Craniosacral Biodynamics – How and why does it work?

Healing & Meditation

In this first part of an interview, Bhadrena talks to Punya about her passion and life-work, its history, what happens in a session and what the practitioners are trained to do, mainly orienting to wholeness and Health.

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(all photos copyright © ICSB)

(To facilitate easier reading, the use of one gender always applies for the other gender as well.)

Bhadrena, you have been studying and now teaching Craniosacral Therapy for about 40 years. Clearly my questions will be about this method. My first question is: when I get a Craniosacral session it appears to me that the practitioner is not doing anything at all. Just sitting with her hands still, somewhere on my body, but during the session and afterwards for sure I feel a big change. For instance, the headache I had for a whole year had gone. What is happening?

The state of the practitioner and her attitude are a high art that needs to be acquired and cultivated through many years of training and practice. In the so-called ‘non-doing’ the practitioner is bearing witness to a process and is constantly monitoring her own orientation to the forces of Health, adjusting her perception to the most delicate, smallest, inner movements in the body of the client. Even after decades of immersion, the art of listening and responding to involuntary motion, and to the universal life forces in action, gets honed and fine-tuned.

Are there movements in the body?

The body is alive and constantly in motion. We have the movements of breath, digestion, blood circulation and also the finer movements of metabolism and fluid circulation in general. A practitioner is orienting to yet another inner motion, which is a regulating rhythm that brings order and coherency to the physical system and the function of physiology.

We as practitioners orient to a higher ordering principle of life expressed in the body. And that can only be done through being still, having an expanded awareness and perception, not focused on details and parts of anatomy, but oriented to the whole of the client’s body as a unit of function.

In your case, as you just told me, Punya, even though you came with a headache and even knew that a fall had impacted that one specific area, a biodynamic practitioner will not focus on the problem of that area, but will look at how the body as a whole, as a unit of function, expresses life and can still express life in spite of a specific difficulty.

Our approach is to calibrate the perception to the life force, which is still available, expressed in slow rhythmic cycles that bring more vitality, circulation and aliveness to the tissues that might have been impacted. The stagnant, contracted, or through pain encapsulated, areas are centered into a local area in order for the body to continue functioning. These areas get enlivened by the motion present and are slowly resolved and re-integrated. The practitioner supports the rhythmic cycles of what we call ‘Primary Respiration’ or the ‘Tide’ and does this by being still and receptive.

What does the practitioner feel physically?

The practitioner feels a force that moves every cell of the body. On the physical level a practitioner feels a rising and expanding and then a receding and a settling in a very, very slow and steady way, like a tide or an inner breath. These cycles can vary in lengths and tempo, yet when we orient to wholeness and Health they are generally as slow as 1 cycle per minute.

The force is moving fluids, which permeate cells, expand and flush through areas that have been inertial or traumatized and therefore in shock, held and frozen. It is like a gentle irrigation with the waters of life from within. The skills a practitioner develops are: listening and cooperating with this inner tide-like motion, support its intention to regulate and to put things back into a natural order.

Bhadrena C. Tschumi and Kavi Gemin, founders of ICSB, International Institute for Craniosacral Balancing®
Dr. William Garner Sutherland (1873 – 1954) and Dr. Rollin E. Becker (1918 – 1994)
Dr. Rollin E. Becker giving a training

You might pull the head a little bit, for instance?

A biodynamic craniosacral practitioner will not add blind force from the outside. If the fluids and forces from within want to create space in the head, she might support and facilitate that. Dr. Sutherland, the originator of the work, talked about the ‘Breath of Life’ and its vital forces, the ‘potency’. As practitioners we cooperate and support, facilitate and strengthen the expression of potency and its potential, so that what wants to happen naturally, can occur.

For the client these inner actions are almost imperceptible and are often below the client’s normal level of awareness. The client might then just feel good, like “I get more space; something is releasing; that feels great; I can breathe again.”

