Richard Popp

CranioSacral Therapy & Alternative Healing

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CST Articles

CranioSacral Overview Overview 

Sinusitis, TMJ, and Ringing in the Ears Sinusitis 

Ear Infections:  Ear Infections 

Spheniod Restrictions Spenoid 

Autism Autism 

Dementia:  Dementia 

Relaxation:  Relaxation 

Fibromyalgia:  Fibromyalgia 

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 "CranioSacral Therapies: Three Bodies, One Heart"

Massage Today
August, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 08

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC

In 1948, William Sutherland had an "Aha" moment that expanded his perspective on cranial osteopathy, a field he created that eventually gave birth to three bodies of CranioSacral Therapy: Upledger, Biodynamic and Visionary.

Years earlier he noticed the beveled sutures of a disarticulated skull and realized the cranium must be built for motion. Now he had another inspiration that would once again alter the shape of Western manual therapy

"He had his hands on a patient and spaced out just enough to get out of the way," says Michael Shea, PhD, author of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. "Suddenly he observed a force in the body that was making corrections without his having to add any force to the system. He began writing about the need to have reverence in our hands for this self-correcting power."

That reverence for the power of the human body lies at the heart of each model of CranioSacral Therapy (CST). Yet each one has its own personality. Here for the first time, three CST instructors discuss their shared history, what unites them, what distinguishes them, and what the future holds.

The Membrane Model: Upledger CST

There's one fact all three instructors agree on: The man responsible for delivering CranioSacral Therapy into the hands of manual therapists is John E. Upledger, DO. "He had the courage to take what, until 1985, had been called cranial osteopathy and encourage people who weren't osteopaths to study it," says Hugh Milne, DO, author of The Heart of Listening: A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work.

Upledger's journey began with his own "Aha" moment in 1971, when he was assisting in a neurosurgery, explains Don Ash, PT, author of The CST Handbook. "They were opening up the patient's spine to remove a piece of calcified plaque from the dural tube." Upledger's job was to hold the dura still, but he couldn't stop it from pulsing in and out of the incision site, and no one in the surgical suite understood what was causing it.

Intrigued, Upledger set out to resolve the mystery. His path led him to Sutherland's theories and he went on to become a skilled cranial osteopath. Then in 1975 he received a research grant from Michigan State University that would mark another turning point in the evolution of cranial work. "He gathered 22 scientists and researchers who were charged with proving or disproving Sutherland's theories," Ash says. "They came up with compelling studies demonstrating that cranial sutures aren't fused as everyone had believed. Finally, they had scientific evidence supporting Sutherland's theories on cranial motion."

Upledger also studied the effects of CST on autistic children. "When he liberated their cranial sutures using gentle techniques focused on the craniosacral system membranes, their behavior improved," Ash says. "They became more social, more engaged in the world." Upledger noticed some kids had emotional outbursts in session and became more interactive and responsive afterwards, leading him to expand his CST model to encompass SomatoEmotional Release.

"John was so inspired, he wanted to gather up all the cranial osteopaths he could find, put them on a bus and travel to different schools to work with these kids," Ash says. As the story goes, he could only find three cranial osteopaths, and none of them wanted to get on a bus. That motivated Upledger to dedicate his life to teaching CST to as many people as possible.

"Upledger said CranioSacral Therapy belonged to the world, and it's not the exclusive domain of any medical specialty. He began teaching osteopathic students, PTs, OTs, MTs, teachers, nurses, parents of special-needs kids, anyone with knowledge of basic anatomy, good intention and a gentle touch."

The Core Intention: Blend and Trust

In Healers on Healing, Benjamin Shield, PhD, dedicated the book to "Dr. John Upledger, who taught me that the shortest distance between two points is an intention." That focus on the intention of touch is another trait at the heart of each body of CranioSacral Therapy. The core intention of Upledger CST is to blend and trust, Ash says. "We use all our senses to feel the innate movement of the central nervous system. We blend and listen as the cranial rhythm guides us to tissue restrictions. Then by way of gentle techniques and good intention, we invite the body to change."

