Massage & Bodywork

CranioSacral Therapy

As far as I'm concerned, CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is the champion of light touch, manual therapies. Before completing my CS1 training (Assessment of Central Nervous System and Fascia for Full Body Treatment Protocol) with the Upledger Institute in early 2022, I understood very little about the CranioSacral system and even less about the therapy used to support it. All I really knew about CST was that it had something to do with the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that flows between the cranial and sacral bones, and that the techniques used by the therapist are barely detectable by the client. For many years, I reserved a healthy amount of skepticism that such a subtle technique could do anything of real benefit.

To attend a CST workshop, students are required to read "Your Inner Physician and You," a book written by Dr. John Upledger in 1992. In the book, Dr. Upledger writes about his experience assisting a fellow surgeon in removing plaques from a patient's spinal cord. During the surgery, Dr. Upledger was given the task of securing the patient's spinal cord so that the plaques could safely be cut away. This is how Dr. Upledger discovered that the CranioSacral system has its own observable and palpable rhythm or wave that travels from the brain via the spinal cord to the sacrum. The plaque removal surgery was a success, and CranioSacral Therapy was born.

Dr. Upledger created the Upledger Institute in 1985 to teach students about his unique, light-touch and complementary therapy created to support the Central Nervous System (CNS). The Institute defines CST as a light-touch, whole-body treatment to support and nourish the central nervous system, improving overall health and welling being. The therapist's main job is to tune into the client's CranioSacral rhythm and listen to what the client’s body wants.


The CranioSacral rhythm is palpable through the body's fascial system, a connective tissue known to transmit forces throughout the body. Understanding fascia is key to understanding how CST works. The connective nature of fascia is what allows the therapist to connect with the deepest structures of human anatomy, to both palpate the rhythm generated by the filling and emptying of CSF (produced in the brain), and offer a direction for the bones surrounding the CNS to move in. When the cranial and sacral bones are in alignment, it allows for an unobstructed flow of the CranioSacral rhythm and a state of homeostasis (a stable condition necessary for survival).


So, do I believe that CST works? As someone trained in Western psychology, the appeal of this therapy is largely in the respect it pays to the merging of psychological traumas with the physical body. After completing only the first level of training, I have a much better understanding of how CSF is produced, how to palpate the rhythm generated by its production, and the role that the therapist plays in supporting the system. For therapists interested in learning more about CranioSacral Therapy, I highly recommend approaching it with some working knowledge of the fascial system and an open mind to consider that we may, in fact, be capable of sensing much more than we were trained to in massage therapy school.

CST Defined by the Upledger Institute

1. A light-touch, whole-body treatment technique developed by John E. Upledger, DO, OMM; works with the body’s CranioSacral system to support and nourish the central nervous system — improving overall health and well-being.

2. A complementary method of hands-on bodywork; works with the natural and unique rhythms of the different body systems to pinpoint and address problem sources.

3. Helps to alleviate the aches, pains and strains of life; improves coping mechanisms to allow for better management of stress.

4. Improves the body’s ability to self-care; can produce profound, positive changes.

CST Explained (Calgary CS1 Training 02/22, Small Group Work)

·      We use light, non-invasive touch to help induce your body's natural healing processes to heighten, or, in cases of past traumas, restart. Our focus is fascial release and self-assisted re-balancing of the body’s nervous system to allow a return to a more parasympathetic state. 

·      A gentle hands on therapy that awakens the body’s ability to balance and heal itself through stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and creating widespread change as a result.

·      A gentle light touch treatment that promotes balance of all body systems via the central nervous system. 

·      Light touch treatment using the bones of the skull and base of the spine to help the body balance and heal. 

·      A gentle, manual technique affecting tissues of the skull and spinal column with the intention of restoring homeostasis, allowing the body to heal itself.

CST Key Takeaways for Therapists (Calgary CS1 Training 02/22, Small Group Work)

·      We are here to facilitate by listening and suggesting -- not by DOING!

·      We need to let go of control in order for the body to take control

·      Less is more

·      Trust your hands/don’t overthink (tell your left brain to go have a drink)

·      Always start by grounding (think about the roots of a tree)

·      It is possible to use our hands to help our clients heal in a much different way than we have been traditionally trained as massage therapists

Written by Breanne Hamper, February 2022