This article was written by Amy Stark, LMT, describing her experiences in a recent two-day “Craniosacral Therapy I” workshop at Oregon School of Massage. Amy is the Oregon School of Massage Student Services Coordinator; she is also a life coach.
CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY – My Experience of the Dance Between Science and Spirit
“First thought, best thought”
We began Craniosacral Therapy: Introduction by entering a space that was clearly intended to invoke mindfulness and attention to the senses. A double-circle of artful Soul Cards lay in the middle of the room, surrounding a purple-glass vase with lovely purple and green flowers. A few small candles were lit and the soundscape was neutral. It was evident that the instructor, Jeremy Manalis, took great care in providing an environment that was conducive for awareness and safe for exploration. Little did I know that we also were being prepared to learn a technique that was as subtle, yet as powerful as the environment itself.
After we were welcomed with a thorough overview of the course activities, we were asked to share two thoughts that came to mind: what we would like to feel when we left class on Sunday and what we might be fearful of when approaching the work. At one point, a classmate questioned her first thought, which was met by Jeremy with a warm and gentle smile and the phrase, “First thought, best thought.”
Movement and Unwinding
The method through which Jeremy expresses his instruction is grounded in Hugh Milne’s work in Visionary Craniosacral Therapy using the Liquid-Electric model. Rather than a more manual and agenda-focused therapy, the Liquid-Electric model was explained as a following of the natural rhythms and movement of the craniosacral system to restore balance and calm to the central nervous system.
My felt experience of craniosacral work has evolved over time. It began with a chiropractic student who practiced the work with me during my pregnancy; I remember laying there thinking, “This is bunk…there’s no way anything is happening in my body.” Eventually I received a combination of Shiatsu and Craniosacral Therapy from a colleague: Jolene Kelley. Her style infuses gentle presence, intuitive awareness and extraordinary communication. At one point in the session, she held my right ASIS while supporting my sacrum. I immediately felt an incredible urge to move, to rock and stretch, and asked Jolene to hold my feet so I could feel more grounded.
This is something I had only experienced once before in massage school while receiving Myofascial Unwinding – the desire to move on a massage table! Sometimes, it feels as though there’s an unspoken rule that you’re supposed to “relax” and lay still while receiving a massage. This was not the case – I was encouraged to move as my body felt appropriate. After a few minutes of rocking and stretching, I noticed a lightening of the sensation and a relaxing wave wash over me. It was incredible work which inspired me to find out more.
That’s where Craniosacral Intro came into play. What I really appreciated about the way in which we learned the work was the sheer amount of time spent on integrating mindfulness with science – learning about the system with which we’d be working from a variety of aspects before laying hands on each other. I was pleasantly surprised to experience an anatomy lesson on the bones of the skull, intertwined with the “personalities” or energy that each bone represented within our bodies. Jeremy also introduced a style of yoga, yin yoga, which was much more restorative, and brought subtle movement awareness to our systems; grounding our spinal columns, feeling Earth’s gravity pulling and supporting us all at the same time.
Practicing and Patience
I discovered another thing about myself through practicing the work; patience and quiet pays off. Before taking the second class offered at OSM, Craniosacral Therapy Level 1, I decided to exchange with colleagues to help me connect more with the work. I learned a lot through those trades; in one, a lesson of full disclosure of health history and being fully present and aware of the body in your hands, in another, patience for myself and for the client as their process unfolds in its own, unique way.
As I traded, I noticed something very different about myself as a Western Neuromuscular Therapy practitioner; my mind was calm when I participated in this process with a client, it was in a place of curiosity and connection, creating a balance between scientific knowledge about the bones and tapping into the deeper knowing and intuition of my body. At one point, as my hands supported my partner’s pubic bone and sacrum, my mind kept saying, “There’s nothing happening here, just move on,” while my hands were like glue, waiting for something to unfold. I decided to trust my hands, to release the need for something specific to happen, and breathe. Immediately following that breath my partner began to unwind, to cry, to release. Patience works.
Chaos Before Order
We began the Level 1 weekend with 3 questions, spoken to us during our group meditation: “What does your body feel like today? What does your body need? What do you want to get out of this class?” My body felt electric and orange, huge and external. My body needed cooling water, coming to center, going inward. When I heard the third question, there was silence, nothing. So that’s what I gave as my answer – I wanted nothing from this class. I wanted stillness – nothing – embracing the void.
