New Year New You – a reboot and detox retreat with Jane Shaw and John Niblock January 22 2017

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After the Christmas indulgences, step away from family, work and every day pressures for a day of detoxing the mind and body. Start the New year as you mean to go on.

The day will be held at Jane’s family home, Elmfield, a stunning estate on the banks of the river Bann. With 50 acres of landscaped grounds it is a sanctuary of peace and calm. John and Jane will guide you through a series of embodied mindfulness meditation practices, teach you simple breath work to cleanse and calm the body, and treat you to a delicious but healthy lunch and detoxing juices. This the perfect way to start the year to recover yourself and your health. Enjoy a day of self focus to reignite your vitality and health.

For more information contact Jane directly at jane@janeshaw.co.uk or 07974 159460 and see link to the flyer below…

http://janeshaw.cmail19.com/t/ViewEmail/r/331E0C21BBC13F962540EF23F30FEDED

Bad Hair Day: What we learn by listening to the messages from our body.

I see Facebook friends post that they’re having a bad day, because their hair is not looking its best; it’s frizzy in the humid weather; they’re devastated by the new colour; they’ve had a catastrophic cut and colour. So they can’t leave the house.

I used to have the same reaction to disastrous hair moments, albeit not posting my hair concerns on facebook. I have on more than one occasion dissolved into a puddle of tears after having a ‘bad’ hair cut, or even worse having left the hair stylist with a tinge of orange in my newly coloured brunette hair.

That is until it all fell out from alopecia. My bad hair days became no hair days.

This has forced me to examine my attachment to my looks and in particular my hair. As a craniosacral therapist, I believe that our body serves to tell us what our mind cannot otherwise express. Pathologies arise as a last resort to tell us we need to change our behavior. And so, I have explored why my body chose to express its imbalance through my hair, or lack of it. Perhaps it is important to state also that conventional medicine reassured me that my hair loss wasn’t a symptom of a more sinister pathology.

What does it mean when our hair falls out? While it is important not to make generalizations, each person being different and having a different relationship to their hair, I do think it can be useful to look deeply into the psyche’s shadows, the unseen parts, to enquire what might be at the root of hair pathology.

Hair is an interesting thing. We can hide behind it, we can style it into whatever persona we choose, or we might metaphorically tear it out through frustration. From a depth psychological perspective, in other words exploring the unconscious elements of our psyche, hair can be viewed symbolically. We can see it as our strength, think Samson and Delilah, or it can be our thoughts growing out of our head, of our expression or our ideas perhaps. Many indigenous cultures don’t cut their hair because hair represents a continuation of the self and thoughts, some monks shave their heads as a ritual to signify giving up material things, including looks. From a physiological perspective, hair is connected to our animal or primitive part of our nature. The hairs on our body alert us to danger, they are an important part of our sense of touch. The more civilized we become the more we cut, tame, style, shave our hair and bodies, trying to distance ourselves from our indigenous sensuous nature. My hair used to be long, wild, and definitive of my personality; wild, free, and intuitive. Perhaps I have lost this part of myself.

As I ponder on my own body’s alopecia response, whatever its message is to me, whatever life change I need to make, I certainly know that it has changed my relationship to my looks. I can no longer hide behind my looks with my long beautiful hair. I have had to come out and say this is who I am on the inside. It is a vulnerable thing. There is no longer any hiding behind my prettiness. I have been stripped bare. I have nowhere to hide.

I tried to cover up my hair loss for as long as I could, hiding the ever growing bald patches with new hair styles and hats. Then I gave up. I saw the hair loss process as a stripping away of my defensive layers that no longer served me. It seems that I must express my inner self, express my ideas, reclaim my wilder, primal nature. Perhaps when I do this my long wild Leoine mane will grow back. Perhaps not. But I have certainly learned to face fears of showing my vulnerability and inner nature, and that is surely a good thing. To my mind, listening to the messages from our body is an essential practice if we are to fully evolve into our true self.

Journey Into Stillness in the Spring

Journey Into Stillness in the Spring

Journey Into Stillness in Spring, a Retreat in May 2014. Join me and Vanessa Hodge on a Retreat in Somerset 29 May to 1 June 2014. For more details email jane@janeshaw.co.uk

Journey Into Stillness in the Wild, a Retreat in Jan 2014

Journey Into Stillness in the Wild, a Retreat in Jan 2014

Join me and Vanessa Hodge on a Retreat in West Cork 30 Jan to 2 Feb 2014. For more details email Jane@janeshaw.co.uk

Short Meditation Exercise to Connect to Stillness

Short Meditation Exercise to Connect to Stillness

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This exercise attempts to guide you to notice the stillness within yourself. There are many layers and depths of stillness. See if you can notice some stillness within yourself, however light or deep. Stillness is present in all of us at all times, it’s not a matter of creating it, it is a matter of tuning in and noticing it underneath the surface.

