Craniosacral is about listening to the body as a whole. When you cut your finger your body knows to send defenders to clot blood and create a scab; when the body is optimal, the whole body repairs in the same way. But what happens when those signals get subverted? Not only do we have a Western medical model, segmenting, diagnosing and pathologising sufferers, but we are coming off the back of a global pandemic where ALL of us have faced challenges and many of those with a history of mental illness have been thrust back into the depths of their traumatic response. During lockdown in New Zealand, we had a 50 percent increase in texts to Youthline while calls to Lifeline increased 25 percent.
Treating the last month or so from my inner city clinic, has shown that even though we are enjoying Level 1, things are definitely not ‘back to normal.’ A large proportion of my clients are presenting with some form of trauma response. COVID-19 has been the last straw on already overloaded systems with most people presenting with an autonomic nervous system ‘buzz’ or ‘tone.’ What I wasn’t prepared for was this expressing in clients social engagement system (ventral vagus). We have been told we can’t connect, engage with others or communicate in the ways we are used to. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert; this period has been highly challenging to the way we connect to our loved ones, colleagues and buddies — and on top of this researchers confirming the taxing nature of screen-time that results in our Zoom fatigue.
I knew what I was feeling in bodies but little did I know that, back in April, Stephen Porges, the key researcher of Poly- Vagal theory and our social engagement systems, wrote about this very issue.
Porges states, ‘in the absence of an active social engagement system, the mobilized state provides an efficient neural platform for fight and flight behaviours. For many individuals, this state will reflect chronic anxiety or irritability. When mobilization does not successfully move the individual into a safe context, then there is the possibility that the nervous system will shift into an immobilized state with associated features of death feigning, syncope, dissociation, withdrawal, loss of purpose, social isolation, despair, and depression.’
He acknowledges that ‘the optimally resilient individual has opportunities to co-regulate physiological state with a safe and trusted other. Ideally, this “other” person projects positive cues regarding their autonomic state through prosodic voice, warm welcoming facial expressions, and gestures of accessibility.’ This is what I do in my clinic room.
I create a calm, safe space. You are warm, blanketed, fully clothed and brought back into a safe awareness of your body. With trauma, I gently guide clients to come back into relationship with the parts of themselves that have dissociated for good reason. It’s a smart system that decides that neck pain, or that level of stress is too much right now and takes action. We take time to find the places of health in your body, so your neural pathways can get the message to move your limbic system out of high alert and back into safety.
Some of us have managed to maintain connection during lockdown, others have really struggled. Non-judgmental, anatomically-informed neutral touch, allows the body to come into safety and discharge some of these inherent patterns, that may have lain dormant for decades, now resurfacing.
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