CranioSacral Therapy is a light-touch bodywork modality developed over the last 30 years by John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M., and taught through the Upledger Institute.

This recently developed modality is based on a philosophy of client-lead healing. The belief is that human beings have a tremendous internal healing potential, and simply need to be given the right encouragement, energy, and circumstance to heal themselves.0

A CranioSacral Therapist manipulates the body with a very light pressure, usually about 5 grams, or the weight of an American nickel. This is because more force will often cause the client's body to respond defensively, and because to truly let the client lead the treatment, the therapist needs to be constantly listening to very subtle rhythms and signals from the client's body and energetic field. A therapist skilled at the finesse of this work applies exactly the amount and type of intervention that the client needs (and is prepared to handle), and thus helps to bring about healing in the most constructive and expedient manner possible.


CranioSacral Therapy is based strongly in the concept that form and function are inseparable. If there is distortion in the form, there will be dysfuntion, if there is dysfunction, one can find a corresponding distortion of form. CranioSacral Therapy also follows the principle of correcting dysfunctions at their source, because if a problem is corrected at its source, the results are quick, complete, and lasting. Because of this, CranioSacral Therapists focus a great deal on releasing any blockages and distortions in the environment of the central nervous system (CNS).

The CNS is the control center of the human being. Distortions in the physical structure containing the CNS can lead to CNS dysfunction, which in turn causes dysfunction elsewhere in the body. Also keep in mind, the CNS controls not only physical functions of bodily movement and dexterity, but hormonal and mental function as well, and also seems to be closely related to the core of the human being in many energetic disciplines.

Inside the cranium and spine there is a three layered membrane system called the meninges. The outer membrane, called the dura mater, is thick and waterproof. It attaches firmly to the inside of the cranium, and to the sacrum, but (in a healthy person) has a great degree of flexibility within the spinal column. The brain and spinal cord float in a bath of cerebrospinal fluid within the meningeal membrane system. This is the highly controlled environment within which the CNS functions.

A CranioSacral Therapist, therefore, works to release tensions in the meningeal membrane system, focussing mostly on the dura mater. Once this membrane system is free of distortion and unnecessary tension patterns, the CNS can function properly, and thus many dysfunctions in other body systems controlled by the CNS resolve themselves spontaneously, without the use of drugs, surgery, or other harsh and invasive procedures.


An assortment of techniques are used in CranioSacral Therapy. At the most basic level, the therapist uses light-pressure holding techniques to release tension and misalignment in the structure of the axial skeleton1, especially the bones of the skull and pelvis, and then use the bones as "handles" essentially, to work on and release abnormal dural membrane tensions.

Contrary to common British and American anatomical doctrine, recent studies have shown that the cranial bones are not fused together in a healthy adult2. In fact, the cranial bones should be moving in a very slow rhythm, of 6-12 cycles per minute. This is called the craniosacral rhythm, and is thought to be caused by a rise and fall in cerebrospinal fluid pressure within the meningeal membrane system.

The craniosacral rhythm is very important to the practice of CranioSacral Therapy both as a diagnostic tool, and a therapeutic tool. A healthy body should be flexible, not stiff.3 Because of this flexibility, and because of the direct effect of the craniosacral rhythm (and the slight fluid pressure change associated with it) on the CNS, the subtle rhythm should be palpable (to the perceptive hand) anywhere on the body. If movement is impaired or completely stuck, this is a sign of an abnormal tension pattern in the body, which will most likely be related to dysfunction of some sort. This dysfunction may be minor, but if not corrected, even minor dysfunctions can eventually evolve into more serious problems.

The craniosacral rhythm is useful for finding points of abnormal tension in the body, and is also useful for knowing when the body is responding to the treatment. The craniosacral rhythm has been found to stop temporarily (referred as a "Still Point") when a significant healing process is occurring. Furthermore, it has been found that a still point can be induced intentionally, and that this will bring the body into a deeply relaxed state very conducive to healing4.

Another key component of CranioSacral Therapy is release of tension patterns in the fascial system of the body. fascial release is very important to many forms of hands on therapy, especially Rolfing, but the CranioSacral approach to fascial release is different than many other's in two important respects. In CranioSacral Therapy, attention is focused on several transverse fascial diaphragms throughout the body, and on the full body effects of fascial tension5, rather than specifically narrowing in on myofascia. The other difference in the CranioSacral approach to fascial release is no big surprise: Very light pressure is used to avoid having the body respond by contracting defensively6, and so the therapist can listen to the subtle pulls, pushes, and rhythms of the client's body. This is especially important when dealing with fascia, because a major role in the fascial system's function is to react quickly to defend against any invasive threat to the body, usually by contracting.

