Paul K. Branch, M.D. - Holistic Medicine and Classical Homeopathy

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The Alternative Healer

Archive for the ‘Therapies’ Category

Menopause: What is the Best Therapy?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Menopause is a time of transition, a crossing from one state to another. The key in all transitions is to find safe passage across what can be rough waters. From the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine, a key year in this transition lies in the 48-49 year range. When confronted with menopausal or peri-menopausal symptoms, there are three main paths that a woman can take:

▪ Conservative. This views menopause as a natural transition where treatment should be minimal. In my practice, women who choose this path use classical homeopathy and perhaps some nutritional and dietary therapy to manage symptoms.
▪ Energy Imbalance Perspective. This point of view reflects the understanding of Chinese medicine (TCM). From the point of TCM, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms arise out of an energy imbalance that can easily occur at mid-life. The energy of the kidneys, which create cooling vital fluids, declines at menopause, and thus fall out of balance with the fire energy of the body. The water-fire balance tips in favor of heat and leads to hot flashes. In addition, when women stop menstruating, they may load extra toxicity which formerly was excreted through menstruation. If the body does not find a new balance, illness may develop. Women who choose the energy balance path can use herbal therapy to replenish their lost vital essence, and often hold this balance through the transition and beyond. They may or may not use classical homeopathy along with this approach.
▪ Hormonal Imbalance perspective. This is viewpoint of a segment of western doctors, particularly those involved in anti-aging medicine, and has been popularized by Suzanne Somers. In this view, the decline of hormones in mid-life leads to symptoms. To manage the symptoms, this view advocates replenishing the lost hormones with bio-identical hormones. The agreement among all doctors who work at the forefront of this field is that estradiol (estrogen) should not be taken orally. Doctors mainly prescribe transdermal (applied to skin) application for both estradiol and progesterone replacement, although many advocate taking the progesterone orally if there is insomnia. Within this group of doctors, there are many individual variations, but two main groups you should be aware of:

⁃ -Cyclers: This sub-group, whose chief proponent is Susie Wiley, maintains that        women should take hormones in a way that mimics the hormonal rhythms of a younger, menstruating women. In this method of hormone replacement, the first half of the cycle is an estrogen phase and the second half is a progesterone phase. When hormones are cycled in this way it will promote a menstrual period. The Wiley Protocol is the most extreme of the cycler group, because it advocates returning a woman to the higher hormonal levels of a young woman, attempting to exactly mimic the rhythm of young adulthood.
-Non-cyclers: This group usually gives static (i.e. the same dose each day) daily doses of hormones. If a diagnosis of “estrogen dominant” is given, then there will be a daily dose of progesterone alone. Other situations may call for giving both estradiol and progesterone. Some doctors always give a combination of estradiol and progesterone each day.

In reference, to the above three approaches, here is the approach of my practice:
1) If I had to choose only one therapy from the above three, I would choose classical homeopathy. The reason is that this treatment is so deep that it can manage most health problems. With a good homeopathic prescription, a woman feels better than using either Chinese herbal medicine or bio-identical hormone replacement alone, or together. I find that using bio-identical hormone replacement can be limited in cases where the health of the woman is not that good.
2) Treating with classical homeopathy and then supplementing with Chinese herbals to fine-tune and build the vital essence of the body is an excellent way to proceed.
3) Using all three approaches together. This has slowly been evolving into my treatment of choice. First I like to begin with classical homeopathy and see how things balance out. From there, if signs of deficiency exist, I will restore the balance with herbals. I find that then adding in bio-identical hormones optimizes how a woman feels, allowing her to move into a new and higher state of well-being.
4) Although I recognize arguments for both Cyclers and Non-Cyclers, my prescribing sides more with the Cyclers. Before prescribing a cycling regimen, though, a woman needs to be OK with the likelihood of menstruating beyond normal menopausal age. If you give bio-identical estrogen in the first half of the cycle, followed by progesterone in the second half, a woman will build up a uterine lining (assuming she has a uterus). When the progesterone is stopped at the end of the cycle, bleeding will occur. All doctors using bio-identical replacement therapy agree that taking some bio-identical hormones is healthier than not, even when given in a low-dose static way. I agree, however, with the Cyclers who argue that a static dose of hormones tends to “clog” the receptors, inhibiting them from regenerating.
5) Although I have seen no evidence, either in practice or in the literature, that bio-identical hormone replacement promotes cancer or any other disease, I have seen evidence that giving too much of either estradiol or progesterone can create toxicity. Thus, I do not want to say that bio-identical hormone replacement is without risks. It is important to tune in to how you feel when you start taking bio-identical hormones. If you do not feel better, you either need to change the regimen or stop them. When bio-identical hormone replacement works, this is reflected both in measurements (e.g. the Digimeridian I use) and in how you feel.

