– Humanistic Psychology Journal

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Exploring the forces that alter the fluid rhythm and tides of the craniosacral system

The cranial fluid system is a powerful self-organizing homeostatic system inherent in all of us. Its therapeutic use was discovered in the very early twentieth century by osteopath Dr. William Garner Sutherland DO.


Sutherland came across the notion of the skull having movement when he idly noticed that the squamosal articulation of the temporal bone moved slightly in the dried specimen skull that he was observing. He had an epiphany, as his mind saw that the bone reminded him of the gills of a fish, and the thought appeared, that these paired temporal and lateral bones were designed for breathing. He spent the next many years researching the notion that the skull was plastic and that the sutures allowed for continuous yet minute movement throughout life.
He started to look at the interior of the brain and its physical structures. He was looking for a simple engineering solution, as this was the tenet of the osteopathic idea: structure governs function. He started looking closely at the dural mechanism known as the tentorium and the falx cerebri and falx cerebelli. These four sickle-shaped membranes partially bifurcated the brain vertically, and also held the brain horizontally within the posterior aspect of the skull, holding aloft the cerebrum from the bellow-shaped cerebellum below. He named these membranes the RTM or reciprocal tension membrane. He postulated that these supportive and rather inelastic structures held a potent tension between the bones and the contents (of the cranium) and had an intrinsic tendency towards movement when an alteration occurred in the vertical and horizontal dimensions. This change of shape initiated very minute bony changes which the sutures, still patent, allowed.

The engine for this, he supposed, was an inherent motility within the brain itself, motored from a rhythmic partial emptying and filling of the fluid-filled (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) ventricles deep within both hemispheres and the central core of the brain itself. He began to study and palpate this fluid energetic system and in doing so, created a very profound hypothesis that became known as the philosophy of osteopathy in the cranial field.

Cerebral ventricles

Cerebral ventricles

He understood from his extensive self-testing—he would tie a homemade tourniquet-like apparatus to his head to restrict sutural movements—that the inherent movement of the ventricles, brain, and dura had a direct effect on the wellbeing of the physiological processes of the body. He further suggested that the whole body had a reciprocal structural relationship with the head and that minute alterations of the skull would, in turn, directly alter fascial and muscular components all along the torso, abdomen, and down through the extremities. These in turn would alter the pathway of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems and the subsequent delivery systems for blood and lymph. He would take his mentor’s (Andrew Taylor Stills DO) aphorism ‘the artery rules supreme’ and he began to note that a deranged vascular supply and drainage appeared to be the root of local or systemic illness.

An engineering approach

In the beginning, Sutherland worked out an engineering model concerning the movement of the RTM and also the movement of all the sutures of the cranium (and joints of the body). He constructed a map of how the cranial bones, dura, and brain moved. He understood the vectors and fulcra that would help explain the intricacies of the various sutural shapes (serrated, tooth-like, pegged, gliding,) and the various supportive tissues which created a balanced yet dynamic movement within structures. He also understood how internal and external factors could influence these fulcra, by imposing other fulcra that disorganized the normal movement of the cranium and its content. He understood perfectly how the brain could be unbalanced due to trauma, accidents, birth traumas, and other forces. By balancing the distortions, through sophisticated palpation–thinking, feeling, knowing fingers– he would facilitate the body’s own inherent motility, aided by the underlying fluid dynamic (read: the natural ebb and flow of CSF) to free and reorganize itself from the aberrant vectors that had been imposed upon the structure; holding it prisoner to time and place. The physiologically therapeutic process initiated by balancing the vectors into their pattern of distortion–taking the forces themselves into balance rather than antagonism–is called the still point.

The still point is when the whole cranial mechanism goes into quietness; where there is no movement, no flow, no pulse nor rhythm. Only balance. In this cessation of movement, change occurs, as the tissues unwind from the abnormal vectors back into their physiologic and structural norm.

This same principle can be applied in any part of the body:  the bones of the head, the RTM, joints, and structures of the body, and organs. Extrinsic or exogenous forces that had been applied to the structures—physical traumas, etc.—are eased into normality by finding the vectors and fulcra that brought the errant structure from ease and balance to distorted imbalance, where the structural integrity of tissues must adapt to find some sort of norm. In the still point, the forces dissipate, and the structure eases, first into an exaggerated state of imbalance and then to return to ease and normalcy.

Osteopathy in the cranial field

Sutherland presented his work to the Osteopathic profession in 1955, who roundly disapproved of his new ideas. His colleagues could not wrap their minds around this simple intrinsic model, as they had pursued the rather more mechanistic route of gross manipulation of the major and minor structures of the body to appease or enhance Still’s admonition of freeing the lesion so that the blood could return to normal. Nevertheless, with quiet persistence, Sutherland took along some colleagues who became the stalwarts of the ‘cranial field’.

