During my early 20’s while I was studying at university, I experienced prolonged stress and overwhelm, which led to health problems appearing — constant fatigue and low energy, gut-related issues, OCD challenges, significant anxiety, emotional and mental imbalances, swelling and fluid retention in my feet, legs and hands, bladder infections and eczema rashes on my hands.
When I moved away from home to start working in my new career, and my health issues worsen and become more difficult to manage, taking a toll on my mental health.
During this period, I began seeing a bodywork therapist who helped me to learn more about my body-mind connection and understand what was happening in my nervous system. Over the course of 6 months, I had regular sessions to work on the issues taking a toll on my energy levels, wellbeing, enjoyment, and relationships.
With regular sessions, as I learned to understand the emotional connections to my health issues, the physical symptoms began to resolve.
Through receiving bodywork, I was able to reduce my stress, which helped balance my nervous system, and over time, reduced my health issues – less eczema flare ups, less OCD, less anxiety, less gut-related issues. I noticed my tolerance to stress had increased, and I was able to handle more stressful situations without crumpling into a heap, unable to sort out what to do next.
I had found my calling
After around 6 months of bodywork therapy, I realised something inside of me had transformed.
During this time, I was working as an Occupational Therapist with children, many of whom were experiencing the challenges I knew all too well from my own childhood. As I began to understand what my experiences had taught me, I realised that I wanted to know more about how to use bodywork to help others, and I decided to study bodywork.
The type of bodywork I was interested in was called ‘Craniosacral therapy.’
The name ‘Cranio-sacral’ refers to the cranial bones in our head and the sacrum (which sits at back of the pelvis). This is the area where our central nervous system is located, in the brain, neck and spine, all the way to the tailbone at the back of the pelvis.
Craniosacral therapy works with the whole body and nervous system.
So, what is Craniosacral therapy?
Craniosacral therapy is a bodywork therapy which involves gentle and light-touch to support balance within the central nervous system, and the body, bones and muscles, organs and all of the body systems (respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, fascial connective tissue, muscles, bones, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive and elimination systems).
How does it work?
Craniosacral therapy supports the central nervous system to become balanced through supporting our ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches in the body.
Our ‘on’ switch is called the ‘Sympathetic’ nervous system and is often known as ‘fight or flight’.
Our ‘off’ switch is called the ‘Parasympathetic’ nervous system, known as the ‘rest and digest’ state.
When we are stressed, we often get stuck in our ‘on’ mode, and find it difficult to switch off and relax.
Craniosacral therapy helps us to ‘shift gears’ between being active, moving around and ‘doing’ things (sympathetic state) to easily being able to find relaxation, calm and rest (parasympathetic state) – this is where our body repairs itself, and why it is so important to get enough sleep each night.
To help regulate our body between switching ‘on’ and ‘off’ we also have a specialised nerve known as the Vagus nerve.
What is the Vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve acts like a superhighway connecting the brain to the internal organs and tells our body when to increase our breathing/heart rate, digest our food and when to relax.
It’s like a symphony conductor and it controls the ‘speed’ and ‘sound’ levels of your nervous system — The vagus might direct it to be slower, faster, quieter or louder at any given time. It also plays an important role in the body’s healing processes.
The Vagus nerve calms the body and supports the feeling of safety which activates the bodies innate capacity to heal. When we are stressed or unable to relax, our body has difficulty with healing and repairing itself.
There are a number of ways we can activate our Vagus nerve to reduce stress, increase relaxation and improve our wellbeing.
How can I support my nervous system to better manage stress?
- Craniosacral therapy: Helps to tone our Vagus nerve and balance the nervous system.
- Breathing exercises: Take a breath in and try letting your exhale breath out slowly, so that your exhale is longer than your inhale.
- Reduce blue light in the evenings before sleep: Switch off devices, TV’s and computers at least 2 hours before bed or try using blue-light blocking glasses if you can’t switch screens off.
- Turn off electronics at night: Turning off your Wi-Fi router, putting your phone on flight mode and ensure that there are no LED lights from phones or TV’s which create light in the bedroom at night. A dark room ensures deep sleep.
- Cold water exposure: Try turning the cold tap on for a few seconds during your warm shower, and alternative between hot and cold (This one takes some courage!!!)
- Humming, singing and chanting: Belt out your favourite song in the car, shower, anywhere you like. Humming, singing and chanting help you to regulate your breathing, and help you to let your breath out slowly as you exhale.
- Gargling water: This activates muscles in the throat which are connected to the Vagus nerve, similar to singing and humming.
- Mindfulness practice: Practice taking a 30 second break to be aware of your body – this could be noticing your breathing, noticing your sit bones on the chair, or noticing the sounds you hear outside to practice being in the present moment.
- Meditation: Use an app like Insight timer or ‘calm’ to follow a guided meditation.
- Laughing: Watch a comedy show online by your favourite comedian or funny/cute animal videos!
- Music: Feel into the kind of music which represents your mood. It could be classical, metal, pop, acoustic – finding music which matches your energy and emotions right now.
- Sunlight exposure: Getting outside in the early morning as the sun is rising can benefit our sleep-wake cycles, but if you’re not an early riser, try catching the sunset instead. The red light in the sunrise/sunset helps our body with maintaining its natural rhythms and reducing stress!
- Gut health support: Seeking support from a practitioner who specialises in gut health, and research probiotics and gut-friendly foods. This helps our digestion which is also connected to Vagus nerve functioning.
You can find so many great resources online and some great books to find out more about Craniosacral therapy, the nervous system and the Vagus nerve.
CONNECT WITH TILBY:
Facebook: Connected Craniosacral
As an Occupational Therapist and Registered Craniosacral Therapist, I help children & families to build self-regulation and co-regulation skills, build their relationships and calm their nervous system through utilising trauma-informed approaches, and working with the brain-body connections to support their ability to engage in everyday activities. I work with individuals of all ages with Craniosacral therapy, and help people to discover the root causes of their challenges, to support balance, ease and wellbeing in their life.