The power of working with the fascial diaphragms
The body stores all the experiences we have had, all our stories, whether they be good memories or bad. Recent scientific research has shown that fascia plays a large role in storing our emotions. A normally beautifully balanced elastic tensegrity structure can lose its ability to rebound, when it becomes knotted up with stress and tensions. The healthy fascia, resembling an integrate elastic spiders web, become stiff and inflexible, matted like felt. Instead of feeling and being able to follow the healthy internal dynamic movements that naturally occur, the body feels to the orthobionomy practitioner like a lump of concrete, or a steel plate with no internal integrative dynamic movement. A sure sign that this person, this body, this mind has suffered some form of trauma.
The person may not consciously be aware of the long-lasting effects, the long-term memory of the body, after having suffered a trauma. The trauma may indeed not have been a big event, but the body will remember. It is always possible that as a bodyworker we will feel the latent effects of these traumas. The fifty-year old woman, for example, who presents herself to us with knee pain, and laying our hands on her knee we experience, we feel, the shock within the knee, the block, the holding, the waiting of that tissue for release. We wait, in softness and support, creating a safe space for that knee to let go, should the trust be there. And slowly, gently, our hand or our finger may begin to vibrate, allowing the locked-up energy that has been stored in those tissues for so long to shake itself out of the body system. Slowly, in trust, our fingers begin to sink softly through the fascia as the tensions and the stress release. We are now able to follow the internal dynamic movements that return, thus supporting the body in its process of healing. The woman may then spontaneously remember the time when her beloved elder brother pushed her down the steps at the age of eight, and she hurt her knee.
These relatively small local traumas begin to release as a vibration through our hand or finger. The energy created and then stored at the time of shock will, within the safe space created and held by the orthobionomy practitioner, spontaneously be shaken out of the body system. This is similar to the shock response of an animal where the primal impulse is to shake itself after a life-threatening experience, thus releasing tension and returning the body to its normal physiological pattern of homeostasis. There may be different levels of trauma, which may not release all at once. The body will only let go what it is ready to let go, like an onion, gradually, layer-by-layer, always retaining that sense of homeostasis. Deeper underlying traumas may be shaken out at a later stage in the healing process, or they may not, if the time and the place is not right for the person.
Deep systemic trauma experiences can become locked up in the whole body, causing chronic stress, anxiety and tension leading to other associated pathological changes. I first became aware of the power of the fascial diaphragms in treating trauma when working with horses and have since used it with success on many two-legged clients. We learn in the orthobionomy training that there are four main fascia diaphragms in the human body: 1) the craniocervical junction, 2) the cervicothoracic junction 3) the respiratory diaphragm and 4) the pelvic floor, which can all be treated effectively using sandwich techniques.
Treatment of the fascial diaphragms
We start treating the craniocervical junction at the base of the skull. The middle finger rests on the mastoid, the index finger on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the thumb on the slight indentation at the outer corner of the eyes, which with a different focus we would use to treat the sphenoid bone. Our focus is on the fascial diaphragm that exists between our fingers at the base of the skull. We can either just observe the dynamic movements which occur, or we can accompany them gently and respectfully, with no judgement. It is believed that at this stage the body intuitively understands the issue, the problem or the trauma that we will be addressing.
We then move on to a treatment of the pelvic floor, representing the physical dimension of the issue. One hand rests between the buttocks with the sacrum nestled in the palm; the other arm rests lightly over the lower tummy in the area of the pelvic floor muscles and we focus on the fascial diaphragm of the pelvic floor, either just observing or accompanying the movements which come.
We then move on to working together with the respiratory diaphragm, which holds the emotional tension within the body. One hand rests underneath the twelfth thoracic vertebrae where the diaphragm attaches to the spinal column and the other hand rests just underneath the sternum between the rib cage. Our focus is on the arch of the respiratory diaphragm stretching in three dimensions and separating the thoracic cavity from the digestive organs. We observe or gently accompany any dynamic movements which may occur between our hands, being fully aware at this stage of any potential emotional releases, any tears which may appear at the corners of the eyes, or any big sighs. We listen, without judgement, to the stories that may come, and we hold the space of safety, allowing the trauma to begin to release and the stored-up emotions to dissipate.
