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What happens during a craniosacral treatment?

How does it work?

Technically speaking, craniosacral therapy is a gentle type of bodywork where the patient will rest on a massage table, fully clothed, while the practitioner uses their hands to “check in” on certain parts of the body such as the sacrum, diaphragm, and the individual bones of the skull. While checking in, the practitioner will feel for the patient’s craniosacral pulse to determine if there are any inconsistencies in the pattern or flow.

So, what is the craniosacral pulse? Well, most people are familiar with two other types of pulse in their bodies, the cardiac pulse (heart beat) and the respiratory pulse (breath rate), but there is also a third: the craniosacral pulse. This pulse is created by the movement of cerebrospinal fluid between the brain and the end of the spinal cord. As the fluid travels, it provides important nutrients to the brain and spine, while also flushing out any wastes from the cerebrospinal fluid so it can be recycled in the body. It is a process that takes roughly 6 - 12 seconds to complete.

Technicalities aside, how I like to think of craniosacral therapy is that the practitioner is primarily just listening to the body.

Our society is built in a way that teaches us to disconnect body and mind, rather than seeing them as a whole. Many of us have never put much consideration into things like how our diet impacts our health, or how things like stress and anxiety can have a real physical impact on our body. This means that a lot of the time we’ve trained ourselves to ignore the important messages our body is trying to send us. Why try and find out the source of our headaches when we can just take a Tylenol and forget we had one in the first place?

When our body goes through a traumatic event, be it physical or emotional, our body and mind do their best to protect us. Quite often, we are not consciously able to process everything that happens to us during a traumatic event, especially if it is a chronically occurring trauma like being in an abusive household or a high risk sport that often causes repetitive injuries. To lessen the blow to our consciousness, sometimes our traumas end up stored inside our bodies or deep in the back of our memories, locked away to protect us from taking on more than we can handle. This can manifest in many ways as no two people will react to trauma in the same way. Some examples could be things like nightmares, body aches and pains, habitual behaviours or addictions, digestive issues, or nervous ticks.

Although this is an important survival tactic, having trauma stored in the body can hinder our growth and ability to move on because it often causes blockages in the body. This is when simply listening to the body, hearing its story, and helping it to relax and release this stored trauma can be powerfully healing.

As the practitioner, I will start at my patient’s feet and with gentle touch I will check in with their craniosacral pulse. I also visually scan the body, observing the way the patient naturally lies, the angle of their limbs and head, areas that seem to be especially tight or relaxed, as well as how symmetrical these patterns I’m seeing are. I then progress through different areas of the body, from their sacrum to their pelvic and respiratory diaphragms, to each individual bone in the skull using light touch to observe the different areas and offer the body gentle direction so that it can release.

As a patient, it is a very relaxing experience and it’s even common to fall asleep. The first time I received craniosacral therapy, I was amazed to feel my body unwind and relax in places I hadn’t even known I was holding tension. As the practitioner is listening to different areas of the body, it draws the patient’s attention there as well, so you are listening together to what your body has undoubtedly been trying to tell you all along. Sometimes what it takes is a neutral party to facilitate this healing exchange between your conscious mind and your body.

The results will vary for everyone, but a common outcome is feeling relaxed, at peace, balanced, and ready to let go of something that was holding you back (whether you are consciously aware of what that is or not). Sometimes memories or emotions will come up related to things you had been carrying with you, but not always. Sometimes the practitioner will pick up on these things, even if you don’t!

Although releasing stuck trauma in the body isn’t all that craniosacral therapy is good for, and I’m sure there are many practitioners out there who use the art differently, this has always been the part of it that stands out most to me. It is why experiencing and studying craniosacral therapy has been so life changing for me, and why I am so honoured and thankful to be able to offer this form of healing to my community.