The Power of Presence and Stillness An Introduction to Biodynamic CranioSacral Therapy

Just being there is no small thing. When we are present with someone’s expressions of their life force, there’s a profound affect created that brings about healing. How relieving it is to be heard. Just to be heard. Not having someone qualify the hearing of you with providing a solution, intervening, or trying to offer something else. Rare indeed is it that someone will just listen intelligently without imposing their own life story, opinions, solutions, or ideas, concepts, and fantasies of what is happening.

When you experience this, a wonderful healing takes place and there is a natural relief of your suffering. This can be so profound that you have physical sensations and changes as well emotional expressions. Someone has acknowledged who you are. It might only be for a short time or just a moment but that is all it needs. It is the deepest form of communication, being to being. There are no words in this connection and it feels timeless. A direct relationship to your beingness. The more deeply you can manifest this the more powerfully people respond to your touch and presence.

Sit for a moment and see if you can be with your state of beingness. When you reside in it you can truly be the witness. Its qualities are presence, clarity, simplicity and non-doing. It is a state of repose and acuity, it is not a sleepy state. You are actually bringing together a balance of internal and external awareness into harmony. From this place you can begin to see and feel what is happening. Let go of ideas of what you might find, or formats for making sense of things. Try to observe what is, unfettered by your own fantasies or anxieties. Only then will you be able to have any sense of what is happening in yourself or in another person.

In biodynamic craniosacral therapy we use touch as a way of communicating and listening to another person. The focus is always on exploring sensations and the nature of being in a body in a particular environment. The cranial paradigm teaches that there are certain phenomena that occur in the body and the space around us. These include a sense of stillness, expansion and contraction through all the tissues and structures, a surge and tide like movement of fluids and shifts in an electric-like charge we call potency. With skill and practice it is possible to interact with these phenomena to support a movement towards health.

At the heart of the craniosacral touch there is a state of being present. It takes practice to become skillful at being able to manifest this. Eventually this starts to become part of you in a more apparent way. What you will notice too is a burgeoning sense of spaciousness. Both gross and subtle. You will feel bigger and fuller as if you not only occupy your body but the space around it too. Also you will notice a mental and emotional spaciousness that allows you a deeper and richer contact with your thoughts and feelings. The spaciousness allows a disengagement, so that a natural state of non-attachment comes about.

You can engender this state through a practice of opening into this spaciousness. The wider the space, the deeper and more energetic the manifestation of health. As you widen out there is an expression of energetic forces within the body that can be felt as tingling or fluid like movements throughout the body. This is the movement of potency and the phenomenon of primary respiration.

Two big ideas go to the heart of cranial work. One; the whole body expands and contracts in a rhythmic or tidal way. Two; there is an intelligence expressed through the whole body.

A skilled practitioner can interact with the rhythms and tides expressed by the body. The rhythms are very rich in information. If you were watching someone breathing and they were breathing quickly and rapidly in their upper chest you might learn to associate that with activity, excitement or anxiety. Similarly the tempo, strength and presence of the various tides in the body tells us huge amounts about that person.

When the founder of the work, the osteopath W.G. Sutherland, was first struck with the thought that the bones in the head moved, this was against the accepted model of his time. After decades of exploring he discovered subtle movements in all the structures and fluids of the body. Sutherland’s early descriptions of the ‘primary respiratory mechanism’ defined five phenomena: the fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid – the potency of the tide; the function of the reciprocal tension membrane – the intracranial and dural membranes; the motility of the neural tube; the articular mobility of the cranial bones; the involuntary movement of the sacrum between the ilia. However primary respiration is not limited to these core elements of the body. The tide is expressed through out the total human system; every cell knows the tide. Every cell breathes, inhaling and exhaling within cycles of primary respiration.

The smartest thing in the room is the intelligence expressed in our bodies. There is millions of years of evolution behind the shapes and forms and movements in the body. There are lots of coordinated self regulating processes that respond to events and maintain an internal balance and flow. This intelligence defines the chemistry, nervous activity and alignment in the body. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy experiences this intelligence as an expression of a wider ordering principle in nature. Health is an active principle, it is a living breathing reality that can be palpated by knowing hands. Sutherland named the ordering principle as the breath of life. We also use the term biodynamic health to represent this principle.

Towards the end of his life in the early 1950’s his writing underwent a shift in emphasis to include not just the mechanics and infinitesimal movements of the structures of the body, but also an increasing reverence for the breath of life. It was during the last few years of his life that he began to describe principles such as being a more passive observer and waiting for something to happen rather than just applying techniques, the fluids in the body containing ‘liquid light’, primary respiration as being outside as well as inside the body and the power of stillness.

The cranial approach was passed on through a lineage of osteopaths, Rollin Becker and James Jealous being the most prominent. In the 1970s an american osteopath, Dr John Upledger, observed the distinct, regular movement of a dural tube (the tough membrane that surrounds and protects the spinal cord) during surgery on a patient’s neck. He studied the work of Sutherland, did his own experiments and caused a schism in the work by starting to train non osteopaths in ‘craniosacral therapy’. Upledger is a prolific writer and trainer and has done a huge amount to increase awareness of craniosacral therapy. Through his institute he claims to have trained over 25000 people around the world.

