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Guide: For our readers that are unfamiliar with your work, can
an introductory description of CranioSacral Therapy?
Dr. John Upledger:
CranioSacral Therapy is a very soft touch, hands-on
method of treatment. It deals with what we have named the craniosacral
system which is composed of a membrane that is waterproof that encases
the brain and spinal cord and carries within it cerebrospinal fluid.
The pressure and volume of the fluid go up and down. That makes it a
hydraulic system, which needs to be free to move all the time because
the fluid should be moving and bringing nutrients to all the neurons
and taking away wastes and so forth. With CranioSacral Therapy, we have
several entries into this system--most of them through bony
attachments or through direction of energy or pulling of fascia--for
alleviating any restrictions that might have accumulated due to
injuries or illnesses. This therapy improves the health of the brain
and spinal cord, which in turn, affects the whole body.
Aren't there three layers of membrane?
Yes. The outer layer is called the dura mater and
it's the waterproof one. It's kind of tough. It has some elasticity,
but not a lot. The middle layer is called the arachnoid membrane and it
carries a lot of blood vessels. It interacts between the external dura
mater, the outer layer and the internal layer which is called the pia
mater, which is the one that follows all the little dents and nooks and
crannies in the brain. You probably have seen pictures of the surface
of the brain and the pia mater follows all those little dents into the
So the pia mater is on the inside of the skull?
They are all inside the cranial wall, all three of
All three membranes extend from the head down through
the spine to the sacrum, right?
That is correct. Part of what's needed for good
health and good movement is the three layers need to be able to move
independently of each other. If they were stuck together and couldn't
glide, you wouldn't be able to bend side to side or forward and
backward because you wouldn't have that play in there.
So if you do some gentle, regular exercise like
swimming, Tai Chi or yoga, that would be good to extend flexibility
into later life.
It's quite helpful, yes. The more you get these
membranes mobilized, the healthier you'll be. And of course, that
extends through your whole body, ultimately, via the nervous system.
The innermost membrane, the pia mater, attaches to the
Yes. It adheres to the spinal cord going down, and
the only place it attaches to bone is where the nerve roots of the
spinal cord come out laterally or transversely. Then they attach to
openings between the vertebrae, but they're not in the spinal canal,
they are out there, maybe a half inch or an inch.
The outermost layer, what does it attach to, or is it
The outermost layer sometimes is free and sometimes
attached. Inside the skull itself, it divides into two layers. One
layer becomes the internal lining of the skull wall. Then there are
little fibers that attach the second layer to it. The inner layer of it
has much more mobility. The fiber is restricted somewhat, but not a
lot. It glides back and forth a little bit. It's because of this
attachment to the bones that we can actually use skull bones to move
the membranes and put forces in there that create release of certain
restrictions or adhesions that may have occurred.
I read in your book, Your Inner
Physician and You,
that bone actually grows out of the membrane when you are in the womb.
When you are an embryo the surface of the skull itself was
all membrane and the bones formed within it. When you are born that is
why you have these fontanels, the soft spots. Those bones haven't grown
to fill in the soft spots yet. Actually, at the sutures where bones
come together, you might have a gap of an eighth of an inch or even a
quarter of an inch wide when you are first born. This is because when
you are delivered your head has to deform coming through the birth
canal. So one of your skull bones will override the other in order to
make the head narrower to get through narrow places.
After you're born your head gradually becomes rounder?
That's exactly where CranioSacral Therapy could start. Heads
are supposed to expand and become rounder, as you said, and sometimes
they don't. They get stuck, and at a time like that, a good therapist
can release that stuck place between two bones where it didn't fully
expand in the space of a few minutes. You can take away a lifetime of
trouble for that child right at that point.
When we are adults, it's commonly thought that those
different plates of the skull fuse together, which is a myth that you
explode in your book. Can you talk a little bit about how we can retain
some flexibility in those bones even as an adult?
First of all I would like to clarify this point. British
anatomy taught that the bones were fused as you became an adult.
