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.

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 a still point?

Like the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, and other systems in the human body, everyone has a craniosacral system. This system consists of the bones, membranes, and fluids that surround your central nervous system — your brain and spinal cord.

Cerebrospinal fluid is produced in the brain in a tide-like, rhythmic manner. Craniosacral therapists can feel this subtle rhythm. It is palpable bodywide. It’s subtle but not magic — most of us learn to sense it in an hour or two of training.

With experience, we learn to read its qualities (weak, strong, fast, slow, whether it’s symmetrical in both sides of the body, etc.). These qualities vary from person to person, day to day, even moment to moment.

Still points occur when this rhythm pauses. They occur naturally and spontaneously. No one knows precisely why they occur, but they are regenerative. It feels as if the system is gathering resources during these pauses.

Still points can also be induced biomechanically or invited biodynamically, depending on the craniosacral therapist’s training or preference.

They help rebalance the autonomic nervous system, which because of stress often tilts to the sympathetic branch. The parasympathetic state feels more relaxed and refreshing. The body has more resources in this state for repairing and renewing itself.

Someone experiencing a still point may enter a state of internal stillness that feels deeply peaceful.

When the rhythm resumes, it feels as if the body has reorganized itself in the direction of greater health and well-being.

Still points can last for a few seconds or much longer, 20 or 30 minutes.

Craniosacral therapists stay connected to still points and can usually feel a difference in the qualities of the rhythm when it resumes. They may invite (or induce) multiple still points in a session as well as note when the client has spontaneous still points.

I enjoy inviting still points at the beginning and end of every session, including TMJ Relief sessions.

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote about this pause in 1936. I am not aware of whether he was familiar with craniosacral still points, although they were known to cranial osteopaths at the time. He captures the in-between state, the pause, the gathering, well in these words: