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What is Craniosacral Therapy

By March 4, 2014February 2nd, 2023No Comments

As put forward by Jean-Pierre Barral, motion of the body can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Motion controlled by the somatic nervous system: This refers to part of the motor nervous system, through which voluntary movement is effected. You see it in the way a person walks, raises her eyebrow, uses her hand to pick up an item, etc. Striated muscle is contracted or relaxed to move skeletal structure, and this is the most commonly accepted idea of what body movement entails.
  • Motion controlled by the autonomic nervous system: This is usually involuntary in most people and includes movements we take for granted, for example diaphragmatic movement associated with breathing, peristaltic motion that facilitates gastrointestinal transit and cardiac movement that is repeated 120,000 times a day to ensure that “blood leaving the left ventricle is propagated via the arterial bed to the farthest capilllary of the most distant organ.”
  • Motion of the craniosacral system: The brain and the spinal cord are bathed in cerebral spinal fluid and moves at a particular frequency that is distinct from the respiratory rhythm or the cardiac rhythm.

In fact, this treatment has its prime focus on the movement of craniosacral fluid within the brain and the spine. Through refined sensory perception, the practitioner is able to detect stagnation to the flow, and via very mild technique, facilitate the body system in effecting a release that moves the body back toward vitality.

To quote Dr. John Upledger: “During our work at Michigan State University researching the craniosacral system and its evaluation and treatment, we were measuring the movement of the skull bones of live, but anesthetized monkeys. We could see the skull-bone movement very well and were recording it.”

“During this work, I got the idea that we could test whether or not we were dealing with a single and continuous hydraulic system from the skull all the way to the tailbone. […] We had our monitoring devices on two bones (parietals) on the top of the monkey’s skull. These devices were mounted directly on the skull bones through very small incisions, one on each side of the monkey’s head. All I had to do to test […] was to apply a very slight pressure on the monkey’s tailbone using the tip of my little finger. Within an instant, the movement of the monkey’s skull bones was stopped by my pressure on his tailbone. The pressure applied by my finger was just enough to overcome the power of the fluid production going into the monkey’s craniosacral system. […] I found that I could stop and start his skull-bone motion at will by pushing lightly on his tailbone.”

Most times, when you watch a practitioner providing craniosacral therapy, it appears as if he isn’t moving too much. That is true, because much of the work involves following subtle movements with hands or just being aware of changes in these subtle movements. The practitioner is interacting with your body system much like a massage therapist or acupuncturist is, although it may not appear so because he doesn’t seem to be moving. Clients who are more sensitive to these subtle movements may feel fluid or airy movements through the spine or skull or other parts of the body, or perhaps just sensation of increased blood flow.

What does the client do during the treatment? You just relax during treatment, better yet if you can refrain from thinking about other things e.g. your work or what’s for lunch; just lie on the bed ready to receive. The practitioner may put his hand under different segments of your spine. It is not necessary to ‘help out’ by moving your body to adjust to his hand(s) being there, although he will ask you to move if he needs your assistance.

Although most sessions are just implemented in silence, it is quite alright to feedback to your practitioner anytime during the session, if you haven’t already sunken into a deeper state. The practitioner may also engage in verbal communication during the session, depending on how the session progresses.


  • page 3-8, Jean-Pierre Barral & Pierre Mercier, Visceral Manipulation.
  • page 139-141, Dr. John Upledger, Your Inner Physician and You.

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