THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF CRANIOSACRAL WORK
extracts from ‘Wisdom In The Body – The Craniosacral Approach To Essential Health’
by Michael Kern, published by Thorsons/HarperCollins
“Worms will not eat living wood where the vital sap is flowing; rust will not hinder the opening of a gate when the hinges are used each day.Movement gives health and life. Stagnation brings disease and death.”
– proverb in traditional Chinese Medicine.
“My belief is in the blood and flesh as being wiser than the intellect. The body-unconscious is where life bubbles up in us. It is how we know that we are alive, alive to the depths of our souls and in touch somewhere with the vivid reaches of the cosmos.”
D. H. Lawrence.
Around the start of the 20th century, a final-year student of osteopathy, William Garner Sutherland, was examining a set of disarticulated bones of a human skull in his college laboratory. Like other students of his time, Sutherland had been taught that adult cranial bones do not move because their sutures (joints) become fused. However, he noted that he was holding in his hands adult bones which had become easily separated from each other.
Like the gills of a fish.
While examining the bevel-shaped sutures of a sphenoid and temporal bone, Sutherland had an insight which changed the course of his life. He described how a remarkable thought had struck him like a blinding flash of light. He realized that the sutures of the bones he was holding resembled the gills of a fish and were designed for a respiratory motion. He didn’t understand where this idea came from, nor its true significance, but it echoed through his mind.
William Sutherland set out to try prove to himself that cranial bones do not move, just as he had been taught. As a true experimental scientist, he reasoned that if cranial bones did move and that if this movement could be prevented, it should be possible to experience the effect. So he designed a kind of helmet made of linen bandages and leather straps which could be tightened in various positions, thus preventing any potential cranial motion from occurring.
Experimenting on his own head, he tightened the straps, first in one direction and then in another. Within a short period of time he started to experience headaches and digestive upsets. This response was not what he was expecting, so he decided to continue his research to find out more. Some of his experiments with the “helmet” led to quite severe symptoms of cranial tightness, headaches, sickness and disorientation. Of particular interest was that when the helmet straps were tightened in certain other positions, it produced a sense of great relief and an improvement in cranial circulation.
After many months of pulling and restricting his cranial bones in different positions with these varying results, Dr Sutherland eventually stopped this research, having convinced himself that adult cranial bones do, in fact, move. Furthermore, the surprising responses that he felt in his own body had shown him that cranial movement must have some important physiological function. Sutherland spent the remaining 50 years of his life exploring the significance of this motion.
Although most Western countries did not recognize cranial motion, this possibility was not new to other cultures. There are various Oriental systems of medicine such as acupuncture and Ayurveda which have long appreciated the subtle movements which occur throughout the body, caused by the flow of vital force or life-energy. This has also been traditionally taught in Russian physiology. Interestingly, anatomists in Italy in the early 1900s were already teaching that adult cranial sutures do not fully fuse, but continue to permit small degrees of motion throughout life.
Cranial manipulation has been practised in India for centuries, and was also developed by the ancient Egyptians and members of the Paracus culture in Peru (2000 BC to 200 AD). Furthermore, in the 18th century, the philosopher and scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg described a rhythmic motion of the brain, stating that it moves with regular cycles of expansion and contraction.
From an early stage, Dr Sutherland understood that he was exploring an involuntary system of “breathing” in tissues, important for the maintenance of their health. At a fundamental level, it is this property to express motion that distinguishes living tissues from those which are dead. Dr Sutherland perceived that all cells of the body need to express a rhythmic “breathing” in order for them to function to their optimal ability. Much of his research was carried out by combining a profound knowledge of anatomy along with an acute tactile sense. He started to realize that these subtle respiratory movements can be palpated by sensitive hands. He also discovered that this motion provided a wealth of clinical information.
An interconnected system.
Dr Sutherland recognized that the motion of cranial bones is connected to other tissues with which they are closely associated. The membrane system, which is continuous with cranial bones along their inner surfaces, is an integral part of this phenomenon. Significantly, Dr Sutherland also found that the central nervous system, and the cerebrospinal fluid which bathes it, have a rhythmic motion. The sacrum, too, is part of this interdependent system. Thus, there is an important infrastructure of fluids and tissues at the core of the body which express an interrelated subtle rhythmic motion.