"Andrew Still, the father of osteopathy, said anyone can find disease, but how do we find health?" said Ash. "We can't cure anything with CST. We simply facilitate the patient's self-healing. It's virtually risk-free. In 25 years, I've never seen an adverse reaction."

A Modality by Any Other Name

As Upledger refined his body of work, other osteopaths and manual therapists were evolving Sutherland's insights to create their own models of CST. Yet Ash believes what distinguishes them comes down to semantics. "We all agree there's a rhythmic movement of the central nervous system and healing potential of the cerebrospinal fluid. We agree with the osteopathic principles that the body is an interrelated unit, function follows structure, and the body has all the pharmacopeia it needs to heal itself. Allopathic interventions may be helpful at times, but the body has self-healing capability. And we all agree with using as little manual force as possible."

Finally, Ash says they all appreciate the potency of cerebrospinal fluid and recognize that it has consciousness, "although I'm grateful that Biodynamic and Visionary expand on this. I think there's a lot to be learned about the nature of fluid in the system."

The Fluid Model: Biodynamic CST

When Michael Shea heard the words "cranial work" as a massage student in 1976, a light bulb went off in his head. "I had to learn it, so I rushed to every course I could find. But it was all underground, taught only by osteopaths in weekend workshops." One of those osteopaths was John Upledger.

Shea went on to teach at The Rolf Institute, but by 1981 he felt burned out using so much pressure every day. "Craniosacral has such a light touch. I knew it would save my neck, my spine, my joints, my whole body. So I threw myself at it again." Five years later, Upledger invited Shea to become one of his first CST instructors. He accepted the invitation and taught for about a year before opening his own school so he could also teach Myofascial Release.

Along the way Shea heard about James Jealous, DO, who had continued developing Sutherland's cranial osteopathy along the lines of the Biodynamic approach. "I wanted to find out if Biodynamic was the next evolution of cranial work," Shea says. "Jim gave me a year-long series of phone interviews and it quickly became clear that this was a different orientation to cranial work. It came from Sutherland so it was part of the cranial lineage, but it came from what he'd been developing before he died when he had the inspiration that the body has self-healing power associated with a tempo much slower than the cranial rhythm."

The Biodynamic model is based on synchronizing yourself with that slow body tempo, called the "long tide," rather than faster rhythms like the cranial rhythm, Shea says. "There was something Sutherland noticed about this deeper tempo that's systemic and three-dimensional. It has a potency to make changes in the body, and it has its own ability to direct the therapeutic process. I tell my students, 'Most of us learned to work on 8 percent of the human body. But because Biodynamic work extends to all the fluid sub-compartments as one entity called the 'fluid body,' we get to work on 92 percent of the human body.'"

The Biodynamic Dance

The central focus of a Biodynamic session is self-awareness. Shea says, "When you're learning, you've got to spend 80 percent of a session tracking your own three-dimensional wholeness. Then you bring that attunement to your client. Later it becomes more like 50/50, but first you learn to get grounded and embodied so you can trust your own sensory process, because when you're with a client you read them with your whole body."

It's a practitioner-patient dance, he says. "We can't keep our attention on a client for 45 minutes. It'll send the autonomic nervous system off the charts. So we learn to dance in cycles of slow attunement. The practitioner brings his attention to the client, then back to his own body to monitor himself. Then he may move his attention out the window to look at a cloud, then back to the client again. Ultimately, the practitioner is looking for whether the client's fluid body can breathe as a three-dimensional whole with the long tide. This rhythmic cycle rebuilds the nervous system."

A Distinction of Timing

After Sutherland developed the cranial concept, Shea says several decades were spent refining the mechanical model. "But after a while, working on the parts wasn't enough. Osteopaths noticed that the parts had a relationship to the whole systemic physiology of the body. That's when the functional model began. Now the spirit of Biodynamic work, which starts with the whole and moves toward the parts, is becoming embodied in the different models."

