by Paul Brown

The Healing Nature of Craniosacral Work, MASSAGE MagazineIt’s no secret that proper nutrition, exercise and living a low-stress lifestyle are among the keys to good health and longevity. If we pay close attention to these three cornerstones of our health, our body will reward us with vitality and well-being. Amazingly, even when our body gets a little out of balance—a sore tennis elbow, an irritating cold or an achy neck from a tense business meeting—we are each equipped with a high-performing immune system miraculously designed to heal our body and protect us from disease.

Unfortunately, the demands of our modern world often challenge our immune system’s ability to keep up. We get pulled in competing directions; work, children, phones—all challenge our limited time and attention. Stress has a way of creeping in, cutting us off from the precious life forces that lay at the root of our health foundation.

If we do not build and maintain the nutrition, exercise and stress-management cornerstones we need, then the sore tennis elbow, cold or tense neck becomes more serious and our health foundation starts to crumble. When this happens, we instinctively reach out to doctors to “cure” us. We fail to realize that nature has already provided us with our own miraculous inner healing force. My role as a craniosacral practitioner is to help you find a way to optimize your own healing force, so you can build a solid, healthy foundation or restore it if the crumbling has already begun.

Craniosacral therapy is a healing modality that grew from osteopathy, the ancient art of bone setting. The subtle art of precise and gentle touch is applied to correct imbalances in the fluid and membranes surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord.

Craniosacral Therapy is based on a particular understanding of human anatomy. Imagine your craniosacral system has a regular rhythm like the heart, only more subtle and slower. Just as your heart pumps needed blood to the rest of the body, the craniosacral system pumps important fluid (often referred to as cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) between your brain and spinal area. The CSF plays important roles in your immune system’s performance, including:

  1. Offering protective covering for your delicate brain tissue,
  2. Delivering glucose (a type of sugar that nurtures and cools the brain) to the cortex brain,
  3. Inhibiting viruses and bacteria in the brain, and
  4. Forming a transport medium between the blood and the brain.

CSF has a big job to do, but health problems (some of which I list below) can create an imbalance in the flow of the CSF, limiting health and clarity. However, if CSF is allowed to flow unimpeded, then the body has the opportunity to maintain or restore balance.

Proper performance of the craniosacral system and its fluids is essential and necessary to the entire central nervous system. Your central nervous system is a network of specialized tissue that controls the actions and reactions internal to the body, as well as your body’s adjustment to your environment. The crazier your environment, the harder it has to work.

The two main components of this system are the brain and the spinal cord. Think of your brain as a computer and the spinal cord as the cable. The spinal cord links the computer’s input and output to the rest of the body. Remarkably, your entire motor function, learning patterns and emotions are affected by the craniosacral system, as your whole body expands and contracts with the rhythm of the pumping fluids. This is where craniosacral therapy can improve the functioning of these essential self-healing systems.

A craniosacral practitioner can act as his client’s partner. The client and her body do the work, but the practitioner lends his knowledge and skills to help her. Together, the client is able to bolster her body’s resistance and improve how her central nervous system responds to stress and illness. When soft touch is applied to this system, clients can achieve incredible releases from long-standing restrictions, stress and tension. Craniosacral therapy achieves not only relief from physical pain, but also restoration of clarity and emotional wholeness as well.

Craniosacral therapy can successfully impact a wide range of issues, including:

  • Sinus pressure
  • Chronic neck and back pain
  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Stress and tension-related problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Facial and jaw problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Emotional difficulties and other recurring clinical conditions

If you have never experienced a craniosacral session, here’s what to expect: The practitioner will have set up a space devoid of any technology, noise or distractions. In my practice, I refer to this as the “sacred space,” because I strive to embody the philosophy that time and space are special, unique, quiet, restful and where stillness resides. Next, the practitioner will ask questions to try and understand what health or healing concerns the client has. To me, this is a critical part of the healing process because craniosacral therapy offers many techniques that can be directly customized to the client’s needs. My own approach includes following a form of Taoism, which is often referred to as “doing nondoing” to optimize a balance of stillness and movement within the body. This expression is used because not only are the skilled hands of the practitioner important, but also the perception, intention and intuition of the practitioner. By having a conversation first, we work together to find the best option for healing.

Next, the client lies on a traditional massage table, fully clothed, and the practitioner begins to apply a slight amount of pressure (about the weight of a nickel) to the craniosacral system. In my case, I draw on more than 100 different techniques from my years of training and use a precise, gentle touch to such areas as the brain, spine or other part of the body. Intuition, perception and intention come into play here, and I use these gifts to direct me to go to those places needing the most attention.

Once the body is in a relaxed state, craniosacral therapy has the ability to teach on a cellular level. The body knows this; that is, every cell in the body will remember the connection with the forces of healing, and the more the body remembers those forces of healing, the more it can allow itself to heal. For example, if you’ve had a stiff neck in the past due to stress, it is likely next time you have stress, your neck will get stiff again. The cells in your body remember and now equate stress with a stiff neck. This same cellular memory can be achieved in a similar, but positive, way by giving the body (and the central nervous system) an extreme and wonderful experience of deep and often profound relaxation. (It’s like an extreme makeover for your central nervous system.) The more the body remembers this natural state, the more it can allow itself to heal. Then, healing hands and nature will do the rest by assisting the healing of the client’s own ability to heal oneself.

By the time the clients leaved her session, she will most likely feel relaxed, refreshed and re-energized. Some clients even report “a reawakening of power,” as the body, mind and heart find their own profound medicine, the medicine of optimum health. Most of us have mastered the art of “doing” in our crazy, activity-filled world, but “being” is actually tougher, much more rewarding, and is truly a gift. Lao Tzu, the prolific sixth century B.C. philosopher, said “the source of all great movement lies in stillness.” I’ve often been awed by what the body can do when we give in to the stillness, when we slow down enough for the body to respond positively to its own healing ability.

Craniosacral therapy is now joining mainstream medicine as a complementary practice but I also view craniosacral therapy as a spiritual practice. Now, more than ever, we are witnessing a return to healing that encompasses the totality and wholeness of the body, mind, spirit and psyche. We are paying more attention to what we eat; we are looking for alternatives to drugs; and we are stopping to think for a moment before we make that call to the doctor. We are flexing the muscles of a deeper consciousness as we strive to experience what it means to live a healthy and authentic life. In many ways, we are reaching out to the spiritual roots of our healing.

In 2002, Paul Brown graduated from the Milne Institute, a respected international craniosacral program, and became a certified practitioner in craniosacral Work. He has been instructing Milne classes Cranial I and II nationwide since 2003 and helps students develop a sense of simplicity, compassion and patience in their craniosacral work. For more information, visit