Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy: Overview, Process, Benefits
THC Editorial Team February 2, 2022
- What Is Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy?
- History of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
- How Does Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Work?
- When Is Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Used?
- The Potential Benefits and Effectiveness of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
- Summary/Key Takeaways
Osteopathic medicine highlights the belief that the body has an inborn ability to heal itself.1 Combining this belief with evidence and modern therapeutic practices such as mindfulness, somatic psychology, and energy psychology, therapists can utilize the body’s natural responses to promote greater health and well-being. This ideology is the essence of biodynamic craniosacral therapy.
What Is Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy?
According to the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, “Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle non-invasive, hands-on session for the whole body.”2 Biodynamic craniosacral theory is a holistic approach to treatment that purports that natural forces within the body establish order for the creation, development, and maintenance of the body’s systems.3 There is a subtle ebb-and-flow motion in the body’s tissues, fluids, and bones that works intelligently to keep the body functioning properly. This movement is referred to as primary respiration, or the mid-tide.4
Internal and external factors have the potential to interrupt this primary respiration. When an individual is exposed to long-term stress or experiences some form of trauma or shock, it can overwhelm the mind and body’s coping mechanisms and resources. The defense processes in the autonomic nervous and neuroendocrine systems imprint themselves and interrupt the body’s natural flow of energy. As such, the physical body holds on to these traumatic memories.4
Because it focuses on both physiological and psychological health, biodynamic craniosacral therapy is used to trigger the body’s healing response to interruptions to primary respiration, caused by conditions associated with stress and trauma. According to this theory, all beings are born with this innate healing power as a part of the body’s self-preservation mechanism. When a person cannot access this inner healing force on their own, an experienced therapist can help in a non-invasive manner to help regain regulation of the nervous system through reconnection of the body and its primary respiration.5
History of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
Early in the 1900s, an osteopathic physician, William Sutherland, noted that the bones of the cranium, the upper part of the skull, were designed for motion and respiration.4 Based on this, he hypothesized that there exists a force beneath the bones that causes tide-like motion even when a person is still or at rest.3,4 The respiratory movement, like the tide, follows a widen-fill-rise and empty-narrow-descend cycle. Sutherland saw this motion as an expression of the “breath of life,” a mystical, universal, underlying dimension.4 Sutherland and his colleagues found that gentle palpitations and physician interaction with this flow could provide therapeutic effects for their clients.
Sutherland sought to map the range of motion in each cranial bone to show the merit of his theory, even experimenting on himself to do so. However, his premises were not widely accepted during his career; it took years to find someone who would publish his treatise on his findings. Late in his career, Sutherland altered his premise to include his finding that the motion or tide carried healing power that was more effective than practitioners’ traditional methods. He began treating this tide to support its healing power.4
More recently, osteopaths have embraced and expanded on Sutherland’s premises. Osteopath Rollin Becker used the term biodynamic to label this inner force. In 2001, craniosacral therapist Franklyn Sills combined this information about biodynamics with his knowledge of polarity therapy and Buddhist meditation practices to write a book about craniosacral biodynamics, from which many of the current biodynamic craniosacral therapy practices were derived.6
How Does Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Work?
Because biodynamic craniosacral therapy emphasizes health rather than illness, the therapist works to trigger the connection and response of the natural healing energy in the individual rather than rely on outside remedies for the treatment of issues. The therapist’s ability to be intuitive and present is an essential aspect of therapy, as they must use the client’s responses as a guide to treatment. A trusting client-practitioner therapeutic relationship holds utmost importance during treatment.7
Sessions can last between 30 and 90 minutes. While some individuals may notice an improvement after a single session, it often takes several sessions for a client to achieve their therapy goals. At the onset of treatment, the client and therapist discuss health concerns and goals for the therapy sessions.7
The client usually begins in a seated position, and then lays comfortably on a massage table, fully clothed. Once the client feels comfortable, relaxed, and safe, the therapist will begin with a light, gentle, and still touch. Common start points are the feet, head, and base of the spine. The practitioner listens and feels for subtle cues, such as the primary respiration within the client’s body, and moves on from there, always ensuring that the client remains aware and still throughout the process. The client often guides the practitioner on what part of their body requires work and what level of practitioner touch, or contact, they are comfortable with.7
Although no intrusive manipulation is involved, the therapist may use soft touches or hold certain parts of the body to stimulate the natural tidal flow and promote healing from within. Clients sometimes become so relaxed that they fall asleep during this treatment. They also commonly respond by feeling as if they are in a wakeful but dreamlike state, experiencing insights, feeling warm and soft as if floating, or reliving memories as pent-up energy is released from the body.7
When Is Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Used?
Although biodynamic craniosacral therapy treats the physical body, this treatment has shown effectiveness for many psychological imbalances. It is designed to improve the functioning of the brain and nervous system to positively impact the rest of the body, mind, and spirit.
Clients have seen remarkable improvement with these therapeutic sessions for many physical, mental, and emotional issues, including:
The Potential Benefits and Effectiveness of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
The main goal of biodynamic craniosacral therapy is overall wellness in the mind, body, and spirit. It achieves this by alleviating the symptoms of blockages in the primary respiration and improving a person’s quality of life.4 After undergoing this treatment, individuals tend to experience increased energy levels, improved digestion and organ function, more relaxation, and an overall renewed sense of well-being.6,8,9
Because biodynamic craniosacral therapy is still generally categorized as an alternative treatment, scientific research regarding its effectiveness remains limited. Some preliminary studies exist, but this therapy requires more validation and research to reach the mainstream.
A 2017 study reported in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies sought to determine whether biodynamic craniosacral therapy could benefit people with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers. After compiling survey results from the 405 survey participants, the researchers concluded that this treatment can benefit this demographic.9
Despite the lack of clinical evidence, anecdotal and interview evidence is available from clients who have undergone biodynamic craniosacral therapy. One 2021 paper analyzed the data of 220 participants who used craniosacral therapy to complement their standard care. The researchers found that this treatment helped improve the quality of life of people who received an average of seven sessions.10
In 2015, researchers from Warwick Medical School in Coventry, United Kingdom, conducted client interviews with 29 participants who underwent biodynamic craniosacral therapy regarding their treatment sessions. Results showed that the majority of participants felt that this therapy was responsible for improved well-being from chronic pain and emotional or psychological issues, and that it provided help with rehabilitation. Additionally, the researchers noted that these individuals became more willing to take an active role in their self-care following therapy sessions.11
Biodynamic craniosacral therapy utilizes the energy flow present in all beings. The therapist uses gentle touch to release blockages that might prevent the proper movement of this energy. This holistic treatment aims to promote overall well-being and healing from within to help the client live a more fulfilling life with fewer disturbances and a greater sense of peace. Those in the United States who want to try biodynamic craniosacral treatment can find a practitioner through the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America directory.