Sydney Craniosacral Centre
Chronic Fatigue - You can't sleep your way out of it
Tinnitus - The brain is not at rest
Psychoneuroimmunology - Your thoughts influence your health
What to Expect during and after Treatment
The Paradigm Shift - The Cranio Touch
When Trauma Strikes
What and Why Fascia is so Fasci(a)eating?
More than our Physical Body
Tinnitus - The brain is not at rest
Psychoneuroimmunology - Your thoughts influence your health
What to Expect during and after Treatment
The Paradigm Shift - The Cranio Touch
When Trauma Strikes
What and Why Fascia is so Fasci(a)eating?
More than our Physical Body
Chronic Fatigue – You can’t sleep your way out of it
“Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal".
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 may involve multiple factors simultaneously like:
CFS is marked by a multitude of physical symptoms. For example: Muscle, 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.
Craniosacral can be a great therapy for CFS. Cranio is a hands-on integrated approach that brings the body into a healing state and out of sympathetic overdrive. This will allow the body to self-correct and find homeostasis so it can regulate and perform the correct immunological and neurological functions.
Craniosacral offers a six step approach to treating people with CFS:
1. Cranio works 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 not able to 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 access and click into 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. You may not be 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 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 and signals form an integral part of the 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 tendency to push beyond their energy levels.
5. Cranio works with Trauma
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 a 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 nervous system will only recognise that danger has passed when the mobilised energy has been discharged on a bodily level.
6. Cranio works with 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.
My next blog will detail a chronic fatigue case study from my practice.
Factsheet online http://sacfs.asn.au/about/general_info/fact_sheet.htm
Virtual Medical Centre https://www.myvmc.com/diseases/chronic-fatigue-syndrome
Waking the tiger - Peter A. Levine (1997)
Kientalerhof (Switzerland): International School of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Class Notes (2010). Teacher: Friedrich Wolf
When my favorite Cranio teacher – think Eckhart Tolle meets the Dalai Lama – told me that the brain was malleable, pliable and that it has a tremendous capacity to heal and grow, I thought “really”? “Aren’t we born with a brain that is static and am I not defined by the genes that I am blessed with”? Nope, it turned out it is called neuroplasticity and refers to the brains ability to create new neural pathways.
My teacher went on to say that we are all driven by the needs that we have. In order to meet those needs our brain has developed a preference to do things, as we have used it in a certain way for 20, 30 or 40 years and it was really a matter of rewiring it. Retraining that muscle – like in the Gym – as the brain is in a constant state of flux and adapts itself based on the input we give it. Neuroplasticity can break old unsustainable habits by making new thoughts, patterns and ultimately new and more productive habits. As with everything, it is a matter of practice and repetition, the more you do something, the more your brain responds to support that activity and embeds it in your nervous system.
We were shown a video where brain synapses were being pruned away as a pattern of thought or behavior was literally unlearned and we saw how new brain synapses were created, primed and strengthened by retraining and learning a new skill or habit. As the saying goes in neuroscience: “ what fires together, wires together” in other words: what you put your attention on, grows.
That same night, all of us students had to put it to the test and do something positive that we had never done before, observing how it felt in our body and in our mind and repeating the behavior, as we were literally going to create new neural connections and synapses ourselves. Our teacher sent us off with the words: ”Hug the unknown, we suffer from expectations”.“You may just have an incredible experience you always wanted but never had before”.
I decided to step out of my comfort zone, approaching and chatting to people I would normally never dare to approach as I, well lets just say for the better part of my life, I was very good at hiding myself away. So I did. I took the first step on the path of stepping out, doing something new, creating and hard wiring new neural connections and in doing, with repetition, changed my brain chemistry.
Recently I had the pleasure of quite unexpectedly experiencing neuroplasticity again. Ever done those Louise Hay type of affirmation cards, where you find yourself standing in front of the mirror having to say a quote like “I am beautiful” for 24 times? But really sarcastically thinking “yeah right” “not really feeling this one”?
Well, whilst meeting Mrs. V from Mrs. V Society for the first time, she showed me her new personally developed V shift affirmation cards. Four different prototypes in a beautiful variety of colors and “V” nicely manufactured. The instructions were: Shuffle the cards, pick a random card, read the affirmation on the card and add your own “first come to mind” sentence to the word. The card I randomly picked said “I am Grateful” and a sentence immediately popped into my mind.
And there it was, as I was adding my OWN sentence, my own reason to complete the affirmation, for the first time I could actually feel that I was grateful. I could feel that despite all the good, bad and very ugly, I felt really grateful for all that had come my way.
Scientifically speaking, I was probably changing my internal chemical environment, creating happy hormones by boosting my Serotonin levels. All I know is that for the remainder of that day, it left me with a smile on my face, a warm feeling and with a deep sense of achievement and gratitude.
