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