What is CranioSacral Therapy & Visceral Manipulation

CranioSacral Therapy

We can start explaining CST by saying it works on the system connecting the cranium to the sacrum (at the bottom of your back), which, through nerves, fascia and fluid, connects to everything else… but it quickly becomes so much more.  

It works with a subtle rhythmic movement that originates from the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The gentle tension from the movement of this fluid affects the membranes (the ‘meninges’) that line the skull and spinal column. This rhythm reflects throughout the body and can be picked up by a practitioners hands placed only lightly on the body. Anomalies in the rhythm help us assess, and show us areas where there may be restrictions and problems, which helps us know where to start and where to work. 

With a surprisingly light touch our hands may work with fascia or fluid, they may work with energy or rhythm, they may work with structure or the more subtle parts of us that are only just beginning to be accepted by the medical world. We learn to listen profoundly to a client’s body to know where to focus. This is, for me, the beautiful paradigm shift that this work takes us through. Once we learn to trust that the client’s body knows best – and help empower our clients to know this too – then we can learn to let our hands follow what is asked of them.  

CranioSacral as a therapy has evolved down a few different avenues, which can feel like very different approaches. My training path, developed by Dr John Upledger, arose after he spent 7 years researching the possibility of movement of the cranial bones, described by William Garner Sutherland, who developed cranial osteopathy. Upledger also noticed that emotion was often released as tissues released. This led him to expand his hands-on approach to include what he calls SomatoEmotional Release - a way of working with feelings, memories or emotional responses that may arise, while staying very in touch with the body tissues. 

Practitioners and clients find that it also helps relieve dysfunction from many sources, often uncovering and addressing the deeper causes of our symptoms. The types of problem we find people seek treatment for are very varied but may include stress and tension-related disorders, musculoskeletal pain, migraines and headaches, brain and spinal cord injuries as well as many other acute and chronic conditions.

Perhaps we are all like complicated tangled balls of wool, and to get untangled we may need a gentle pull here, a knot moved a bit there and the strands gently teased out of the tangles. This also means that CST may work in places that are not where the symptom is, and often other niggles clear up along the way. As a ‘job’ this keeps it really fun and interesting, as no two treatments are ever the same.  

In general, CranioSacral Therapy can improve our body’s ability to take better care of us. Like many alternative or complementary approaches, CST can be useful as a preventative therapy to help keep us in optimal health. 

Visceral Manipulation

Viscera = organs

Visceral Manipulation can involve treatment of any part of the body, but especially considers the internal organs, aiming to restore their natural movement and function. It was - and is continuing to be - developed by Jean-Pierre Barral, originally an osteopath, who wanted to understand more clearly the variety of restrictions and problems that could occur in the internal organs of the body and how they affect and are affected by the musculoskeletal system.

Earlier in his career, he found that a number of patient's apparent musculoskeletal symptoms were not responding to typical osteopathic intervention. Exploration and release of the restrictions around organs often helped improve the problems, while overall health and vitality also improved.

In good health, the organs have their own physiological motion - that is they move. Each organ is surrounded by fascia, a type of connective tissue in the body that surrounds nearly all of our structures, small and large. Just as a tight sweater not sitting right round the shoulder could affect its comfort in the arm or torso, so the fascia restricted in one place may affect the fascia around another area. Fascia needs to be flexible and fluid to permit the organs their proper movement, and allow the organs to adapt as our bodies move about in our everyday lives.  

Particular situations that can influence the organs and fascia include physical injuries, infections, operations and even emotional trauma. Recent traumas are usually faster to adapt and heal, but old injuries and compensations can also be relieved over a few sessions.

Visceral manipulation is a collection of specific and precise techniques that help restore the fluidity of the fascia and the proper mobility of organs, and thereby improve their function. Although some of these make a deep contact with the body, it is not invasive and rarely painful, although at times it may feel as if a practitioner's hands are reaching parts others may not have reached before! 

This work is an amazing contribution to the field of bodywork, both in its precision and in the way the techniques are applied. The quality of listening and accuracy it inspires is a life-long training. Jean-Pierre himself says that when he hasn't had a good result for a patient it is usually because he needs to hone his anatomy!  

It can be helpful for all sorts of conditions experienced by a vast number of people. Most of us have had some impact to our organs at some point in our lives. It is especially helpful after operations, trauma or accidents, and when other issues just won't clear up.

Joe's Story

Joe, 54, came because he was having trouble with his vision. He had seen doctors, consultants and even had an MRI scan. They could find nothing wrong. Checking his cranial bones, the motion of the sphenoid, right in the centre and close to the optic chiasm - part of the nerve coming from the eyes - seemed awry in its movement pattern and thus affected other bones and the nerve. We worked over 3 sessions to help it realign, incorporating a few other tissues too, after which he said his vision had returned to normal.

Nathan's text a few days later

"Well, just wow! After the session my back has been feeling really good - no clicking like usual and less tight. Also, emotionally I feel transformed. The subconscious fears that drive me to safer ground when there is no threat have abated hugely and I feel more choiceful. An unexpected result has been that I have been much more aware of my heart and what it is trying to tell me about joy. This is all very immediate and physical rather than intellectual or metaphysical which is just the way I like it ;;)) Overall the session has helped me to be more in love and less worried about what I am doing. So I am happier overall - what more could you want from a therapy session! "


Lucy had quite a lot of scar tissue from an appendectomy 11 years previously. She often had a lot of abdominal pain and discomfort. Despite it being very tender to touch at first, we worked very gently to release the areas of restriction. After 2 sessions she realised that she could bend her leg without it pulling in her abdomen and pelvis, which she hadn't even realised she couldn't do. She was finally able to properly reach her feet in the shower! The abdominal pain is gone and there is a lot more freedom of movement in her trunk and legs.


She emailed: 'This last session gave more balance. But the jumpy, edgy part of me is coming in to view now. A few days ago I was aware of a new, subtle layer of feeling. Then it became clear that there were tiny dots of diverse awareness, understanding, intelligence within it. That was wonderful. My original self is being restored. <this client had struggled with a brain injury for many years> This morning on awakening, I was so, so happy! Inner processes are speeding up. The best part was that my growing self was at last able to experience such a level of relaxed happiness... T h a n k Y o u xx  

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