CranioSacral Therapy and the Art of Listening


CranioSacral Therapy originates from a system developed by Dr. William G. Sutherland that became known as Cranial Osteopathy. Dr. John E. Upledger, an Osteopathic physician, has written the definitive texts on CranioSacral Therapy (1). SomatoEmotional Release is an integral part of CranioSacral Therapy and is directly related to the discoveries of Dr. Upledger and the research that started at Michigan State University in 1975.

At Michigan State University Dr. Upledger led a multidisciplinary research team in a scientific study of the Cranial Osteopathic approach. At that time the Cranial Osteopathic approach of Dr. Sutherland was that a fluid mechanism within the brain and spinal cord caused the bones of the cranium to rhythmically move. Any restriction of the cranial bones, sacrum and related structures would cause a varying degree of physiological and neurological dysfunction, from back aches to headaches to severe personality disorders.

The Michigan State University research team verified that 1) intrasutural material allows for cranial bone motion; 2) individual cranial bone motion was detected by utilizing radio waves transmitted across electrodes implanted into the parietal bones of monkeys; 3) a positive relationship between an elevated total craniosacral motion restriction scores and learning disabilities in grade school children; 4) a pressure stat model was used to explain the craniosacral rhythm as the inflow and outflow of cerebrospinal fluid from the brain and spinal cord. The cerebrospinal fluid is produced in the choroid plexuses in the ventricles of the brain. It moves from the ventricles into the dural membranes, which surround the brain and spinal cord, and out into the cranial venous sinuses. The craniosacral motion is due to the hydraulic force of the cerebrospinal fluid on the bones via the dural membranes. A neural mechanism based on stretch and pressure receptors in the sutures supports this pressure stat model.

In his research with autistic children, Dr. Upledger discovered the use of multiple hands therapy utilizing the craniosacral rhythm as a significant indicator for release of tissue restrictions. After a number of cranially directed releases, the child’s body began to move spontaneously. With sensitive awareness, Dr. Upledger and his assistants followed the child’s body motion while supporting the limbs until the body came to a point of stillness. This point of stillness was the stopping of the craniosacral rhythm. This point was significant in that the body tissues released and softened. Using this approach, Dr. Upledger and his assistants were able to facilitate the reduction of the high amount of tension in the children’s bodies. The tactile defensiveness of the autistic children changed to an expression of affection towards other human beings (2).

To date this very same approach is utilized in what is now referred to as SomatoEmotional Release(SER). When an injury to the body occurs, and this includes the birth process, the body not only registers the physical forces acting on it, but also the emotions and thoughts related to the incident. The physical forces coming into the body are dampened by the tissues of the body. The force is absorbed by the tissue often at a great expense to the body tissue. In most instances an emotional force is present at the time of such incidents or accidents, such as fear, anger and guilt. A natural SER process does often occur soon after the incident as one relaxes and processes what has happened. This process includes exhaustion and an outflow of feelings. Unfortunately, this release is not always possible due to other circumstances, such as 1) an automobile accident requiring hospitalization; 2) another person or family member is also hurt and their care comes first; 3)strong feelings of guilt that I caused the accident and I deserve it; 4) infinite variations. In this case the body then walls off this area of disorganized forces in a natural process called entropy. This area of entropy is called an energy cyst. Unless the energy cyst is released, it begins to require more of the individual’s energy to sustain itself.

This growing energy cyst affects other related parts of the body. If another incident occurs and causes another separate energy cyst, the situation becomes more complicated. For example, Dee was referred to me with temporomandibular joint(TMJ) pain. During the evaluation process I noted that structurally her temporal bones, cervical and lumbar spine, and sacrum were unbalanced. I also noticed energy cysts in her pelvis and lower abdomen and lower chest. During the treatment process I relied on the craniosacral rhythm becoming still as a significance indicator to know when Dee’s body was in position to release. I supported her body with light touch into many different positions necessary to release. Some of these positions were painful both physically and emotionally as the held forces exited. She remembered a fall on her tail when she was around eighteen years old. She remembered having an intestinal virus while she was in the Peace Corps in Peru. She released the fear that she experienced during that time and with some of the unusual local(Peruvian) treatments to her lower abdomen. Dee was also very tall and was trying to hide it by slouching. This posture had contributed to her neck pain and the energy cyst in her upper chest. After these releases, Dee began to appreciate her height, her neck pain disappeared and her TMJ pain reduced to very little. Dee had had much dental reconstruction work to balance occlusal surfaces. Now, due to her more comfortable body position, these occlusal surfaces were off and she proceeded to take care of that imbalance.

