Cranio Sacral RolfingThe Cranio-Sacral system is a physiological system within the body working in conjunction with other body systems such as the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine or nervous systems. Anatomically the Cranio-Sacral system is at the core of the body, from the cranium along the line of the spine to the triangular bone between the hips called the sacrum. From this deep core level the Cranio-Sacral system influences the rest of the body; in fact there is no part of the body that is not affected by the functioning of the Cranio-Sacral system. The manifestations of this system are profound yet subtle, such that practitioners must undergo extensive training to feel its motion.

There are 4 main parts to the Cranio-Sacral system:

1. The Membrane System or Meninges

2. Fluid

3. Bones

4. Fascia

The Membrane System

The innermost membrane layer, the Pia Mater (soft mother), closely envelopes the Central Nervous System. The outermost membrane layer, the Dura Mater (tough mother) surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In the head this Dural membrane attaches to all the cranial bones. In the spine the Dural membrane attaches to the 2nd and 3rd bones of the neck, the sacrum and the tail bone (coccyx). In the head the Dural membrane forms a double layer: the outer layer attaches to the inside of the cranial bones and the inner layer forms several infoldings containing Venus Sinuses which are responsible for drainage of various blood from the brain. Within the spinal column the Dural membrane is penetrated by sensory nerves bringing information from the body’s muscles and motor nerves sending the brain’s commands to those muscles. Thus, restrictions or dysfunctions of the Membrane System can influence the nerve function and blood drainage from the brain.


The Cranio-Sacral system is like a membranous balloon containing cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and bathes the Central Nervous System as it constantly flows around the brain and spinal cord providing necessary nutrition and drainage. Blockage or restriction of fluid pathways affects the health of the Central Nervous System and the rest of the body. The movement of the cerebrospinal fluid and the Dural Membrane can be felt as a tidal motion, a kind of welling and receding that can be felt and influenced from any part of the body by the trained practitioner – this is called the Cranio-Sacral rhythm.


The Dural Membrane is attached to the 8 bones of the cranium (frontal, parietals, temporals, occiput, sphenoid and ethmoid bones), the 2nd and 3rd bones of the neck, the sacrum and the coccyx. Consequently these bones, and by connection other bones of the body, move in response to the tidal expansion and contraction of the Cranio-Sacral rhythm. Monitoring the range and relative freedom of movement of these bones is a key diagnostic tool for the Cranio-Sacral Therapist, who can treat any perceived restrictions to encourage the system into more balance.


Fascia is connective tissue which forms a continuous sheath enveloping organs, nerves, blood vessels and muscles throughout the body. The Cranio-Sacral system connects to the fascial system at the point where the fascial nerve sheaths exit the Dural Membrane. The effects of the Cranio-Sacral rhythm can be felt in the fascia of the body.


The beginnings of Cranio-Sacral Therapy were at the end of the 19th century when osteopath William G. Sutherland viewed the connecting sutures between the bones of a skull belonging to Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathy. Sutherland realised that the bevelled articular surfaces on the bones were a natural design allowing for movement of the bones. His further investigations, sometimes involving extreme measures like placing his own head in a vice to monitor the effects of the pressure, led him to conclude the existence of cranial bone movement, cerebrospinal fluid fluctuation and meningeal reciprocal tension.

The term Cranio-Sacral Therapy was coined by Dr. John Upledger, the osteopath who began to teach the method to non-osteopaths with his publication Craniosacral Therapy, in 3 volumes, and with his ongoing research, Upledger is widely regarded as the authority in the field.

What to expect from a Cranio-Sacral session

Compared to the deep tissue manipulation of RolfingĀ® structural integration, the physical contact in a Cranio-Sacral session is extremely gentle as the practitioner focuses attention on the Cranio-Sacral rhythm and the manifestations of the client’s innate health, sometimes called the Breath of Life or Chi.

In a Cranio-Sacral treatment the practitioner’s aims are to:

1. Monitor the Cranio-Sacral rhythm

2. Identify areas of restriction or tension

3. Follow the subtle pulls and twists expressed by the Cranio-Sacral system until points of resistance can be encountered and released

Treatment is generally soothing and pleasant and creates a sense of calming and well-being. As a client, you may experience an enhanced sense of subtle bodily movements, get an increased appreciation of existing patterns and imbalances and feel new freedoms and balances as they emerge.

Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Rolfing

The Rolfing 10 series organises the body progressively from the outer layers inwards. It is a process of preparing superficial layers so that deeper layers can be addressed – ultimately we are looking for organisation at the core of the body, i.e. the spine and organs. In Cranio-Sacral Therapy the progression goes in the opposite direction, from the core outwards. The Cranio-Sacral system lies at the core of the body, along the spine from the cranium to the sacrum. Because the Cranio-Sacral system affects the peripheral parts of the body (e.g. arms and legs) via the Nervous System, we are looking for organisation from the central core outwards. Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Rolfing therefore complement and counterbalance each other perfectly. The deep and pervasive structural changes in Rolfing are helped to integrate by the subtle nervous system modifications of the Cranio-Sacral Therapy.

My thoughts about Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Rolfing are similar to those of Richard Stratman, a Rolfer and Cranio-Sacral Therapist taught by Hugh Milne, in his Introduction to Milne’s The Heart of Listening, Volume 2,:

“What I learned in Rolfing was look, listen, roll up my sleeves and get to work. What I’ve learned in craniosacral work is to go very deep, like the blue whale, and then get very still. From that place of stillness, I have learned to feel an altogether different level.”

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