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Craniosacral Therapy For Stress Relief

autonomic nervous system craniosacral therapy craniosacral therapy for healing healing hands parasympathetic nervous system repair and digest Jan 30, 2024
Healing Hands loving a sunset

“The cranial sacral work was really amazing. The calm has stayed with me throughout the day.”

--Jacey T.


I was just reflecting on how much I enjoy providing craniosacral therapy (CST) for my patients and wanted to share a bit about it. While CST is great for painful things like headaches, neck pain, and hip pain, I feel the most profound benefit of this work is its ability to deeply nourish and transform the nervous system so our body isn't so impacted by stress. This nervous system “reset” activates the body’s ability to heal itself.

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a treatment that has its roots in Osteopathic medicine and was developed by Dr John Upledger. It is a hands-on treatment that helps to optimize the subtle movements of blood and cerebrospinal fluid throughout the head and spine. (To learn more about CST, feel free to take a look at my post What is Craniosacral Therapy?)  While this is a hands-on therapy, it is very gentle–I do not dig into the muscles or adjust the bones, so it is appropriate for just about everyone. 

Frequently, when I’m working on a patient, their stomach will start to growl–and usually they will say “excuse me! I must be hungry!” Actually, I see this as wonderful evidence that the craniosacral work is doing its job.  When we are in “fight or flight” or sympathetic mode, our body is ready for battle and focuses only on escaping danger.  When we go into "repair and digest" or parasympathetic mode, the digestive tract activates and gets ready for nourishment, so a growling tummy is a great indicator that your body is doing exactly what I’m hoping for.

To understand this nervous system “reset” I mentioned, I’ll explain a bit about what we call the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  This is the “automatic” part of our nervous system that is always running and taking care of the upkeep of our body. It governs things like our heart rate, digestion, hormone production, breaking down old cells and creating new ones, and just about every other bodily process that magically happens without having to think about it. 

The ANS basically has two modes that it can be in:  Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.  Sympathetic is what we think of as stress or “fight or flight” mode.  This mode is essential for our wellbeing because it prepares the body to escape danger. It makes our brain think fast, our muscles run fast, and our heart beat fast so it can feed the brain and muscles. The hormone adrenaline, also called epinephrine, makes all of these changes take place. At the same time, our adrenal glands will also produce cortisol, which mobilizes sugar from storage to feed the brain, heart and muscles. The other side of the ANS is Parasympathetic, or rest, digest, and repair.  When the body is in this mode it allows for deep nourishment, proper digestion, coordination of the hormones, and the creation of healthy new cells. 

In our modern life, we tend to spend a lot of our day in sympathetic mode, which tends to throw the body out of balance.  I tell my patients-- sympathetic always wins over parasympathetic.  This makes sense because historically, we used the sympathetic nervous system to escape from danger–when you are being chased by a bear it is more important to get away than to digest your food! However, when we overproduce epinephrine and cortisol, it suppresses the production of other hormones such as thyroid, estrogen and progesterone, decreases our digestion and metabolism, and wreaks havoc on our immunity.  Most of our day should be spent in parasympathetic mode if we want our bodies to run properly.  However, when we are “stressed out,” aggravated, worried, overbooked, and undersupported, we tend to hang out in sympathetic mode, and all the rest of our body processes basically stop functioning. Many of the symptoms we may be experiencing, such as fatigue, hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, high blood sugar, and poor digestion may be a direct result of being in sympathetic mode too often.

There is an irony in that stress can cause so much imbalance in the body, and being sick is so stressful!  So it’s a bit of a vicious circle–more stress leads to more illness, which leads to more stress… Particularly when it comes to hormone health, stress hormones decrease the production of all the other hormones (such as thyroid, estrogen, and progesterone) and make symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and hot flashes so much worse.  That is why it is so powerful to have a tool that helps to reset the brain and nervous system so the body can rebalance and get back to health.

And this is why I love craniosacral therapy!  While we have wonderful tools such as nutrients and botanicals to reset and rebuild balance in the body, and many lifestyle hacks to help us learn to get into digest and repair mode, CST is an immediate way to get that started while you are in the office.  It puts you straight into parasympathetic mode so you can move into your day with clarity and a sense of calm. This allows the body to heal, repair, and integrate nourishment from your food.  And it gives me and you time to slow down and focus deeply on getting your body back in balance.  Over time, the effects of CST tend to last longer and rebuild your nervous system so you can spend more time in repair and digest mode, deepen your healing process, and set the stage for long-term health.

Would you like to find out more about CST?  Book a free 15-minute discovery call or 60 minute appointment here.

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