According to Shea, Upledger CST is a highly effective functional model. "It's got wholeness in terms of its focus on neurophysiology and fascia." And Visionary brings a spiritual dynamic and a welcome emphasis on the heart. "The main difference is that Biodynamic focuses on the long tide as a perceptual process in a two-person biology between the therapist and client. Then we wait for the stillness. In stillness is the renewal."

The Mystical Model: Visionary CST

The Visionary branch of CST goes back to 1899 when Sutherland was studying under Andrew Still, says Hugh Milne, DO. "In Contributions of Thought, Sutherland said, 'You might say Dr. Still was like an X-ray. He could look right through you and see things without putting his hands upon the body. Time and again, Still walks in the door, points to the model and says, 'Look, that's what's wrong.' He didn't touch the model, but he could see it.'"

"I began having similar experiences at osteopathic school," Milne explains. "A patient would walk in and I instantly knew what was wrong with him. Frankly, I doubted my sanity." His quest to understand led him to India where he lived in an ashram and worked at a multidisciplinary clinic. He was finally free to practice osteopathy any way he wanted. "I learned Shiatsu and deepened my meditation practice," Milne says. "All that evolved into Visionary Craniosacral work."

Angeles Arrien, a shaman and teacher, said a visionary can perceive four things at once - the physiological parts, the physiological whole, the client's spiritual journey and his own process -- and treat all four equally. "That's one of the foundations of the four-fold understanding of Visionary Craniosacral," Milne says. "But the genius of the work is simply the magic of what happens between two people."

Milne has a special appreciation for CST as a spiritual practice. "The honoring of stillness is a spiritual practice to me, so meditation is my preparation for Visionary work. Rumi said, 'There is a way between speech and presence where information flows. In disciplined silence, it opens. In wandering talk, it closes.' When I get silent, the channel opens. On a good day I'm picking up information with my inner ear. I'm sensing the client's soul journey with my own heart and soul. And I'm doing my best through tactile and verbal means to help my client regain their inner path."

Visionary work also encompasses tools of classic shamanism, such as soul-retrieval, ritual, and the healing power of nature. Ultimately, the intention is simply to set someone right. "The ancient salutation on arriving at the shaman's doorstep is, 'I come to you in order to see,'" Milne says. "That is, I'm having a difficult time. I'm sick. I've lost my bearing and can't manage on my own. The intention is to set this person right, to bring them back to their true self. With Visionary work, I see a radiant human being standing in his own power and beauty, in touch with his gifts, his genius. The practitioner's job is to help someone be in their radiance, not simply let go of a symptom. We help create an open heart, a clear head and a free body."

The Modality That Shouldn't Be Named

"I have great respect for other styles of cranial work," Milne says. "Upledger seems to follow Sutherland's classic teaching. Biodynamic has evolved Sutherland's work in the realm he was most fascinated with the last few years of his life, the wisdom in fluids. It also honors stillness and the Taoist understanding that what needs to happen will happen if we create an open, non-directive field. When given an open space, the human body and the soul's wisdom will rise to the highest good for body and soul."

Visionary comes in with a focus on the human being as a soul on a journey. But in the end, Milne says, distinctions don't matter. "The client is oriented to a therapist, not a therapy. I once had a dream that Sutherland walked into my room, looked at me kindly and said, "You shouldn't try to name it. None of the names are right." I woke with a start. Was it a visitation? A fantasy? I don't know, but the words ring true. Whether it's Upledger or Biodynamic or Visionary, you shouldn't try to name it. None of the names are right."

From Inspiration to Evolution

Today, all three bodies of CranioSacral Therapy inspired by Sutherland continue to evolve. "When I began teaching in 1984, I thought this was a fad," Milne says. "Instead it's grown every year. Ida Rolf once told her students, 'If any one of you is only practicing what I've taught you five years from now, I will have failed as a teacher.' That's a good teacher. Every practitioner needs to find and follow their own genius."

Author's Note: Spelling alternates between "CranioSacral" and "Craniosacral" based on each instructor's preference.


