Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It Actually Starts Before "Hands On"

I sit waiting for my client. I always like to do a brief meditative sit before each client arrives. I usually sit where the clients do and complete a body scan I learned from Myrna Martin, my teacher, following my body along in the same order that it develops embryologically. Then I watch my mind pendulate trying to find practitioner neutral. Sitting then, attentive, watching my breath, feeling very settled, I wait. I often feel like I could sit for a very long time like this, watching, waiting, calling myself back to the present moment.

One day, as I was sitting, waiting, watching, being open and receptive, an image came into my mind. I always sit to clear and prepare for the person coming. This time, the image was of a playground. "How interesting" I thought. It was kind of old with swings and a merrigoround, and old one. I watched as my mind scanned around to the landscape and I saw it was like a desert. "How interesting," I noted again. There were desert plants there. An armadillo was that? Wow, that is strange, then my client of the hour walked in with a t shirt on that said, "I'm from Texas." Oh, I remarked to myself. That's why the image. The way was open for her. She was an emergency client coming at the recommendation of someone I knew. She was visiting from Texas.

I cherish my work with people. Today, as I sat waiting, listening to the deep stillness within, my body remembered holding a child earlier that day. She is so vital and her bones so expressive, so eager to connect with me. I languished over the memory of the connection, my within to hers. It is such a beautiful thing, the craniosacral therapy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

House Within the Brain

I have been meditating on the 4th ventricle, one of the four connected fluid-filled cavities within the human brain. These cavities, known collectively as the ventricular system, consist of the left and right lateral ventricles, the third ventricle, and the fourth ventricle. The fourth ventricle extends from the cerebral aqueduct (aqueduct of Sylvius) to the obex, and is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The fourth ventricle has a characteristic diamond shape in cross-sections of the human brain. It is located within the pons or in the upper part of the medulla. CSF entering the fourth ventricle through the cerebral aqueduct can exit to the subarachnoid space of the spinal cord through two lateral foramina of Luschka (singular: foramen of Luschka) and a single, midline foramen of Magendie.

The imagery of a "house" has really captured my imagination. This small diamond shaped space has walls, a floor and roof. It fills with fluid from a small tunnel and exits through another. It is lower than the elegant 3rd and lateral ventricles where the cerebral spinal fluid has room to flow and the membranes move, the tent and the falx like a bird flapping is delicate wings. This idea, the 3rd ventricle, surrounding the potent limbic brain and the magical pituitary and pineal glands were seared into my young craniotherapist brain, especially the role of the amygdala and its keen sense of danger or safety in the world. So what of this "house" in the brain, this squamous space at an angle just below the symphony of anatomy and flow above?

I have been meditating on it, feeling into its small space, imagining I could see the anatomy so clearly and maybe I could, like a small fish inside the fluid system. This small space is heavily compressed during head down vaginal deliveries. The head is tucked and the baby, if in optimal position, uses the occiput to maneuver down and out. I imagine the compression on the bone and the brain anatomy underneath. There is something about this small space and the intensity it goes through to be born that is currently captivating.

When working with the anatomy, we are taught a particular hold called a CV4 where the practitioner holds the occiput and the feeling can be comforting. The presence of the practitioner has to be just right. In the old days, before biodynamics, the CV4 could be used to instill stillness in the system. A little compression, a little downward movement. That is what I read anyway. I have not put any compression on any bone in years. I simply, hold, follow, wait, and augment space. I have conversations with the system. I get even more present. My heart opens like a flower, I watch the system and listen. That is what I do. For most babies, I complete a decompression of the occiput, an EV4 it is called, with this approach of waiting, following and augmenting.

Doing the dishes tonight I was actually meditating on the 4th ventricle, this house within, and the phrase, "in my Father's house, there are many mansions" wafted up into my consciousness. What? Not being a biblical person I knew this was a phrase I had heard at funerals. So, I looked it up. It is John 14:2. I tried to discover its meaning. I gathered it means that there many places on earth and in heaven to dwell, so do not grieve if separated from love because God is in every one of them. Sutherland was a Christian mystic, as were many of his students. Today, the teaching of the method is often accompanied Buddhist language, but it is very similar in theme: that we are spiritual beings and the anatomy is a reflection of this deep spiritual connection. We are formed in relationship with that divinity, and our ancestors, housed in our mothers first of all.

