Common steps and sub-activities
Lower back stimulation
There is one very specific trigger point that equates to the start of the craniosacral system and the dura mater. It is found in the lower back. It is also near a junction of important nerves. This point is never pressed because it would stop the sensations from travelling up the spine, instead these sensations are ‘encouraged’ by stimulation and massage.
The technique is found in numerous systems of massage from Qigong to Shiatsu. The masseur will use the base of his palm or the side of his fist to rub the area very gently with a circular motion.
But this technique has been best researched and has reached the height of efficacy in the Craniosacral therapy methods. This is an osteopathic technique.
The technique relies on the osteopath ‘tuning in’ to the craniosacral rhythm and this rhythm is very small, as such the people who can do this tend to be ‘gifted’.
The person can be on their back, on their side or on their front, but it makes it easier if the person is on their front or side, for both the sacrum and the back of the skull - the neck - are being manipulated in this technique. The position must be comfortable for the person.
The sacrum is attached to the caudal end of the dural tube and in order for the osteopath to palpate the sacral motion, the sacrum will ‘sit’ in his hand so that the person’s sacral apex rests in the palm of his hand. The sacral spine will then rest between his or her third and fourth fingers and his or her fingertips will usually extend beyond the person’s sacral base to the level of the 4th or 5th lumbar vertebrae.
The osteopath will then wait in a gentle and quiet way until they ‘tune in’ to the rhythm – the flexion phase of the motion where the sacral apex will move anteriorly followed by the extension phase where the sacral apex will move posteriorly. These motions are very subtle and may be in perfect synchrony with the craniosacral motion of the head or may lag a second or two depending on what you have wrong with you [if anything]. There may be restrictions that affect mobility.
The next stage is palpation of the base of the skull – the occiput. As you can see from the drawing below, it is easier when the person is on their side.
Once the osteopath has detected the motion, the next stage is the generation of the ‘still point’.
In theory this can also be done using the feet and the skull, but requires two osteopaths. As Dr John Upledger says “The still point is most often induced from the head and sacrum. Techniques applied to these anatomical parts are usually somewhat more rapidly effective than when applied to other parts of the body”
Each time the body rotates externally, the osteopath will take up the slack and resist internal rotation. This will get repeated a number of times – the number will differ but might be between 5 and 20 times. What happens is that the total craniosacral system will ‘shut down’ that is become perfectly still and it is this that the osteopath calls the ‘still point’
Before the still point is reached there may be all sorts of odd physical effects in the system. The craniosacral system itself may ‘shudder’ or it may pulsate or wobble. Somatic dysfunctions will tend to manifest and there may be changes in breathing patterns, the person may perspire. The osteopath will continue to resist movement – not force it - simply resist the return.
Once the still point is found, everything relaxes. The somatic dysfunctions and any accompanying pain will nearly always disappear occasionally even with a ‘pop’. The breathing will become very relaxed, and muscle tension will melt away. It is at this point that the person will get the spiritual experience induced by the relief of pain [no nervous sensations], the minimisation of sensory input from the 5 senses, and the total relaxation induced by the still point.
“The still point experience is a pleasant one for the patient [Upledger]”
The still point may last a few seconds to a few minutes. When it is over, the craniosacral system will resume its motion, usually with better symmetry and a larger amplitude. If there are any remaining problems and the motion is still deemed to be unsatisfactory by the osteopath, the procedure may be repeated.
Dr John Upledger stated that “we have never done more than 10 still point repetitions during the same treatment session, however, we know of no side effect, other than extreme relaxation and sleepiness, which will occur”.
McPartland JM, Giuffrida A, King J et al. Cannabimimetic effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2005 Jun;105(6):283-91. PMID 16118355
…….Patients often report a sense of deep relaxation during and after the treatment session, and may feel light-headed. This is popularly associated with increases in endorphins, but research shows the effects may actually be brought about by the endocannabinoid system.
Craniosacral Therapy – Dr John Upledger