What is Craniosacral Bodywork?

Craniosacral Bodywork (CSB) is an awareness and process oriented, hands-on therapy that is designed to help your central nervous system and whole body function better. CSB does this by facilitating the removal of stress, tension and trauma from the connective tissues surrounding your brain, spinal chord and whole body.

The Philosophy of CSB is that the body is a self-correcting machine and if we bring it into stillness and allow it to self-correct, it will. A CS Therapist is only here to facilitate and support the body’s ability to heal itself, not to fix it or do the healing for it. The client must have an open mind and willingness to engage their body’s ability to heal.

What Happens During a session?

Initially, we will discuss your goals and health history before your session begins. CST takes place on a massage table, fully-clothed, and last 60-90 minutes. During treatment, I use a gentle touch (at various locations) to follow your CranioSacral rhythm and connective tissue patterns to assess imbalances, weakness and strain. Wherever the body’s wisdom tells me to work (What I call the Significance Indicator) I employ a variety of techniques to assist in the removal of those things.

Many people use CST for stress reduction and to boost health and immune function. For specific or chronic health concerns, understand that tension patterns take time to build and need time to release…especially if they’ve been active for years (or decades)! A series of 3 to 5 sessions generally ensures progress, and will indicate if continued treatment is warranted.

You can learn about the History of CSB in the paragraphs below.


Dr. Andrew Taylor Still

Andrew Taylor Still, M.D.Craniosacral Therapy has its roots in the work of Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. (1828-1917). The third of nine children, his father was a Methodist preacher and physician who instilled in Andrew the beliefs that all men were created equal and that alcohol abuse could lead to destructive ends. By 1861, Andrew was married with three children and living in Kansas. The American Civil War was underway and Andrew enlisted as a doctor where he saw firsthand the horrors of war. During this time, an epidemic of meningitis swept through the country and wiped out his family. One question that haunted A.T. Still was whether the meningitis itself or the mercury based medication- mercury chloride- chosen to treat the disease was the deciding factor which killed his family. His inability to help his family, plus the horrors he witnessed in the war and its aftermath, seeing so many men in so much pain and suffering addicted to morphine and/or alcohol, brought about a recognition that there must be a better way of treating the sick and dying. The loss of his family devastated Andrew and placed him in a severe depression. During this time, he had new insights that were based on nature and natural laws. Andrew, even as a young boy, was fascinated by the anatomy of animals and the function of machines, which led him later to delve deeper into anatomy and physiology and the relationship of form and function that would be the foundation of his new system of healthcare he would later call Osteopathy.

As time passed, Andrew grew to reject the common practices of doctors of his day, such as frequent amputations and the over-prescribing of drugs. As he continued to explore the anatomy and mechanics of the human body, he realized the inter-relationship of the whole person with its parts, that form and function were intimately connected and that the body had the ability to self regulate and self heal. While Andrew became more outspoken about his new found convictions of healthcare, many of his fellow doctors felt the system was fine and nothing needed to change. This led to considerable opposition to what he was proposing. Even his brothers, also doctors, were embarrassed that he questioned the conventional medical wisdom of the day and the Methodist Church felt his methods of hands-on healing were sacrilegious. Andrew’s quest to establish his new form of medicine and have a decent practice in a town to support his family was to be severely challenged. If not for his wife’s unfailing support, his sense of spirituality and his conviction that he could help his fellow man in a better way, he would surely have fallen into great despair. A common theme that would be repeated for Dr. Still was that he would move to a new town, set up a practice, the other doctors would complain that he was healing people with his hands and not using drugs, which would hurt their business, they would talk to the church ministers, who would then say that his work must be from the devil, and he would eventually be run out of town once again. This became more and more difficult for Andrew to bear since each town he went to he hoped for a better reception, invested his time to build a practice and now had a new family to which he was financially responsible. After he moved to Kirksville, Missouri he worked on a local preacher’s daughter and after restoring her health, people welcomed Still’s new brand of medicine. By 1885, at the age of 57, word started to spread about Dr. A.T. Still’s drugless, manual medicine, now called Osteopathy, which had helped many apparently hopeless cases. Going back to anatomy and physiology, he believed by correcting structural imbalances in the musculoskeletal system, that most diseases could be cured by restoring blood flow and nerve force back into the person.

