By Maria Jose Montijo
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is as alive today as it was thousands of years ago. It remains current because it works and because it is flexible. What is useful within the tradition withstands the passage of time, and what is not useful does not. It is a complete system of preventative and remedial medicine. Yet it blends well with other health care modalities. In my own practice, I incorporate acupuncture, herbology, massage, and Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral Work. As an introduction to my way of working, I will briefly describe one of many possible intersections between cranio-sacral and TCM.
“Be still and know”: These words from the founder of Cranial-Sacral Work, William Sutherland, describe the basic foundation of a therapeutic relationship. By this I mean a relationship in which the practitioner maintains an attitude of awareness and neutrality that meets the patient where they are. Under these conditions, energetic resonance can arise. In Cranio-Sacral terms this is called “tonal match”, and it is felt as a resounding “yes” of the tissues.
In Daoist cosmology wu wei, or non-doing, refers to actions that arise effortlessly from a connection to the Dao and everything it contains. When I began learning Tai-Chi in Puerto Rico, my Sifu taught me that before I started to do the 108-movement form, I needed to empty my mind and heart so that I could rest in wu wei – action without action or effortless doing. From this emptiness and stillness, the movement or form arises.
For me, wu-wei is related to the term “neutral” as used in the Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral lineage. Before contact is made, the Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral practitioner must settle into a neutral state – a state of openness in which deep “listening” can occur. “Listening” in this context does not refer to listening with the ears, but rather sensing the tidal movements of the cerebro-spinal fluid as it circulates through the brain and spinal cord. This informs the treatment and also helps the patient settle into their own corresponding “neutral” state – the parasympathetic state of the central nervous system. From this meditative state of deep rest and relaxation, the patient’s body moves and reorganizes itself towards optimization.
When a patient downshifts into this parasympathetic state, they generally experience it as deeply nourishing, repairing, and rejuvenating. It is like pushing a reset button. The body enters a deep rest and begins to better digest food, as well as “digesting” stress and trauma. The tissues soften, bodily secretions increase, and there is a sensation of the body becoming more fluid and whole.
This state of being can be linked to what we in TCM would refer to as the nourishment of Yin, especially Kidney Yin. In TCM, the Kidneys relate to reproductive function, developmental movement, genetics, the nervous system, libido and control of urine. In TCM physiology they also include the brain, the spine and bone marrow throughout the body.
There is a seamless synergy that occurs when acupuncture is combined with Cranio-Sacral Work. After the needles are inserted, my hands move towards a cranio-sacral hold. A systemic relaxation and reorganization begins to take place through the activation of the fluid body, and the slowing down of the tides in the “ocean” within.
The TCM framework points the way from a skillful diagnosis towards effective treatment. The philosophies that gave birth to TCM support a way of being and doing that is infused with naturalness, interconnectedness and effortlessness. At the same time, Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral with its “non-doing” approach can deepen the therapeutic effects of acupuncture for the patient, while broadening a practitioner’s competencies – including palpatory skills, the ability to perceive qi, and the ability to be a compassionate presence for the patient.