Since the 1950′s, two osteopathic “camps” have evolved, roughly described as either having a mechanical or energetic bent. The mechanical approach seeks to reorganize the cranial sutures, and dural and systemic distortions through unwinding the cranial system via gentle imposition of the “still point” or the application of minute force to elicit change. The cranial osteopaths who favor an energetic approach use the “tide” or rhythms within the fluid system to facilitate a reorganization of the system, to unwind the lesion patterns.

Structure governs function

If the physical body becomes disturbed, our physiology also becomes disturbed. This changes our housekeeping—our internal environment— and consequently, our altered biochemistry disturbs our gait and movement, how we act, and how we think. Correcting the disturbed structures initiates changes so that our organism moves back into homeostasis and balance. Cranial work that uses a fluid approach believes that trauma and other accidents alter the relationship of the fluid body at cellular, tissue, and organ levels, putting us out of rhythm with a primary organizing tide. The tide is the cerebral spinal fluid that bathes the neuro-axis of the whole body and originates from deep within the brain’s structure, in the ventricles as well as the parenchymatous tissue of the brain. Sutherland developed his ideas suggesting that there was an inherent motor function initiated by the ventricles, as they filled and partially emptied of CSF in their normal circulation from the internal spaces within the brain and their exiting to encircle or encompass the brain itself and also to flow down through the perineural spaces of the spinal cord and nerve roots. This expansion of the ventricles when they filled the liquor, and the subsequent contraction as the internal spaces partially emptied created a tidal flow and an inherent expansion-contraction, rotation, and vertical displacement of the the whole brain axis. This minute but palpable movement created the fulcrum change of the RTM that moved the bones ever so slightly into different relationships–extension and flexion, external and internal rotation–which created the patency of the sutures as they adapted to the constant movement. This movement is counted as having a 6-second cycle, but may be different in individuals naturally, and can act as an indicator of well-being when the rhythm is lower or faster than this norm.

Many osteopaths recognize that exogenous forces impose themselves upon the body and the underlying fluid body, causing illness and dysfunction. However, they take a singular view that the physical structure rules supreme, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates and maintains the inherent dynamic of the system. They do not adhere to the causal effects of the unseen that press quietly and constantly upon the body, until the organism becomes disorganized, causing illness. This lack of an ontological perspective has been perhaps the singular most restricting element of the profession. The adherence to structure governs function rather than the forces governing everything, and they impose their influence upon the structures too. You may change the structure time and again, but unless the underlying forces are dealt with, the patterns return.

‘Thinking feeling knowing fingers’

Effective somatic work is prone to the vagaries of the practitioner’s own capacity to “see” or illuminate that which is felt. Awareness occurs at many levels; but coupled with an understanding of anatomy, our palpation—the capacity to “see” or illuminate that which is felt—reveals an enormous amount of data, interpreted through experience and knowledge. Surgical and anatomical experience and understanding are pivotal arguments for those in the osteopathic community. It is perhaps why certain contemporary cranial models have veered away from the mechanistic anatomical model and sought a more energetic approach.

Limbic reference and bias in palpation

While practitioners extract diagnosis from initial history and detailed observation, they primarily elicit it through hands-on palpation. What is felt is interpreted through an understanding of the “mechanism,” the palpation of a rhythm or its nuance, the acknowledgement of the force inherent in the bony, fascial, muscular, or organ structures, and knowledge of anatomy. When we use our palpation and other senses, the received data is tainted by our own previous history—as we often make a reflexive analysis. Recognizing that there is a variety of human types, shapes, and individual histories, our own internal assessment cannot ever gauge properly the “map” of the ontologic roots of illness and dysfunction, nor can our ordinary knowing, or instinct, ever compete with inner wisdom.

Gestures –a protolanguage

Most animals have behavioural mannerisms that act as primitive gestures to warn, attract, and alert in moments of danger. Higher mammals such as chimpanzees and gorillas appear to have elaborate signing gestures that also alert others to various needs, dangers, or social interaction. Human babies are often observed, particularly when functionally damaged, to place their fingers in precise and repeated configurations, perhaps to indicate their somatosensory malaise. Early icons, carvings, sculptures, and paintings depict human hand gestures or mudras (Sanskrit; meaning seal, token, gesture). Bronze casting of eastern sages or the Buddha in meditative pose will often depict one hand or both in a particular gesture. A brain research paper published in the National Academy of Sciences in November 2009, demonstrated that hand gestures stimulate the same regions of the brain as language.



