The Healing Power of Presence

We often hear the suggestion to “be present” in our work. But what does that actually mean?
featherPresence is being here, now – meeting this moment without judgments, agendas, effort or ideas of what “should” be happening. It is being open, curious, aware and mindful.  It is a simple state of being. And sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful. The simple practice of being present with someone can be the most transformative ingredient to a healing session or in your relationship with yourself.

Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks make a powerful statement in their book At the Speed of Life: A New Approach to Personal Change Through Body-Centered Therapy, “Problems persist to the extent that we fail to be present with them and with the feelings associated with them. When we can simply be with an issue (rather than judging it or trying to change it), the issue has room to transform in the desired direction.” Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks promote “presencing”: being deeply, mindfully, non-judgmentally present with yourself or another — as THE fundamental healing technique.

An important aspect of presence is being willing to be with “what is”. It takes courage to be with someone else’s or our own pain, fear, sadness, or anger. In the book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison state “Simply being with someone is difficult because it asks of us that we share in the other’s vulnerability, enter with him or her into the experience of weakness and powerlessness, become part of the uncertainty, and give up control and self-determination.”

When we have painful or sick areas of our bodies or lives, we tend to wall off tsweet_white_trilliumhese areas or dim the light of our essence. The shining light of presence reconnects us to those ailing, hurting parts that have been abandoned. Our spirit yearns for wholeness and all of those walled off parts are yearning for reconnection. Presence is a simple statement “I deeply see you and I am ok with you just the way you are.” That illumination and allowing brings a melting and a spaciousness to enter. “Being present has a great deal of power in it: the power to alter irrevocably the structures and assumptions by which we live.” ~Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks

Consider this… (without any judgment)
How often do you approach something whether it is your client, your relationships, yourself, an illness, a pain, or an injury with no agenda? No agenda to fix, to change, to make different or wish it away. But to meet it exactly where it is, as it is, in this moment.
How often do we experience someone just willing to listen to us without trying to advise or guide us, lessen our pain, make helpful suggestions, etc.?

It is very common and natural in our work to want to help or heal our clients. After all, we feel called to serve. Yet, it is a common tendency for our desire to help to get in the way of truly seeing or hearing the deeper needs of our clients. It is hard to be a good listener if I have an agenda to heal or fix this client, or to prove myself, or to feel special with my healing capabilities. It is important in a session to put aside our agenda, be present and hold the intention for the highest good. We can still do our work, whether it is massage, craniosacral therapy, counseling, etc, but presence puts us in an open and receptive state where we more able to listen to what is needed.

I had a very affirming experience recently. I work with a very sweet man with multiple illnesses including a degenerative brain disease which manifests in many ways from emotional bouts, to tremors, full body contractions and overwhelm. I was moved to tears when he shared with me what impacted him most about our sessions together. He said”Nobody knows how to be with me with this disease. You are the only person who is willing to just BE with me in this condition.” I really got what a rare gift this was for him. And it is also a sweet gift for me.

The practice of presence begins “at home”. How would it be for you to meet your own sadness or anger with presence, kindness and compassion? Can you give yourself this rare and beautiful gift? I invite you to the Self-Healing Presence Meditation below. Remember that presence is an ever evolving, deepening practice. Begin where you are and ALWAYS be kind and gentle with yourself.

Self-Healing Presence Meditation

Take a few minutes to sit quietly. Take some time to get in touch with your breath. Just be willing to be here and now. Let yourself settle.

After several calming breaths, notice if there is any tension or pain your body or think of an area in your life where there is pain, discomfort or distress?

Bring your compassionate Awareness and Presence to this area in your body or your life. Just meet it there without thoughts, without an agenda, without effort. Allow it to be exactly as it is. Notice the sensations in your body. Be aware, open, loving and curious. Open to it. Breathe. Don’t be attached to the outcome. Change or no change. Just be with it.

Notice what you notice. Notice if you become impatient, or a tendency to shy away from it, or if you have a hidden agenda under the guise of “no agenda”. And allow that too. With no judgment.

When you are ready, come back gently to ordinary time, giving yourself a few moments to transition.

Take comfort in the fact that presence and consciousness are always healing and transformative.This simple meditation has brought you into a greater state of balance and harmony.

May the healing power of presence infuse all aspects of your life.
Infinite Love and Gratitude!

“I learned how to listen, to listen with a still heart,
with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire,
without judgment, without opinions.”
~ Herman Hesse

Using Craniosacral Work to Help Clients with Depression

moon imageIn light of the fact that I will be teaching a class on Working with Clients with Depression, I wanted to touch on a few aspects of this life challenge.
Most of us have experienced some level of depression at some point in our lives. You may have felt blue or sad, low energy, discouraged or fed up with life. These periods of low energy are typically short lived – and are influenced by life’s happening such as the loss of a job, death of a loved one, relationship challenges, financial stress, or illness.

Clinical Depression is when you’re persistently in a low mood or you lose interest in life and its pleasure for a long duration. Negative thoughts about yourself and the world persist and you can’t seem to find your way out of these blues. Often a sense of powerlessness accompanies depression. You may start to feel it affecting your physical health. Clinical Depression is an illness of the whole body. It involves your mood, your thoughts and your body.

