All forms of craniosacral work ultimately originate with the discoveries of Osteopath William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954). As a senior at the American school of Osteopathy in 1899, he became fascinated with the bones of the cranium. Though he had been taught that these bones fuse in adulthood, their structure seemed to imply that they were designed for movement.
While looking at a disarticulated skull in a case at the school, his attention was drawn to the temporal bone. The thought struck him, “beveled like the gills of a fish for primary respiration.” There began Sutherland’s life long journey of investigating whether the living skull expresses motion and whether this motion is physiologically important.
Being an osteopath, Sutherland began to describe the subtle inherent motions and pulsations that he felt during session work in a biomechanical language. He used motion testing to explore patterns and created various techniques to release what was experienced as resistance in the cranial structures.
In 1945 he had an extraordinary experience that transformed the understanding of his approach to healing work and the language he used. He was called to the bed of a dying patient who was in great pain. As Sutherland held the man’s system, a depth of stillness arose and the man peacefully passed from this life. Sutherland had a direct experience of what he came to call the “Breath of Life”.
Sutherland’s language and work now shifted from a largely biomechanical orientation to one that focused on what he called Primary Respiration as a holistic and unified experience. He moved beyond biomechanical language, the use of motion testing and the application of techniques to an approach where no force or manipulation is used at all.
The unerring potency (life force) from within is trusted to initiate and carry out healing processes. What needs to happen cannot ultimately be learned through analysis or motion testing. Instead, it is a factor of what Sutherland called the “Intelligence” of the system and the intentions of the Breath of Life. At its depths, this way of working brings one in relationship with the mystery of life itself.
Many practitioners have carried on the work of Sutherland within the field of osteopathic practice. Outside of the osteopathic community, Dr. John Upledger began to teach something he called CranioSacral Therapy in the 1970’s. Dr. Upledger brought this work out in a particular form and framework. His endeavors have been critical in the creation of a defined craniosacral profession and practice outside of the osteopathic framework. His work is taught by the Upledger Institute all over the world.
In 1975-1979 Franklyn Sills, with a group of other enthusiastic students, studied the work of Dr. Randolph Stone, DO. Sills was fascinated by what Stone called primary energy and the neuter essence. He discovered that Dr. Sutherland was a major influence on Dr. Stone. A connection with Polarity Therapy is still a strong current in the Biodynamic Craniosacral community.
In 1982, Sills moved to England and co-created the Karuna Institute in Devon. During this time, he undertook an osteopathic training and underwent an apprenticeship in a busy London practice. One of the osteopaths in the practice was a cranial practitioner and greatly influenced Franklyn’s work. Franklyn was encouraged to enter a receptive state, to orient to what was called the tidal potency and the fluid tide, and wait for the potency of the Breath of Life to manifest its healing intentions.
In 1986, Claire Dolby DO encouraged Franklyn to begin teaching a form of cranial work outside of the osteopathic profession. He had already developed a two-year training program based on the work of Randolph Stone DO. The first cranial training developed by Sills was taught at the Karuna Institute in 1986, assisted by Claire. It was a mixed biomechanical and biodynamic program where people learned biomechanical language and technique and were then encouraged to deepen into the more formative forces of primary respiration.
It soon became clear that this mixed approach did not serve the teaching staff’s intention to orient students to the deeper organizing forces in the human system. At a group meeting of tutors at Karuna in 1992, everyone present agreed that they wanted to begin to teach what they were actually practiced.
The hallmark of a biodynamic craniosacral approach is a direct orientation to the universal and conditional forces of life. In this approach, the practitioner:
- Settles into a still and receptive state of being
- Clearly negotiates a relationship with the client and their system
- Orients to the presence of primary respiration
- Waits for a shift within the client’s system to this formative ordering force
- Creates a container within which decisions are made by the Breath of life and the primary respiration it generates.
Over a period of years, it is the practitioner’s task to deepen perceptual clarity, grow in relational skills, and increase appreciation of the presence of both primary respiration and the conditional forces and patterns held within the system.