As Dr Sutherland dug deeper into the origins of these rhythms, he realized that there are no external muscular agencies which could be responsible. He concluded that this motion is produced by the body’s inherent life-force itself, which he called the Breath of Life.
THE BREATH OF LIFE
“Think of yourself as an electric battery. Electricity seems to have the power to explode or distribute oxygen, from which we receive the vitalizing benefits. When it plays freely all through your system, you feel well. Shut it off in one place and congestion results.”
– Dr A. T. Still.
The inherent life-force of the body, the Breath of Life, was seen by Dr Sutherland to be the animator or spark behind these involuntary rhythms. Alluding to the source of this phenomenon, other practitioners have referred to it as “the soul’s breath in the body”. The Breath of Life is considered to carry a subtle yet powerful “potency” or force, which produces subtle rhythms as it is transmitted around the body. Dr Sutherland realized that the cerebrospinal fluid has a significant role in the expressing and distributing the potency of the Breath of Life. As potency is taken up by the cerebrospinal fluid, it generates a tide-like motion which is described as its longitudinal fluctuation. This motion has great importance in carrying the Breath of Life throughout the body and, as long as it is expressed, health will follow.
Expressions of health.
The potency of the Breath of Life has remarkable properties for maintaining health and balance. An essential blueprint for health is carried in this potency, which acts as a basic ordering principle at a cellular level. This integrates the physiological functioning of all the body systems.
Dr Sutherland believed that the potency of the Breath of Life carries a basic Intelligence (which he spelled with a capital “I”), and realized that this intrinsic force could be employed by the practitioner for promoting health. A similar concept is found in many traditional systems of medicine, where the main focus for healing is also placed on encouraging a balanced distribution of the body’s vital force.
The presence of full and balanced rhythms produced by the Breath of Life signifies a healthy system. As long as these rhythms are expressed naturally, the body’s essential ordering principle is harmoniously distributed. Therefore, this rhythmic motion is primarily an expression of health. Its existence ensures the distribution of the ordering principle of the Breath of Life, and its restriction can have far-reaching consequences.
This brings us to two basic tenets of craniosacral work:
1) Life expresses itself as motion.
2) There is a clear relationship between motion and health.
Primary respiratory motion.
Dr. Sutherland named the system of tissues and fluids at the core of the body which express a subtle rhythmic motion, the primary respiratory mechanism . As these tissues are not under voluntary muscular control, they are also sometimes referred to as the involuntary mechanism (or I.V.M.). Dr. Sutherland used the term “primary” because this motion underlies all others. It is the manifestation of the life-stream itself. Every cell expresses this primary respiratory motion throughout its life. Significantly, many different symptoms and pathologies which involve both body and mind are related to disturbances of primary respiratory motion.
There are, of course, other vital rhythmic motions in the body such as the heartbeat and lung respiratory breathing. Although necessary for the maintenance of life, these are considered “secondary” motions because they are not the root cause of the body”s expression of life. Without the Breath of Life there would be no other motion. Lung respiration or the breathing of air is therefore sometimes calledsecondary respiration.
This fact was proved to Dr Sutherland early on in his development of this work. During the days of prohibition in America during the 1920s, he was staying at a cottage on the shores of Lake Erie. One day he heard a commotion outside, when a man who had been drinking far too much illegal liquor was being dragged out from the water. By the time Dr Sutherland reached the shore, the man was lying on the ground. His normal life signs (lung function and cardiovascular pulse) had ceased, and all attempts to resuscitate him had failed.
With some quick thinking, Dr Sutherland took hold of the sides of the man’s head and encouraged a rocking motion of his temporal bones, in an attempt to stimulate primary respiratory motion. This worked; within a few seconds the man’s breathing and heartbeat started up again and he regained consciousness. This experience helped to affirm to Dr Sutherland the tremendous power of working directly with the Breath of Life.
Sustained by the Breath of Life.
The expression of the Breath of Life at a cellular level is a fundamental necessity for good health. If the rhythmic expressions of the Breath of Life become congested or restricted, then the body’s basic ordering principle is impeded and health is compromised. The main intention of craniosacral work is to encourage these rhythmic expressions of health. This is done by gently facilitating a restoration of primary respiratory motion in places where inertia has developed.
