Sydney Craniosacral Centre
When stress takes hold - Stress effects
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
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
Stress is considered to be one of the most important causes of many physical and emotional symptoms and lying at the very root of pain, illness and disease. It has been stated that 75% (I have also read 95% in the literature )of the people visiting their GP go for stress related symptoms but in clinical symptoms, stress and the close relationship it has with the autonomic nervous system is often overlooked. We may not be aware of the true impact of stress as it can produce a wide variety of symptoms but looking at how we respond to stress through our biological Stress Pathways might make things more clear and how beneficial Craniosacral Therapy really can be as a first port of call or preventative step.
The Chemistry of Stress
Stress and the related bodily and psychological responses have strong primal and biological roots. It acted as an intelligent survival mechanism in our evolution by enabling the early hunters to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Threats at that time were more of a physical nature and the stress response for these early humans was either to fight or flight from the attacker/predator, to avoid becoming someone else’s lunch. Today our stressors are more mental and emotional but the body is biologically programmed to react in the exact same way. The brain cannot make the distinction whether the threat is real or if the threat lives in our minds. Many times there is no real physical stress but we are under our own mental and emotional stress: worrying about our job, paying the bills, relationship issues, deadlines, conflict, intense responsibility, our relationship with the world, with ourselves, social media, or if you live in Sydney, house price affordability. Our body, our brain will react by stimulating a bodily response and produce numerous chemical changes that alter our normal physiological state and will start to surface as pain, inflammation, viruses or bacterial infections as it leaves the body more susceptible. Thoughts and beliefs directly influence our stress levels and there is a strong correlation with our health, as the mind influences the body.
The body has three biological stress pathways.
The Stress Pathways
Pathway nr 1: Contraction of our connective tissue (fascia) also known as muscle
guarding or emotional bracing.
In our early hunting days, muscle and connective tissue contraction served as an intelligent survival mechanism in response to any physical danger. For example, when our ancestors were bitten by an animal, muscles and connective tissue would contract so that the bite would not be able to penetrate that deeply, guarding against injury and leading to a higher chance of survival. Today, as we encounter stress, we tense and contract our body for long periods, which causes hyperacidity in the tissues, compression in bodily fluid and stiff muscles. When this stress is sustained it becomes fertile ground for chronic muscle or joint pain, inflammation, stiffening of joints, tendonitis, fibromyalgia, frozen shoulder, headaches, migraines and/or the start of more progressive problems like arthritis.
Pathway nr 2: the Autonomic Nervous System
The second way we can respond to stresses and daily strains is by releasing hormones in the form of adrenaline and activating our sympathetic autonomic “fight or flight” nervous system (SNS).
Typical SNS “petal to the metal” stress responses are:
This liquid adrenaline hit is great for a specific purpose and for a short duration but when chronic and long-term, it sits in our tissues and alters our chemical make-up and physiological responses on a more permanent basis. This does often happen unnoticed as we get used to being so wired that it feels normal and we have dialed our internal thermostat right up and rewired our brain. This is fertile ground for anxiety to set in, sleeping disorders, shallow breathing, heart problems, blood pressure problems and as adrenaline alters acid secretion in the digestive tract it can lead to digestive problems, spastic bowel and/or comprised gut action.
Pathway nr 3: Immune System – Activation of inflammatory responses
When stress is perceived, the pituitary gland inside the brain, responds by increasing hormones, which will act like an alarm system to the rest of your body. This alarm tells your adrenal glands to release a flood of stress hormones into your body like cortisol and cholesterol, alerting the immune system to spring into action.
In our evolutionary days, the bodies original stress response to being hunted, was to provide higher doses of cortisol to inhibit any potential inflammation. In danger the body prepares itself and releases cortisol beforehand as a precaution to reduce any potential inflammation from the wounds, as cortisol suppresses your immune system. The body can also produce cholesterol as a precautionary measure when injured, which acts like a form of sticky glue to close any potential wounds, again enhancing our chances to survive. These are intelligent preservation mechanisms of the body but with prolonged stress this will start to have an influence on the effectiveness of the immune system and can lead to infections, inflammation and immune-mediated diseases like allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus but also to an increased sensitivity of pain receptors, which changes the brain receptors and can lead to things like chronic pain and fibromyalgia.