Maybe we then slide gently across to the right and treat the liver, the organ which according to Traditional Chinese Medicine stores anger. Maybe we are aware of a release of part, or all, of this anger as the tension between our hands begins to dissipate and the person simultaneously heaves a big sigh (of relief?).
The cervicothoracic junction corresponds to the throat chakra and represents the ability to communicate on various levels. One hand now rests underneath the seventh cervical vertebra and the first thoracic vertebra and the other over the top of the sternum where the clavicular joins on both sides. We focus on the space between our hands, on the transverse fascial diaphragm at the cervicothoracic junction and observe or accompany the dynamic movements which may, or may not occur, following the principles of orthobionomy.
Finally, we return to the craniocervical junction in order to integrate all that the body has learnt during the previous treatments of the transverse fascial diaphragms. The dynamic movement at this junction will now feel very different in comparison to the beginning. We often experience a release of tension, a rebalancing, a harmonisation. The person will feel deeply relaxed and at ease. Their body, previously tense, blocked and possibly traumatised is now able to relax, is able to trust and let go, is able to follow that right path, where everything happens with ease and the right doors open at the right time.
I have often used this technique with traumatised horses to help bring them back to a place of trust and ease. The reactions to each diaphragm release may take some time, but the changes in behaviour after such a treatment are often instantaneous. With horses I start working first with the respiratory diaphragm, and then work towards the hindquarters with the navel diaphragm, the pelvic entry and the pelvic floor diaphragms, then returning to the cervicothoracic diaphragm, before treating the heart-lung diaphragm, the craniocervical diaphragm and the tentorium cerebellum.
Below is a recent case history of a client detailing the procedure that I followed over four consecutive orthobionomy sessions:
The client first came to see me two months ago as he had severe pain in both knees after a major operation a year previously to realign them. Both tibia had been broken and had been re-pinned and fixed using a plate on the medial side of each. He also had sciatic pain which he had had on and off for 17 years.
On inspection his left leg was about 1.5cm shorter than the right. I followed my standard routine of a pelvic realignment: left ilium posterior (leg difference still 5mm), right ileum anterior (little effect on the remaining leg length difference), isometric pubic realignment, functional and dynamic balance of the sacrum, structural compression into the painful left sacroliliac (SI) joint, the right was without pain. Following this I then worked with the fascia of both knees following the unwinding that began to slowly take place, noting the trauma shake and thus allowing this stored up energy to begin to release. The client noted at the end of the session that he felt more balanced, but he wasn’t sure if anything had happened in the knees; they were still very sore, painful and stiff, and he still had the excruciating ache down both legs below the knee.
One week later the client returned, stating that he thought the sciatica was now on its way out, but that he had been in agony the next day immediately after the treatment. On inspection both legs were now the same length, indicating that the pelvis was realigned. Quite something after a 1.5cm difference! The legs may have been the same length but they did not feel balanced. I carried out a balance of the pelvis via the heels, and then focused on the sacrum. The left SI joint was without pain but now the right SI joint reacted as did L5 on the right and the lumbosacral junction which I treated followed up by a treatment of the fascia over this area. This time I worked deeper with the knees following a dynamic approach so realigning the femur-tibia joint as well as the patella. I also completed scar work on both knees. The client reported that the weird feeling he had had with the scars on the right knee was now much better.