Get yourself into a comfortable sitting position. If you can, sit outside, or near a window overlooking some trees, or overlooking some water, or just notice the wind, sun or rain on your skin. Take a moment to settle yourself. See what you notice in your body. Maybe start by noticing your breath, watching the inhale and exhale.

You might notice that you have an ache or pain, that you feel a little uncomfortable or your mind keeps going back to that conversation you had at lunch. If you can, bring your awareness back to your body and see if you can find some ease underneath the surface, underneath the pain, underneath those irritations.

Bring your awareness back to your breath and allow it to fill your whole body. Allow your whole body to breathe. Maybe invite some settling deep insideyourself. Maybe invite some stillness, underneath the outer surface.

Have a look at the tree, or water, or feel the sun on your face. Notice everything about it. If your mind wanders just gently bring it back to the tree. Watch the wind move the leaves in the tree, the sun glisten though the branches, the rain pour down its trunk. Just observe. As you connect with the tree, notice what happens in your body. You might notice that there is a little more space, that your breathing has deepened, that you are more settled. Just notice any incremental changes.

Slowly move from your noticing your body to noticing the tree and back to your body. See what happens. Notice the stillness in the room or space around you.

Healing through working with the natural world and craniosacral therapy

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High up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, recently I had an experience which helped me to better understand the work I do with my craniosacral clients and how powerful it can be.  I was sitting on a mountain side one night, surrounded by tall fir trees casting shadows from the bright full moon. My intention was to just to sit and see what the natural world had to say to me. I was battling with a long held pattern of people invading my boundaries and I had come here to understand how to shift the unhealthy pattern.

As I sat in the moon light, I heard someone come up and sit down next to me. I was deliberately miles from the retreat lodge, to make sure I would be on my own. The other person did not notice my presence, but I noticed theirs and it re-enforced my frustration with my apparent inability to hold my boundary, irritating me intensely. I knew I should learn from this, so I sat and practised what I, as a craniosacral therapist, call synchronising to primary respiration, or the long tide. As I deepened into this practice, I felt a deep connection to the moon, the fir trees, the earth, the coyotes, and elk around me. I particularly noticed the magnificent firs with their strong midline spiralling deep into the earth and reaching high up to the starry sky. They seemed to synchronise with my own midline which felt stronger than ever and as the strength in my midline grew I felt like I became one with nature all around me. In that moment of ‘connection’ to nature, my ‘intruder’ got up and left. I felt liberated.

On reflection, I realised that by becoming aware of my body’s rhythms synchronising with those of the natural world I had strengthened my boundaries and my core and signalled subconsciously to my ‘intruder’ to leave. I had connected to what craniosacral therapists call the Breath of Life through my focused practice. I was reassured that this healing life force i iis always present, in all parts of us and the natural world around us. By connecting with it and to the Stillness within, we can regulate our core, strengthen internal resources and strengthen boundaries. Craniosacral therapy is about healing from the core and re-establishing core regulation.

The Breath of Life and Dynamic Stillness in biodynamic craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy has been developed from discoveries about the body’s subtle physiology which show that our cells express rhythmic movement fundamental to life. The primary respiration with which I ‘synchronised’ in my body, is this subtle rhythmic expression, sometimes called the long tide. Within these tides are two key concepts for Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists, the Breath of Life and Dynamic Stillness. The Breath of Life is the term coined by Dr. William Sutherland, the father of cranial work, to describe the life force in the body, which is not be confused with ‘the breath of air’ or lung breathing.[1] Franklyn Sills, a pioneering leader of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST), defines The Breath of Life as the action of a divine intention in the body.[2]

Dynamic Stillness can be described as the universal Stillness from which life evolves. Michael Shea, another eminent BCST teacher, explains it as the potential from which the form of the embryo and structure of the body arises and that The Breath of Life arises out of this Stillness or Emptiness. He suggests that the Breath of Life could be the Dynamic in the Stillness.[3] From a BCST perspective the Breath of Life is an Intelligent life force expressed in all of life, it is omnipresent and omnipotent.

When Dr Rollin Becker D.O., a student of Dr. Sutherland, asked him where the Breath of Life came from he replied ‘Be Still and Know.’  This is the essence of the relationship between the Breath of Life and Stillness. When the Breath of Life can express itself fully we are healthy and whole, when its expression is compromised, whether though trauma or long term stress, pathologies arise. According to Dr Becker the best way to access the Breath of Life and hence health, is to sense into deep stillness. [4]

How do we access this Stillness? When life is hectic, stressful and overwhelming, stillness can seem very far away. When trying to survive, hold down a stressful job and put food on the table, these concepts can seem irrelevant. I propose that it is in precisely these times, that connecting to stillness, working with nature to do so, can be resourcing and empowering, helping to give us more choices in difficult circumstances.  In fact, it could be said that our disconnection from nature creates an imbalance in our bodies, preventing self healing and homeostasis from occurring.

