Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Craniosacral Therapy: A shamanic practice? - Freya

Craniosacral therapy is a relatively new alternative healing modality that entails working with the cerebrospinal fluid which bathes our brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It is a gentle treatment that involves ‘listening’ to the fluid’s subtle wave-like motions, known as the craniosacral rhythm. Through sensitive, yet specific, hands-on techniques the whole nervous system is affected by balancing and harmonising the craniosacral system (Agustoni 2008, p. 2; Milne 1995 vol 1, pp. 4-6). The main focus of this essay will be to describe my personal experience of a craniosacral healing session. This will include excerpts of an interview conducted with the practitioner, referred to throughout the paper as ‘Blue Wren’. Altered states of consciousness and shamanic principles involved will also be discussed, along with whether craniosacral therapy could be deemed a neoshamanistic practice.

Before beginning the healing, Blue Wren used a sage smudge stick to cleanse the treatment room and myself of negative energy. Having never experienced the ancient art of smudging, I was pleasantly surprised at the feeling of contentment and relaxation it invoked. As the treatment began Blue Wren stood silently away from the treatment table which she explained afterwards as being “a time in which I ground and centre myself. I go into a meditative state, expand my consciousness and open my heart centre.” An open heart centre is vital for craniosacral healing as the heart is considered the centre of perception (Ridley 2006, p. 30). She describes this ASC as one of “higher perception, awareness and intuition during which our heart centres connect.”

Blue Wren explained that “in this state of connectedness, the practitioner is able to ‘see’ what the client needs on all levels”. According to Agustoni (2008, p. 4), craniosacral therapy has the potential to impact on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. Milne (1995 vol 1, p. 80) refers to this mind-body-spirit complex as the “dreambody”. Craniosacral therapists work with the principle that the dreambody is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and maintenance of wellbeing. Trauma, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, is believed to reduce energy flow within the body and diminish the craniosacral rhythm. This may restrict, or even block, the dreambody’s self-healing capabilities which can potentially lead to disharmony and disease if left unresolved (Agustoni 2008, p. 7).

The treatment proceeded with Blue Wren placing her hands gently on different areas of my body. I felt progressively more relaxed; an altered state of consciousness in which I experienced a deepened sense of body awareness while my mind remained relatively alert. With Blue Wren’s hands placed under my pelvis, I had the sensation that my sacrum was twitching and throbbing, then see-sawing and swinging back and forth. She explained afterwards that this is “the body reorganising and releasing any restrictions or blockages”. Similar sensations were also experienced in other regions of my body during the healing. Although these felt as though the tissue and bone itself were making gross physical movements, Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 39) hypothesises that the motility is actually due to fluctuations in the client’s energy field.

During one of the head holds I felt an unusual movement coursing down my spine and then my sacrum seemed to become heavy or ‘full’. This sense of fullness lasted a few minutes before there was another coursing movement along my spine, this time upwards towards my head. When I told Blue Wren of this afterwards, she explained that during this particular hold she ‘listens’ to the craniosacral rhythm then, using her enhanced perception, follows the movement of the spinal fluid down into the sacrum. Here, she “induces a ‘still point’ during which the fluid is potentised by the chi. This is similar to awakening the kundalini energy. Then the craniosacral rhythm resumes and flows more harmoniously”. It was amazing to experience this sensation. Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 39) explains that kundalini is an ancient Hindu term depicting two serpents ascending the spine, intertwined. This represents the dance of the ida (female) energy and pingala (male) energy spiralling around a still point. Analogous to this belief, the ancient Chinese portray this dance as one between the energies of female yin and male yang. Again, this occurs around a still point, embodied as the centre point in the universal yin/yang symbol (Milne 1995 vol 2, p. 39).

Asked of her view on how craniosacral therapy works, Blue Wren described the healing power as a fusion of the universal energy (chi) and our two individual energies. She added that “in this ‘oneness’, universal energy channels through me into you and assists your dreambody in re-establishing harmony and health through inviting stillness”. Ridley (2006, pp. 53-54) describes stillness as a pause in the craniosacral rhythm during which healing occurs. Through the clearing of energy blockages and restrictions, the body’s own healing and regulating capabilities, and thus inner balance, are restored (Agustoni 2008, p. 3). Blue Wren also mentioned that spirit guides of both practitioner and client are present during healings. Both Brennan (1993, p. 54) and Milne (1995 vol 1, pp. 106-108), deem the presence of guides as very important in providing support and guidance during a healing.

