What is CranioSacral Work (CSW)
In 1899 Dr. Sutherland was struck by an insight that there is an innate pulsation that resonates through our being and has life sustaining potency, or we can say that at the deep level, our whole being subtly “breathes” with the motion of life – a phenomenon that produces rhythmic movements, he called this innate pulsation as Primary Respiration and its life sustaining quality as “Breath of Life”. He spent fifty years in working out the details of relationship between mechanism of Primary Respiration and its potency for health and transformation. Traditionally CSW focuses on Craniosacral system that is composed of the cranium bones that make up the human head, the vertebra and sacrum, the brain, the central nervous system, the system of membranes inside the cranium and spinal column, and the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Benefits of CranioSacral Work
CranioSacral Work has proven to be a powerful modality in helping with chronic pain. CSW uses whole person approach through fascia, central nervous systems, fluids and vital-force called “Breath-of-Life”. CSW can help in resolving stress patterns contributing to chronic pain, such as musculoskeletal imbalance, trigger points, myofascial dysfunction, chronic fatigue, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. Research shows that CSW to be specifically effective and safe in reducing neck pain intensity and may improve the functional disability and the quality of life up to three months after the intervention. Particularly in chronic and recurrent neck pain, CST may be a worthwhile treatment option in addition to standard medical care (1). CranioSacral treatment had a favorable effect on autonomic nervous activity. Heart rate variability and the influence of craniosacral therapy on autonomous nervous system regulation in persons with subjective discomforts (2). In another research, ten sessions of craniosacral therapy resulted in a statistically greater improvement in pain intensity, hemoglobin oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure, serum potassium, and magnesium level than did 10 sessions of classic massage in patients with low back pain (3).
Three streams of CranioSacral Work
After thirty years of research Dr. Sutherland started to teach his work as Cranial Osteopathy. His explanation of Primary Respiration was rooted in mechanical motion of axial skeleton system and fascia. In later part of life he said to his students (in Pacific Grove, CA), if you live close to ocean and at night you may not see the sea but can feel the presence of the fluid tide. Hinting that the Primary Respiration is a palpable experience even though we may not see it. And it fashions the form of tide whose presence can be felt inside and outside the physical body, like Prana in Ayurveda or Qi in Chinese Medicine. Dr. Sutherland left us with his final words: “Be Still and Know.”
The evolution of Dr. Sutherlands’ explanation over fifty years led to development of three distinct streams of this work: Upledger CST, Biodynamic, and Visionary.
Upledger Craniosacral Therapy (CST)
In 1985 Dr. John Upledger D.O., encouraged manual therapists, who weren’t osteopaths, to study and practice CranioSacral Work. He focused on his work on Dr. Sutherland’s groundbreaking definition of the bio-mechanical model of the craniosacral system. According to Dr. John Upledger, “Craniosacral therapy is a very soft touch, hands-on method of treatment. It deals with what we have named the craniosacral system which is composed of a membrane that is waterproof that encases the brain and spinal cord and carries within it cerebrospinal fluid. The pressure and volume of the fluid go up and down. That makes it a hydraulic system, which needs to be free to move all the time because the fluid should be moving and bringing nutrients to all the neurons and taking away wastes and so forth. With Craniosacral therapy, we have several entries into this system–most of them through bony attachments or through direction of energy or pulling of fascia–for alleviating any restrictions that might have accumulated due to injuries or illnesses. This therapy improves the health of the brain and spinal cord, which in turn, affects the whole body (4).”
In ‘Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy’ (5), Dr. Sutherland says, “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 this fluid, something that does not mix, something that has potency as the thing that makes it move. Is it necessary to know what makes the fluid move? Visualize a potency, an intelligent potency, that is more intelligent than your own human mentality. You know from your experience as the patient that the Tide fluctuates; it ebbs and flows, comes in and goes out, like the tide of the ocean. You will have observed its potency and also its Intelligence, spelled with a capital ‘I’. It is something that you can depend upon to do the work for you. In other words, don’t try to drive the mechanism through any external force. Rely upon the Tide. “
The expression of Breath of Life as a fluid within this fluid that has “Intelligence” with a capital “I”, created a following of Biodynamic Craniosacral that incorporates both his scientific research and metaphysical views. The Biodynamic Craniosacral practices are based on Dr. Sutherland teachings from later part of his life. The term biodynamic was first used in cranial osteopathy by Dr. Rollin Becker, D.O. Dr. Becker defined biodynamic energy as the “bioenergy of wellness,” another synonym for the Breath of Life (6). Dr. Becker and Dr. James Jealous, D.O., are considered pioneers of Biodynamic Craniosacral work. The focus of a Biodynamic Craniosacral is Primary Respiration and its innate intelligence.
Along with the understanding of anatomy, practitioner cultivates the perception of fluid body, and Primary Respiration. Charles Ridley, founder of dynamic stillness, says in his school of thought, the practitioner does not treat. Instead, the practitioner senses and cooperates with the movement of health as it is directed by the client’s primary respiration. In his book, ‘Stillness: Biodynamic Cranial Practice and the Evolution of Consciousness’, Ridley presents each cranial enfoldment, or tide, as a level of human consciousness, as accessed by resting in heart perception. (7).
A visionary is someone who trusts what they perceive outside and what they sense inside, and values both equally (8). The beginnings of Visionary Craniosacral (VCSW) are rooted in 1967, when Hugh Milne’s, DO, was an osteopathic student, he had experiences of inner-eye perception. “What most touched me as I read Sutherland’s work was when he wrote of his own teacher, Andrew Taylor Still: ‘He could look right through you and see things, and tell you things, without even putting a hand upon the body. I have seen him do that! Time and time again.’” Milne says those words spoke to him. “It touched me because things like that had happened to me, and it took me years to find teachers to help me understand it. I think that this aspect of the work can and must be taught (9). “
Hundred ways to kiss the ground
All three bodies of Craniosacral Work inspired by Sutherland continue to evolve. It is gentle touch work that engages “Breath of Life” and its pulsation that is resonating through our being. Cultivating perception and stillness to be in touch with innate pulsation of primary respiration is the core aspect of this work. It is known for its healing benefits, transformative power and inner development. Its foundation is based on a profound respect for life and it is an effective healing work irrespective of whether one approaches as a mechanical art, as an energy work, or as a sense of reverence and love. Rumi, the 14th CE Persian mystic, reminds that,” there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” In addition to healing benefits anyone interested inner development can also benefit from learning and practicing this work.
2. Wanda Girsberger, Ulricke Bänziger, Gerhard Lingg, Harald Lothaller, Peter-Christian Endler; Journal of Integrative Medicine, May 2014, Vol.12, No.3
5. Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy Hardcover – 2003, by D.O. William Garner Sutherland, pg14.
6. “I named the bioenergy of wellness or health as “biodynamic energy.” Rollin E. Becker, D.O., Life In Motion, pg213.
7. Stillness: Biodynamic Cranial Practice and the Evolution of Consciousness. Charles Ridley.
8. The Heart of Listening: A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work, by Hugh Milne. ISBN-13: 978-1556432798.
Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Herbalist and teacher of Ayurveda and CranioSacral Work. Over thirty years studying and practicing healing work in the lineage of the Siddha tradition. Traveled extensively through the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, and India, to learn meditative and healing practices. In his healing practice, he integrates Siddha Ayurveda, Craniosacral work and Chinese Medicine to offer personalized healing services for wellness and transformation.