Q&A – Moving from Upledger to Biodynamics, Verbal Interactions

Hello Everyone! Well, I’m in full-swing with The Craniosacral Podcast now, and it has been a lot of fun so far. Producing a podcast does require a good amount of time, however, and I find myself in the process of learning how to better alot my time in order to maintain consistency with the multiple craniosacral-related projects I have given birth to. With that in mind I am going to “borrow” from the podcast for today’s blog offering by posting a transcription of a portion of the latest episode. In this episode I answer two questions from podcast listeners. One is about transitioning from the Upledger approach into biodynamics, and the other is about verbally interacting with the client.

I know that many of you who subscribe to the blog are not podcast listeners, so I thought this post would give you a taste of the interesting things happening on the show. Also, I know that some of you prefer to read material rather than hear it, so this should help you out.

If you are interested in listening but haven’t done so yet, you can check out the episode catalog at www.craniosacralpodcast.com or look up “craniosacral” on iTunes to find the show listing.

I have omitted the news portion and will start the transcription with the first question. Enjoy!

Okay, so I guess now we can shift over to some questions from listeners today. Let’s start with a question from Niamh in Ireland:

Audio: “Hi Ryan. Thank you so much for this podcast. It’s just perfect for me right now. Niamh is my name and I’m based in Ireland. I just completed the Upledger training … did my exam just a few weeks ago. I guess my question is … I am in that phase where I’m like “Upledger, what now?” Things are falling away rapidly – doing and tractioning and inducing. So I’m reading Franklyn Sills at the moment and I’ve just been drawn to any kind of biodynamic teaching that I can find. So I guess I’m asking about that space that’s opening up that’s kind of terrifying. It’s a space of not doing and not knowing. I suppose I’m asking the classic question “How do you do not doing?” I’m just looking to explore how that movement happens in the therapeutic setting. Thank you again I’ll be listening in.”

Hi Niamh, thanks for speakpiping in with some feedback. I’m really glad you are enjoying the podcast. Just to clarify for everybody, I emailed Niamh and asked her how far she has gone through the Upledger curriculum, and she replied that she has finished the first two classes and qualified as a CST-T, which is the techniques designation. Well, Niamh hit on a really big topic right off the bat here – this concept of doing vs. not doing and “doing not-doing.” She left me a lot of room with her question to hit on several topics, so I’ll just kind of set into this question with a loose boundary and we’ll just see what comes out.

Let me start by saying congratulations on your success so far with Upledger Institute training. I tend to call Upledger Institute “UI” just to let you guys know … UI for short. So when I say “UI,” you’ll all know what I mean, that’s Upledger Institute. UI has been around for a long time for a good reason. They have created a path for many practitioners to do this work for a living. There are many great people at UI who have worked very hard to establish CST as a legitimate healthcare modality. I regularly have people come to my office who are seeking out craniosacral care because of past success they have had with Upledger-trained therapists. So I am in debt to them for laying a groundwork that I benefit from and for creating so much good will in the past – all over the world, actually.

“There are many great people at UI who have worked very hard to establish CST as a legitimate healthcare modality.”

So far with UI, Niamh, you’ve had a great introduction to what is often called the biomechanical approach to craniosacral therapy. I’m careful about broadly categorizing UI work as mechanical, because I think that’s a little unfair of a classification, and there’s a little more room in the approach for fluid interaction than that term implies, but overall like you said, there is a lot of doing in that style of craniosacral. If you’ve gone through CST 1 and CST 2, then you’ve been in the world of sacral traction, medial compression of the ASIS, hard induction of stillpoints at the occiput, propping up C1 to disengage it from the occiput (OCB release), you’ve been doing various lifts (frontal, parietal,) you’ve been pulling on the temporal bones via the ears, and even when you move into oral work, you are still actively balancing the hard palate, etc. And even the v-spread technique, which is pretty subtle is still an active direction of energy. So, there really is a lot of doing in this style of work. And I think that’s an okay place to start. Sutherland himself did a lot of doing via direct and indirect action with tissues for decades while he explored the nature of the matter he was dealing with in the craniosacral system, and I’m sure he helped a lot of people along the way with that approach.