Italian anatomy did not. I think that is because British anatomy
studied embalmed cadavers. They had been sitting in a laboratory, they
had been embalmed, and because of post mortem and chemical changes that
occurred, these sutures appeared to be calcified. Italian anatomists
worked on fresh cadavers, and they could see that there is a lot of
elastic tissue, a lot of blood vessels, and a whole lot of things that
are there so that the bones can move, one in relationship to the other.
I didn't know about this difference (between the British and Italians)
until I was lecturing in Israel and I was making a strong point before
a bunch of doctors about how this system works and how these bones are
not immovable in adults, they are not fused, and nobody really seemed
to be really excited about that. Finally after I tried to reiterate it
the second time in different terms, because I thought they didn't
understand me, one of the doctors said, "Let me show you something." He
pulled out an Italian anatomy book published in 1920. He translated it
for me from the Italian, "The bones of the skull do not fuse except
under diseased conditions throughout life." So we have that myth in
this country because we have studied and drawn our education from
British anatomy. We just reinvented the wheel!
So this is old school for some Europeans.
Yes. There are a couple of very important points: bone motion
needs to continue throughout life, and the slight motion that is there
is accommodated because the sutures themselves have elastic and
collagen fibers in them so that they allow for some movement (on the
order of a millimeter or perhaps a millimeter and a half in some
cases). If you look at the formation of the sutures, you can see which
way the bones move in relationship to each other. It took us a while to
make this discovery--or rediscovery I should say. At first we just
studied the cadavers in the anatomy lab, and it looked like the bones
were fused together. But I have a friend who is a neurosurgeon--he
would take bone samples across sutures from living people that he was
operating on. He'd take a very thin slice, quick freeze it, and
overnight it to us in Michigan. And we learned to study these things
with different kinds of stains. There was no chemical invasion here at
all, no phenol or formaldehyde or anything. We saw the structure of the
suture was very capable of movement. Then we measured it on monkeys,
and it moved very well on monkeys. Then we found out it was a singular
hydraulic system. I would put just a little pressure on the tailbone of
the monkey and I could stop the motion of the skullbones. I would do
this because of the connection and the hydraulic force that I was able
to exert, increasing the hydraulic pressure just a little bit.
So sometimes you will work on one area of the body
that will actually be treating a problem on another part of the body?
Yes. That's probably going on at least 75% of the time in
good CranioSacral Therapy.
That reminds me of chiropractic, being that the spine
is from the top to the bottom of your torso, and the nerves affect the
Sure, they do. I am an osteopath, so obviously I've learned
spinal manipulation too, and we have a lot in common with chiropractic
in that aspect of our education. I don't think there's much argument
about that. What I like about the sutural movement is that if the
suture does not move, we know there is something wrong. Then we do
things to make it start moving. In cranial work, you don't have to work
hard, you don't do any thrusting or any sudden pushing. You just resist
a movement in the place where it's moving hard, where it has the most
motion. Then the hydraulic portion in the inside will open up that
stuck suture for you.
In your book you state that you use no more than the
pressure of a nickel.
That's right. Five grams is what we teach.
Then you hold that for a period of time?
Yes. You see, this is a pumping action. The volume of the
fluid is going up and down about ten times a minute inside the skull.
Cerebrospinal fluid volume--there's the pressure. In any hydraulic
system, if you push in one place, the force you use is being broadcast
throughout all of the fluid.
The heart is pumping your blood, and I understand that
there's a rhythm to the spinal fluid, but I sort of saw it as static,
like a brake system. What's making it move?
I'll come to that in a minute. What I was pointing out is
that you can use the rise and fall of fluid pressure, and I'll get to
how that happens. There's a suture that goes across the top of your
head like a pair of earphones would come together. That's the coronal
suture. Let's say that it's stuck because your forehead has been jammed
backwards because you fell down and you banged your forehead. You
jammed that suture together. Now the compensation to allow for the rise
and fall of fluid volume inside may be taken up in a suture that runs
up along the back of your head from side to side. Now I examine it and
find that the two bones, the frontal and the parietal bone, (where you
got jammed) are not moving, and the compensation is happening in the
suture which is a couple of inches behind that. So if I put my hand on
the back one and hold it together with just a little bit of pressure,
and then let that pumping action of fluid on the inside work on the
suture that's stuck, it will gradually begin to open that suture.
