by Wayne Still
Dr. William Sutherland
Among the many benefits of being a practitioner of bodywork are the opportunities to add more skills to our basic skill set and to experience their benefits. The most recent skill I have learned is cranial sacral therapy. Cranial sacral therapy was originally developed by an osteopath named William Sutherland in the first half of the last century. Through his observations and palpations he came to realize that the plates of the skull could and would move at the sutures where they join. From there he learned that all the bones of the skull were movable and responded to the breath. This was in direct contrast to the conventional wisdom of the time which was that the cranial bones became fused and immobile after birth. The work was taken up and popularized by the late Dr John Upledger in the latter part of the century. He noted that there was a force inside the cranium which caused the bones to move in a detectable rhythm. This rhythm he found could be detected and manipulated in all parts of the body if a person had a sufficiently sensitive touch.
The name implies that there is a connection between the cranium and the sacrum and that this connection has a therapeutic potential. The connection is of course the spinal column and spinal cord. The spinal cord has a wrapping called the dura which is continuous with the membranes surrounding the brain. The same rhythm that was detected in the cranium could be followed down the spine and along the nerves branching off the spine. It turned out that there was a pump in the base of the skull which was pumping cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) throughout the cranium and the dura. The reciprocal movement of the CSF was the rhythm being felt. Like the other inherent movements of the body in the viscera this natural movement can be used to effect changes in the body’s structure where there is an imbalance in the natural tensions which the body uses to keep its form and function.
The tensions are found mainly in the fascial system which Dr Ida Rolf called the organ of form. So imbalances affect the ability of the body to function at its optimal level. There are many reasons for the body to be out of balance but the imbalance always manifests itself as a shortening of the fascia or connective tissue in the affected area. The body is compensating for a trauma of some sort and the shortening is a brace or support while the the trauma is being healed. However, and counter intuitively, when the healing is complete the bracing remains, creating an adhesion. This means that the loss of range of motion associated with the shortened tissue may become chronic with associated discomfort. But the body is trying to release the adhesion, and this can be detected as a subtle movement associated with the adhesion. By following the movement a practitioner can help the body to release the adhesion with little pressure or discomfort to the client. This is where a therapy such as cranial sacral comes in.
The skill set I learned in my basic training involved using directed pressure to release adhesions and restore length to connective tissue. This was an effective approach but could at times be quite uncomfortable for the client. Therapies such as cranial sacral use a very light touch to encourage the restoration of the natural rhythms in the body and in so doing eliminate the adhesion which was causing the problem. While the touch is light the effect can be quite profound as I learned at the end of my second cranial sacral workshop in March. I have been trying for many years to restore normal movement to my neck but was always stopped by a blockage deep in the base of my skull. At the end of the workshop the blockage released. A deep release such as that has profound effects throughout the body as previously chronically shortened tissue is allowed to regain length and normal function. Another step along the long path of healing was taken.
by Wayne Still
Andrew Taylor Still
In the early 1800s, in what would now be called ethnic cleansing, the British moved troublesome Scottish clans from their territories in the highlands and dispersed them to the colonies. My great, great grandfather, a member of the Still clan, settled in the Muskoka region of Ontario. I am a direct descendent of that diaspora. Another descendent of the diaspora was Andrew Taylor Still who was born in Lee County Virginia in the late 1820s. He was a surgeon in the civil war where he became very familiar with human anatomy. He took a particular interest in the connective tissue which composes most of our body. When the war was over he went on to bring into being the modality of Osteopathy. The traditional discipline of the Bone Setters was his starting point and he became known as the “Lightning Bone Setter”. Since then Osteopathy has grown into both a medical science with schools and hospitals in different parts of the world as well as a method of restoring range and freedom of movement to the human body.
Dr Ida P Rolf, the founder of Structural Integration also known as Rolfing®, was interested in the nature and qualities of connective tissue. She studied the writings of A T Still, some of her work was based on those studies. From her own observations and experience she developed the ten series recipe as a teaching tool based on manipulating connective tissue. By following the recipe a practitioner can bring a clients body into a more harmonious relationship with gravity so gravity becomes a supportive force for the body, not something to fight against. Connective tissue has a characteristic that when stressed it becomes shorter, restricting its range of motion and taking the body out of balance. By releasing the restriction we can restore range of motion which helps to restore balance in the body. In my basic training the techniques we were taught to accomplish this used considerable force. The techniques were effective but at times resulted in a painful experience for the client.
Some seven years ago I began to learn a complimentary modality known as Visceral Manipulation. This is the work of French Osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral. In VM we learn to find and release restrictions using much gentler but equally effective methods to release the same restrictions. The main difference is that we learn to listen to the body and allow the body to tell us in which direction we should move the tissue in order for it to release. Generally this involves taking the tissue to a first barrier in a gentle stretch. It is at the first barrier that change can most easily occur when we follow the direction indicated by the body. Pressure used is minimal and we are sometimes accused of not doing anything!! During my most recent training in VM I learned the original Still technique.
The original Still technique uses the power of the first barrier to bring about change. In this method the tissue is not stretched to a first barrier but the tissue associated with the restriction is compressed, using bilateral pressure, to a first barrier. The tissue is held at that first barrier until a change is detected and its direction followed. When that movement ends the compressive force is released in the reverse direction to which it was applied. The tissue is then subjected to a quick circular movement ending the manipulation. I have found the technique to be effective in releasing soft tissue restrictions as well as restoring range of motion to joints. There is a ten second video showing A T Still demonstrating the technique on a mans shoulder joint. He compresses the ball of the humerus into its socket, makes a subtle movement with his hands then swings the mans arm in a wide circle. Lightning bone setter indeed.
Dr. Ida Rolf
Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the founder of Structural Integration work, was known by her students and associates to have a sharp mind and tongue. She had an insatiable scientific curiosity and a gift for putting sometimes complex ideas into concise phrases. My teachers frequently used three of her aphorisms to remind us of the basic principles of Structural Integration. Here we will look at the first of them.
“Where you think it is, it ain’t.”
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Dr. Ida Rolf
Dr Ida P Rolf (1896-1979) was a respected scholar and medical researcher. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University in her native city of New York in 1920. For the next nine years she worked at the Rockefeller Institute in the department of organic chemistry. Her search for solutions to her own and family health problems lead her to an exploration of homeopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic healing methods. From her practice of yoga she became fascinated with movement and the relationship between form and function. She determined that impaired function could be improved if form was changed by restoring length to the connective tissue in and around the impaired area. Finding ways to encourage length into these areas is the art of Structural Integration. Continue reading →
Dr. Ida Rolf
“Movement is something we ARE, not something we do,” says Continuum Movement founder the late Emilie Conrad. As we breathe and our blood circulates our bodies are in constant motion; indeed, lack of movement is a prime indicator of death. Movement happens when a signal from the central nervous system stimulates a muscle to contract causing the body part to which the muscle is attached to move in a controlled manner. Controlled movement results from the dynamic tension existing in our myofascial/muscle system. Continue reading →