Throughout the weekend, I felt free to move as my body wished, to roll with the tides, to undulate and to stretch or shake. Over the past year, I’ve really embraced the movement my body wishes to express and have felt incredibly liberated. On the last day, as Jeremy, lectured about the zygomatic arch technique, a decompression, that could impact the way we “face the world,” how our spirit expresses it’s bravery and strength or weakness and fear, I felt in my gut that this was going to be something big for me because I had experienced severe facial trauma when I was in a car crash at the age of 15.
My partner began by working with my temporal bones via the ear and the first sensation I experienced was tension and discomfort. As I communicated my experience to her, we realized it was because she didn’t have support for her arms to fully relax, so that tension was being communicated through her arms. Jeremy brought her a pillow and immediately, her arms relaxed and my face began to unwind through my neck.
I rolled all over the place, stretched, yawned, hummed; my partner even began to hum with me and it felt like the small vibrations created with the sound were loosening the tension in the intricate connections of my skull. Once the humming stopped and she moved to my zygomatic arch, she brought my face to the midline. I began to feel a great emotion welling up within my body, my face became heavy, sad and full of tears. Almost instantaneously, with a flow that felt just right, my body became a great huffing, sniffing, buzzing beast on the table. I convulsed and cried and shook. I began to see images of myself after the wreck, as we waited for the ambulance; I had gotten out of the truck and was pacing, swearing, angry at the driver, living in severe survival mode. My face bloody, I looked in the mirror and picked out pieces of glass, staring into the eyes of a frightened animal.
I was still huffing, rhythmically, and said, “I’m going to pass out.” Just then, still on the table, I heard a voice coming through; it was Jeremy. “Open your eyes, look at your partner, she’s here with you, I’m here with you, the whole class is here with you.” It was at that point that I connected with my breath and knew I needed to come back from that place and let it pass through me. I looked up and saw my partner’s glowing face, her sincere, brown eyes, and felt an intense and incredible energy buzzing throughout my body. As I continued to calm my breath, the buzzing began to subside, my eyes looked through a haze of tears at the ceiling tiles – just staring past them. I was calming, cooling, coming to center.
Finding My Midline
It wasn’t over yet; my partner asked if I wanted to experience the maxillae technique, where the practitioner puts two, gloved pointer fingers into your mouth to provide a fulcrum for the maxillae to unwind upon. I had a bit of a headache after the previous release, so thought it would help. As she worked with my maxillae, my neck began unwinding again, fighting for a place in my body. My head throbbed, and I asked her to get Jeremy over again, as we couldn’t find a place of relief.
As he came over, he acknowledged me and held my head. I began to move, to roll, which is when I heard his voice explaining that my head was in balance, yet it was having a hard time connecting to my neck. I said, “My neck and head need to create a relationship.” Moments later, Jeremy moved my head to a place where he said, “That’s your midline, hold it, feel the stillness.” I realized at that moment what I hadn’t been aware of before: in all the permission I gave myself to move as I wished, I never gave myself permission to be still, or to move from that midline and centered place. I had often segregated the two as if they couldn’t co-exist.
Relief washed over my body and stillness came. Jeremy stepped away, giving me permission to take care of myself and skip the trade with my partner. I laid there for quite some time, feeling into my midline, feeling my center, connecting with my neck and head, talking to them about their relationship. When I felt it was time, I sat up, wrapped a blanket around myself, and meditated in my power for about 20 to 30 minutes. I felt as though I was an old, wise woman, sitting on a mountaintop. My bottom melted into the table, into the legs, into the floor. My heart felt huge, expansive and somehow calm in all the bustle of the class. I moved a little, but always around that midline, around that center, like a maypole being wound and unwound repeatedly.
The Path Ahead
I learned to trust my body, trust the perspective of my teacher and partners, to allow space for the uncertainty of my head settling into comfort with my neck. I trusted my intuition that day, my knowing that this was a safe space and I was willing to be completely present with my process and feel into it. I embraced the change that came over me, the connection to my classmates and teacher and took a risk that unfolded and fostered a connection within my body.
Perhaps my experience may be a bit more dramatic than that which typically happens in a classroom, that the sense of safety I felt was from within, and yet I feel that it was an experience worth sharing. Ultimately, there is so much more to this work than I can express. I look forward to the path ahead; learning about the dance between body and mind, spirit and science, bones and fluid. This is a dance that speaks the language of my soul.
Amy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy Manalis, MA, LMT, the OSM Craniosacral instructor can be contacted through his website: www.jeremymanalis.com
Jolene Kelley, LMT, (referred to in the article) can be contacted through her website: www.jolenekelleylmt.com
Soul Cards – Deborah Koff-Chapin – Center for Touch Drawing : www.touchdrawing.com