Loosening the Knot, Part I – finding the client’s neutral

In this post I will briefly discuss the concept of the neutral. A following post will elaborate on a few common challenges to its expression that we see in clinical practice.

When I first became interested in biodynamics, I attended several introductory classes at different schools. While there were differences in how the teachers introduced the work, the one similarity they all shared was that the concept of “The Neutral” was the first major topic covered. It was with good reason that neutrality was discussed first in these intro classes. It is a fundamental door through which one must enter to encounter meaningful contact with the deeper forces of transmutation that biodynamics aims to access. I have noticed recently that the topic of the client’s neutral has taken lower priority in some biodynamic curriculums. This causes me some concern, as I think we need to be careful not to marginalizing the neutral.

Due to politics and a continued effort to respectfully distance themselves from Osteopaths, some modern biodynamic teachers are now using the term “holistic shift” to describe the same phenomenon traditionally known as “the patient’s neutral.”  For our purposes here I will use the term neutral. This is mainly out of habit, but also because I believe it is a more descriptive and functional term.

In this post I will briefly discuss the concept of the neutral. A following post will elaborate on a few common challenges to its expression that we see in clinical practice.

The general attitude of the system when it moves into neutral is one of “giving up the fight” or “acceptance” of the struggle within itself.

I see the neutral state in the client as an attitude of the organism, or a new orientation of biology to its own experience. The general attitude of the system when it moves into neutral is one of “giving up the fight” or “acceptance” of the struggle within itself. When the attention and will of the client are able to simply accept that struggle is present and stop feeding this struggle in a directional manner, then a new state of cohesiveness and balance emerge. Superficial pathological movement ceases for a time as opposing motions stop and look at each other in relative stillness. To be clear, the struggle is not always resolved in the neutral, it is just allowed to be in a muted form. This allowing creates the opportunity for a balance point to emerge between opposing forces in the system. The client’s neutral hinges upon this balance point, its fulcrum. This point of balance centering the neutral is then able to recognize something outside of its limiting container and explore the possibility of responding to the liberating movement of primary respiration or even deeper movements in the background field. In neutrality the system can enter a whole different kind of conversation with the forces of nature.

Additionally, in the neutral the client’s system reveals to us at what level it would like to begin work for that session by expressing a specific physical shape and density. This density tells us which strata within the tissues the system would like to address first. It may be bones, fascia, hormonal function, the mental field, etc. By paying attention to the density of the neutral we build a library of experience that brings precision to our interpretation of therapeutic intent and aids our diagnostic understanding of the historical events held in the system.

The neutral can still have a dynamic quality. It is usually not deep stillness. It may have background noise above or below it, or faint movements within it. But overall it embodies a meaningful receptivity to change by bringing relative balance and peace to the activity in the foreground of the client’s system.

You know you are entering a place of neutrality within the client when you encounter perceptions of: balance, cohesiveness, wholeness, relative peace, relative stillness, yielding, idling.

Ideally, we help the client access their neutral state by simply waiting and unobtrusively tracking the motions we encounter in the system from a neutral place of listening. Time is your friend in this process. It takes some time (usually between 10-20 minutes) for the client’s system to negotiate its internal pressures and reach a state of balance that is acceptable for the client’s mindbody. We know from affective neuroscience that the client’s system is feeling your system in this process. Ideally the client’s biological hardware feels your state of neutrality and takes cues from this interaction, facilitating a movement toward disengagement. But clinical practice is rarely ideal. Not infrequently we are presented with clients who have a difficult time finding their neutral and the subsequent healing it can offer.

Why is it that clients have trouble accessing the neutrality that opens a gate to deeper healing?

A major factor that governs the ability or inability to access a therapeutic neutral is patterning in the autonomic nervous system. The ANS is an area of strong interest for craniosacral therapists because we see on a daily basis how powerful its influence is over the state of health in the client. Autonomic imbalance is rampant in modern culture. The information age has brought with it increased stimulation to the central nervous system. In both work and home situations for many people in the developed world, the central nervous system is continually bombarded with information and sensory stimulation.  While the human organism is incredibly adaptable, evidence abounds that our current historical era is taxing the organism and pulling us into a state of pervasive hypervigilance. This is a major clinical consideration for practicing therapists. Cell phones interrupt treatments at my office on a daily basis. Ten years ago, this was a big deal. People apologized and turned the phone off. Now it is commonplace. I have clients that insist on having their phone resting by their head during treatment! A “No Cell Phones” sign doesn’t seem to help, either!

Another force we see inhibiting the client from entering neutral is episodic shock that gets stuck in the system – i.e. trauma. Chronic dissociation may be a factor in some of these cases. The forces of unresolved trauma keep the client hyper-aroused and inhibit the biological imperative to rest, relax, and restore – even if they have created a peaceful life around themselves.

More often than not, when the ANS is inhibiting a therapeutic response we are dealing with a dominant sympathetic system. So what can we do to overcome these sympathetic forces that constantly press the accelerator to the floor, making meaningful biological change difficult? I will address this question and elaborate on some clinical situations in the next post.

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