Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2010. Copyright 2010. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
It's no secret that proper nutrition, exercise, and living a low-stress lifestyle are among the keys to good health and longevity. If we pay close attention to these three cornerstones of our health, our body will reward us with vitality and well-being. Amazingly, even when our body gets a little out of balance--a sore tennis elbow, an irritating cold, or an achy neck from a tense business meeting--we are each equipped with a high-performing immune system miraculously designed to heal our body and protect us from disease. Craniosacral therapy is one way to optimize that system and create balance within the body.
The demands of a modern world often challenge our immune system's ability to keep up. We get pulled in competing directions--work, kids, telephones--with everything vying for our time and attention. Stress has a way of creeping in and cutting us off from the precious life forces that lie at the root of our foundation for health. If we haven't been building and maintaining the nutrition, exercise, and stress management cornerstones we need, then the sore tennis elbow, cold, or tense neck becomes more serious and our health foundation starts to crumble. When this happens, we instinctively reach out to our doctors to "cure" us. We fail to realize that nature has already provided us with our very own inner healing force--the craniosacral system. My role as a craniosacral practitioner is to help clients find a way to optimize their own healing force so they can build a solid, healthy foundation, or restore it if the crumbling has already begun.A Gentle Touch
Craniosacral therapy is a healing modality that grew out of osteopathy, the ancient art of bone-setting. In craniosacral work, the subtle art of precise and gentle touch is applied to correct imbalances in the fluid and membranes surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord.
Craniosacral therapy is based on a particular understanding of human anatomy. Imagine your craniosacral system has a regular rhythm, much like the heart, only subtler and slower. Just as your heart pumps needed blood to the rest of the body, the craniosacral system pumps important fluid--cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)--between your brain and spinal area.
The CSF plays several important roles in your immune system's performance. These include offering protective covering for your delicate brain tissue, delivering glucose (a type of sugar that nurtures and cools the brain) to the cortex brain, inhibiting viruses and bacteria in the brain, and forming a transport medium between the blood and the brain. CSF has a big job to do, but a variety of health problems can create an imbalance in the flow of the CSF, limiting health and clarity. If CSF can flow unimpeded, then the body has the opportunity to maintain and/or restore balance.
Proper performance of the craniosacral system and its fluids is essential to the entire central nervous system, which is a network of specialized tissue that controls the actions and reactions internal to the body, and the body's adjustment to its environment. The crazier your environment, the harder it has to work. The two main components of this system are the brain and the spinal cord. Think of your brain as a computer and the spinal cord as the cable. The spinal cord links the computer's input and output to the rest of the body. Remarkably, your entire motor function, learning patterns, and emotions are affected by the craniosacral system, as your whole body expands and contracts with the rhythm of the pumping fluids. This is where craniosacral therapy can improve the functioning of these essential self-healing systems.
Think of your craniosacral practitioner as your partner. You and your body do the work, but your practitioner lends his or her knowledge and skills to help you. Together you are able to bolster your body's own resistance and improve how your central nervous system responds to stress and illness. When soft touch is applied to this system, clients can achieve incredible releases from long-standing restrictions, stress, and tension.
Craniosacral therapy achieves not only relief from physical pain, but also restoration of clarity and emotional wholeness as well. What to Expect
During a craniosacral session, the practitioner will have a space devoid of distractions. In my practice, I refer to this as the "sacred space," because I strive to embody the philosophy that time and space are special, unique, quiet, and restful. The practitioner will ask questions to try and understand what health concerns the client has. This is a critical part of the healing process because craniosacral therapy offers many techniques that can be directly customized to the client's needs. By having a conversation first, the client and practitioner can work together to find the best option for healing.
Next, the client lies on a traditional massage table, fully clothed, and the practitioner begins to apply a slight amount of pressure (about the weight of a dime) to the craniosacral system. In my case, I draw on more than a hundred different techniques from my years of training and use a precise, gentle touch to areas such as the brain, spine, or other parts of the body. Intuition, perception, and intention come into play here and I use these gifts to direct me to go to those places needing the most attention. Once the body is in a relaxed state, craniosacral therapy has the ability to teach on a cellular level. The body knows this; that is, every cell in the body will remember the connection with the forces of healing, and the more the body remembers those forces of healing, the more it can allow itself to heal. For example, if you've had a stiff neck in the past due to stress, it is likely next time you have stress, your neck will get stiff again. The cells in your body remember and now equate stress with a stiff neck. This same "cellular memory" can be achieved in a similar, but positive, way by giving the body--and the central nervous system--an extreme and wonderful experience of deep and often profound relaxation through craniosacral therapy. The more the body remembers this natural state, the more it can allow itself to heal.
By the time you leave your session, you will most likely feel relaxed, refreshed, and re-energized. Some clients even report "a reawakening of power" as the body, mind, and heart find their own profound medicine. The Stillness
Most of us have mastered the art of "doing" in our crazy, activity-filled world, but "being" is actually tougher, much more rewarding, and is truly a gift. Lao Tzu, the prolific sixth-century B.C.E. philosopher, said, "The source of all great movement lies in stillness." I've often been awed by what the body can do when we give in to the stillness--when we slow down enough for the body to respond positively to its own healing ability.
While craniosacral therapy is a complementary practice, I also view it as a spiritual practice. Now, more than ever before, we are witnessing a return to healing that encompasses the totality and wholeness of the body, mind, spirit, and psyche. We are paying more attention to what we eat, we are looking for alternatives to drugs, and we are stopping to think for a moment before we make that call to the doctor. We are flexing the muscles of a deeper consciousness as we strive to experience what it means to live a healthy and authentic life. In many ways, we are reaching out to the spiritual roots of our healing. By tapping into our inner healer, craniosacral therapy helps us get there. Paul Brown is a certified practitioner and instructor for the Milne Institute. For more information, visit www.paulbrowncranial.com.