What are the different kinds of craniosacral therapy?

Dr. William Garner Sutherland, DO, 1873-1954, devoted his osteopathic medical career to exploring the craniosacral system, which surrounds the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).

The whole field started in 1899 when Sutherland, then a medical student, noticed that the cranial bones seemed designed to breathe, which he explored after becoming a doctor.

His earlier focus was on the bones, fluids, and membranes of the system, a biomechanical way of working.

His research, which he labeled the cranial concept, resulted in the development of the medical specialty of cranial osteopathy.

Dr. Sutherland and other cranial osteopaths that he trained noticed that the fluid in this system moved rhythmically, like tides, influencing every cell from deep inside the body.

They recognized that dynamic processes in the tides could augment the health and vitality of the entire human system.

This way of working with the system’s capacity to seek health came to be called biodynamic. It includes and expands on Dr. Sutherland’s earlier discoveries about the biomechanics of the system.

In the 1970s, Dr. John Upledger, DO, began to teach non-doctors how to work on people biomechanically, based on Dr. Sutherland’s earlier work. He coined the term craniosacral therapy.

Legend has it that Dr. Upledger was well aware of the biodynamic aspects of the work, and that he chose to teach just the biomechanical aspects to make it more acceptable to the general public and the mainstream medical establishment of the day.

Today the Upledger Institute is an internationally known and respected training and research facility. Its teachers have taught craniosacral therapy to multitudes of practitioners and benefitted millions of receivers around the planet.

I’ve taken courses with the Upledger Institute and plan to take more.

Discoveries in quantum physics spilled over into more mainstream acceptance of phenomena unexplainable by the old Newtonian model, paving the way for a more holistic way of understanding everything.

Franklyn Sills, while an osteopathic student in the 1980s, became fascinated with Dr. Sutherland’s later work and that of other cranial osteopaths whom he taught, which was more holistic at a time when holistic healing modalities were beginning to emerge in Western culture.

Sills began teaching biodynamic craniosacral therapy to non-doctors in the 1990s. Read his history of craniosacral biodynamics here.

My current Biodynamics teacher, Roger Gilchrist, studied and trained to teach with Franklyn Sills.

I’ve previously studied both biomechanical and biodynamic CST with Ryan Hallford, creator of The Craniosacral Podcast who is now teaching internationally for Body Intelligence as well as independently.

How Biodynamic CST works for serious health challenges

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is in the same family of manual therapies as original osteopathy, cranial osteopathy, and craniosacral therapy. 

Although its roots go back to 1899, the current form began in the 1980s.

Reducing the stress load

Imbalances and strains on our bodies come from stressors of all kinds. Until they dissipate, they maintain a stress load in the system.

The human stress response helps us stay alive in the face of threats. Ideally the system returns to a relaxed state when threats are not present. Overwhelming stress can make this difficult. 

Our systems’ self-healing capabilities activate in states of relaxation, not in states of stress. Chronic and acute stress may remain in place long after onset — until given an alternative. 

Inviting the system to reorganize

A biodynamic craniosacral therapist palpates the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in a patient’s body. This fluid flows rhythmically and is located deep inside the body. A therapist can pick up the motion and read this rhythm anywhere in the body. 

After establishing rapport with a patient and their system, the therapist invites the rhythm to go into a still point — a pause in the rhythm.

A still point may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes or even hours while the intelligence within considers how to reorganize toward greater health.

Then the rhythm returns with more balance, ease, and vitality.

Reading the rhythm can also show a therapist where the system is constrained locally, for example in a joint or bone or soft tissue.

The therapist invites these imbalances in the rhythm to pause. As with still points, the patient’s system reorganizes locally toward more balance and ease. 

Sometimes these shifts occur spontaneously during sessions without still points. It’s as if the deep relaxation and gentle touch of the therapist’s hands encourage strains that are ready to release to do so.

Freeing healing resources

Releasing strains reduces the stress load, freeing up even more healing resources in the system to get to work.

Patients who have been living with stress often report feeling more resilient after each session and that regular sessions work cumulatively, accelerating stress reduction and recovery.

