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What Is Somatic Bodywork?

Most people have a clear idea of what therapeutic bodywork is—it helps relax and heal the body. And most have at least a basic understanding of talk therapy—it treats the mind. But what about this thing that works with the whole of you: somatic bodywork?

What is it?

Somatic bodywork is any type of bodywork—whether it’s massage, reiki, or craniosacral therapy—where you and your practitioner consciously work with your inner perceptions. It combines bodywork with verbal skills, and it works with a lot more than muscles.

Somatics works with the whole of you: your physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts; your intuition and imagery; your spiritual insights. It can facilitate deep healing of old wounds and trauma, but it is definitively not talk therapy.

A comparison to massage

If you’ve had a therapeutic massage, your practitioner probably checked in on pressure and hopefully checked you were OK during work on painful spots. But most exploration of your inner state stops there. If the massage brings up feelings or memories, these may be managed skillfully, but the focus is on releasing tissues.

But bodywork can bring up a lot. Our body stores unhealed experiences for a safer time, and then nonverbally brings them up for healing—as sensations, symptoms, feelings, and more. So what if those were the focus? That’s somatic bodywork.

How does this work in practice?

To start a session, I often ask clients to get comfortable and turn inwards. I’ll ask: What do you notice?

You might say my shoulders are tight…or I feel revved up. This is just an initial sense of the terrain, an invitation to turn inward. I’ll do a craniosacral therapy hold somewhere comforting, like your feet. And we’ll wait for settling.

Once your body slows, it generally brings up an issue. Perhaps pressure arises in your chest. I may hold your shoulders to help track and we’ll be curious: Is it like a weight? A squeezing? Is there a color? An emotion? As we keep noticing, the sensation will usually change. It may decrease, you may sweat as heat discharges, or you may grow sad and cry.

Do you know why you’re crying? Not always. You don’t have to know to heal. But you may get an insight: I felt unloved as a child. I won’t analyze why—I’m not a therapist. We’ll acknowledge what’s here now. How is it for you to realize that? Perhaps you feel sad but relieved.  

Constantly seeking health

The body is constantly bringing up old issues in an effort to heal—but it needs our attention. If we can speak its language, and truly listen, the body will heal itself.

Why My Practice Is Staying Online

As the country reopens for business, I’m staying closed. Well, more accurately, I’m staying closed to in-person work and keeping my practice online—probably indefinitely. Why? There are some obvious reasons and advantages. And then there’s the real underlying reason.  

Let me start with some obvious…

When my state locked down last spring, we had no idea how long quarantine would last. So I kept paying my office rent for months. Repeated openings and re-closure orders—not to mention a deadly virus—made that unworkable. So I closed my office and rebuilt my practice online.

Could I go rent a new office now that things are open? Sure, probably…with a lot of expense and practice re-rebuilding. Do I know what’s going to happen in the fall and winter, especially with these new variants? No. Do I ever again want to be in a position where a pandemic can shut down my business? An emphatic no.

And truthfully, my quality of life is so much better now. My commute is ten feet long. I can be at home with my cat—rather than leave her alone for 10+ hours a day. And my expenses are down to, well…Internet. No office rent, no supplies, no costly permitting.

On top of that…

My client base just went global. I can work with anyone, anywhere, provided we can communicate. In other words, I just went from a city worth of potential clients…to a planet. And I’m unfettered now, too. Before, my practice was tied to San Diego; moving would have meant rebuilding from scratch. Now, I can take my clients with me.

But none of that gets to the heart of it. The real underlying reason is…

From my very first distance session, I knew deep down this was it for me. In the midst of syncing up with that client, of sensing their body in a more expansive and comprehensive way than I’d ever imagined, I knew there was no turning back.

It was like that moment in the fourth grade when I’d finally gotten glasses. Suddenly, the trees had leaves! What had been nothing but a green blur came into sharp and breathtaking focus. The world was so alive, and I’d been missing so much.  

So, basically I’m saying…

This is my work.

I know it’s not for everyone—I love receiving hands-on bodywork, too. And I loved giving it. But this…this is my thing. It’s where I fit best and sense most. It’s where I see the strongest results. And it’s where I can be of most service.

Working With Liquid Light

Last month, I wrote about the body’s liquid light nature, about the tides and energy that move through our inner ocean. This month, I want to talk about the intelligence within the tide, the “spark” in the fluids that guides healing processes.

