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.

Educating dental office staff about treating jaw issues

Last year, I took a some classes about making presentations, and I focused on educating dental office staff about what I do in my TMJ Relief work.

Last week, I participated in a lunch-and-learn at the office of my wonderful dentist, Dr. Elizabeth Rayne. I talked about what I do and got to ask them some questions about what they do.

For instance, when people grind their teeth during sleep, they may not be aware of it. However, the dental office staff sees the results of grinding.

The staff then has to tell the patient that their sleep habit is damaging their teeth. Not good news to hear, especially when it means they need crowns.

Since my specialty as a massage therapist is in relieving muscle tension, after taking some advanced courses, I can help relieve tension in the jaw muscles and the pain it causes.

As someone who’s also trained in behavioral change (NLP), I can help people learn habit change.

Learning the techniques I use, getting advanced training, tweaking my protocol, and working on person after person since 2013 make up the manual therapy part of my work.

I’ve worked on people who have suffered for most of their lives, for twenty, thirty, even forty years.

That’s a lot of suffering. Being able to make a difference is hugely rewarding.

My work mission has broadened to include educating professionals and the public about manual therapy for jaw issues. At least half of my TMJ patients had never received manual therapy for jaw pain before they learned about me, through word of mouth. They didn’t know it existed.

I can relieve jaw pain, help people open wider, and help get their jaws aligned for better appliance fit. How would that affect a dental practice?

Readers, I f you know of any dental offices in the Austin area interested having me do a lunch-and-learn with staff, please connect. I will follow up.

Coming soon! A class for dental offices

I have been taking a fantastic class called NLP+Presentations. The first part was this past weekend, and the second part will be in mid-February.

I’m working on a presentation for dental offices. It will be an hour max, so it could be a lunch-and-learn or a training offered to staff early or late in the workday.

I probably don’t need to tell you that some people complain of jaw pain after receiving dental work.

Dental professionals need to accommodate them by offering frequent breaks from wide-open mouth position — some even use devices to keep the mouth cranked wide open.

Dental offices also experience cancellations when someone’s jaw pain has flared up and they can’t even imagine holding their mouth open for dental treatment.

In fact, dental professionals are often the first health care professionals to let someone know that their clenching and/or grinding habit is damaging their teeth.

Although they offer orthotic devices to protect teeth and/or try to realign the TMJs, and they can usually repair the tooth damage they encounter, they don’t work on the biggest cause of jaw pain — myofascial tension. In fact, most dentists receive little or no training in the jaw — their domain is teeth and gums.

As a massage therapist, my domain is the myofascial realm of muscles and soft tissues. I work on postural issues, shoulder and neck tension, decompression of cranial bones, and do intra-oral work on all four internal jaw muscles — as gently as possible.

I can help dental offices help their patients, and I believe we can work well together.

If you think your dentist might be interested in this free training, please connect us. I’ll be offering trainings starting in late February.

Who doesn’t love a head massage? Check it out and help me name it!

After spending 4 days recently taking a class called “Addressing the Skull,” I want to get you onto my massage table so I can practice, practice, practice! It’s the best way I know to integrate training into, well, my advanced integrative bodywork practice.

I also need your help naming this new addition to my repertoire. I want to describe it separately from a Zero Balancing session. In my view, a ZB session addresses the whole body, including the head, whereas a skull/cranium/crown session spends most of a 45-minute session on the head.

This was a class in Zero Balancing, which aligns your structure and frees your energy, but most of the session will be spent addressing your skull. I learned lots of secrets of the skull, including that working on the outside of the skull affects the inside, i.e., the brain. And it’s not exactly a massage. It uses artful touch and knowledge of anatomy to find those places that release tension you may not have even known you had.

For instance, there is a place behind your ears that is similar to that place where dogs love to be petted, behaving as if they could never get enough, leg twitching and groaning with pleasure.

There are several special places on your skull where two or three or four bones come together that just love to be touched.

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I imagine that everyone in the class experienced several releases of tension in their skulls that they were not aware of before. We can get so habituated to stress that it gets normalized. Guess what? Normal can be better. (Thanks to San Antonio ZBer Jamie Carmody for making “Make normal better” her tagline.)

I suspect this work may prevent headaches and migraines.

After four days of training, which included many trades, my friend and I noticed that we could see better. When looking into our training room, the 3D-ness of everything was in sharper relief, and everything had more clarity. Working on the head affects all the senses.

This is your brain, on ZB.

I plan to run this special for a couple of weeks, and may consider extending it after that. I’ve lowered my price by $25 for a 45-minute Zero Balancing session. Go here to book yours.

Treating TMJ issues: what various professions do to help

What do various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues?

I’m going to try to answer that, to help you be better health-care consumers and know what to expect in terms of results.

By the way, I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had advanced training from three teachers and experience since 2013. I admit, I am biased!

I want to say up front that most massage therapists do not work inside the mouth, which is where the jaw muscles most likely to be causing TMJ pain are located.

Most massage therapists do have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles. Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain is mild and intermittent. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from long-term jaw pain and dysfunction, you definitely need more than that to get relief. You could greatly benefit from intra-oral work, which takes special training and experience to do effectively.

Do not hesitate to ask whether a therapist you are considering working with is trained in releasing tension in the internal jaw muscles.

Whole-body work can also help, when the TMJ pain is related to your posture (for instance, head forward posture) or to muscle tension due to stress.

Here’s a look at results you might expect from working with practitioners in different professions:

  • reducing stress (massage therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teacher, meditation teacher)
  • reducing tension in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing trigger points in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • doing myofascial release on your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, craniosacral therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your head aligned on top of your spine (craniosacral therapist, chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to grinding (dentist or over-the-counter night guard)
  • checking whether grinding in your sleep is related to airway obstruction (sleep specialist)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer as part of 10-series)
  • restoring alignment in the cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing or replacing a dysfunctional articular disk (oral surgeon)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment issues and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

There is one major caveat here: these are generalities based on my own knowledge and experience. Each profession has its specialties. Not all physical therapists work on the jaw or pelvis — in fact, not many do.

Do not hesitate to ask questions and do your own research.

This is a brief and imperfect overview to help you get the results you want, and there are many fine points not mentioned here.


What to do if you have jaw issues? I offer a 30-minute in-person TMJ consultation to gather information and evaluate your issues. I also teach clenchers an alternative to clenching and provide known ways to stop grinding, from those who succeeded.

These habits are major contributors to TMJ issues, and you can change them.

If you’re not in Austin, I can do the above as well as help you learn what to ask about when seeking TMJ relief near you. Just let me know if you need a phone or Zoom consultation.

I offer a combination TMJ Consultation plus TMJ Relief session in person in Austin, Texas, and in Taos, NM, in sumemrs. The consultation serves as an intake, so I have a better idea of what your issues are and how we’ll measure progress. Your consultation is free when combined with your first TMJ Relief session. This is a two-hour session.

To be fair, when you’ve had TMJ issues for a long time, or they are acute, you may need multiple sessions to retrain your system to retain the ease and alignment, along with doing your homework to stop clenching or grinding your teeth.

I offer a package of four TMJ Relief sessions for 10 percent off single sessions, best done a week or two apart. These sessions are 90 minutes and integrate various bodywork modalities — including work in your mouth — so that you feel great when you get off the table. They are best done over 4 to 6 weeks.

If you’re really adventurous, you can schedule a 75-minute Self-Treatment for TMJ Issues session on Zoom where we’ll do an intake and I will teach you how to work on releasing the tension patterns that cause problems, including working in your own mouth. You’ll need clean hands and short nails. It’s really not that hard! Learn more about it here.