We live in a world where more is better. In the beginning of my career as a massage therapist, clients would often ask me to go as deep as possible, even if that left them wincing on the table.
I began to realize that when I applied more pressure, the more that person’s body pushed back or shut me out completely. Many athletes are conditioned to believe that withstanding pain is necessary for healing and that to feel better they must always do more (stretching, foam rolling, ice baths) in order to recover and heal. We bring our multitasking minds into our athletic endeavors.
Humans are remarkable creatures because our innate intelligence includes the ability for self healing. I’m constantly blown away by how the lightest touch, coupled with a healing intention can cause the entire body to shift and ultimately heal on its own. I see this happen every day with clients.
To understand how this is possible, we must understand what’s going on at a deeper level in our bodies. I’ve written about how creating safety and stability versus steam-rolling our muscles and joints can result in profound changes in the nervous system. Working on the craniosacral system, which directly affects the nervous system, also encourages the body to reconnect and heal at a very deep level.
Improving Nervous System Health
We know that the heart and the breath have their own rhythms in the body. But another important rhythm occurs in the craniosacral system as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) moves nutrients along the spinal cord and into the brain. This directly affects the function and health of the central nervous system.
As a craniosacral therapist, I’ve come to realize that you can move a mountain with the tiniest amount of pressure — just five grams — and focused intention. Craniosacral therapy addresses the flow of CSF, which helps water and nutrients reach the brain and spinal cord, strengthening the health of the nervous system. Motor function, emotions and learning patterns are all affected by the health of the craniosacral system.
When the nervous system functions optimally, circulation improves, thereby decreasing pain and swelling. CST also greatly impacts the health of the immune system, ensures we’re properly metabolizing food and helps balance hormones and blood chemistry. When the body is balanced, sleep improves as does the chronic pain and tension we’re carrying, both physical and emotional.
A body that can freely pump CSF is like a plant that’s been fertilized and watered: It can finally achieve homeostasis. The body feels better because it isn’t fighting against itself. Instead, it remembers how to function as an integrated whole, something it knew how to do all along, but needed a gentle reminder and some outside guidance to help find balance once again.
Craniosacral therapy encourages the body to heal itself. There is a rhythm to the system that can be felt in the entire body. It causes the skull to gently widen and narrow as CSF moves like a wave between the cranium and sacrum. The entire body expands and contracts in response to pumping the fluid.
The bones in our skull (22 of them!) are designed to move. Mental and physical traumas, sports and car accidents, concussions, surgeries or even restrictions in other parts of the body, can affect how well the bones of the cranium and the sacrum move, as can inflammation, disease and poor blood flow. A restriction can limit the CSF that reaches the brain and can impinge the important cranial nerves that also share this space, as well as the vagus nerve.
The cranial nerves are your sensory nerves and impingement can cause tinnitus, a general lack of well being, high blood pressure, vertigo, eye problems, headaches, as well as trouble with balance. These nerves also help regulate blood pressure, digestion, breathing and heart rate and oversee the five senses. The latest research shows that they even play an important role in social engagement and recovery from trauma.
CST Affects the Entire Body
In a session, I tune in to the craniosacral system and monitor the rhythm of the CSF to feel where it is flowing freely and where it feels blocked or sluggish. Each cranial bone has its own unique movement that I can assess, determine why it’s stuck and then help it to move freely again. This is a fantastic way to clear up sinus congestion, headaches and migraines, pain or imbalances from dental work or to address symptoms in other parts of the body. For instance, ankle and foot problems will often have implications in the cranium.
Often pain or other symptoms are the result of unresolved emotions. In CST, these are called energy cysts and can result in blocks that impede the flow of CSF. This work gently allows the body to pause and process events and emotions in a very supportive way, allowing the body to take the reigns and begin to heal without speaking a word. The body wants to heal at a physical, emotional and spiritual level, but needs to feel safe and supported to begin the process.
Here’s a wonderful example of how CST can alleviate headaches.
A client with a history of concussions and seizures came to me because he was experiencing chronic cluster headaches. He figured they were related to the high pollen count. He would wake up several times a night with the headaches and oxygen therapy was one of the only things that reduced the pain.
A few months ago, he experienced a heated confrontation with someone that really jarred him and caused him to feel unusually angry. During our sessions, he was able to begin to see this anger more clearly and his body began to process the event. As the practitioner, I could feel this stuck emotion in his body and how it was compressing his cranium. I suggested he do some work at home to help him continue to uncover and process the emotions from the event.
The following week, he came in very excited to share that he had discovered why he was so rattled by the situation and that he had uncovered the source of his anger. He recalled a pattern with his father from childhood that was very similar to the incident. Once he realized this, he allowed his body to fully feel the anger, instead of pushing it back down, as he had for years. He was so excited to share what he had uncovered and released that he nearly forgot to tell me that his headaches had vanished completely.