Craniosacral therapy, What exactly is it?
How can it benefit you?
CranioSacral Therapy or CST, is a gentle non-invasive form of bodywork, used to enhance the function of the craniosacral system. The craniosacral system is made up of the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. CST works on the bones of the head, spinal column and sacrum.
Cerebrospinal fluid must flow freely from the head and neck all the way down the entire spine.
Your body undergoes stress and strain every day that it needs to compensate for. These compensations can tighten soft tissue and unbalance the craniosacral system.
These distortions cause tension around the brain and spinal cord, creating restrictions. This can create a barrier to the healthy performance of the central nervous system, and potentially every other system it interacts with.
Using a very gentle touch, practitioners evaluates the craniosacral system by lightly palpating different areas, to feel for the ease of motion and rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid pulsing around the brain and spinal cord. The is aim to correct imbalances or restrictions in the craniosacral system. Imbalances in this system can cause dysfunction in the brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves.
By restoring a healthy environment around the craniosacral system, you’ve enhanced your body’s ability to self correct.
When your body goes through any kind of trauma, it can affect the craniosacral system, restricting movement, and inhibiting the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluids.
CST practitioners believe that normal rhythm can be impeded by any kind of trauma. Including birth, repetitive stress injuries, car accidents, injuries, even emotional traumas.
Where does CranioSacral Therapy come from?
The History of Craniosacral Therapy
“…the cerebrospinal fluid is one of the highest known elements that are contained in the body, and unless the brain furnishes this fluid in abundance, a disabled condition of the body will remain.” Dr Andrew Taylor Still
CranioSacral Therapy has its roots in Andrew Taylor Still’s system of Osteopathic Medicine. The concept that skull bones are capable of shifting was discovered by William Sutherland in the early 1900’s. He came up with a treatment method making him “the grandfather” of cranial osteopathy.
“Within that cerebrospinal fluid there is an invisible element that I refer to as the ‘Breath of Life.’ I want you to visualize this Breath of Life as a fluid within the fluid, something that does not mix, something that has potency as the thing that makes it move. Is it really necessary to know what makes the fluid move? Visualize a potency, an intelligent potency, that is more intelligent than your own human mentality.” Dr. William Sutherland
Harold Magoun was one of Dr. Sutherlands first student. He wrote “Osteopathy in the Cranial Field” which clearly laid out Dr. Sutherlands concepts and theories. It is still used today as a textbook by The American Cranial Academy and The Sutherland Teaching Foundation.
It wasn’t until 1975, when John Upledger D.O., figured out why skull bones can move and developed the concept of cranial rhythm. During a neck surgery in 1970, John Upledger first noticed the rhythmic motion of what would be coined the craniosacral system. Assisting in the surgery, his job was to keep the spinal cord still with several pairs of forceps. However, despite his best efforts, he could not keep the spinal cord from moving. The membrane that surrounds the spinal cord kept moving in a rhythmic wave of fluid motion that would sweep up and down within the membranes.
There was no medical explanation for this discovery.
Intrigued, Dr. Upledger starting looking into this phenomenon. His first research was based on Dr. Williams Sutherland’s method. This concept, that the skull bones were designed to allow for movement, had never been accepted by the scientific and medical communities.
In 1968, he attended a course, taught by Dr. Harold Magoun at The Cranial Academy. He realized that the movement of the cranial bones and sacrum that was being taught in the course was the same as the rhythmic motion he encountered during the surgery. He was taught how to develop his palpation skills and learned how to “read” the motion with his hands.
From 1975-1983 he worked as a clinical researcher and Professor of Biomechanics at Michigan State University. MSU asked him to “prove or disprove that the cranial bones were capable of movement in adults.” Working with a team of anatomists, physiologists, biophysicists and bioengineers, Dr. Upledger was determined to scientifically prove the concept of cranial bone movement.
The results confirmed Dr. Sutherland’s findings. The cranial bones, their membranes, the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and the sacrum, and the cerebrospinal fluid form a moving body system. The craniosacral system.
Dr. Upledger continued to explore ways to use the craniosacral system to understand and improve health problems that were not responding to conventional medicine. By correcting restrictions in the CS system, many brain and spinal cord conditions could be successfully treated.
His continued research ultimately resulted in the development of CranioSacral Therapy. Understanding the importance of this approach, he invited people from non medical backgrounds to learn the technique. He also made it available as an compliment to other healing modalities, such as massage therapy.
Dr. Upledger also developed a system called Somato-Emotional Release. The concept that emotional issues can be stored away in the body’s soft tissues, causing physical symptoms and illnesses. These emotions were negative and destructive, originating from a trauma that happened to the body. That trauma can be physical, psychological or emotional.
In 1985 he founded the Upledger Institute to teach his method to anyone who was interested in learning it. During Dr. Upledgers lifetime he has seen CranioSacral therapy evolve to become a holistic therapy designed to allow the client to use their own body’s healing abilities.
What is CranioSacral Therapy Used For?
Utilizing an exceptionally light touch, CST releases restrictions in soft tissues that surround the central nervous system. It can be used as more of a preventative measurement, because of its ability to increase immunity. It’s also effective for whole host of problems associated with dysfunction and pain.