That's how this works, we are taking the compensation away in one
place, reducing it, and that causes the hydraulic force to go to the
other place. If you really know how this works and you understand the
anatomy, you get so you can direct force all over the place. Now, you
want to know what causes the pumping action to occur, am I right?
That's the question I have.
What we found out first of all is that the sutures spread and
close, as I said, in about ten cycles per minute. Now in the saggital
suture, which is the suture that separates the two halves of your skull
(it runs front to back down the midline and it starts about four inches
above your eyes), there are nerve receptors that stretch and broadcast
the stretch. They also have compression receptors so that when the two
bones come together and press enough another signal is sent. The
signals go down a nerve trunk we discovered that runs down through that
membrane system which separates your brain into right and left parts.
It goes into the ventricles of the brain and gives a signal down there.
In the ventricle system of the brain is what is called the choroid
plexus and that plexus extracts fluid from blood. In other words, it
uses osmotic pressure and some active extraction, but blood flows
through capillaries on one side of this system and it extracts just the
fluid and leaves the cells, so it takes kind of a blood plasma out.
Actually, it's a little more selective than that. It doesn't allow all
of the ions to pass through. That is the manufacture of cerebrospinal
So cerebrospinal fluid is made from blood.
Correct. It's made from the blood. It is made from the blood
at a certain speed. Let's call it "speed 2x." Now there's a constant
reabsorption going on of the cerebrospinal fluid back into the
bloodstream at the rate of 1x. The reabsorption stuff is located in
most of the venous channels in the skull itself. The reabsorption
system is called the arachnoid system. The arachnoid reabsorbs the
cerebrospinal fluid and puts it back into the blood. Blood comes into
the skull, some of the fluid is extracted from it, and it becomes
cerebrospinal fluid. At the same time, some of that fluid is being
reabsorbed. It's only reabsorbed at "speed 1x," half as fast as it's
Different rate of motion, twice the speed.
Yes. Obviously the volume increases, and when it does the
suture I talked about on the top of your head is expanding. It has
stretch receptors up there. When it stretches to a certain point it
sends a signal down that says stop making fluid and then it stops.
Reabsorption continues. As the reabsorption then brings the fluid
volume down again, the suture begins to close. When it hits the
compression receptors, the message goes down to turn the production
back on. What we found is the production is on for about three seconds
and off for about three seconds in a normal situation, which gives you
about a six-second cycle.
That's caused by a pulse in the nervous system?
No, not a pulse in the nervous system. It's caused by the
literal physical pressure in the suture either compressing or
stretching. The switches that turn on and off control the production
turning on and off, and that's what causes the motion to occur.
Which is at ten cycles per minute?
Ten or twelve. It varies a little bit from person to person.
I thought it was very fascinating, when you mentioned
early in your book, Your Inner
Physician and You, your discovery of
this system. I forget the name of the gentleman that you were working
Delbert Smith, I owe my whole career to him, I guess!
You found something calcified, a coin-sized shape on
the outside of his membrane, and you noticed that it had a rhythmic
pulse which was different than the breathing machine or the heart rate
machine. I thought that was very fascinating--it had a rhythm but it
wasn't related to the other two!
At this particular juncture I could visualize the rhythm of
the other two systems and this was different. It stuck in my mind
because I could not hold this membrane still for the surgeon to scrape
the tumor off. He was pretty upset with me. But he turned out to be the
same surgeon that sent us the skull bone samples so that we could prove
that sutures could move.
So this is a system in the body that's obviously
always been there but no one was really aware of?
