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Interview with Annelise Sunanda in April issue of BewustZijnenzo

Not everyone knows what Craniosacral Therapy is. Can you explain it?

Craniosacral Therapy (or simply Cranio) finds its origin in osteopathy. However, Cranio focuses mainly on fascial mobility in the soft tissues around the brain and spinal cord and the osseous structures surrounding it (the cranial bones, the spine, sacrum and pelvis). Using subtle techniques and a soft touch generally no greater than 5 grams (or the weight of a nickel), restrictions are removed from these tissues and fascial tension is reduced. This allows the body to relax and self-correct. As a result, this therapy is deeply relaxing. After a session, you will feel balanced, rested and rejuvenated.

In Craniosacral Therapy we believe that the body has an innate intelligence and wisdom that knows how to heal itself. It will always try to bring itself back to a state of homeostasis (balance) and perfection. A craniosacral therapist is no more than an extension and vehicle of this self-healing ability, following the tissue where it needs to go instead of trying to force it to conform to human knowledge, beliefs and egos. This requires that the therapist melds and blends with the tissue in order to feel and follow its subtle clues as well as stay completely neutral during the session.

Cranio is also a holistic form of bodywork, which means that symptoms and conditions are not treated separately, but rather the person is seen as a whole consisting of mind, body and soul. We don't just look at the physical symptom, but also at the root cause and the underlying emotional/psychological piece. When tension and restrictions are being removed from the fascia, the underlying emotions and psychological stress often come into our awareness. In other words, we become conscious of them. The symptom is physical yet is rooted at a deeper level. Becoming conscious of these deeper emotions, traumas and psychological stresses as well as experiences that have not yet been fully processed, creates not only a physical release, but also an energetic one. This release in turn creates space for something new to emerge, namely more energy for the body to use in order to self-correct and heal.

How does Cranio work from a medical/physical standpoint?

All structures in our body are connected to each other by fascia (soft connective tissue). Imagine a sheath that surrounds all organs, muscles, vessels, bones, tendons and ligaments. It provides structural support to make sure that everything stays in place, but it also has a protective function and is essential in cell communication and transport of nutrients and waste.

Daily strain, injuries, wrong movements or not enough movement, incorrect posture, inflammation, etc. can cause damage to the fascia, which inhibits its sliding capabilities. We often speak of adhesions. Emotional and psychological stress and trauma can also cause fascial tension. The stress hormones that are being released change the structure of the fascia, which causes it to lose its flexibility.

When fascia becomes tight due to adhesions, it is limited in its performance. This has a far-reaching impact on the whole body. After all, everything is connected via connective tissue. The tension and stress caused by the inflexibility in certain parts of the body causes pain. Back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, joint pain, tendon irritation and inflammation are common complaints.

Cranio removes restrictions and tension from the fascia, which restores fascial mobility. This means improved blood flow and cell communication, which allows for a better supply of nutrients and proteins to the tissues and organs as well as for the removal of waste products from the body. As a result, the affected tissue recovers and people experience a reduction in pain.

Therefor, Cranio is not a treatment that focuses on a certain type of condition, but by supporting and regulating one of the most important systems in the body (the soft connective tissue system), many systems are rebalanced and restored so that the body can do what it does best: namely heal you!

How does it work from an energetic/spiritual standpoint?

In my practice, I focus more on the energetic/spiritual aspect of Cranio, because we are more than just the physical body. We are made up of energy and our thoughts, behaviors and unconscious beliefs etc. also have energy, frequency and vibration. These vibrations have an effect the body.

Negative thoughts, beliefs, judgment and criticism cause negative emotions (read low vibrations) in our body, such as anger, hatred, sadness and doubt, which in turn cause our brain and heart to be chaotic (incoherent). An incoherent heart and brain cause incoherent signals to the organs, tissues and genes. This makes us sick (dis-ease).

The opposite is equally true. Research has shown that when our thoughts are positive, loving, forgiving, compassionate, trusting and relaxed (these thoughts have a high vibration), they create elevated emotions in our body, which allow our heart and brain to work in synergy. This synergy causes our bodies to shift from an incoherent state to an organized and coherent state of being. Coherent information can be received and translated by the body in the perfect signals, functions and processes to keep the body, mind and spirit functioning optimally. Meditation also establishes heart and brain coherence, which is why Cranio can sometimes feel like a meditative process.

It is therefore important to find out what thought patterns, old belief systems and judgments occupy us and where they come from. Recognizing these patterns, acknowledging them and transforming them is the spiritual work. Spirituality can sometimes have a certain connotation associated with new age woowoo, but all it really means is awareness and transformation.

Craniosacral therapy supports the body through this process. In this way, it helps your spiritual growth by releasing remnants of negative, chaotic energy and releasing (transmuting) it, so that you, like a butterfly, undergo a transformation and a new awareness emerges.

What are the sort of conditions people come to you for treatment?

Cranio can help with a variety of conditions. It can be used in addition to conventional treatments or stand on its own. Some people simply want to relax and unwind, others come for a specific physical or emotional injury or condition, still others want relief from chronic pain. Cranio helps people listen to and understand the signals of the body.

On a physical level, cranio helps with:

  • reduction of (chronic) pain

  • neck conditions

  • headaches

  • inflammatory conditions, such as bursitis, tendonitis, colitis, arthritis etc.

  • chronic fatigue

  • strengthening of the immune system (thus more resistance to diseases)

  • learning difficulties / learning disabilities

On an deeper energetic level, what you will notice is:

  • More self-awareness and a deeper understanding of oneself.

  • A relaxed and confident way of being.

  • More love for others and more compassion and patience.

