In my last blog I mentioned Network Spinal Analysis (NSA). I wanted to share more as it’s been so transformative for me and I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere – related to CFS or otherwise. Here I will explain a bit about how it works and why it’s been such an important piece of the puzzle…
What is NSA?
NSA is a gentle form of chiropractic that trains the body to heal and realign itself, working on the nervous system through the spine. It was invented by Donald Epstein, who combined various methods to create a new technique and way of understanding wellness. Fran at Awaken Chiropractic, who I see, was recommended to me for my neck issues, but I’ve benefitted in so many ways I didn’t expect.
This healing method views pain and tension in the body as caused by stress, which could be emotional (relationships, work, life events, trauma), but could also be from chemicals (food additives, pesticides, medication), viruses, bacteria, electromagnetic (radiation from the phone, TV, Wi-Fi) or physical (from injuries or poor posture). No matter the cause, our bodies can interpret these stressors in the same way: as a threat.
We may think emotions occur in our minds, but Candace Pert, PhD, discovered the largest number of receptors for the “molecules of emotion” are actually located in the spine. When we are unable to deal with the stress in the moment, it is stored in our bodies and can later manifest as pain, mental/emotional problems or physical illnesses. The Body Keeps the Score is a good book on this subject. It can be seen in the “defence posture” many people have, with a forward head position, hunched shoulders and tilted pelvis; a study has shown that all measures of health decrease with this head posture. As the blood flows away from our frontal lobes, we go into a flight/flight/freeze/fawn response, seeing everything as a threat and we lose our capacity to be “in” our bodies.
Fortunately, how we respond to the stressors in our environment can be changed. NSA aims for “reorganisational” healing, rather than the Western model of getting rid of symptoms. This means using the symptoms as a vehicle for transformation; understanding patterns that took us to this place and learning a different way of doing things. It helps the brain become more adaptable to specific phases, which are identified in the spine and related to emotional patterns. For example, if you are overthinking and not being present, this manifests as a shift in the second cervical vertebra.
Spinal contacts during a session aim to invoke two waves: a respiratory wave and a somato-psychic wave. As the wave moves through the body, the rigid ways of a person’s nervous system unwind, spinal cord tension is released and both physical and psychological ease can be felt. Sessions are called “entrainments,” as they train our nervous systems to make new patterns to heal ourselves by increasing our awareness of tense areas, so we can prevent injuries and increase our resilience.
What happens in a session?
It’s quite different from most hands-on therapies as it takes place in a room with other people getting “entrained” at the same time; the idea is that what releases in one person can be released in another. As you lie face-down on the table, the Chiropractor tests your body to see which spinal cord tension patterns, or “phases” you are holding. They then use light touches to the spine that aim to unwind stored tension and trauma within the nervous system. The contacts are brief; they move onto someone else as it works through your system and then come back to do more.
It’s really gentle, but can also be an intense experience in the sense that you might have to feel or breathe into a place of tension to work through it, or it might bring up an emotion to be felt and let go. I’ve gone in a few times thinking I was pretty chilled and then started crying after a release. But it feels great after. It’s amazing how Fran can read my spine – I might be feeling frustrated but was unaware or avoiding the feeling and Fran identifies it showing up as a knot in my shoulder. Sometimes I can literally feel the energy entering my body.
Afterwards I generally feel peaceful, positive, looser and lighter. I can breathe better. I might be more aware of tension, but it generally dissolves in the following days. Sometimes my face flushes as blood is able to flow to my brain again.
Each session is different; I’ve walked out feeling a million dollars on some days to just a bit better on others. As the treatment has progressed, my experience of entrainments has also changed as I come to have more awareness of my body and experiences.
How to get the most out of NSA
You can see this as a purely physical technique – it is manual “body work” and many people come just for the postural realignment and pain relief, which is fine. To get the most benefit, however, having something like therapy can be really supportive as the body work can support the emotional/spiritual journey and vice versa. I’ll write in my next post about the somatic work and Primal Trust course I’ve been doing, but I think this is important to note. Fran says if you’re having therapy, to make it before the NSA session so it can release whatever has been brought up in the body and you don’t have to carry it round with you all week.