Neuroplasticity at its simplest and neuroplasticity at its best. The missing link in Affirmation cards: putting your own statement and emotion to the affirmation. Can’t wait to get my hands on a pack of the V shift Affirmation cards.
Tinnitus is an internal noise or a hyperactivity in the central auditory system normally experienced as a ringing noise in the ears. It comes from within the person. In some cases it is temporary and goes away over time. Unfortunately for others the ringing noise can be constant and impacting their daily life.
Tinnitus can be experienced in one or both ears. It can make different sounds and can vary in intensity. Tinnitus can be brought on by many different causes including dental trauma, loud music, TMJ (jaw problems), long-term work stress, trauma or anxiety. Tinnitus is much more widespread than generally known with around 25% of Americans and around 17 to 20 % of Australians, suffering from it.
Tinnitus is considered a Nervous disorder but has eluded medical treatment and scientific understanding so far. Initially, sufferers consult an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, audiologist and/or a neurologist, in the majority of cases (80%) no known cause is found. If nothing specific is found, then perhaps initially medication is prescribed but thankfully more and more mindfulness meditation as a complementary therapy. Sufferers are often told that not much can be done, to shift their focus, mask the sound and at best the brain will adapt and learn to live with it.
Craniosacral Therapy could provide help in resting the brain, the nerves and working mechanically around the auditory tube structures. Craniosacral Therapy views Tinnitus as a signal where the adrenal flight and fight response seems to be manifested through the auditory system as noise in the ears, leaving a certain hyper vigilance, keeping the brain active. In my personal Craniosacral practice, Tinnitus clients, describe their ringing as: cicadas, kettle boiling, a high pitched dog whistle, the pinging of a microwave, humming of a fridge or as a high frequency. Often, but not always clients symptoms appeared in or around a major event in their life as a one-off or related to an echo of a past difficult experience. This can be explained by the fact that the brain continually scans our inner and outer world for threats. When any treats are detected the stress response automatically fires up. As you go through life the brain acquires expectations based on your experience and in particular negative one’s. When situations occur that are even remotely similar, the brain automatically applies its expectations to them, if it expects pain or loss or even just the treat of these, it pulses fear signals, creating hyper vigilance, keeping the brain active (Buddha's Brain-2009). This all can happen subconsciously and manifest as ringing in the brain.
A new study at the University of Illinois (July 2017) seems to validate this. Using functional MRI, this new study found that tinnitus is in the hearer's head - in the brain. They found that chronic tinnitus is associated with changes in certain networks in the brain. A tinnitus patients brain seems to be not truly at rest even when they are resting, as the brain stays more alert. This could also explain why sufferers feel tired more often.
UK based Julian Cowan Hill is an ex-Tinnitus sufferer. He found his cure in Craniosacral Therapy and has since become a CS practitioner himself. He has written a book about Tinnitus “Friend or Foe” and has You Tube videos that people find helpful.
He describes the benefits of how Craniosacral Therapy can help and certainly resonates with my 4 step approach in treating Tinnitus as a complementary therapy:
Tinnitus treatments are about regular treatments rather than a one quick fix. It is a gradual process, as it is about working mechanically and regulating and rewiring the nervous system and brain. My advice would be that if you do suffer from Tinnitus, try Cranio earlier at the onset of your symptoms. Cranio is one of the best therapies around for settling the nervous system, resting the brain and clearing any unprocessed shock, becoming less hyperactive and if applicable uncovering any unconscious emotional conflict. For some people the ringing in the ear becomes less intrusive and they don’t focus on it anymore, some people find the noise has backed off and even forget about it and some people make a full recovery.
www. juliancowanhill.co.uk – Tinnitus therapy
Tinnitus: Ringing in the Brain | Josef Rauschecker | TEDx (online - youtube)
Living with Tinnitus - sbs life - online www.sbs.com.au - the sound that comes from nowhere.
www.Neurosciencenews.com/tinnitus-attention-7378 (online) University of Illinois - "ringing in ears keeps brain more at attention and less at rest".
Buddha’s brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom. Hanson, Rick 2009.
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a relative new multidisciplinary medical approach that studies how emotions and thoughts influence our immune function, nervous system, endocrine system (hormones) and its relationship to illness and disease.
Old Scenario - Isolation
In the West wing: psychologists study the mind.
In the East wing: immunologists study the immune cells.
In the North Wing: endocrinologists study the hormones.
In the South Wing: neuroscientists study the brain.