That's about right. Cranial osteopaths knew about skull bones
moving, but they didn't understand this system. I saw this thing in my
patient, and I knew that there was something different that I didn't
know anything about, and nobody else in the operating room knew
anything about it either. Then along comes a piece of literature from
the Cranial Osteopathy Academy. When I was in school they were
considered kind of offbeat quack types. Most of the people in our
college wanted them to hide because they were considered an
embarrassment. Everybody knew skull bones didn't move (as far as the
school was concerned), but these guys were getting some clinical
results: they didn't know why the skull bones were moving, but they
knew they were moving. I had the opportunity to see what was making
them move during surgery. Most of the guys that did Cranial Osteopathy
never did much surgery. Most of them were a bit more elderly, and
osteopaths until the 1940's weren't doing much surgery. So what
happened was, I took a position they had offered me at Michigan State
to research several things. I researched Kirlian photography,
acupuncture and Cranial Osteopathy. We came up with how this whole
thing works and actually the Cranial Academy didn't like the idea
because it was like heresy against the mainstream of their
organization. My job was to put a scientific basis underneath it and
either prove it or disprove it. That's what our dean wanted me to do. I
proved it was there, but it was different from what they thought it
was. So, we did discover this system as it is, and we called it the
It's also worth mentioning here for our readers that
you began in private practice, but you did spend nearly a decade as a
clinical researcher and professor of biomechanics at Michigan State
University. After that you founded your institute?
Well, I was in private practice for almost twelve years in
Clearwater Beach, Florida before I was in Michigan. This is where I saw
Delbert Smith. Then I went up to Michigan State in 1975. They offered
me this job as a clinician/researcher and I accepted it and was up
there for over 8 years. Later on I was teaching at the Metiger
Foundation in Topeka, and one of the people from Unity Church heard me
there and asked me would I like to start a model holistic health center
there for Unity Churches. So I took that job for three years. Then we
started our own institute after that, in 1985 in Palm Beach Gardens,
In CranioSacral Therapy, how are evaluation and
treatment carried out?
Our treatment is all done hands-on, and our evaluation is all
done hands-on. There's an example I can talk about where the patient
doesn't have any problem with sharing. Perhaps you remember an Olympic
diver, Mary Ellen Clark. She won the bronze medal on the high platform
in Atlanta. Mary Ellen was suffering from vertigo (dizziness), which is
common to high divers. She had been all over the country. She came to
see me in September in hopes that she could make a comeback. She had to
lay off diving for about four months prior to that. So I evaluated her
and I'm looking for stuck places in the craniosacral rhythm or the way
it broadcast through the body. Her problem is dizziness, so she's been
treated by all kinds of ear, nose and throat specialists and other
doctors, but nothing worked. She couldn't dive. So I scanned her body
as we would do in a craniosacral examination. What I found out was a
lot of the problem was coming from the lower end down at the sacrum and
up the dural tube (of that tube of membrane) into the head and then
restricting the right temporal bone. This in turn was causing her to
get dizzy, because your balance mechanisms are located in the temporal
bone. The normal mobility of 10-12 cycles per minute motion was
restricted in that temporal bone. Now, it wouldn't do any good to move
the temporal bone if you don't get the reason why it's stuck. That came
from down in her lower back. Tracing from her lower back what I wound
up with is she had an old injury in her left knee that was coming
muscle-wise and fascia-wise up into her low back, restricting her
sacrum. That was compromising the activity of her craniosacral system,
which in turn was screwing up her temporal bone and making her dizzy. I
got her knee fixed and then everything else was a piece of cake, and
she was back to diving again. And then she won the bronze medal at the
That's excellent! How does this relate to "tissue
memory" and what you call the "energy cyst?"