I believe that by connecting to nature’s core rhythms, and to Stillness, deep healing can occur in even the most traumatised person. This work touches the divine in us and so seems to be a good place from which to work in whatever capacity. I learn this every day in my practice room, tuning into the slow rhythms in the natural world around me, even if I’m not sitting in the Rocky Mountains!

By tuning into the slow rhythms and stillness as a craniosacral practitioner, we can establish a neutral present space where the client’s system can begin to entrain to our slower rhythms.  As within other therapeutic modalities we often enter into a profoundly peaceful state of presence together with our client. We may eventually get to a place where client and practitioner is indistinguishable, the giver and receiver have become one. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy could be described as the medicine of empathy, facilitated by connecting to the wider field of nature.

It is of course, not all peace and love in stillness, often this is when  pain is noticed. As healing is not a linear process sometimes  pain can be part of the healing process. However, it is necessary to be resourced enough to touch these painful places and by doing so we can become more of ourselves which is perhaps our purpose in life; to express our true Self. Nature is beautiful, but it also primordial and raw. In the same vein, stillness is not always easy to be with but it is healing. My experience on the mountain side confirmed for me the biodynamic craniosacral principle that stillness and the long tide are always present. The key is to access them and bring them to the fore so we can access more of ourselves and from this more integrated place, give ourselves more choices in life.

By being in an embodied relationship with Stillness, the therapist can hold a safe and sacred container for the client. This embodied approach by the craniosacral practitioner can facilitate deep transformational change in the client and can be effective when working in trauma recovery.

This practice of synchronising with nature may be helpful in trauma recovery, where the body’s rhythms are out of balance. Peter Levine, the originator of the Somatic Experience approach, says that trauma can be seen as a result of various states of overwhelm, fragmentation and broken connections.[5] He has demonstrated that trauma is not just a psychological phenomenon, it is a neuro-physiological embodied condition, involving the sub-cortical as well as the cognitive functions.

Essentially, changes happen in our autonomic nervous system in response to an actual or perceived threat. These changes activate further reactions throughout the nervous system as our bodies prepare to meet the challenge of an overwhelming experience and traumatic impairment occurs when these activations persist after the danger has passed. Significant overwhelming events at anytime during one’s life can result in neurophysiological changes that alter the way a person operates in the world and relates to others.

Angwyn St Just, a leading US traumatologist, says that, ‘The goal of trauma work is that an overwhelmed nervous system can return to a state of relative balance and resiliency and that one has an opportunity to grow larger than one’s story. This healing path helps one to find one’s way toward a sense of connectedness to self, family, ancestral roots, the larger community and our environmental matrix. [6]

St Just talks about how both external and internal resources are beneficial in trauma recovery and that external resource can provide a bridge to and support of inner resources. Many of the most important external resources are provided by elements of the natural world. I propose the connection here is primary respiration and the Breath of Life, connecting the natural world to our inner world, as my experience with the fir trees demonstrated beautifully to me.

Establishing a relational field is another important principle in the practice of biodynamic craniosacral therapy. The term relational field denotes the conjoined energetic fields of both practitioner and patient.[7] These fields also conjoin with the energetic field of the natural world. The craniosacral practitioner must first create a safe energetic space in her treatment room in order to help facilitate deep transformational change in the client. It might be said that the ritual of creating a safe and sacred energetic field is how the healing is accessed. Orienting to wholeness, stillness and safety may be the key factors for facilitating recovery in a fragmented, traumatised system. Synchronising with the slow rhythms of nature in relationship to which our being and physiology evolved over millenniums is a beautiful way of creating this still and safe energetic field or container.

In addition, the clearer, more defined the energetic field and therapeutic container, then the more the practitioner can see what is going on. Using the body as one of the defined fields is an effective way of creating clarity in the container. Therefore, by helping clients to become aware of their body sensation, including their heart rate and breath, they not only gain an important tool for monitoring their internal levels of stress, but this body awareness practice can be used as a way to teach the client how to tune into nature’s slower rhythms. Creating a safe space provides stronger and safer containment, and the more powerful the containment the more powerful the transformation.

By connecting to the Stillness we access the embryological forces of healing.

To understand why this therapeutic approach of connecting to Stillness is effective, it is helpful to look at the nature of the embryo. How does healing occur by connecting with our embryonic origin? Essentially it is because the embryo is our original matrix, layed down by the Breath of Life. If we can access these embryological forces we can access the original blue print of health. According to the BCST model, these embryological forces emerge out of Stillness.

