Cranio- the cranium or head. Sacral- related to the sacrum or tailbone.
Though named for the bones, the cranium and the sacrum, the craniosacral system consists of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord, and the fluid that nourishes and protects these.
The membrane (known as the dura) attaches inside the skull, around the opening at the base of the skull and is continuous to the tailbone. The cerebral spinal fluid within the dura is produced and reabsorbed through the system creating a “pulse” or craniosacral rhythm. The craniosacral rhythm is distinct from the cardiac pulse or respiratory rhythm and can be felt throughout the body.
Assessing the craniosacral rhythm, how strong it is, how it feels from one side of the body to the other, enables a CranioSacral Therapist to pinpoint where restrictions are in the body. Using this evaluation tool, the therapist is better able to address the core of an issue rather than solely the symptoms.
There are several approaches to CST: There are energetic, spiritual and emotional components to CST as well as physical. Through differences in training, personal preference or philosophy, variations in technique and approach may be found. Therefore, a therapist may choose a particular focus when working with a client, following energetic patterns that underlie physical symptoms or assessing and treating physical tension patterns as a starting point.
In general, Upledger CranioSacral Therapy begins with releasing physical restrictions and balancing the membranes at the core of the craniosacral system that may impair the function of the central nervous system. Since the physical body does not exist separately from an individual’s emotional and energetic states CST techniques can also help clear energetic and emotional effects of trauma.
CST may seem somewhat mystical. The therapist may notice a restriction in the hips after placing hands lightly on a client’s ankles. You might ask: “How in the world could they tell?” The answer lies in fascia.
Fascia is a web of connective tissue that surrounds all our bones, muscles, nerves, organs and blood vessels. It is continuous throughout the body, head to toe, front to back, providing support and protection. When something shifts anywhere in the body the change is telegraphed through the connective tissue. Sometimes there is a subtle change in fluid or temperature, and the alignment of tissues may shift to compensate. It is through the facia that the therapist is able to feel the craniosacral rhythm, which may become erratic in response to the tension pattern, unbalanced from one side to the other, or barely palpable.
Because everything is so interconnected by fascia, it is quite easy for an area of tightness, injury or trauma to affect the structures around it. Blood vessels, nerves, organs or muscles, that ideally have adequate room to function optimally, can be impaired by a tension pattern. Tension patterns anywhere in the body can create a drag on the craniosacral system, decreasing its vitality. Membrane tension affects the environment within which our central nervous system must function.
A Light Touch
A CST session is performed with the client fully clothed and lying on a comfortable treatment table. Using touch that is usually about the weight of a nickel, the therapist evaluates the whole body for tension patterns and imbalances.
The craniosacral system is accessed and treated using the bones and connective tissue around it. For example, a common area of restriction for many of us is in the area where the neck and skull meet. A bit of traction may be applied at the base of the skull, with just enough pressure to pick up the slack in the tissue but not enough to overwhelm movement within the system. By applying less force over longer periods of time, the fibers in tissue that remember their shape have time to respond and reform.
Applying too much pressure can trigger a stretch reflex in the muscles and the tissues will aim to return to their former position. Light touch techniques allow the system time to “remember” the new position.
Skillful application of CST can enhance fluid flow and balance membrane tension, helping to bring increased vitality to the system. Releasing chronic tension patterns and enhancing fluid motility allow the body’s own healing mechanisms to operate more effectively, imparting greater balance and ease.
CST offers a safe and effective way to address a wide range of conditions for people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. It can help alleviate the pain of migraines, TMJ syndrome and traumas to the head and spine, all conditions that can easily be seen as linked to the craniosacral system. Yet since the craniosacral system provides the environment for our central nervous system, CST can have profound effects on other seemingly unrelated disorders, such as anxiety, asthma, fibromyalgia and more.
CST may help put you on a path to physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Reprinted with permission from Lori Leitzel Rice, LMT, CST-D