The Will to Persevere

Massage Today
January, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 01

The Will to Persevere

By John Upledger, DO, OMM

This past year I met a remarkable young man named Will Wright who was helped with CranioSacral Therapy (CST) and Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT). His philosophy is simple: “Everything that has happened has made me a better person.” Impressive, considering he is only 28 years-old, and his transition into adulthood has been anything but smooth.

At 19, an altercation left Will in a coma with swelling in the brain and fractures to his face.

About a year later he started having seizures and left-sided paralysis that left him with a learning disability; yet all this was minor compared to what happened next.

Five years later in June 2001, Will was run over by a road grader – a machine about 30 feet long and 38,000 pounds. Will remembers the day well. He had been part of a paving crew working in a parking lot. As usual, he was partnered with a guy whose basic function was to watch him and the grader.

“In a split instant, I heard faint hollering over the grader’s loud motor,” Will said. “I knew exactly what was happening. “I was trying to straighten up and run from its path when it caught my right foot. It basically turned me over and came up my side. When it got to my stomach area, the driver rotated in the opposite direction and it threw me out.”

When the paramedics arrived, they found blood coming from Will’s nose, ears and eyes. Amazingly, his vitals were normal. He spent the next 12 days in the hospital, more than a month at home on bed rest, and weeks in rehab.

By February 2002, Will was ready for light duty at the paving company. All went well until the heat of summer set in. “That’s when I started to see some recourse from the accident in 2001,” he said. “I had a lot of problems with my eyes.”

A trip to the doctor left him with a diagnosis of depression. Normally calm, Will’s voice rose as he told the doctor, “I am not in a state of depression. I understand that I’ve been through a lot. I know I can never be what I was before. I’m not worried about that. I just want answers. I just want to know what I need to do to get better.”

Still, he ended up on a succession of antidepressants, pain medication for his right heel, and other drugs to calm his stomach from all the medications he was taking.

Finally, in a visit to his optometrist, Will was encouraged to see Phyllis Thomas, LMT, who practices CST and LDT. “My eye doctor’s into alternative ways of healing the body,” Will said. “She told me, ‘I don’t know what it’ll do, but it might help you.’ At that point I was willing to do anything to get my life back together. All the medicine they had me on wasn’t correcting the problem. It was just making me get by day to day.”

Will Wright with cow and dog on ranch

“I conquered something that nobody thought I could,” Will Wright said of his healing process.

Phyllis focused extensively on Will’s lymphatic system. “She worked on me probably every week once a week and sometimes twice a week for a year,” Will said. “It took about three or four months for me to see what she was doing. Once I saw that, it was astonishing all the way around. I had so much fluid built up inside my body that I could literally feel it coming out of me.”

Yet as good as Will was beginning to feel, he was still having problems with his eyes. Ultimately, a neuro-ophthalmologist discovered extensive nerve damage and a midline shift in Will’s vision. “Since my accident I see everything to the right,” he said. “He put me in glasses that move everything about six inches back to center.”

That’s when Phyllis urged Will to come to The Upledger Institute (UI) HealthPlex clinic in South Florida. “We’ve got your lymphatic system where it’s working,” she told Will, “but it’s not where it needs to be. Once they do CranioSacral Therapy on you, all of your systems will start to work together instead of working against one another.'”

In February 2004, Will came to UI for two weeks of intensive therapy. “My experience was unreal,” he said. “I could really tell that I was releasing something. They explained how the body has a memory and how energy is released when something has been damaged. I could definitely feel the energy coming out of me. They also pointed out how off-kilter I was. As they worked on me it felt like all my systems, bones and organs went back to as close to their original spots as they’re supposed to be.”

