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The Purpose of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy


by Michael Shea, Ph.D.

Welcome to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy: a Primer. This is a truly revolutionary way to work with health and healing. First let me go over the concept of biodynamics for you and look at the world through that filter. It is helpful to define the term biodynamic, especially the way it is used in the practice of craniosacral therapy. It comes from the embryological research of Eric Blechschmidt (1977, 1978). Dr. Blechschmidt made two critical findings.

The first is that there is a force found in the fluids of the embryo that brings order to and organizes the developing embryo. Because it is in the fluids, the force permeates all the cells of the body and a matrix of connectedness or "wholeness" is generated. This force is seen throughout nature especially in protoplasm and cytoplasm, the living fluids. Secondly, the form and function of the whole embryo and human body is oriented to the stillness found in the cellular midline of the embryo. It is a very old structure called the notochord that in the fetus becomes the intervertebral discs, the base of the occiput and the base of the sphenoid. Throughout this book we will return to these foundation themes found in the study of the human embryo.

Biodynamic means the study of a living fluid wholeness and the skill of sensing these intelligent movements generated within the fluids of the embryo and found throughout life in the human body. These movements are the deepest foundations of health and healing. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is the study of the emergence of biological and spiritual wholeness originating from the midline of the human embryo and carried in the human body throughout life. Health functions throughout the life span as an inherent instinctual part of one's total being. It is working and available at all times. It involves a felt sense of continuity and connectedness throughout the body perceived as warmth, heat, streaming sensations, undifferentiated feelings and much more. When our sensory continuity is grounded in present time, one's perception can expand beyond the skin to include greater relationships with the world in its totality. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is nothing less than the study of the process of incarnation and how healing happens. This book explores these two themes in detail.

Wholeness from the point of view of the embryo is a combination of simultaneous fluid and membrane movements geometrically organized around areas of stillness that cause the embryo to condense into its unique human shape. I will talk about the movements in the chapter on embryonic movements. The fluid movements of the embryo and adult are spatially or geometrically ordered to the stillness. All movement is in proportional relationship with stillness. Stillness is a function of the midline. Then as the embryo grows there are compressions and tensional forces of the membranes spontaneously generated by a force within the fluids that has directionality and intelligence. Thus the body is created. All the movements of the embryo and the embryo in the adult display an uncanny and precise order and generosity in the development and differentiation (movement towards complexity and specialization) of human wholeness.

The embryo starts as a ball of cells the changes to a flat disc and ultimately folds itself into a circle as the top of the neural tube bows down to touch the end of the neural tube. The heart starts at the top of the head and in a deep bow ends up at the center of the circle. Thus, wholeness is also experienced as an image or a pattern of activity that, in this case, is a complete circle that is bowing to its own inner nature. The circle is the symbol of the Self. This occurs before a nervous system is present. Imagine this: shortly after conception your primitive heart is on top of your head connected by a membrane that will become your mouth. Then slowly the heart curls down into the middle of the embryonic circle. Your head follows your heart until the circle is complete and at the center is your beating heart!

Both William Garner Sutherland, D.O., the founder of cranial osteopathy, and Eric Blechschmidt, M.D., observed and sensed these patterns of wholeness. What they discovered simultaneously in the early 1950s was the foundation for self-organization and self-correction in the fluid systems of the embryo and the adult. They saw an open world of intelligent movements in the biodynamic system of the body that Dr. Sutherland called the primary respiratory mechanism. This means that when the environment (culture, society, and cell membranes) interacts with the embryo and the embryo in the adult, the forces within the fluids will respond in very creative ways to maintain health. Fluids have more than one rhythm and have numerous directions. The formation of tidal impulses in the body such as the potency tide and the long tide are familiar to many craniosacral therapy practitioners. These creative responses to what Dr. Sutherland called the Breath of Life cause a condensation or quickening of the membranes and bones. The body becomes denser as it grows. Each layer of the body is a metamorphosis from a form that preceded it. Eventually, the different layers and differentiations are contained within one membrane the bioelectric field of the body as it extends out several feet from the body. All these layers are contained by the fluid fields of the body and are breathing with the blueprint of wholeness. Dr. Sutherland called this biodynamic property primary respiration. This book is fundamentally about the breath of life and its effects such as primary respiration.

