The Relational Field

Take a moment to look at the photo accompanying this article. This little girl is being held—cradled—within a profound holding field. And it’s not just the physical embrace. Look at everyone’s faces, their smiles. There’s joy here, love, acceptance…qualities that are palpable, energetic. How different would this group hug feel if everyone were angry? Or sad?

In biodynamic craniosacral therapy, we call this space the relational field. It gets called other names, too…therapeutic presence, holding environment, held space. All refer to a shared field of awareness and energy, centered by a practitioner who is grounded, heart-centered, and deeply listening.

Think of this field like stepping into a warm, energetic bath. You may not consciously feel it—though perhaps you will—but your whole self responds. And it’s perhaps the most important aspect of any healing session.

The electromagnetic heart

Consider the fascinating research being done on the human heart field by the HeartMath Institute. Both the brain and the heart generate electromagnetic fields. This activity is what doctors measure as brain waves and electrical signals on EEG and EKG machines. But the heart field is by far the larger and more powerful, extending several feet around the body. And it has some interesting characteristics.

For starters, our heart fields intermingle. They are detectable between people near each other—even when they’re not touching.

Second, the heart field contains data. The heart encodes and processes information, such as emotions, transmitting it electromagnetically throughout the body…and beyond.

Third, the electrical coherence of your heart field changes depending on your emotional state. Emotions like anger or frustration make it less coherent. Emotions like love, compassion, and appreciation make it more.

Add all that together and HeartMath postulates that a practitioner’s caring emotions may get electromagnetically transmitted to their clients, perhaps even at a distance. More research is needed, but in my professional experience, this transmission definitely happens, including at a distance.

The ground of healing

The relational field is the entry point to healing together. It’s where we meet, in this warm energy bath. The more coherent, grounded, and caring I can be, the more your body can attune to that, let go, and settle. And that’s when the body’s self-healing mechanisms really turn on. That’s when the deepest healing processes start.

Not everyone had this kind of attuned relational field growing up, first in the womb, and later in the holding environment of the family. For many of us, that field did not often—or ever—feel like the little girl’s field in the picture. But those early experiences can be rewired in connection with a skilled person. The relational field is the ground where this healing emerges.

Allostatic Load

Maybe you can identify. You take decent care of yourself…eat your veggies, sleep okay, exercise, and don’t overindulge. And yet, you’re often exhausted. Even if you rest all weekend, you sometimes don’t recharge. What gives?

The answer will be slightly different for everyone. (But spoiler alert, it’s stress and trauma.) And the intricacies can best be explained using the model of allostatic load.

The cost of doing business

Think of allostatic load in terms of the price you pay each time your body responds to a stressor. Every time you fight a virus, argue with family, struggle with pain, or even just exercise, you’re expending energy. And then you’ve got to eat, drink, relax, and sleep to recharge.

In an ideal world, we’d fully recharge each day. But this modern world is not so ideal for our ancient organism.

Instead, chronic stress typically whittles away at our energy. Day by day, we add a bit more debt to the load and slowly get depleted. So, allostatic load is this cumulative wear-and-tear that chronic stress takes on the body.

How this often plays out

Let’s say you’ve got decent reserves, so most days you handle the load just fine. But then comes a particularly stressful day, where you barely eat or drink, let alone sit down. At a certain point, you splutter out. Now it’s going to take much more rest and fuel than usual to recharge.

What if this happens day after day? Or you start out depleted? Like if you live with…

…unmanaged chronic infections like Lyme or covid
…unresolved trauma
…ongoing, systemic stressors like racism

What if the demands pile up overwhelmingly high? Welcome to overload.

Allostatic overload

At some point, too many demands will outstrip our ability to replenish. Then, no amount of food, drink, or sleep can keep up with the output. We’ve reached allostatic overload.

We either keel over or pull the energy from somewhere. That somewhere is the fight-or-flight system. So, all the stress hormones and changes meant to help you lift a car? They’re now helping you go to work.

But this “fuel” has a high cost, especially over time. Eventually, tissues break down, chronic fatigue sets in, or chronic diseases appear.

