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Q: “I’ve heard that craniosacral therapy really helps people. What kind of training would I need to start using it in a session?”

“Life expresses itself as motion. At a fundamental level of our physiological functioning, all healthy, living tissues subtly breathe with the motion of life – a phenomenon that produces rhythmic impulses that can be palpated by sensitive hands,” wrote Michael Kern, D.O., N.D., author of the book, Wisdom in the Body – The Craniosacral Approach to Essential Health.

Although many people in the United States equate craniosacral therapy with the Upledger Institute alone, the work on the presence of a subtle, rhythmic motion in the body was discovered by William Garner Sutherland, D.O., more than a century ago. Having been taught that cranial sutures are immovable, he took the revolutionary view that the skull and its seams are designed for articulation and subtle movement. After many years of research, he demonstrated the existence of motion in the cranial bones, according to Kern, and realized the motion of cranial bones is closely connected to an integrated network of tissues and fluids, including the motion of cerebrospinal fluid, the brain and the spinal cord at the core of the body.

In 1975 John Upledger, D.O., took up the study of these subtle movements of the cerebrospinal fluid at Michigan State University when he was part of a 21-person team looking for a noninvasive diagnostic tool. As a result of his research, he founded The Upledger Institute, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. According to Public Relations Director Celina Klee, the Upledger Institute has trained 40,000 CranioSacral therapists in North America and 50,000 practitioners worldwide.

Today, both the Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, in Ontario, Canada, and based on Sutherland’s work, and the Upledger Institute, provide the strongest presence in research and training of this gentle modality.

Scott Zamurut, a craniosacral therapist in Denver, Colorado, describes this modality from the Canadian organization’s viewpoint: “The biodynamic approach to craniosacral therapy works from the recognition that the subtle motions of the human body are generated as an expression of the inherent health and wisdom of the body. This motion can be likened to a slow, cellular breath that permeates our entire organism.

When the body is in tune with this inner breath, known as the ‘breath of life,’ we experience health and ease,” Zamurut continues. “The role of the practitioner is to facilitate the reorganization of the body, in places that are experiencing pain or disease, into unison with the breath of life.”

Mya Gayle Breman, L.M.T, has been a clinician for 12 years at the Upledger Institute, primarily working in the intensive program and in the HealthPlex clinic, directly with Upledger. She uses craniosacral therapy in her three professional roles as massage therapist, clinical social worker and in her role as therapist with Upledger.

“[Craniosacral therapy] is a hands-on modality that addresses the central nervous system,” Breman says. “It helps to balance the cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds the brain down through the spinal column that attaches to the sacrum.”

The work is extremely light, according to Breman. “We palpate the entire body using five grams of weight with our hands,” she said, which is about the weight of a nickel. “We read the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid through the fascial plane. By palpating this rhythm in different parts of the body, we can find core restrictions and holding patterns in the body.”

Breman says therapists touch various parts of the body, called “listening stations,” and then follow the palpated rhythm until it stops or changes.

“The listening stations are the ankles, the thighs, the midriff, the shoulders and the head,” she says. “By following the rhythm and noting when it stops, we believe it shows us something is going on structurally or emotionally in the body.”

Once a problem or block is detected, says Breman, the trained craniosacral therapist uses noninvasive techniques to assist and encourage a resolution and release. One example of an unblocking technique is for the therapist to send energy to the point of difficulty by using focused, directed will, Breman says.

Craniosacral therapy can be utilized in your practice for a variety of conditions, according to Breman. “In the intensive program we work with birth- trauma children, cerebral palsy, strokes and quadriplegics. We’ve had people come in who had no feeling in the bottom of their feet, and after the two-week intensive program, they have feeling in their toes. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t at least felt great relaxation, which is wonderful for things like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Judy Liu Ramsey, N.C.T.M.B, of Head to Toe Therapies in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been practicing craniosacral therapy for six years and is presently studying for an advanced level of therapy with The Upledger Institute.

She explains there are different levels of training toward a certification: two intensive trainings at the first level; two intensive trainings at the Somato Emotional Release level; pediatric craniosacral therapy, followed by two advanced craniosacral therapy classes.

Ramsey works with nine therapists in a group practice and says 70 percent of her own private practice is dedicated to craniosacral therapy, which she finds is a highly effective tool.

“The blockages that I can detect by laying my hands at the base of the client’s skull are frequently coincidental with areas of the body that are holding pain or trauma or dysfunction,” Ramsey says. “Once a blockage is detected, the therapist sends energy with a healing intention to the area of the blockage, thereby helping to release the block and free the client of pain – either physical, emotional or psychological.”

Ramsey explains the relationship between the body’s traumatic physical experience and an energy block, according to the Upledger way of thinking. “If someone has a very old trauma or a very recent one, like a trauma induced by a car accident or whiplash or emotional abuse or grief, this therapy believes that the body’s tissue is intelligent. It believes the tissue records, if you will, the trauma. The point of craniosacral therapy is to release that energy that truly does not belong in the body, the painful energy that is often the locus of the physical pain.”

A craniosacral therapy session can last from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half or longer, according to Ramsey.

Zamurut, Ramsey and Breman all stress that craniosacral therapy respects the body’s own wisdom in working toward the healing process, and that there is no forcing of therapy upon the client. “My clients are left with the responsibility of healing themselves,” Ramsey says. “With [craniosacral therapy], we work with the mind, the body and the spirit all at the same time. I rely heavily on having the body tell me where to go to treat it.

“It is an amazing adventure to be a witness to what happens on the table with this work,” Ramsey concludes. “I’m still amazed and in awe of the power of people’s bodies to heal themselves.”

– Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is a journalist and a massage therapist who specializes in manual lymph drainage and work with clients with cancer.

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