New Scenario - Integration: PNI
Here the specialists leave their individual wings and come together to study, learn and research together in the one communal kitchen. This new branch of medicine (with an integrated Body and Mind approach - yes!) no longer looks at things in isolation. PNI studies the influences of our emotional states (stress) and nervous system activity on our hormones and immune function in relation to the onset and progression of diseases. In other words it studies how stress can make you physically sick and lead to illness and how chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. Stressful emotions reduce the numbers and effectiveness of immune cells that directly attack foreign invaders and rid the body of cancer cells. Stressful emotions also reduce cells and processes that fuel chronic inflammation and promotes stimulation of ACTH (hormone released by pituitary gland in brain) which in its turns stimulates production of cortisol (hormone released by the adrenal glands).
A great and recommended book is: “When the body says no” by Dr Gabor Mate, who also was a speaker at the latest Craniosacral Conference in London. In his book he explains not only PNI but also how, as a Doctor in his 30 years of practice, he has seen how repressed emotions especially Anger contribute to illness and disease. He explains how:
It has been stated that 50-75% of the population consult their doctor for stress and tension related symptoms. It appears that their stress regulation has deregulated and the body is no longer able to come back to its natural balance (homeostasis), leading to ill-health. Stress is only ever intended to be short-term and for our own good e.g. catching a bus, doing a presentation. Unfortunately in this day and age most of us live in a chronic state of stress. We have dialled ourselves up so high, like an internal thermostat, that it actually feels normal. Chronic stress can lead to various stress related medical conditions like headaches, insomnia, pain (particular low back pain), allergies, arthritis, asthma, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, exhaustion and fatigue. How many of these do you experience at least more than 1x a month?
How does CST help in prevention and treatment strategy? Clinical application.
Thoughts, emotions and health are linked.
The 2 Questions I always ask are:
1. When did your symptoms start
2. What was going on around the time you developed your symptoms? Tell me what has
been happening for you.
Often there has been a stressful event that precipitated the symptom(s) either recently, but more often than not, from a long time ago that is only coming to the surface now, triggered by a recent event. Our body unconsciously remembers and can react to a new stimulus in the same way it did to a previous event, as every situation builds upon each other. As a client of mine said when she realised during a treatment how 2 seemingly unrelated events, were linked and contributed to her pain: "Different set of circumstances, but with the same distinct flavour". Her body was reacting based on the initial past event instead of the present. Work stress, family stress, loss of a job, a break-up, abuse, neglect, childhood wounds, emotional issues, we record and store all those events in our subconscious mind. If they are attached with a certain amount of stress, signals are received through the nervous system, which will alert the endocrine system to increase adrenaline and cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and here lies a fertile ground for inflammation, allergies, fatigue, aches and pain without us often even being aware of it.
Many people deal with their stresses and symptoms through exercise and/or diet, which is recommended. If you have ongoing chronic problems, most people are not always aware that physical symptoms can have a mental, emotional component but prefer to see it as purely a mechanical problem. Thoughts and emotions impact your physiology - bottom-line.
Addressing the mechanical, physical symptom first, some are indeed just purely physical, a tight shoulder is a tight shoulder and if warranted and with chronic problems, I look at potential underlying cause(s). During treatments, my hands are often met with overwhelmed nervous systems, palatable by oa nerve facilitation (hyper excitability), high buzzing and electrical loops and fast craniosacral rhythms. We may explore factors and emotions that have deregulated the feedback loop in the body and impacted the nervous system in a holistic body-mind way. Cranio works with the nervous system as a way to improve health so homeostatic balance can be regained and all systems can be integrated.
Benefits of CST
One of the strongest proven effects of CST is that it has a profound effect on the nervous system: it calms our fight or flight responses down (sympathetic nervous system-SNS) and enhances our rest and digest responses (parasympathetic nervous system-PNS). The gentle touch of Cranio belies its power as it has a profound relaxing effect: impacting our nervous system, our hormonal system and elevating mood, decreasing anxiety, fatigue and stressful emotions and improving overall quality of life.
In the words of Osteopath Dr. John Upledger–one of the founders of craniosacral therapy: “The Craniosacral system is a physiological system composed of cerebrospinal fluid, bones and tissues. It has a palpable, rhythmic motion and has a powerful influence over the nervous, endocrine and immune system and a total body effect”.
The Paradigm Shift - Part 2
One of the foundations of CST is that the mind and body are resilient and have an innate ability to heal themselves. Sometimes they need a bit of help to make this happen. CST is a gentle technique that allows for the body to make its own corrections, adjustments and releases so healing can happen from the inside out.
Reactions during a treatment:
Every session is unique and personal depending on each individual client. The most common responses are a deep sense of relaxation, muscle twitching and tummy gurgling, as the digestive system is relaxing and the body letting go of any tensions. Some clients experience a sensation of heat as tissues open up or have pins and needles in their hands or legs as the nervous system is letting go of any pent up energy. Other people can have an emotion or old memory coming up that is being released and processed. Some may feel a short increase of pain in a seemingly unrelated area as the body is letting go of an old injury. In my years of practice, I have seen many responses. Overall the most common one is a profound sense of relaxation, muscle twitching and internal shifts happening as tissues unwind.
