Racing heart. Constricted breathing. Tense shoulders. Shaking hands. Churning stomach. Pounding head.
Anxiety and stress put your mind and body through the wringer. Originally evolved to help us respond to danger, the stress response has become a danger itself when we constantly react to environmental factors that our bodies perceive as threats.
“In our world we are surrounded by chronic stressors,” says osteopathic physician John Upledger, a pioneer of craniosacral therapy as a technique for releasing disruptive energy from the nervous system. “Many [of these stressors] have to do with vibrational frequencies: sounds, lights, colors, aromas, magnetic fields, electrical fields, barometric pressure changes and so on.”
Because we aren’t actually in danger, the stress hormones produced in anticipation of the fight-or-flight response are left swimming in our bloodstream with nowhere to go. As a result, stress becomes trapped inside our bodies. Anxiety, a pathological reaction to chronic or traumatic stress, may set in.
“When people experience anxiety it is an emotional response to various triggers often based in long-rooted beliefs,” says psychotherapist Lynn Louise Wonders. “When we have emotional responses to anxiety-provoking experiences and this emotion cannot be expressed in a way that is healthy, this emotion is remembered or stored in the tissues of the body, the muscles, bones and organs.”
When stress or anxiety lingers in your body, it blazes a path of silent devastation. Cortisol suppresses your immune system, compromising your ability to fight disease. It also increases the rate of tissue damage your body sustains, as all of your available resources are being siphoned off to support the fight-or-flight mechanism. Research suggests stress is responsible for 60 percent of all human disease, and three in four doctor visits are for stress-related problems.
Other health conditions related to stress or anxiety include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Increased weight gain
- Reduced bone density
- Chronic pain
- Digestive problems
- Depression and mental illness
“Ironically, our own biology—which was designed to insure our survival as hunters and gatherers—is sabotaging our bodies and minds in a sedentary digital age,” says Psychology Today. “What can we do to defuse this time-bomb?”
How Craniosacral Therapy Releases Stored Emotion
One of the ways to release stored emotion from your muscles and tissues is to seek bodywork. If you reside in the Portland-metro or surrounding areas, we welcome you to visit our natural medicine clinic. Massage releases muscle tension, which is one of the most common results of stored emotion.
Craniosacral therapy is another type of bodywork that can bring profound healing from stress and anxiety. Your craniosacral system is responsible for circulating the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. This crucial fluid bathes your brain in nurturing glucose and helps keep your central nervous system fed, clean and stable.
It also transports hormones, neurotransmitters and releasing factors that help govern your body’s reaction to its environment. “The crazier your environment, the harder it has to work,” says craniosacral instructor Paul Brown.
The flow of cerebrospinal fluid has its own subtle tidal rhythm that’s separate from—but influenced by—your heartbeat and breathing. When this tide becomes impeded, often because of physical or emotional trauma, the fluid can stagnate, leading to even more emotional stuckness. Stress, for example, can reduce the production of cerebrospinal fluid by as much as 30 percent.
By gently manipulating the cranium and sacrum (head and pelvis), our Portland natural medicine practitioners can stimulate the flow of fluid and help release blockages that keep emotions trapped in the body. This practice, known as craniosacral therapy, stems from osteopathy, or the ancient art of bone setting. Practitioners are taught to “listen with their hands” for the subtle rhythm and apply gentle manual techniques that increase mobility and circulation within the craniosacral system.
Craniosacral therapy is an important part of natural medical care. Our Portland patients often find it induces a deep state of relaxation in which healing from stress and anxiety can occur. By reducing the body’s stress response, it also helps rebalance the nervous system and optimize the production of precious cerebrospinal fluid.
“When people experience craniosacral therapy, the body relaxes, the brain activities slow down and the ego with its defense mechanisms gets out of the way,” Wonder says. “The stored emotions often will surface for the purpose of release and healing.”
Patients may also experience sensations such as:
- Pain relief
- Sense of peace
- Feeling of expansion in mind or body
- Sleepiness or a sleep-like state
- Involuntary twitches
- Altered state of being
What You Can Do to Release Stress and Anxiety
If you’re suffering from chronic stress or anxiety, there are a variety of bodywork techniques you can do at home to interrupt the cycle. One involves inducing the “still point,” a technique taught by our Portland natural medicine practitioners.
By temporarily restricting the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, known as the still point, you can cause a buildup that, when released, gently flushes out the system as the fluid starts to flow again. You can self-induce the still point using two tennis balls packed tightly into an athletic sock that’s knotted on the open end—or buy a specialized device online.
Place the still point inducer under your head, in line with your ears, and relax, letting the full weight of your head settle on the device for 10 to 20 minutes. Most people can use this technique up to four times a day. It’s perfectly safe except in cases of internal bleeding in the head, acute stroke, acute head trauma or a brain stem tumor.
For additional help managing stress and anxiety in your life, visit Heart Spring Health’s Portland natural medicine clinic for a craniosacral therapy appointment. Your visit will begin with a brief face-to-face conversation about what’s ailing you. Then you’ll lie on a massage table, either fully or lightly clothed, while your provider performs manual massage techniques primarily on your head, pelvis and chest.
If strong emotions or memories surface during the bodywork, it means the therapy is working on a deep level. Telling your practitioner what you’re experiencing during treatment can help support the process. Our massage therapists are trained to hold a safe space for you to explore what’s being released as you journey toward long-term healing.
Learn more about craniosacral therapy or contact us now to schedule an appointment.