Biodynamic systems are capable of sudden or quantum change that occurs as a side effect of primary respiration. This formative force of change is carried in the deep strata of the fluids. It is a polyrhythmic force and has the intelligence to cause the immediate transformation of one movement or substance into something else, i.e., from hard to soft, from movement to stillness, from cool to hot, etc. Bones melt, tissues harden, fluids evaporate and anger turns to joy. These changes in physiology are only one molecule away from occurring and one electron away from jumping orbit into a new pattern. It is the biodynamic force of primary respiration created by the Breath of Life that is responsible for transformation in the body. The Breath of Life is found in the total fluid field and throughout nature. It initiates change in the body by bringing the future into the present. The nervous system brings the past into the present. The Breath of Life is everywhere and every now! It does not know the past because it finished its work when it created wholeness at the beginning. So it is always becoming a new process of creation right now. It is extraordinarily generous. As biodynamic craniosacral therapists, we come into relationship with these forces located outside the nervous system when treating a client. The therapist must be able to synchronize with the therapeutic process already at work in the client. This book details the skills necessary to come into an appropriate and correct relationship with the Divine.

Biodynamic processes in the body include the capacity to produce images as symbols. One such image is found in Christianity. In the Catholic mass, immediate change of one substance to another is called transubstantiation. This is where bread and wine is changed instantaneously into the body and blood of Christ. Incarnation is a biodynamic process in Christianity. According to the Bible, spirit, the Breath of Life, is constantly transforming itself into the matter of the body. Dr. Sutherland said, "It is the Breath of Life that is responsible for the health in the body." But what is the Breath of Life? What is the power behind bread and wine being made into flesh and blood, a rock turning into a snake, an embryo growing before a nervous system is present or intractable cancer disappearing? The Breath of Life is the creative response to the mysterious wisdom of the universe called the Divine. It creates form and function and animates the body. It brings the "not yet" future which is uncaused and unconditioned into each moment of bodily life as a therapeutic force that contains the ability to shift all disease and dysfunction into a relationship with its original divine form or image. After all, it is the divine that seeks to create images of Itself. The original image of the divine in many cultures is a mandala or whole circle such as a small embryo. This book seeks to elaborate on the meaning and effect of the Breath of Life especially cross-culturally.

The Breath of Life is wholeness incarnate and permeates each cell of the human body. It moves slowly in the body and when it makes contact with dysfunction, its action is instantaneous, non-temporal and non-linear. It provides a "spark" of life into the disorder found in and around the body. The therapist humbly observes and listens without expectation and then synchronizes his attention with primary respiration, the breathing fluid field. Dr. Sutherland stated that no force was necessary while treating a client. He said that a therapist could follow the intention of the Breath of Life and serve its potency. It is the potency of the Breath of Life that connects and creates all fluid and membrane movement in the human body. The potency is the driving force found in the fluids. This is both a subjective (imaginal) process and also a sensory (instinctual) experience as well. It is perceived as love in the body if we are willing to pay attention, slow down and witness the Breath of Life arise from stillness.

The biodynamic systems of the body are organized around fulcrums and axes of stillness. Stillness is the key. The embryo forms first in relationship to fulcrums (points), then a fluid midline (the ventricles) and finally, a cellular midline (notochord). These midlines exhibit a type of tension in a longitudinal direction (the spine) that have at their core, a vibrating stillness. They are still but not inert, dynamic but not stagnant. The body organizes geometrically around stillness as a biodynamic principle. Drs. Sutherland and Blechschmidt each observed and sensed the state of balanced stillness found in the midline and fulcrums of the embryo. It is from the state of dynamic stillness that the Breath of Life originates. Stillness is the fulcrum of the Breath of Life. It's the Breath of Life that carries the blueprint of human form as undifferentiated wholeness in the embryo. This is so important to understand: the consciousness of wholeness is visible as the body itself and its embryonic origin. It is palpable via its fluid motility and seen in the image of the circle. The circle is the Self. It is found in our imagination a million different ways! The stillness is always there in the background waiting in silence. Think of the power and magnitude of a hurricane that is organized around a still fulcrum that automatically shifts known as the "eye." The shifting "eye" of stillness is where any pattern in nature or the body derives its power to move, to transform and to change.

Biodynamic also means open to inner and outer experience. The mere presence of a therapist exerts a significant influence on the client's fluids through resonance and entrainment that starts with the inner stillness and presence of the therapist. This happens without the conscious intention to influence the client because open systems are naturally characterized by information sharing, listening, interacting and learning. It is our basic nature to be empathetic and motivated to relieve pain and suffering. These are the priorities in cells and to a society of people. In biodynamic craniosacral therapy, the focus is to maintain presence and equanimity in the therapeutic relationship rather than attempting to engage or challenge the disturbance in the client's body. This will become clear as you read the chapters on pediatric work and the development of the right hemisphere of the brain.

