Understanding Craniosacral Therapy
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 Craniosacral Therapy (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.
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.
There are two main types of craniosacral therapy – Biodynamic, which is what I do, and Biomechanical – and I go into further details about these two approaches below. This short animated film explains more about biodynamic CST Introduction to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
I have also included a radio interview where I talk a bit more about my personal experiences of working with CST
It is the wisdom of the client’s body that is prioritised over the knowledge of the physician in biodynamic CST. 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.
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.
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 CST.
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
Here is the short history lesson about CST. CST 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…..
As mentioned previously, there are currently two main methods or approaches to CST: 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. However, broadly speaking, 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.