When I was at Michigan State I did a lot of work with
physicists, biophysicists particularly. While I was working there, one
of the things we did was we had Wednesday morning meetings and we had
five clinicians and twenty-two PhD's from a wide variety of scientific
backgrounds. We had already gone through the suture movement business
and we had the hydraulic system pretty well taken care of. Working with
these patients I said, "You know, I feel like there is an energy
transference between the patient and myself when I am working with
them." Part of that is because you have your hands still on them. You
use maybe a little pressure on one finger, and then you move this or
that, but your hand stays essentially in the same place, so that the
hand/skin contact on a patient (or through the hair) is pretty
the same time, I am doing research with Kirlian
photography. What I was doing was taking Kirlian pictures of my fingers
and my patients fingers on the same place before and after every
session. I did this for a couple of years. What I noticed was, let's
say you came in with severe back pain and I worked on you, the first
Kirlian picture you would probably have very weak coronas or defective
coronas, which is the name for the broadcast of the energy out. I might
have strong ones, but at the end of the session maybe you got strong or
full corona and I got more defective. It would look like I lost some
energy to you.
the question becomes--and I threw this at the
physicists--can we measure that kind of energy transference? For a week
or two the physicists ignored this question, and then I kind of
insulted them and told them if they knew what they were doing, they
would be able to answer this. This guy Carney got real angry with me
and said he would come work with me to prove I was an idiot. Anyhow, he
started watching me with all of the patients. He was there all the
time. "What did you do that for, why'd you do this, why'd you do that?"
Ultimately, we wound up studying and making recordings of full body
electrical potential, tuning out such things as electro-myographic
stuff. What we were looking for was the body potential of fluctuations,
considering that the body has a bag full of electrolyte conductors and
the skin is the insulator that keeps it inside. When I do certain
things, just by positional changes or modifying the cranial rhythm by
compressing one area that's moving too much, that kind of thing, it
would change the electrical potential of the total body as we were
measuring way down in the lower limbs.
he taught me to realize was
when I found the right position with a patient to reduce the pain or to
take that pain away, the electrical potential that he was measuring
would drop when I got in exactly the right place. If I kept it there
long enough the electrical potential would start to come up a little
bit. He said, "How did you know how to find that place?" It took a lot
of introspection, but finally I discovered that when I found exactly
the place that took the pain away, the craniosacral rhythm stopped. It
stopped at the same time that the body electrical potential would drop.
What we discovered here was that there is a change in electrical
potential when I find exactly the right position. Now how did I find
the position? Well, my answer to that was that I just followed the
body's tendency. What we found out over a lot of arduous work was that
if I was very skillful and very sensitive, I could find the position. I
would go with that body to a position that alleviated the pain. It was
the body that was taking me there. Then we found out those were the
positions that the injury had occurred in initially. It happened over
and over again. These were mostly Worker's Compensation patients, and
they were mostly work injuries that I was working with at the time.
So the body is telling you the past injuries?
Yes. The patient would say, "Gee, that's exactly the same
position I was in when I fell down and hurt my back!" I didn't know
that. Carney didn't know that. The patient didn't even know it until he
got into the position. So we called that "tissue memory" because the
muscles are taking us exactly where we need to go. When we get there,
the path of injury is a straight line. In other words, if I fall down
on my tailbone on a step, the force of me hitting the step goes into my
body in a straight line. But when my body is straight, that line is
bent. The energy can't come back out again around a curve or around a
90 degree angle. When I get the body in exactly the right position,
that straight line is once again reestablished, and now the energy can
come back out the straight line. We found out when we measured it with
thermography that we would get one or two degrees centigrade increase
in heat while the body was releasing and at the same time during that
period of heat release, the millivoltage was down and flat and I had a
stop in the craniosacral rhythm. When the heat started diminishing, the
cranio-rhythm started again and the electrical potential came back
up--not usually as high as it was before, but back up to maybe halfway
to where it was before. We got a correlation between all three of those
things. So I learned lot of physics then. Carney started bringing books
home from the library and said, "You learn this, and THEN I can talk to
you." I really appreciated it. He was a good teacher.
decided that what's probably going on here is we have a chaotic energy
that comes in--this energy from the blow comes into the body and it's
disorganizing. Your body may dissipate it and then you don't have an
ongoing injury. If the body can dissipate that foreign energy when it
comes in, fine, you'll be all well and the tissues heal in maybe a week
or two. It's those injuries that last that are the problem. You fall on
your tailbone and you never get better.
The deeper injuries?