In this manner, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy may be considered healing from the inside out. It works well alongside other health-building practices such as good nutrition, staying hydrated, movement, sleep, meditation, yoga, and other treatments.

What you can expect in a session

After you have checked in with your present physical, emotional, mental, energetic state, you’ll get on the massage table. You’ll remain clothed, minus shoes, belt, and big jewelry.

The therapist will help you feel comfortable, with a bolster, pillows, a blanket, or a table warmer, as preferred. She will invite you to tune into your breath and to let your body weight surrender to gravity, letting the table provide all the support you need.

The therapist will take a little time to prepare herself and then she will place her hands gently on your body and tune in to your subtle rhythms.

She may change positions several times during a session.

You may simply rest and be softly aware of sensations in your body, changes in breathing, and other indicators of transformation.

Sometimes patients are aware of strains releasing. Sometimes the work is so relaxing, patients fall asleep. It’s interesting to hear the patient’s experience.

The therapist will let you know when the session is nearing its end.

Afterwards, it’s always a good to idea to check in again and notice what’s different. After leaving, you may want to take some time to relax and integrate the work.


Biodynamic craniosacral therapy: what’s in a name?

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is a very long name for a type of combined bodywork and energy-work.

Craniosacral Biodynamics is shorter, and Biodynamics is even shorter.

It’s also known as BCST.

One of my clients calls it “Bio D”.

The name Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy reflects its evolutionary path from its Native American influences to osteopathy to “the cranial concept” to cranial osteopathy and then to biodynamic cranial osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, and now biodynamic craniosacral therapy over the past 150 years.

None of these names tell you much about what it does, if you are unfamiliar with this type of session.

With that in mind, here are some terms that describe what this type of bodywork is capable of doing:

  • Balancing your systems
  • Strengthening your innate healing processes
  • Resetting your nervous system
  • Releasing strain patterns from experiences of overwhelm, shock, and/or trauma
  • Quantum healing
  • Spiritual bodywork
  • Healing from the inside out

The etymology of the word comes from the Greek bio– meaning life and dynamis– meaning power.

Hence, biodynamics refers to life power.

Synonyms for biodynamics include chi flow, vital energy, core energy, energy of life, vital essence.

As an adjective, biodynamic means “of, or relating to, the effects of motion on living things”.

The Craniosacral part of the name reflects the fluctuation of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) — the body’s craniosacral system, from cranium to sacrum.

This motion deep within the body affects all the tissues, fluids, and energies in the body. A trained therapist can palpate this motion.

The therapist gets grounded, centered, neutral, and receptive so she can perceive these rhythms and tides in your tissues, fluids, and energy field.

Tuning in, she develops rapport with the health in your system and how it expresses itself, allowing the intelligence in your system to pause and reflect on unresolved conditions and seek new, healthier patterns.

Because BCST is so gentle and non-invasive, there are few contraindications for treatment. The number of sessions needed can vary, and anyone can enjoy the benefits of a session.

Because the rapport between client and therapist deepens with each session, at least three sessions are recommended for most.


What is Biodynamics?

Biodynamics is a western approach to wellness. Osteopath William Sutherland (1873-1954) began exploring the dynamics of the skull and its membranes and fluids, establishing the field of cranial osteopathy, from which craniosacral therapy and biodynamics evolved.

After years of sitting quietly with patients, listening to their body-mind systems, Sutherland and other cranial osteopaths became aware that something other than tissue manipulation was helping their patients heal from all kinds of conditions. They learned over time that the more they just listened and the less they tried to do, the more their patients’ inherent healing processes took over, returning their systems to healthier functioning. Over time they learned how to support and augment the healing process with their presence, attention, discernment, and intent.

This way of healing came to be called craniosacral biodynamics, biodynamic craniosacral therapy, or just biodynamics. As a separate modality from cranial osteopathy, it’s been in existence for nearly 40 years. Although biodynamics shares some elements with biomechanical craniosacral therapy, it focuses more on perceptual awareness of the fields in and around us.

Biodynamics resonates with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs about emptiness, form, transformation, compassion, and oneness.