I am really grateful that I started with UI work and spent time utilizing it in the treatment room. I learned a lot from that work, and it still serves me today. I still “do” some of those techniques at times, but much more sparingly than I used to. I believe that anyone who is serious about craniosacral therapy should have an understanding and a proficiency with the more active, mechanical approaches to the work that are often associated with the faster rhythmic expressions of Primary Respiration. I believe that technique-based work, when explored consciensciously, can actually fortify the therapist’s grounding from working with tissues and sensitize the hands to anatomical subtleties in the tissues. I’ve found many of the direct and indirect techniques taught in a curriculum like Upledger’s to be very practical at times.

Actually, over the years I have become increasingly concerned for graduates of biodynamic foundation trainings who are out there in the real world trying to address the wide variety of health issues that are presented to them armed only with the deep passivity of biodynamic work. Mature biodynamic contact is eventually very powerful, but it might take a while moving along the path to reach that maturity, and the therapist’s life would at times be much easier if they had an understanding of effective “doing” regarding tissue techniques while they grow into biodynamic work.

Let’s not forget that biodynamics is advanced cranial work. It took a lifetime for Sutherland to walk fully into it. We can indeed benefit from the groundwork done by the forefathers of this work, but to think we can skip completely the basics of “harder-boundaried” touch might not be helpful to some therapists’ development. The pioneers of this work earned their way to the subtle powerful refinement of biodynamic work over decades of practice. So I think a clinical practitioner is best served by having a working knowledge of both classical and biodynamic approaches.

Personally, I think it is usually easier to step into biodynamics from a mechanical background than the other way around. We get really spoiled in biodynamics for deep comfort, and this is (of course) not a bad thing at all. But to get worked on with technique based work after experiencing all the innate freedom and spaciousness in biodynamics can be pressurizing, can be hard. Conversely, the technique oriented students who are in the process of moving into biodynamics, if they possess just a little bit of patience, often find a great sense of growth and freedom from exploring the new space offered them by biodynamic perception and interaction. I think this direction of transition, from mechanical to biodynamics is naturally a little bit easier for most learners.

So Niamh, it seems to me you are at a great place right now – armed with some understanding and effective tools, but interested in exploring the work at greater depth. I think it is great you are reading biodynamic texts like Franklyn Sills. Reading fuels my understanding as well, but I think it is important to say that nothing can replace experience in the classroom within the group field and guidance of a teacher. The group field of like-minded students is a very powerful resource for the biodynamic learner. So, it seems to me that your next move would be to explore your options for attending a biodynamic training (which I’m guessing you already are.) I encourage you to connect with several different teachers and perhaps even get a feel for their teaching style in an intro class before committing to a full foundation training.

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But more directly to the concern you raised about “not doing, not knowing.” I think you said “How do you do not doing?” Wow. That’s a biggie, but I’ll go ahead and share a few ideas about that:

Firstly, let me give you a down-to-earth, practical, no BS answer : “Doing not doing” is basically just allowing. I don’t know where you are in Franklyn’s text, but I bet that’s probably what he means. We have to learn how to allow the system to express itself at deeper and deeper levels. We put our efforts into allowing rather than changing things. That’s a basic form of doing not doing.

Now, “Doing not doing” can be also fleshed out in a little more complicated way, a way that points to some of the higher aspects of consciousness. So I’m going to get a little more sophisticated here for a minute to try to honor some of the higher realities of the work. The higher levels of biodynamic work do introduce to us some pretty incredible experiences of awareness similar to those invoked by spiritual practices like, say, Buddhist koans or Christian contemplation. They are experiences that are hard to explain because their nature is illogical to our minds. So we have to resort to logical talk to try to get closer to understanding what to do with this illogical experience we sometimes have in biodynamics.