The above is a brief summary of an evolving field. Use it as general guidelines, asking questions to find answers that suit your individual needs and outlook. Trust that, for those in the know, there are profound interventions that can make the menopausal years healthy and joyful.


Ayurvedic Medicine

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

How is the modern American to make sense of the many alternative medicines? In many situations it may not seem to matter. You are not feeling well; you find a doctor of Chinese medicine; or you find a doctor of Ayurvedic medicine; you get better. What else matters? The only problem is everyone is not better. Until then, we must try to understand how to choose.

The traditional medicine of India, Ayurvedic medicine, is not nearly as prominent as Chinese medicine in this country. Acupuncturists are common now. Ayurvedic doctors are harder to find, and our understanding of Ayurveda is more limited. Nevertheless, on a personal level, I have gradually drifted from an interest in the Taoist traditions of China to the spiritual traditions of India over the past 10 years. I find the spiritual traditions of India to be subtle, complex, and easy to misunderstand at first exposure. Westerners tend to get a taste of it through yoga, but this is the tip of the iceberg. The relationship of the individual to the cosmos is an entirely different one in the Ayurvedic tradition. In my current understanding, jyotish the complex astrology of India, forms a dominant, perhaps the dominant, underpinning of the entire Ayurvedic tradition. In India, how one fits into the cosmic order is what is important to understand. The western mind tends to come at it the opposite way: how can I get the cosmos to revolve around me?

Thus, Ayurvedic medicine, like that of the Chinese, is a cosmic medicine, concerned with keeping the body and mind in energetic balance both within itself and the universe (what I call a 3rd level intention, see categories on right). Yet, the language and understanding of energetic balance in Ayurveda is quite different from the Chinese. The Chinese primarily understand energetic balance in the human being in terms of the 12 energetic (acupuncture) meridians, intricately mapped out. In ancient India, balance concerned the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha.

These three categorizations roughly relate to the three body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. People who have dominant vata tend to be thin (ectomorphic), dry, and there is an emphasis on the nervous system, i.e, there is a lot of anxious mental energy. In the terminology of the ancients, vata is made up of the elements of air and ether (ether was the ancient’s idea of empty space). Pitta people tend to have a large boned, muscled (mesomorphic) frame. They are hot, action-oriented types, and in more ways than one, need ways of cooling down. This relates to the element of fire. with a bit of water thrown in for some steam. Kapha is heavy, cool, and slow, corresponding to the round, endomorphic frame, which tends to easily put on weight. There is a pulling downward. The corresponding elements are of earth and water. Kapha people can suffer from inertia. Once comfortable, on the couch, at their job, in whatever way, change can be difficult.

Everyone has a dominant and subdominant dosha, and balance in Ayurvedic terms is to offset the tendencies of one’s nature. If one is an anxious vata, for example, there is an emphasis on calming and steadying influences. If one is pitta, cooling influences become more important. And for kapha, it becomes important to counteract inertia through action and heat. Thus, for example, hot and spicy food is usually good for kapha people, but it may aggravate people who are predominantly pitta.

It is not a bad idea to familiarize oneself with one’s Ayurvedic constitution and how we use this to promote healthy balance. Yet the genius of Ayurvedic medicine, in my understanding, lies in its detoxifying procedures called Pancha Karmas. The idea is that toxins, both real (i.e. material) and energetic, accumulate in the body that interfere with its proper function and also with medicinal therapies. That is to say, medicines “won’t take” as well if the body is not prepared for them—like trying to paint an unprepared surface covered with dirt and grime.

This detoxifying branch of Ayurveda is vast, using many different therapies and substances (e.g. oils), and drawing on the rich spiritual heritage of India. We westerners can begin to approach it by taking time–particularly at the beginning of seasons when detoxification is most recommended–to find an Ayurvedic clinic or spa using Pancha Karmas, getting to know some of their procedures. Although my experience here is limited, my sense is that those in the Ayurvedic tradition have the inside track on detoxyifying procedures. Because detoxification is an essential piece in the living a long and healthy life, I plan to explore it further in the future.



Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Looking back on my blog topics, I have mostly shunned first level, physical plane medicine.  I tend to dwell on level four and to a lesser degree level three.  It is not simply that my interest lies on these levels.  It is that these levels are not well understood.  It is easy to find information on therapies that address the physical body.   

Nevertheless, every so often I should right the balance and throw in some physical plane “alternative” medicine that I think is important.  I use “alternative” loosely here, because on the 1st level, today’s “alternative” is often tomorrow’s standard therapy.  Glucosamine, for example, was initially an alternative therapy that everyone used to protect joints and lessen joint pain—everyone, that is, who was not in the medical system.  Doctors scoffed at it.  Then the studies were done, and now all orthopedists use it. 

Glyconutritionals are a similar phenomenon.  Thinking back to grade school biology, in the center of the cell lies the nucleus, along with various other organelles.  The cell wall was portrayed as smooth–yet it’s not.  In reality there are many wispy, hair-like structures that extend out from the cell wall and communicate with these same structures in other cells.  These “wispy structures” are made of different types of sugars (glyco = sugar).  Glyconutritional products, in general, supplement our diets with these sugars. 

The cell-to-cell communication that these “wispy structures” make possible is important for our immune system.  If glyconutritionals are in good supply, then our immune system is given an added boost.  On the other hand, if we are lacking in them, it can easily allow a chronic disease to express itself by way of a sub-optimal immune system.   

I have used glyconutritional products in my practice.  I have seen glyconutritional supplementation alone cause chronic disease symptoms to disappear.  It certainly did not happen all the time, but it happened.  For this reason, knowledge of glyconutritional products is important for people who suffer from any serious chronic illness.  Particularly when people are chronically ill or becoming so, their body may be having trouble making these critical sugars.  For healthy people, supplementation with a glyconutritional product is probably a good idea.  I have it as part of my daily regimen.

Glyconutritionals are a hot research topic in many labs.  Certain scientists have broken away from the mainstream to set up independent companies based on the knowledge they gained.  I plan on posting information on the company I like best on my website at some point.  If you can’t wait, email me and I will forward you the information you need. 


Network Spinal Analysis II

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

Prana, the Sanskrit word for “vital energy,” is also the word for “breath.” Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) works directly with prana. As an addendum to my last post, I would like to explain just how much.

NSA begins by correctly aligning the spine. Once this is accomplished and the patient progresses to the upper levels of NSA, we move beyond what we know as “chiropractic care.” Think of it this way: as an NSA doctor works on a patient, the muscular tension stressing the spine releases, and the spinal alignment corrects. At this point you might think, “Ok, we’re done.” If that were the case, you wouldn’t hear about NSA gatherings, where practitioners, families, and friends, gather to have fun and do NSA on each other. Nor would you encounter NSA couples who happen to blurt out how incredible their sex lives have become since advancing to the upper levels.

What is going on here? I think back to my posting on Alex Grey’s Chapel of Cosmic Mirrors. It strikes me that advanced level NSA has a similar view of the universe to Alex Grey. Witness his paintings of humans enveloped in vital energy, flowing out into the cosmos. These paintings force the question just what sort of universe do we live in anyway?

NSA’s Donald Epstein wants you to live in a different universe than the one you know. You can read his book on the 12 stages of healing, but we can cut to the chase and say his medicine has an ecstatic vision. How did we end up there from the “let’s-get-T3-and-T4-back into alignment” perspective? Think of the chiropractic office: your chiropractor quickly enters, turns you over into position, and crunch, vertebrae T3 and T4 slide back into place. A minute later he’s gone. A chiropractor can inspire a vision closer to the auto mechanic.

Nevertheless, backtrack to this idea that muscular tension around the spine produces misalignments. Imagine an NSA doctor inviting the breath into your body to break that tension free. In the first level of NSA, the tension around your spine frees up. At the second level, using much longer contacts held on those points of relaxation, the NSA doctor invites your breath in a step deeper, allowing your nervous system a deeper state of relaxation. It is when NSA patients move to this level of relaxation that they can spontaneously release emotions. For example, some people find that a certain part of their body shakes after an NSA contact, or they let out a cry or moan.

