural level in my face.
I did heal my myriad of symptoms not by chemical pills for every symptom I had but by addressing the ANS: the Dorsal State, the Sympathetic Chain and finally coming back into Ventral Vagus through weekly & to start, twice-weekly Craniosacral Therapy sessions, which I combined with Homeopathy & Naturopathy. I did not get fixed, I did not get cured but I healed, from the inside, out.
It took time and dedication–it is not a magic bullet – addressing physical symptoms, pain, the nervous system, uncoupling and processing strong emotions takes time but when you overcome your own health problems by the innate power of the body to heal, which we all have, the gratitude is infinite and it is a gift you want to keep on giving.
Psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk – explains the polyvagal theory and the use of oa yoga, meditation and Craniosacral therapy so well in his brilliant book: The Body keeps the Score. “The polyvagal helps us understand and explain why seemingly unconventional techniques work so well. It activates the social engagement system, calming the physical tension in the body. It helps people shift out of their fight/flight states, reorganising their perception of danger. If mind/brain/body is the royal road to emotion regulation this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions" and “Touch, is the most elementary tool we have to calm down. You can’t fully recover if you don’t feel safe in your skin. Therefore, I encourage all my patients to engage in some sort of body work like Craniosacral Therapy”.
The title almost sounds like the start of a joke, right? Four people enter a pub – depression, anxiety, the Vagus nerve and craniosacral therapy. During my Craniosacral education we studied the Vagus Nerve, learning the theory and practicing the different vagal tones by doing hands on work, feeling for the dorsal and ventral branch of the Vagus Nerve. At the time for me, the theory was mostly words on paper about Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory. This is not a light subject matter to begin with and as my course and study materials were conducted in German (not my first language)...…well let’s just say Stephen Porges “Die Polyvagal theorie: die phylogenetische entwicklung des Nervensystems” got filed away in the “one day – too hard” basket of my brain.
Many years later and firmly established in my own clinic, that one day came, when a Psychiatrist started to refer some of his clients with various diagnoses like: Insomnia, Anxiety, Depression and Fibromyalgia to me. This psychiatrist advocates non-medicinal treatment in finding alternative ways to help his clients through TMS, neurofeedback and stimulating the Vagus Nerve, in my case, through Craniosacral Therapy. As I treated his clients, I started to notice various similarities. All had an under-activated dorsal branch of the Vagus nerve, a compression at the Cranial base and different parts of the brains that would be overactive, i.e. over fire on a neural level. I knew I had to revisit Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory and as it turned out, it also confirmed a piece in my own personal journey.
The Vagus Nerve and the differences between the functions of the ventral and dorsal branch of the Vagus Nerve have great implications in the healing of our physical, mental and emotional health. In this blog I will mainly focus on the Dorsal Vagal Nerve, as a chronic activation of dorsal vagus circuit is accompanied by depressive feelings as in loss of interest in activities and surroundings, digestive problems, reduced energy, not being active, sad and/or being anxious. Working with the Dorsal Vagus Nerve through CST, has a great potential for treating people with Depression, Anxiety and Insomnia.
In previous blogs I have written about the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and its 2 key branches the Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS - rest and digest) and Sympathetic nervous system (SNS - fight and flight). They should ideally go up and down during the day in a balanced rhythmic way. The Vagus Nerve is part of our PNS and is one of the 12 Cranial Nerves (Cranial Nerve X) that regulates most of our bodily functions for our health, relaxation and emotional well-being (75%), i.e. stabilising our heart rate, breathing & digestion.
The Vagus is the largest ANS nerve, starting in the brainstem at the base of the skull and going through the neck into the chest and abdomen regulating many of our organs, from the heart, to the lungs, to the gut. In below picture you can see its pathway into our organs, where the fibers of the Vagus Nerve act as a surveillance team of our internal organs sending the information up to our brainstem for processing and actioning.