The fourth ventricle is one of the many rooms in the divine place we call home, earthly or spiritually. A unique expression, and I am plunging into the depths of its meaning.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Big Love

With hands on, I think, Big Love.
Big Love, wider.
Big Love, deeper.
Big Love, slower.
I close my eyes and see the sharp edge of a path in the snow. In my mind, I go into wide angle vision. It is a path in the snow, deep snow. Looking down, I see ice, I feel ice. "Frozen." I think, "Thaw." Then there is flow.

While I holding her, her legs kick out. She gets up off the table and says, "I so calm and grounded."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Living in the Danger Zone

My sister and I were in high school when the medical world coined the term "post traumatic stress disorder." I remember reading about it in one of those ladies magazines. The article published a list of symptoms associated with returning Vietnam veterans. My sister and I read the list and looked at each dumbfounded: We had almost all the symptoms on the list. It was hard to understand how a middle class white girl (age 14) could have the same symptoms as an experienced war veteran.

Since then, I have told myself quietly that I must have grown up in a danger zone. It helped form my body. The energy of this zone poured into my cells, my body organized around it. I was always on the ready, my fight or flight at my beck and call. I feel lucky that I never went into the freeze or immobile response as I think my siblings did. However, I suffered anxiety, panic and an amazingly sensitive startle reflex.

Now, as I sit in primary respiration, organized around my midline, deeply sensing into my body and the present moment, I can say that I understand what it is like to live in a war zone, to have fear for survival as a baseline. I can also say I am deprogrammed from that and have cultivated a wonderful observer who holds the container for my life experience. I like to sense into that big loving woman, that big-hearted woman that arises in my consciousness when I begin my work. Woman like a tree, woman like a plum, woman with a warm heart like hot chocolate.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nature is in the Body, the Body is the Natural World

It may be a cliché that our bodies mirror the earth, but I see it profoundly in my private bodywork practice. For me, this idea began as a child reading the myths and stories of old. The body of Mother Earth with voluptuous breasts and rolling belly was drawn below the masculine, bearded face of Father Sky. In this metaphor, the earth’s topography is anatomically feminine, but as a massage and craniosacral therapist, I have witnessed how the human body reflects the elements of the natural world no matter what the gender. This ecological reflection has led me to ponder the connection between our health as a species and the health of the planet.

In 1998, I undertook a study of my craniosacral clients after many of them reported what I would call “spiritual” experiences. After documenting 116 sessions, I was able to clarify what this meant. Most clients reported a feeling that was “ineffable” or unexplainable. These feelings were “energy” or “fluid”, like floating on water, water rushing through them, or the roll of the ocean tides. After rising from craniosacral work, clients reported experiences like: “I felt there was a pond in my head, a beautiful vernal pond full of life and potential,” or “there was an ocean in my head” or “I saw a waterfall!” Many clients saw images, felt sensations and then were able to work out problems in their minds either there in the moment or later on, days or weeks after the session.

While documenting their responses, I never told them that I often saw images while performing my tasks as a therapist – simply holding their body and attending the space within them and around them, and within and around myself. What I often saw was a forest, a ridge of deciduous trees, and a deer softly feeding. This was my way in to a place of deep meditation and attendance within myself. Images often emerged of the ocean or other forms of water in many different kinds of weather. I have never questioned these images, but I had a felt sense that this was a sacred, natural place within myself from which I could create the healing space for my clientele.

Once at a conference on massage therapy, I was able to witness some of the cellular anatomy in a brilliant presentation by Deane Juhan, one of the giants in the manual therapy field.[i] Looking at cells from afar, I saw the world, Mother Earth, in one human cell. Native American elders and teachers have long said that the circle is sacred, and how this pattern is repeated in nature and life. The cell is the Circle of Life represented in the body. Furthermore, I saw that, in Deane Juhan’s slides, specific structures in the body that mimic specific natural structures. On the screen I saw apple trees, sand dunes, and river eddies, all in the body. A woman’s fertile uterine lining looked like a fertile rainforest. Collagen fiber looked like the grapevine I gather to make a tinder bundle for my fire.