Considering this spontaneous release of emotion, a favorite yoga teacher of mine, Lisa Matkin (NYC), did a “heart opening” (4th Chakra) class one evening. She repeatedly brought us back to “heart opening“ poses, with the shoulders back and rib cage expanded into a back bend. Right after class, one woman started uncontrollably sobbing. It spoke volumes about how the body holds emotions. It is difficult to open and leave our hearts exposed.

Our body simply cannot help but register everything our mind experiences in the process of living. Every hurt, every rejection, every trauma, somewhere, somehow, our body processes. This holds both the promise and the problem of being human. NSA gives us a new perspective on this. It speaks of “re-connecting” parts of our body that lost communication with each other. My experience in yoga has taught me that the tightest spot in my body is often where I have the least sensation. Consciousness of this part of the body is largely absent. It is like a friend we lost track of when he stopped sending letters. An NSA practitioner, with his finely-tuned understanding of how we hold tension, coaxes our breath in and re-connects our consciousness with these lost parts of ourselves. NSA’s precise contacts nudge us to a degree of relaxation and body consciousness that would be difficult to reach on our own.

What is a medicine with an ecstatic vision? First let’s understand the opposite. Note how, when we become stressed, our breathing becomes shallower. Tension restricts our breathing. If we concentrate, we can learn to feel this restriction in our breathing, but what about all the other parts of our body we are unable to tune into? What’s happening there? What about the constriction around our heart we never feel that eventually comes to our consciousness through a heart attack? What about the constriction in our back that comes to our awareness in a perfect stab of pain one morning when we get out of bed?

To take in the stress of life without consciousness is to have our body shut down. We don’t notice it, but somewhere within blockages form. It may not be significant today, but tomorrow could bring the common scenario where someone sits before me and asks, “Why did this pain come to me NOW?” All blockages eventually come to our consciousness. The more out of touch we are with ourselves the more they tend to present as a mysterious, outrageous assault. Some visit the surgeon and tell him, “Cut out this pain,” that is, “cut out this part of myself I have lost contact with.”

A medicine with an ecstatic vision moves the opposite way. Instead of shutting down it brings in the breath and blows the energetic channels open. It brings consciousness into all those disowned parts of ourselves and re-discovers the emotions we have disowned. To breath tightly, to shut down, is to perceive pleasure in a narrow range. To blow open the energetic channels recruits those lost parts of ourselves as pleasure centers. Hats off to those NSA couples who have become pleasure seekers: think of the most relaxed sexual experience you have ever had and then imagine a relaxation three steps deeper, where you are conscious of every cell in your body. Full body-mind awareness is our destiny as humans. To avoid this process is to become blocked. It may be that all disease is nothing more than a wake-up call, whispering, or perhaps shouting: “You stopped opening to the divine ecstatic experience. It’s time to get moving again.”


Network Spinal Analysis: Inviting in the Breath

Monday, November 6th, 2006

A branch of chiropractic care, network spinal analysis is one of the more difficult avenues of alternative medicine to understand. Beginning with various chiropractic principles and “networking” them, Dr. Donald Epstein created a discipline that simultaneously achieved the goals of traditional chiropractic care—and completely went beyond them.

My friends, Steve and Julie Wilke, both chiropractors, practice network spinal analysis in Madison, WI. Steve once described to me why he gave up traditional chiropractic for networking. He happened to be looking at the x-rays of a colleague who used networking spinal analysis. Stunned, he noted that the spines of his patients were practically perfect. That spiked his interest. Echoing this success is the case of a friend of mine who had a subluxation (misalignment) in her vertebrae that a number of traditional chiropractors were unable to realign. Dr. Wilke, using network spinal analysis, succeeded.

In the initial visits to a networking chiropractor, it is common to walk out mystified. Here’s what happens: you lie face down on the table. The practitioner checks the tension in your body by feeling the tension in your ankles and having you move your head from side to side. Using the “networked” chiropractic principles, he then determines a point along the spine where the muscles are most relaxed, and touches that point with a finger (“makes a contact”). I have always had a tendency to take a spontaneous deep breath after a networking doctor makes a contact along my spine. Asking about this, the answer was “That’s what’s supposed to happen.”