At another stage during the healing while Blue Wren was touching my jaw and throat, it was as if the back of my eyelids had turned a brilliant light blue. It was a lovely experience and upon informing Blue Wren she explained that blue corresponds to the throat chakra. Angelo (1994, p. 64) and Brennan (1988, pp. 34, 48) agree that sky blue denotes the throat chakra which deals with true expression of the soul. Also, multiple times throughout the healing I felt as if I was on the verge of sleep when suddenly I would become alert and feel an ‘electric’ tingling sensation in my chest. This would quickly move downwards through my body into my lower legs. Telling Blue Wren of this she explained that all people experience different sensations during a healing. She thinks it most likely that what I felt was “stillness and then release”. This theory is supported by Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 41) who describes that during a still point clients often fall into a deep state of relaxation, close to that of sleep, during which major alterations and adjustments occur within the dreambody.

Looking back, I consider the healing involved elements of shamanism. Many aspects of the healing were ritualistic in nature, such as Blue Wren always using sage smudging to purify the treatment room and client of negative energy before commencing a healing. Likewise, she always uses the same ritual steps while standing back from the client to achieve “stillness and neutrality” within herself and an expansion of consciousness. Achieving this involves “breathing techniques, focus and silent invocations”. As mentioned earlier, it is in this ASC that Blue Wren receives intuitive guidance on what the client needs and how the treatment should proceed. This knowledge is provided by guides which are invited to attend the craniosacral healing and, along with other helping spirits, guide and support the session (Brennan 1993, p. 54; Milne 1995 vol 1, pp 106-108). This may be considered parallel to the shaman’s journey to another realm in which they encounter helping spirits that closely guide their healing work (von Stuckrad 2002).

The aforementioned “centring and grounding” that Blue Wren must achieve before commencing treatment could be regarded as analogous to connecting with Father Sky and Mother Earth referred to in Native American shamanism (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 46). When asked how she became involved in alternative healing therapies Blue Wren explained that during a serious illness a “gifted natural therapist came into my life and healed me”. After this illness, though her interest in alternative therapies was ignited, she returned to her normal way of life. Several years later she was diagnosed with the even more life-threatening disease of cancer. For this also, she sought the treatment of alternative healers and has now been cancer-free for seven years. In this time, she has been studying and practising alternative therapies herself. Universal tales of ‘initiatory sickness’ exist, often involving near-fatal illnesses when the call to become a shaman is ignored (Milne 1995 vol 1, p 46; Jilek 2005). As quoted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead: “You can’t fight becoming a shaman. If you try, the ongons [spirits] will force you anyway (Freemantle & Trungpa 1975).”

Due to the various characteristics mentioned in this essay, I propose craniosacral therapy, as I have experienced it, to be shamanic healing. I also suggest that Blue Wren may be considered a new-age shaman, or ‘neoshaman’. Entering an altered, meditative state of consciousness is vital for perception of the craniosacral rhythm and also in accessing spiritual guidance from the ‘other world’ (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 4 ;von Stuckrad 2002). Both of these occurred in our session along with the use of ritual, guided visualisation, breathing techniques and invocations which are commonly employed by traditional shamans in their healing practices (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 46). Blue Wren is important in her community in the role of local healer but her role is distinct from that of the traditional shaman. This may be due to a neoshaman’s role often being confined to those within the community who are open to the alternative healing experience. In summation, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of a craniosacral healing session. Afterwards I felt very relaxed and calm with a sense of ‘lightness’. However, it is very difficult to describe in words the sensations I felt and the experience as a whole. A quote by Rollin Becker (1997) says it nicely: “... if I talk about it, that isn’t what it is. How and why it works I don’t know, and if I did know, that wouldn’t be it”.

Reference List

Agustoni, D 2008, Craniosacral Rhythm: A practical guide to a gentle form of bodywork therapy, Elsevier Limited, London.

Angelo, J 1994, Your healing power, Piatkus, London.

Becker, RE 1997, The stillness of life, Rudra Press, Cambridge.

Brennan, BA 1988, Hands of light: A guide to healing through the human energy field, Bantam Books, New York.

Brennan, BA 1993, Light emerging: The journey of personal healing, Bantam Books, New York.

Freemantle, F & Trungpa, C 1975, The Tibetan book of the dead, Shambala, Boston.

Jilek, WG 2005, ‘Transforming the shaman: Changing western views of shamanism and altered states of consciousness’, Articulo de Investigacion, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 8-15.

Milne, H 1995, The heart of listening 1: A visionary approach to craniosacral work, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

Milne, H 1995, The heart of listening 2: A visionary approach to craniosacral work, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

Ridley, C 2006, Stillness: Biodynamic cranial practice and the evolution of consciousness, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

von Stuckrad, K 2002, ‘Reenchanting nature: modern western shamanism and nineteenth-century thought’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 771-799.

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