Everyone knows the cliché about holding emotions in our bodies. The most common one is, “I carry my stress in my shoulders”. What if I told you that emotions tied with a physical, mental, or spiritual trauma can remain in the visceral body? This can be from both acute (that one firefight in Mosul) or chronic (the day in day out life during a deployment with a horrible commander) events. I have noticed with my clients that unless properly addressed and freed, this stuck energy can manifest into a multitude of issues.
I am a CranioSacral Therapist (using Upledger techniques). I believe that all bodies can heal as designed. I am also an Army veteran with two combat tours. I cannot tell the stories of my clients, but I can tell you mine. I can tell you why I do what I do now with such passion and hope to improve the lives of those affected by PTSD.
TRAUMA AND THE BODY
When a trauma or emotional event occurs, it stimulates the release of cortisol, i.e. adrenaline, causing a chain reaction to recruit the fight, flight, or freeze response (in women, it is considered tend & befriend) in our bodies. This surge can be life-saving by enhancing the senses to focus, aim, and fire at the right moment or providing a surge in power to carry a wounded comrade from danger. But, what happens when the fight is over? Wild animals have been observed “shaking it off” after surviving an attack from a predator. Edward Tick, Ph.D, author of War and the Soul: Healing our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, mentions a soldier’s need to cleanse and purify the body after returning from war. Like recovering equipment upon redeployment, our bodies must be cleaned out or the emotions can remain stuck and build up.
During a deployment, our bodies are constantly on guard. This puts tremendous stress on the adrenal glands as they are the main cortisol-producer in the body. Any additional stress from home or simply missing family just compounds the stress hormones. Chronic stress and/or a singular traumatic event can take a huge toll on the body. This can manifest into a variety of symptoms I have witnessed from the psychological (anxiety, depression, hyper-vigilance, irritability), physiological (panic attacks, hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, autoimmune diseases, insomnia), and physical (chronic aches & pains, fatigue, reduced libido, headaches, asthma, allergies, and even heartburn) realms. That’s right. That lingering energy can run your body down and affect it for years if left unresolved. According to Peter Levine in his book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, “post-traumatic stress symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear.”
The body literally needs to release the emotions and energy tied to an event in order to regain proper functioning. The problem is that the current medical system treats the symptoms with a myriad of prescription medications. Sadly, we have lost too many of our brothers and sisters to either an inadvertent overdose, or a reaction resulting in bodily harm or suicide. This is atrocious. Even worse, prescription medications dull the body’s ability to process events and emotions. Instead of processing, the issue becomes muted and continues to burn and simmer creating more and more havoc in the body. In order to heal, the body must be addressed as a whole system.
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is an incredibly gentle and non-invasive modality which capitalizes on the body’s innate ability to heal itself from within. It is an excellent complement to any recovery program. By improving circulation, motion, and function of the craniosacral system (CS), our bodies experience a cascade of re-alignments and health improvements. The craniosacral system is one of the inner-most physiological body processes and has powerful influence over the nervous, immune, musculoskeletal, vascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems. The brain and spinal column are surrounded by three layers of membranes called dura mater, pia mater, and arachnoid mater (Update: lymphatic cells have now been found between the layers of these membranes). The brain produces cerebral spinal fluid which fills between the layers and is reabsorbed into the body at a rate of 6-12 cycles per minute. Like your heartbeat and pulse, the craniosacral system has its own unique fluid and rhythm. As the fluid fills the system, the bones in the spine and head follow a particular motion emanating throughout the whole body. If a bone is out of place or stuck on the membrane or the membranes themselves are stuck, the movement and flow of fluid may be restricted. By following Dr. Upledger’s protocol of techniques, I assist the client’s body to find restored movement and release restrictions throughout the CS.
The exact pathways behind how the CS affects the rest of the body are yet to be clarified. We do know that improved circulation in general is beneficial. If you have a tourniquet wound tight on your wrist, the blood flow to your hand gets impeded. If circulation is not restored, the hand will become numb, turn purple, and the tissue could eventually die. When the tourniquet is removed, the hand regains feeling, color, and becomes usable again. The same concept applies to the CS. If an area of the CS is pinched or restricted, circulation may become poor. This can affect several areas of the body, especially the brain. Restoring the flow of CS fluid in the brain can be compared to improving blood flow to you hand; except in this case, it affects your entire body. Things just work better.
