‘There is a voice that doesn’t use words, listen’, Rumi.
Have you ever had the experience of being deeply listened to by a friend. Someone who remained attentive and present throughout your conversation. Instead of interrupting or presenting solutions, they left pauses for you to think, and then listened some more. Because you knew that they were really hearing you, you shared more of what was on your mind. In doing so, perhaps some clarity arose for you. Some unique solutions emerged from who-knows-where. A clear direction from what previously felt like being lost in a dense forest.
In a hands-on way, this is the heart of Craniosacral therapy. It involves the therapist ‘listening’ to your body in an attentive, non-judgmental way. There is no pressure to change, more of a kindly, tactile invitation. This supportive touch harnesses the body’s natural healing mechanisms. As the tissues offer up their tensions, telling their story, the hands follow until there is a sense of ease. It can feel very gentle.
Despite this gentleness, powerful changes can ensue, often in ways that surprise us.
One of the benefits of listening carefully, without agenda, is that the client gains the opportunity to connect with their body wisdom. Inside all of us there is an ocean of intuition or ‘wise knowing’ just waiting to be heard. Sensitive touch simply provides the mirror through which to see it more clearly.
What this means practically is that a process unfolds. The held patterns of tension in your body start to unravel in a unique symphony that leads towards greater integration and balance. Connections, memories & emotions can arise allowing a greater sense of meaning and understanding. ‘Ahh, I’ve held tension in my jaw ever since those teeth were removed when I was young.’
This can be a route of deep healing and repair involving both body and mind. Looking back, it’s clear that we couldn’t have predicted the order of events. It had to unfold, organically, according to its own particular wisdom.
This body wisdom can be a vital ally on any healing journey. As a therapist, I don’t imagine I have all the answers for my clients, but I aim to give space for their body wisdom to be heard. Surprising discoveries can arise even amidst complex health challenges. As long as we listen to the gut and the heart and the places that ‘know’.
If you’ve ever had CST you may agree that it’s a very different form of therapy. The type of touch used is very specific – soft ‘listening’ hands that follow an inner process. The tissues move towards greater ease and the hands gently follow. No force is ever used. And yet, here is the surprising part, things really do change. They change from the inside out in this quiet, attentive atmosphere of listening.
For the client it can be deeply relaxing to feel this tactile enquiry into their own alignment. Postural patterns can come to the fore as they become more aware of how their body is twisted or compressed in certain ways. These patterns can start to ‘unwind’ as the body re-organises. A memory or emotion may emerge that seems to relate to what’s happening. So what is doing the work here?
Craniosacral therapy derives from Osteopathy, and is based on the idea that our bodies have an innate, intelligent, ‘health’ that restores and maintains balance & function throughout life. It’s obvious when we think of how broken bones mend and cuts heal. Generally, our bodies do a good job of working around the stresses & strains of life, but sometimes our balance gets tipped. Life events such as ongoing illness, injuries, trauma and stress can mean we need a little extra support to align to this principle of health again. And it’s a very vital, active principle that the therapist listens to directly. She attends to the particular way that the tissues and fluids of the client’s body express this health.
The rhythm and tempo of this process is innate and very particular to each client. It’s an unfolding. Often we don’t know the exact sequence needed for a particular body, with all of its history, to regain healthy balance. But the body knows, the health knows, and through experience this is what I’ve learnt to trust. The unerring principle of health, that’s always present, even in difficult circumstances. As long as you listen.
It’s possible that innate healing from within, once engaged, is more powerful than applying force from without.
Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that supports your body’s innate capacity for healing and repair. Perhaps you’ve not heard of it before, or may not know much about it. So here I’m writing about how it may be helpful…..
Just think about your own life – the myriad of experiences & influences that have shaped you over the years. We know that early childhood experiences are formative, and even before that, your time in the womb.
What we don’t usually realize is that our life experiences remain etched in our bodies – as a sort of somatic narrative of our lives. Our embodied history, as it were.
Parts of this ‘somatic narrative’ can emerge for gentle attention, during Craniosacral sessions. That time you fell off your bike when you were ten; your first car accident; the grief of bereavement, or that time when you were in hospital recovering from surgery. The tissues hold many stories. Particularly the overwhelming aspects that tend to remain ‘held’ in our system for later digestion. These ‘held’ places create restrictions in the subtle way your body expresses health.