These stress pathways can react all 3 simultaneously and ideally they should raise and fall like a healthy wave during a typical day. However these days we have chronic stress and it seems we are always being chased by that Tiger. When there is no down time for repair and regeneration and the body gets stuck on the higher activated side, it will adversely affect our tissues, our immune system and nervous system, leaving us vulnerable and unable to fight of any viruses, inflammation or cancer cells. As chronic stress rewires our brain by dialling our internal thermostat up, it can lock in any increases of adrenaline, norepinephrine and/or cortisol on a more permanent basis, so it starts to feel normal. It is only when clients start to shift back into a healthy wave that they realise how far off kilter they really were. In Chronic Fatigue, Chronic Pain, Inflammations, Glandular Fever, Rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, Autoimmune diseases, Asthma, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Sleep disorders, Depression and many other complex and chronic illnesses this deregulation of the 3 biological Stress pathways responses, lie as the source behind these physical issues.
Stress response memory
An other interesting fact about stress is, that if an intense, long–term or a more traumatic stress response has not been properly released and processed through the physical body and nervous system through a body-based therapy like craniosacral, it remains in the body and becomes a traumatic memory that can lie dormant in the body for years. When a next perhaps similar kind of stressful event happens, the stored memory can resurface and we seem to fly of the handle a bit quicker or we are puzzlingly a lot more frazzled than usual, as the body, the nervous system remembers and will respond from the past. It is the stress response to that memory that keeps it in the body.
How Craniosacral Therapy can help and its benefits
The body’s response to stress underlies many symptoms and illnesses, in some cases the stresses are chronic and hidden and have been accumulated over a life time. Cranio looks at causes, the why and works with the body as a whole integrated system. One of the powerful benefits of CST is that it is a proven & natural effective modality to shift out of chronic stress, to lower the dominant sympathetic nervous system and move into a space where the body can reconnect with its innate intelligence, processing the stress response and return into balance. When we support our nervous system to come into a greater place of balance we fundamentally also have a better chance of enhancing our immune system, endocrine system and our cardio-vascular system. This is one of the strong features Craniosacral therapy is recognized for and CST is definitely one of the best therapies I know for addressing and calming the nervous system on a conscious and subconscious level as it encourages deep states of relaxation, influences the neural pathways, recalibrates the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branch of the nervous system and as a result allows the body to reorganise any deeper long-standing conditions.
Wouldn’t it be great if conventional medicine would include this natural way of addressing the body’s own resources for healing instead of prescription pad medicine and we could work together as One integrated client focussed approach, this is what true integrative mind body medicine, in my opinion should be all about. My clients often come to me after the medical world can not find a clear cause or they have been given a diagnosis but various tests, prescription pills and even operations have not brought much resolution and in some cases even made it worse, this can vary from spinal operations, various other surgeries, migraines, neuritis, vertigo, Meniere's disease, tinnitus, sleeping problems, digestive problems, glandular fever, chronic fatigue etc etc etc etc. My hands feel stress effects and restrictions on a daily basis in my clients bodies and brains on oa a tissue level, fluid level and nerve level. It is great when Science catches up and are now starting to look and - for them that all important - measure how stress rewires the brain and it's harmful effects. Professor Vaughan Masefield from the Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne is for instance studying how blood pressure is effected by stress and "how chronic stress significantly rewires the brain and that blood pressure can remain stuck at that high level due to stress". Who knows one day they might even prescribe Craniosacral therapy:).
Every ill seems to have a pill, but chemical pills only function to suppress a symptom and can lead to potential and harmful side-effects whilst other symptoms can start popping up as the actual root cause was not addressed and the stress response, needing an outlet, starts to spread. Craniosacral lifts the deep imprints of stress out of the nervous system by addressing the 3 biological Stress Pathways. Its subtle touch really does belie its power.
