A Look at Craniosacral Therapy

Robert F. Harris
May 02, 2010
By Robert F. Harris
Craniosacral therapy has provided many rewards in my personal and professional life. It has been a source of health and well-being and growth, for myself and my practice. It has provided nourishment and fulfilment at physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels.

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Robert and Alix perform craniosacral therapy on infants.
Witnessing its rapid, beneficial results after Alix’s knee surgery back in 1985 got us hooked, but on an ongoing basis it has been so rewarding to be both a recipient and provider of craniosacral therapy.

When we had been doing traditional massage in the late seventies and early eighties, we began recognizing some disappointments in, and challenges with, our work. After a number of years, the treatments felt a little routine. Our satisfaction was waning and we could feel the risk of attrition potentially looming on a distant horizon.

My wife Alix and I recognized that we needed to stay inspired with our work. Attending various courses and maintaining collegial relationships during that time certainly helped with some of these feelings.

Back then, the treatments I gave helped patients , but their area of challenge would still act up over time, again and again. I recognized that fibrosity in the region was a primary culprit, acting to limit the normal function of soft tissues. Fibrous changes would lead to reduced mobility, increased irregular forces, pulls, mis-alignments, congestions and compressions. With the aim of breaking down the excess micro-adhesions in the fibrosity, I began to do deeper and deeper work. I would perform localized transverse frictions without oil. The deep work was effective and loved by certain body types. My practices became even busier as word spread through the performing arts community about the quality and accuracy of the hands-on work. With the improved results, there was greater satisfaction about our profession, but my hands began to feel the increased strains of the deep, intense, forceful work. The strain on the hands was also increased by the fact that, the nature of the hand posturing during transverse frictions is somewhat static. The hands do not move a lot during the technique. The fingers are kept stiff while the tips perform the technique. The therapist’s hands are not offered the benefit of the variable motions and kneading actions experienced during normal massage techniques. Those motions would facilitate circulatory changeover in the therapist’s hands while working, lessening the strains of excess use and loadings. Because of the strain on my hands, I again saw a potential limit to my longevity as a therapist. In fact, I had to take a break from my practice because of osteo-arthritic changes in my hands.

The switch to craniosacral therapy
With switching to craniosacral therapy, my hands were able to re-enter the massage profession and I re-instated my licence. The gentle effectiveness of craniosacral work opened a whole new world then, and it continues to be of benefit in so many ways.

It certainly has helped to save my hands over the years. It has helped to prevent the osteo-arthritis occupational hazard of the massage therapy profession, and has given me a longevity in my own professional life that otherwise I would not have had.

Craniosacral therapy brought improved therapeutic results to my practice. The gentleness of the therapy produces rapid results. Tissues release more quickly when they are not reacting with a golgi tendon response and accurate sensitive work can be utilized. Bigger gains can also be made when histamine responses are not being activated. The improved results have made it easier to make a living at my work, with my practice booked and busy, without a treadmill nature. The improved patients tend to move on and word of mouth brings a continuous arrival of new patients.

With the ongoing welcoming of new patients into the practice, there is a continual introduction to new cases and different conditions. The various personalities, age ranges and the diversity of stories and conditions that present, definitely helps to keep up one’s interest and professional engagement.

Another way in which a Craniosacral practice provides nourishment and keeps any boredom at bay, is from the dynamic changes experienced one session to the next. A client will generally tend to make progress and, so, each time they come, there is a re-assessment and the focus of the session is changed and adapted accordingly.

Craniosacral therapy sessions are also dynamic and engaging for the therapist. The therapist focuses their awareness on the fine and subtle. Micro movements take on macro proportions. There is a heightening of sensitivity that comes about when focusing on the subtle. With the enhanced sensitivity and the fine focus, small, normally elusive movements become perceivable and amplified. The unwinding of fascial restrictions can feel like a dramatic road trip with stillpoints of rest and release along the way, through an ever-unfolding terrain. When releases occur as the body is offered the right unwinding slack, one can suddenly feel a freeing movement come into an area with dramatic and bizarre proportion. The stuck area gains a liquid viscosity. Mobility becomes possible in any direction without elastic recoils. It feels as though, under one’s hands, a floodgate has just opened, and the anchored restrictions dissolved in the process. The moment of the change in the tissues is also marked by the patient taking a deep breath. They tend to feel a sense of a reboot occurring as they come out of their release. They are coming out of a realm of stillness and release with a lovely feeling of re-ignition and completion.

Averting the experience of burn-out
As therapists, there is a certain sense of reward we all feel. It comes from being appreciated for the giving and caring we provide. Many of us were initially drawn to this work as givers. It can feel at times though, that it is a lot of outbound energy, a lot of giving on the part of the therapist. At the end of a session, a therapist is given some energy back, as payment and usually as praise from the client. However, over time, many a therapist has been vulnerable to a burn-out or attrition because of the imbalance. With craniosacral therapy, the outbound depletion does not tend to occur. It is because the work is both physically easier to perform and a therapist is asked to remain aware of their own energy state during a session. The awareness of the subtle energetics can enable a therapist to make appropriate adjustments in the dynamics when needed. This helps to prevent or reduce the potential risks of daily depletion or eventual burn-out.

I have also been very grateful for the dynamic peacefulness of craniosacral sessions. Within the relaxed place and detailed focus held during sessions, it has been possible to observe where one’s mind wanders and it has been so good to witness the validity and value of intentional consciousness. A therapist is asked to be aware of their own inner realms as they work, to be aware of their own inner screen. In fact, the more a therapist can hold a place of self-witness in the midst of engagement with the client, the greater their sensitivity will be and the faster the results.  The therapist will be able to respond to shifts in the client and negotiate the appropriate therapeutic re-engagements as things change.

