Dynamic Healing through Craniosacral Therapy

Overview of Craniosacral Therapy as a method

Craniosacral Therapy draws on the long history of osteopathy for its guiding principles and therapeutic strategies. It's a wonderful, holistic complement to many types of bodywork, clinical treatments (mainstream or alternative), and your individual self-care habits. The work is gentle enough to be appropriate for the very young, the very old, and those with fragile or complex conditions. To guide the therapist in clinical decision-making, Craniosacral Therapy follows consistent and powerful concepts, including the following:

Inherent Health / Ability to Self-Organize

Perhaps the most important understanding of craniosacral work is that we are wondrously complex beings with a internal wellspring of health. As a system, we have – through evolution or sacred birthright – the ability to self-organize toward resilience and health. 

Adjustment of the organism is constantly maintained by nature to insure health. This is most noticeable in the well-regulated functions of the body, such as respiration, circulation, secretion, excretion, nutrition, growth and all other physiological processes of the organism… There is not a single functional process in the human organism that does not require, and receive, constant adjustment and regulation. – Orren Smith, DO

We constantly orient toward our best health in the moment, on cellular, tissue or systems level. In biochemistry, we call it “homeostasis”; in gravity, we call it “posture.” We see this ability to self-organize toward health on the physical, the emotional, psychological and spiritual levels. Sustaining health allows us to live a full and vital life.

Structure & Function

Inherent health depends on, and is evidence of, a dynamic balance between structure and function. As one of my mentors, Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians, is fond of saying, "Shape matters!" We can see this relationship from the gross level all the way down to the microscopic.

All functional processes carried on in the body are dependent upon physical matter for their expression. We cannot breathe without lungs; the blood cannot circulate without muscular contraction of the heart muscles; sight is impossible without eyes; cerebration (thought) requires a brain and nervous system – all vital phenomena require a physical basis for their expression.

If, therefore, the expression of function is dependent upon physical structure for its expression, the degree of structural perfection will determine the degree of functional perfection. The body must be normalized, structurally, to produce a perfect expression of function. – Orren Smith, DO

When we examine anatomical structure, we find clues to its optimal function – how the bones move, how the sutures distribute forces, how the membranes coordinate pressure and mechanical strain. We use this anatomical map to show us strategies to support the body's self-organizing process. 

Movement is Life: Mobility vs Motility

The relationship between structure and function is most evident when looking at the types of movement in the system. We distinguish movement based on where its force originates:

Mobility is the ability of a structure to move when external forces are placed upon it. It is possible to say that one part of the body ‘mobilizes’ another, or that a therapist ‘mobilizes’ the client’s body. Bio-mechanical cranial methods often aim to mobilize structures, especially through decompression techniques. The degree of force applied by the therapist depends on the degree of restriction in the tissues.

Motility is the ability of a structure to move when internal forces are generated, also known as inherent or physiological movement. Motility is expressed in many ways, and in 3 key rhythmic cadences: cranial wave (or CRI, the shortest and most local), mid-tide (longer and systemic) and long tide (longest and transpersonal). In light-touch cranial work, inherent movement is echoed by the therapist with subtle engagement (~ 5-50 grams) and then enhanced through a variety of techniques. This light-touch approach is particularly effective in balancing the autonomic nervous system.

Listening as a Therapeutic Approach

Given that our health is constantly in motion and emerging from within, a key role for the therapist is to listen to that expression. Once we learn how to listen generously, without agenda or judgement, we are able to hear a full symphony of vitality -- unique to each person, changing moment to moment. Just like in conversation with a friend, our bodies know when there is someone listening well to what we have to share.

Touch is enormously powerful. Non-doing, ‘relational touch’, that listens without fixed agendas, supports coherent rhythms and order to emerge. There is a distinct quality of feeling a whole person...Aliveness is founded on movement, breath and awareness. 

The Taoist notion of order in the world as the ‘way’ of least resistance is deeply useful. Manifesting health can appear as elegance and non-striving in our interactions, coupled with a sense of letting go from within. — Steve Haines

While we learn to apply, with clarity and effectiveness, a variety of techniques, listening is a consistent stance of the therapist that allows for any additional techniques to be well received by the body or the psyche. Rooted in listening, the therapist can 'converse' with inherent health, so that sessions become creative, innovative co-expressions with the client.

'Yes, and': Perception / Assessment

We receive information about the client in many ways: sight, sound, smell, and importantly, touch. The special senses, historically, are identified as “objective” knowledge: knowledge existing outside us and can be verified through testing. As a society, we tend to label this way of gathering and confirming information as “logical”, “rational”, “scientific”. 

We also receive information from our diffuse senses (proprioception, energetic/field awareness, spirit). We can perceive colors, images, sounds, smells, emotions – much of what we call intuition or “subjective”. These channels tend to gather information from whole systems, often without sequential logic. Poetry, guided awareness and meditative states become doorways to access this kind of knowledge.

In Craniosacral Therapy, we consistently balance and integrate both kinds of information. During the longer training, we have the opportunity to clarify each track and develop skills related to each. For example, we use ‘objective’ information for assessments, and ‘subjective’ information for associative leaps of connection or relate to the client's emotions or beliefs about their health.

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Craniosacral is teaching me to grow my comfort zone, to trust and believe in myself. It’s also teaching me to slow down, be still and just listen, not just in my practice, but in my personal life as well. My entire practice has shifted and grown roots as a result of craniosacral therapy and the Core Series. — Jen C

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Craniosacral Courses

Follow these buttons for details about our trainings. Like walking along the shore, you can play at the edge of the waves, swim along the coast, or take a deep dive to discover a whole new world. When you're ready, you can make a fresh start!