The injury happened at such a time or such a way that your
body was unable to dissipate that foreign energy--so it concentrates it
into the smallest possible ball. When we find the pathway that the ball
will exit, then the pain is gone. We call the compression into the ball
an "energy cyst." Actually, Elmer Green from Metiger called it that. I
was describing it as "entropy" and he said, "You are describing an
energy cyst," and that's more correct. The tissues remember how to take
you there, and when you get to the right place, it's like the body
tissues are saying, "If you'll do this with me, I know how I can get
this thing out of here." If you follow the body and do it very
sensitively, it will take you to exactly the right position, the energy
cyst comes out, and that thing that's been giving you trouble for the
last five years is gone.
That's remarkable. And you are testing for this with
Kirlian photography and other instruments?
Yes. With Carney we did a polygraph reading. It was before
big computerized things were available. We used to do a cardiac monitor
and a breathing monitor and then a total body electrical potential
monitor in both limbs. We had electrodes. I decided arbitrarily to put
them about three inches above the kneecaps on each side and then ground
each one on the same side at the top of the foot. That way we were as
far away from brain electricity and heart electricity as we could get.
Carney made a special instrument that would add the negative and
positive fluctuations. He tuned out what most electomyographers would
term "noise." Carney edited in such a way with his instrument that it
turned into a pattern we could read. Then we decided we would study the
heat output when we saw this energy was coming out, and the Kirlian
photography gave us a general idea of whether the coronas improved or
not. Basically whether or not the patient gets better.
Very fascinating. One thing that I noticed was that
for non-practitioners or lay people to work on one another, you have
something called Share Care Workshops. Those are conducted not just at
the Institute in Florida, but around the country by different
Yes, around the U.S. and Europe, Australia and New Zealand
and Japan, too.
So that's available for people who want to learn the
basics. If they are interested in becoming certified with you, then
they come to Florida?
All classes except for our advanced level are taught all over
the country, in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Our classes
up to five levels are taught around the country; sixth level I still
hang onto myself and I do teach them.
What do you think will happen with the next century of
I think that bodywork is going to really thrive and the
reason for that is because conventional healthcare is going more and
more high tech and more impersonal. I had a patient just the other day
that had a virus infection that invaded his brain and they had him in
the hospital for four days and nobody came closer than six feet to him.
Everything was done by MRI's and all that kind of stuff. No doctor came
in and really touched this guy. I think that the human situation is
such that we crave communication with someone on a touching level. When
someone is a bodyworker, if all they are is well intentioned, and
sensitive to the needs of the person they are working on, they can
impart a level of self-healing that can't be done with a machine. What
I really see happening is a big polarization. There are some people
that are really hooked on machines and high tech stuff, and there are
other people migrating towards bodywork because it involves
person-to-person contact. Not only because of that, but that's the
thing that they really crave. Bodywork will become more educated also.
The more you understand the body and the more you work with it, the
more you find out that you can facilitate bodily self-healing. There's
a lot of people getting damn tired of paying big bucks for all those
pills, you know?
Bodywork is a good compliment to the existing systems,
but I don't think we can throw away the baby with the bath water and
get rid of all Western medicine.
No I don't want to do that. I practiced in the days when we
did cardiograms and the like, but I went in there and listened to the
patient's chest with my stethoscope, and at the same time I had my hand
on them. Doctors don't often do that anymore, so that's why people are
coming to bodyworkers. Bodywork is the vision of health care that gets
more and more popular, simply because of the interpersonal relationship
if nothing else!
Because it's what people crave.
John: Well, you are born with a necessity of having your mother
bond with you and that doesn't stop. When you are 40 you still need
somebody to bond with, and if you go to a doctor and you don't even see
the guy except through a screen or he sits on the other side of a big
desk where he writes prescriptions, that doesn't fulfill your need! If
you go to a massage therapist and get a massage or go to the spa plus
the massage--then you feel better. What I'd like to see happening is
that doctor behind the desk would learn how to touch again like we did
thirty years ago.
For information about learning CranioSacral Therapy,
please contact The
Upledger Institute at (800) 233-5880 ext. 92011.
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