SPREAD OF THE WORK
“Nature heals, the doctor nurses.”
Dr Sutherland developed various therapeutic approaches to harness the intrinsic power of the Breath of Life and help resolve any restrictions to primary respiratory motion. He began to teach this work to other osteopaths from about the 1930s, and tirelessly continued to do so until his death in 1954. Challenging, as it did, some of the closely held beliefs among practitioners of the time, his work was at first largely rejected by the mainstream osteopathic profession. However, his clinical results in a wide range of cases were impressive and he began to attract a small band of osteopathic colleagues who wished to study with him.
In the 1940s the first osteopathic school in America started a post-graduate course called “Osteopathy in the Cranial Field” under the tutelage of Dr Sutherland. Soon after, others followed. This new branch of practice became known as cranial osteopathy. As the reputation of cranial osteopathy began to spread, Dr Sutherland trained more teachers to meet the demand. The most notable of these early teachers were Drs Viola Frymann, Edna Lay, Howard Lippincott, Anne Wales, Chester Handy and Rollin Becker.
However, even today, many osteopathic colleges still do not teach this work on their basic courses and so it is often studied as an option at post-graduate level. Consequently there are many practising osteopaths who do not use this approach. Nevertheless, in the last few years post-graduate training courses for practising osteopaths have become widely available.
Dr John Upledger.
In the mid-1970s Dr John Upledger was the first practitioner to teach some of these therapeutic skills to people who were not osteopathically trained. Dr Upledger had become drawn to exploring primary respiratory motion after an incident that occurred while he was assisting during a spinal surgical operation. He was asked to hold aside a part of the dural membrane system which enfolds the spine, while the surgeon attempted to remove a calcium growth. To his embarrassment, Dr Upledger was unable to keep a firm hold on the membrane, as it kept rhythmically moving under his fingers. He took a post-graduate course in cranial osteopathy and then set out on his own path of clinical research. Over the years, Dr Upledger has done a great deal to popularize craniosacral work around the world.
When Dr Upledger began to teach non-osteopaths, he encountered great opposition from many in the profession who believed that the foundation of a full osteopathic training is necessary to practise the craniosacral approach. Many osteopaths are still of this opinion, and it continues to be a cause of much debate and argument. However, many also believe that this work can provide an integrated approach to health care in its own right and need not remain within the sole domain of osteopathic practice. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: a good foundation in anatomy, physiology and medical diagnosis is necessary in order to apply craniosacral work with safety and competency. It also takes time and proper training to develop the necessary skills. It is an unfortunate fact that in recent years there are many people who have set up in practice with only minimal training.
Cranial osteopathy and craniosacral therapy.
It was Dr Upledger who coined the term “craniosacral therapy” when he started to teach to a wider group of students. Dr Upledger wanted to differentiate the therapeutic approaches he had developed and, furthermore, the title “cranial osteopath” could not be used by those new practitioners who were not osteopathically trained.
One question frequently asked is, “What is the difference between cranial osteopathy and craniosacral therapy?” Although Dr Upledger states that these two modalities are different, the differences are not always so obvious. They both emerge from the same roots and have much common ground, yet different branches have developed. A variety of therapeutic skills are now commonly used by both osteopaths and non-osteopathic practitioners of this work, so neither cranial osteopathy nor craniosacral therapy can be accurately defined by just one approach. However, in practice, craniosacral therapists often work more directly with the emotional and psychological aspects of disease.
In the biodynamic view of craniosacral work an emphasis is placed on the inherent healing potency of the Breath of Life. In this approach, the functioning of the body is considered to be arranged in relationship to this essential organizing force. This has practical ramifications for the way in which diagnosis and treatment are carried out. This way of working also has a direct link to the pioneering insights of Dr Sutherland. It’s interesting to note that during the latter years of his life, Dr Sutherland focused his attention more and more on working directly with the potency of the Breath of Life as a therapeutic medium. He saw that if the expression of this vital force can be facilitated, then health is consequently restored. Dr Rollin Becker, Dr James Jealous and Franklyn Sills have each added valuable insights into the operation of these natural laws which govern our health.
In the last 15 years there has been a huge increase of interest in craniosacral work. It is now taught and practised in many countries around the world. As this work is largely unregulated by law, professional associations have now been set up in many of these countries.