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Clear Your Head with a Subtle Touch

Prevention Nov. 2010

Sezelle Gereau-Haddon, M.D., Otolaryngologist

Instead of surgery or drugs to treat chronic sinusitis, TMJ, or ringing in the ears, Dr. Gereau-Haddon recommends a painless, tiny adjustments of the bones of the skull and spinal cord via craniosacral therapy... Her patients show improvement and, in some cases undergo full remission of symptoms.  Its thought to work by taking pressure off the auditory nerves in the lining of the brain, which helps the cerebral-spinal fluid flow more freely.


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"Alleviating Ear Infections Through Craniosacral Therapy" posted:7/26/2010

Written and Illustrated by Tad Wanveer, L.M.B.T., C.S.T.-D.

Craniosacral therapy can help children overcome ear infections by improving Eustachian tube (ET) shape. As ET shape improves, substances can then flow through the tube more easily. Blockage or congestion of the ET is a frequent cause of ear infections because harmful material can collect inside the middle ear...

Ear infections can cause pain as well as compromise a child’s ability to hear, speak, move, read and pay attention. Craniosacral therapy is a gentle method of freeing a child’s ET of obstruction or congestion, which can promote drainage of substances out of the middle ear and relieve excessive pressure from inside the middle ear. As this happens, an ear infection can resolve more easily and the middle ear can work normally, thus leading to improvements in hearing and other problems caused by ear infection....


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Bodyworkers Can Influence the Cranial Keystone

by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.

Known as the cranial keystone, the sphenoid bone is one of the more mysterious parts of our anatomy. Connected with many common problems, a restricted sphenoid can be freed by cranial-sacral therapy.


Located in the very center of the skull, the sphenoid bone is in a unique and influential position. While many allopathic physicians address a large span of health complaints associated with a restricted sphenoid, working directly with this bone is far from simple. However, learning how to effectively administer cranial-sacral therapy affords health practitioners this seemingly challenging feat. Since its assimilation into complementary medicine in the 1930s, bodyworkers trained in cranial-sacral therapy have been able to create many healing opportunities by gently manipulating this cranial bone.

Sphenoid Anatomy
Named for its wedge-like butterfly shape, the sphenoid is a prominent, irregularly shaped bone at the base of the skull. Because it is in contact with all of the other cranial bones, the sphenoid is often referred to as the "keystone" of the cranial floor.

The sphenoid has a number of features and projections, requiring a student to study it from various perspectives to fully appreciate its form. This single bone runs through the mid-sagittal plane and helps connect the cranial skeleton to the facial skeleton. The sphenoid articulates posteriorly with the occipital bone, laterally with the temporal and parietal bones, and anteriorly with the frontal and ethmoid bones. It consists of a hollow body, which contains the sphenoidal sinus, and three pairs of projections:

1. The more superior lesser wings
2. The intermediate greater wings
3. The most inferior projecting pterygoid processes

The anterior surface of the great wings forms most of the posterior walls of the orbital cavities. The optic foramina, located in the bases of the small wings, provide for the passage of the optic nerves from the eyes to the base of the brain. The superior surface of the body of the sphenoid contains a deep depression housing the pituitary gland, called the sella turcica, or Turk's saddle. In addition, the plentitude of surfaces and articulations of the sphenoid harbor the passage of:

· The ophthalmic artery into the orbital cavity
· The third, fourth, fifth and sixth cranial nerves from the brain into the orbital cavity
· The maxillary division of the fifth cranial nerve
· The mandibular division of the fifth cranial nerve
· The middle meningeal blood vessels

Separated by a bony septum projecting downward into the nasal cavity, the sphenoid bone also contains two sinuses, which lie side by side. The most common way for allopathic medical practitioners to access the sphenoid bone is through the nasal passages.

Sphenoid Movement
Cranial-sacral therapy was first developed by William Sutherland, DO in 1892. Dr. Sutherland realized the cranial bones allow for small amounts of movement driven by the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Identified as a wave-like motion, the cranial-sacral rhythm carries CSF up and down the spine and around the brain. Despite it being tethered in many different planes, the non-stationary sphenoid bone plays an active role in the circulation of CSF. Within the brain, the cranial pumping mechanism known to circulate the CSF occurs where the sphenoid bone articulates with the basilar portion of the occiput bone.

