An image of the human head is shown, with the skull and cranium. the part of the skull enclosing the brain, highlighted, to illustrate the concept of exploring the human cranium.

“The Memory Palace of Bones” is a new book that is an unprecedented exploration of the anatomy of the bones of the body. It offers a set of reflections on the role each individual bone plays in our lives.  This book combines the anatomical expertise of the authors—David Lauterstein and Jeff Rockwell, DC— with their appreciation for the beauty of the body, presenting a unique perspective that values extensive clinical expertise as well as imagination as a source of wisdom and depth.

Here, Lauterstein and Rockwell each share an excerpt from “The Memory Palace of Bones.”

Visions of the Cranium

When I was young, my father brought me a coyote skull from Arizona. This skull became a kind of confidant of mine and lived on a bookshelf in our library. I loved its mysterious form, its complex curves and irregularities. Because it had been brought from its natural home to this unlikely residence, I felt a kinship with it, as a child of immigrant grandparents, as a Jew, and as someone who felt out of place in my family and culture.

I would visit the skull and ask it, “Brother, what are we doing here?” My deeper kinship with bones and anatomy began with this coyote skull. I have a coyote to thank for introducing me to the world of bodywork and to the wider and deeper knowledge of this whole Earth home.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, Socrates describes people sitting in a cave, staring at moving shadows projected onto one of the walls, mistaking them all for reality. (Anticipating the influence of cinema, TV, and internet images by over 2,000 years!) Rarely, a person emerges from the cave and sees the brighter light and the real world outside.

In our cranium, we find our brain in its cave. If we look from the inside, we might see through these bones faint lights passing through, illuminations coming through our sutures.

The cave of our mind narrates, names, and attaches concepts and stories to what we think we see. The light of the mind illuminates what we think is there, but perhaps it’s merely a projection on the cave wall of our minds. Our mind’s ear and voice seem to make sound. However, the voice in the mind, if we truly listen, has no volume, no actual sound.

All this results in the humility of knowing that the perception of reality and true sanity involve the lifelong work of coordinating what is “in here” with what is “out there.”

As a schoolboy, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke was introduced to sound recordings by his science teacher. Using cylinders, candle wax, and a bristle to act as a needle, they would rotate the cylinder when someone made a sound, and the bristle inscribed the vibrations of the voice into soft wax. When the wax solidified, they placed the needle on these grooves and the sound would be reproduced. Fifteen years later, while a disciple of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, Rilke began studying anatomy and became fascinated by the skull, especially the coronal suture between the frontal and parietal bones. He wondered what amazing sounds might be heard if they placed the needle on this suture—he called it the “primal sound.” Classic literature describes this as the “music of the spheres” or the “celestial symphony.”

Of course, when the needle was put to the sutures, the sound was incoherent and played like a scratchy broken record. Sometimes my mind does that, though: a broken record of consciousness plays certain useless thoughts over and over.

Still, these sutures have a lot to teach us if we listen. They articulate with each other like pieces of a divine jigsaw puzzle. Running in the sutures are connective tissues that sometimes diverge briefly into two streams, in which float tiny bones, the smallest sesamoid bones in our body, called “Wormian bones.” I am fond of these little islands floating within the sacred rivers of the cranium.

 Zero Balancing identifies certain joints between bones—like those between the cranial bones, the small bones of the feet and hands, and the sacroiliac joints—as “foundation joints.” These joints move very little, and have no muscle running from one bone to the other, and therefore they have very little proprioception. The movement between them is not voluntary and not conscious.

The purpose of foundation joints is not locomotion; it is, rather, to distribute and transmit force and energy through them. The bones of the skull protect the brain by each joint having just a little “give.” Thus, the force of a blow to the head is distributed in many directions, lessening the chance of injury.

This was evidently the problem with Humpty Dumpty and other cracked eggs—they didn’t have sutures!

How many creatures, how many mountains, how many rocks and bones and clouds accompany us, mostly silently, through what we call our lives? Let’s be thankful for all this accompaniment and for the grace of these connections. They are like the blood of time and space coursing through the universe, through the bones of our Earth and our own bodies, teaching us in so many ways how the light gets in.

David Lauterstein

About the Author

David Lauterstein co-founded The Lauterstein-Conway Massage School in Austin in 1989. He has been a therapist and teacher for 40 years and is the author of “Putting the Soul Back in the Body”, “The Deep Massage Book”, and “Life in the Bones: A Biography of Dr. Fritz Smith and Zero Balancing”. His background prior to bodywork was in music improvisation and composition. His teaching and writings reflect this, emphasizing manual therapy as an art as well as a science.’

Teachers of the Infinite

Twenty years ago, two of my best hiking buddies and I trekked for a week in Paria Canyon in Southern Utah. There were four humans and 10 llamas to carry our supplies, including 

champagne, ground beef and cold beer. One morning my friend Jaime pointed out something that was mostly still buried in the hard, red clay. We unearthed a perfectly intact deer skull that had probably been there for ages. We took turns holding it, caressing it in awe. Jamie told me it was a gift from the Earth and that I should take it, as I made my living working with bones.  

Humbled, I sat with that skull much of the remaining day. I knew only a little about craniosacral therapy at the time, but I recalled reading that living human skulls moved slightly. You can imagine my surprise when I felt the deer skull slowly expanding and contracting. Buried in the earth for who knows how long, it still felt alive. And, just like that, I fell in love; bones ceased to be something to “push back in place,” and instead became teachers of infinite, tender aliveness. 