The originator of craniosacral therapy, William Sutherland, gave specific names to the functions he was working with in the body. Craniosacral therapy works with the natural flow of cerebral spinal fluid as it moves up the spine, in and around the brain. Sutherland calls this “the Long Tide,” and the deep rhythm of the flow, “the Breath of Life.” As I track this flow, I can witness it stop, still, swirl, eddy, and regain flow in a stronger way, all connected to a deep mystery of life within.

Native peoples’ stories, rituals and ceremonies often speak of a balance and living harmoniously with nature. These days, it is hard to find that balance just as simple living is rare to find in the hubbub of urban society. Studies and articles speak about the endangered health of natural places: the hole in the ozone, global warming, overpopulation, over-fished waters, pollution of seas and rivers. We are living beyond our means, depleting the earth’s natural resources of fuel, water, trees and minerals.

I wonder about these conditions and the health of humanity. Is there a connection between the rise in chronic health conditions, disease and infertility and the way we treat the earth? My hypothesis is yes but I don’t have data to support my speculation and I try to do my part to help the world be a better place, one client at a time.

[i] Author of Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Nature-Connection of the Human-Connection

I have been a biodynamic practitioner since 1999, when cranial teachers really didn't know how to teach biodynamics. It is truly hard to teach. I learned the movement of the cranial bones, the cranial nerves, the tides, neuroanatomy, presence, hand holds, and more, but the true essence of biodynamics lies in a combination of deep mystery, nature connection, and embryology. James Jealous calls it the Other Mind. In his Maine accent he says, "you know it's out there."

William Sunderland used to say that Primary Respiration is around us as well as within us. James Jealous, one of the teachers carrying-on the tradition of biodynamics, says that the Wisdom is Outside the Body. For me, it starts with Nature-Connection, an acknowledgment that there is a big world out there, an intelligent world, a more than human world. The potency of nature is living and breathing.

I also feel the poetics of life. Quite often when I first put my hands on a client, I hear the words Big Love. Then, Big Hearted Woman. Then, Oh for the love of a Big Hearted Man. Words just begin to flow. Sometimes I track them as I begin a session and I say, one day, I will write them down. When I am in a trance, relaxing, these words often come back to me like a song. Is this the dreaming that James Jealous talks about?

A long time again, perhaps in 2000 or 2001, the following poem came to me while I was holding a client, just like that. I have kept it all these years. It symbolizes the craniosacral approach for me:

The Greatest Mystery by Kate White

Let me witness your wilderness

No taming here

No conquering

Let me share in your wilderness

This foot, this bone

My blood holding your blood

My healing waters rushing into yours

and yours into mine

Let me witness your wilderness

For in the wilderness

is the greatest mystery

And in the greatest mystery

The greatest love

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Starts With Hands On

It starts with hands on. I center myself, feeling into the depth of my body, my consciousness, I breath and connect with my own Long Tide. I sink deeper and wait and listen with my hands, my ribs, my diaphragm, my pelvis, all that I am. I listen with my Heart, and in the listening an image often appears. It has been that way since I was trained in the biodynamic craniosacral therapy.

On this day, I am holding the occiput of a 62 year old woman. She is dynamic and intelligent. Her work takes her deep levels of understanding humanity. She has been my client for 16 years. As I am holding her, I relax, I settle, I listen, I allow, and an image appears. It is a seaside with a view of the distant horizon. There are no waves at all and I get the feeling the water has a high salt content making it very viscous and buoyant. I wait and feel into the image with my body, with my heart. As I settle, I see the beach is not sand but stones. I smile. How interesting. Such detail. I stay there and just relax, holding the client.

As I end the session, the client gets off the table and says, "That was fantastic!" I ask, "Did you dream?" and we trade our experiences. When I tell her about the ocean view I had, she says, "That is an exact description of The Dead Sea." How was it that it appeared in my consciousness, in my mind's eye? Such mystery.

This blog will be description of my exploration of the biodynamic craniosacral therapy. The next few years will be an exploration into the phenomenology, or felt sense, of this approach. I believe our inner world is connected to the natural world. The osteopaths of old (Sunderland, Fulford, Becker) have also said that the Primary Respiration exists in the world around us as well as within us. I intend to explore it and describe it here. Enjoy it with me.