Though I don't describe them in depth in this Node, CranioSacral Therapy also involves various energetic techniques7 and extensive use of intent. When working with a very light touch and paying close attention to subtle messages and responses from a client's body, one starts to become perceptive of the electromagnetic field of the human body. Once this perceptive ability is refined, one can begin to understand physical as well as mental/emotional issues as they are represented energetically, and understand how intimately all three levels are intertwined. One also learns how to effect your own and other's energetic fields, through both physical manipulation, and mental intention.

There are various techniques involved in CranioSacral Therapy that I'm not yet knowledgable enough to explain adequately. These include SomatoEmotional Release, Therapeutic Imagery and Dialogue, Energy Cyst Release, and several others. These techniques delve much deeper into the energetic and emotional components of health and healing.


"CranioSacral Therapy" by John E. Upledger, D.O., F.A.A.O, & Jon D. Vredevoogd. M.F.A.
"CranioSacral Therapy: Touchstone for Natural Healing" by John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M.
The Upledger Institute Website:

Other Good Resources:

"Your Inner Physician and You" by John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M.
"The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality" by R. Louis Schultz, PhD, and Rosemary Feitis, D.O.

0 Human beings possessing a tremendous internal healing potential makes a lot of sense to me. Any biological entity capable of creating itself from a single cell full of genetic instructions, should have the potential to correct any non-aggressive problems that arise later in life, if given the means and nudged in the right direction. Aggressive problems (pathogens), may be harder to correct, but like the rest of the human body, a truly healthy immune system is impressively good at it's job.

1 This is very different from Osteopathic or Chiropractic joint manipulation, because CranioSacral Therapists don't use hi-velocity manipulations. Using 5 ounces of pressure, there is very little risk of causing harm, even for a relatively inexperienced therapist.

2 Though the movement of cranial bones is still a disputed topic in some circles, recent studies have found that in living skulls the sutures between the skull bones are not calcified; they can and should move slightly. It seems that British anatomists had only examined cadavers which had been dead for a long time, and had been embalmed. When microscopic examination was done on sections of suture taken from brain surgery patients very shortly after removal from the living body, the sutures were found to be full of elastic fibers, collagenous fibers, blood vessels, and nerve endings. Very little calcification was present. It seems that calcification occurs after death, and may be caused by the embalming process used to preserve cadavers. It should also be noted that unlike British and American anatomists, Mediterranean anatomists had not previously believed that the cranial bones were fused in healthy adults, and thus aren't at all surprised by these "new" findings. (I don't have exact details on this research, but for more information see the books listed below by John E. Upledger, and the Upledger Institue.)

3 Even bones are not as ridged as is commonly assumed - living bone has a rich blood supply and is strong but flexible, very different from the hard and brittle bones of long dead skeletons.

4 The deeply relaxed state of a craniosacral still point is associated with a relaxed tonus of the sympathetic nervous system. Hypertonus of the sympathetic nervous system diverts energy and resources towards quick physical and mental reaction to perceived external dangers, and is associated with high stress, and the fight or flight response. A relaxed sympathetic nervous system however, allows for more energy and resources to be given to digestion, waste removal, rest, and self-repair.

5 The fascia is what holds you together. It's a network of connective tissue sheaths, in which everything else in your body is imbedded. Fascia has a wide range of density and texture; when relaxed it's extremely pliable, but when it's tensed it can be almost as strong as tendon. When treating fascial restriction it's important to pay attention to the entire fascial system, because dysfunction in one area may be caused by an underlying tension pattern somewhere else entirely, which is pulling the rest of the fascial system out of line.

6 Sometimes a good deal of pressure ends up being used with this technique, but only when the therapist senses that the client's body is open to deeper pressure, and needs it to release a pattern of tension. (This is a fine example of client-lead healing.)

7 Human energetics is what most eastern healing modalities are based on, and I have soft linked to several nodes with information on classic eastern teachings on the subject. I realise however, that to many people these explanations are based too heavily on a largely empirical form of scientific research, aimed at finding out what works and refining it to work better, rather than the western scientific doctrine of seeking to know exactly how any given thing works. Indeed, westerners will often choose not even to believe generations of documented effects if they aren't given explanations of how the results were reached, within the pre-existing framework of western science.
Blind acceptance of remarkable claims, and blind refusal to believe anything works until western science has picked it apart, both make me rather sad. I have however, been quite impressed with the Upledger Institute's attitude in this matter. They are determined to conduct thorough research, because the deeper our understanding of any healing modality, the better equipped we are to use it in the most effective ways possible. At the same time, they aren't interested in belittling things simply because they are yet to be explained fully by western science. Things that can be shown to work, work. If they work, and don't cause harm, use them. In the mean time, we should be researching how to explain what we see in scientific terms, rather than refusing to admit what we see because it doesn't fit our pre-existing theories. This is the difference between believing in the scientific method, and believing in current scientific theory.
This is, as you may have guessed, a bit of an interest of mine. I plan to write more, both on the role of scientific research in healthcare, and on specific research relating to energetic based healing modalities, just as soon as I study these topics well enough to do them justice as their own write up or node.

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