How I Discovered Craniosacral Therapy

By Mark Levine B.A. R.M.T.

I first came upon craniosacral therapy 33 years ago by accident. I had just graduated from massage therapy college and was working in a motor vehicle rehabilitation clinic with an experienced and curious physiotherapist named Iris Weverman. Iris had heard about craniosacral therapy and was about to take the first course, so she brought the textbook and videos to the clinic to study at lunch. I watched the videos and was not impressed; it looked to me like the laying on of hands.  

I have no problem with the laying on of hands, but the textbook described all sorts of detailed bio-mechanical concepts of proprioception, motion and cranial bone movement.  I was sceptical because all I could see from the video was John Upledger, the Osteopathic physican who developed this modality putting his hands on someone and not moving them for a long time, then saying something reassuring like “There, that’s it” “There’s a good release”.  This was hardly spectacular or forceful or meaty or obvious enough for a freshly trained Registered Massage Therapist.  I thought it was hooey.

Then, the first day back after she took the course, Iris offered me a session at the end of clinic hours. It was the most amazing hour of bodywork I had ever experienced. 

After the first few minutes, during which Iris put her hands on the back of my head, and my critical mind nattering in the background “what hooey...” I began to experience a state of deep relaxation, in which I felt the extraordinary sensation of my body correcting itself from the inside out.   

I felt my body deeply relaxed, and my mind very awake; the intersection of a lucid dreamlike state in my imagination with my proprioceptive and nociceptive senses fully facilitated by an induced state of extreme parasympathetic dominance was like no other form of bodywork I had ever tried, and I had tried many.

In this extraordinary state of deep relaxation, I felt a series of strong soft tissue discomforts and releases – alternations of aching, nauseating, lancinating pains, warming, fasciculations, pulsations, becoming less viscous - connected to just about every trauma I had ever experienced.  

As Iris moved her hands onto different areas of my body and left them there for minutes at a time, warming, slightly motion testing with 5 grams of pressure in rhythmical ways, I became aware of an intricate interweaving of sensations, images, memories, and realizations, all of which carried the gravity of something objective, something remarkably truthful, as though I was being shown all this content for an important reason by an authoritative source.  

The soft tissue releases seemed to occur precisely as I turned my attention to the sensation, image, memory or realization. I recapitulated memories about which I had not thought for a long time.  I felt like crying, and did.

In particular, I recapitulated a cycling accident I had three years previous, in which I sustained a head injury – I had lost consciousness for 40 minutes – and multiple fractures. In the span of what must have been only a few seconds (but felt like minutes), I recalled and felt the experience of impact into the telephone pole in great detail.  

Since the time of the accident, I had struggled with retrograde amnesia about the events around the time of the accident. And now, in the blink of an eye, with Iris’s gentle hand supporting me and moving the very tissues in which the kinetic forces of the accident had been absorbed in me, the memory of exactly what happened became conscious. I even remembered what happened during the time I was unconscious, including things I heard which I verified later. This memory recall was most unexpected.

And at the end of that extraordinary hour, I felt completely different than at the beginning of it. I felt like Gumby in a heat wave, as though someone had just pointed out the fact that, until now, I had been tightly wrapped in Saran Wrap, and then gave my body permission to unwrap.

I was euphoric: flexible, coordinated, awake, more acutely sensitive to all of my sensations, emotionally open, optimistic, calm, blissful. And I felt like stretching a lot. I felt as though I knew myself much better than an hour previous.

On my drive home, the car seemed to weave back and forth (even though it wasn’t actually); steering seemed difficult. I even thought that something was wrong with the front end of the car. When I got home I fell into a very deep sleep, and I slept for a long time.

The next day I felt as though I had been hit by a truck, or at least that I had just smacked my head into a telephone post at high speed on my bicycle. All the same disturbing neurological deficits that I had experienced chronically for several months following the accident were back – acutely.  

I lost cognitive ability, experiencing a distressing ‘brain fog’ including photophobia and phonophobia, memory loss, paresthesiae and a lack of co-ordination and strength in my whole left side (it was a right sided head injury).  Suspecting that this was the ‘healing crisis’ I had been warned about, I drank a lot of water and went back to bed.