Another tool that can help to get the most out of NSA is Somato-Respiratory Integration (SRI). This is a 12-stage breathing technique taught by NSA practitioners. It helps to reconnect the mind with the body, especially in areas of tension, to release the trapped energy. It helps move us through the “seasons of care”, which are used to understand the transformation journey.
Knowing which “season” a person is in helps them and the practitioner to orient themselves on their journey and to show them where they could go in relation to their individual challenges. They all have distinct conversations, physical features, actions, attitudes and lessons. The four seasons are: Discover, becoming aware of disconnection and pain; Transform, changing and resolving patterns; Awaken, acceptance, gratitude and finding your true potential; and Integrate, using the previous seasons to deepen our experience.
I mentioned in my previous post how unwell I was when I first started NSA, particularly with the neck stuff. My first session I was driven by my parents, lying down in back of the car wearing a neck brace and I felt so unwell and nauseous from the motion of the journey I could barely speak. There was some gentle music playing in the background and I found it excruciating. Every day I was waking up in insane amounts of pain and energetically it felt like I was still “there” but in a very small sense, like I only had access to a tiny part of my brain. My body was in major shutdown and a huge fog had taken over.
Progress has been very gradual, but the pain is improving, my walking has increased (with no Craniocervical Instability symptoms!) and I now drive myself there. I feel more resilient; I’m still having “crashes” in energy where I’m extremely tired and need help to do things, but it no longer feels like I’ve fallen off a cliff and could be months until I come back again. I feel more trusting in my body. I’ve noticed little by little, I have more tolerance to things that would drain me before, for example, a difficult phone call.
One of the most amazing things for me is something mostly people with ME/CFS will relate to: feeling like I’m actually *here*. For so many years I’ve felt like I was half asleep, or sort of drunk and spaced out. Dissociated. I still feel like that on worse days, but I’ve had some mind-blowing moments of feeling so present, in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my entire life. It feels like actually being able to see again after years of everything being blurry, even though I didn’t need glasses…
It has also helped me to get out of some energy “crashes”; there have been several times when I’ve arrived having spent the day in bed, not knowing how I’ll make it back home and have walked out feeling like a different person. It was pretty astonishing.
It’s been so transformational that both my parents have tried it. My dad receives entrainments for his sciatica and reports feeling less pain, more calm and better eye tracking playing tennis.
As I mentioned before, I still have a long way to go in my health/transformation journey. I still have chronic fatigue and pain, which is very variable day to day. But this has been really key for me so far and has supported everything else I’ve been doing. In fact, it’s made other healing modalities more effective or easier to do. I think it’s also important to note I’ve been doing a double session every week for 2 years, in conjunction with many other things, so this isn’t a quick fix and I’ve had the privilege of having parents to drive me and fund entrainments.
I believe different practitioners of NSA have different ways of working, so I could only vouch for the incredible Fran, to whom I am immensely grateful and still can’t quite believe how lucky I am to have found.
I can’t say if it will help anyone else with their condition. One of my top symptoms is muscle tension and there is a definite parallel with this and the fatigue for me, which may not be the case for others. But we know that in these conditions the nervous system is key and it affects every other system in the body. So, I would highly recommend anyone try NSA who thinks it might help them.
There is a tonne of research on NSA. The University of California Irvine carried out some pretty substantial research on wellness outcomes.
Later the University of Southern California carried out research on the electrophysiological mechanisms of the wave in the connective tissues, demonstrating the network spinal wave as a central pattern generator.
Tony Robbins is a big advocate of NSA and talks about it here
On Netflix, the “Energy Experience” episode of Goop demonstrates a (slightly sensationalised) form of NSA
More research links on Donald Epstein’s website here
An interesting paper on the Seasons of Care can be found here.