In my own first CST treatment just as I was thinking: “What is this all about"? I could feel myself suddenly “drop” whilst lying on the treatment table and my legs made a sudden and quick involuntary flash jerky movement, as if they wanted to run off the table. I now understand that my legs were trying to complete a movement, which had been unnaturally stopped when I had to undergo an emergency operation directly after the birth of my daughter. As I was rushed into the operating theatre whilst nurses were"shouting" in my ear asking me what day it was, what my name was, where I lived, in order to keep me conscious and preparation and frantic phone calls were being made around me, bright medical lights switched on etc my body went into a fight or flight survival mode and this came to a complete abrupt halt when I was put under emergency aesthetics. This frantic flight and flight energy had not been able to come to its own proper natural conclusion and as a result could do nothing else but implode in my body. This imploded fight or flight force had been cycling, unknown or rather unconscious to me, in my body for all those 6 years since the birth. In hindsight it explained a lot!
Reactions at the end of a treatment.
Apart from symptom reduction and feeling better, there again can be a wide variety of reactions to a treatment depending on the individual. Some people may feel tired or cold or spaced out especially if symptoms have been suppressed for a while by compensatory behaviour, medication or living under high levels of stress. As the body’s normalizes itself after a treatment, clients often report having the best night sleep ever! Most of all people feel a deep sense of relaxation.
How to get the best out of your treatment.
Go within. During a treatment, try and make contact with your own inner body and rest in a silent place. Do not be concerned about me or feel you have to stay “with it” as the treatment is carried out. I will shift and move around your body as I follow fascial pulls and restrictions, fluid motion and compressive forces. I may stay in one place for a longer time particularly when there is a blockage, restriction or high activity. If and when you have any thoughts, feelings or emotions popping into your mind, please feel free to share them, as this can be an important part of the session. You may also keep them private or if you want, discuss afterwards. I might ask a question along the way. All my treatments are different and depend on what comes up and what needs to be addressed in that session. Each session builds upon any previous sessions. I do believe that setting time aside for yourself after a treatment is essential and it is best not to rush back to your daily life.
Three key Paradigm shifts of Craniosacral Therapy
In my next blog I will address this relative new field of medicine –called PNI – Psychoneuroimmunology. A branch of medicine that looks into the bidirectional relationships between the mind, brain and immune system and in particular deals with the influence of emotional states (stress) and nervous system activity on immune function in relation to the onset of symptoms and disease.
Float like a butterfly
Craniosacral Therapy treats physical symptoms while also relieving any underlying stresses that are held in the body. We treat the body as an integrated whole rather than a collection of parts that needs to be worked on mechanistically. For clients who are just starting I am often asked about the Cranio touch, how it works and what they can expect. This blog has come to light because of my inspiring clients and their questions. Thank you and please keep them coming!
First and foremost we listen with our hands. Our hands are sensitively and extensively trained to listen to the body through local and general whole body listening into an area of pain, imbalance or restriction. Cranio works with physical symptoms and involves listening to the language of the body. We listen for rhythmic motions in the body as it is expressed through our tissues, bones, fluids, craniosacral system and nervous system. We listen for impressions of quality, symmetry, motion and amplitude in those systems. Craniosacral has a subtle touch, because the craniosacral system and its bodily motions are subtle and it allows for the healing forces within us to come to the surface.
With my hands I listen for:
All these above points provide relevant and important information for a treatment and can only be felt and accessed by a gentle touch. A firmer touch will cause the body to go into protection mode and all that rich data and information will not be available or easy to listen to. We assess how your issues may have permeated and ricochet through your body, where it is stuck and how it affects you, very much like untangling and unraveling a knotted up elastic band.
So what does that mean concretely:
When a client comes for instance with a jaw problem or hip problem (also applicable to other areas of physical symptoms in the body), I would feel for several issues: Is there a difference in the bones between left and right? Is the left more twisted or bulging? Is there a more persistent pull in one direction? Are there any fascial pulls or tensions within the membranes of the skull, or the bowl of the pelvis impacting other bones/muscles? Can the Jaw/Pelvis make its full range of motion? Are there feelings of vibrations, warmth, coolness, pulsations, hardness, softness or tightness? Where does the line of tension start and where does it stop?