Biodynamics is an attempt to always appreciate the whole of things. The work is about a surrender to the priorities of the body. There is a trust that, given the right relationship and with enough resources, the intelligence in the body will choose the best way to heal. In biodynamics we do not impose a plan from the outside. We listen and support the inherent striving of the organism away from fragmentation and towards health. This approach orients to the slower tidal movements (called mid tide and long tide) expressed by primary respiration. Stillness is a defining goal and experience in the work, we use the term dynamic stillness to represent to the quality of still spaciousness that is enfolded in nature and all living things. Change happens in the still moments where an individual comes back into relationship to what is around them.

James Jealous adapted the term biodynamic from his study of the embryologist Erich Blechschmidt. Jealous calls his work the ‘biodynamic model of osteopathy in the cranial field’. He emphasizes the embryo as being ever present in the living organism. The embryo is a very powerful motif in biodynamics. The human form takes shape from a ball of cells. The growth movements that occur in the first 8 weeks of life give many clues for understanding how the adult body heals. The word biodynamic has connotations of holism and interrelationship.

The biodynamic principles began to be applied to craniosacral therapy through the work of Franklyn Sills and the teachers at the Karuna Institute in the UK in 1990’s. There is now an International Affiliation of Biodynamic Trainings (IABT) consisting of eight schools. The biodynamic approach is one in which the main focus is the forces at work within the human system via mid tide, long tide and dynamic stillness. The work orients to insights from the later years of Sutherland’s life.

To review; there are cranial osteopaths and craniosacral therapists (sometimes described as having a biomechanical approach). There are biodynamic osteopaths in the cranial field and biodynamic craniosacral therapists. The authors use the latter approach.

The animating force behind primary respiration is the breath of life. Sutherland believed this was an energetic expression of an intelligence in the universe. The expression of primary respiration is a longitudinal fluid motion that has two phases of inhalation and exhalation, oriented around the midline of the body. Inhalation can be felt as a rising movement that expands laterally and exhalation as a complementary movement that recedes down towards the lower body and narrows side to side. Very much like the ebb and flow of the tide. The qualities Sutherland attributed to the breath of life are; Basic constitutional energy of the body, having a potency and healing function; Conveys intelligence to every cell and tissue of the body and is the inner physician; Maintains order and integrity in the body.

The breath of life has several expressions that can be palpated by the skilled practitioner. Often you will be struck by its longitudinal expression which can feel very fluid, like a surge welling and then receding through the body. The flow is a potent surge of fluid potency that moves up the length of the midline to the head. A strong expression of this can feel like it is pushing you out of your chair. Another expression is a lateral widening and then narrowing that can feel like an expansion and contraction. Sometimes the head and body feel like a balloon that is inflating. Sometimes you have a full sense of the movement as a rising and widening and it feels like the balloon changes shape but not volume. It is interesting how you perceive it and how different aspects of show themselves to you.

As you become more adept at feeling these expressions you can gain a sense of the nuances of the tide. These are the characteristic movements for that individual. So how the inhalation and exhalation phases are expressed, the pauses at the change of the phases, the drive or amount of potency behind the movement all define the body system and becomes the baseline for tracking change. Being in relationship to this life force changes everything. There’s a chain reaction that brings about a greater order of health. Watch the tide and see what happens. It is as if the body is made of sand or seaweed and the movement of the ocean is reshaping and smoothing out the contours. The action of the tide itself highlights the body’s forms and patterns and then brings about reorganization.

We are all shaped by experience. We use the term patterns of experience to describe how the body centres and responds to the conditional forces of life events. Biodynamic forces represent the inherent adaptability of the body, its continual striving for health. How much you are affected by an event depends on your resources and your relationship to biodynamic health. We all do the best we can, given our history and current circumstances. Many of our responses are deep reflexes embedded in our bodymind that are based on previously successful strategies. Birth is an early defining experience, relating to early experiences coded in the body is an important part of cranial work. For example birth can leave a trail of patterns that affect future events and behaviours. Bringing awareness and choice to our habitual responses and our deepest imprints is a huge part of biodynamic craniosacral therapy. This is necessarily an embodied awareness as most of our defining experiences our encoded non-verbally and non-consciously in our bodies.

Certain experiences can overwhelm our resources. We are all hardwired to respond to overwhelming and traumatic experiences in the same way. We contract away from danger and the control mechanisms (nervous, hormonal and immune) take us immediately into states of being activated (flight or fight) or dissociated (freeze). The good news is that we evolved to respond quickly to unsafe situations and have the innate ability to process and overcome trauma. We would not survive as a species if this were not the case. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is very good at supporting safe, contained processing of traumatic experiences. This includes ‘hard trauma’ from single overwhelming events or the slow accumulation of stress and tension from multiple distressing experiences (‘soft trauma’).

Our bodies our amazing. We have the ability to heal and change and adapt to all that life can throw at us. The first stage in healing is to simply become more aware of your body. Learn to cultivate skills of being present. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is a profound way of helping people to trust the intelligence in the body, to deepen into stillness and learn to appreciate how the body moves and flows in its continual striving for health.

About the author:

Steve Haines is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, teacher and co-author of  ‘Cranial Intelligence: A Practical Guide to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy’.

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