The embryologist Eric Blechschmidt described metabolic fields created by the embryo. ‘One can think of cellular ensembles and organs respectively as locally modified force fields’. These fields are carried with us throughout life, being distorted and shaped by our life experiences. Blechschmidt said that it is these movements and shapes in our metabolic fields that are fundamental to our growth and development. ‘The development of a human being from the earliest stages onwards, can be interpreted, in a dynamic and a biological sense, as a performance specific to the individual’.[8] I understand this to mean that essentially by connecting again with the forces of Breath of Life through primary respiration and Stillness we connect back to the original metabolic fields, allowing new growth and transformation to occur.

Blechschmidt said that we don’t develop into a human being; we develop as a human being. He notes, that the notochord represents the place that human development is oriented around and grows from because it is dynamically still. Michael Shea agrees that we start fully human and we are being created by the Breath if Life. In conversation, Shea agrees that, ‘The original matrix of the Breath of Life is the embryo. If the Breath of Life is always present in the individual, if you go deeply enough through the layers of neuroses and conditions, and then tap into that or touch it or feel it, bring it forth or let it be in the body or relate a person to it, that would be an image of healing through the body back to the thing that is original’.[9] In a sense, the deep patterns pre-exist the formation of the structure and the path to connection is through the natural world, where those original patterns exist unchanged.

Another, perhaps simpler, approach to explaining what is going on when working with Stillness is to look at the work of Dan Siegel. He says that each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. Solitude is an essential experience for the mind to organise its own processes and create an internal state of resonance. Respecting the need for solitude allows the mind to ‘heal’ itself – which in essence can be seen as releasing the natural self-organising tendencies for the mind to create a balanced flow of states. Solitude permits the self to reflect on engrained patterns and intentionally alter reflexive responses to external events that have been maintaining dyadic dysfunction. [10]

We can tune into nature’s slow rhythms to access healing.

I was reminded under the fir trees that Craniosacral therapy is a practice for tuning into nature’s slow, healing rhythms. We are part of nature and healing is a nature-al force, which is easy to lose sight of when practicing in a therapy room. I also believe that this is an embodiment practice for everyone, whether therapist or client and whether practiced consciously, sensing the all pervading Stillness around us, or unconsciously just sitting quietly by a lake.  I believe that nature will always hold the base line of the Dynamic Stillness as an orienting fulcrum.

As a practitioner of biodynamic craniosacral therapy, if I can hold a clear field, and a dynamic field, by connecting to the Stillness in myself and in the natural world around me, then healing might just happen, as it did that night in the mountains.Image

Short Meditation Exercise to Connect to Stillness

This exercise attempts to guide you to notice the stillness within yourself. There are many layers and depths of stillness. See if you can notice some stillness within yourself, however light or deep. Stillness is present in all of us at all times, it’s not a matter of creating it, it is a matter of tuning in and noticing it underneath the surface.

Get yourself into a comfortable sitting position. If you can, sit outside, or near a window overlooking some trees, or overlooking some water, or just notice the wind, sun or rain on your skin. Take a moment to settle yourself. See what you notice in your body. Maybe start by noticing your breath, watching the inhale and exhale.

You might notice that you have an ache or pain, that you feel a little uncomfortable or your mind keeps going back to that conversation you had at lunch. If you can, bring your awareness back to your body and see if you can find some ease underneath the surface, underneath the pain, underneath those irritations.

Bring your awareness back to your breath and allow it to fill your whole body. Allow your whole body to breathe. Maybe invite some settling deep inside yourself. Maybe invite some stillness, underneath the outer surface.

Have a look at the tree, or water, or feel the sun on your face. Notice everything about it. If your mind wanders just gently bring it back to the tree. Watch the wind move the leaves in the tree, the sun glisten though the branches, the rain pour down its trunk. Just observe. As you connect with the tree, notice what happens in your body. You might notice that there is a little more space, that your breathing has deepened, that you are more settled. Just notice any incremental changes.

Slowly move from your noticing your body to noticing the tree and back to your body. See what happens. Notice the stillness in the room or space around you.

Article first published in Postive Health Online in April 2013


[1] William Sutherland Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation, Inc. 1990

[2] Franklyn Sills Craniosacral Biodynamics Revised Edition Vol. One North Atlantic Books 2001

[3] Michael J. Shea Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Vols. One. North Atlantic Books 2007

[4] Rollin E. Becker D.O. The Stillness of Life Stillness Press 2000

[5] Peter Levine In an Unspoken Voice How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness North Atlantic Books 2010

[6] Anngwyn St Just A Question of Balance 2008

[7] Franklyn Sills Craniosacral Biodynamics Vol. Two North Atlantic Books 2004.

[8] Eric Blechsmidt Edited and translated by Brian Freeman The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy P61,61 North Atlantic Books 2004

[9] Michael J. Shea Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Vols. One. North Atlantic Books 2007

[10] Daniel Siegel The Developing Mind How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are The Guilford Press 2012