For Jaw problems - I would work inside the mouth to release muscles related to the jaw, the roof of the mouth and the smaller bones at the back of the hard palate to release any restrictions. The roof of the mouth is very much connected with the bones that form the floor of the brain cavity and a disruption here can have a profound effect on our overall sense of well-being. I feel and follow the change as it happens and move my hands in response to the changes, always following the body’s inner wisdom as it self-corrects. As the body finds its own way back it will be able to let go, soften, release restrictions and will be able to settle into the more deeper states of the Cranio rhythm known as the mid-tide and long-tide, where our own deeper inherent healing potential lies.
When there is a high level of stress or trauma in the body, I slow the activity down. I may induce still points, balance the nervous system and allowing for any emotional and physical releases to happen in a very safe and contained way. All the time following the inherent wisdom of the body, allowing for self-healing to come to the surface. One of the strongest point of Cranio is that it has a deep and profound effect on relaxing the nervous system, which really is the conductor of the orchestra in our body. Through Cranio we aim to reset the nervous system to a lower level of activation which allows the body to turn of any fight and flight stress hormones that often keep circulating, long after the event.
That is where the Paradigm shift starts as in our western way of thinking we tend to overlook our own immense innate power and innate intelligence that exists within all of us. This innate intelligence knows how to heal itself, given half the chance and is way more intelligent than an outside intervention that is being applied. Some doors are only opened from the inside. Having practiced CST for a good few years now and undergone the Paradigm shift I cannot imagine ever going back to treating the body without listening to it, addressing the root cause by addressing the most internal core parts, so healing can happen from the inside to the outside.
On a Physical body level the body releases muscle pain and deep stored tensions. Emotionally, the body releases emotional memories that may have been stored as we dive deeper into the layers of the tissues. Spiritually the body can connect to their Inner Physician and Mentally an intense deep state of relaxation is facilitated (More than our Physical Body - blog).
In my next blog part 2 – I will explain reactions during and after a treatment and how you can enhance your cranio session.
Reference: Thomas Attlee - CranioSacral Integration
Trauma is often only understood as a psychological reaction that we need to deal with in the mind. Trauma is very much also a physiological reaction that circulates in the body long after the event, as our reactions and responses to trauma are primarily bodily ones. During a traumatic or threatening situation we tend to go into a highly charged freeze or fight/flight response. This undischarged residual energy can unconscious to us, remain in our body for many years as an incomplete physiological response manifesting itself as physical symptoms like e.g.: sleep disturbances, anxiety, hyper vigilance, irritability, ear ringing, digestive problems, jaw problems, back problems, migraines and be a host to all sorts of various pains and conditions. The key to resolving and healing Trauma lies in our physiology, in our bodily responses, that needs to be resolved and discharged.
Craniosacral addresses a wide variety of symptoms and conditions from physical pains, structural misalignments, muscular tensions to emotional blockages, but 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 trauma. As a result, I experienced a multitude of physical symptoms: non-stop raging headaches, migraines, ear ringing, neck pain, anxiety, nerve tingling and extreme sensitivity to light, to name a few. For months, I was unable to sleep or eat. The rug had been pulled out from underneath me, I was lost.
So my Dr's, specialists and hospital rounds began, from A to Z, 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 of varieties form tramadol to oxycodone to oxycontin. I ended up being the Pharmacy! Being originally from Amsterdam I could have easily paid off my student loan by selling all on a street corner in the red light district.
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. Thank goodness I knew Cranio and turned to my colleague: a highly skilled buddy and certified Cranio angel extraordinaire.
During my first few cranial sessions we focused on my mental and emotional body by getting me back into my body, becoming less disassociated, as my body was a terrifying place to be in after the trauma. In fact, for the first 2 sessions I was not able to get on the table as touch was just too overwhelming. Subsequent sessions 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. 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 the final sessions, we dealt with my physical body and its pain. I became aware of how much tension I had really been holding, as my therapist was releasing all my restrictions, unwinding the tissues and releasing pain. I could feel this immense anger bubbling up, because of what had happened. I had no idea that this anger but also sadness had been living so deep inside of me. I had suppressed my emotions in order to cope. 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, really any kind of life event or circumstance, big or small.
Thank goodness I am completely 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 sometimes reveals that there has been a long road of other seemingly unrelated problems, inflammations, 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. The source of their symptoms 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 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, an emotionally cold, alcoholic, absent or mentally unwell parent. It can be experienced through work, accidents, illness or 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 and left marks, 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, although they do have a place and can 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 trusted on a quote from Hippocrates, the founder of Medicine: “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease”
Kern, M. (2005) Wisdom in the body.
