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.