According to Kevin Rose, LMT, CST-D, a UI staff clinician, “The main emphasis in Will’s treatment was to increase fluid flow in the lymphatic and craniosacral systems. Being crushed by a 38,000 pound machine can certainly lessen the body’s ability to exchange fluids efficiently and effectively.” To Kevin, an equally important factor in Will’s progress was his outlook. “He came in with a strong intention to solve the challenges that no one else could help him with. This attitude of perseverance is, in my opinion, the core of strengthening the self-healing process. Will’s incredible focus was the foundation that supported his steps closer to a full recovery.”

Will was so excited by what he experienced at UI that he signed up for a CST class. He said he has no aspirations of becoming a therapist, but took the class “because I know CranioSacral works, and I wanted to understand more about it.”

He added, “Here you’ve got a young man who’s been almost killed in an altercation, then a year later is pretty well paralyzed on the left side of his body, can’t talk, can’t do anything. My level of concentration was out the door. At that time I was a sophomore in college and was put at an eighth-grade education level. Then five years later I had a worse accident than the first two. Nobody before this really considered that I had multiple problems that were already there, and that they were still coexisting inside my body. The lymphatic and CranioSacral work released everything.”

Will also said he hopes his ordeal will serve others, both as encouragement and as a wake-up call. “People need to learn their own bodies,” he said. “They need to understand that if they’ll just give their bodies what they need, their bodies will heal themselves.

“I’m aware of my body now and what it needs to make it work, or help make it work. At 28-years-old, I feel better than I have ever felt. I see clearer; I’m more responsive. Have I conquered the world? No. But have I conquered something that nobody thought I could? Yes, I have.”

Changing Hearts and Minds for 20 Years

Massage Today
June, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 06

Changing Hearts and Minds for 20 Years

By John Upledger, DO, OMM

When I established The Upledger Institute in 1985, my intention was to share with as many people as possible the positive health benefits of CranioSacral Therapy (CST) and other forms of complementary care.

Two decades and 80,000 trained practitioners later, I continue to come back to the conviction that what is most important in clinical practice is how the patient fares in response to what we do as therapists. We should feel proud that the work we perform and the care we provide improves the lives of people in need – many of whom had given up hope of ever finding relief or any measure of quality of life.

I was reminded of that recently by more than a hundred therapists in a new book called Working Wonders: Changing Lives With CranioSacral Therapy. In it they share the patient stories and turning points that so vividly demonstrated to them the power and depth of the work we do.

One such account is from Rich Kamasinski Sol, LMT. A CST practitioner since 2002, he shared his experience in the following story, called “A Change of Heart:”

“I have been practicing CranioSacral Therapy almost exclusively for more than two years at the community health center where I work with AIDS and HIV-positive individuals. In that time I have had several experiences that touched my heart and rekindled my spirit for this work.

“One instance involved an HIV-positive man in his fifties who had taken a leave of absence from work for health reasons. He was scared, anxious, and depressed. He was unable to get himself out of bed and was surprised that he had made it in to see me that morning.

“He told me that he had been feeling lethargic, tired, unmotivated, and full of pain. He said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life; I want to go back to work.’ It was the first time in his adult life that he was not working and felt so ill.

“When he came to see me, the man was expecting a regular massage. When I told him about CranioSacral Therapy and its benefits, he said that he’d like to try it.

“After our first session, the pain-stricken client felt some improvement in levels of general body aches, and significant improvement in complaints of headaches. I encouraged him to come back in a week.

“Upon coming for the second session, the man asked me, ‘What was it you called this work? I don’t know what you did, but I felt really good this week.’ His pain had remained low for the rest of the week, and his spirits were starting to rise.

“He continued to improve physically and emotionally. At our third session, he told me of all he had accomplished the previous week: working in his garden, fixing up the exterior of his house, and spending time with friends. He no longer looked or felt tired, nor did he have significant pain in his body.

“Our fourth and final session was key for me. My client told me that he’d be returning to work the following week, something that he originally was hoping he could accomplish. Now his dilemma was no longer ‘How can I go back to work?’ but ‘How do I sustain the joy of not working?’