The client feels the after-effect of reconnecting the Health, a sense of wellbeing, more inner space, more inner freedom, peace, a feeling that something has left. The practitioner can then confirm: “Yes, in the middle of the session something changed and your body was re-orienting to its normal function. I can feel that it expresses itself in a more natural way, the way it was supposed to do before it had the problem, the accident, the illness, the operation or whatever we are dealing with.”

The training is a refined perceptual training where the practitioner learns to differentiate the various expressions of Health. Primary Respiration or the Tide are expressions we use in our method to talk about the motion of the life force. We have the privilege of being in contact with life itself.

Why is it called Craniosacral in particular?

I would need to talk a little bit about history. The work originates from Osteopathy. At the beginning of last century Dr. William Garner Sutherland had an insight as a student of osteopathy that the bones of the head (cranium) should also have a motion. There are some sutures of the cranial bones that are shaped like the gill of a fish. And he had the intuition that they should ‘breathe’ and move like the gill of a fish.

At that time it was common knowledge that the bones in the head were fused and that there was no movement. So he thought, “I’m crazy.” He wanted to disprove his crazy thought and did all kinds of extreme experiments with helmets and belts on his head. He discovered that if he was impeding that imaginary motion – that he didn’t yet know if it existed – the person got worse. He experimented first on himself. He had more headaches, more bad moods, was more irritable and even got back pain.

He started to research the whole core system; he was in contact with the central nervous system (brain and the spinal cord) and the cerebral spinal fluid that is circulating throughout.

He gave us five principles to work with. He postulated that there is:

  • inherent fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid
  • motion of the brain and spinal cord
  • mobility of the meninges
  • mobility and motility of the cranial bones
  • involuntary movement of the sacrum

In other words, there is this central system that has a movement and there is a fluctuation of the fluid.

This was the beginning of Sutherland’s research. Soon he also realized that it is not only about bones moving. The bone is the outermost manifestation of a deeper force at work. It is the motive force underneath that lets the bones respond with a movement. He inquired into what makes the bones move. What makes the fluid move? What makes the brain move? And he developed the hypothesis that there must be a ‘Breath of Life’ at work and that we must be very close to discovering what life is about.

He, as a religious man, called it ‘the Breath of Life’ like in the Bible, where God breathes life into matter. And he called his work ‘cranial osteopathy’. Sutherland, in time, shifted from looking at the cranium to looking at the function of the body as a whole.

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Is the word Craniosacral a bit outdated?

This is the term with which the work started to gain recognition outside the field of cranial osteopathy. It became known as Craniosacral Therapy and developed into a profession on its own. Today we differentiate further and call our work Craniosacral Biodynamics. This is a way to describe that we honor the roots and are in contact with the dynamism and the dynamics of life, which are expressed as a rhythm in every single cell of the body.

A biodynamic craniosacral practitioner does not just orient to the cranium or the sacrum, but to the totality of the body and the interconnectedness of each cell. And when that unity is re-established, the client feels, “Ah, I have myself again. I know again, who I am. I’ve felt off center. Now I feel centered again. I’ve regained my capacity and have access to my potential. And besides that, my pain is less…”

The name ‘craniosacral’ is now known as a method that works. The medical field knows it, not always why and how it works, but that something happens in the core system of the central nervous system. And it is understood that the central nervous system has connections all the way to the skin. So it is not so difficult to understand that it is a holistic approach. They might not understand the deeper implications of the work, that concern essential states and the soul and spirit of a client, but it is a start.

If I have understood you well, the practitioner, sitting next to the client with her hands placed on the body of the client, listens to this very, very subtle movement that she feels with her fingers…

Yes, and I would add that the hands are receiving information and we process it in our perceptual system. We practitioners feel the Breath of Life in ourselves. We feel it with and through our whole body. Our job is to receptively gather information and maintain orientation to the expression of Health and wholeness.

Instead of looking for what does not work, we are looking for what is still working. Our inner orientation towards Health and wholeness allows a change. A skilled practitioner can hold the most difficult situation with an orientation towards Health because she knows that wholeness and Health are always present.

