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Self touch improves the picture of our body in the brain and reduces the experience of pain (Results from new study in Current Biology)

Below is a link to a really interesting article on how representation of the body affects the experience of pain. The is very affirming of the importance of working with dissociation to improve health.

In this study the results show the pain is reduced more if people self touch rather than them being touched. I wonder/hope that the combination of body awareness work we do in biodynamic craniosacral therapy, plus the skilful nature of biodynamic touch, would trigger the experience of ‘coherent whole’ that seems to affect pain.

“We showed that levels of acute pain depend not just on the signals sent to the brain, but also on how the brain integrates these signals into a coherent representation of the body as a whole.

Self-touch provides strong evidence to the brain about the correlation of sensory information coming from different parts of the body.

This helps to give us the experience of our body as a coherent whole.”

Click here to read the full article

Here’s a wonderful video on research into touch. If anyone is feeling inspired to be part of a pilot team to look into meaningful research for BCST please feel free to say yes.

Here’s a great video, very creatively put together, which reminds me that it is not just about receiving treatments it is about making things happen with your health on a daily basis not relying on the 50 minute therapy session. Afterall, there’s another 6 days, 23 hours and 10 minutes between treatments and what you do in that time is somewhat significant.

Check the first two or three minutes of this spinal cord operation. Before the dura is opened you can see the csf  (and cord?) moving through the membrane (around 0.30 plus). When the dura and then arachnoid is opened the flow of csf is clearly visible (around 2.10 to 3.00 plus)

This is a view of the exposed thoracic spinal cord with an abnormal vessel. As the surgeon cuts the abnormal vessel, you can see the pulsing of csf around the cord.

(Thanks to Ciara Dhiomasaigh, biodynamic craniosacral therapist in Galway, for the latter video)

Here’s a great article on pain and the brain science behind the latest discoveries which appeared in the New Zealand Listener and is part of a growing awareness around pain mechanisms in the public domain. The article includes a piece on the neuroscientist V Ramachandran.

A revolution in brain science has led to the discovery of new ways to stop persistent pain.

Ken Ng was 12 when he had his left leg amputated below the knee to stop the spread of bone cancer. It was the start of a long journey of pain. Phantom sensations from his amputated limb haunted him as a teenager, including stabbing sensations and a vice-like constriction around his stump. It got worse when he moved to Wellington to begin studying for his law degree. By 2009, the sensations flooding in from his absent limb were consuming him. 

Each day he downed a succession of prescription painkillers – codeine, tramadol, Neurofen and Voltaren. “I couldn’t really study any more, I couldn’t sit my exams. It made me introverted, I didn’t want anything to do with people. I wasn’t eating, I stopped going to lectures and the tramadol was making me hallucinate.” Ng sought help from his GP, who referred him to Capital & Coast District Health Board’s pain clinic. Luckily for Ng, the clinic had just begun to offer a simple but revolutionary new therapy, which recognises that some types of chronic pain are caused not by tissue damage but by changes in the wiring of the brain. Ng started his treatment with two weeks of computer exercises looking at pictures of right and left legs, and then began mirror therapy.

Ng’s occupational therapist, Maria Polaczuk, seated him with a large mirror positioned upright between his legs so it reflected his whole right leg. “All I could see was two bare normal legs. I massaged my right foot with my hands, manipulated it up and down. I was getting a sense of what a foot felt like.” As he looked at this reflected whole leg in the mirror, where usually he would see an amputated limb, something strange started to happen. “The tingling painful sensation in my stump started to fade and become less prominent.”

After two weeks of mirror exercises, four times a day, the phantom pain disappeared altogether. Now 22, Ng has been able to stop taking painkillers. He has had one brief attack of phantom pain, after a period of stress, but apart from that he experiences only the more routine discomfort of pressure on his stump from his prosthesis. Mirror therapy is one byproduct of a great leap forward in science’s understanding of pain and how it is manufactured in the human brain.