Note: This article is a simplified extract from my upcoming book: Healing through Craniosacral Therapy. For up to date information on my book and much more: Like my Facebook page below: The Sydney Craniosacral Therapy Centre and/or follow me on Instagram: CraniosacralSydney.
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, which connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bones of the skull.
The TM joint is one of the most used joints in the body, we use it at least 2000 times a day when we speak, chew, swallow, yawn, kiss or snore and it has a biting power of 70 kg. A variety of cranial nerves synchronise all of the above activities and it is because of its physiology that this complex structure acts differently than other joints in the body. The TM joint and the powerful muscles attached to it are directly linked to the central nervous system and the whole craniosacral system.
For a long time TMJ was considered to be a dental problem but it is now widely regarded as a multifactorial condition. Wearing a splint can provide relief for TMJ symptoms like headaches and protect the teeth but it does not address any underlying causes. In addressing TMJ issues, clenching, grinding, whiplash, slips and falls, braces, stress, trauma, emotional factors, structural imbalances and integration of all structures – upper jaw, lower jaw, surrounding muscles, temporal bones and cranium needs to be taken into account, including whole body strains.
A few specialists have now upgraded the name from TMJ to the Cranio Mandibular joint and some are working with cranially trained osteopaths and craniosacral therapist to achieve whole body integration. (Dr. Wojciech Tarnowski).
TMJ Syndrome or TMJD - Temporomandibular joint Disorder – can range from mildly annoying to a highly debilitating condition which can manifest itself not only in the classic symptoms of jaw and facial pain, but also in:
TMJ dysfunction can be caused by a derangement of the actual disk or arthritis but what is often not addressed effectively, is that many persistent issues and jaw problems arise as a result of stress, manifesting for example as teeth grinding, muscle spasm or as a variety of other forms of TMJ Syndrome. TMJ syndrome is usually a symptom not a cause. 90% of cases are not primary temporomandibular joint disturbances ((Upledger, 1987, Beyond the Dura). They are usually a result of craniosacral system dysfunction: temporal bone, hard palate, intra-oral imbalances, fascial restrictions and/or due to stress factors like poor posture or emotional tension.
How Does Cranio Treat TMJ?
Cranio addresses the whole person not just a body part, i.e. Cranio looks at the interconnected of the systems in the body. The TMJ’s have many interrelationships with the whole body, so treating TMJ issues may involve work on other parts of the body as well. Practically this means that Cranio releases and integrates all surrounding structures: upper and lower jaw, the jaw (masseter) muscle, temporal bones, upper cervical (neck) vertebrae and the whole cranium. Cranio looks at postural imbalances like hip problems or forward head posture but also addresses craniosacral imbalances in other areas that may have ricochet up to the TMJ’s. Stress and emotional states do play a big role in TMJ issues and here Cranio addresses the emotional states first as it causes a deregulation in the nervous system and no amount of mechanical treatment will otherwise completely resolve the problem.
Four easy things you can do at home to start alleviating TMJ issues:
Depending on the cause of your TMJ disorder, different self-care strategies work really well.
Some random facts that might just make you win that Trivia Quiz one day:
Because of the jaw’s unique physiology, it’s important to treat the root cause of your pain as soon as possible. As a practitioner what I love about treating TMJ patients is that clients respond really well. Some find immediate relief if acute and some find gradual overall relief if more chronic with regular and consistent treatment. “Craniosacral Therapy has the potential for being the most effective holistic therapy of all for TMJ by restoring homeostasis”. (Dr. Wojciech Tarnowski - Dentist).
Here are some comments clients have texted me after their appointment.
“Thank you Dorine. Amelia felt amazingly relaxed and released after last session”. (Amelia - 9 years old)
“Today was amazing, thank you so much. I can almost get two knuckles in! Feeling very positive about this and looking fwd to seeing our progress. Thanks again”. (DM)
“Thank you very much for yesterday. I am feeling a lot better today! My muscles in my jaw/cheeks are a lot more relaxed, my neck feels less tense and I have had minimal headaches today”. (JF)
Thomas Attalee D.O., R.C.S.T (2016)– Face to face with the face
Dr Upledger, J. (1987) – Beyond the Dura
Dr. Wojciech Tarnowski – The biomechanics of Dentistry – Fulcrum – issue 65 - 2015
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Life Lesson number 9: have a Craniosacral treatment.