Giving ourselves a break

Many of us have been fueling on stress physiology our entire lives—we’ve had to. It feels normal. So, when we “reset” after a stressful period, it’s back to a baseline that’s still quite draining.

And then we wonder why we’re still tired. It’s because we are tired.

The paths out of these cycles are many, but the first step is trusting your body. If you feel tired, you likely are. There are reasons, even if you don’t know them. So start by giving yourself a break. And then, really, give yourself a break.

Wishing You a Very Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays from snowy Massachusetts!

I’ve moved my life and practice from the west coast to the east coast. It took a while to cross the country and find my bearings, but I’m finally settling in.

Along the way, I stayed in an historic mission home through a California heat wave, crossed the Mojave Desert in 112-degree heat, slept in 6 motels with my cat, decompressed at a New England horse farm, and landed (finally!) in a snug house near Northampton, Massachusetts, home to Smith and neighboring Amherst colleges.

And now it’s a winter wonderland outside!

As someone who’s spent the last two decades in San Diego, I’d forgotten how breathtaking snow is. I’d worried about the ice and slush and cold, but overlooked the stillness and beauty. The other day, wind gusted snow powder off rooftops into a bright blue sky, where it billowed and sparkled like diamonds. It was stunning.

So, from this season of quietude, when the earth’s energy pulls deep underground, I hope you find stillness and beauty as well. And whatever your holiday traditions, I wish you warmth and joy!

Perceiving from a Distance

My first distance sessions were a revelation. Not only could I perceive at a distance, but I could actually perceive much more. It was eye-opening. Profound. So today, I’d like to try to convey what those perceptions are like for me—and how exquisite it is to sense the health in a body.

Sensing with my hands

You’d think that without being able to physically touch, I wouldn’t be able to feel with my hands. But actually, it’s the opposite.

During distance work, my hands act like antennas. I intend to touch a part of the body, let my hands tune in, and then sit back while information and sensations flow in. I can feel the shape of bones and where they’re stuck. I can feel tight tissues release. I can feel fluids pulse and flow. I can feel so much.

Of course, these are just my perceptions from the outside. I always check in to verify whether they match your perceptions from the inside.  

Then there’s remote viewing

One of my instructors once likened craniosacral therapy to remote viewing. So, I figured I’d be seeing clear images of the inside of the body. I wish! For me, it’s more like a cross between seeing and feeling.

For instance, let’s say I’m “holding” the head and feel a tethered pull down the spine. If I wait, an image will often come into my mind of the exact vertebra that’s stuck. But that image is nothing like a photograph. It’s more like a blurry X-ray seen from the corner of my eye while simultaneously feeling the bone. Yet it informs me clearly.

Resonance in the body

And finally, there’s the sensing that comes through my whole body. It’s like turning into a radar dish. And through resonance, I can sense full-body states like agitation or harmony. Or, occasionally, a switch flips inside me and I feel what’s happening for the client inside my own body. 

The beauty of it all

But none of that conveys the immense beauty I perceive. Clients often ask me what I’m sensing, and by that they almost invariably mean what’s “wrong.”

But imagine watching water bubble up in the desert, creating green fields and rivers. Or witnessing some deep intelligence beyond your comprehension release and realign tissues in just the right order, healing what was hurting. Or watching every cell breathe in a slow-motion expansion and contraction, while liquid light flows up the spine.

These are the kinds of wonders that happen when the body’s healing mechanism turns on. These are the wonders I’m privileged to perceive.

Letting Your Emotions Move

If you were to grade your ability to process emotions, would you pass? Fail? Not be sure? Let me give you some context.

The word emotion comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to move.” So at their most basic, emotions are something that want to move.

More specifically, emotions are an energy that wants to move. And the way that energy wants to move is as a wave that crests and passes after a couple minutes.

These waves of emotion can feel big, sometimes overwhelming. But they’re here to help us survive, function, and connect. Without emotions, we’d all have been saber-toothed tiger snacks long ago.

Learning the wrong lessons

The problem is that, for all but a few, no one ever taught us how to manage our emotions in a healthy way.  