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Receive a session!

One of the best ways to learn about a new method is to receive the work yourself. Follow this button to a current list of practitioners who studied recently with Lauren or earlier with Ursula Popp, LAc, VCST.

Each practitioner finds their own understanding of the Craniosacral Therapy. Some use it as their primary modality, others weave additional methods and skills. All are highly skilled. Feel free to use Lauren's name when contacting them.

Tap into Root Sources of Understanding

If you like to read, here are some of my favorite books about the history and development of these methods:

Autobiography of A.T. Still

AT Still: From Dry Bone to Living Man, John Lewis

Osteopathy and Swedenborg, David Fuller

Contributions of Thought, William Sutherland

With Thinking Fingers (Sutherland biography), Adah Sutherland

Life in Motion or The Stillness of Life, Rollin Becker

Ida Rolf Speaks, compilation of quotes

The Heart of Listening (Vol. 1), Hugh Milne

Issues in Structural Anatomy (collected articles), Tom Myers

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History of the Cranial Approach

Beginnings: A.T. Still

Contemporary Craniosacral Therapy is the grandchild of Osteopathy, which was established in the late 1800s by Andrew Taylor Still, MD. After briefly serving as a battlefield surgeon in the Civil War, Still became disillusioned by the state of medical practice at the time. Most physicians had little to offer patients beyond hydrotherapy, bloodletting, and tonics (increasingly made with higher and higher doses of alcohol and mercury). Surgery, before hygienic practices and reliable anesthesia, was a method of last resort with low success rates. 

A devout Christian, Still became convinced in the power of the body to heal itself. He believed health was a physical expression of the divine state of grace into which we all are born. Physicians, he reasoned, needed to amplify health in the individual, rather than focusing on the specific disease or injury.

Law of the Artery

Still's guiding proposition was: if the fluids in the body – the blood – were able to flow freely, then the body would be able to heal itself. He called this the “Law of the Artery.” A trained bone-setter (a method of manipulating bones and joints, practiced mostly by laypeople), Still reasoned that alignment of bones, joints and tissues was key to the free flow of fluids. Thus, he emphasized the interdependence of “form and function” – if our bodies are well aligned, then our function has its best potential for health.  (Contemporary chiropractic care is a direct outgrowth of osteopathy: David Palmer, the founder of Chiropractic, was a student of Still’s before Palmer left to begin his school, based on the “Law of the Nerve.”)

The next generation: Cranial Osteopathy

In the early 1900s, while studying with Still, William Sutherland had a flash of insight about cranial “form and function”. Then (and since) general anatomical consensus held that the bones of the skull are only pliable during infancy, after which the sutures in the skull fuse. Sutherland’s insight was that the cranial sutures remain pliable: their form allowing for functional, if quite subtle, movement. During his studies and early practice, he kept this insight, ridiculous as it seemed at the time, to himself.

Luckily his insight about sutural movement kept resonating: "Beveled, like the gills of a fish, to allow for respiration." Recognizing the detailed shapes of sutures, he reasoned that each type of suture would allow for a corresponding movement. Even though the movement is slight, the cranium is designed to transmit forces and subtly change shape. After years of privately researching this idea - giving and relieving himself compression patterns in his basement office - he started to share his findings. The assessment and interventions, known as Cranial Osteopathy, gained acceptance within osteopathic circles by the 1950s.

Contemporary Craniosacral Therapy - Two Streams

Since then, osteopaths and cranial practitioners have continued to develop this manual therapy – into working with children, working with the organs, the lymphatic system, the brain and nerves. In this landscape of advanced manual therapies, there are two primary approaches: biomechanical and biodynamic.

The biomechanical approach reflects Sutherland’s initial methods, looking at the dense structures in the system and seeing how their alignment and movement can amplify fluid movement (in particular, cerebrospinal fluid in the cranium). John Upledger, DO, was the first to coin the term "craniosacral," in reference to the work he began teaching to manual practitioners outside of osteopathy. (The term is used widely now to describe many styles, not simply biomechanical technique.) Upledger also contributed an understanding of the importance of the dural layers along the spine connecting the cranium and sacrum. Thus the term "craniosacral".

The biodynamic approach reflects how Sutherland was working toward the end of his career. He began to be aware of longer, larger patterns of movement. Balancing these systemic patterns supported the client's health on a deeper level, allowing the system to heal itself more fully and sustainably. Rollin Becker, DO, a once-student and colleague of Sutherland, shared in these methods and was the first to describe them in the 1950s. Later in the 1970s, the term biodynamic was adopted to align the work with trends in biology and ecology.

Both biomechanical and biodynamic approaches flow from the same principles of inherent health, form and function, and a listening approach to the body. They are effective when used alone, together or complementing other manual methods.

Expanding the Approach

Contemporary osteopaths and bodyworkers have applied those principles beyond the territory of the central nervous system. Jean-Pierre Barral, DO developed first Visceral Manipulation, which treats thoracic, abdominal and pelvic organs, then Neural and Vascular Manipulation, treating those tissues and vessels in similar ways. Bruno Chikly, DO developed methods for treating the lymphatic vessels throughout the body, including around the brain. Ida Rolf, though not an osteopath, pioneered a full-body approach to the fascial system in relation to gravity. Her approach draws on early osteopathic principles while applying them with innovation and insight. Thomas Myers, Rolfer and author, has refined the anatomical map, articulating a new appreciation for fascia, biotensegrity and the dynamics of form and function.

The beauty of clear principles is that they allow for continued growth and evolution of applications. We can receive the best of our elders while staying open to the vital, living work that arises when we interact, moment to moment, with our clients.