Viv Ray, Craniosacral Therapist, ITEC, CSTA and BHSII

I am a craniosacral therapist and blessed to have work I love and that I know makes a real difference to my clients. But I do find it difficult to give an adequate reply when I am asked what that means. The name gives away nothing about the things I do or what you might expect in a session. Is it like Indian head massage? No, not at all. Something religious? No again, that “sacral” bit is a reference to the bone at the base of the spine. So the name really outlines the nervous system with the head at one end and the “tail” at the other.

To tell you why I shall have to start with some history. It all began with an observant Osteopath called Sutherland who was studying at the end of the nineteenth century. As he looked at the bones of the cranium, he wondered about the accepted teaching that said that the bones of the head were fused and incapable of movement. Why then did the temporal bones on the side of the head overlap in a way that looked like fish gills and looked capable of breathing type movement?

To explore this idea he invented a bizarre range of contraptions to very specifically restrict the bones of his head, one bone at a time. He argued that if they weren’t moving it wouldn’t make any difference if he restricted them.

In the end his wife threatened divorce because the consequences on his health, temper and character were extreme and unpredictable. So he started to work on other people. Not by putting pressure on their heads, but by resting his still hands on the different bones and observing the movements he could feel.

Sutherland discovered a rhythmic movement for each bone that was predictable and the same for every patient. He realised that the rhythm came from the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This has a tidal movement much like our heartbeat or breathing pattern. He found that accident, illness or shock disturbed the rhythm and that the attention of his “listening” hands enabled the disturbed rhythms to return to a more comfortable pattern.

So, finally, to what happens in a session:

After an initial conversation my client usually lies on a treatment couch (if human, horses generally stay standing.) and I rest my hand somewhere on their body, often cradling the head or with my hand under the lower back.

And we wait.

Gradually things slow down and the client’s body system is able to start telling its story. In much the same way as we might put a difficult thought away when in the midst of demanding activity to review it at a calmer moment, the body too seems to store potentially overwhelming experiences until there are adequate resources to deal with them. Although this facility is life saving, it can also result in an overloaded system so that some apparently minor event becomes the last straw that brings on pain or illness. As therapist, part of my job is to make sure that the pace at which the story is explored is right so the body systems are restored and revitalised rather than becoming overwhelmed or trying to tackle too much at once.

And things happen: Long-standing pains stop being painful, headaches become less frequent or disappear. Habitual patterns of fear and anxiety change and come under control. Disturbed sleep patterns get more peaceful. Digestion improves. Many of my clients make a regular session part of their ongoing health care because it maintains a feeling of well being and peace of mind.

It is always a pleasure to work with riders. You can’t ride a horse for long without becoming aware of where your body is and how it is behaving. It seems to be easy for riders to feel what is happening in a session and notice the changes their bodies want to make.

Horses too are wonderfully responsive to craniosacral therapy, often moving to put the part of their body that needs attention under my hand, or using the pressure to ease out an area of tension. One horse client who responded remarkably had fallen on a stake and had a long scar along the outside of the ribs with restricted movement of skin and muscle over the ribs. It was hard for her to use her body evenly and you could see the compensation when she tried to bend.

I did one session with her, very gently holding the scarred area and feeling the adhesions releasing. She was warm from the exercise she had been doing while we were assessing her movement. After a few minutes her owner did some more turns and circles to let the muscles know that the area was free and we called it a day.

A week or so later I saw her standing in the field and noticed that the familiar scar wasn’t visible. At first I just assumed that I was looking at the wrong side. (Never very good at left and right as anyone who has tried to share a school with me will know.) But the other side looked just the same. I was amazed that such a long-standing problem could be cleared up in what was little more than a quick treatment as part of a conversation.

So now, if you are still not sure what craniosacral therapy is you will just have to come and give it a try and maybe we can work it out together.

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