Van der Kolk, B. (2017) How Trauma lodges itself in the body (online) available from http://www.onbeing.org
With immense gratitude to Monica Bovy - www.cranio-sante.ch
For further reading on Trauma – please see printed articles on my website on how “PTSD could be treated with Craniosacral Therapy” (click here) a “Research in to the effectiveness of Cranio on anxiety and depression” and a promising paper into how CST reduces pain and is helpful in anxiety and depression (http://delhibusinessreview.shtr.org/V16n1/dbr_v16n1j.pdf)
Fascia is a thin “cling film” that surrounds and wraps itself, like an internal spider web, in and around every muscle, organ, bone, nerve and blood vessel in the body. It is composed of layers of elastin and collagen. Fascia connects, stabilises and unifies all the parts of the body. The smooth, sticky white film covering the top of a raw chicken breast is similar to the outermost layer of fascia in our bodies.
Fascia has long been overlooked by conventional medicine, as just “wrapping paper” with the more important stuff underneath, like our muscles, bones, ligaments and joints. Anatomical charts of a human body do not show fascia. Fascia is now being recognized and scientifically proven for its importance in the correct physiological functioning of our body and the influence it has on all body structures. As fascia is filled with blood vessels, lymph vessels, immune cells and nerve cells you can start to understand why.
An analogy to look at fascia is the white skin around a peeled mandarin that holds the flesh of the fruit together and permeates inside every piece of mandarin. This tissue of the mandarin needs to remain oxygenated, fluid, pliable, moist and healthy so the whole mandarin can remain healthy, tasty and juicy. If it is damaged or bruised in one area, it will have an effect on the whole; leaving the mandarin dry, acidic, compressed and tasteless. This basically starts to happen in our body when pain and inflammation sets in.
Key Functions of fascia
Fascia is like our bodies “Internet Highway”, transmitting tension and communication through electrical signals to every cell in our body. Fascia can feel, as it is filled with nerve receptors and is our richest sense organ, relaying information up to the brain for processing and feedback. Fascia also functions as a shock absorber and storage container. Everything we experience in our life enters into our body through our fascia and literally holds all the information of our lives. When fascia becomes tight or damaged, a number of symptoms can start to show up like back, neck and shoulder problems, headaches, migraines, jaw problems, disk problems, inflammation, digestive issues, pinched nerves, joint problems and a sense of less flexibility and mobility.
How fascia affects your health - The issues that are affecting your tissues.
One of our oldest biological responses to stress is tissue contraction also known as muscle guarding or emotional bracing. This is one of the common causes of fascial restrictions. Stress causes the fibers to harden and can result in adhesions, stiff and tight muscles, hyperacidity, those frozen places or that clicky sound we hear when we move our shoulders. Chronic stress or worries can also lead to a changed chemical environment with high levels of adrenaline or cortisol floating in our bodies, leading to crystallisation of the tissues.
The human body is able to repair itself after any small accident or injury but if we have a more severe injury like an accident or fall, doing heavy physical work or over-exercising; the impact can sometimes be greater than the body is able to deal with. Sticky adhesions and compressions can start to form in your fascia, much like a chewed out gum, impeding blood flow and other important physiological functions.
As fascia runs through the whole body and links all body parts together it also has a reciprocal nature, allowing for any pull or twist to be transmitted and ricochet through our fascial system to another part. That is why when you fall on your bottom, you can sometimes end up with a headache.
Surgery, like a cesarean, inevitably cuts go through several layers of fascia. Imagine several layers of “cling wrap” on top of each other and these different layers may not necessarily realign perfectly again afterwards, bunching up and sticking together and starting to pull on nearby areas like a vertebrae. Anesthetics or any chemicals through long term medication or radiation carry a high toxic load and can leave a residue toxic effect in the cells of the fascial webbing, impeding proper nutrition, information and fluid flow.
Ever gotten out of a long car ride or sitting behind your desk and felt really tight, stiff and in need of a good stretch? This is your fascia starting to stick together and needing to become stretchy and flexible again. As fascia has the tendency to mold and adapt itself, over time bad posture can become more permanent leading to hunched & rounded shoulders, forward head posture or a tight back. This inhibits our range of motion and impedes circulation of blood, oxygen and energy through our fascia to various areas of our body.
5. Shock, Trauma & Life Experiences.
Scientific research shows that fascia holds our emotional memories as a storage container absorbing our emotional tensions, particularly the ones we don’t deal with as we repress and soldier on. Fascia is the body’s primary communication system and plays a big role in the Mind-Body Connection. Life experiences causing pain, grief, anger and sadness can get buried into your fascial system. This could be a one-off significant event or a more slow and gradual persisting stressor that leaves imprints in our bodies. The body does find some good places to hide things and if unreleased can start to create aches, pains, inflammation, anxiety, depression or things like ear ringing or twitches.
How to improve your Fascia: 4 ways to keep you and your Fascia healthy.
