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Massage Today
October, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 10

The Iterative Process: A CranioSacral Approach to Health and the Human Body

By Eric Moya, MS/MFCT, LMT, CST-D; guest author for John Upledger, DO, OMM

Have you ever had a client ask, "How many sessions will it take for my pain to go away?" or "Why am I feeling pain in this part of my body when the problem is somewhere else?" At some point, you probably have had your clients ask these questions.

With these issues in mind, I'd like to illustrate a couple of important factors about health and the human body from a CranioSacral Therapy (CST) perspective.

To better understand CST, consider the seemingly simple process of tuning a guitar. Whenever you put on a new set of strings, you have to tune the guitar many times over days before the strings hold their tune. Why? Because when you tune one string up to pitch, it stretches out and goes flat, so you have to retune it. Eventually, the string will stretch out completely and be able to hold its pitch. But then, with tension on the strings, the guitar itself actually changes. The neck may be stiff, but when you load it with asymmetrical tension in the form of strings, it bows a bit and throws the strings out of tune. That means you need to go back and tune the whole thing all over again.

As you can tell, it's impossible to tune a guitar perfectly the first time around. Instead you have to retune it over and over again, continually moving closer to the end goal of having a perfectly tuned instrument. It's simply a process of making minute changes until you reach your desired solution. This kind of problem - one in which it's impossible to find the solution through direct or linear means - is called an "iterative" problem. Iterate means to repeat. It's also the root for the word reiterate, which also means to repeat. (Isn't it strange that we have two words that both mean "to repeat"?)

In mathematics, an iterative problem is one in which you can't arrive at the solution using linear means. Instead, you must continually adjust the data, getting closer and closer to the solution until it's finally revealed. Structural health is also an iterative problem. With our vast interconnections of anatomy from the perspective of muscles, bones, fascia, lymphatic system and more, it becomes increasingly difficult to look at the body as a collection of parts. It's actually an integrated ecosystem in which any minuscule change affects the entire system.

Looking at fascial anatomy alone, there are innumerable ways in which a pull on one part of the fascia can affect other parts of the body. Practically, this means your client can have right-shoulder pain while the source of the problem is far removed from the shoulder. Although it would be important to work the shoulder girdle in your session, if you don't locate the original source of the shoulder pain, it's bound to recur.

Initially, this situation becomes a defeating conundrum for many manual therapists. Trying to intellectually figure out such problems is a staggering task. Fortunately there's an easier way, and it comes from the lineage of Andrew Taylor Still (the "Father of Osteopathy"), William Garner Sutherland (the "Father of Cranial Osteopathy") and John E. Upledger (the "Father of CranioSacral Therapy"). Their philosophies deviated from the standard allopathic approach of looking at the body in terms of problem and solution. Instead, they each viewed the body as an interconnected web that is continually trying to heal itself.

In CranioSacral Therapy, we cultivate techniques based on following the body. Because the body is continually trying to self-correct, even hidden problems become accessible when you know how to follow the body's cues and let them show you where to work. In CST, we align ourselves with the body's attempt to heal itself naturally. This involves working the entire body using a range of techniques based on tissue, energy, emotion and cognition.

Back to iterative processes. Let's say a client comes to see me with right-shoulder pain. I don't need to know whether the shoulder pain is a result of one or two restrictions or a whole lifetime of accumulated tensions. As a CranioSacral therapist, my job is simple. I follow the tissues into their restrictions and help them release using whatever techniques are at my disposal. With each release, the whole ecosystem of the body adjusts slightly. And with each change we get closer to a pain-free shoulder until we finally reach the solution - just like tuning a guitar.

So whenever clients ask me how many sessions it will take to "fix" their problems, or if they wonder why I'm working on areas that don't seem to hurt, I help them appreciate how complex and interconnected their bodies are. Then I help them recognize the shifts that have already taken place.

Once they realize they're getting better, even in ways they didn't realize were connected with their problems, they usually become intrigued and excited about their process. And why not? Feeling better is a magnificent thing.

Click here for previous articles by John Upledger, DO, OMM.

Eric Moya is a licensed mental health counselor, an Upledger-certified CranioSacral Therapy instructor and president/founder of The Ripple Effect: Center for Mind and Body Therapy in Albuquerque, N.M. Currently he is acting dean of integral education at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif.


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