Mudras are used as symbolic or ritual gestures in both Hinduism and Buddhism. They are often seen as spiritual gestures. In Tantric rituals, 108 mudras are used. In other forms of Indian Classical dance (Natya Shastra and Kathakali), there are 32 and 24 root mudras, and when used in combination amount to a vocabulary of some 900 words.
Specific mudras are used in branches of Indian healing to change the internal state, through direct manipulation of the somatosensory cortex and subsequent neural pathways into the limbic and reptilian brains.
When mudras are used in conjunction with ontological kinesiology, they create a narrative (like the dancer’s vocabulary) that emerges from the body person. This enables the practitioner to find the root cause that needs to be addressed. This cuts to the chase, bypassing the literate and all-pervasive mind, accessing the internal knowing, to understand the inner process that has occurred.

Craniosacral therapy

In the craniosacral model, the practitioner is taught to help facilitate or invoke a still point—the balance point around which vectors of influence have distorted the normal rhythm or dynamic of the system. Change occurs when the vectors dissipate and the relationship of the tissues and their innate rhythm reasserts itself. The practitioner learns to listen, and yet their listening often only tunes into a single rhythm rather than the complexity of the whole organism.

Traube-Hering wave – cranial rhythmic impulse–a summation of rhythms

Osteopathic lore contends that there is a cranial rhythmic impulse (CRI), a superficial but nevertheless pivotal resonance frequency that can indicate a dynamic healthy system. Underneath this rhythm are a variety of other rhythms that influence our health and capacity to heal. These rhythms act as keys to unlock deeper patterns and deeper processes the being is undergoing.

“Knowing versus feeling”

We can intuit—that is feel through our own emotional history and try to come to an understanding based on our own experiences. We can “sniff or root it out” instinctively, and chase and harass it until we have forced our understanding of the prey–what we want to find. We can know by an educated analysis, or be inspired by the muse within. But we may never know what we are dealing with, even if the client agrees with our observations.

Applied Kinesiology

In chiropractic, the development of muscle testing by Dr. George Goodheart was an attempt to move away from the intuitive to cognitive therapy. Goodheart observed and illustrated that remote switches could turn “off” or “on” muscle spindles. These switches altered muscle tonus, which in turn altered the functional relationships of the body, resulting in altered health. Applied Kinesiology (AK) mapped out bones, organs, acupoints, nutritional deficits, meridian dysfunction, cranial and other bony lesions that would affect particular muscles or groups. Alan Beardall DC brought into AK a gesture language or mudras. He used them as a form of communication (called Clinical Kinesiology / CK) that enabled precise corrective procedures and their order, which promoted the best and quickest resolution.

InnerDialogue elicits the client’s fundamental or core narrative through an ontological approach using kinesiology and mudras. Muscle testing elicits a change when the relevant mudra is placed into the hand(s) of the client. We stack a combination of mudras until their body lets us know that this is their immediate narrative. We hold their body in their story state, allowing the force of the narrative to facilitate the change of their distorted rhythms and tidal mechanisms.

An ontological approach to Cranial Osteopathy

An ontological approach enables us to observe or read how the parts of the human organism have been displaced, altered, or disordered. Effectively we note what qualities are contingent rather than existent. This ontologic model is based upon a Neoplatonic, early Christian, Kabbalistic, and Islamic theology and is supported by the notion that matter is energy, and energy when activated through time and place, acts as a force.

Ontological Kinesiology

Ontological Kinesiology uses mudras to read the story of a disorganized system. It charts inherited or memetic patterns, stored or constructed memories, environmental nuances, emotional and sensory experiences, habitual and instinctual behaviours, and human beliefs, as well as higher models of thought and understanding. We are able to find the root cause that makes a particular life force—prana (material), qi (vegetal), shamanic (animal), or human—become dominant and disorganize the system. Each life force is a manifestation/emanation of the various selves. We contain a material genomic self, a vegetal autonomic, instinctual somatosensory, and a human neocortical part. Our own awareness, state, proclivities, and agenda often prevent us from seeing the rhythmic mnemonic of the person’s state. This work allows us to find the story and hold this as a shape when palpating. Instead of manipulating or finding the still point, we instead hold the body and its story. The system changes by itself, as we become conscious of and hold, without force, the various accidents (illustrated through the narrative) that manifest through the structures of the body.

The person changes because they have a companion who holds them in their story without judgment. They change because they are supported by a conscious and cognitive awareness of their original dysfunction, presenting both the human choice to change and the feeling within to do so.

SOLIHIN THOM, DO (UK), DAc (SL), is the author of Being Human: Exploring the Forces that Shape Us and Awaken Inner Life. He has taught Cranial Fluid Dynamics © in Russia, Europe, the UK, and the U.S. for the last 37 years, which uses the cranial fluid system (CSF) to augment well-being and a dynamic relationship to Self.

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