A translated extract from an article featured in a prominent Dutch newspaper with Hollands leading neurologist.
Lesson 1: You can’t keep burying your emotions
“I was working as an intern in a hospital when I noticed that for months I had become angrier, more anxious and depressed. I had actually deeply buried those emotions since the death of my father when I was 12. It had become my survival strategy but now the panic, sadness and anger kept resurfacing. My rock bottom came when I recognized the face of my father in one of my Senior Doctors, I wanted to kiss him. I was so happy to see him. At that moment I realised that I could not continue anymore”.
Lesson 2: When a child loses a parent, it determines the rest of your life.
“The death of my father shattered the unity in our household. Everything collapsed. The only way I could deal with this immense sadness was by studying. Knowledge became my safety net. I had wanted to become a Vet but just before the death of my father he had said – “would it not be great if you become a neurologist as well". Had life been different I may have taken a different road but in his absence, I fulfilled his last wish”.
Lesson 3: Remember your dreams
At 15, my mother wanted to send me to a psychiatrist, presumably because she saw how I struggled with my feelings and emotions. I did not want to go, I was FINE. Finally at the age of 28, I did go into therapy, twice a week for 4 years. My psychiatrist made me relive the trauma of my father’s death, she taught me how to cry, she taught me how to laugh and – very importantly – she taught me to remember my dreams. Dreams are the window into your subconscious and they help you to recognise and name your emotions so you can get to know yourself a bit better.
Lesson 4: Mind and body are one
Bizarrely and ironically, half the countries population does some form of Mindfulness. Yet at the same time most people do not want to deal with the fact that physical symptoms have a mental and emotional component. Many patients and Doctors still think that chronic pain or for example fatigue is a just mechanical problem. To me, this is really a redundant approach. We are not just our body or just our mind: it is One. It is my mission as a Doctor to make this clear, in particular to people that have complaints that don’t fit into our current medical way of thinking. Their symptoms are real but they are just misunderstood. I see how unhappy they are, whilst their body could be working fine. These cases fascinate me as a Doctor, as they are unsolved puzzles and I won’t rest until somebody is satisfied.
Lesson 5: A misunderstood symptom is also a real symptom
Just because you can’t find a plausible cause for a symptom doesn’t make the complaint less real. With 20% of new patients a GP will not find a clear cause for a physical complaint. The majority recovers within a couple of week by themselves. But with some patients, even after extensive medical tests, research and treatment, the problems keep persisting. In the medical field this is known as “Idiopathic Somatic Complaints”.
Like for instance a 55 year old smoking working women – recently divorced and has been suffering for a few months from fatigue and headaches. One day she wakes up and finds that she can’t lift her right arm at all. Doctors can’t find a medical reason. You don’t have to be an Einstein to understand that her personal situation probably plays an important role. However that does not make the complaint less real. She really can no longer lift her arm. The connection between body and mind allows to your experience your symptom. Sometimes there is a medical reason and sometimes there is not. Many people find that hard to accept. Only when you approach body, mind, emotions and individual life circumstances as One, then you can really do something about unexplained medical symptoms.
Lesson 6: Name and claim happiness, before its too late
I had been having headaches for 6 months and I noticed that I started to talk more nasally. If a patient had come to me with those complaints, I would have sent him or her straight for an MRI, but I ignored it. I knew like no one else how awful the outcome could be and buried my head in the sand. When I finally did have it checked out I was diagnosed with cancer, a tumor above the hard palate in my mouth. I was 39 with a wife and young children. The tears kept coming. I did not work for a year and the treatment did leave me with quite a few residual effects and symptoms. I did not become a different person but it taught me how important it is to treasure the happy times and moments.
