A summary of CST, the approach, and examples of a dysregulated nervous system.

Craniosacral Therapy has its roots in osteopathy with its founder William Sutherland, DO and physician being the originator of cranial work within the osteopathic field in the early 1900’s.

Sutherland developed his osteopathic work to include the cranial nerves and the entire autonomic and peripheral nervous system.

The cranial nerves are palpated within Craniosacral therapy and allow accessto the two sides of the autonomic system; the sympathetic and parasympathetic.

Craniosacral therapy ( CST) contacts the cranial nerves of the brain and the connecting spinal, peripheral nerves, cerebrospinal fluid and subsequent surrounding tissues. 

Through use of a specific light touch and certain intention and focus, CST is able to contact the autonomic nervous system via the cranial nerves at a profound yet gentle level.

A ‘conversation’ is set up within the nervous system in the same way that a talking therapist will attune to their client's inner world and dialogue through words; this conversation is non-verbal. It might seem strange that the nervous system can communicate,  but communicate it does, and this can be picked up by the trained therapist.

The CST approach to working with dysregulation can be described in four stages:

  1. Recognising signs of autonomic activation.
  2. Resolution of parasympathetic activation
  3. Resolution of sympathetic activation
  4. Re-establishment of the social nervous system or the ventral state.

(Sills 2004).

The CS touch is able to listen to both aspects of the autonomic nervous system the sympathetic and parasympathetic.

When attuning to a heightened sympathetic system signs of autonomic arousal would be felt as perturbation within the cerebrospinal fluid and a streaming or electrical discharge. This might be felt through, for example, the sympathetic ganglia chain, through the sacrococcygeal ganglion and down the legs. The client might tremble or shake as they discharge the activation and this can be coupled with fast surfacing emotions and memories.

When attuning to a heightened parasympathetic system signs of autonomic arousal here might be a sense of coldness, numbness and density. The client may often feel like their temperature has dropped and that they are cold and experience numbness in certain areas.

CST allows for the autonomic nervous system to be heard and listened to not only between client and therapist but also within the client's own cognitive experience of the process, and it is this process of becoming visible to the client themselves within a framework of deep relaxation that holds the key to healing.

The therapist's contact with the cranial nerves allows for the client to sink into a safe, clear place where a new perspective iscreated for the client.

Within certain body psychotherapies this deeply relaxing space is known as the ventral vagus state as developed from the work of neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges around his proposal that the ventral vagus state is the calming and self soothing social aspect of the autonomic system.

In other body psychotherapy modalities a similar state to the ventral vagus state is described as theta-wave state.

CST induces a similar ventral state allowing the client to experience a therapeutic intuition with adeep tissue response guided by the presence of the therapist.

The CST contact as well allows for the client to view their own dysregulation from an outside perspective rather than being blindly held in the reactive center of it.

Within this state the client is able to study their body-mind relation in the here and now and the autonomic system is supported enough through the Craniosacral system to allow for the dysregulation/trauma to very gently emerge and process through.

The CS system when supported in a ventral vagal state is able to organize a dialogue between body and brain. A subterranean passage link between mind and body. It is not body therapy only nor talking therapy solely. CST is able to combine the two working with the entire being.

Much of our human functions are autonomic, for example breathing and heartbeat. We do not instruct our heart to beat, it automatically does. However these autonomic functions are influenced by our response to the environment both physiological e.g. temperature, and also emotional.

A good example of emotional response would bewhen the mind perceives danger or stress and the ' ‘fight’ ‘flight reactions of the galvanizing side of the autonomic nervous system, the Sympathetic side, kicks in with resulting changes in the body to manage the stress resulting in sweating, raised heart beat, shallow, fastbreath and subsequent behaviour to maybe flee or be aggressive. The opposite parasympathetic side would hold the freezing and dissociation of someone too overwhelmed or unable to fight or flee, for example in a small baby who is notable to respond to extreme stress other than numbing and freezing themselves to it.

How our minds perceive the world creates a nervous system that follows.

A dysregulated nervous system might show chronic levels of stress hormones or indicate how the nervous system is behaving through shallow breath patterns and how the muscles, posture and gait are formed. These responses can become habitual from early childhood reactions tothe environment, or in response to traumatic events in later life.

The stress response of the nervous system creates a further loop cycle. Stressed mind > stressed nervous system and then back < creating further mental aggravation.

Here is an example of a client coming to CST with signs of adysregulated nervous system:

40 year old female client presents with low level but chronic depression and does not feel as if they live life to the full.

A behavioral problem that disturbs them in that they shut down in any confrontation, however small, limiting their relationships with others.

Low levels of dizziness and queasiness.

Find it hard to take a full breath but find that exercise helps with overall breathing and better state of mind.

Digestive problems with bloating and constipation followed by diarrhea.

No medication but has been on antidepressants in the past.


What to expect 

After talking with the client at length and understanding their history, both medical and emotional, the client makes themselves comfortable lying or seated on the couch. There is no need to remove any clothes. The Trauma /CST therapist understands that touch may be threatening and this is all taken into account. Negotiating and respecting the client's field is paramount for working with the dysregulation. 

The CS therapy session would first engagegently with the client through the cranial nerves (if appropriate) around the occiput, sacrum and other areas with aspecific light touch. 

In this case scenario there is a palpable ‘ humming’ sensation held in the nervous system of the woman, and the quality of that of a finely tuned sensitive and highly vigilant tiny bird felt in the bones of the head. There is a silence around the lungs and rib cage which on continued listening offers up a breath pattern which shows limited motility without a full in or out breath and with subsequent holdings in the diaphragmand intercostal muscles. The silence and lack of motility seems to contain holdings on many levels. Hovering the attention on this, the therapist holds the question around some information they are perceiving through the client's energetic field and there grows an insight into the childhood response to the environment and they become aware that the client, as a child, has tried to make themselves quiet and unseen. This perception is held within the shared field between therapist and client and maybe verbalized to the client if their cognitive awareness needs to take it up.

The body speaks to the therapist through quality, sensation and imagery.

The awareness can hover here as the first stages of understanding, or the client's system can choose to work deeper into it and in further sessions leading to direct work with the holding pattern and subsequent tissue release. In this woman’s scenario the breath pattern appears to have been created as a young child and carried into adult life, and has a ‘catch 22’ effect of influencing back into the autonomic nervous systemcreating a loop of further dysregulation with bodily discomfort and sequential non confrontational avoidance behaviouras the woman tries to maintain safety.


Within this scenario and in general;

1) The touch of the therapist allows for symptomatic relief finally allowing for the dysregulated system to rest deeply and enterinto a new state. Generally the CS touch is very restorative and calming.

2) The autonomic nervous system isable to re-educate itself and explore new ways of being, creating a clearer reality and empowering shift in focus.

3) Along the way, as the system relaxes into a meditative state and what is held in the psyche and memory i.e. the imprint of the behavioral pattern can slowly be worked into awareness and processed. As the dysregulation clears so does the associated behavior and body pathology.

CST has a magical way of working with this system as it is able to inaugurate an internal mapping of one’s being which magnifies the patterns of our thinking and behavior accompanied by feelings; memories, images and thoughts. It is calming, restorative and illuminating.

At stages it can be difficult as the work processes and hence the requirement for a series of sessions but the healing finally comes.

GIVE TIME TO YOUR INNER WORLD... and see what grows.

Latest Posts

No items found.