Originally known as a biomechanical form (merging biology with the mechanics of the body), craniosacral therapy has a longer history than John Upledger, the modern osteopathic doctor often credited for pioneering the form in the 1970s. Inroads had been made in the early- to mid-20th century into how we use our hands to diagnose illness or imbalance in the physical body and to gently manipulate or encourage movement between the bones to unlock lesion patterns and restore health systemically.
Beyond Skeletal: What Is the Craniosacral Region?
Hugh Milne, a third-generation osteopath from Scotland has evolved the form beyond the mechanics of skeletal anatomy into the metaphysics and metaphors of the work. He folds an understanding of energy anatomy and how energetics influence single bones, as well as the relationship between them, to impact systemic health. Still another school of craniosacral therapy—called biodynamic cranial work—involves an even more subtle application, where focus shifts from musculoskeletal anatomy to fluid and nerve anatomy and the underlying energy that animates us.
[Read: “Reclaiming Energy Medicine.”]
“Cranial” is defined as of or relating to the skull and cranium and “sacral” means relating to the sacrum or tailbone. Craniosacral therapy therefore focuses primarily on the corridor from the head to the tailbone, including the brain, the cranial nerves, the spinal column, the neck, thoracic (middle back) and lumbar (lower back) areas down into the sacrum. As with chiropractic medicine or even yoga, craniosacral practitioners find that opening blockages and relieving tension through the spinal column has implications for healing throughout the entire body.
What Is Craniosacral Therapy?
A craniosacral therapist uses their hands to palpate or gently feel into the head, the neck, the spinal column or tailbone. An acute sensitivity in the hands, even the heart, and an awareness of the cranial anatomy enables us to diagnose what we call lesion patterns or torsions. This is where the body’s anatomy is not open and/or fluid.
These same hands are then used to encourage the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the direction of ease to encourage release and unlocking of an unhealthy pattern. Blood, lymph, energy—or breath of life/fluid tide as it is called in the biodynamic school of craniosacral therapy—are all potential layers of contact for restoring health where it is absent.
So, yes, there is a mystery to it. And a metaphor. There is subtlety, and, in addition to the rigors of an academic education required to perform the work, it requires both intuition and an engagement with consciousness. One is only able to engage with what one is able to see.
A craniosacral therapist is able to see and listen to the stories held in the cells of the bones and tissues. This listening is the medicine.
In the Milne school
of craniosacral therapy, this intuitive engagement with a client’s deeper archetypal stories as they are held in the bones and cells of the body is key to creating the anatomical alignment we all want out of our sessions.
Benefits of Craniosacral Therapy
Some say you have to believe in craniosacral work to benefit from it. When people suffering pain—neck pain, lower back pain, frozen shoulders, knee pain, and so on—show up for the work and leave feeling better, I have to suggest that perhaps you simply need to feel it to benefit from it. And to continue to feel it even after you get up off of the table and walk out of the therapist’s office—because the unwinding, as we refer to it, continues as you engage back in the life of the archetypal myths you’re living out.
Cranial work has the potential to work on multiple levels, including the musculoskeletal level where you feel aches and pains, the emotional level where you feel good or bad, and the spiritual level where you are dancing between your body and soul. It’s the awareness you bring that determines the benefits of craniosacral therapy for you.
So, yes, it can make the pain in your neck go away—literally and metaphorically—as the unwinding happens the through the multiple fields of your existence. That’s why some people notice that craniosacral therapy makes their knees better or it alleviates back pain, while others report an improvement in hormonal levels, cycles, and fertility, and still others say they’re sleeping better or having less sugar or alcohol cravings. Craniosacral benefits will depend on your focus, intention, level of awareness and commitment to seeing the work through. Finding the right craniosacral therapist for you is also key.
Discover more about craniosacral therapy for better sleep.