Benefits of craniosacral therapy
Physical restrictive elements of dysfunctions can release rapidly with craniosacral therapy. The body responds to the gentle, accurate hands-on work. Craniosacral therapy in its gentleness will not bring on a histamine response or a classic rebound reaction, experienced in deeper, more forceful work. Many of us have experienced the soreness that can come with a high velocity adjustment or some very deep bodywork.  The soreness can frequently lead to an adjustment not holding, the release not staying and the benefits of the work not lasting if histamines flood the area with adhesive proteins. The non-intrusive nature of craniosacral therapy can facilitate softening anywhere in the body without setbacks or resistance.

The gentleness of the craniosacral therapy also provides an accuracy for the therapist. The hands make evaluative contact and therapeutic engagement without bringing on any golgi tendon response. The tissues continue to present their own pattern of movement dynamics and compromises. With craniosacral therapy, one’s hands engage gently, staying under the body’s radar, for if a golgi reaction occurs a tonus pull alters the movement dynamics of the craniosacral rhythm being monitored.

A craniosacral therapist gently responds with proprioceptive accuracy to the kinetic dynamics being presented by the patient. For the patient, this type of hands on work will bring on a sense of trust in the therapeutic process. They will feel supported, offered a sense of ease, and stillness will come over them in the process. In stillness, they can drop deeper and deeper into relaxation, enabling releases generated from their very core. To hold the kinetic dynamics for a release to take place for them, to bear witness to their process and respond where needed can feel like such a privileged place to be. To feel them soften, let go and release and then witness their reboot as the cranial rhythm starts up again, with new increased vitality and vigor; it is an intimate moment with another being, a sharing of their sacred space and process. I love that my work can offer all the dynamics and richness of what it means to be human, in relationship, and beyond.

Craniosacral therapy has not only helped my patients to improve in their health status, it has also enabled me to stay healthy and sustain my well-being. Craniosacral provided me a with quick journey through rehab after a hand fracture. When vertebral subluxations occur, they are resolvable. Over the years, I have become pretty much headache free. Addressing the physical injuries that have come from life and my learning to dance on rollerblades, were facilitated by Craniosacral unwinding techniques, a process that releases the imprint of accidents and imposed forces. By getting the vectors of forces out, the trauma is reduced and the healing can progress more rapidly.

The rewarding richness, the sense of a patient sharing their intimate sacred space also comes about from another element, besides the trust and openness that occurs during a session. As one works with the craniosacral system and its rhythm we are basically at the very centre of a person’s being. The pituitary gland sits at the front of the third ventricle and the pineal body tucks into the back of it. Either side of the lateral ventricles, we find the emotional centres, the limbic system. We are working with the environment of their central nervous system, at their axial core. We are also basically in touch with their energetic central channel ‘the shushumna’ (i.e., the home of the kundalini) and the domain of the chakras. An awareness of these dynamics can certainly open up other dimensions of experiences, bringing insights and rewards to the sessions, from esoteric and meditative perspectives.

The self-help technique of stillpoints of has given me and my patients many benefits. The performing of stillpoints is a simple, easy to do technique that provides tremendous payouts. It is the most beneficial of all the craniosacral therapy techniques with the strongest, widest therapeutic influence. It can be done by oneself, on oneself, or by simply resting the head on ‘Becalm Balls’ – a self-help stillpointing tool. Stillness sessions provide a mini craniosacral treatment each and every time they are done and they will accelerate the rate of therapeutic gains. Inducing stillness is also extremely helpful to handle stress. Stillness will bring on immediate intervention by moving the autonomic system into parasympathetic dominance. The relaxation is immediate. The technique is a guaranteed stress buster. Because it brings on parasympathetic dominance, the restorative healthful benefits are widespread. The technique can also guarantee help with insomnia and reducing pain.

Inducing stillness has also helped me in my learning and the enhancement of sensory awareness. The quietness of stillness helps to clear one’s inner screen and thereby increase sensitivity. The slight shifts, small arousals, tiny sensations are more apparent before a quiet inner screen. From stillness, people can be easily taught to feel and find the unseen and illusive. Locating a cell phone, a crystal or magnetic north with the eyes closed becomes possible.

Stillness has also provided the gift of opening up the nourishing realm of meditation and self-reflection. The centering nature of stillness and the quietness induced, has made it easy to hold a focus of self-reflection and witness. The personal use of stillpoints and the resonating effect of patients going through stillpoints, has opened up my inner reality, making the realm of meditation a regular occurrence.

There are sayings and stories about how some misfortunes can sometimes offer some good in the very end. 25 years ago, my wife Alix’s misfortune became a road to our better fortune. For her knee injury on the trampoline led us to craniosacral therapy. Her misfortune led us to better things, for craniosacral therapy provided immediate help for her knee and it led us to a new direction in our massage therapy lives. It provided unbelievable help for Alix’s knee at that time and craniosacral became our work and passion after that. Craniosacral therapy has continued to serve and provide us with so much, on so many levels, over all these years. The beneficial effects of craniosacral therapy still continue on. Although there are no plans for retiring from my practice in the future, there will be moments set aside for stillness and its many rewards.


Robert Harris is a registered massage therapist and co-founder/director of the Cranial Therapy Centre, Canada’s largest and longest established craniosacral treatment and training facility. His courses provide a unique, comprehensive understanding of craniosacral training.

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