Lesson 7: Go under Hypnoses
Once a week a hypnotherapist comes to the hospital for our patients who have medically unexplained physical symptoms. Around 500.000 Dutch people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome: tummy aches, bloated, constipated or diarrhea without a clear medical cause. The brain and intestines are in constant communication with one another, without you being aware of it. One can’t instantly regulate the inner works of the intestines, nor the heart or blood pressure for that matter but under hypnoses you can. Whilst you are completely relaxed, imagine your tummy is soft and healthy. You can positively influence the intestines this way. I am convinced that many people with medically unexplained symptoms but also with understood symptoms could benefit from it immensely.
Lesson 8: Exercise!
There is nothing better for body and mind than to exercise. If I don’t exercise every day I get aches and pain, I don’t sleep as well and become grumpy. So I cycle to work every day and on my days off I run. Top athletes know, like no other people, how mind and body are one.
Online:https://www.trouw.nl/samenleving/de-levenslessen-van-neuroloog-emile-keuter-een-onbegrepen-klacht-is-ook-echt - 11 June 2017
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 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. 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 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. 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.
Factsheet online http://sacfs.asn.au/about/general_info/fact_sheet.htm
Virtual Medical Centre https://www.myvmc.com/diseases/chronic-fatigue-syndrome
https://vimeo.com/227497273 - Chronic Fatigue - cutting through the B.S on Vimeo - Dr Martin Rutherford
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, by 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 that path, doing something new, creating and hard wiring new neural connections and in doing, with repetition over the following years, 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 personally developed V shift affirmation cards. 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 to complete the sentence. The card I randomly picked said “I am Grateful because:” and a sentence immediately popped into my mind.
And there it was, as I was adding my OWN sentence, my own reason and emotion to complete the affirmation, for the first time I could actually feel being grateful. I could feel that despite all the good, bad and very ugly, I felt really grateful for all that had come my way.
As I was doing that, 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 words of my Cranio teacher popped back into my mind and how right he had been: The brain is an organ that develops itself based on how its used and its experiences. It is an organ that is (re)programmable, whilst this is necessary for our survival, our growth, our development and ultimately our health.
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 by their doctors that not much can be done, to shift their focus, unscramble that picture, mask the sound and at best the brain will adapt and learn to live with it. However, Craniosacral Therapy can bring great relief.
Craniosacral Therapy can 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). Most of the time these seems to happen subconsciously as people are not aware of how their bodies respond in their day to day life, to stress or threats and how this can 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 personal 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.
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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. Cranio views the body as one connected and sophisticated system. We are one whole person and your body and mind are 1 bi-directional system: what happens to one has an impact on the other and we treat so accordingly.
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 2017 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 100% recommended for better brain health. 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 directly impact your physiology - bottom-line.
I always address the mechanical, physical symptom first, some are indeed just purely physical, a tight shoulder is just a tight shoulder but if warranted and with chronic problems, I look at potential underlying cause(s), treating the why instead of the what. 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 have 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, depending on each individual client. Apart from symptom reduction, whether the client comes for neck/shoulder pain, headaches, tinnitus, tmj, chronic fatigue, back/hip pain etc the most common responses are a deep sense of relaxation, reduction in pain, muscle twitching and the body letting go of any stresses and tensions,whilst tissues unwind and the body realigns. Sometimes an emotion or old memory can come up to be 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 symptom reduction, profound sense of relaxation, muscle twitching and internal shifts happening as tissues unwind.
Reactions at the end of a treatment.
There again can be a wide variety of additional reactions to a treatment depending on the individual. Some people may feel tired or spaced out especially if symptoms have been suppressed, most of all people feel a deep sense of relaxation and symptom reduction. Overall people feel better not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally as adjustments are being made.
How to get the best out of your treatment.
As I shift and move around your body following fascial pulls and restrictions, fluid motion and compressive forces, try and go within. I may stay in one place for a longer time particularly when there is a blockage, restriction or high activity. 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. Setting time aside for yourself after a treatment is a good thing.
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 & emotional 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 symptom 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 were able to deal with my physical body and its pain. I became aware of how much tension I had really been holding, as my therapist was unwinding the tissues, releasing all my restrictions and 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, 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.
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 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 symptom management. 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 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 found relief in 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)