New Model - Polyvagal
Polyvagal as a relative new model (1994) states we have the SNS – fight and flight but that the relax and digest Vagus Nerve has 2 branches (in the classic ANS model the assumption is one vagus nerve). Polyvagal states that there are 2 separate distinct vagal nerves that originate in 2 different locations and have 2 different neural pathways. They are:
Ventral Vagus Nerve
When there is a threat or stress in our environment, we rely on our VVN to establish a sense of safety and connection, this can be through conversation, a call for help, making eye contact, a calming voice etc. This will send signals down to our heart and lungs, slowing down our heart rate and deepening our breathing. It is also referred to as the Social Nervous System and in essence functions as brake – Vagal Brake – having a calming and soothing effect on our nervous system. If the social nervous system fails to resolve the stress and it remains active in our body, then we will automatically resort to the older biological response of fight/flight.
Dorsal Vagus Nerve
When the fight/flight mode fails to resolve the stressor, we then subsequently resort to our oldest biological primitive ultimate emergency response through the Dorsal Vagus Nerve. A sudden extreme surge in dorsal vagal activity can for instance happen when we are faced with great danger. It is a defensive strategy that helps us cope in a traumatic event, or with prolonged extreme stress or danger, real or imagined and can bring our body in a state of “immobilisation with fear”. Much like a cockroach playing dead when he knows his time is up and senses a human being with a spray in their hand (Very much a Sydney thing:).
“A chronic activation of dorsal vagus circuit and its physiology is characterised by depressive feelings. For example, loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, loss of appetite, overeating, digestive problems, reduced energy, sad, anxious, problems remembering, making decision and also fibromyalgia. Diagnosis of depression are usually accompanied by a state of activation of the dorsal branch of the Vagus nerve. If the transition into a dorsal state has involved a sudden surge in dorsal branch activation, via a shock, a shutdown results. In a dangerous situation, it is a natural reaction to dissociate from one’s own body from the here and now, and to shut down physically, emotionally and mentally”. (Stephan Rosenberg, 2017).
It is exactly in these words that I found the missing piece of my own personal puzzle. In a previous blog I have written about my own physical and emotional trauma. I was certainly displaying symptoms of depression after the trauma and had many other symptoms including insomnia, anxiety and digestive problems. I was given the label of Depression and heaps of chemical pills. I felt I was not depressed in the classic sense of Serotonin deficiency and I did not want a different pill for every one of my symptoms. I intuitively knew but did not have the knowledge at the time that my answers did not lie in the medical chemical world. It seemed like a valued but incomplete model, as the primary innate biological forces that controlled all of my symptoms seemed to be overlooked, disregarded and not worked with. I now understand that there was a huge activation of my Dorsal Vagus Nerve – partly due to the physical violent head trauma and partly due to the shock and trauma that accompanied it and therefore pills and classic talk therapy did not work for me, as it did not address nor rebalance my Vagus Nerve, its pathway into my organs and digestive system or my Trauma.
Symptoms of Dorsal Vagal State – Shock/ shutdown
The body is truly amazing and in my humble opinion quite undervalued in the western medical conditioned ‘machine-like’ approach. We don’t always have to take out parts, replace parts or fill it up with chemicals to suppress symptoms. We can work with the body, feel the body, regulate the body, regulate the nervous system, reset its physiology, get nerves to fire under their threshold in many ways, and here through the Vagus Nerve. I witness this every day in my practice and am always humbled by the body’s innate power, it’s infinite wisdom and the body's capacity to heal. The below symptoms are designed to keep the basic functions going as it can override less important functions in the body, in times of stress or emergency. The problem lies, when we stay in that very state that was initially only designed to save us and when chronic, will turn against us.
Physical and emotional symptoms of Dorsal Vagal activation:
Craniosacral Treatment for Chronic Dorsal Vagal Activation
The basic goal of CST treatment is to lift the client from a chronic Dorsal Vagal state into activation of Ventral Vagus Nerve. During a CST treatment and with our subtle movements and it’s subtle as we listen, feel, touch and work with the most delicate structures of the body, we aim to:
1. Balance the Ventral and Dorsal Branches of the Vagus Nerve. This can be done
by mobilising the cranial bones to reduce any pressure on the cranial nerves as
they come through various openings into the skull and/or bringing both
branches back into balance.