With each breath we take, the nasal conchae fill up with air, which applies pressure on the anterior portion of the sphenoid bone and the sphenoidal sinus where it contacts the basilar portion of the occiput bone. This pressure causes the spheno-basilar junction to move slightly posterior and inferior. On expiration, the spheno-basilar articulation relaxes as the pressure created by the inhaled air is exhaled. This release of pressure causes the spheno-basilar junction to move slightly anterior and superior. These movements of the spheno-basilar junction are believed to drive the cranial-sacral rhythm. This rhythm pumps CSF down through the spinal canal on its journey around the spine, sacrum and back up to the cranium.

The movement between the sphenoid and the occiput has long been considered a primary focus in cranial therapeutics. In the osteopathic model developed by Dr. Sutherland and later presented in books by Magoun and Upledger, the following movements occur between the sphenoid and occiput near or at the sphenobasilar junction:

· Flexion/Extension
· Torsion (Right and Left)
· Side-Bending (Right and Left)
· Vertical Strain
· Lateral Strain
· Sphenobasilar Compression

Problems Associated With the Sphenoid
Medical professionals often perceive the keystone of the cranial floor as off-balance or restricted in its movement. When the structure deep inside the skull is not moving freely, there can be many repercussions. As a direct or indirect result of hindered CSF flow, an inhibited sphenoid bone can cause many conditions. Below are 18 ailments often associated with a restricted sphenoid:

1. Chronic Pain
2. Asthma
3. Anxiety
4. Bell's Palsy
5. Trigeminal Neuralgia
6. Depression
7. Ear Infections
8. Epilepsy
9. Dental or TMJ Problems
10. Dyslexia
11. Exhaustion
12. Hyperactivity
13. Insomnia
14. Eye Problems, Including Visual Disturbances
15. Sinusitis
16. Tinnitus and Middle Ear Problems
17. Headaches or Migraines
18. Hormone Imbalances

How Bodyworkers Can Readjust the Sphenoid
While specially trained physicians aim to reset an unbalanced sphenoid bone by inserting specialized instruments up both nasal cavities, these techniques are beyond a bodyworker's scope of practice. Luckily, cranial-sacral therapy accomplishes this same task through a non-invasive, extremely gentle application.

Bodyworkers trained in cranial-sacral therapy can free the sphenoid from any restrictions, by applying point and direction specific pressure on the cranium. Equivalent to the weight of a nickel, this pressure is barely perceptible to the recipient of the therapy.

Because it articulates with all of the other cranial bones and its movement is responsible for circulating the CSF, the sphenoid bone is one of the primary foci of cranial-sacral adjustments. Understanding the complex, 3-dimensional anatomy of this bone can help bodyworkers practicing cranial-sacral therapy better visualize their work. Through their influence over this cranial keystone, bodyworkers who include this method are in the best position to help clients recover from a long list of undesirable ailments.


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 by Tad Wanveer

Abnormal brain shape may be a factor in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Structure and function are inseparable; alterations in one, to some degree, will modify the other.  CranioSacral Therapy can help optimize brain structure, which often improves function.

The irregularly shaped brain areas associated with ASD are the:

  • amygdala,

  • hippocampus,

  • corpus callosum,

  • cerebellum.

The amygdala regulates emotions and aggression. The hippocampus is involved in learning and memory. The corpus callosum is the main pathway for brain intercommunication.  The cerebellum is linked to movement control as well as attention shifting.  Dysfunction of these structures may explain some of the atypical behavior seen in ASD.

A primary focus of CranioSacral Therapy is helping the body decrease structural stress so the body can improve function, which has been shown to help those with ASD improve communication with others, enhance interaction with their surroundings, and promote a feeling of inner ease.