In order to clarify this, let’s have some logical talk about doing: when you are learning biodynamic perceptual skills, you are indeed doing something. At times, you can be doing many things.

For instance, even though you are not initiating and interjecting willful movement into the body of the client like you would be with a cranial technique, you are still actively exploring varying levels of sensory information that unfold within and around you. There is actually work involved for most newcomers to learn the practice of deep neutrality. For example, you may need to spend time identifying your reflexive urges to respond to stimuli arising in yourself, the client, and the environment, and learn to uncouple from these urges. So there is some activity around identifying and uncoupling. For some learners, this feels like doing. At times it can feel like work.

You may also be active in the sense of directing your awareness to see the client and treatment space from different physical angles and spatial frameworks in order to expand your understanding of the forces of movement in nature. In biodynamics, we don’t just sit there doing nothing. It’s not an absent-minded nothingness. We are looking for an avenue to enter proper relationship with both the client and the natural world – simultaneously. But over time, as we become more familiar with the natural spatial language of Primary Respiration we exert increasingly smaller amounts of effort to enter into this sweet spot of relationship – and we are able stay there for longer periods of time without exertion. In this sweet spot we can begin to explore the deeper aspects of doing non-doing, of witnessing instantaneous physiological and metaphysical correction arising within the moment, free from our effort. You have plenty of time to work your way into those lands. It takes most practitioners years to really move into doing non-doing. It is about making friends with Primary Respiration.

On that note I think it is important to understand that learning biodynamics requires some discipline – not the kind of discipline that builds pressure in oneself, but the kind that builds stability. Biodynamics also requires patience. It requires new forms of trust for many of us. As we move into a biodynamic space, the work we do is largely upon our own psyche as we cleanse the old ways of our will and cultivate a new willingness to be re-formed in present time, to allow our sense of self to be made anew. The quicker and more thoroughly we can adopt that posture of trust and patience toward the remolding of ourselves, the farther we progress in our understanding of how to effectively partner with the Breath of Life for the sake of therapeutics.

“I think it is important to understand that learning biodynamics requires some discipline – not the kind of discipline that builds pressure in oneself, but the kind that builds stability.”

So the initial doing in the process of learning biodynamics is directed toward better understanding our internal world and clarifying our relationship with sensory phenomenon so that we can better understand how to best relate to natural principles. While we aren’t doing to the client, we are doing to ourselves in a sense … gently … gently preparing ourselves for a higher order of experience. This is the work, the doing, as we enter into the biodynamic path.

I know that uninitiated onlookers sometimes think that we just sit there with a head in our hands and hope for the best. And I can see why they would think that based on some of our more visible quotes about the work like “Be still and know” or “Trust the tide and get out of the way.“ Yes, those sayings make things sound really easy, but it omits a whole strata of disciplined activity and practice that is essential for the learner to pass through before he or she can actually know if they are still, or where they might be still, or if they really are out of the way – at least this is the case for most of us. Occasionally I do meet a person blessed by grace who can step easily into states of clear awareness and transparency within biodynamic sensory phenomenon. But these are rare people indeed. Most of us require some priming before we understand how to effectively become effortless.

But after you’ve laid the groundwork and come to understand yourself better and begin to learn how to let yourself be expanded into what I think you called the “terrifying space that’s opening up” the reality of doing no-doing becomes increasingly clear. It becomes clear because we come to see more and more that the intelligence doing the most accurate work in sessions is not our own. We see this, experience this understanding when we learn to step into the sensory world of Primary Respiration in an increasingly immersive manner, and better understand its true value for human health.

From the biodynamic perspective, Primary Respiration and the Breath of Life are the spatially active elements that initiate and complete therapeutic corrections in tissue, chemistry, fluid dynamics, emotional residue, and at times the structure and contents of the mind. The Breath of Life constantly emits accessible versions of perfection in a vast field of vibrant stillness. This intention for wholeness is delivered to us via Primary Respiration, the deep breathing of life into form, which largely speaks in a language of movement and shape. One of my favorite quotes of all times is “Man cognizes, God geometizes.” from Dr. Randolph Stone, the Osteopath and founder of Polarity Therapy. Over time we come to see that the ever-arising forces of geometization that shape life give us an opportunity to experience creation at a greater depth than most of us could have imagined. And working from this deeper realm enables us to help many people.