2. Restoring, calming and strengthening the Nervous System, resetting its
physiology so it can start to self-regulate.
3. Bringing the nerves back under their firing threshold
4. Releasing any compression/jamming at the base of the Skull to increase blood
flow and oxygen back into our brain.
5. Letting the body come back into balance so that any symptoms of depressive
behaviour and shutdown can be reversed, regulating breathing & digestion.
6. Maximise the movement of CSF (clear liquid that circulates around our brain
and spinal cord and carries a lot of nutrients and carries away waste product)
so metabolic waste products can be better eliminated and tissues nourished.
7. Freeing the connective tissues and its structures in the skull (Dural membranes)
and around the cervical neck vertebrae’s.
The positive effects of craniosacral therapy are cumulative. Over time our ANS becomes more resilient each time we can restore a state of our social nervous system following activation of the dorsal vagus branch. The long-term goal is to encourage the ANS to return naturally, on its own from a state of dorsal stress to a state of social engagement, were we feel physically and emotionally safe. Healing the Nervous system does take time, but with time and for me personally with skilled hands-on craniosacral work for all my physical and emotional symptoms, I was able to shift back into the Ventral Vagal state, into a state of social engagement - my Social Nervous System where I was able to reconnect, relax and feel immense joy and happiness again.
As Stephen Rosenberg writes in his book – Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve: “prior to Polyvagal, depression and depressive behaviours issues lacked a physiological model in terms of the nervous system. Perhaps why it is difficult to find effective treatments for conditions like depression. With Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory we have a clear focus on relationships of the ANS, the emotions and the behaviours”.
The Vagus Nerve is responsible for our health and essentially controls our entire rest and digest and all the associated organs. So, depression, anxiety, the Vagus nerve and insomnia walk into a bar, ordering craniosacral. All having a healthy drink together around a communal table, working together in harmony, in a balanced rhythmic way, with no side effects or hangover. What are you ordering?
My next blog will focus on the VVN – Social Nervous System and the implications for our physical, mental and emotional health through Craniosacral Therapy.
When Trauma strikes. Addressing physiological and biological nervous system responses in the healing of trauma through Craniosacral Therapy
Trauma is often only understood as a psychological reaction that we need to deal with, in the mind. Trauma is also very much a physiological reaction that keeps circulating in the body long after the trauma, as our reactions and responses to trauma and stress are primarily bodily ones. During a traumatic or threatening situation we tend to go into a highly charged fight/flight or freeze response. This undischarged residual energy can remain in our body for many years as an incomplete physiological response, manifesting itself as physical symptoms like sleep disturbances, anxiety, hyper vigilance, tinnitus, digestive problems, jaw problems, back problems, migraines, depression, inflammation and act as a host to all sorts of other chronic pain and illnesses. The key to resolving and healing Trauma lies in our physiology, in our bodily responses that needs to be resolved and discharged. (M. Kern, Wisdom in the body, 2005). Our physiology is regulated by our nervous system. Our nervous system sends messages to our body and has a major role to play in creating and maintaining our symptoms. No other modality addresses the nervous system like Craniosacral Therapy (CST). CST lowers the sympathetic nervous system responsible for our fight/fight and enhances our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for our freeze response but also for our relaxation response. CST allows the body to come back into it's physiological balance, so the body can release any underlying stress, tension and emotional patterns that lie deeply stored within the body. This is critical and of paramount importance in overcoming not only any kind of trauma but also for chronic pain and complex illnesses, as I witness in my clinics on a daily basis.