Is it because we assume that the body is healing itself, that it’s not the practitioner who is healing, but that she is rather helping the healthy part of the person, giving it more space and strength so that it can heal itself?

This is a good way of looking at it. At the same time we assume that each organism knows about its own wholeness and that this is natural and normal. Disturbances come through life experiences, maybe already in the intrauterine stage, maybe during birth or through whatever we experience in life that makes us ‘us’. And still, the memory of the first cell that is undisturbed, that is not conditioned, that doesn’t have to do with any genetics or DNA, the information of wholeness and Health is always there.

When our life experiences like accidents, illnesses, pathogens, troubles, stress, trauma, are disturbing our connection to that original expression of Health and wholeness – and as clients we might not even know that we lost access to that – the state and orientation of the practitioner reminds us of that. It’s as if she said, “I know you are still whole. I know Health is still present for you. So let’s see how we can reconnect to that.”

In terms of interpersonal neurobiology, we would say that through contact we help the client to rediscover parts of herself that were hidden, disowned, dysfunctional, dis-regulated. By connecting to our still, calm state the client regulates herself. She can reconnect with her potential and feel the support to re-orient to the natural, regulating, ordering forces.

The practitioner’s job is not to be drawn into the problem. This can be a lot of work. Problems are attractive, magnetic and loud, expressions of Health are subtle, gentle and slow. A practitioner supports the body to take care of itself from the inside. That’s what’s called self-healing. It doesn’t quite happen by itself. It needs somebody to hold the orientation, like a lighthouse that broadcasts, “Here is the harbor, avoid the danger over there. Come here, orient yourself to my state. Settle with me, get still, it is safe here.” That’s the orientation the practitioner is holding. We help the body self-regulate, we help the clients empower and strengthen themselves.

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What happens on the physical level?

Simply put, on a physical level all functions of the physiological systems are ignited to return to normal. The nervous system remembers its normal function. It can actually calm down from a high stress level and normalize itself, or can come back up from deep exhaustion and feels revitalized and normalized. The autonomic nervous system regains regulated involuntary function and resilience.

Metabolism, where all the nourishment to the cells and the elimination of waste products are regulated, is supported to function at its best. Through stimulation of the metabolic action the nervous system, the functions of the immune system, the endocrine system, the digestive system, the pulmonary system, the cardiovascular system are supported.

Craniosacral Biodynamics, more than adjusting a joint or working with the fascia or the muscles, supports better function. Coherent and functioning systems have an implication on general well-being. The body can take care easier by itself: a swollen ankle can un-swell, a painful area gets pain-free, a scar from an operation becomes more supple, a contraction opens up and the blood pressure lowers, for instance.

Yet, we all know, we are not just the body. The interface between body, mind and spirit is where Craniosacral Biodynamics really shines. Sometimes a person comes to us because they are in a transition time, where things change and need to be integrated. People might have to deal with loss and are grieving. They might feel traumatized and incapable. They report that they feel as if the lights have gone out. “I don’t know who I am anymore. I lost connection to myself. I just don’t have it anymore.” They might be declared ‘depressed’.

Craniosacral Biodynamics helps a person reconnect with a sense of self. The lights go back on, the joy and smile come back and the person feels back home inside. A client might say: “I have a bit more space to be with everything that happens in my life. It’s not all so depressing. It’s not all so heavy. I not only know, but feel that this will pass too.”

It feels like an ignition – a spark – of life force to the very core functions of our physiology, is rippling out to our sense of self, our soul, our life purpose, our full expression in life. The interaction between the physical and the more energetic occurs, where spirit and matter work together as one project, and where we humans feel that we are on track.

When you were talking just now, I felt as if you were saying that the physical and the spiritual are really one, that there is no separation, that it’s just one thing.

Yes, yes. A really skilled practitioner can talk to that oneness and knows how to co-operate with that longing to remember that we are one. Yes, it works on headaches. Yes, it works on sleeplessness. Yes, it works on all these manifestations, where we know something is off.