There is no such thing as a static unchanging system. Every truly open system has an identity dependent upon every other element of the system. This is especially true for nervous systems, as you will see later in this book. Knowing and embodying this principle is essential in realizing the full potential of wholeness, differentiation and healing as a human being. Open systems such as the human brain and body constantly take in new information from the environment, recycling it, evaluating it and finding out whether its needs are being met. Thus, when the client's body/mind encounters the silence and presence of the therapist's body/mind, it will instinctually shift in the direction of self-healing and self-regulation. The details of how this happens will be unfolded throughout this book. It is the power of stillness and not mechanical force that moves the dysfunction. The Breath of Life arises from the stillness and creates primary respiration in the body. To obtain differentiation in wholeness is to be repeatedly and slowly opened and breathed by spirit and at the same time to descend into one's humanity.

The human body and its fluid systems are an open, biodynamic system. The body is constantly evolving and changing. It is continually restructuring itself based on its needs from sodium and potassium to love and intimacy. An open system requires a healthy life force and is regularly taking apart and discarding experiences that are no longer necessary. Elimination and sacrifice are part of the basic nature of the body. When inertia and dysfunction occur, the body and nervous system become clogged and bound to the past. Anything less than appropriate (well bounded) and balanced somatic openness is a system under stress, trauma or in shock. It is then a body that is out of proportion and in need of help. Thus, the modifying influences of subtle and non-intrusive hands found in biodynamic craniosacral therapy are essential. This book focuses on developing the subtlety necessary for one's hands to be non-intrusive.

For the heavens, the ruling principle is to be aligned.

For the earth, the ruling principle is to be level.

For human beings the ruling principle is to be tranquil.

Spring, autumn, winter, and summer are the seasons of the heavens.

Mountains, hills, rivers, and valleys are the resources of the earth.

Pleasure and anger, accepting and rejecting are the devices of human beings.

Therefore, the Sage:

Alters with the seasons but doesn't transform,

Shifts with things but doesn't change places with them.

(Roth 1999, p. 58)

All traditional cultures recognize the inter-relatedness and connectedness of the human, natural and divine worlds. Open systems have organizing fulcrums and midlines that inter-relate these worlds in stories, in images, in creation mythologies and in the sacred space of healing. This is seen in the human embryo and in every stage of life development through to death. Human beings are an unfolding narrative with the task of completing this continuing adventure called life by deepening relationships with the deep inner Self and other Selves. The Self is that part of us capable of knowing and being known by Primary Respiration. We are conceived in undifferentiated wholeness and move towards a differentiated wholeness as we grow. In the beginning, we are one cell or one person. Then, the one becomes two cells or two aspects of a personality. The two differentiates into three and the three turns into four and so forth. This gives us the unique shape of the extended circle of one's life that is divided into different spaces or directions. Each space traditionally contains a distinct aspect of the divine. In my opinion, it is the goal of being human to come into relationship with these differentiated or specialized aspects (wholes) since we cannot live in the center as a god. It is not our place. So, we circumambulate the center (the fulcrum, the midline) as we come into relationship with the qualities of the divine while maintaining our unique humanness. The chapters on Symbolic Regression and Intentions of the Ritual Leader explore this territory.

To differentiate means to experience our individual uniqueness on life's trajectory while connected to the totality of creation. Our orbit, however, may become eccentric in relation to the planets and people around us. Becoming a full human being in one's lifetime also involves a descent into one's individual suffering that may result in feeling totally alone and isolated. We hold the mystery of creation on the one hand and the pull toward our deep anguish on the other. It is to be questioned, explored and worked through rather than solved like a puzzle. Traditionally, one must know where one is located in the circle of life or one becomes ill. Thus, a descent into the Mystery is necessary to discover who we are in relationship to the totality of life. Dante eloquently described this experience of the descent in the beginning of the Divine Comedy: "in the middle of the journey of life I came to my senses in a dark forest, for I had lost the straight path."

Marie Louise Von Franz tells a story about the Maker of Dreams (1988).

The Maker of Dreams

Legend has it that when the gods made the human race they fell to arguing where to put the answers to life so the humans would have to search for them.

One god said, "Let's put the answers on top of a mountain. They will never look for them there."

"No," said the others. "They'll find them right away."

Another god said, "Let's put them in the center of the Earth. They will never look for them there."

