Craniosacral Therapy Part II: The Process

In this second part of the series on Craniosacral Therapy (CST), I want to discuss some elements of the process**.  If you haven’t read the first post on some basic anatomy and function behind CST, you can check it out here.

Craniosacral Therapy is a process oriented therapy.  What does this mean?  Well, it speaks largely to how both the practitioner and the client engage in the therapy.  As the practitioner, I honor the deep, innate intelligence of each body and follow the process that it sees fit.  In my experience, this orientation around process rather than formula is a more gentle and effective way to treat the body because force is not involved.  This concept will be expanded upon in a bit when I talk about the light touch used in craniosacral therapy.  So, back to what it means to engage in process oriented work.

  • Practitioner as guide, teacher, facilitator: As the facilitator or therapist, I am able to create a safe space for each client’s unique process to unfold.  I can assist in the unwinding of tissues and stuck energy in the body.  Remember the craniosacral rhythm from the first post?  This inner, subtle, wave-like motion also provides some guidance to me as the facilitator in the process.  I will often add support through therapeutic dialogue when it is needed (more on this in next post!!)
  • Client as primary guide:  You know your body best!  And, believe it or not, your body knows what it wants and is sending your messages all the time (i.e. that sensation, that emotion, that memory).  So, it is part of my role to blend with YOU and your body tissues, your stories, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
  • Unfolding:  In the healing process on any level (mental/emotional, physical, spiritual) there is typically a sense of unfolding as layers peel back to reveal other layers.  This is very common and is quite helpful for gaining clarity and direction.

Light Touch

In craniosacral therapy, all therapy is carried out with primarily a light touch.  This means that the hands and fingers of the therapist will only rest on the body with 5 grams of pressure (or less), about the weight of a nickle on your skin.  If you are interested in what this feels like, try it out!  Go find a nickle and place it on the back of your hand.  Notice what it feels like.  With a light touch, the therapist is able to engage the amount of tension already present in the tissues under the hands without adding any extra force.  The goal here is to not engage bodily defenses or create more tension.  This is especially important because we are working with the delicate structures of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and fluids surrounding these.  This light touch allows the client’s body to unwind in the way that it needs to release stuck energy, tissues, or fascia.  The body desires balance and health as its natural state.  In this way, when given the opportunity, it will seek to create balance whenever possible.  Again, the client is in charge of the entire process and has an innate sense for what is best for her/him.

Deep Relaxation

The body is often invited into a state of deep relaxation during a craniosacral therapy session.  For some, this starts the moment the body lies on the table and lasts the entire session.  For others, this state is more fleeting, perhaps only being entered at certain moments throughout the session.  Often this corresponds with treatment in a certain area such as the back of the neck or inside the mouth.  Some report that this state feels like the moments before falling asleep.  The body feels heavy and the thoughts are seen but not necessarily interacted with.  In this state, there is often information that bubbles up from the non conscious awareness.  Some may experience this as a memory, an image, a color, a smell, or a sensation in the body.  Others feel the energy around and in the body very strongly at this point.  There is no universal experience, but these are some common ones.

This state of deep relaxation occurs due to the therapeutic effect that CST has on the central nervous system (CNS), specifically the parasympathetic branch.  This branch of the CNS governs the “rest and repair” processes of the body and is the necessary counterpart to the “fight-flight-freeze” state (governed by the sympathetic nervous system) many of us find ourselves so often in.  Much like how lifting weights will strengthen a muscle, practicing deep relaxation will strengthen the body’s ability to enter this healing state.  The relax and repair state governs things such as digestion, transport of nutrients to cells, removal of waste and toxins from body tissues and organs, and a slower heart rate (doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood throughout the body).

Ponder this for a moment:  How do I invite relaxation into my body?  What does this feel like?  At a Kundalini yoga class this morning, the teacher said that the relaxation portion of the yoga practice is just as important as the movement.  And this is true!  We live in a culture that emphasizes activity, but how often do we allow ourselves to consciously relax?

**I am just beginning this series and am open to delving more specifically into anything in these posts.  Please comment or contact me with anything you would like to see explored more.