In biodynamics it is Primary Respiration and the elemental forces of the Breath of Life that do the work and make the decisions so we don’t have to. Once we get proficient at quieting the desires of our will and opening the faculties of awareness to contain a broad field of slow natural action, we really start to experience in a guttural, primordial way what it means to be witness to the arising of life. And, at times, the biodynamic path takes us to a place where we reach an experience of understanding that no movement of our will or mind can add anything to the perfection that permeates each unique moment of creation in a treatment, be it manifest in stillness or motion. Now that is a true experience of “doing not doing.”

So for the beginner, doing not doing is largely just allowing and accepting the movements and shapes that arise in and around the treatment space. But for the advanced practitioner, doing not doing is a favorable peak event that can’t really be earned. We can prepare for it, but can’t grasp it. It must be given to us as a gift. And when it is, it is usually accompanied by significant therapeutic progress in the treatment.

Well I’m getting pretty philosophical here, and I’m concerned about getting too far “out there” for some listeners. So I digress … and for the benefit of newcomers who might not have a reference point for understanding some of the ideological points I’ve made so far, let me just list some of the practical things that we, as biodynamic practitioners might be doing at any one time during a session, just to give you some ideas if you are new to this approach:

We stay aware of what we are orienting to – for example we might be asking ourselves:

Am I primarily oriented to motion or stillness in this moment?

How wide or narrow is my perceptual field right now? Might the client be more greatly benefited if I were to change my perceptual field?

Am I orienting to ideas that might be inhibiting a more full physical expression of the potency of Primary Respiration or the Breath of Life?

Some of us choose to actively engage in a continual recognition of the presence of love in treatment space or in the universe. This may involve some activity, some doing.

We may be monitoring the autonomic nervous system of the client. This is a very fundamental skill that involves a little bit of doing … looking for signs of overwhelm or just simply tracking autonomic shifts to get an idea of how the nervous system is responding to our relationship.

We may be verbally interacting with the client, which is very active in my experience.

We may need to monitor movement in our own will to ensure that we maintain spontaneity to the moment by not anticipating too much.

So there’s just a few things we might be doing. You experienced practitioners out there could add many things to that list, I’m sure.

On the other hand, what are we not doing?

In deep biodynamic experience, we are not attempting to correct anything, for we do not know what really needs correction. No matter how much training you have, you can’t really know the details of what needs to happen for that depth of correction to arise. That information, if important, is given to us when or after the correction occurs. So we’re not attempting to correct anything.

We are not anticipating anything specific to occur, for anticipating something denies to the moment its inherent freedom. We have no right to do that. We have the ability, but not the right if we want to be of utmost service to the client.

We are not spacing out or fading out of consciousness.

We are not holding judgements about the client’s situation based on our own personal or broader social beliefs or norms. Those will act against the deep service of the client.

These are just a few considerations, but I hope you see that sometimes it requires quite a bit of doing to eventually get to a place where we can truly rest and get out of the way.

So Niamh, I wish you the best on your ongoing journey with the work. I hope that the deeply receptive experience of biodynamics opens up a world of discovery for you about your own depths of health and better enables you to facilitate correction and ease in the lives of your clients. I hope that you come to discover some of the beauty that I and others have found in the primordial flow of life that at times envelopes every aspect of our senses, delivering to us a greater experience of wholeness.

I’d like to respond to one other question that arrived via email from Nadine in New Zealand. Nadine listened to the interview that I did with Judah Lyons (Episode 4, I believe) in which we both shared that we try to limit verbal interaction with clients during a session. She says that she used to take a similar approach, but over the last year she has found it useful to ask questions as shifts occur in the client, especially with clients that appear to be disembodied. She credits Steve Haine’s postgrad training for shifting her perspective on this. She is asking if I have considered this.

