For years, my godmother has been extolling the virtues of craniosacral therapy (CST), so when THEWELL, a holistic wellness space in Manhattan, invited me to try it out, I figured it was a good time to try the buzzy treatment.
Admittedly, I went into the experience pretty blind with only a vague conception of CST having to do with my skull, jaw, and, uh, somehow releasing tension? Whatever this healing modality is I was just hoping it could provide me with some anxiety relief and snap me out of a stay-up-too-late-wake-up-at-10-a.m. cycle I had gotten myself into recently.
As part of THE WELL’s vibrational energy healing programming (which also includes Reiki and an integrative energy session on the lineup), CST is billed as a treatment using light touch “to reset the flow of the craniosacral rhythm in the body, helping to relieve pain and emotional stress.” Walking into the Zen and wonderfully scented treatment room for my appointment with my practitioner, Nichole, all I could think was, “whatever that means…” and “man, I should have googled this more.”
Thankfully, Nichole put me at ease and asked me a few simple questions before starting our 60-minute session (you can book a 90-minute version of CST, too), touching on what I hoped to get out of the treatment or if I had any special requests for areas of focus around my head and neck.
So what exactly is CST and why try it in the first place? As Laura Conroy, director of education, THE WELL, put it, we live in incredibly challenging times, and it has become increasingly clear that humans need a safe touch to regulate our nervous systems. For the duration of my treatment, I lay on my back on a massage table, closed my eyes, and listened to soothing music while Nichole did her thing with my head and neck. Basically, Nichole adjusted and gently twisted my head and neck in various positions and applied steady, gentle pressure with her hands to
various spots in this region. As THE WELL’s propriety essential oil-based scent featuring notes of Buddha wood, lavender and vetiver wafted into the treatment room and Nichole touched my head and neck, I sure felt ready for nap time. It wasn’t quite a massage, but it felt like Nichole’s magic fingers were coaxing stress and tension out of various regions in my neck, jaw, and head.
“Craniosacral provides a safe, gentle, healing touch to support overly activated nervous systems,” she said, stressing that therapeutic and intentional touch is needed now more than ever. In short, per Conroy, CST is a gentle touch modality that releases tension from the body and central nervous system. “Through light touch and soft, slight pressure, the therapist facilitates balance through the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system to improve health and wellbeing on physical, emotional, and energetic levels,” she said. “The therapist tunes and ‘listens’ to the flow and rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.”
“CST can help with chronic pain, headaches, anxiety, and stress,” said Conroy, which certainly had me intrigued about the nearly omnipresent pain in my neck. Some research shows CST may help with chronic neck pain. As someone who is hunched over a laptop or staring at computer monitors far too many hours a week, I was eager to see if it could help alleviate some of my neck tension. While I can’t claim to have emerged from my session a new woman, I can say the discomfort I felt in my neck improved quite a bit after leaving the treatment room and I was able to flow through my yoga class the next day with none of my typical neck creaking-and-tweaking. Of course, the more regularly you make CST part of your routine, the better results and longer lasting relief it should yield.
Even after one hour of CST, I slept divinely the full week after my treatment. As Nichole warned me, I also found myself having more vivid dreams than usual. (Apparently, it’s all the stuff CST brings to the surface unconsciously pouring out of you. Pretty neat, huh?)
To gear up for your first CST session, Conroy shared that engaging in a meditation practice can help you get more out of the experience. “Cultivating a meditation practice helps to strengthen interoceptive awareness— understanding our
body's internal sensations and emotional regulation,” she said. “Because craniosacral work can be subtle, practicing meditation may help one notice the more subtle shifts during a session.”
I’m glad I tried a treatment outside of my typical repertoire, and I’m looking forward to telling my godmother about the experience. If you’re looking for a holistic healing treatment that’s different from your go-to, consider giving CST a whirl. As with any treatment, the practitioner matters, so ensuring you feel comfortable with your CST therapist and can communicate your expectations for the experience go a long way.
“Allow yourself to go in with an open mind and you might have a deeply profound experience or maybe just a really deep healing nap,” said Conroy. “Either way, it’s all good and restorative.”