The healing process follows Herring’s Law of Cure which is based on the homeopathic principles of healing (3). In the healing process old symptoms return in the order of their occurrence, as we saw with Dee. Another of the laws is that a person heals from deep to superficial. The physical body is considered the most superficial, the mind/emotions deeper, and the spiritual aspect the deepest. Some times, although a person wants to get better, the choices at the deeper level seem to be more unbearable than the physical pain. These choices may involve a change in lifestyle and/or a move out of an unsupportive relationship.

The SER process often involves assisting the individual in getting in touch with his/her own inner physician or guide in whatever form it might take. The inner physician/guide helps and supports the individual in understanding the purpose of the pain and may even be the pain. To quote Kahlil Gibran, “...Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so you must know pain. Much of your pain is self chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.” (4) In this way the individual takes responsibility for the healing process and this process becomes his/her own personal growth journey. Dave described his five year period of pain as having his life put through a sieve and having to look at it. He is now moving without pain that was with him so long. Pain, with this view, becomes a teacher for us. With the use of CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional release we understand that the body knows what it needs to do to release its pain.

What has become clearer to me over the years of using CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release along with Zero Balancing is the concept of listening as the essence of the therapy. Listening is a very deep and profound act that facilitates the healing process in ourselves and in those we interact with. What an honor it is for anyone when that person one is relating to says, “I feel heard by you.” This response indicates the person feels he or she has been truly acknowledged. With respect to one’s individual health, that health is a function of how much one listens to one’s own inner wisdom.

For the health care practitioner listening is an art by which the client is assisted in moving towards health. “To find health should be the object of the physician,” said Andrew Taylor Still, founder of Osteopathy: “anyone can find disease.” While diagnosis of a disease or problem can be very helpful in knowing what to treat. The focus is mostly on what is wrong, rather that what is healthy about that individual.

Listening to another person happens in many different ways. Often people simply need to tell their story. Often in the story is the solution to the problem, as the psychotherapist often discovers. Practitioners of body-oriented therapies can feel their clients’ stories in their tissues. Our bodily tissues carry memories of everything that has happened in our lives, both positive and negative. The practitioner's listening hands acknowledge these memories and help the story to come out. The acupuncturist listens via hearing the sound in the voice, seeing the colors in the face and palpating the pulses of the energy meridians in the body. The intention of the health care practitioner is, through listening, to facilitate balance and movement in the whole person by their particular mode of care.

To feel heard by someone is a truly satisfying experience, as satisfying as a eating a tasty nourishing meal. To feel heard is to be acknowledged for who we really are: a healthy, vibrant, conscious human being. It is the times we feel heard by someone, or touched deeply by someone, that we really feel our life changed. We feel better because someone has acknowledged who we are as a person. That someone, whether friend, relative or health care practitioner, has touched us in a way that seems to touch every cell in us, and we feel acknowledged as a whole.

The art of listening is the act of acknowledging another’s humanness and place in the world, right here in this moment. And it is through being fully in the moment that we can find our own health, and our connection to a greater presence.


1. Upledger and Vredevoogd. CranioSacral Therapy, Eastland Press, Chicago, 1983.

    Upledger, John. CranioSacral Therapy: Beyond the Dura, Eastland Press, Seattle, 1987.

    Upledger, John. SomatoEmotional Release and Beyond, UI Publishing, Palm Beach Gardens,     


2. Upledger, John. SomatoEmotional Release and Beyond, pp. 5-9.

  1. 3.Smith, Fritz Frederick. Inner Bridges - A Guide To Energy Movement And Body Structure,      

    Humanics, New Age, Atlanta, 1986, pg. 172.

  1. 4.Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet, Grove Press, New York.

For more information on the Upledger Institute, visit