Holding a Space for the Nervous System

Sometimes the kind of bodywork any of us may need is actually a simple light touch, more like holding a space for the client’s own nervous system versus working the soft tissue open to effect changes. This sort of approach can seem dubious in our more allopathic western system of medicine, the focus being on pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and pathologies. Yet there’s room and need for all the aforementioned, human health being that complex to address. So in this range from surgery to doing the most basic touch within bodywork, I’d like to briefly look at cradling a client’s head, fingers at the occipital ridge of the skull, the client’s head resting easily in the palms of the therapist’s hands.

This technique generally sounds pleasant and relaxing, yet it might seem inconsequential in describing. However, this simple hold can prompt relaxation within the central nervous system through activating our parasympathetic NS, the system that supports healthy functioning of unconscious body actions while the body is at rest (digestion, for example). The technique comes from a modality known as craniosacral therapy, which dates as far back as the 1830s. While I’m not a practitioner of the aforementioned, I do like many of its principles and practice this one hold on clients occasionally. The effect is generally increased relaxation and often deeper release in the upper shoulder and neck muscles. While it may not work for all people, it’s worth trying! A nice way to end a session after already having done manual therapy on the neck muscles.

Some things to keep in mind…explain to your client the basics of the technique and that you’ll try just for two minutes. Do right before the session ends, making sure your client is fully awake before you send them out the door to drive! Get your chair height with the table correct to sustain this hold easily while you clock it over the two minutes; longer time can be applied another time if you and the client agree to do so. Keep your hands, arms, and shoulders relaxed and allow your client’s head to merely fill your palms, like water someone poured into them. This is truly “holding a space” for your clients. It allows their muscles time to ease out of holding patterns while they breathe and expand into the table. 

Reading further about the purported effects and benefits of craniosacral work is recommended for anyone who has the interest, since I’ve touched very briefly here on one hold and the most basic application of it. The point of looking at this one hold in this most simple approach is to remind that sometimes the best we can do is to present a peaceful space, the room and time (even if two minutes 😉 for any given individual to breathe and expand out of constriction, and the acknowledgement that our systems naturally want to be in balance, but time with appropriate ongoing tending is needed for any garden to sprout and grow the right direction. 



Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017




I have been licensed and working full time in the massage therapy field since 2001, teaching and writing MT courses since 2006. My experience has led me through working with several different chiropractors, hotel and boutique spas, corporate massage, a climbing gym wellness center, private practice, two different massage schools, one acupuncture/massage college, and my current capacity of working with physical therapy clinics and their patients. And the learning continues…

4 thoughts on “Holding a Space for the Nervous System

  1. If your bodywork is even half as wonderful as your thoughtful descriptions, your clients must go home on Cloud 9! This hold sounds so simple on its face (pardon the pun) but I can imagine how profoundly relaxing it might be. I will try it on my husband tonight. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Heide! Please let me know how it goes :)) The firmer the surface you can use for your husband to lie on, the better; watch your own neck, shoulders, and arms as do the hold:)) Much gratitude to you for your kind compliments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was just checking back to let you know how it went … and then I saw your suggestion about a firm surface. That may have helped. 🙂 I’ll try again tonight and report back!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s simple, yet not completely easy, if that makes sense? But once you have the right chair and table heights (beds are not great, but that’s probably what you’ll have to use, right?), then it flows forward really well! Also just learning how to allow the person’s head to lay in your hands without trying to actually hold it or transmit tension from your shoulders/arms/hands to them is another tricky aspect. But I’ll be you can do! Try clocking it for just one minute to start, breathing easily with your “client,” and doing almost the same they are: expanding with your breath and being grounded. Lmk, Heide :)!


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