In the beginning…there can be chaos

People often show up for sessions in either highly activated or shutdown places. They’re stressed or in pain. They’re running on empty or stuck in their heads. There’s fragmentation in the body-mind, disorganization in the subtle biorhythms. 

As a craniosacral therapist, I can feel this chaos. Tidal motions through fluids are disorganized. Tissues buzz, lit up by stress in the nervous system. Or I have a sense of the client’s head or upper body, but no connection to legs or feet.

Letting it settle

Healing processes can’t arise from chaos, so first I support the body to slow down, gather resources, and cohere. To do this, I focus on my own grounding and calmness, and on feeling my own tidal rhythms or stillness. Through resonance, the client’s body will start to follow mine into settling.

I also focus on the health in the client’s body, because what we focus on grows. I pay particular attention to signs of slowing and softening, of rhythms organizing, of vitality. Soon, I may start to feel their body down to their feet. Tidal motions, or deep stillness, will clarify. And health energy—that “spark”—will often gather in an area to work.  

The self-healing ability awakens

That gathering energy is powerful. Let’s say a client comes in with sciatica, and I’ve been holding their low back. Now I feel energy gathering around two compressed vertebrae. This can feel like a balloon expanding…or champagne bubbles.

Soon, a healing process engages. The joint pulses as fluids hydrate and wiggle the bones. Heat builds, followed by an energy discharge. Finally, a vertebra gently rotates and, with a small pop, decompresses off its neighbor. Space enters the joint, relieving pressure on a sciatic nerve root. Afterwards, the body rests and integrates.

This process describes a physical blockage, but the energy works in the same way to heal mental, emotional, and spiritual blockages and wounds.

The power of witnessing

I didn’t choose the treatment plan and I didn’t heal. The body did. I facilitated by holding space and witnessing.

Witnessing wakes up our self-healing ability. In the mirror of my awareness, the body notices an area of dysfunction. And with more resources now than before, it heals it.

As for why witnessing is powerful…. We live in a quantum reality in which just the act of observation changes the experiment. Is it so hard to believe that awareness has powerful effects?

Diving into Your Inner Ocean

Your body is made up of 50–70% water. Think about that for a moment. We typically think of ourselves as solid, as tissue and bone. But we’re not—we’re mostly liquid. We’re more like islands of interconnected tissue and bone floating in an inner sea.

In essence, the body is like a giant, fluid-filled sac. And it doesn’t take much to get the fluids in that sac to rock. Indeed, the movement of our inner sea is not so different from its oceanic roots. It has faster waves near the surface and slower, deeper tides. When I put my hands on a body as a craniosacral therapist, or tune in from a distance, I can feel those waves and tides.

Feeling the fluid tide

The fluid tide is one of the body’s natural biorhythms, like your heartbeat or breathing. It wells upwards toward the head, while also slightly widening and flattening the body. Then after 10–15 seconds, it recedes downwards toward the feet, while also subtly narrowing and deepening the body.

This tide is often most clearly perceived in the head and spine, in the slow up-and-down movement of cerebral spinal fluid. But it can also be felt as a gentle rolling outward and inward of the arms and legs, or as a subtle ballooning and deflating of tissues anywhere on the body.

What makes the fluid tide move?

Some practitioners describe a pressurestat model, a semi-closed, hydraulic system contained by the dural membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. They posit that pressure changes caused by the production and reabsorption of cerebral spinal fluid create the motion. However, these motions can be felt through all the fluids of the body, not just in the spine, and they continue even if the dural tube is surgically cut, breaking the pressure seal.

Other practitioners believe it’s the spark in the fluids that causes the movement. They describe a vital, life force energy that moves through and enlivens the fluids. This spark is most concentrated in the cerebral spinal fluids—like liquid light. And it’s this vital life force, they say, that engenders the rhythmic motion in the fluids. 

Listening to the tide (and its spark)

I can’t yet say from personal felt-experience what makes the fluid tide move—that might take a lifetime. But I can feel that spark, the powerful energy pulsing and flowing within the fluids. And when I sit in stillness, tracking and following the tide and its liquid light within a person, powerful healing responses awaken. In next month’s article, I’ll talk about this innate, self-healing mechanism—how the energy and fluids work to repair and heal our tissues, emotions, and psyches.

