Understanding Craniosacral Work

Regina Callahan, LMT

I am often asked “What is Craniosacral Therapy?” The next question is typically “Why would someone seek out Craniosacral Therapy?” This article attempts to explain this multi-faceted therapy by addressing these two questions. Craniosacral Therapy (CST) has a long history of development, is complex, and volumes have been written to describe this healing technique. This article is intended to present the basic concepts as an introduction for the curious mind.

CST is a holistic healing approach using sensitive hands-on-bodywork to enhance the body’s natural healing capabilities based in the craniosacral system. The craniosacral system extends from the bones of the skull and face (cranium) to the tailbone (sacrum). It consists of membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

The craniosacral system maintains the environment in which the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) functions. The central nervous system controls or influences our key bodily functions. The role of the craniosacral system in the development and performance of the brain and spinal cord is so fundamental that an imbalance or dysfunction in it can cause sensory, motor, or neurological disabilities

Like the cardiovascular system, the craniosacral system has an inherent rhythm or wave that can be felt throughout the body. Every condition affecting a person influences this movement, often creating restrictions to this healthy flow. When the cranial wave is distorted or diminished, it may for example, limit our life force, or “chi”, lower the strength of the immune system, and inhibit optimal functioning of our endocrine system. When the cranial wave is optimized, we feel unified in ourselves and have a sense of well-being.

One of the foundational beliefs of CST is that the health in a person is never lost. There is an inherent intelligence, an optimal blueprint of health. The body, mind, and spirit operate as a unified whole, continually working to heal. Within every injury and illness there is an “inherent treatment plan” or a self-correcting mechanism. In a craniosacral session, we hold that “sacred space,” calling forth the health in the system.

The hands-on work is subtle and gentle, using a touch generally no heavier than the weight of a nickel. The craniosacral practitioner, centered and still, uses trained and sensitive touch, listens deeply to the fluctuations of the craniosacral wave. Following the cues from the client’s body, the practitioner helps the body release restrictions that it has been unable to overcome on its own and that inhibit the body’s normal self-corrections. CST is useful as both a primary treatment method and combined with other traditional or complementary techniques.

I have categorized three main areas in which someone might seek out and benefit from CST. There is some overlap among these three areas, but for the sake of clarity, I will explain each separately.

Symptom/Pain Relief

Most often clients seek out CST for relief from pain or other symptom. CST can benefit those suffering from headaches, migraines, neck pain, low-back pain, whiplash, Bell’s palsy, jaw pain or dysfunction, and learning difficulties. Among CST’s largest patient groups are those suffering from chronic symptoms that haven’t been aided by other approaches. Often, when symptoms remain after a head impact or whiplash injury this work may be the key to restoring function.

Other conditions for which Craniosacral Therapy has shown to be effective are sensory disorders. Among these are eye-motor coordination, autism, dyslexia, loss of taste or smell, tinnitus, vertigo and neuralgias such as sciatica and tic douloureux.

Women who are preparing to give birth can benefit from CST. Sometimes women who are pregnant experience back pain, hip pain, sciatica, or pain in her sacrum or perineum. There are craniosacral techniques that release and balance restrictions in the pelvis and spine. Unwinding the tension in the muscles and surrounding soft tissue can be relieving and sometimes help to ease labor.

The extremely light touch involved in the application of CST makes it a safe approach for children, infants, and newborns with early traumas, including birth trauma. They especially can benefit from early identification and release of restrictions in the craniosacral system, thereby preventing future difficulties, such as learning disabilities or hyperactivity.

Situations where application of CST would not be recommended include conditions where a variation or slight increase in intracranial pressure would cause instability. Acute aneurysm, cerebral hemorrhage, or other preexisting severe bleeding disorders are examples of conditions that could be affected by small intracranial pressure changes.

Stress Relief and Wellness

Another area of principal effectiveness is with stress-related responses in the body. Stress can cause health problems or make existing problems worse. Under stress, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system becomes stimulated. The body releases hormones to prepare you for “fight or flight.” Under these conditions, there is increased muscle tone, heart rate, and blood pressure, changes in the digestive process, and suppression of the immune system.

The body expends significant energy during this stage but has no chance to refuel and rebuild. Insomnia, chronic fatigue, fear, anxiety and tension, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, headaches, and poor digestion are possible reactions of the body to chronic stress. It can also cause behaviors that contribute to the development of disease. Many people respond to stressful events by overeating, eating an unhealthy diet, smoking, and increasing alcohol consumption or drug use, all of which place further stress on the body.

Craniosacral Therapy works to reverse the debilitating effects of stress by providing the conditions in which the nervous system can rest, rejuvenate, and come back into balance–bolstering overall health and resistance to disease. In fact, it’s this capacity to reduce stress that’s leading an increasing number of people to include CST as part of their personal wellness program. They report having more energy, sleeping better, being sick less often, and increased ability to deal with everyday stress.

Craniosacral Therapy is also excellent as a preventive therapy, because it can facilitate the resolution of imbalances within a client’s system that they may not be aware of consciously.

Personal Growth and Spiritual Path

After a session many clients report how relaxed they are. “I wasn’t sleeping. I was aware of everything around me, but I was very relaxed.” They were likely experiencing a level of deep meditation.

Many forms of meditation result in the clearing of one’s mind which promotes a sense of calm and heightened awareness. During meditation, the brain’s activity alters significantly. The most well-known brain waves evident during many kinds of meditation are called alpha waves. Alpha waves accompany relaxation of the entire nervous system. Gamma, delta, and theta brain waves accompany other types of meditation and are associated with various altered states of consciousness. Scientific studies show that the regular practice of meditation can be a powerful healing tool.

Receiving Craniosacral Therapy can be used as a tool for personal and spiritual growth. The deeply meditative and calming experience is a way to gain deeper access into a more essential state of being. Craniosacral Therapy helps clients access their own clarity and insight; hence it is used not only to relieve pain, but also to help empower the client to deal with many different life situations.

As you can now imagine, Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle yet powerful technique for allowing the body to access its inherent blueprint of optimal Health. Craniosacral Therapy is beneficial for anyone seeking wholeness in body, mind, and spirit.