During a CST session the therapist uses a light, ‘listening’ touch to feel where your body holds restrictions and, importantly, where health is expressed. Through this gentle touch any restricted areas are encouraged to ease, without force, and unwind their tension. In doing so, forgotten parts of the original event may also emerge – such as a memory, sensation or emotion – as the body moves towards healthier balance. It’s a two way process that the client is very much involved in.
To give an example – during a session a client experienced a very ‘full’ feeling in his head as slight pressure built behind his frontal bone. As we paid attention, one side cleared whilst the other became denser. He reported that the dense area clarified into a sense of a distinct ‘lump’. There was some discomfort. With gentle questioning, he gained a fuller sense of it – an image arose of pale wood. A fuller memory quickly emerged – a nasty head injury during a High school PE lesson in the gym that he’d long forgotten about. His head had impacted the pale wooden floor and he’d been concussed. During the session the associated feelings of being afraid and not well supported at the time, emerged and flowed through. They no longer needed to be ‘held’. A sense of calm followed as his system settled into a more balanced state. His head eased as the tension lifted and he felt lighter.
This is just one story of how the body-led, ‘listening’ approach of Craniosacral therapy can allow integration of the parts of ourselves that have been fragmented. Things unfold differently for each individual according to their unique ‘somatic narrative’. In my experience this intelligent process leads towards greater health, vitality and self-awareness. Old, stubborn injuries and problem areas can free up as the tissues release their held patterns of tension.
You’ve probably heard the word ‘mindfulness’, perhaps read about its benefits and might be interested in exploring it further. It might even be on your list of New Years resolutions. As a Craniosacral therapist mindfulness is a key aspect of my work with clients. But what is it and how can it actually help? In short, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your present moment experience, without judgement. This includes being directly aware of what’s happening right now via the senses, and also your thoughts and emotions. You can cultivate this quality of mind through training, which will include meditation and other exercises. I find that clients who develop a mindfulness practice can benefit more fully from their sessions, and in turn, the nature of Craniosacral therapy further develops mindfulness. Here are five key ways a mindfulness practice can benefit you:
Mindfulness helps with stress
We all have unique, personal ways of spiraling into stress. Our ‘buttons get pressed’ by a variety of life situations. By developing your ability to pay attention to what is happening right now, you can learn to become aware of your own particular early warning signs of rising stress – tension in the stomach, cold hands, racing thoughts for example. These important signals indicate that our nervous system is elevating towards a ‘fight or flight’ style response – keeping us edgy and on high alert. These bodily warning signs are important, but often go unnoticed because we’re used to operating in a very busy, speedy way – being ‘in our heads’ rather than more fully in our bodies. Noticing how things begin to spiral for you offers the opportunity to press the pause button, slow down and pay attention. On a mindfulness course you will learn some practical techniques, involving the body and the breath, which interrupt that upward spiral. Over time you begin to have more choice over how you respond to situations, which can be empowering. Through regular practice you may notice that your fuse isn’t so short and that you’re generally a bit calmer and less reactive. As with anything worthwhile, it just takes practice.
Mindfulness helps you notice the good things in life
It can seem strange but we often live life on a kind of ‘autopilot’. We are going through our day, doing what we need to do, but not really noticing or paying much attention to life’s simpler pleasures. Scientists have coined the term ‘negativity bias’ because humans have an inbuilt tendency to notice problems and difficulties more than pleasant things (quite useful in our early evolution when survival was key). However, by cultivating a mindful approach, you can allow yourself to slow down and take in what’s good, in a direct and full way. It’s not about ‘thinking positive’ – more like redressing the balance. If you’ve ever sat and drunk a cup of tea mindfully, you will know what I mean. Things like watching a beautiful sunset, feeling the sun on your skin or even washing up the dishes can bring a deep sense of satisfaction and even joy. Through paying full attention life becomes richer!
Mindfulness involves kindness, both towards yourself and others
Many folk I speak to, whether I know them personally or professionally, are actually very thoughtful. They do kind things for others. When it comes to extending this approach to themselves, however, it can be a different matter. Just consider the question for yourself. How easy is it to take care of yourself, attending in a sensitive, timely way to your own needs? Often it’s a challenge. Sometimes we notice an inner voice, criticizing our every move, giving us quite a tough time indeed. Whilst this might be interpreted as good motivation to ‘achieve more’ or ‘keep on top of things’ it’s actually not very helpful, either for ourselves or those around us. A core aspect of mindfulness is to learn to develop kindness towards ourselves & others, with whatever is going on for us in the moment. We can begin to notice when and how inner harshness creeps in, and then actually develop what might be called ‘kindfulness’ – a tender response to the fact that we’re probably doing the best we can. Instead of ‘letting us off the hook’ this can open up whole new ways of being effective & creative in life. You can also develop more emotional balance by increasing your inner kindness – and that tends to ripple out towards others in a natural way.