  • Improved relationships with your spouse, your children, family and co-workers.

  • An ability to deal with stress more effectively.

  • A renewed outlook on life.

  • More confidence and faith.

  • More insight, clarity and focus.

  • More vitality and renewed energy.

What makes this therapy different from others?

Because Cranio brings up unresolved tension that is stored in the tissue, it lends itself to work on all levels. That is why my slogan on my website is: “Craniosacral therapy is a holistic therapy integrating “mind, body and soul”. On the one hand it is a manual therapy working with the body, yet on the other hand it also works with the energies of a person. There is no coaching involved, but insights come from the clients themselves, which can create a deepening of consciousness, if the client is open to it. We live in a time where we see shifts in the collective consciousness of humanity and as a result more and more people will start to seek out these types of therapies which will supports them in dealing with all these changes.

How did you discover craniosacral therapy?

I lost my job as a legal assistant in 2008 as a result of the financial worldwide crisis. After the initial shock, I realized that this work no longer made me happy. The work and environment no longer were a vibrational match. I did not know what I wanted to do instead and because I was already 44 at that time, it would not be easy to do a 180 and start something completely new. Since I was receiving unemployment insurance for a while, I decided to do some volunteer work to figure out what would actually make me happy. I have always had a great love for horses, so I decided to work at a stable to help out in exchange for riding lessons.

In the spring of 2010, I was looking after a very sick horse. She had colic and was in a lot of pain. It pained me to see her suffer so much and not knowing how else to help her, I put my hands on her flank. I felt the tissue move under my hands and I connected to her by opening my heart. What happened next was a beautiful exchange, between me and the horse and the horse ended up recovering. I knew then that this was a path I needed to look deeper into and that I needed to learn to understand how healing works on a non-verbal/energetic level. That same year I discovered Craniosacral therapy. Three years later, I received my certification from the Upledger Institute (in Canada), a health resource centre recognized world-wide for its excellent education programs and producing well qualified therapists.

You lived in Canada. Did you do your training there?

I moved to Toronto, Canada in 1988 and lived there for 28 years. I did my courses in Toronto and the United States. Craniosacral therapy was pioneered and developed by John E. Upledger DO, OMM, an osteopathic physician and surgeon from the United States. The training consists of different modules which are taught in 4 to 5-day workshops. In between the modules, the material is integrated and the techniques are being practiced (mostly on friends and family). The following module is built on this practical experience. After 4 modules (about 2 years), when the theory and practical experience is fully integrated, one can opt to be tested on their knowledge of the material and do the practical exam. In North America, this exam is not mandatory in order to practice this type of therapy, but I decided to do it. So yes, I received my certificate as a craniosacral therapist in Canada. After the first four modules, there are more advanced courses of one week each, after which a second exam can be taken to get further accreditations.

In the Netherlands, the training is also modular and you can do it at your own pace. The 4-year professional training given by Upledger Institute Netherlands is recognized by the SNRO (an association for medical professionals). When one has successfully completed the 4-year program, a therapist can become part of such association that governs these types of professions.

On your website your name is Annelise Sunanda. Is Sunanda your last name or does this mean something?

Sunanda is not my last name. In 2007 I received this name during a retreat in the United States from my Guru, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, also known as Amma. My first name is Annelise, which means “bounty of God’s love” and has a special meaning for me. I am not attached to my surname as I view it as simply a family name for practical reasons (one may take on the name of their spouse for instance). I have had different last names over the years and feel that it brings an energetic attachment that is not mine. That is why I chose to use the name I received from Amma as my last name. Sunanda is a Sanskrit word and means “the one who revels in her True Self”. Ananda means bliss in Sanskrit and one’s true self is a state of bliss. That’s a beautiful promise, isn’t it?

Has spirituality always been a part of your life?

I grew up in a strict Christian religious family. At a certain point, this religion became too dogmatic and suffocating and I left the church and everything associated with it. In 2004 I read the book “Conversations with God” by Neal Donald Walsch. This opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and the sense of freedom of being described in this book, deeply resonated with me. In 2005, I met Amma and my spiritual journey took another direction. Since that time, I have inquired into different schools of thought related to spirituality and investigated other spiritual paths. After 15 years of seeking, I realized that it all comes down to the same thing, which is that everything is consciousness and comes from one source. This source is love. Our job to realize that we are one with this consciousness and the universal love.

What is your biggest lesson in life?

That would be forgiveness. After I divorced the father of my daughter, I had a lot of anger. It started to control my life and one day I’d had enough of these negative feelings. On January 1st, 2001my new year’s resolution was to forgive my ex-husband and all other people who I felt had hurt me. One day, I realized that the sharp sting of anger was gone and I no longer felt hate in my heart. My feelings toward my ex-husband were no longer negative, but had now a neutral quality. I also noticed that a feeling of love returned to my heart. This taught me a valuable lesson. I learned that forgiveness does not mean that you merely come to terms with what happened, but that you energetically release it. The lesson was that it was not about him and his behaviors, but about what I needed to forgive and let go of within me. Letting go of negative emotions creates room in your heart, which can then be filled up with elevated emotions such as love, compassion, joy and happiness. By forgiving him, I was the one who became free. The Buddha said something very wise about this: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

What can people expect from a treatment?

During the session of one full hour, you will be 100% seen and heard. It is all about you and you will receive 100% of my attention, love and compassion. There is no judgment, no agenda and no expectation. I create a neutral, loving space for you where you can be yourself and think, be, do and say whatever you need to release that which causes you pain. By forgiving yourself and others, you are making room for different emotions, feelings and experiences, which are based on who you really are, which is love!

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