Animals in the Treatment Room

These days, video calls like Zoom give us windows into each other’s homes. During my distance sessions, this has often meant not only getting to meet my clients’ pets, but also including them as part of the session. And it’s been wonderful.

Clients often apologize for their animal’s presence. They’ve closed the door and told the kids or husband to stay out, but they just can’t shut out the dog or cat. Or sometimes my client doesn’t mention the pet, but then a curious, sniffing dog nose appears at the camera or a cat butt blocks my view. (It’s always a cat.)

No matter how animals show up, I’m always secretly glad to have them. Pets are rarely a disruption. And they add so much to the work.  

Finding our way into settling…

Animals are much like us going into a session. At the start, they can be unsettled. They may be restless, vying for attention, or just trying out different spots on the bed.

I always advise we simply allow the animal to find its own way and focus on you and your body. As you slow down, your companion will too. Animals love the calm of a healing session and typically melt into it.

By the same token, pets can be amazing at helping their people settle. I’ve seen panicked clients hold a paw until they could breathe, dissociated clients cuddle an animal until they could feel their own body, and stressed clients who were stuck in their heads start to ground after the pet left their upper body and curled up at their feet.

Deepening the settling…

As the session progresses, pets usually settle with us and become deeply relaxed. The two nervous systems—animal and other animal (you)—reinforce each other. One system calms, which calms the other, which calms the first more deeply, and so on in a dance of co-regulation.  

Offering an assist…

Once deeper settling occurs, the client’s body often starts healing something specific. I’ve found pets can be instrumental with this, especially if the body’s shifting something stuck or scary.

Many of our animal friends are astute healers. Pets often lie down next to the body part that hurts. They help energetically hold the space. And they sometimes pop into my mind’s eye, showing images of how they’re helping, like the time I found myself “holding” two cat paws that grounded the client enough to resolve a trauma piece.  

The takeaway…

Our pets are incredibly attuned to (and affected by) our stress, emotions, and health. And most often, they truly, deeply love us and will do anything they can to help us heal.

Navigating the Pandemic Anxiety Field

Ever walk into a room full of people and pick up a vibe? Perhaps there’s a pervasive sense of warmth and fun. Or maybe it’s the opposite, everything looks fine on the surface, but feels hostile underneath.  

As humans, we are finely tuned social creatures. We pick up a great deal of information from body language, facial expressions, and yes, from the energetic emotional vibe around you. Even if you don’t consider yourself “sensitive” or “empathic,” you are still affected by the emotional energy signature from others, especially if it’s strong.

Cue the pandemic. Now we have a worldwide energy signature supercharged with anxiety and other painful emotions. For simplicity’s sake, I’m calling it the Pandemic Anxiety Field. And on top of our very real, present-time fears and struggles, it seems to be the extra punch that’s sending people off kilter.

So, if you’re feeling extra off-kilter or in crisis, as so many of my clients are, it might be worth considering whether this feeling is all yours. Try asking yourself this: How much of this is mine and how much am I picking up from others?

To determine what’s yours, you may need to sit with the sensations and feelings you’re having. Just notice them. See if you can differentiate what’s arising within you—and feels like yours—from what’s affecting you from without. Because even just the realization that you’re feeling stuff that’s not yours can bring relief.  

Now, on the flip side, some of what you’re feeling is going to be yours even when it feels foreign. That’s because this pandemic-induced anxiety field is also stirring up a lot of ghosts. By this I mean, your unconscious feelers pick up painful emotions out there, and then that outer “stuff” resonates with and wakes up old emotional wounds and traumas in you, bringing them to the surface.  

Regardless of origin, if you continue to feel unbalanced by an emotional state, it’s time to stop focusing on it. What you need is a counterbalance. For example, if you feel overwhelmed and lightheaded, then you need something grounded. You might walk on the beach, sit on the ground against tree roots, or eat nourishing, protein-rich foods. Likewise, if you’re feeling scared or panicky, then focus most of your attention on something that feels safe, like a warm comforter, a happy memory, or your puppy dog. 

And if you’re still struggling to rebalance or determine what’s yours, then reach out to me for a quick call or a session. It’s often much easier to find yourself when you’re held in clear relationship by someone else.