Mindfulness can help you cope with pain
I know from working with clients with a variety of health challenges that living with ongoing pain can be very tiring and difficult to cope with. It’s natural when experiencing painful sensations to try to shut them off, tighten against them and turn away. Unfortunately, this strategy often leads to further difficulty, even adding to the original pain with extra layers of tension. In addition, we may find we have persistent, unhelpful thoughts such as ‘this will never go away’ – and soon we can feel in a hopeless place. The saying ‘what we resist, persists’ rings true here. Mindfulness offers a new way of turning towards our experience, even when it’s difficult, with curiosity and kindness. We can learn to be with the actual, primary sensations as they arise in our body. Paradoxically, this can help. We discover that our experience is fluid and ever-changing, and not as fixed, static or hopeless as we might think. Even though the pain may still be there, through practice, you can come into a new relationship with it.
Mindfulness helps you stay grounded and embodied
As you can see, mindfulness doesn’t only involve the mind, but the body too. This can be novel for many of us, as we’re usually caught up in thoughts – often ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future. Through mindfulness practices such as the body scan, you learn to develop your ‘felt sense’ and your experience begins to change. You learn to feel into your body with curiosity and kindness, opening up to the fluid and ever-changing nature of your inner and outer experience. Having Craniosacral therapy has the same effect. Whilst making hands-on contact with your body, I attend to the inner movements and sensations in a ‘listening’ way – which provides a ‘mirror’ to help you do the same. Your inner, fluid process can really come alive – whilst easing up deep tension and held patterns. You start to notice more directly what is happening for you in each moment – which is very rich territory indeed. It’s a bit like ‘waking up and smelling the coffee!’ By gradually re-inhabiting your body you can become more grounded and resilient in the face of life’s inevitable ups and downs. Finding you have more agency in life, you can respond creatively to events rather than being caught in habitual reactions. In other words, life is enriched, and you can feel more fully alive, moment by moment.
If you’d like to explore local mindfulness trainings in Herefordshire my partner, Matthew Ward, Marches Mindfulness, is running his next 8 week course on 28th Jan 2017. You’ll find more information on his website and details of how to book.
For other Accredited Mindfulness courses across the UK take a look at Breathworks.
I was delighted, once again, on Saturday to join with my good friend Georgie Treasure-Evans in running our women’s day retreat at the gorgeous Hill Cottage Retreat Centre near Knighton. Apparently we’ve been offering this day, roughly twice a year, for the past five years….(really? wow!)
The whole thing has got me pondering how things can be the same, but different. The same because they feel familiar, have a rhythm and a structure… and different, because in reality, nothing is ever the same twice. This is true for each and every Craniosacral therapy session, each and every time we follow the same recipe and mostly everything in life. The beautiful, creative truth of impermanence – everything changes. This truth leads me, naturally, to discussing Lentil Soup. Ever since the beginning, I’ve made the ‘same’ lentil soup for lunch at our retreat – it’s never crossed my mind to choose anything different. Ahh, but we know of course, with the magic of impermanence each time it is utterly different. There are the obvious things – sometimes my chillis are hotter, my lentils are smoother, the cumin is more potent and I’m generous with the garlic. But it’s more than that. Eating lentil soup, on retreat, during a day when a brand new constellation of women have joined together to pay attention – these are the ingredients that lead to true, spontaneous and unexpected enjoyment – each mouthful a brand new experience.
Now for the recipe – enjoy!
3 tbsp olive oil; 2 onions, chopped; 3 garlic cloves, chopped; 350g red lentils; 1.25 litres Bouillon stock; 1.5 tsps cumin seeds; 0.5 tsps crushed chilli flakes (or to taste); juice of 1 lemon; handful of flat-leaf parsley.
Rinse lentils. Heat oil and fry onions until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds. Add the lentils to the pan and stir well. Add the stock and bring to the boil. (Scoop off foam if there is any). Dry-roast cumin seeds and grind to a powder. Add to the soup with the chilli flakes. Simmer with lid on until lentils are very soft. Add water during cooking if necessary. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Serve with love!