"No," said the others. "They'll find them right away."

Then another spoke, "Let's put them in the bottom of the sea." They will never look for them there."

"No," said the others. "They'll find them right away."

Silence fell...

After a while another god spoke, "We can put the answers to life within them. They will never look for them there."

And so they did that.

biodynamic_craniosacral_bookA biodynamic system is not viewed as one that has a disease or an illness but rather as one that contains unconditional health and balance located within the depths of the fluids. It is not that the body doesn't have disease or illness but rather that disease and illness are compensations created by the Breath of Life to get our attention. In the Hindu tradition, Krishna, who represents the ultimate Godhead, says, "If you want to follow the spiritual path, I will give you the tools to follow the spiritual path. And if you do not want to follow the spiritual path, I will also give you the tools to not follow the spiritual path." Illness is an initiatory process; we must learn what its lessons are before moving on. This can be terrifying. A biodynamic system is whole from the start but that wholeness as a felt sense recedes into the background or is forgotten when the environment is over-stimulating and we become ill. Wholeness has continuity throughout every level of the body either in the foreground of our perception as sensation and image or in the background as stillness and silence. It can be reached on either pathway and they are both in the body. Dr. Sutherland said that, "every drop of fluid in the body knows the tide." The body's instinct creates relationships, its midline creates order and the fluids organize all of it with love. Making contact with the generative forces of the Breath of Life demands that the therapist perform a healing ritual to get the attention of the Breath of Life. It is a priority in biodynamic craniosacral therapy. In the pages that follow throughout this book, the reader will learn about his or her role and function of the ritual leader as well as referencing my earlier work (Shea 2001). The therapist, as ritual leader, is responsible for listening to a living, whole system and employs instinct rather than reason when encountering disease and illness. It is the instinct to follow the will and the laws of nature and the laws of the divine that is at the heart of biodynamic craniosacral therapy.

There is a world of involuntary phenomena in the biodynamic system. It is unlimited and fluid by nature. Fluids use extraordinary means in their movement through the body just as the sap in a tree or the oceans of the planet do. Fluids are capable of moving through every tissue in the human body and nothing can stop them! They contain currents that can counter each other, yet the overall Tide continues unabated in its rhythmic movement of primary inhalation and exhalation. The Divine is breathing us. The biodynamic primary respiratory system is defined through specific symbols and images such as the Breath of Life, fluid drive, tidal forces, different tempos, textures, etc. This world is both a sensory one and an imaginal one. Gradually as we slow down, we leave behind what is known by our intellect and enter the dream world of story, image, symbol and myth. We are still a breathing body but something other is breathing us. The perception of these deeper forces is a conscious, skillful art that requires extensive training in attention grounded in present time and focused awareness in the therapist's body. The therapist's body becomes an antenna with which he or she listens to the whisperings of the Divine in all bodies throughout space and time.

This model of biodynamic craniosacral therapy has been constantly evolving ever since Dr. Sutherland discovered it in the 1940s. We know that whole systems such as the human body and its interaction with primary respiration have emergent properties. As a whole, the body constantly exhibits spontaneous creativity, relapse, chaos and reorientation to stillness (midline) by a primary inhalation and primary exhalation that Dr. Sutherland called the "Tide."

This is the polarity between soul and spirit that us mortals are destined to grapple with. The body operates as a unit of function (it is whole) and the parts within that unity can be perceived at any time as cranial rhythmic impulses and deeper tidal forces such as the Potency of the Breath of Life and the "Tide." Give the client the space to have a personal relationship with the Breath of Life. As Dr. Sutherland said, "allow the unerring potency to manifest rather than using blind force from outside." It is crucial to witness the emergence of the Breath of Life into the healing relationship and watch it permeating each moment of the treatment in its many disguises of sensation and image. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is the therapy of the new millennium because it acknowledges the healing power in the client and allows it to manifest without contrivance. All clients and therapists are capable of knowing their own divinity as a sensory experience. The Breath of Life speaks. This is the promise of biodynamic craniosacral therapy; incarnation is revealed from inside the client's body. I invite you to enjoy and question what follows.

Roth, H.D. (1999). Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Michael Shea Biography

Michael Shea, Ph.D., has a Master's degree in Buddhist and Western Psychology and a doctoral degree in Somatic Psychology. He is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America and the author of numerous articles in addition to books on the subject of Somatic Cranial Work and Somatic Psychology.

For more information go to Michael Shea's website at www.michaelsheateaching.com

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