Imbalanced, exactly. It really brings back balance. That’s why from 1986 on I called my work Craniosacral Balancing®. Already then, when neurobiology and embryology did not inform our work yet, a session brought back balance that had a much more profound effect than what I was taught originally.

I was taught to find out what was wrong and to adjust the physical structure to make it better. It was only later, while working in the Osho Commune in Pune, when the clients – people interested in their growth and transformation – showed me that there is more to this work.

You discovered it by yourself?

I discovered this through years of practicing, teaching and research, through working with myself and people who were interested in themselves and who were curious about the unknown. Working with meditators taught me a lot.

Because they are more aware of what is happening within themselves?

Yes. And they are not only focused on what hurts but also practice awareness and mindfulness. These clients taught me that it is not all about motion, but that often it is about accessing profound stillness which opens up other dimensions of consciousness.

Only later, around the mid 90’s, did we receive new literature about teachings and discussions between Dr. Sutherland and his colleague, Dr. Rollin Becker, where they described different levels of perception. It was hidden from general knowledge when I had started with Craniosacral Therapy. I love it actually that there are still mysteries to be discovered.

You are saying, Sutherland had discovered it (but had not published his findings) and you discovered it later independently?

Yes, he discovered it through working with people. I learned it by working with people and then had it confirmed by his writings afterwards. It feels that these discoveries hold a universal, perennial truth.

And now, a century later, we need to re-frame and re-phrase the work for a New Man, a New Woman. Today people speak a different language. They have different knowledge. They know more about the brain and about embryology than what the scientists did 100 years ago.

Also, mankind of today is dealing with other challenges than a century ago. There are many more environmental influences, pollution, different food, a lot of medication, many more drugs. And that influences that whole fluidic essence of our body, that breathing unity, that we call ‘fluid body’. We now often feel stagnation, density, cloudiness, as if there was pollution also inside the body.

And that’s part of the work we do. We help these fluids – the ‘fluid body’ – to cleanse themselves and return to a more transparent fluidic expression that has vitality and can breathe. A lot of the work today is not about fixing a shoulder but about supporting the return of that inner breath and motion that has been tampered with.

Also, nowadays there is more stress. There is more input, more information to process. One of the qualities of a Biodynamic Craniosacral practitioner is to create a sanctuary of no extra input, an hour where the brain of the client doesn’t need to process any input. We create a capsule of R-E-S-T: ‘Reduced External Stimuli Time’, a time where there are no stimuli, no input from the outside. And that’s deeply regenerating and resets the nervous system.

The only interaction then is when the practitioner moves her hands to another place. Or is there any talking in a session?

There can be silence and there can be talking. The talking is about the here and now. We are exploring together; what is happening, what are we sensing, like an enquiry or discovery. “What is happening now? What do you become aware of? What is the quality? And now, what has just changed? What are you sensing now?” All verbal communication is supporting the process of returning back home and discovering jewels on the way.

Or maybe the practitioner feels the client needs to express what is happening?

Yes. Many people come to our sessions who actually need to be heard. It is rare in daily life to be with someone who really listens. Listening can be with the hands – and the heart – including listening to someone talk about what moves them. A listening presence, in itself, can be healing.

In the second part of the interview, to be published shortly, Bhadrena will talk about the benefits of Craniosacral Therapy, about embryology and also about how her school became a federally accredited school in Switzerland.

Bhadrena C. TschumiBhadrena has been working in the field of Human Growth and Healing Arts as a therapist and teacher since 1976. Born in Switzerland, she was educated as a teacher and psychologist, lived and trained in the USA and worked in Osho’s Commune and the Multiversity in Pune for over 30 years. Her work has been informed by the early Human Potential Movement, Gestalt Therapy, Body-centered Psychotherapy, Trauma Resolution, Diamond Logos Teachings and Systems-Centered Therapy. She pioneered Craniosacral Trainings since 1986 and has been essential in developing and spreading the method internationally.

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