Making a contact in network spinal analysis invites in the breath. The significance of this is easier to understand if we consider yoga. Breathing is the primary focus in a yoga practice. As you work through the asanas, or yoga poses, the goal is to keep steady, deep, long breaths, making the exhale longer than the inhale. Developing flexibility in yoga involves the breath, which in some real manner energetically penetrates deep into our layers of tightness, breaking them open. Similar to how water can wear away rock, the breath can reach and open those bound up areas in us that have hardened over time. Stop breathing in yoga, and you lose the ability to energetically open.
A similar process occurs in network spinal analysis. All of us have experienced tightness in our necks and backs. It is actually this muscular tightness, sometimes pulling in opposite directions, that can cause the spine to shift out of alignment. Of course this is particularly likely when trauma stresses an already tight part of the neck or spine. Seeking out a point of maximum relaxation, the network practitioner makes a contact, inviting in the breath to break up the muscular tension that created the vertebral misalignment. As this occurs, the breath becomes smooth, deep, and an unrestricted wave undulates through the spine from the sacrum (lower back) into the neck. These waves of deep breathing allow the spinal vertebrae to “shake out” into precise alignment over time.

To those who have needed repeated chiropractic adjustments, only to slip back out of alignment yet again, the advantage to this should be clear. The reason you need repeated adjustments is because the muscular tension causing the misalignment remains. Network spinal analysis takes chiropractic care a level deeper by addressing the underlying tension that produces the misalignment.

I have to salute Dr. Epstein’s genius. Somewhere he took a leap and made a connection that was not obvious, linking chiropractic care to the universal energetic currents. Perhaps there are new things under the sun after all.


CranioSacral II : The Breath of Life

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

In New York City, there is a CranioSacral therapist I know named Deborah Badran. She combines CranioSacral therapy with her work as a doula for birthing mothers. That CranioSacral can be married with the needs of mothers in labor Deborah proves beyond reasonable doubt. After using her CranioSacral skills to re-position a baby in the mother’s womb or silencing a screaming mother, I am certain that more than one obstetrician has squinted at her suspiciously and wondered, ‘Is she a healer?…or a magician?!” Deborah is one of these energy workers where it is not quite clear.

The origin of CranioSacral as a therapy traces back to the beginning of the 20th century, when William Sutherland first discovered that our cerebrospinal fluid circulates and has a pulsing rhythm. When a CranioSacral therapist works on you, holding your head in their hands for often long periods of time, they are tuning into this deep rhythm. CranioSacral therapy is like eavesdropping; the therapist sinks deeper and deeper into a stillness where they sense the cerebrospinal fluid and the deeper structures within the nervous system.

Sutherland was confronted with a paradox. He could clearly feel the pulse of motion of this fluid, yet no muscles or other structures exist that cause it to circulate. There are no moving muscles inside the nervous system. What then makes it circulate? He reasoned there must be some unseen, vital force that causes this circulation, and he named this “the breath of life.” Our cerebrospinal fluid pulses at the very core of our physical being.

The school of CranioSacral Deborah trained in, the biodynamic school, is closely associated with Sutherland’s ideas of “the breath of life.” This school seems to eavesdrop a bit deeper, crossing over more into the immaterial realm where the vital energies reside and working with them. The other CranioSacral school is associated with Upledger. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a lot of dialogue between the two schools. They do have different perspectives, but we can say that CranioSacral is wide enough as a discipline to happily contain them both. Some therapists, such as Deborah, seem happy to teach to both camps. The Upledger strikes me as a bit more technical in its approach. I suspect both schools have something to learn from the other.

I think it’s useful for people who use CranioSacral therapy to be aware there is a difference between people trained in the two schools. I stop short of forming opinions about which is better. Talent, good training, and hard work in perfecting the skills are in my mind the more critical factors in choosing a CranioSacral therapist. I suspect that certain problems might more ideally suit one or the other. For now, it’s difficult to know.


Layers of Energetic Balance

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

I finished my third of a set of three CranioSacral sessions today. Energetically it was by far the most intense of the three.  It might be described as a quiet, enjoyable, electrical storm going on in my body. 

In mentioning this to Julie McKay, she said that it is good to do a number of CranioSacral sessions in juxtaposition.  If a lot of time goes by between sessions, "life stress gets in the way."  I have made reference to what this means before, but let’s revisit it.

Traditional chinese medicine associates specific emotions with each organ system in the body.  Grief is associated with the lungs; fear the kidneys; anger, impatience (springing from assertiveness or lack thereof), the liver; overthinking, worry, or sympathy, the spleen; issues of being loveable and connection to others, the heart. 

