The term craniosacral therapy was originally coined in the 1970s by American osteopathic physician Dr John Upledger. Its origins, however, go back to the end of the 19th century and the work of the osteopath William Sutherland, who, while examining the bones that make up the human skull, observed that their construction was designed for movement between these bones.
After many years of mostly self-experimentation of what he termed cranial osteopathy, he found that very gentle manipulation of the cranial bones could have profound physical and physiological effects.
He also discovered a subtle and rhythmic movement that seemed to originate in the brain and spread through the spinal cord, and then through the entire body. This rhythm could be sensed anywhere on the body and seemed to give important clues to its functioning.
Sutherland called it the Primary Respiratory Impulse, though it goes by several other names, most commonly, and more simply, the cranial rhythm.
Primary respiratory impulse and the "Breath of Life"
Sutherland observed a rhythmic movement of the cranial bones and sacrum, a movement reflected through the whole body. It was a movement of expansion and contraction that was driven by some kind of inherent fluctuation within CSF.
Ultimately Sutherland believed the driving force to be the "Breath of Life," a subtle organising energy that seems to echo similar concepts of life energy that have emerged under various names through the centuries.
Sutherland was not alone in believing that CSF was one of the bodyfs prime self-healing and self-correcting mechanisms.
Andrew Still, the founder of osteopathy called it "the highest known element" in the body and Randolph Stone, the creator of Polarity Therapy said the CSF "...acts as... the liquid medium for life energy radiation, expansion and contraction."
Craniosacral therapy has a great number of techniques that it can utilise, but the best thing a therapist can do is to facilitate the expression of this great healing and organising force.
Effects of Craniosacral Therapy
Whatever the driving force, the effects are real enough to make this a very effective therapy in many conditions. Because the membrane protecting the brain is intimately linked into the connective tissue or fascia of the body it is possible by gently restoring correct function to the craniosacral system to effect changes in the fascia, and vice versa.
Fascia is continuous throughout the body and connects every part to every other part. It connects and supports the bones, the muscles, the organs, the viscera, the endocrine system, the nervous system, everything. It gives solid physical evidence for the holistic concept in health. Thus the scar from an operation, a localised infection, toxicity or irritation, for example, may have a disturbing effect far from the site of the problem.
Craniosacral therapists have refined their sense of touch to the extent that they can sense and correct such dysfunctions and imbalances by "tuning in" or glisteningh with their hands resting lightly on a part of the body remote from this site. This is often done by monitoring the state of the craniosacral system and making subtle adjustments.
An experienced craniosacral therapist is able to shift attention between the bones, the membranes and the fluids of the craniosacral system. He/she can access "body memory" of past emotional or physical injury and help the body-mind toward resolution.
As an analogy, think what information can be recorded on a simple medium such as a videotape or computer disc. How much more could be stored in the complex tissues of the body? As such, craniosacral work is often complementary to psychotherapy and it is very effective in this way.
Because of the global effects of CST, there are few conditions that do not benefit from the work. Since it is extremely gentle work, the very young, the aged and infirm are able to be treated. It also integrates well with other forms of treatment, both conventional and complementary.
What happens in a craniosacral treatment
All practitioners are different, so this is only a guide. Some will begin with an in-depth case history. Of particular concern to craniosacral therapists is any history of physical and emotional trauma. Even though this may have happened years ago, it may well contribute to the presenting problem. Operations, illnesses, allergies, medications, lifestyle, other therapies, work, exercise, diet and digestion – these are all aspects that may be covered as the therapist tries to build up a holistic picture of the client.
Other therapists postpone this history-taking initially and will go straight to "hands-on," listening directly to the body's own story. Some therapists may do a structural assessment, to visually check for asymmetry and areas of stress.
The client lies fully clothed on a massage table, initially on his/her back. The session usually begins with a deep listening to the body. Through very gentle hand contact on different parts of the body, the therapist is able to sense the subtle signals sent out from those areas in distress, to determine the relationships between various parts of the body-mind and to establish a connection with the client. We do a lot of listening before doing anything!
Watching a craniosacral session is not the most exciting spectator sport. The therapist will position their hands in various positions on the body, often on the head, and will hold these positions for several minutes, seemingly doing nothing. In fact much is happening; they are following the subtle movements of the body, monitoring the cranial rhythm, reflecting back to the system patterns of holding and restriction which help the body-mind to "see" the problem and thus facilitating return to a more efficient mode of functioning.
The client will often feel subtle releases, pulsations, and warmth in his/her body, and sometimes experience an upwelling of buried emotions and memories. At the end of the session the client will generally experience a feeling of wellbeing, increased levels of energy (holding restrictions in the body takes up energy) and a deep sense of relaxation.
It is not necessary to have an illness or any particular problem to benefit from craniosacral therapy. Many clients like to come back for an occasional "tune up" – they enjoy the sense of relaxation, stress release and vitality that comes after a session. Often when a good deal of work is done in a session the immediate effect can be a deeply relaxed sense of tiredness. In this case it is best to rest as much as possible for the remainder of the day. The sense of vitality will usually be there the next day. The effects of the work are ongoing and cumulative.
In the words of William Sutherland who died in 1954.
"The professional task is in a large respect a finger-task; that of locating aetiological factors beneath, as well as throughout all bodily tissues; being as problematic as is the 'searching for a needle in a haystack' and requiring fingers with brain cells in their tips... fingers capable of feeling, seeing, thinking. Fingers should be like detectives, skilful in the art of finding things hidden."
Causes of disruption
Our systems meet physical and emotional stress and challenge by contracting, and in that contraction they disturb and disrupt the flow of the tide. Itfs as if the incoming tide is flowing onto a rocky shore; when it meets an obstacle, it has to find a way around. Where the body is fully resourced, the blockage is a temporary disruption: if the stresses are too frequent or the shock too great, however, the blockage becomes gradually established and can eventually lead to discomfort and pain.
During our lifetime we may collect, and disperse, many different blockages; sometimes we are able to use our body's natural healing abilities and at other times we need help. The light touch of the trained craniofacial therapist is able to detect the blockage through the restricted flow of the fluids and to reflect this information back to the body, helping it to gather the necessary resources to re-establish harmony.
Not just for babies
There has been a great deal of publicity recently about the value of craniosacral treatment for babies and children. Their systems respond very effectively to this form of therapy, and it is extremely valuable in problems to do with suckling, hearing etc., and to problems that may relate to the birth process. What is becoming more widely accepted is the value of this therapy to all, adults and children alike. A wide variety of conditions has been found to respond to craniosacral treatment, ranging from back pain and sports injury to conditions of uncertain aetiology such as exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS),insomnia, learning difficulties and dyslexia.