CST addresses a wide variety of symptoms and conditions from physical pains, structural misalignments, muscular tensions to emotional blockages. During my training, trauma and stress release was definitely my favourite subject: working with the nervous system survival responses and the residual effects of trauma lodged in the body.………. Ironically, never in a million years did I think trauma would strike me. I came to experience what I had learned during my education when a good few years ago, my world became a very dark and lonely place as I suffered a severe physical & emotional trauma. As a result, I experienced a multitude of physical symptoms: non-stop raging headaches, migraines, tinnitus, neck pain, poor blood circulation, anxiety, nerve tingling and extreme sensitivity to sounds and light, to name a few. For months, I was unable to sleep or eat. The rug had literally been pulled out from underneath me, I was lost.
So my Dr's, specialists and hospital rounds began, from A to Z from the GP to the Neurologist to the Psychiatrist, each with their own well-intended prescription pads: pain killers, beta blockers, digestive relief, anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, laxatives, anti-inflammatory, stomach acid reduction pills, sleeping tablets, valium and narcotics in all sorts from tramadol to oxycodone to oxycontin. I ended up being the Pharmacy.
I wanted to clear my anxious state, calm my nervous system, improve my sleeping but most of all find relief for all my physical symptoms by resolving them at root cause. I did not want a pill for every ill as I personally could not see, how that would resolve anything at root cause or bring any long-term solution, as the primary innate biological forces that controlled my symptoms seemed to be overlooked, disregarded and not addressed. Thank goodness I knew Cranio and turned to my colleague: a highly skilled buddy and certified Cranio angel extraordinaire.
During our first few cranial sessions, we focused on my mental and emotional body, getting me back into my body, becoming less disassociated, as my body was a terrifying place to be in. In fact, for the first 2 sessions I was not able to get on the table, touch was just too overwhelming. My nervous system was in an state of hyper sympathetic arousal and my bodily systems so overwhelmed. My therapist focused on calming my nervous system, allowing me to become less anxious, less hyper-vigilant and releasing the undischarged residual energy in a very safe and contained way. We focused on my disturbed vagus nerve. My therapist could only move as fast as my body felt safe to let go, peeling away the layers whilst she facilitated an incredible safe space and presence for me to do so. In further sessions, we were able to deal with my physical body and its pain. I became aware of how much tension I had really been holding, purely as a survival mechanism, as my therapist was unwinding the tissues, layer by layer, releasing restrictions and pain. In one session I could feel this immense anger bubbling up, because of what had happened. I had no idea that this anger but also intense sadness had been living so deeply buried inside of me. I had suppressed my emotions in order to cope, a common theme amongst trauma victims but also for many people in day to day life. I have lived through what I had learned in my education and I have an even deeper respect of how the body deals and expresses itself through any kind of life event or circumstance, big or small. I did clear all my physical and mental symptoms by addressing my nervous system that was in overwhelm and hyper alert. Frequent Craniosacral sessions also addressed the physiology and the fascia in my physical body and CST addressed my emotional body by releasing all these emotions that I had stored. CST truely acknowledges the whole person and works with the interconnected physical, mental, emotional and soul body, creating change on every level.
Thank goodness I found my way back to my happy, bubbly, pain-free, belly laughing self with even a greater passion, empathy and understanding for my work and for all my clients. In my own practice I see people with all kinds of symptoms: acute, one-off or with more chronic and long-standing problems. For these clients their history often reveals that there has been a long road of other seemingly unrelated problems, inflammations, anxiety, autoimmune conditions or neurological problems. By the time these clients come and see me, they have taken various roads to try and resolve their symptoms. They have had things cut out, removed, fused, worked on but are still in pain and often on long-term medication as a way to manage their symptoms. The source of their symptoms however is often traceable to a form of trauma in their past that is still being carried in the present through unconscious emotions, the biology of stress and/or cut of body responses. Trauma wants to be addressed, medication will only suppress it for a limited time and new symptoms will eventually pop up. The nervous system wants to be addressed and it will use symptoms, behaviour or certain patterns like addiction to get our attention to heal the root cause.
