By Robert F. Harris
In more than 20 years of practice as a craniosacral therapist, I have helped countless patients achieve a therapeutic state known as the stillpoint. When a stillpoint is achieved, a person’s craniosacral rhythm comes to a pause, inducing a state of deep relaxation that allows the fight-or-flight responses of the sympathetic nervous system to step down.
By Robert F. Harris
In more than 20 years of practice as a craniosacral therapist, I have helped countless patients achieve a therapeutic state known as the stillpoint. When a stillpoint is achieved, a person’s craniosacral rhythm comes to a pause, inducing a state of deep relaxation that allows the fight-or-flight responses of the sympathetic nervous system to step down. This brings the healing and restorative powers of the parasympathetic system to the fore, liberating a wide range of self-correcting activity.
There are two ways in which a stillpoint can be induced: the rhythm of the craniosacral fluid can be challenged and brought to a standstill, or the nervous system can be offered slack in such a way that it shifts from a state of arousal into a state of repose. The differences between the two methods are significant, and help put into perspective a new technique I have recently discovered for inducing a stillpoint.
Therapists most commonly induce a stillpoint by challenging the craniosacral rhythm with a technique known as “Compression of the Fourth Ventricle,” or CV-4. In CV-4, restrictive pressure is applied to the back of the head, which challenges the expansion of the Fourth Ventricle as it cycles through the flexion and extension phases of the craniosacral rhythm. When the rhythm is frustrated in that way, the system initially builds pressure beyond what the normal cycle provides, trying to work around the restriction. This has the therapeutic effect of stretching membranes slightly, releasing congestion and adhesions in tissues, and providing a gentle flushing of the entire system. When the challenge is sustained, the production of fluid eventually shuts down, and the craniosacral rhythm comes to a stillpoint. At this point the parasympathetic nervous system achieves dominance.
The second means by which a stillpoint can be induced is when slack is offered to the nervous system. Most of us are already familiar with this sort of event. For instance, if you were racing against an impending deadline, and then it was suddenly put off by a week, the unexpected slack in your schedule would enable you to suddenly step back from your own stress into a state of expanded ease. A craniosacral therapist recognizes that a stillpoint is occurring through “slackening” whenever a significance detector is encountered during unwinding, or in an indirect technique, or during a positional release. This article concerns a new technique for achieving a slackening stillpoint, one that focuses on two specific, highly sensitive spots at the back of the head. The nature of those spots and their relationship to the nervous system enables a therapist to create an instant slackening stillpoint with a simple touch.
I discovered these two spots while refining a self-help tool called Becalm Balls (available at www.becalm.ca ). This device was originally designed to enable someone to create the CV-4 technique for themselves by challenging the craniosacral rhythm as much as can be done with a couple of tennis balls in a sock. As I sought to refine the tool, I explored different textures, different pressures and different positionings on the head. Over time that research revealed two significant spots at the back of the head that, when contacted with even the slightest pressure, create slack into the meningeal environment of the brain. When slack is offered here, fascial and piezoelectric feedback create a neurological recognition of the slack, which shifts the body’s overall sense of itself: its tensile nature eases, its hydraulic and sympathetic nervous systems go into temporary suspension and a stillpoint is generated.
The quality of a stillpoint created by slack is quite different from that of one created by a CV-4 challenge. One difference is in the immediacy of the response: the slackening stillpoint is spontaneous, not gradual. Another difference is in the quality of the stillpoint: the slackening stillpoint provides an experience of stillness that is both deeper and more prolonged – and that gives more opportunity for the release of restricted tissues. The level of pressures created in the cerebrospinal fluid by each is also different: the CV-4 technique creates its greatest flushing of the system at the outset, when the rhythm is challenged; the slackening technique creates its greatest flushing at the end, when the client emerges from the stillpoint. The shunting force of the pressures created by slackening is not as great as the shunting force of those created by CV-4 – but that also means there are fewer contraindications for the slackening technique. Finally, there is a difference for the psyche: because of the depth and duration of the slackening stillpoint experience, the psyche is able to attain a new distance from physical pain, a sense of new possibility. When clients do finally emerge from the slackening stillpoint, they do so with a renewed sensitivity, returning to the sensory realm more attuned to the feeling self, as distinct from the thinking self.
The two spots that induce a slackening stillpoint are found at the back of the head. I refer to them as the “slackening spots,” and locating them is easy enough. There is a horizontal plane in the cranium, just under the external occipital protuberance level, called the tentorium cerebelli where the meninges are folded inward to support and divide the upper and lower brain. This horizontal layer is neurologically engaged with the ears (which pass through it) and the eyes (which are wrapped by it), both of which stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. The two slackening spots are found along that plane at the back of the head. They lie opposite the pupils of the eyes, and are generally the same width apart as the pupils, or perhaps a little wider. Your own sensitivity will tell you when you have found them. The amount of pressure required, unlike that necessary to perform a CV-4, is light rather than firm. Again, your own sensitivity will guide your touch in inducing the slackening stillpoint for a client, and in helping them to sustain it.
This technique has proven to be an invaluable self-care practice for patients, who can easily learn to provide a slackening stillpoint for themselves – either with their own touch or with the use of Becalm Balls. It also provides massage therapists with a reliable, easy and quick way of helping clients relax into parasympathetic dominance right at the outset of a session, clearing the way for the deep healing to begin.
Robert Harris is a registered massage therapist and co-founder/director of the Cranial Therapy Centre, Canada’s largest and longest established craniosacral treatment and training facility. His courses provide a unique, comprehensive understanding of craniosacral training.