What Does Cranial Sacral Balancing Do, Anyway?

Okay, so yeah, Cranial Sacral Balancing feels amazing. I leave my sessions totally blissed out. But that's not enough, is it? I mean, what's it doing? What's the goal? How do I know if it's working? And how can I justify spending $85 on something if it's just relaxing?

I get this reaction from clients a lot. They spend an hour in a completely blissful hypnogogic state, and at the end of the session when I ask them about their experience, they look at me wearily and say, “What was that?”

I have a couple different answers. But what I love about Cranial Sacral Balancing is that it results in a blend of physical effects on the nervous system and energetic shifts. That means that a lot of times, even I can’t explain what’s really going on during your session. Everyone experiences Cranial Sacral work differently—some people feel hot or cold, mad or sad or happy, or like a wave is pulsing through their body. Some people unconsciously move their limbs, while others experience an emotional release. It is highly individual, and I think your orientation to the world primarily affects what you get out of your session. For example, if you’re an emotionally charged person, you’ll likely feel more psychological and mood-based shifts. If you’re someone who is very in touch with the physical sensations of your body, you may notice temperature changes, a feeling of lightness in your body, or changes in holding patterns.

But for those of you who just need to know what the heck is happening, here are some more concrete ideas:

  1. Cranial Sacral Balancing relaxes the nervous system, encouraging a parasympathetic shift. One of the primary goals of CSB is getting the nervous system away from fight-or-flight and into rest-and-digest. Most clients experience a “dropping in” effect where they feel totally relaxed in a way they haven’t experienced before—that’s what it feels like for your nervous system to take a break.

    We live in a world where we have to remain in fight-or-flight to some extent to be safe and productive—imagine if we drove through a busy intersection without being tuned in to the lights, noises, pedestrians, and bikers around us. And the “relaxing” activities we use to unwind like watching TV, playing video games, reading a thrilling novel, or listening to upbeat music can actually continue to rev us up. Because of how stimulating our world is, it’s important to give our nervous systems a break when we can.

    The good news is that once the nervous system understands what a break feels like, the body is able to return to this state more often and more easily. Clients often find that they are able to relax better on and off the table, and that activities like yoga and meditation are enhanced by their work in CSB sessions.

  2. Cranial Sacral Balancing releases stuck energy in the body. Energy work relies on similar principles as Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture/acupressure, and the idea that energy (called “chi” in that tradition and “energy” in this one) can get stuck in our bodies, causing pain, emotional and physical holding patterns, and issues with internal balance and regulation. On a physical level, CSB helps normalize the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system. On an energetic level, it helps clear built-up energy that has gathered as a result of trauma or injury.

    CSB encourages the body to self-correct as this energy is released. It operates on the principle that your body knows how to return to a state of balance, and that as a practitioner, I can help guide it in that direction through long holds and gentle lifting and pulling of the limbs. Many people unconsciously move during their session as their limbs “unwind” and try to get back to a place that feels comfortable and natural.

  3. Cranial Sacral Balancing encourages synergy between the body and mind. For up to forty-eight hours after their session, clients are still in process. They may have vivid dreams, be surprised by old memories popping up, experience physical sensations differently, have emotional releases, or notice synchronicities or have “aha” moments. That’s because CSB helps encourage a meeting of the body and mind, conscious and subconscious, physical body and energetic field, memory and consciousness, and inner and outer worlds.

    The first time I got a CSB session, I thought, “I feel like I am fully present in my body for the first time ever…I’m not thinking about being in my body. I’m just here.” Many people feel that CSB allows them to get out of their busy minds and into a deep state of relaxation centered in their bodies. In this state, things just don’t seem to matter as much. When thoughts or emotions arise, they pass right through us like a wave. Unlike in a meditative state, where we have to constantly and intentionally remind ourselves to return to the breath, during a CSB session, it’s almost impossible to remain in your head.

While I understand clients’ needs to intellectually understand what is happening in their session, I also encourage them to just see what happens. What do they feel during their session, and in the days and weeks following? I don’t believe any modality of bodywork is one-size-fits-all. Some people benefit from this work more than others. If you notice positive changes—better sleep, deeper relaxation, an easier time meditating, a lightness in your body, decreased anxiety or tension—then trust the process, and let your body take the break it needs.

Caitlin Eichorn