Trauma can be a one-off significant event but trauma can also be experienced in a more slow, cumulative kind of way through childhood adversity like an abusive parent/sibling, an emotionally cold, alcoholic, absent or mentally unwell parent. It can be experienced through work, accidents, illness or toxic relationships. Most of my clients are aware that there is some level off trauma on an intellectual level but are unaware of the imprints the trauma has left in their body, mind and soul on a more primal level. Their experiences have created physiological effects in their body, left imprints, continuing to behave and react as if the experience is still happening and therefore can be triggered by seemingly unrelated new experiences.
Renowned Boston based Dutch Psychiatrist and my favorite author on the subject matter Bessel van der Kolk states: ”the most essential aspect of healing is learning to fully inhabit our inner sense of self in all its dimensions– not only emotionally and psychological but bodily as well, as they are inseparable from one another”. “Some of the best therapy is largely non-verbal”. “I always recommend incorporating a bottom up approach like Yoga and Mindfulness and I always refer people to Craniosacral work”.
My pharmacy shop? I tried, but the pills were not for me and caused many side effects, although they most certainly can have a place and give initial support, just like a good psychologist. Some of my clients see a psychologist at the same time, which works really well and complementary together. I was fortunate that I had already discovered Cranio as a holistic mind-body approach and knew from experience that there are other fabulous complementary medicines. So I chose natural medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy as my multi-disciplinary approach. In the end I decided to let my own internal pharmacy go to work and found relief and validation in a quote from Hippocrates, the founder of Medicine: “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease”
Healing from the inside out, bringing the physiology back into it's natural balance, and allowing the natural forces within us to come into play and self-correct is the strongest and longest lasting healing there ever could be.
“Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous energy merely
to be normal". Albert Camus
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex condition with a vast range of symptoms involving the immune, endocrine, gastro-intestinal system and brain. The root cause of CFS often includes several factors simultaneously like:
CFS is marked by a multitude of physical symptoms. For example: Muscular pain, jaw and throat pain, extreme fatigue and exhaustion, restless sleep, headaches, insomnia, depression, poor bowel movement, sensory hypersensitivity, intolerance to exercise, emotionally helpless and feeling wired yet tired at the same time. Currently there is no known medial cure for CFS, however sufferers can find great relief in complementaries therapies.
Craniosacral is a great complementary therapy for CFS, as it brings the body into a healing state and out of its CFS characteristic dominant state of sympathetic overdrive. Getting the body out of overreactive responses will allow the body to self-correct, find homeostasis and to reset its physiology so it can regulate and perform the correct immunological and neurological functions.
On Vimeo there is a great video by 2 Doctors called: "Chronic Fatigue - cutting through the B.S". Dr Martin Rutherford does an excellent job describing what happens in the body when the fight-flight response in the brain is stuck in the ON position in relation to CFS. "The stress signalling patterns in the brain changes your neurochemistry and disrupts your physiology". He also explains that "if you don't address this sympathetic dominance first, other treatments will fail because this hole needs to be plugged first". "This is a key procedure that produces successful results". And this is exactly what Craniosacral Therapy does, it plugs that hole so to speak.
Craniosacral therapy is one of the best, if not The best therapy to get people out of chronic fight or flight sympathetic dominance, changing the brain's stress signalling patterns, and therefore it's neurochemistry, "plugging that hole" and as a domino effect, changing one's physiological state. Here is how I address CFS in my six step approach:
1. Working with the physiological state of a person.
During a typical day human beings swing back and forth in their nervous system from activated “sympathetic” mode to the recovery “parasympathetic mode”. The physiological state of someone with chronic fatigue is very different than a non-chronic fatigue person. A chronic fatigue body lives in a physiologically stressed and emergency mode ALL the time. One way to look at this is that relatively healthy people start their day with a full fuel tank that has been replenished during the night and starts to run low as the day progresses. CFS sufferers start their day on a virtually empty tank, where they need to keep their foot down on the accelerator, burning fuel and living off the fumes left in the tank. Sufferers are not able to fill up their tank, as they have to expend many extra critical physical resources and energy on a day-to-day basis just to be, that their body is just not able to go back and access the critical “rest and digest” healing recovery state. In essence a CFS person is not able to regulate their output and as the body gets pushed, it has to use more and more activated sympathetic nervous system energy from the reserve tank, whilst in the meantime, the dashboard starts flashing and beeping with warning signs. Rest, unfortunately is not refreshing as the body remains in survival mode, which leaves sufferers tired but wired.