By evening I began to feel better, although I still felt achy and flu-like. The next day was better and on the afternoon of the third day I experienced an all-at-once profound sense of psycho physiological integration as I rode my (same) bicycle past the same point where I had the accident.  

As I rode past the pole, I felt a strong feeling of suddenly re-inhabiting the left side of my body after having vacated it three years earlier. A sustainable version of that free body sense and euphoric feeling was back, I felt better than I had in years. These gains have stayed with me, and subsequent sessions have only deepened the experience.  

I of course wanted to study this remarkable therapy, and dove right in to the primary texts by John Upledger, and soon took the first course with Robert Harris. The precision and simplicity of the approach, the demonstrability of the effects, and the degree to which the techniques respect and leverage the exquisite sensitivity of our autonomic nervous system impressed me.  

After 34 years in practice, 33 years since first encountering craniosacral therapy, and 25 years sub-specializing in pediatrics, I now have a busy practice focusing primarily on perinatal and pediatric concerns.  

Craniosacral therapy occupies a middle ground between the physically manipulative approaches to bodywork such as Chiropractic, Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy on the one hand, and Energy work such as Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, and Chi Gong on the other.  

Craniosacral therapy is much lighter in touch than most physically manipulative approaches, and yet is also a manipulative science that uses direct hands-on mobilizations of connective tissue and joints (albeit very light) in specific directions, which is not characteristic of the various practices described as Energy work.  

Craniosacral therapy shares many of the theoretical constructs of manual practices of Osteopathy, which traces its history back to the early 1900’s, and myofascial release and the strain / counter-strain techniques of positional release.  

More than a technique, craniosacral therapy really describes an approach to bodywork which is gentle and non invasive, and the term commonly includes related modalities such as visceral manipulation, fascial release, gentle joint mobilizations and acupressure.  

It has been variously called osteopathy, osteopathic manual practice, cranial osteopathy, osteopathy in the cranial field, sacro-cranial therapy, sacro-occipital technique (SOT), bio-cranial therapy, craniostructural integration, cranial-sacral therapy, and so on.  

Although there are subtle theoretical differences among these various techniques, I would argue that these apparently differing techniques are really proprietary or ‘brand’ names given to the same body of work by different teaching institutes. All these approaches are based on the four fundamental principles of osteopathy elaborated by its originator, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, over 100 years ago; that the human being is a complete being comprised of body, mind and spirit; that we are capable of self healing; that structure and function are interrelated; and that rational treatment is based on an understanding and practical application of the previous three principles.

And while there are differences in the depth, quality and duration of training among various schools, ranging from a single weekend course to a five year doctoral program, it has been frequently noted that the most experienced practitioners from these different schools practice in essentially the same way.



References: A Selected Bibliography

 Barral, Jean-Pierre

Visceral Manipulation, Eastland Press, 1988


Frymann, Viola M.

The Collected Papers of Viola M. Frymann, DO : Legacy of Osteopathy to Children American Academy of Osteopathy, 1998


Fulford, Robert C.

Dr. Fulford’s Touch of Life, Pocket Books, 1996


Gehin, Alain

Atlas of Manipulative Techniques for the Cranium & Face, Eastland Press, 1985


Magoun, Harold I.

Osteopathy in the Cranial Field, Third Edition, Journal Printing Company, 1976


Sutherland, William G.

The Cranial Bowl, Free Press Company, 1939

With Thinking Fingers The Cranial Academy, 1962


Upledger, John E.

Craniosacral Therapy, UI Publishing, 1983

Craniosacral Therapy II, Beyond the Dura, UI Publishing, 1987

SomatoEmotional Release and Beyond, UI Publishing Inc., 1995

A Brain Is Born, North Atlantic Books, 1996


Mark Levine is clinical director of Mark Levine, B.A., R.M.T. Manual Therapy.  He has been in practice for the last thirty four years.  He provides Craniosacral and osteopathic manual therapy services to infants, children, and adults for a wide variety of neurological, pain and stress related concerns. 

Originally published 2008, Updated 2024.

Mark Levine

Mark Levine

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