Fortify Yourself. Self-Regulate.

This is one example of the kind of guided meditations I lead my patients in during clinical sessions. It is a simple way to begin the settling and embodiment process for those not used to relating to their body. It’s also the place to start when learning to self-regulate.

Self-regulation is a term used by the field of affective neuroscience to describe an individual’s ability to consciously and unconsciously manage and modify arousal states. It describes an the ongoing process of finding an equilibrium of the whole in the face of change. Learning how to self-regulate is fundamental to the manifestation and maintenance of health over time. The foundation of self-regulation is embodiment. The only way to begin learning how to be embodied is by developing a relationship with the body. This is done through finding the body in space and being present with the changes happening on a physiological level without expectation or judgment, but rather with an ever expanding sense of curiosity. Another word for this is mindfulness.

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How Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy May Benefit Pain Conditions

craniosacral-painLiving with chronic or acute pain can be debilitating. It can cause not only high levels of stress, but also significant changes in mood and daily life activities. Default treatments like anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers, physical therapy, appropriate exercises, application of heat or cold may often ease the pain. When they don’t, it’s hard to evaluate the other healthcare options that might help. I will explain why biodynamic craniosacral therapy (BCST) is an option worth considering if you suffer from a pain condition.

Only recently has research begun to uncover what makes craniosacral therapy (CST) effective. As a result, when someone is referred to me, they generally have no idea what to expect, what they are in for, and whether biodynamic craniosacral therapy can really help them.

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What Is Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy?

I have read many introductions to biodynamic craniosacral therapy (BCST), participated in hundreds of conversations on the topic, and have been confronted about the “quackery” of BCST from a scientific standpoint. I agree, it is hard to understand what BCST is and how it works based on how my own field tries to explain it.

In studying traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and attending seminars and talks given by medical doctors who are acupuncturists and have decided to lecture on acupuncture to non-TCM health practitioners (some names include Dr. Nadia Volf, Dr. Leslie Smith, and Dr. David Miller), I have realized that the main issue that leads to misunderstanding of the alternative medicine field is communication.

As the western medical paradigm uses a certain language and methodology to explain the physiological cascade leading to illness or health, traditional Chinese medicine and biodynamic craniosacral therapy also use complete different languages and methodologies based on completely different medical traditions and paradigms. Therefore when, for example, TCM tries to explain itself to the western medical world it often translates as being nonsensical and unscientific because of the language barrier. It’s like an American going to China and trying to ask for a sandwich in English. Not only is English not the main language in China, but sandwiches are also not a staple in the Chinese diet.

With this in mind, I have tried to develop an explanation of BCST that would also make sense from a western medical paradigm. The explanation therefore begins with explaining a part of the nervous system, specifically the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and its two branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

The ANS functions at the subconscious level to maintain homeostatic vital functions. It’s in charge of most organ functions that keep us alive moment to moment that we never have to think or worry about. Some examples are blood pressure, blood flow, body temperature, breathing, and digesting and eliminating food. The ANS has two divisions: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic emerges from the middle part of the spine spanning from the level of the shoulders to the level of the belly button and is responsible for what is called the “fight-or-flight” state. If there is a bear chasing you, you’re running fast, furiously, efficiently, and effectively thanks to your sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic is its counterpart. It’s often called the “rest-and-digest” state. It emerges from parts of the brainstem and parts of the sacrum (your “tailbone”). It is responsible for replenishing resources and repairing any part of the body that has suffered during the day, which includes any stress that has burdened the body in some way.

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Learning from the Embryo: The Power of Gesture

Embryo at 5 weeks, 5-7 mm in length, budding arms and legs and heart starting to emerge in the ventral cavity.

Embryo at 7 weeks, 13-17 mm in length, with face resting on heart and hands growing around the heart.

At five weeks the embryo is 5-7 mm long (about the size of a dry lentil). It is budding upper and lower limbs. Its heart is large and rapidly growing in size. By week seven the heart is enormous. Using an adult body as a reference, the heart stretches from the bottom of the nose to the level of the hips. The embryo’s face is resting up against the top surface of the heart, and the tiny arms now have hands with webbed fingers at the end of them. 

As the arms and hands grow around the heart, the embryo makes a series of gestures that are quite beautiful. The hands come up and around the lateral surfaces of the heart. The heart begins to pull into the body as the embryo grows in length, making space for the heart on its ventral surface. The hands meet as the heart completes its incorporation into the body. Then the hands change direction and open outward.

The gesture is this: first take care of yourself (guiding the heart into the chest cavity), and then take care of others (opening up the arms and hands to the surrounding environment).

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Learning From the Embryo: Imprinted for Change

Human embryo at 1 to 2 weeks

When you were an embryo your body developed from one cell that underwent division. It underwent division once, twice, tens of thousands of times. At every stage of forming and shaping, you were a complete, fully functioning organism. You often did not look like your final human form, but the only way you managed to survive your own creation was by being 100% complete and 100%  incomplete at every stage.

You had to accept change. The embryo undergoes over twenty different shapes before it arrives at it’s final human form (23 Carnegie stages based solely on morphologic features). And that’s the number science has come up with so that it is easier to study the stages of embryonic development. Your whole creation was a making and unmaking of yourself. A building and deconstructing. An expanding followed by contracting. It was your first experience of self expression in pursuing something you believed in. In the case of the embryo, your life depended on how determined you were to survive and how willing you were to change in order to do that. If the embryo does not change, it dies.

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