Because CranioSacral Therapy focuses on facilitating correction of the whole-body connective tissue matrix, it can be used for a wide range of conditions.
Stress from chronic injuries
- Neck and back pain
According to the National Headache Foundation, about 28 million Americans deal with migraine headaches. Migraines can be caused or made worse by stress and poor sleep. In one study, participants who received craniosacral therapy had better quality sleep and fewer migraines.
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive Problems
- Chronic Pain
Craniosacral therapy is increasingly used as a preventive health measure, rather than a cure for serious illnesses. “Craniosacral work is most often a complement to other forms of treatment – not an alternative.” Dr. John Upledger
Its effectiveness depends on the cause of a complaint (i.e. whether a problem deals directly with the nervous system), the accessibility of the underlying cause, and what related contributing factors are present. An open, receptive attitude helps.
How does craniosacral therapy work?
On a basic level, the practitioner influences the bones of the skull and pelvis. This impacts the underlying layers of membranes and cerebrospinal fluids in the spinal canal, brain, and spinal cord.
There is a pulse in the cerebrospinal fluids that goes through the entire craniosacral system, from the sutures in your skull down to the spinal cord. This movement is called the cranial rhythmic pulse. It is slower than the rate of your heart and breath, and feels like the tide of ocean ebbing and flowing. It can be felt strongest at the cranium and at the base of your spine. With enough experience and practice, you can feel this pulse anywhere in the body. The movement is extremely subtle, hence the reason for the gentle pressure.
When the natural cyclical pulse is disrupted and membranes and lubricating liquids lose their ability to flow freely, it causes pain and the symptoms start. Craniosacral therapy assists the body in re-establishing an unobstructed wave, which is how symptoms are treated.
There is also an undeniable spiritual and transcendental element to this therapy. “The inner wisdom which knows what is wrong, why it’s wrong, and how to correct it. The body tells the therapist what needs to be done.” Dr. John Upledger
Because CST works holistically, it impacts your mind and emotions, not just your body. It’s similar to meditation, in that it helps with mental and physical slowing down and quieting. Just like meditation focuses on your breath, you can focus on the ebb and flow of your cranial pulse. And like meditation it can boost our ability to sense and release tension and increases the mind body connection.
“…within the CSF, there is an invisible element I refer to as the ‘Breath of Life’. It is fluid within the fluid, something that has potency, and the thing which makes it move. It is an intelligent potency, something you can depend upon to work for you.” Dr. William Sutherland.
“The soul is the essence of being and life in the body, and functions through the brain and spinal cord. The CSF acts as a conveyor for ultrasonic and light energy. It is the liquid medium for this life energy radiation, expansion and contraction. Where this is present, there is life and healing with normal function. Where this primary and essential life force is not acting in the body, there is obstruction, spasm, or stagnation and pain, like gears which clash instead of meshing in their operation.” Dr. Randolph Stone, the creator of Polarity Therapy.
What happens during a session?
A craniosacral session can be different each time. Obviously it varies depending on the practitioner. But the way you are feeling emotionally, physically, what you are looking to achieve, etc. can also have an effect on how the session goes.
Most of the time, your therapist will start at either your head or your feet. By quietly resting their hands on your skull or sacrum, they evaluate how your craniosacral rhythm is moving in your body.
Some therapists onto a full body assessment to see if there are any areas of stagnant or slow energy. These areas of erratic energy are called energy cysts. They are areas that have absorbed past traumas into your body’s tissues.
Your therapist doesn’t use anything but their hands during a session. They will also use the bones of the sacrum and cranium as “handles” to gently manipulate the deeper layers of fluid and membranes. Nothing about craniosacral therapy is forced, it’s meant to be done at the clients pace. The therapist’s job is to listen to their clients body, assist them in releasing restrictions so the body can be restored to better health. The idea is that the practitioner works with so much gentleness and subtleness that the body itself does the healing and necessary adjustments.
You may feel some gentle rocking as the practitioner gently cradles the spine and the sacrum. Some do some very mild traction on the jaw or spine, or shift the bones of the skull and pelvis.
During a session you may experience any of the following:
- A quieting down
- A feeling of sinking in
- Deeper awareness
- Like you are dreaming while awake
- Experience memories
- Deep relaxation
- Meditative state
- Some people fall asleep
- Floating sensation
- A feeling of warmth
- A sense of integration of your mind body and spirit
- Increased energy flow
Healing occurs during the “still point.” This is the natural pause in the rhythm, the spontaneous quieting between the waves. They occur every 3-4 minutes and last less than a minute. During a session when you are entirely focused on the bodywork, they can feel like a moment of extremely deep relaxation and of letting go.
Because there are quite a few techniques to work with, each session can be an unpredictable blend of technique, connection and intuition. CS practitioners are guided by the “Inner Physician” of their client. This is the nonconscious intelligence inside of us that maintains complete awareness of our inner and outer workings. By getting in touch with this aspect of ourselves, we learn how to direct our energy towards optimal wellness. This creates an intuitive and creative process that allows the client to sink into their own space for healing.