I would like to share some statistics about depression – some of them I find quite startling.

  • Depression is one of the most common mental disorders affecting 340 million people in the world today.
  • No one is immune from depression – it occurs in people of all social classes, all countries and all cultural settings.
  • About 10-15 per cent of depressed people take their own lives.
  • The World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2020 depression will be the greatest burden of ill-health to people in the developing world, and that by then severe depression will be the second largest cause of death and disability.
  • Depression in its various forms (insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, stress, vague aches and pains, etc.) is the most common complaint heard in doctors’ offices.
  • About half of all cases of depression are unrecognized and untreated.

Major depression is marked by the person’s inability to function. A clinical diagnosis of depression  must include five of the following symptoms that occur simultaneously over a two-week period:

  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or feelings of guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Significant change in weight or appetite
  • Depression lasts all day or most of the day
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in everyday activities
  • Excessive sleep or daily insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

There are many aspects and causes of depression that are intertwined together – ranging from life stressors, altered brain and body chemistry, insufficient blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, structural misalignment, altered blood glucose level, fluctuation in hormones, food sensitivity, and low Qi. Many things can alter our brain chemistry.

Various biological abnormalities have been found in the brains of depressed people such as decreased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, raised levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase, loss of cells from the hippocampus (an area of the brain involved in mood and memory) and abnormal patterns of neural activity in the amygdala, and parts of the prefrontal cortex.

Many people who are depressed may not be aware that they are. They may have always felt low energy, dimmed down, introverted or insular, so they do not consider it abnormal. It often runs in families and because of that and social reasons, many depressed people are never given appropriate care.

We as Craniosacral Workers are in a unique position to address some of these issues with our clients and to help turn their light back on and facilitate better health. Many Craniosacral Workers understand that the treatment of brain anatomy and function is crucial along with the treatment of bones, suture and membranes. As one of my teachers Benjamin Shield states “We know that brain waves can be entrained through external influences. Cultures that tone, such as “om-ing” measurably affect brain waves and function, as does listening to Mozart. If sound can have a profound influence on brain function, it is very possible that touch and manual therapy can have a direct influence”.

I would like to address one aspect of depression that we, as manual and craniosacral therapists can have direct inroads.  A common finding in depression is a decrease of blood flow to the brain. Most of us are quite familiar with a very common area of tension and distress – the base of the skull. This is the atlanto-occipital joint, where C1 and the occiput meet (AO Joint). We have many layers of muscles covering this area -trapezius, splenius capitus, semispinalis capitus and the highly innervated suboccipitals. Under these muscle layers are the cervical vertebrae. Running through the transverse processes of the vertebrae are the vertebral arteries.

Look at the image to the right, and take note of the vertebral arteries. They take a couple of Vertebral_arterycrazy turns as they make their way from C2 to C1 and then up and on through the foramen magnum. If you add some hypertonicity to the muscles in this area – a very common human condition due to stress, poor posture, or injury, you get may get the effect of squeezing 2 garden hoses thereby diminishing the blood flow to the brain.

When the vertebral arteries are constricted, the brain “down regulates” because of lack of O2, glucose and nutrition. It goes into “safe” mode to conserve energy. It affects the brainstem, cerebellum, occipital lobe, posterior parietal lobes (especially the interaction/association area).
Heart rhythms, sleep, respiration, and basic functions will slow down because of lack of oxygen. It has the effect of “dimming down” our light. This is an “automatic sequella” for endogenous depression and withdrawal.

A common technique in massage therapy to release this area is called “the picket fence”. A common Craniosacral hold to address this area is the “AO Decompression”. The practitioner places their finger tips against the body of the atlas at the base of the occiput and waits for the muscles to release and the atlas to settle.

These can feel really good and most clients like the way it feels. I would, however, like to add some caution to these holds. It is common for the practitioner to be too vigorous with this hold, to be in the incorrect position (like not on the atlas at all) or imbalanced in this hold. It is not uncommon for clients to react negatively to this hold. They may develop a headache or experience reactive muscle tightening later. In worst cases they may feel nausea, dizzy or have vertigo.

With this technique it is crucial that you pay attention to your set-up. Your finger tips intend IMG_0924toward C1 in an anterior direction and your finger pads MUST remain in contact with the occiput. Always move slowly and always stay present listening to the response of the tissue and the energy field.

When C1 and the occiput lock down they usually lock in an anterior direction. A traditional AO Decompression can potentially drive the atlas/occiput anterior and further into its lesion pattern.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with Benjamin Shield and Alain Gehin. They shared two alternative AO release techniques. I frequently use these techniques with my clients. One technique leaves the occiput neutral while the atlas is encouraged to move inferior. The other technique stabilizes the atlas while the occiput is encouraged into extension (CS extension). We will cover these techniques in depth in the upcoming class on Depression.

Above all, your caring, compassionate presence where you are able to meet and accept your client as they are is the biggest gift. As you allow your light to shine it allows others to shine too.


That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key. ~Elizabeth Wurtzel

For more information or to register for the upcoming Class “Working with Clients with Depression – Going Deeper with your Craniosacral Work” please call 541-390-3191 or email.