IT HAPPENED TO ME
The following is my personal theory from observations as a CST practitioner and client.
I don’t need to hash out the events I encountered while in the military. We all have our stories. Let’s focus on the now. I have had issues with my right hip for years. The muscles in, around, and throughout my right hip have been incredibly tight, especially after my first CrossFit competition post-baby. Neither work with a chiropractor, acupuncture, deep massage, cupping, therapeutic grade essential oils, yoga, nor meditation could get deep enough to help me relax the muscles. I have also dealt with depression, hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, and severe insomnia. I knew all the issues were connected, but couldn’t bridge the gap. In the fall of 2015, I was attending the Upledger CranioSacral 2 course in Austin, Texas when it happened.
I was paired up with another practitioner to do a CST trade. I was lying comfortably on the table, and she put one hand under my hip and the other on top. I have no clue how long we were there. Maybe it was 5 minutes, maybe it was 20, but at one point, I felt a burning deep in my right hip. I breathed into it, trying to get it to relax. The burning began to stir with energy. Surrendering myself to the therapy, I felt tingles of energy spread throughout my torso like a steady electric current. The energy surged through me like a wave and tears started to stream out of the corners of my eyes. My breathing became incredibly strong and I could no longer contain my composure. While my partner kept her hands steady with intention, I wept and began releasing some seriously old pent-up shit. After the wave subsided, I was incredibly relaxed and quite tired. No specific memories came to mind, but have heard that it can happen. I experienced what is known as a SomatoEmotional Release (SER), a complimentary protocol to CST. The rest of the weekend was very intense. It was like I had cracked open the lid of a pressure cooker and my body was taking the opportunity to let it all go. My hip felt looser, and I felt lighter. I could feel my body processes that had been slacking come back online. It truly was life-altering, and my other issues are improving each day. I continue to receive CST in addition to a strong foundation of holistic nutrition, supplements, exercise, yoga, and meditation.
HOW IT WORKS
Let’s revisit the general idea of holding emotions and traumatic events in our bodies. Our body cavities are separated by diaphragms or shelves of connective tissue. We have them at our pelvis, lower & upper rib cage, and base of the skull. Part of the protocol I use to improve CS circulation is to relax or release the diaphragms. A tight diaphragm can be thought of as a string tied around a balloon, only this balloon carries fluid. Thus, a tight diaphragm can stunt the flow of CS fluid like a tourniquet. This, in my opinion, is an ideal place for energy from a traumatic event to hide; especially in joints like the hip, shoulders, and even the ribcage. As tension in and around the diaphragms relax, the old energy from trauma releases. This is what I felt as the tingling and breath waves. The relaxed state after the surge is when the body engages its processes that restore, repair, nourish, and heal.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In general, a CST session is very relaxing. Initial sessions last about 90 minutes with subsequent sessions lasting about 75 minutes. The client remains fully clothed and lies on their back on the table. The main role of the practitioner is to create a safe and supporting environment in which the client can truly let go. Being vulnerable is critical to giving the body a chance to take charge. The practitioner uses less than 5 grams of pressure (about the weight of a nickel) during the session and focuses on the entire system from the top of the head to the base of the tailbone. This gentle work releases restrictions, improves circulation, and restores movement throughout the CS. Releasing diaphragms may require extra pressure, but it is still considerably lighter than other bodywork modalities. If an SER occurs, the experience may be more intense, but the end result is often feeling more relaxed and even refreshed.
TRY CST FOR YOURSELF
I provide CranioSacral Therapy out of my private practice, LCR Wellness, LLC, in Austin, Texas. All veterans receive sessions courtesy of the Cpl. Chad Eric Oligschlager Foundation for PTSD. (www.cplchado.org) Contact me for more information and to get on the schedule.
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