“In a matter of four sessions, my client had made a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. He felt better about life and himself, and he no longer complained of body aches and pains.”

This story beautifully illustrates why we should continue to believe our own eyes over scientific studies. As therapists specializing in complementary care, we must have the courage to step beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom and trust the positive outcomes we are seeing. For more information about Working Wonders: Changing Lives With CranioSacral Therapy, visit

Exploring the Therapeutic Value of CranioSacral Therapy

Massage Today
February, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 02

Exploring the Therapeutic Value of CranioSacral Therapy

By John Upledger, DO, OMM

Throughout the course of human history, great discoveries frequently have met with resistance before acceptance. Today, we take for granted that the world is round. Yet people in the 15th century not only believed the world was flat, but that anyone who sailed beyond its limits would vanish off the edge of the earth.

The exploration of the human body has proven no different.

While no one questions the value of the cardiovascular and respiratory rhythms in modern medicine, there was a time when their very existence was debated worldwide. Even now, medical approaches to these systems are as varied as medical practitioners themselves.

For more than 30 years, I have been a proponent of using the rhythm of a different body system to evaluate and improve health and well-being. I have dedicated my life to teaching the therapeutic value of the craniosacral system to health care professionals worldwide, physicians and nonphysicians alike. How can many different types of practitioners benefit from understanding one physiological system? And what evidence supports the value of therapy focused on this system? Please allow me to explain.

While the craniosacral system has only been scientifically defined within the last three decades, it has existed since the beginning of time as we know it in every human being and animal possessing a brain and spinal cord. Forming in the womb and functioning until death, it extends from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (the cranium) through a system of fluid hydraulics and membranes to the lower end of the spine (the sacrum). Because the craniosacral system surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord, restrictions in its membranes can directly affect all aspects of central nervous system performance, from motor function to emotions. Fortunately, such problems can be detected and corrected by a skilled therapist using simple methods of palpation.

The History of CranioSacral Therapy

The roots of CranioSacral Therapy date back to the early 1900s, when William Sutherland, DO, was struck by the unusual idea that the bones of the skull were structured to allow for movement. For more than 20 years, he explored this concept, performing makeshift experiments on himself with helmet-like devices designed to impose variable pressures on different parts of his head. His wife then recorded personality changes he displayed in response to different pressure applications.

In the early 1930s, Sutherland published the first article about his work in the Minnesota Osteopathic Journal under a pseudonym. Based on his experiments, he developed a system of examination and treatment for the bones of the skull that today is known as cranial osteopathy. With some patient success, Sutherland organized a small group of osteopaths who studied cranial work with him. Because so little was known about how it worked, and the results at times seemed miraculous, his system acquired an understandably esoteric reputation.

Personally, I knew very little of this history when I observed the rhythmic movement of the craniosacral system firsthand in 1970. I was assisting a surgery on a man named Delbert and had only one job to do: hold the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord still while the surgeon removed a calcium deposit from its surface. As simple as it sounds, I couldn’t do it. The membrane kept pulsing at a rate of about eight beats per minute, which didn’t correspond to his breathing or heart rate, both of which were being monitored. Delbert made it through surgery, and I discovered that the pulsing motion I witnessed was new to all of the doctors there, not just me. We didn’t know it at the time, but what we were seeing was the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid pumping through the craniosacral system. The system itself hadn’t even been named yet.

A few years later, I attended a workshop on cranial osteopathy developed by Dr. Sutherland. The course focused primarily on the bones of the skull and the fact that they weren’t fused as doctors had been taught in medical schools, where anatomy was studied using embalmed and calcified cadavers. Instead, Sutherland’s material demonstrated that skull bones continue to move throughout life. While this phenomenon has since been widely documented (see references for examples), widespread acceptance has typically been a slower evolution.