1. Movement – Use it or lose it
There is a great video on YouTube -The Fuzz Speech – by Anatomist Gil Hendley (done on a human cadaver) that shows “the fuzz’ that builds up in your fascia after any prolonged rest like sitting behind your desk or sleeping. Stretching your body every day is a great tool to avoid this and to get the fluid moving into your fascia. Your body loves to move and any kind of soft tissue exercise like swimming, tai chi, qi gong or yoga that gets your fascia going is perfect. After getting up in the morning gently stretch for three to five minutes, from head to toe and side to side and relax into each stretch before you move on. My personal favourite is dancing “like nobody is watching” to any Bruno Mars song.
2. Water and Natural Supplements
Fascia contains 70% fluid in a gel like consistency. Fascia needs to stay pliable and moist in order to work properly and for us to feel well. Clean food and drinking pure water is essential in keeping it hydrated. An expert naturopath will be able to assist you with the right supplements to keep your fascia in good health and detoxify. My personal favorite products to de-clunk and de-junk are the Detox kit from Heel, Basica Active to lower Ph levels and a high quality Omega 3 or 6 fatty acid to boost the intercellular matrix.
3. Self-fascial Release
Australia’s leading Fascia expert and Myofascial Release teacher Chris O’Brien explains that using soft tissue mobilization tools such as a Swiss ball, Foam Roller or Lacrosse ball can be excellent tools to release tight fascia.
1. Opening up the Fascia along the whole front of the body: Lie with your back over a Swiss ball, with you feet flat on the ground and your arms spread out wide to the sides, facing up. This will open up the heart, lungs and chest area with some excellent results and benefits. Do this exercise for a minimum of 2 minutes.
2. Use a foam roller -When using a foam roller apply slow movements and go gentle at first and when you have you found your area of tension you can hold pressure there for 3 to 5 minutes. A great way to release tension in the chest and rib area is to place the foam roller underneath your chest, whilst lying face down on the floor or a mat. Slowly add pressure by sinking into the foam roller - rest here for two minutes until you feel a softening happening in the area.
3. Lacrosse ball - Most people will have sore spots on the edges of their shoulder blades. To release this tight fascia, lie down with your back on the floor and place a Lacrosse ball between your shoulder blade and spine, seek out the areas of tension and sink into the ball for at least two minutes.
4. Myofascial Release Therapy
Fascia does not respond to force or hard massage techniques as it creates muscle guarding and will go into protection mode. Fascia needs to be released with a slow and sustained pressure to first get to the elastin level and then onwards to the collagen level. This is the beauty of Myofascial Release. The movements are slow and controlled, turning hard clay into soft clay by stretching and decompressing tissues, melting away tension, pain and stiffness and creating space in the body so it can take up its proper physiological functions again. As fascia holds our emotional memories, myofascial can assist you in releasing and resolving those emotions. If you have ever found yourself crying at the end of a yoga class or myofascial release session you will know what I mean.
Fascia is everywhere in the body, full of life, energy and memories and vital to your health. Blood vessels, immune cells and nerves run through it, so fascial care means not only circulatory and nervous system care but overall care. Therefore the benefits of Myofascial Release are multiple and can be profound and really good for any kind of condition: From less pain, to better posture, increased energy, vitality, better sleep and improved flexibility. Beauty therapists in America & Europe are now also starting to incorporate fascial myofascial release – aka face-lift massage - to target those all important collagen fibers for better skin.
We are very familiar in identifying ourselves with our physical body through diet, exercise and beauty. We have a tendency to overlook that we are so much more than just our physical body. We have a physical body, a mental body, an emotional body and a soul body. When we listen and look after all our four bodies together, physically and energetically, we can feel great and be in the best overall health we have ever been in. Our four bodies are closely connected and if not in harmony, impact our overall health. How we think and feel and what is going on in our world, effects our overall well-being. When you experience a restriction or pain in one of the bodies than the other bodies will often experience an impact as well. Emotional effects can be felt in our physical body like having butterflies in your tummy or tense muscles when you experience stress or anger. A mental blow, like losing your job, relationship or death of a loved one can reverberate in your emotional body causing sadness, anger or grief and physical symptoms can start to creep up. The physical shock of experiencing an accident or trauma can leave emotional and mental imprints in our body that manifest as physical or emotional reactions such as tense muscles, backaches, irritability, angry outbursts or headaches.
1. Our Physical Body – Where are your tensions?
The physical body houses our aches, pains and tensions. Physical pain can originate due to an injury, bad posture, inflammation, tension or a medical procedure leaving a pattern of restriction in our tissues and causing our muscles to ache. Our physical body can also react to what is going on in our mental and emotional world and will give us a signal in the form of a symptom. It may start with a simple muscle spasm, stiff neck or headache but can lead into more chronic pain and diverse symptoms. Craniosacral/Myofascial, releases and tracks the physical changes as they are taking place in the bones, tissues, and fluids. It can give great relief for all types of pain, from back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches to more complex conditions like ear ringing or whiplash. This bodywork has some marvelous techniques for releasing pain such as inter-oral techniques that can unwind and release a tight jaw, migraines and headaches, providing instant relief.