The start of 2015 had me reflecting on how much I enjoy the gentle but powerful nature of Craniosacral therapy and the benefits that it brings for my clients. The unique way it works with each person’s body is quite fascinating and I’ve enjoyed watching many stories unfold.
Many folk arrive wanting relief from physical complaints – a painful shoulder, sore neck, bad back, migraines etc – and each session works to ‘unstick’ another layer of deep tension to reveal an easier, softer, more aligned body and frequently relief from symptoms. Recent issues tend to respond more quickly than long-standing problems where more sessions might be needed. But you may not realise there are further benefits to be had from this subtle bodywork.
Craniosacral works by my ‘listening’ through my hands to what your body is saying. In this way we both become aware of any places of ‘stuckness’ that relate, not only to your physical tissues, but more to the emotional side of yourself. Sometimes memories and feelings arise that relate to past events. This leads to a process of exploration that can be quite liberating – all at a pace that is led by your body – so changes can become integrated. Ultimately it’s an embodied way of taking a look at your own personal history. The fact that this is even possible can be a surprise at first – but if you’re intrigued by what your body is trying to tell you, Craniosacral can be a fruitful step towards wellbeing and wholeness.
In one client’s words:
Craniosacral Therapy has been a new experience for me, but one which I have benefited massively from.
Jess has an amazing ability to put you at ease, and using her hands has helped me to feel physically and emotionally stronger and more in contact with my own self.
So I’ve been thinking about how I might offer you the chance to ‘dip in’ to this therapy, in an easy way, to feel how this may work for you. It’s so much better to experience a session and feel the benefits for yourself. So I’m introducing ‘Open Door Craniosacral’. For a day each month I open the doors at my clinic space, to offer 30 minute sessions of Craniosacral for £20 at Leominster Osteopaths or Kingsland Clinic from 10-2pm. These sessions start on Wednesday 4th February 2015 and will continue on the first Wednesday of each month. You can simply ring to book your session now: 07981 866 667. Also, ‘like’ my Facebook page for further info. My regular practice runs as usual throughout the week should you wish to further your exploration in hour-long sessions. Take a look at my website for further information on Craniosacral therapy.
It couldn’t be easier to take a step towards wellbeing this year! Enjoy your session…
Many of you have already enjoyed the benefits of my gorgeous new therapy room in Kingsland. It’s a calm and peaceful environment and perfect for therapeutic work – whether Craniosacral therapy or Massage. Here are a few pictures for those who are yet to visit. And a big thank you to Pete and John the builders, but most of all to Matthew (Nayavira) my partner who completed the work to a very exacting standard! I hope you’ll enjoy the benefits of this little haven in north Herefordshire…. Do give me a ring
if you’d like to book your session.
So I decided it would be good to raise a bit of money for The Haven charity in Hereford – supporting people with breast cancer – and ‘Feelgood Friday’ is the result! For the whole day, at Leominster Osteopaths, I’ll be offering half hour sessions of Craniosacral Therapy for £20 – all proceeds to The Haven. So if you feel like trying out this gentle and powerful therapy now is your chance! And it’s a win-win scenario because you get to feel good about helping your body & mind, whilst also helping people with breast cancer. Go on – book your session now – slots are filling fast – give me a ring on 07981 866667 or the Osteopaths on 01568 610 610. I look forward to treating you…..
As you may know I’ve taken a luxurious break from teaching massage with BCMB in order to complete my Craniosacral Therapy training…. However, now I’m fully qualified and am building my Craniosacral therapy practice – it’s time for me to return to the fold…. literally, The Fold, near Worcester – to continue teaching Holistic Massage – which is something I’m very passionate about. Excitingly I’ll be teaching an ‘Introduction to massage’ course – open to complete beginners – on the weekend of 12/13th July 2014. If you’d like to find out more just call me on 07981 866667 – or to book your place contact main tutor Sarah Cohen. Go on, give it a go – it’s great fun and you’ll learn valuable massage skills for friends and family.
Mothering Sunday falls on 30th March – so why not treat your mum (and yourself too – you both deserve it!) to a whole hour of blissful Massage therapy at Leominster Osteopaths. For the month of March only – I’m offering TWO-FOR-ONE – so you can buy two one-hour therapy gift vouchers for the price of one! Only £40 for the pair. You have a whole year to book your sessions with me and can choose between Massage Therapy or Craniosacral Therapy at Leominster Osteopaths. Just give me a call to receive your vouchers now: remember – this is only available during March 2014 – 07981 866667. I look forward to treating you both!