Cranial Fluid Dynamics–Consciousness and the Cranial Rhythm (CRI)

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Osteopathy in the Cranial Field conveys the understanding that the parenchymatous tissue of the brain has an inherent expansive and contractile quality. In addition, the partial emptying and filling of the ventricular elements within the brain’s cortex, through the circulation and replenishing of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), also causes a rhythmic unfolding and folding. The ventricles expand and contract in a manner not unlike a spiral and give a palpatory experience of an expansive and contractile involution of the lateral aspects of the brain mass.  This inherent cranial rhythm of the fluid elements within the ventricular system, first observed by William Garner Sutherland DO at the turn of the last Century, contains both amplitude and duration. As in any waveform, it also spreads laterally. It has a three-dimensional quality.

In manipulative therapies such as Cranial Osteopathy or Craniosacral therapy (and similar therapeutic developments from the original premise), the initial aim of the practitioner is to gauge, through palpation, the quality or inherent movement of the fluid or fascial elements (dura) in the cranium or any other part of the body. Depending upon the type of philosophy espoused, the practitioner will work primarily with the fascial or dural elements of the cranial system or the inherent rhythmicity (or otherwise) of the  (cerebrospinal) fluid system of the body. Their job is to ascertain what the inherent movement is doing, either at a gross–fascial–or more subtle–fluid level. The rhythm they seek moves both the tide and the elements floating upon the watery medium of the CSF. The cranial and spinal dural elements are influenced by the cranial rhythm and the movements of the reciprocal tension membrane (RTM), which envelopes floors and roofs and compartmentalizes the various elements of our brain. The brain exhibits motility from its interior cellular matrix and the CSF circulation’s ebb and flow, expanding and contracting and continuously rotating anteriorly and posteriorly the brain tissue. This elongates the cranial dura (RTM) and the spinal dural elements towards its caudal end, the sacrum.

Similarly, the fluid flows down through the spinal sub-arachnoid space into the nerve roots’ perineural spaces and circulates under and around the brain itself. The fluid appears to influence and perhaps merge into a global yet gentle tidal dynamic enveloping the entire body matrix. It may be that the ‘cranial’ rhythm felt by practitioners may also be an amalgam of resonances that are initially incoherent but become coherent and unified under the palpatory guide or presence of a skilled practitioner.

Each practitioner is guided to facilitate and help re-organize the altered dysfunction they perceive: whether by direct action, an induced still-point, or by simply being present with what is. Unfortunately, because we are trained to look for the cranial rhythmic impulse–the CRI–we tend to find what we seek. It’s not that we look for things; our biases allow us to root out and find what we particularly like or focus upon. If our favourite tool for change is the RTM or membranes surrounding, containing, flooring, and dividing the brain, we will find in our palpation that these membranes move in a particular way. They will emphasize a particular direction in movement–into flexion, or held in extension, exaggerated side bending, or rotation.

Meanwhile, a therapist who works with the fluid will find stasis, apparent absence, pooling, or a lack of flow. An osteopath interested in the state of the tissues will find what his repertoire knows. All of us are inclined towards our specific expertise and natural proclivity.

Osteopaths have long noticed, empirically, that a slower rhythm may indicate a chronic depressive state, the presence of viruses, and/or biochemical and drug depressants. A faster rhythm is often encountered in psychotic, schizophrenic, and hallucinatory states, as well as acute febrile situations. We can categorize the duration, which may support or lead us towards differential diagnosis. Once we have understood what the tissues are doing, we can augment the aberrant rhythm and flow, dural or fascia, by inducing or applying what is known as a still point.

Still Point

The still point is not unlike being in the eye of a hurricane. It is a “quietening” of the forces that upset the normal cranial rhythm or dural (tissue) movement. The original osteopathic technique was for the practitioner to find the area that appeared to move aberrantly and very subtly induce a fulcra to initiate a still point by exaggerating the dominant movement inherent in the tissues towards stillness. Other practitioners use similar or slightly modified techniques to induce change in the brain, fascia, and general fluid.

