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 addresses also physical symptoms that 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 any 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. 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 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 came to the surface during the 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 and during intake she also 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 and release and the clients craniosacral system being 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”.