Cranio is a great therapy for switching the body out of emergency mode and into a healing state so it can click into that recovery mode. Here the body can start to self-correct and self-regulate in order to perform the correct immunological and neurological functions, changing the physiological state.
2. Cranio works directly with the nervous system as a way to improve health
Chronic Fatigue people are often operating from a subtle perception of threat in their environment. This can happen subconsciously as it may be linked to something in the past for example, not feeling safe, feeling rejected or abandoned, in other words when one of our three primal survival needs were not met on a consistent basis. You may not even be fully conscious of this but your brain and body are. We essentially live with a 200 million year old part in our brain – called our reptilian brain - which is not there to make us happy but to protect us and to make us safe at all cost. This part of the brain reacts in a nano-second through our senses and has put itself into action long before it reaches our consciousness. Settling the nervous system is a top priority for Chronic Fatigue people as the body’s response to stress underlies many of the symptoms. Cranio works with the nervous system stress and survival responses to these stressors, reducing adrenaline and normalising cortisol output, allowing for the body to come out of overactivation and back into balance.
3. Working with Brain Plasticity to improve health
Chronic Fatigue people are often primed to be more sensitive to stress and sensory triggers. Cranio aims to alter the neural pathways that contribute to this sensitivity through hands on treatment and also by incorporating body awareness exercises so sufferers can track body sensations more effectively, recognise triggers more easily and change the input. I personally also incorporate neuro-associative exercises and emotionally focused techniques to let go of any old patterns and to activate new neural pathways. Healing old patterns and creating new and more effective patterns form an integral part of my treatment plan.
It is very important for CFS to go at their own pace, not to trigger any flare-ups or setbacks. Craniosacral therapy is by nature client led. We go as fast as the slowest part is able to let go in an effective and gentle manner. With the client we look at resourcing and creating more effective coping strategies. Pacing will allow a client to know when to rest and when to build up strength and activity as chronic fatigue people have a natural tendency to push beyond their energy levels.
5. Craniosacral works with Trauma Imprints in the body
For many Chronic Fatigue people a traumatic incident triggered the onset of the disease causing shock in the body. Trauma can cause an overwhelming expenditure of energy in a person’s body. When this is ongoing and the nervous system recognises that the amount of energy/hyperarousal is too high, it has one last card to play and that is to apply a very powerful brake, which leads to parasympathetic shock and immobility. CF people are living on an empty fuel tank with one foot down on the accelerator causing hyperarousal, whilst simultaneously the other foot is down on the brake causing an overwhelming helplessness. Cranio works with trauma and in particular with the effects and survival patterns that are left and imprinted in the body. The important part is and this is what Cranio does so well as a body therapy: the nervous system will only recognise that danger has passed when the mobilised energy has been discharged on a bodily level. You can talk all you want but you if don't discharge that high primal energy on a bodily level it will keep on circulating in your body.
6. Craniosacral addresses Physical pain
CFS people often have various aches, pain and inflammation in their body. Back pain, shoulder, arms, face, jaw and headaches are all part of the syndrome. Cranio address this through soft tissue release and unwinding techniques, improving the physical and physiological state of the body’s internal environment and reducing pain. Cranio allows for the body to switch out of the fight or flight/freeze response and to move into the rest and repair mode. This breaks the circuitry of exaggerated nerve signaling and allows the immune and nervous system to reset itself so it can start working in an improved and enhanced capacity. Cranio deals with the root causes, not just the symptoms, leading to improved health and wellness.