A decade and a half of brain imaging has found that although tissue damage is very important in determining pain, it is not the only ingredient. When you injure part of your body, an alarm goes off in the central nervous system in the spinal cord and brain. The brain constructs the pain experience by assessing not just the injury but also thoughts, feelings, context, beliefs, expectations, past experiences and genetics. Any of these factors can turn the volume up or down on pain. These other factors can also influence whether the brain’s pain system becomes stuck on high alert in the long term, even when an initial injury has subsided. Some 700,000 New Zealanders, or one in six, suffer from chronic pain. This is pain that has lasted for three months or more; arthritis and back pain are two common types.

Click here for more:

Here’s a wonderful article from Time Healthland Ezine revealing how the brain loses consciousness. It looks like the brain functions as a whole or a cluster of relationships and that consciousness is a product of the whole rather than residing in one place like a seat of consciousness – which sits nicely in a holistic model of consciousness being an outcome of cell communication. Read on…

“What happens to your brain as it slips into unconsciousness? A new technique allows researchers to view real-time 3-D images of a patient undergoing anesthesia using the drug propofol, and the findings show that consciousness isn’t suddenly switched off, but rather fades as though a dimmer is being dialed down.

The research also suggests that consciousness resides in the connections between multiple parts of the brain, not in any single region. The images show that changes in the anesthetized brain start in the midbrain, where certain receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA are plentiful.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Ginsberg (1974) immobilized chicks, and then allowed one group to recover spontaneously, and one to recover, but with prodding and stimuli to terminate the freeze. These groups, along with a third group of chicks that had not been immobilized, were then tested for resiliency to avoid death by drowning. The group that had not been allowed to complete recovery from immobility died first, the group not exposed to immobility next, and the group that had spontaneously recovered from the freeze survived the longest. Clearly the experience of and the spontaneous recovery from freezing carries survival benefits, whereas not being allowed to go through this recovery process seemed to reduce resiliency to life threat.’ Scaer (2001)

This is a very powerful illustration of the innate ability of animals to recover from trauma. Natural/spontaneous recovery actually enhanced the drowning survival rates over the control group. We can transcend trauma and be stronger afterwards, but only if we engage the bodies natural healing mechanisms. Not my favourite philosopher, but Friedrich Nietzsche was right: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’

The worst option is to interfere and block the natural processes of the body – in this experiment poking and prodding the chicks out of immobility. The chicks were immobilized by holding, the inescapable threat inducing the freeze response.

My experience of TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) has shown me that shaking is a natural part of recovery from trauma. Even though it can appear that people are falling apart when shaking, it is better to fall apart briefly, rather than hold on to a life time of chronic tension.


Ginsberg, H. (1974). Controlled vs noncontrolled termination of the immobility response in domestic fowl (Gallus gallus): parallels with the learned helplessness phenomenon, as quoted in Seligman, M. (1992) Helplessness: On depression, development and death, New York:W.H. Freeman

Nietzsche quote from

Scaer R.C., (2001) The Neurophysiology of Dissociation and Chronic Disease. Published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, (2001), 26(1), 73-91

With thanks to Riccardo Cassiani Ingoni for the reference and image – I saw Riccardo talk about the chick experiment at a TRE Level 1 course in London.

Here’s a wonderful article on the debate about whether alternative medicine works and the view of it in mainstream medicine, alternative medicine, politics, science and from its detractors. What seems so hard to believe is that no form of research proves how efficacious alternative therapy is. All alternative practitioners see in their practice day in day out how people come in with both chronic and acute conditions and get significantly better in a relatively short period of time. All the clients who come for the treatments experience this too, otherwise they wouldn’t carry on coming back nor recommend it. The public are not fools. They want something that works and will pay for it if it does. So why is there no form of research that shows how remarkable alternative therapy is. In particular craniosacral therapy. If anyone has any experience around research and has any ideas how research could be created that would show how deeply it effects the body I would be very interested in helping bring together a research programme. In particular if anyone has any access to some of the new CT scanners that could measure the response in the body while being treated, that would be particularly exciting. Anyway here’s the article which runs to several pages. Click on the link at the end to continue on (thanks Jeanne for sending this on to me).

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Sphenobasilar junction (SBJ) in sagittal section

I have been going back into biomechanics and have reread a few papers that influenced how I think about the skull and the cranial paradigm. Partly triggered by my periodic reading, like picking at a bad tooth, of skeptical cranial sites. (For example, Steve Hartman is a an osteopath critical of the cranial paradigm, you can access his papers here. )

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