Morphology of Change in the Embryonic Body
As the biodynamic model of craniosacral practice becomes more refined, a gap is starting to open in the nomenclature of it and older forms of CST, especially around descriptions of tissue adjustment and reorganization processes. In particular, the terms ‘points of balanced tension’ and ‘states of balanced tension’ have changed to ‘states of balance’ in the growth of the biodynamic field. This is an attempt to redefine the approach to a more accurate description of what happens in a BCST session since the touch has moved from a more direct and highly facilitated contact to a more indirect approach that has greater interest in perception and allowing the body to move from within its own wisdom. I wonder if a ‘state of balance’ is representative of what is happening within the biodynamic craniosacral field now. This progress is no longer part of an approach that seeks to create balanced states, but of allowing the body’s underlying embryonic pathways to reveal themselves. This is encouraged by the practitioner’s ability to both perceive and bear witness to the client’s natural organic body response whilst remaining in contact with the relational field that arises between them. This refers back to the original development of the embryo from both an internal and external perspective of which the body naturally and instinctively recognizes. In particular, the recognition of this process is felt in very fluid movements of change and experienced by both practitioner and client as streaming or flowing. This is different to what may have previously been understood or explained as ‘balanced states of tension’.
The practitioner’s orientation and understanding of the relational field has changed significantly over the past 10 years, and changed beyond measure over the last 20 years. The initial models of cranial osteopathy were grounded in a format-based approach - the application of a hold or technique. This progressed to a more ‘non doing’ approach i.e. being more receptive to a client’s system and listening. So what makes a BCST session these days different?
Whilst we have all claimed to be receptive in our attention, BCST goes a step further. Instead of gently peering into our clients systems and following patterns that arise, it asks to wait with a soft presence. Allowing time for the organic process of the relational field to be established and then letting the body talk and being skilled at listening. From this place we can behold the emergence of a liveliness that bubbles up from the fluid medium the body is soaked in. This allows the client's system to bring to the surface the change it wants to make in this fluid-tissue relationship. This can reshape the physical body and renovate the fluid electrochemical pathways at the deepest, most profound level.
The practitioner is being receptive to the unfolding narrative of the body system and may find themselves using words that sound more like an artist’s description of texture or a wine taster’s description of bouquet. We have become a league of watchers and feelers that are sampling, co-experiencing, and truly touching the client’s body. We are no longer bringing an agenda. This therapy has become less intentional yet more deeply interactive. We feel how the body wants to reveal itself. We are not insisting on how we perceive it could or should be according to its shape, structure, form, function or dynamic. We are in fact in a deeper relationship than ever before but it’s reflective of a more primordial one. It has with it the hope of meeting the deepest inner nature of a client whereby the neutrality, recognition and acknowledgement of another person’s reality is absolute, non-judgemental and profoundly trusting in their ability to heal. There’s no room for headiness or intellectual ideas of how things should be but rather an innate urge to feel the real as it’s presented.
As I write this I realize even more deeply that what we are doing is taking body therapy to a whole new way of relating which has more in common with new physics and a deep philosophy of life than a bodywork. Touch is the domain of many a bodywork but sensing another’s system through a bigger sensory field that is our connective tissue body and utilizing all our receptors to offer a satellite dish to our clients, is a depth of listening that I believe surmounts many therapeutic processes out there. We are being fully receptive to the client’s body, without strain, we wait and allow whatever needs to rise to the surface to emerge, and let the mind still, dropping wholly into our fluid connective tissue potency system. This is a much more sophisticated mechanism of interaction and it seems to me there is little room for a ‘state of balance’ as it was once understood.
Perhaps it is better understood when we look at the nature of embryology. Embryologists refer to patterning as a definition of early organizing of embryonic polarity that includes the formation of the notochord and gastrulation leading to the foundation of a midline and all three germ cells necessary for construction of the body systems. All of this begins in the first week after conception as embryonic cells start exploring movement in 3-D, defining front - back relationships, side to side and left right. The first totipotent cells produced by the first cell dividing start to exhibit these properties.
As cell division establishes over the first few days the new cells start to experience space differently as the cell population increases. The mass of cells transforms to produce a first body called the blastocyst, which is a structure with an internal fluid space and a cell membrane. Cells go on responding to the environmental conditions within the mother as well as following an inherent blueprint pattern within them and position themselves around each other by oscillating and rotating using fluid fluctuations to feel their way into an established order. These are all expressions of patterning that carry on throughout the formation of the midlines as well as the body’s organs and limbs. The whole embryonic formation is a process of cell patterning.
I wonder if the body is dropping back into ‘patterning’ when a ‘state of balance’ is arising – cells and the fluid system connecting back with its original orientations to space or the relational field. Body-shaping continues to occur by physical matter following its inherent blueprint instruction and responding to both these internal cell dynamics as well as outside environmental forces.
So perhaps the movements we feel are the repositioning of cells towards each other and the streaming of fluid reminiscent of fluid exchange in the beginning. These movements feel like a process of contraction and expansion, both of which are part of an embryonic chain of events. In very simple terms, the sequence from conception is: compaction, expansion, midline, polarity, differentiation and growth. Is this what the body continues to do throughout life to reorganize and heal itself? As practitioners, don’t we commonly feel part of the body move into contraction as a prelude to the expansion of tissues and fluids finding a new relationship in a 3-Dimensional space to each other? Just as in the beginning of growth, each tissue becomes clearer in its own function as it simultaneously finds a relationship to the whole.
So, what comes first, the impulse of contraction or the phase of expansion? I think that the expansion phase comes first, from the inside out; the compressive phase occurs as that expansive phase meets the periphery. So, as practitioners, when we are witnessing change in our clients, it can feel more like dropping back into an amorphous state – the fluid field – in order to change through a mechanism the body already knows from its earliest moments. This natural organic process of formation and transformation can be better understood and perceived by the therapist with an awareness of embryonic spaces and potency fields of the body. An automatic shifting occurs within the client's system driven by these developmental forces. The practitioner needs do nothing other than observe the arising of this mechanism. The more you recognize it as part of the relational field the more the body changes and is informed by this embryonic imperative expressing its original morphology.
Is this what has always laid beneath the ‘state of balance’ and or ‘points of balanced tension’? It’s just taken a true neutral listening from the practitioner and a deeper understanding and perception of the background embryonic organization of the body for these movements of change to truly reveal themselves rather than the body having to conform to a practitioner intention. Let go of the intention to encourage, facilitate or help bring about a state of balance and see what the body does. Meet the body with a touch that is waiting to be surprised, a touch that is not presumptive or held within a framework of action or idea of what the body needs. Have a mind that is embryonic – a mind that is simple and present and naive. There’s no mentation or intellectual framing in this mind. It’s a mind that’s become fluid and potent rather than oriented to neural patterns and form. Find the formless mind. This mind is full of potential and growth that is different to a mind that is highly structured. Allow your mind to be primitive and unassociated and then see how your touch brings about change. That’s when the body allows it’s embryonic state to return. In fact it’s never been otherwise, it’s always been an embryo, just our mind and therefore perception has made it otherwise. Clients can then perceive/ experience their body in its true form – pulsing with creative life and possibility and actively transforming. This is where the breath of life is at its fullest.
Here’s the reference to a great animation that shows the early stages of cell growth, development of an internal space and cleavage of the blastocyst from the zona pellucida, and gives some sense of the way cells shift and change and reposition themselves: (This is previous blog by Ged Sumner transformed into an article)