As his success grew, Andrew realized he needed more help to treat all the people who were now coming to him. His practice created so much business in the town for the hotels, Kirksville embraced the Still’s which was something very foriegn for them. On October 3, 1892, at the age of 64, Andrew decided to open the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri with great opposition from the Missouri Medical Association. People had always told Dr. Still that what he did was special and that it could not be taught, and that when he died, so would his special kind of medicine. But Andrew had children and other doctors that came to him that were interested in learning osteopathy. A problem he faced was gathering medical faculty who would be open to his new ideas. He found one such doctor and with the help of William Smith, M.D., the first graduating class included 21 students- five women, sixteen men, three of whom were Still’s own children. One of the students, a man named Struthers, returned to the school in 1893 with a Canadian gentleman who was very interested in Still’s work. This man’s name was Dr. Daniel David Palmer, who was practicing medicine in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer came specifically to take treatment from Dr. Still and his students and had many conversations with Dr. Still over the next few weeks. D.D. Palmer returned to Iowa and in 1897, started his own school of manipulative medicine that he called chiropractic. Palmer realized early on that Still faced a growing conflict in his own school by the staff of M.D.’s, who from the very beginning, wanted to bring medications and drugs into osteopathy curriculum. Very few American osteopaths today in the 21st century practice in the traditions of Dr. A.T. Still. However, Dr. Palmer’s vision of manipulative medicine has actually stayed truer to the fundamentals of Dr. Still’s vision of osteopathy than osteopathy itself. Dr. Still realized that the one year training at that time was insufficient to prepare the students for an osteopathic practice, so the program went to two years. The next set of problems they faced was finding the right doctors who were keen on learning osteopathy and teaching at the new school, bigger facilities and more student housing. As popularity continued to grow in osteopathic medicine, the school expanded along with the faculty and little by little, legislation was passed in the United States to allow doctors of osteopathy (D.O.’s) to practice side by side with M.D.’s. In 1917, at the age of 89, the “old doctor” passed away, leaving behind him a legacy of over 3,000 osteopathic physicians at that time. Osteopathic training became a 4- year program just like allopathic medicine and right after Dr. Still died, they introduced drugs and medications into the osteopathic curricula for which Dr. Still had fought so long and hard to keep out.

In the United States, A.T. Still was the first to identify the human immune system and develop a system to stimulate it naturally. He was the first to openly accept women and minorities into his schools of Osteopathy, believed that the body was holistic and that a disease process in one part of the body could affect another part, and predicted that the United States would have a major drug problem if physicians did not stop over-prescribing addictive drugs.

Dr. William Garner Sutherland

William Garner Sutherland, D.O. William Garner Sutherland, D.O. (1873-1954) is credited as the originator of osteopathy in the cranial field, commonly known as Craniosacral Therapy. Sutherland was born in Wisconsin; his father was a blacksmith and his mother a homemaker. He was the third of four children and as a child, had a curious and insightful mind. He was very interested in how things worked and at a young age, took a job as a newspaper reporter. Sutherland would often comment that this gave him a critical eye toward information without prejudice or emotion. Will was asked by the paper to do a story on Dr. Still’s drugless manual therapy. So impressed by what he saw in Kirksville, that in 1898 at the age of 25, Sutherland enrolled in A.T. Still’s School of Osteopathy, which was a 2-year program by this time. While a student there, he became fascinated with the idea of form and function. Looking at a disarticulated skull where the sphenoid and temporal bones articulated, Sutherland noticed it appeared to him as the gills of a fish, and the thought struck him that it was designed for motion. When Sutherland asked Still if the head had motion available, Still replied, “It has to, to be able to accommodate for movement.” Sutherland realized that if the bones of the skull were designed for motion, then restrictions would inhibit health, which would lead eventually to pain and disease. Using Still’s osteopathic model, Sutherland pursued his interest in testing his ideas on skull motion by courageously performing experiments on himself. After many years of trial and error he was confident enough to use these techniques on his patients with great success.

William Garner Sutherland, D.O. In 1927, Dr. Sutherland married Adah Strand, who was a tremendous support to him and encouraged him to get this important work out to his colleagues. By the mid 1930’s, Sutherland’s work became more refined. His interest now moved beyond bone and into fascial membranes, the central nervous system and the cerebrospinal fluid and its influence all the way to the sacrum. In an extemporaneous talk entitled “A Tour of the Minnow”, first presented in the late 1940′s, Dr. Sutherland took listeners on an imaginary tour through the living brain and asked the practitioner to pay attention to key anatomical landmarks inside and out of the brain and spinal cord. What Sutherland talked about was subtle and required discipline and patience to acquire, and because of this, people again were quick to criticize his work. However, his clinical results were now so dramatic and interest from colleagues growing that he continued to move forward with his work. By the mid 1940’s, Sutherland starts utilizing lighter and more delicate forces in his work and had the awareness that when fluids are inhibited, this had an effect on the entire central nervous system and thus, the body. By 1946, Sutherland’s work had now attracted such a large following that an organization was begun known as the Cranial Academy, which promoted continued research in the field of osteopathy. By 1953, Will established the Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation as an organization to continue the teachings of his cranial work. In 1954, at the age of 81, W.G. Sutherland, D.O., passed from this world, leaving a legacy of important work for people to discover for many years to come.