Tip to Access your Physical body – Body Awareness
Mindfully scan your body and find a part of your body that feels good. This place can be as small as the tip of your finger or as big as your torso. Rest in this place and feel the sensations in this area. Now move your awareness slowly through your other body parts. Where do you feel tension? Let your mind rest there for a while. What sensations lie here? Is it warm or is it cold? Let any image or sensations come to mind. Gently go back to the place where you feel good and rest here for a little while longer. Open your eyes.
2. Our Mental Body – What do I think of myself?
Your mental body is where your thoughts, your deep-seated beliefs and unconscious convictions lie about yourself. We identify ourselves strongly with our mental body: we think, therefore we are. Our mental body is very busy. We think, we compare, we rationalise and we think some more about could have been and should have been. The mind exerts a very powerful impact on our bodies: How we think about ourselves and our deep-seated beliefs and core convictions has a big influence on how we feel about ourselves; on our behavior, on our emotional reactions and ultimately on our physical body. You may have a deep-seated belief that you are not good enough, or that you have to be overly loud, friendly or succeed to be valued. Craniosacral sessions harness the mind-body connection by bringing awareness to our deepest beliefs, release them and bring a change to our ingrained habits.
Tip to access your mental body – Examine your beliefs
Write down your mental beliefs about who you are. Examine all your beliefs and convictions about your self. Examine how they drive you to be who you are and how it determines your behavior.
3. Our Emotional body – how do I feel about myself?
This is the part of the body that holds your feelings and your emotions. The emotional body is what often lies beneath the surface and we are not generally aware of how it impacts us. We are very good at denying our emotional reactions and our bodies can find some great places to hide them for us. An emotion like fear or anger that you experienced during a workplace incident, accident or through trauma can lodge itself in your body, carry unresolved tension and manifest itself in physical symptoms. For example: If we see a cyclist coming towards us at full speed and we can not jump out of the way than not only the physical force of the collision but also the emotional power of fear or anger will enter into our tissues and intensify the pain. If these emotions stay unreleased they can become trapped in the tissue memory of our body. Our subconscious mind is very capable of producing a physical reaction rather than having to deal with an unwanted painful emotion. Craniosacral/Myofascial can help release the energy the body has retained after a traumatic physical or emotional experience and integrate the experience.
Tip to access your emotional body – What is your emotional coping style?
When you feel an emotion coming up, do you deal with that emotion or do you repress it? Try and be as honest as you can, as we often deny our uncomfortable emotions like anger or sadness. Make a list of what kind of emotion came up, why was it triggered, what did you do with that emotion and where did you feel it in your body?
4. Our Soul body – The essence of you – Welcome Home
Your soul body is your core essence, your inner you and your spiritual home. It is our higher consciousness, where all is one and where we feel connected to something way bigger than our pure physical form. It is in our Soul body where we feel inner peace, stillness, bliss and find our inner wisdom. The more we get in touch with our spiritual body, the more we get to deeply know and stay true to our self. Often there is a disconnect between our Soul body and our Physical, Mental and Emotional body as they all vie for our attention. Receiving a Craniosacral/Myofascial session can facilitate a deep state of meditative rest and bring the four bodies together in harmony. Here we can connect and access sensations that may have been previously outside of our awareness. Connecting with our inner wisdom: that part in us that has the insights, intuition and knows what we need to do heal ourselves.
Tip to connect with your spiritual body: Meditate – Find your Inner smile
Meditate, meditate, meditate and meditate. Meditation is for all the answers you can't find on Google:)
5 minutes Inner Smile meditation: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, turn your attention inward and smile. Remember the first time you fell in love? Feel that love; let yourself fill up with that feeling of love. Draw this smiling loving energy, this glowing ball of light through your body and let it rest for a while in every part of your body from your head to your heart to your liver to your digestive system through your bones and down your spinal cord as it fills you up with joy and compassion. Take your inner smile to where you are feeling anger, frustration, hurt or pain and let it rest there for a while. Feel your whole body filling up with love, warmth and compassion. Nurture your body and thank your body for working so hard 24/7/365. Keep the smile with you as your lips and eyes keep smiling and very gently open your eyes.
Craniosacral & Myofascial Release treats the physical body by relieving pain from the musculoskeletal system, releasing deep stored tension and lifting stresses from the nervous system and also has an energetic component as it integrates our mind, body and soul.