In the process of living, we inevitably encounter situations where emotions go out of balance.  If we lose someone we love, for example, it energetically affects the lungs.  You can feel this heaviness in the lungs if you grieve.  If we are afraid, it depletes the kidneys of energy, affecting the adrenal glands, which sit together with the kidneys; and so on.  Thus, the trauma of living energetically affects us.  If a certain energy meridian becomes disturbed enough, we will have physical symptoms that let us know.

When a third-level energy worker like Julie McKay initially works on a patient, she first has to energetically clear out the superficial stuff.  For example, your boss threatened to fire you earlier in the week.  Your fear had an energetic effect on you body through the kidney energy meridian, causing changes that first need attention before deeper, more chronic layers begin to reveal themselves.  Thus, at my third session in this last week, Julie was able to go deeper, because her earlier work had cleared the way.   

The third-level is highly complex arena, with probably four or more different levels of its own.  It’s all about energy and balancing it, but there are various depths a therapist can take that to.  In this regard, Julie wrote me about my last entry on the facilitated segment:

Perhaps the facilitated segment is causing a 1st level problem that is so big it is covering up the underlying patterns that then are preventing the patient from fully expressing what is going on with them?

Julie’s point is well-taken.  Sometimes the focus comes on our physical symptoms so strongly that it is difficult to see through them to the deeper energetic patterns.  They become a block or hindrance, and tell us so. 

The rule about physical disease (i.e. 1st level) is "that which we cannot hold conscious we express through our bodies." Looking at that from one angle, if we experience strong emotions that we cannot consciously handle, they will tend to produce physical symptoms in a pattern that expresses where we are aggravated at the deeper levels of our being, i.e. the 3rd and 4th.   


The “Facilitated Segment”

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

     An important idea for CranioSacral therapy is the facilitated segment.  I’m not sure who originally came up with this clumsy phrase; nevertheless it is an important idea for you to know.

     Imagine an injury in the body that produces high levels of pain.  Or perhaps, because of anxiety, the lining in your stomach has become inflamed and painful.  You perceive the pain because the nerve fibers in the stomach lining carry pain impulses along the nerve to the spinal cord.  The spinal cord transfers the pain message to the brain.  The idea is that if the pain continues, the segment of the spinal cord connected with the stomach can get hypersensitive.  If this particular segment becomes “facilitated,” this means there is hypersensitivity to the point the nerves fire after the actual pain dies down.  Theoretically, you could feel pain long after the injury has healed, simply because the spinal cord segment itself has gotten too hypersensitive.

     For those of you who follow my levels of healing, note that this facilitated segment is a “1st level” problem on the physical plane.  Many think that I’m not too impressed by 1st level problems.  That’s not true:  if the problem primarily centers on the 1st level, I’m very impressed with healing at the 1st level.  If you break a bone, for example, with one end sticking out of your skin, this is a 1st level problem, and I’m quite impressed with the doctor who puts things back together.  What I’m not impressed with is pain and discomfort that arise out of the 4th level that doctors treat as a 1st level problem. 

     I believe it is useful to consider that pain in your body could produce sensitivity in the spinal cord as well.  This is important, because good CranioSacral therapists appear to be able to sense when a segment of the spinal cord is facilitated.  Then they can gently adjust and relax the structures in the spine to help things heal.  This means that people with chronically painful or irritated spots in their body could try CranioSacral as a means to calm this irritability.  They could do this while, if appropriate, simultaneously pursuing homeopathy to shift the deeper patterns that brought about the irritability in the first place.



A Focus on the Spine

Friday, October 27th, 2006

I can think of three alternative therapies that focus on the spine and central nervous system (CNS).   I am sure I’m forgetting some.  The most obvious is standard chiropractic.  There is also Network Spinal Analysis, which is loosely associated with chiropractic.  Finally, there is CranioSacral therapy. 

The three have some strong differences, yet I thought it would be good to start with why focus on the spine at all?  The short answer is that impulses from the nerve fibers coming out of our spine produce all the sensations we experience in our body, as well as control all muscular action.  Thus, our mind processes and mirrors our bodily pain through our CNS.  Work with the spine, adjust it, and you can affect one’s perception of pain.

Standard chiropractic maintains that misalignment of the vertebrae customarily affects the nerves running out of that particular segment of the spine.  Thus, adjustment of bones affects the nervous system.  CranioSacral’s focus is a layer deeper in the CNS, on the fluid in which our brain and spinal cord floats (cerebrospinal fluid) and deeper structural aspects of the actual spinal cord and brain itself.  The subtle adjustments CranioSacral brings about in this system can bring large shifts to the body as a whole.  Network Spinal Analysis takes a slightly different perspective, focusing on the CNS’s control of the muscular tension in our bodies.  Muscular tension not only has to do with our experience of pain, but with misalignment of our spines, which in turn can affect how we feel pain.

