The Craniosacral story began one day in 1899. William Garner Sutherland was a student at the original Osteopathic college in Kirksville Missouri. On this day he walked into the college library and his gaze fell a upon a specimen kept there. It was a disarticulated human skull, that is a skull whose individual bones had been separated. As he examined the discrete bones he had an amazing insight — ‘this was meant to move’.
Before studying Osteopathy Dr Sutherland had worked as a newspaper editor, so he was definitely familiar with the mechanism of printing presses of the day. What he noticed was how the shape of the bevels and angles of the individual bones changed in different parts of the skull. Most particularly where 2 or more bones met. These variations in form could only serve one purpose — to allow and even encourage movement. Just like the forms of the components of the machinery of the day.
After more than 30 years studying and experimenting he published a small book The Cranial Bowl in which he set out his revolutionary ideas. He called his discovery ‘the primary respiratory mechanism.’ The movement which he learnt to sense in the cranial bones and also the Sacrum feels similar to normal breathing.
Inside the bones of the skull is a membrane system, the outer most layer of which is like a balloon attached to the inner surface of the bones. This membrane system contains the Cerebrospinal Fluid, which surrounds the brain, nourishing and protecting the nervous system. The brain becomes the Spinal Cord, which travels through the vertebrae and carries messages between the body and brain. That balloon like intracranial membrane system becomes a fluid filled tube surrounding the Spinal Cord and attaches inside the Sacrum. The primary respiratory system is this unified field of bones, membrane and fluid, all moving with a type of inhalation and exhalation, the ‘breath behind the breath’. From whence does this movement come? Perhaps the most revolutionary idea, this movement is an expression of the Breath of Life itself!
Dr Sutherland called his work Cranial Osteopathy and considered it to be a continuation of the work of his teacher A T Still, the founder of Osteopathy. Although given scant recognition in his lifetime he managed to form the Cranial Teaching Foundation and develop a small group of practitioners. Only qualified osteopaths could participate in the Foundation’s courses.
A big change came in the 1980’s when an osteopath named John Upledger began teaching this work to ‘lay’ people. Upledger, a brash jazz piano player who had put himself through osteopathic school playing in bars, called his method Craniosacral therapy. While being a remarkable person and doing a great service to humanity, he lacked the mystical approach and developed a quasi scientific explanation for this Craniosacral rhythm. The ‘Upledger Model’ is based on the theory that the production and absorption of Cerebrospinal Fluid in the brain creates this movement in the cranial bones and throughout the entire system. Taking Craniosacral practice out of the hands of the Osteopathic establishment John Upledger spread its benefits around the world.
My own Craniosacral story began nearly a century after Dr Sutherland’s discovery. In May 1989 I went to Pune in India to participate in a massage training. At the time I was living in Far North Queensland as a beekeeper. Due to a childhood injury and pursuing a hard working life I had chronic back pain. This had led to an interest in massage. I had done an evening course and studied anatomy. When my long term relationship ended I decided to further my study and practice by going to the Osho commune, where there were therapists from all over the world and courses in alternative modalities offered.  I expected to stay 3 months and return to my habitual life…
One of the teachers in the massage training, a gifted bodyworker named Nirvesha suggested some Craniosacral treatments with her. After a few sessions I awoke one morning feeling strange, in a while I realised I was pain free, seemingly for the first time. I knew this work was for me and did an Introductory course.
After selling my bees I returned to Pune and participated in a complete Craniosacral training. This course was led by a former student of Upledger, Bhadrena Tschumi and was based on his model
1990 was a year of living in Pune and pursuing a type of internship, doing sessions, assisting in Craniosacral courses and being mentored by Nirvesha. Back in Australia and living at Osho Gondwana at Tyagarah, 1991 saw the first Australian Craniosacral course, taught by Bhadrena. To help promote this training I taught some introductory courses in Mullumbimby and Sydney, then assisted the training. In October that year I went to Italy to participate in two advanced courses one with Dr Upledger.
From then until 1998 I found myself living in Italy and India, practising and teaching Craniosacral, with occasional courses in Byron. In 1995 my life partner, Heera and I began living together and we moved to Australia in 1999. We established Craniosacral Australia and have an annual training program.
Meanwhile the Craniosacral world was moving along. In demystifying the therapy Upledger had negated the spiritual aspect inherent in Dr Sutherland’s approach. While teaching a course in London a friend gave me a copy of Dr Sutherland’s Teaching in the Science of Osteopathy. Reading his words had a dramatic effect on my work. As well as dealing with bones and membrane there was something much more profound happening, a connection with the Breath of Life. There are moments in the work when a deep stillness descends and therapist and client become one with the all.
In the wider Craniosacral world the teachings of an English therapist, Franklin Sills, started to gain traction. He brought the therapy back to the intention of Dr Sutherland, reintroducing the spiritual dimension, working with slower and deeper rhythms in the body. Following developments in Cranial Osteopathy he used the term Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Travelling back to Italy Heera participated in a complete Biodynamic training in 2003–4. In our practice and courses we have integrated the biodynamic principles with the concern for structure which was always present in Dr Sutherland’s teaching.
From a practical point of view Craniosacral can benefit many situations of discomfort and dis-ease. As well as helping to align the bones of the pelvis and neck it is working with the environment of the nervous system.
All of the cranial and spinal nerves have sleeves of membrane. Helping the membrane system to become more relaxed and flexible takes pressure off nerve roots, relieving pain in the neck and back and improving the functioning of the cranial nerves. The Vagus nerve is particularly helped, giving space to the relaxing part of the autonomic nervous system. Vertigo and balance dysfunction are usually resolved. The endocrine system becomes more balanced, often helping cases of infertility. Overall, Craniosacral helps maintain health and wellbeing while providing a profound and nourishing experience.
Starting out from the edge of the Atherton Tableland 28 years ago, to finding myself in South Golden Beach, with a beautiful situation for practising and teaching Craniosacral, feels like I’ve been carried on the Breath of Life.