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Relieving The Diseases Associated with Aging

Massage Today March 2012 Vol. 12 Number 3

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC

Michael Morgan, LMT, CST-D, witnessed the harsh effects of Alzheimer's firsthand ... According to Michael, his determination to help that growing population spawned a 12-week pilot research study called "Craniosacral Still Point Technique: Exploring Its Effects in Individuals with Dementia. "*  

 "Halfway through the program, about two-thirds of the patients started improving,"  Michael said.  "They became more interactive, more cognizant, and their verbal and social behavior improved.  We had one 100-year-old woman begin speaking in complete sentences and feeding herself again." 

...Michael is well acquainted with the benefits of strengthening the flow of cerebrospinal fluid to help relieve inflammation.  "Cerebrospinal fluid can help wash away toxins that may have crossed the blood-brain barrier and accumulated in the brain."  As people age, their natural production of cerebrospinal fluid decreases, Michael explains. "the body can go from producing as much as 800 milliliters a day down to 400 milliliters a day."  The still-point study goes on to state that cerebrospinal-fluid levels in individuals with senile dementia can be as low as 200 milliliters a day.   So it makes sense that a hands-on therapy known for increasing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid would have a beneficial effect on aging.

According to the research study, the most challenging aspect of caring for dementia patients is their general state of agitation, because they don't remember that their caregivers are trying to help.  At the end of the study, the staff reported that six of nine participants were more cooperative during their daily caregiving activities.

*  "Craniosacral Still Point Technique: Exploring Its Effects in Individuals with Dementia" by Linda A. Gerdner, PhD, RN; Laura K. Hart, PhD, RN; M. Bridget Zimmerman, PhD.  Journal of Gerontological Nursing, March 2008, Vol. 34.

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Cranial Therapy Effects Relaxation posted: 1/26/2011
by Flo Barber-Hancock, Ph.D., L.M.T.

A variety of cranial and craniosacral techniques are taught by many organizations and individual instructors, and the use of these therapies has become increasingly popular. Because many massage clients have heard or read something about cranial techniques, they are often receptive to experiencing this modality.

More importantly, cranial therapy can offer benefits above and beyond other massage techniques, enhance the effectiveness of other modalities and sometimes contribute to longer-lasting therapeutic outcomes. An added plus is performing this technique is less physically stressful for the therapist than many other hands-on techniques.

A benefit of all types of cranial therapy is the deeper relaxation that can occur when the craniosacral system is balanced. Whether a massage client is seeking primarily pain relief, improved muscle and joint function, or relaxation, enhancing systemic and muscular relaxation is always a plus.


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CranioSacral Therapy Reduces Fibromyalgia Patients' Pain posted: 1/26/2011

by Carol McLellan, C.M.T., CST-D

Craniosacral therapy, a light-touch bodywork technique practiced by many massage therapists, has been found in new research to provide "significant reduction in pain" in fibromyalgia patients.

The randomized, controlled trial investigated the effects of craniosacral therapy on pain and heart-rate variability in fibromyalgia patients, according to a report published on It was conducted by researchers from the Department of Nursing and Physical Therapy at the University of Almería in Spain.

"Fibromyalgia is a prevalent musculoskeletal disorder associated with widespread mechanical tenderness, fatigue,non-refreshing sleep, depressed mood and pervasive dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system: tachycardia, postural intolerance, Raynaud's phenomenon and diarrhea," the researchers noted.  Ninety-two patients with fibromyalgia were randomly assigned to an intervention group or placebo group, according to the report. Patients received treatments for 20 weeks. The intervention group underwent a craniosacral therapy protocol and the placebo group received sham treatment with disconnected magnetotherapy equipment. 


Results include: 

•  After 20 weeks of treatment, the intervention group showed significant reduction in pain at 13 of the 18 tender points; 

•  At two months and also at one year post-therapy, the intervention group still showed significant differences in pain reduction versus baseline in several tender points.  "Craniosacral therapy improved medium-term pain symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia," the researchers concluded.

Results of the study are running in the Aug. 11, 2011 issue of Clinical Rehabilitation.

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