As described above, the problem inherent in this induced model is that we, as practitioners, initiate changes that come from us. In so doing, we may “lever” a change that is not lasting, as the client has not initiated it. Furthermore, it is entirely possible to palpate–that is, to feel another practitioner’s work within a client’s tissues. It is as if they have left a calling card. This card reminds, albeit subconsciously, that this practitioner got them better–or perhaps made them worse. These unconscious messages may create a foci whereby the client feels obligated or beholden to a particular therapist, especially if the work got them feeling better. This is, of course, the function of therapy, but what it does is to make the client unable to initiate their own healing without someone else supporting or fixing them.

The State of the Client

When ill or in dysfunction, a client will display a particular state. They may exhibit differing emotional states besides pain–a defence mechanism. This is because their vegetal body has been directly affected by their dysfunction.   The vegetal niche provides for our innate ability to live, as it contains our physiology and all our organs and systems that look after our interior workings.  This vegetal part of us provides us with both primitive and sophisticated sensory elements; nocio- or baro-receptors (for example). When interpreted by our right brain, they provide our gut feelings or intuition, from which we humans manufacture our feelings and emotions. Higher senses complete the picture, a legacy of the animal kingdom and a legacy from the plant world, albeit upgraded as they are many evolutionary steps beyond their initial structure and function.   The vegetal body is also the neurological realm of the autonomic nervous system and our ability to react to present situations–the sympathetic or adrenergic drive–and to rest and repair (parasympathetic) when not running, fighting, defending, or mating. Our vegetal aspect nourishes, provides, maintains our internal environment, repairs, and heals us. In illness and dysfunction, the vegetal self will not be in its rightful ‘place’; the dysfunction will have placed it figuratively out of place. It may occupy any niche other than its proper place, or it will be in its proper place. Still, it may have metaphorically grown in size–functional stasis, lymphatic congestion, obesity, local fluid stasis, enlarged organ viz: heart, gut, liver.

We can look at any person’s state concerning the life forces. The same life forces that support us also support the cranial fluid mechanism. When we become altered by the dominance of a force, then we become imprisoned by it, and it takes precedence in our lives. A force can originate from any level of who we are – material, vegetative, animal, or human. It can be the force of our culture and what we have inherited (material). It may be the force created by a feeling or emotion that we still hold onto or are entangled in (vegetative). It may be the force of our habitual patterns, sexuality, and passions (animal). Our thinking and human ideas can also exert a hold on us (human.


Left: normal order. 2nd from left: dominant historical feeling/physiology, sensitive human, entrapped instincts. 3rd from left: Dominant historical instincts or power, with buried imprisoned human (in the dark). 2nd from right: Dominant instincts, human in reflexive place. Far right: Buried under an ancestral (old) feeling, restricted feelings, ambition, and humanity.

The rhythm will change to mirror the organism’s altered niche (see picture above).

The display of a human body shows us the quality of the life force affecting the state of the patient/client. In Cranial Fluid Dynamics, we teach students to understand each life force, how it manifests, and in what area of the body its influence is displayed.

Traditional cranial work, on the whole, works with the system’s fascial envelope and fluid dynamic. However, one of the problems with working with the fascial envelope–a traditional focus for many in Craniosacral therapy– is that the envelope encloses the neurological elements of the brain and all other tissue and is designed to hide and evade entry. That infers that its job is protective. Dura mater means ‘protective mother’, and what has been observed is that chasing the lesion pattern through the protective nature of the fascia may lead us into a blind spot, a dead end, or merely a satisfying change for change’s sake. In other words, no real change occurred except for the stillness and a sense of ease. It is referred to as a horizontal change without a vertical state shift.

The force of Consciousness

It would appear that the precursor for aberrant rhythms within the body stems from a separation from the true Self. This ability to connect with the Self also keeps us in touch with the tidal flow of the Universe and its rhythm. This internal physiological rhythm echoes something much bigger and more complete. We mirror this, connect with it, and move away from it as other forces take precedence. We can learn to be in this normal and dynamic rhythm by truly knowing who we are and recognising our state. This is a true human consciousness, the source of true health.

Cranial Fluid Dynamics introduces a revolutionary new paradigm in cranial work. Hand modes and Ontological Kinesiology provide the practitioner with cutting-edge technology for determining the precise source of the client’s dysfunction.

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