Cranial Osteopathy, a branch of manual medicine, awakened in 1900, when a young William Garner Sutherland, DO (1873-1954), as a first-year osteopathic student, “heard” a skull in the anatomy lab speak to him. The school’s (and profession’s) founder, A.T. Still, DO (1828-1917), had placed a disarticulated human skull in the lab; as he was leaving for the day, Sutherland heard the skull say to him, “Beveled like the gills of a fish, designed for primary respiration.” His eyes were drawn to the temporo-sphenoidal suture, which resembles a fish’s gill. Still later told him he had been waiting for the right student to question if such bones did, indeed, move. 

The skull has two parts: the neurocranium, also known as the brain case or brain pan, is the upperfront and back of the skull that forms a protective case around the brain; the remainder of the skull is called the facial skeleton. 

In humans, the neurocranium comprises eight bones: one ethmoid bone, one frontal bone, one occipital bone, two parietal bones, one sphenoid bone, and two temporal bones.  

The ethmoid bone separates the nasal cavity from the brain. It is located at the roof of the nose. It is also one of the bones that makes up the orbit of the eye. It is lightweight and spongy. While ethmoid means “sieve,” it is the cribiform plate on the top of the ethmoid that most resembles a sieve. It is through this structure that the air we breathe through our nose) interacts with the cerebrospinal fluid, helping to give the CSF its electric charge. 

Some birds and other migratory animals have deposits of biological magnetite in their ethmoid bones, allowing them to sense Earth’s magnetic field. Humans have a similar magnetite deposit. Some clinicians (chief among them the osteopath Robert Fulford, DO (1905-1997), believe that these deposits are not vestigial but help the Earth’s magnetic field to enter the human body where it travels through and around the axial skeleton, giving rise to nerve plexuses, endocrine glands and chakras. 

The frontal bone consists of two portions: onecreates the forehead and one helps form the bony orbital cavity. 

The occipital bone, or occiput, overlies the occipital lobes of the cerebrum. At the base of the occiput is the large oval opening called the foramen magnum that allows for passage of the spinal cord. Through the foramen passes the medulla oblongata and its membranes, the accessory nerves, the vertebral arteries, the anterior and posterior spinal arteries, and the tectorial membrane and alar ligaments;each is a critically important component of the upper cervical spine. 

The parietal bones come together to form the sides and roof of the cranium. They are named after the Latin word for “wall.” 

The sphenoid bone is situated in front of the basilar part of the occipital bone. It resembles a butterfly or bat with its wings extended.

This bone helps form the base and sides of the skull, and the floors and walls of the eyes’ orbits. It is an attachment site for many of the muscles ofmastication. Numerous foramina and fissures are located in the sphenoid that carry nerves and blood vessels of the head and neck, such as the superior orbital fissure (with the ophthalmic nerve), foramen rotundum (with the maxillary nerve) and foramen ovale (with the mandibular nerve). Housed within the center of the sphenoid is the pituitary gland.  

The temporal bones are situated at the sides and base of the skull, and lateral to the temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex. They are overlaid by the sides of the head known as the temples, and house the structures of the ears. The lower seven cranial nerves and the major vessels to and from the brain traverse the temporal bone. 

The exact etymology is unknown, but it is thought to be from the Old French temporal, meaning “earthly,” itself derived from the ancient root temp-os meaning “stretched,” as in time. Soundwaves give us a sense of duration and tempo. This intriguing connection of hearing to distance in space and time reminds us:

As important as the bones themselves are the sutures separating and connecting them in a subtle dance of contact improvisation. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word suture has two meanings: 1) a stitch or row of stitches holding together the edge of a wound; and 2) an unmovable junction between two bones, such as those of the skull. 
 
Let us put to rest the notion that these bones and their sutures do not move. The first definition hides, yet also reveals, an important point. In a head-oriented culture, we all carry wounds held together by “sutures.” The wound, to my mind, is the myth of separateness; we are not interconnected and therefore somehow above or superior to Nature and its inhabitants. 

 
A suture is a “third thing, a pattern that repeats itself in the macro as well as the micro. The three stages of life; the beginnings, middles and ends of a task.

Modern physics tells us that time is not linear; rather, that past, present and future are all one thing. When I contact two bones and the suture that unites them, I celebrate the connection of two seemingly disparate things. Past and future heal into the present, and this “row of stitches” responds, opening into a portal where a new way of being becomes possible. 

Motion is essential to life, perhaps especially when it is most subtle. That motion has a language that speaks in expressive gestures and rhythms of a world that preceded this one. Where the original sin of separateness is seen as a form of insanity to be replaced by original innocence and the sanity of connection: this is the long song breathed into us by creation, a song that has no end.

Jeff Rockwell

About the Author

Jeff Rockwell, DC, has been passionately involved in the fields of chiropractic, osteopathy, and somatic psychology since 1979. He has been active in the areas of education, research, clinical practice and publishing He was Professor of Clinical and Chiropractic Sciences for 11 years at Parker University in Dallas, Texas. In 2016 he was named one of the chiropractic profession’s technique masters and was featured in a book of that title. He makes his home in Marin County, in northern California.

The Memory Palace of Bones book cover

These articles were excerpted with permission from “The Memory Palace of Bones,” published in March by Singing Dragon. The book may be ordered here.