This is all a bit mysterious.  You could have an issue that has nothing directly to do with your nervous system, e.g. a migraine headache that comes from expanding blood vessels in your head, and work on it through spinal adjustment in chiropractic or subtle manipulation of the bones of the head in CranioSacral.  To make things even more complicated, when I was on the CranioSacral table the other day, Julie was working on my head, and I was intensely feeling it in my right hip.  What she was doing was DEFINITELY producing strong sensations there. 

This is not so different from the idea in acupuncture that you may needle points in perhaps the hand or foot to affect issues in the head, for example.  In other words, once you move deeper into the 3rd level, the body’s energetic matrix, things do not work in a “connect the dots” sort of way.  An energy blockage in one part of the body could be the source of the pain in an entirely different part of your body. 

Realize that you as a person–your body, your mind, your spirit–just like the universe itself, is composed of patterns within patterns within patterns.  You have the patterns of your physical being, which the medical community is working furiously to unravel.  You have the patterns of your energetic being, which various systems, particularly the acupuncture meridians, track.  You have the patterns of your emotional being, which at a deeper level were explored by Carl Jung and his idea of archetypes.  From whatever viewpoint you want to take, you can find a pattern. 

It is because of these patterns, built in to things, that a Chinese doctor could tell you, “You have low energy in kidney.  Eat kidney bean.”  The kidney bean mirrors and helps the actual kidneys in your body.  In some way, what is happening at every level in the body is reflected in the sole of your foot, or the iris of your eye.  In some way, everything that happens to you is connected to everything else in the universe. 

When you start to see things this way, the idea of focusing on the spine to make larger changes in the body becomes easier to understand.  Thus, Julie explained to me, that by working on section of my cranium (head bones), which looks like and mirrors the ileum bone of my pelvis, she affected a longstanding issue in my right pelvis and hip. Whoa.  No kidding.


CranioSacral I

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Lately I have been lax on keeping up on self-care.  At least that’s what my friend and colleague Julie McKay told me.  She’s a practitioner of CranioSacral Therapy in Madison, WI.  She worked on me again this week after a hiatus of close to two years.  I decided the time lapse was partially a good thing, because her improved skills were easy to discern.   This always interests me.  What has happened that she has become so much better?  What does it take to be good in alternative therapies, and what does that mean for you as patient/client? 

Julie has been studying hard during the last couple years.  It seemed she was always out of town doing CranioSacral seminars or taking tests to be certified at a certain level.  In my understanding, Julie is now the best-trained CranioSacral practitioner in Madison.  There are six levels of training in this complex discipline, and she is well into the upper levels.  As she explained to me, there are 200 practitioners of CranioSacral in Madison.  The levels of training and the levels of skill vary widely.  Developed by John Upledger in the 70’s and 80’s, CranioSacral Therapy is becoming increasingly widespread.  Thus, knowledge of the discipline and what it takes for a practitioner to be good is important for health-conscious people to understand. 

CranioSacral Therapy is centered at what I call the “3rd or vital energy system level” in my levels of healing (see right).  It is one of the more sophisticated 3rd level disciplines, and worthy of our attention and study.   Before seeing a CranioSacral practitioner, it would be good to understand their level of training.  Yet, it is also important to understand that, in alternative medicine, training does not guarantee good skills, which are often very subtle and difficult to learn.  With this in mind, CranioSacral study is now divided into the following:

– CranioSacral Therapy I
– CranioSacral Therapy II
–SomatoEmotional Release I
–SomatoEmotional Release II
–Advanced CranioSacral I
–Advanced CranioSacral II

There are many forms of somato-emotional release, but in this context it is a technique directly connected to the initial CranioSacral training.  It concerns emotions and traumas that we carry within various parts of our body.  I will discuss this further in upcoming blogs.  If we can understand CranioSacral work, it gives us a basis for understanding somato-emotional release in general. 

And what about me?  I’m healthy.  Nevertheless, the process of living and experiencing the emotions of life can disturb the energetic patterns in our bodies, and a bit of balancing was in order.  She suggested I could use a bit more work, so I’ll be back soon.  Call it a much needed “tune up.” 


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