Maybe you learned to ignore and stuff down your feelings. You feel angry about something, but then tell yourself you don’t or shouldn’t feel angry because…reasons.

Or you learned to avoid your feelings. You drink, smoke, watch TV, exercise, socialize, have sex…anything to avoid feeling that.

Others learned to ruminate on the emotion, feeding it with negative thoughts until it festers. Or they learned to blindly act on feelings, letting them explode or take over.

Getting all plugged up

But tamping down the energy of our emotions—not giving them healthy channels to flow through—can have serious consequences. It can cause:

  • Dulled vitality and depression
  • Broken or unfulfilling relationships
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Higher risk of illness

So, get them flowing

The basic steps for processing emotions are simple:

Step 1: Identify the feeling.
When you feel an emotion surfacing, the first step is to name it. What are you feeling? Is it one emotion or several?

Step 2: Feel the feeling.
Sit with the emotion, without judgment, and let yourself feel it. Try to:

  • Distinguish the felt-sense of the emotion from the cause. Thinking about the cause can re-trigger the feeling, making emotions churn, not process.
  • Track the wave of emotional energy. If we don’t re-trigger emotions with our thoughts, the wave will crest and pass within minutes.
  • Give it a channel to move. Sometimes emotions need expression. Try moving your body, journaling, drawing, singing or any form of creative expression.

Step 3: Take action if needed or let it go.
Once the wave has passed ask: Is there any action I need to take?

Sounds simple, right? In practice, processing emotions can get complex, especially with trauma. If you try these steps and feel numb, overwhelmed, or confused, you’re not doing it wrong. You’ve just got extra challenges to navigate. The help of a skilled guide can make all the difference.

Try this Adrenal Reset

Ah, the hard-working adrenal glands. They sit like mushroom caps atop our kidneys and pump out stress hormones when we need them. And if we’re stressed all the time? They just keep pumping them out….

Even when we’re deeply exhausted but so tired-wired we can’t sleep.

Even when every little sound makes us jump.

Even when the anxiety won’t quit…or we’re having panic attacks.

The good news is we can connect to our adrenal glands—and through them our body’s entire stress response system—to interrupt this stress cycle. I learned this simple adrenal reset in a recent training with Kathy Kain, who specializes in bodywork for trauma recovery. You can do this technique on yourself.  

Here’s how it works:

Get comfortable and sense or imagine your adrenals. Hold on, you say…you don’t where those are? No problem.

Your adrenals sit on top of your kidneys, which are near the bottom of your ribcage, next to the spine. The kidneys themselves are red and fist-sized. The adrenals are their lumpy, cream-colored caps.

So, sense or imagine your adrenals…in whatever way comes naturally. You might visualize the actual organs—or see imagery, colors, or energies. You might get more of a feeling-sense…like pulses, temperatures, tightness, or softening. You might even want to hold the area with your hands to get a better feel.

Next, pick one adrenal to start with. I usually start with the one that’s changing in some way. If you’re not sure, dealer’s choice. You’re going to work with both anyways.  

Now, simply be curious. You’re not trying to change anything. What you are doing is being extra attentive to any signs of slowing and settling—here and in your whole body.

Your attention is the powerful tool here. So notice changes like:

  • Softening, widening, or expansion
  • Temperature changes (like cool becomes warm…or…overheated cools down)
  • Soothing color changes
  • Energies slowing down
  • Taking a deep breath or breathing easier
  • Slowing heart rate
  • Feeling more relaxed overall

You may notice that these changes come in cycles. So you settle a bit, and then a new layer of activation shows up and slowly dissipates. Then you settle slightly deeper.  

Continue until you feel slower and calmer. Then do the other adrenal. You’ll likely find it goes faster than the first one. Keep going and enjoy the settling.

Congrats! You’ve interrupted your stress cycle.

This can be a great way to short-circuit a stress response in the moment…like during a panic attack. But it’s even more effective when practiced regularly over time. In this age of frazzled nerves, we’ve often got to retrain our bodies to relax.