A biodynamic craniosacral therapist works with the immense tidal forces and incredible stillness that are always present in the universe. As practitioners, we have learned how to sense and attune to rhythmic movements and fluidic flows of energy in the body, and through mindfulness skills and techniques, which are very much part of the support we offer and a crucial aspect of the therapeutic process, we orient our clients to their own healing resources. These healing forces are far more powerful than any physician’s knowledge or drug – which is not to say that we eschew conventional medicine – far from it. Conventional medicine has an important role to play and our work sits alongside it beautifully. Advances in science and medicine have also helped us better understand the workings of the human body from a physiological and embryological perspective – and our work is fundamentally body centred.
This short animated film, which Franklyn Sills helped me write the script for, will explain more about craniosacral therapy Introduction to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapists in the UK undergo an accredited training that usually takes two years of study. They learn first how to help a person feel calm and deeply relax, and then to attune to changes in the flow of energy in the body, both in its tissues and fascia. We learn to develop our senses, particularly our sense of touch – the human hand can feel changes as small as 1 micron (1000th of a millimetre), but we don’t normally learn how to use it, or understand how to orient to tidal rhythmic forces – which we call primary respiration.
The work is essentially relational – it is about our relationship with the client and with ourselves. We learn how to sense in our own bodies what is happening in the body of our client, and also how to calm and reorient ourselves to health and resources, connecting with our client energetically and with gentle physical touch. In this way the blockages that are held within our client’s body, as the recipient of the therapy, can be released. It is the wisdom of the client’s body that is prioritised over the knowledge of the physician in craniosacral therapy. The practitioner is like a reciever, hearing messages in the stillness, about what needs attention in the body of their client. This wisdom of the client’s body is called the Inherent Treatment Plan.
When our body becomes more resourced and connected with healing energies, we will find that we have more energy and painful symptoms simply resolve. The truth of this is what led me to train as a CST practitioner. I had been suffering with a painful arm – caused by a trapped nerve in my cervical vertebra. Months of trying other therapies and taking painkillers that didn’t really work or agree with me, had left me feeling rather despairing. I met with a friend who trained in CST and was very sceptical about the treatment. It seemed as if my friend wasn’t really doing anything – and I felt no immediate benefits – but the next morning the pain vanished – and stayed away. I was deeply impressed and as I embarked on my journey with this therapy I had a sense of discovering our connection to the life forces that bring us into this world. Craniosacral therapy helps us orient to our blueprint for original health. This understanding was also completely congruent with my embodied experience and understanding of what acupuncture does, and how it works, and I am so grateful to have knowledge about these two powerful forms of healing.
The idea in CST is that our energetic bodies go beyond our physical form – and we are in fact suspended in the tidal forces of the universe from whence we came. If this is beginning to sound a little cosmic – thats because it is. Life and the origins of it are truly cosmic and our bodies are made of the stuff of the universe – nothing more and nothing less. In acupuncture we would say that everything has Qi. I believe these therapies are both ways of connecting with and augmenting our own natural healing processes. This is my experience.
These diagrams by Cherionna Menzam-Sills are useful to show the ‘three bodies’ that biodynamic craniosacral therapists orient to. Its rather like tuning into different signals on a radio – they are always present – but most of the time we do not notice them. In biodynamic training we learn to attune to these energetic fields and to orient to stillness – where healing can happen.
Craniosacral Therapy – Clinical Applications and Research
Although craniosacral therapy is perhaps best known for its seemingly miraculous treatment of babies, its clinical applications have begun to develop further into the field of emotional as well as physical trauma. One project of interest uses craniosacral therapy to help army veterans suffering with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
There is also some promising evidence that dementia sufferers are experiencing benefits from receiving craniosacral therapy. The therapy, with not being reliant on talk, can be wonderful for autistic clients – both young and old – as well as infants. Babies may not be able to speak but they each have their story to tell if we know how to listen and hear them. The emergent fields of pre and perinatal psychology are increasing our understanding of human psycho-emotional development as well as helping us understand the language of babies – and we learn about all this in craniosacral therapy.craniosacral therapy or CST is an evolving discipline, and the work of neuroscientists like Stephen Porges, who discovered the SES – or social engagement system, is central to our training and work as CST practioners in modern times/present day practice. The discovery of the SES, which is associated with the cranial nerves – particularly the 10th cranial nerve or vagus nerve, has enormous implications for trauma healing. CST is a therapy par excellance for trauma work. We have moved away from the days when trauma healing was thought to be about catharsis and talking about the past – to an understanding that trauma is best healed through slower processes, skillfull holding of the client, and orienting clients to their resources. Trauma is held in the body, which is why a body therapy like CST can be an invaluable support if there is trauma – be the case of it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
Craniosacral therapy may also support and enhance the effects of other treatments, which is why I often combine it with acupuncture. I find these two therapies work synergistically – that is to say they augment each other and the combination of the two can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Origins and Development of Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy emerged from osteopathy with its founder being William Garner Sutherland who discovered an involuntary system of ‘breathing’ in body tissues that he believed was important for the maintenance of health. Sutherland found that the central nervous system, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes it, also have a rhythmic motion. He decided the motion was propelled by an inherent life force that he named ‘The Breath of Life’. Sutherland described CSF as liquid light talking about it as ‘a great river of life’. The motion he called Primary Respiratory Motion. This primary respiration is considered to be a crucial element of health by Craniosacral therapists.
Dr Sutherland developed his work during the 1920’s and began teaching in the 1930’s until his death in 1954. In the 1970s Dr John Upledger started to teach the work to people that were not osteopathically trained, and coined the term ‘craniosacral therapy’, as the therapy was previously called cranial osteopathy, which would not have been appropriate for those not trained in osteopathy to use. In the UK, osteopaths have ‘protection of title’, which means that non-osteopaths cannot use the title osteopath. If only the same were true of acupuncture! Literally anyone can insert needles into a person and say they are doing acupuncture – and this means that our conventional medical colleagues don’t need to train very much to offer this treatment on the NHS – whilst people who have done a degree level training cannot work to help patients in our publically health funded service. I digress…..
There are currently two main methods or approaches to Cranialsacral Therapy work: the biomechanical and the biodynamic approaches. It is not that one approach is superior to another any more than jazz music is better than rock – its a case of which you prefer and which feels more right for you. The differences are in truth subtle and hard to observe when craniosacral therapists do not actually ‘do’ much at all. The work is done in stillness. However, biodynamically trained craniosacral therapists orient themselves more to the underlying forces governing our body, whereas biomechanical practitioners tend to use more active manipulations and focus more on the results of these organizing forces.
Craniosacral therapists that are registered with the professional body – the Craniosacral Therapy Association have the letters CTA after their name.
I am greatly privileged to be supervised in my clinical work by Franklyn Sills who co founded the Karuna Institute. Franklyn has authored many seminal teaching texts on biodynamic craniosacral therapy.