Dr. Harold Ives Magoun

Harold I. Magoun, Sr., D.O., F.A.A.O.Harold I. Magoun, Sr., D.O., F.A.A.O.(1898-1981) was one of Sutherland’s first generation students and has contributed greatly to the ongoing field of cranial osteopathy/craniosacral therapy, as author/editor of Osteopathy in the Cranial Field and dedicated teacher. The first edition was written in 1951 while Dr. Sutherland was still alive. Dr. Magoun put together a compilation of the cranial techniques and models as a resource for students practicing this form of manual osteopathy. This book is important because it lays out Dr. Sutherland’s thoughts on cranial osteopathy in a clear and concise way. As one reads the material, it will seem a bit dry and technical but its purpose was to continue to attract more of the conservative osteopathic students. It is the text used by the The Cranial Academy and SCTF, which are only open to medical doctors and dentists and was only recently made available for sale to the general public.

Dr. John Edwin Upledger

John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M.John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M., one of Dr. Magoun’s students, and my teacher is co-author with Jon Vredevoogd, M.F.A., of Craniosacral Therapy, and many other publications. Dr. Upledger became aware of a course in cranial osteopathy in 1968 offered by The Cranial Academy and taught by Dr. Magoun. Of inspiration to Dr. Upledger during this first cranial seminar was Louis Hasbrouck, D.O. and Anne Wales, D.O. He used the cranial techniques he learned with great success, and like they say, there is no positive feedback like success. Along the way, Herbert C. Miller, D.O. also helped John to trust his hands and intuition with the cranial work. As John delved deeper into the cranial osteopathic field, an opportunity presented itself in 1975 that allowed John to further develop his skills at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. While at MSU, some disagreements arose between Dr. Upledger and the Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation and by the time Dr. Upledger and Vredevoogd’s book was published in 1983, Dr. Upledger was no longer associated with either the Cranial Academy or the SCTF. When Dr. Upledger left Michigan State he opened the courses to everyone in the healthcare field, shared important research in the cranial work as someone who had been inside the academy, and developed new techniques such as the temporal decompression, arcing, vectors, and whole body unwinding. He was also open to integrating cranial techniques with other osteopathic manual modalities, most notably myofascial release and muscle energy.

One of the most notable contributions of Dr. Upledger has been his exploration and encouragement of the emotional-physical connection of the body in whole body unwinding, mouth work and dialogue techniques . His writing style is linear and approachable and his teaching, practical and straightforward. He can be credited with renewing interest in craniosacral therapy at this time throughout the world. However, confusion has arisen in the last few decades as to the origination of the cranial concepts and since there is no mention of Dr. Magoun, The Cranial Academy, or the Cranial Teaching Foundation in any of Dr.Upledger’s books, the source of the field remains a bit hazy and incomplete to the general public and even most UI alumni.

Other  of Note

Along with Dr. Magoun’s contributions, other cranial osteopaths have authored books and have contributed their own perspective on CST. Rollin E. Becker, D.O., author of Life in Motion and The Stillness of LifeRobert Fulford, D.O., author of Touch of Life and Philosopher, Physician, Viola M. Frymann, D.O. F.A.A.O.Collected Writings and Beryl E. Arbuckle, D.O.Collected Writings are a must read because of their extensive work with children, and Anne L. Wales, D.O.Chester Handy, D.O.Howard and Rebecca Lippincott, D.O.’s all added to the wealth of information about the field and were very dynamic in their teachings and conviction of the cranial work. Most of these writings are now available to the general public. Another group of very influential osteopaths trained in Dr. Sutherland’s work includes Louis Hasbrouck, D.O., Alan Becker, D.O., Herbert C. Miller, D.O., Edna Lay, D.O., Randolf Stone, D.O., Jim Jealous, D.O., and Hollis King, D.O..

Also of interest to the CST practitioner are the writings of Hugh Milne, D.O., author of The Heart of ListeningMichael Shea, Ph.D., author of Somatic Psychology and Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy: A PrimerMichael Kern, D.O, N.D., author of Wisdom in the Body and Franklyn Sills, M.A., author of Craniosacral Byodynamics, all now sharing their acumen on craniosacral therapy to another generation of CST students.