At the third visit one month later, the client reported that his sciatica had flared up again and he felt that he was standing wonky to take the weight off his left knee, which was still extremely painful, although he felt there had been some improvement previously. He could hardly walk and was obviously in a lot of pain. On testing the leg length both legs were found to be the same length and the pubis was symmetrical. I worked functionally with the sacrum but felt that the client was overthinking the response. However, after starting to work dynamically the sciatic pain down the left leg increased. The left SI joint was sore and the left side of L4 was painful. Again, a functional technique brought no relief, but just as the dynamic technique began to react under my finger the sciatic pain suddenly became a lot worse. The client got up off the couch and walked around until the pain began to ease a little. I decided that a more systemic approach was required to try to bring the client back into a state of relaxation. I worked with a shoulder balance and a shoulder blade balance before working on the four fascial diaphragms: the craniocervical junction, the pelvic floor, the respiratory diaphragm, and the cervicothoracic junction before returning to the craniocervical junction to integrate the work. During the initial work with the craniocervical junction to identify the issue being dealt with, the tension in his body began to ease as well as the pain. The pelvic floor diaphragm, representative of the physical level, reacted massively. During the treatment of the respiratory diaphragm, representative of the emotions, the client spoke of his breached birth and of all the traumas to his body. The cervicothoracic junction, representative of the ability to communicate about the issues, also reacted strongly, and this was followed by an integration of the process via a second treatment of the craniocervical junction. I then felt it was necessary to integrate the whole body from top to bottom via a shoulder balance, an ileum balance and a foot balance. The client walked out of the practice with a lot less pain than when he walked in.
Two weeks later the client returned in good spirits. He said the sciatica was still there but was much better and he hadn’t really noticed his knees much, but he had been very busy working on the renovation of his house! He said he had no idea why, but he felt much better and was walking with a lot less pain. During the treatment I was able to confirm the changes in his body. Instead of feeling tension and stress, his body felt relaxed and open. Instead of talking non-stop, maybe as a distraction from the pain, the client fell asleep. This time his left leg was about 4mm shorter, which corrected itself after structural work with a left ileum posterior and a right ileum anterior. The pubic bone was symmetrical following an isometric test and the sacrum this time felt quite normal to work with after which the Si joints were pain free as was the lumbosacral transition, L5 and L4. I worked with the realignment of the left knee, followed by fascial unwinding around the knee joint and around the plate and some scar work around a particularly painful edge of the plate. The client reported that the knee was now completely pain free. Similar work was carried out on the right knee, including a realignment of the femur, tibia and the patella, and fascial unwinding around the joint and over the plate. The client said that although he usually hated anybody touching around the scars on this knee, it all felt perfectly fine. He booked a follow-up appointment for 3 weeks later and happily walked out of the practice.
The importance of being grounded, being centred
It is particularly important that the bodyworker, the therapist or practitioner, is grounded and centred before beginning a trauma treatment. In order to have the freedom to release the traumatic energy stored within their body, the person needs first and foremost to feel safe. This can only happen if the therapist remains autonomous and does not fall into sympathy with the person, follow or merge with their emotions. Then both therapist and client will become lost together in the communal river of emotions. The therapist must remain centred and grounded and represents, in my mind, a large, solid and stable rock on the bank of the river of emotions, which can freely flow past, but which does not pull this vast and safe rock into its flow. Then the client can intuitively feel safe in the knowledge that the therapist is just there, stable and unjudgmental, and they can finally begin to let those locked-up traumatic memories and their associated emotions go, let them flow away down the river, whilst they remain on the rock of stability, together with the therapist at this moment.
If a person feels safe and has the trust to let go, then the right doors will open at the right time to allow stored-up traumatic memories and emotions to leave the body, thus allowing the person to exist in a place of more ease and comfort. This will often be a process, and may be a long process of healing, step by step, allowing the layers of trauma to drop away one by one. The place and the timing need to be right for this to happen and it’s important to remember that some people may never be ready to let go, to make that step into a new and different world. It is not for us to judge, but just to Be there, if, and when they are ready.
Finally, bodywork provides an incredibly important addition to the psychotherapeutic trauma work that is normally recommended within a clinical situation.