This is a great point, and honestly I was expecting a question like this because I really didn’t explain myself much during that interview or even some of the interviews that will be following this episode, so let me clarify a little bit about this. Overall, yes, I tend to be conservative with verbal discussion during a treatment, but this does not mean that I don’t check in with the client at times to better understand what their experience is like. There are so many things to discuss here, but let me just make a few points to better explain how I see this.

Some of my training has included learning verbal techniques employing therapeutic imagery in which the therapist takes a pretty active role in soliciting information about the contents of the client’s mind and then examining images and/or beliefs held by the client. While I used to employ lines of inquiry like this, I often found that things got pretty darn complicated and digging through the contents of the mind felt a lot like we were chasing our own tails, frequently ending up in dead ends. While some therapists have a gift for this kind of inquiry, it never really suited me well. Also, I’ve had new clients come to me who had severed their relationship with another craniosacral practitioner because they got tired of being asked what their inner physician or spirit guide wanted to do or being asked to explain the details of their experience ad nauseum. So I tend to avoid those types of verbal interactions.

Where I am at now is that I try to keep things focused on the sensory experience of the client, which I think speaks to what you are talking about, Nadine. The senses are more concrete than the world of ideas, and sensory exploration tends to keep the client in present time.

As far as when I do choose to verbally engage the client, I see it divided into two main situations. Firstly, I will check in with them when I establish the first contact of the session, or when I move to a new contact. This is just good practice and helps to establish good relationship and facilitate comfort. But I will also check in with them if I sense aspects of distress or pressure in the autonomic nervous system. Some clients are caught up in a very small, intense, challenging sensory world because of past or current events in their lives – they are hyper-somatized. And the other side of this coin is dissociation, which can run along a broad spectrum. If I come to believe that the client is leaning toward extremes of hyper-somatization or dissociation, then I will engage in inquiry, then listening, and perhaps a little coaching, or resourcing, to help them experience their embodiment in a different way, to maybe bring them back to the middle so to speak. I might do this by leading them through a body-scan or give them an alternative viewpoint for how to be with their felt-sense that hopefully will facilitate some ease in their experience by connecting them with some sensations of comfort.

With that being said, though, I think periods of dissociation in the course of treatment can actually be helpful. Let’s take sleep for example, which is a form of disembodiment. Many people that come to see me are pretty tired in their core. There are a lot of demands placed upon the modern person – most modern people. They are exhausted, and they might quickly fall into a state of sleep as treatment unfolds. I actually find this to be helpful, as it can allow the system to blow out some noise and relieve some internal pressure. At times the consciousness needs to just get out of the way in order for the biology to make much-needed shifts. Coaching the client to stay conscious (like some teachers do) when they are tired or seeking to be out of the body can be counter-productive at times. So I try to just be aware of this and give them some space to correct at the tempo they present to me. I don’t get overly concerned if people space out at times. Big shifts can occur during those windows. Perhaps later we can then explore their felt-sense with greater clarity after they have rested or renegotiated their embodiment a bit.

Thanks for bringing this up, Nadine, and giving me a chance to clarify myself a little. I have put out feelers to get some guests on the show who have developed classes on verbal interaction in a biodynamic setting, so this is a topic that will get more attention and detail in the future. I know I could definitely learn more about this, and I’m sure we could all benefit from learning more about this important part of the practice.

Well that’s about it for today’s episode. I hope you picked up something useful. I will be getting up bright and early tomorrow to teach a 4-day Level 1 training in classical cranial work. I’m super-stoked to introduce this work to some new people. Thank you everybody for listening in today, and thanks for the questions. Next week we will get back to interviews. I’ve got a great one lined up that I think you will really enjoy. Until then, I wish you all rich, rewarding experiences in life and at the treatment table.

ryan-hallford-craniosacral-therapistRyan Hallford is a craniosacral therapist and educator. He offers certification programs in basic and advanced cranial work through the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, TX. www.cranioschool.com