Cranial Healing

What is CranioSacral Work or Cranial Healing?

Dr. Sutherland

In 1899, Dr. Sutherland stumbled upon a revolutionary insight: a subtle, life-sustaining pulsation he called “Primary Respiration” permeates our entire being. Imagine our deepest essence rhythmically “breathing” with the motion of life. This inherent movement held untapped potential for healing and transformation, driving Dr. Sutherland to spend 50 years unraveling its mysteries.

Traditionally, Craniosacral Work (CSW) focuses on the intricate Craniosacral System, encompassing the skull, spine, sacrum, brain, central nervous system, and cerebrospinal fluid. But CSW goes beyond mere anatomy. It delves into the subtle rhythms of Primary Respiration, where physical structures subtly dance with life force.

By attuning to these subtle motions, a CSW practitioner can:

  • Identify areas of restriction where the Breath of Life may be impeded, potentially contributing to various health challenges.
  • Gentlely facilitate release of these restrictions, allowing the natural rhythm to flow, potentially promoting deep healing and transformation.

Benefits of CranioSacral Work

Craniosacral Work (CSW) offers a revolutionary lens on well-being, guiding us toward the inherent life force within. It whispers promises of transformative healing, urging us to listen and unlock vibrant health on all levels. But how does this translate into tangible benefits for those struggling with chronic pain?

CSW takes a “whole-person” approach, encompassing fascia, the central nervous system, fluids, and a vital force known as the “Breath of Life.” By addressing these interconnected elements, CSW can help resolve stress patterns contributing to chronic pain, including:

  • Musculoskeletal imbalances
  • Trigger points
  • Myofascial dysfunction
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Autonomic nervous system dysfunction
  • Stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties

Research provides compelling evidence for CSW’s effectiveness in managing chronic pain. Studies have shown:

  • Reduced pain intensity and improved functional disability up to three months after treatment (1).
  • Favorable effects on autonomic nervous system activity, suggesting improved stress management (2).
  • Statistically significant improvements in pain intensity, even compared to traditional massage therapy (3).

These findings indicate that CSW may be a worthwhile addition to standard care for individuals with chronic pain. It offers a safe and complementary approach, potentially fostering relaxation, reducing pain, and improving overall well-being.

From Mechanical to Mystical: Streams of CranioSacral Work

Following 30 years of research, Dr. Sutherland began teaching his revolutionary approach as Cranial Osteopathy. Initially, his explanation of Primary Respiration focused on the mechanical motions of the axial skeleton and fascia. However, his understanding evolved over time.

In later years, he likened Primary Respiration to the ocean’s tide, invisible at night but undeniably present. He hinted at its palpability, transcending the physical realm and resembling concepts like Prana in Ayurveda or Qi in Chinese Medicine. His final words, “Be Still and Know,” reflected this deeper understanding.

This evolution led to three distinct interpretations of his work:

  • Upledger CST: Emphasizes light touch and fluid dynamics.
  • Biodynamic: Explores deeper fluidic, emotional, and spiritual aspects.
  • Visionary: Focuses on subtle cranial movements and their spiritual significance.

Dr. Sutherland’s journey demonstrates the dynamic nature of Cranial Osteopathy, constantly evolving and adapting to new perspectives. His legacy continues to inspire practitioners to explore the unseen forces shaping health and well-being.

Demystifying CranioSacral Therapy with Dr. Upledger

In 1985, Dr. John Upledger, inspired by Dr. Sutherland’s work, opened the practice of CranioSacral Therapy (CST) to a wider audience beyond osteopaths. He built upon Dr. Sutherland’s foundation of the craniosacral system, but envisioned it differently.

Dr. Upledger proposed a bio-mechanical model where the craniosacral system is a self-contained hydraulic system. Imagine a protective membrane housing the brain and spinal cord, filled with cerebrospinal fluid that rhythmically pulses. This “tide” nourishes neurons and removes waste, crucial for optimal health.

His gentle, hands-on approach focuses on identifying and releasing restrictions within this system. These restrictions, caused by injuries or illnesses, can disrupt the fluid’s flow and negatively impact the brain, spinal cord, and ultimately, the entire body. By addressing these restrictions, CST aims to improve overall health and well-being. This therapy improves the health of the brain and spinal cord, which in turn, affects the whole body. (4)

Biodynamic Craniosacral

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).

Visionary CranioSacral

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

Craniosacral Work, inspired by Dr. Sutherland, flourishes in three distinct forms – each a unique expression of the innate “Breath of Life” pulsating within us. The core lies in cultivating deep stillness and refined perception to connect with this inner rhythm. This gentle touch therapy offers:

  • Healing benefits: Addressing physical ailments and promoting well-being.
  • Transformative power: Unlocking emotional and spiritual growth.
  • Inner development: Cultivating self-awareness and connection.

Respect for life forms the foundation, regardless of the approach:

  • Mechanical: Focusing on the body’s subtle movements and structures.
  • Energetic: Exploring the flow of life force within.
  • Reverence: Approaching with deep respect and love.

As Rumi reminds us, “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Whether seeking healing or inner growth, Craniosacral Work offers a unique and powerful path for all.

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.

Dr. Prana. LAP.,  DAOM.,  MBA.