Cranial Osteopathy

  • Date: June 5, 2015
  • Posted by Chris York

W.G Sutherland was a student of A.T.Still (the founder of osteopthy). He, like all the wise osteopaths of the time, practised true to A.T Stills principles because they believed and witnessed the results.

While examining the bones of the skull and the sutures which join the bones together, Sutherland concluded that the movement between these bones must (by definition of the osteopathic principles that structure and function are related) form the structure of the joint. The junction between the temporal bone and the parietal is unquestionably a bevelled joint “like the gills of a fish”. His next question was, what caused the movement? He found that it wasn’t breathing or the circulatory system.

For 10 years he toiled away tying belts around his head and forming an extension of the osteopathic principles. Sutherland did not waiver from AT Stills concepts and understood that Mr Still realised the potential movement too.

Sutherland published his work in the book titled The Cranial Bowl in1900. The cranial mechanism is called the primary respiration mechanism and is defined as:

  • Primary this comes first it underlies all of life’s processes and gives dynamism and form to all of physiology and anatomy.
  • Respiratory it is the spark that gives rise to the breath though the tissues.
  • Mechanism it manifests itself as a specific motion of the body, a system of parts that work together to create a whole, greater than the sum of the parts.

To summarise, the bones of the head move and the whole body expresses this movement. It was first discovered in the head which is why the name cranial stuck. But we can observe and effect the expansion and contraction of this movement in all areas of the body. All living organisms have this primary respiratory mechanism, even trees (go on give one a hug, I dare you!).

To continue with the story, Sutherland and Still were very similar, and towards the end of their careers they were less worried about what people thought becoming more sure of what they observed. The spiritual side of osteopathy was explored. There is no doubt the body is a machine made up of pumps and pullies, wires and valves, but what drives this? and what drives the primary respiratory mechanism? There is no pump, it is influenced by breathing or our state of mind but it doesn’t drive it.

This concept is one that Margi and I are learning along with many other osteopaths who have undertaken or like us are a part of Biodynamic Osteopathy (It is the largest post graduate osteopathic course in the world). We accept the mechanical pulleys leavers concept Still founded, but we also agree there is something else as well. Still was grounded in nature and observing it in great detail. The spiritual aspect of osteopathy was written about, but osteopaths in America and the rest of the world, couldn’t be seen to be practising or writing about something as esoteric as spiritual healing, when they were being challenged by doctors for practicing quackery or medicine. Biodynamic osteopathy embraces this “lost part” of osteopathy and understands the true power of healing comes from within nature, and the person.

Osteopathy’s true power in healing, is the ability to observe and affect the person on many different levels. Some osteopaths concentrate on more structural and others on the less tangible. We enjoy treating throughout the osteopathic spectrum. In all consultations treatment are a seamless work of art carried out in the present moment, constantly reassessing a two way dialogue with the body with our hands while applying our osteopathic principles.

We were reluctant to list these techniques because Osteopathy is not about a technique and some of these techniques have been “borrowed” by other modalities and used alone such as cranial sacral therapy or Bowen therapy. Osteopathy is a philosophy and was originally taught without technique. Today we learn by technique with the principles in mind.