So here we were at the seminar, all palpating the motion of the bones, when people started asking about this rhythm they were feeling. That’s when I realized I had seen the driving force behind these pulsations during Delbert’s surgery. I put that episode together with what I was feeling now with my own hands. They seemed linked, yet no one knew how. That lack of information enticed me to continue developing my palpation skills and experiment with different methods of connecting with the rhythm of the craniosacral system. Yet instead of focusing on the skull bones as Sutherland and other cranial osteopaths had, I was continually drawn to work with the membranes of the system itself.

News of my work spread, and in 1975 the Osteopathic College of Michigan State University invited me to lead the world’s first task force to study and verify (or debunk) the mobility of cranial sutures and bones. It was an exhilarating time. For the next five years, I led a team of anatomists, physiologists, biophysicists and bioengineers, all testing the potential for performing therapy on the craniosacral system.

Together we conducted research, much of it published, that formed the basis for the modality I went on to develop and name CranioSacral Therapy. Yet we continued to take a different approach than the osteopaths who came before us. Again, instead of focusing on the bones of the cranium, we were working with the fluids and membranes of the system within the skull and spinal canal. By blazing this new path, we finally were able to explain the function of the craniosacral system. We then went on to demonstrate how it could be used to assess and relieve numerous health problems involving the brain and spinal cord.

How CranioSacral Therapy Is Performed

CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle, noninvasive approach to whole-body health. Generally using about 5 grams of pressure (roughly the weight of a nickel), the practitioner evaluates the craniosacral system by testing for the ease of motion and rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid. Simple manual techniques are then used to release restrictions in fasciae, membranes and any other tissues that influence the craniosacral system.

Experienced clinicians are able to feel the craniosacral motion anywhere on an individual’s fully-clothed body. Valuable information can quickly be gained by palpating the rhythm for rate, amplitude, symmetry and quality. Lack of symmetry, for instance, can help localize a pathological problem that might relate to musculoskeletal dysfunctions, inflammatory responses, adhesions, trauma, surgical scars, vascular accidents and many other conditions. As the asymmetry is eliminated and normal symmetrical craniosacral motion is restored, the problem is often resolved or in the process of being resolved.

Consider, too, that fascia is a slightly mobile sheath of connective tissue that runs continuously from head to toe, surrounding every somatic and visceral structure in the body. This fascial system is in constant motion, corresponding to the craniosacral rhythm by both direct connections and common osseous anchorings. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how loss of tissue mobility in one area can be used to trace the location of the disease process that caused the original lack of mobility.

Ultimately, CranioSacral Therapy focuses on solving physiological problems at their source by using the individual’s inherent self-corrective mechanisms. It has been shown over and over again, in thousands of cases, that it enhances general health, reduces accumulated stress, strengthens central nervous system function and improves resistance to disease.

I encourage you to continue to explore this therapy’s potential for improving health, well-being and quality of life. Let your proof be in your results. And if you’re faced with skepticism for your efforts, take heart. You might well be ahead of your time.


  1. Friedman HD, Gilliar WG, Glassman JH. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Approaches to the Primary Respiratory Mechanism. Lists more than 400 papers related to the cranial concept, and more than 30 books explaining related therapy. SFIMMS series, 2000.
  2. Frymann VM. A study of the rhythmic motions of the living cranium. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, May 1971.
  3. Kostopoulos D, Keramidas G. Changes in magnitude of relative elongation of the falx cerebri during the application of external forces on the frontal bone of an embalmed cadaver. Journal of Craniomandibular Practice, Jan. 1992.
  4. Libin B. Occlusal changes related to cranial bone mobility. International Journal of Orthodontics, March 1982.
  5. Magoun HI. Osteopathy in the Cranial Field, 3rd ed. Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation, 1976.
  6. Oleski SL, Smith GH, Crow WT. Radiographic evidence of cranial bone mobility. The Journal of Craniomandibular Practice, 2002.
  7. Pick M. A preliminary single case MRI investigation into maxillary frontal-parietal manipulation and its short-term effect upon the intercranial structures of the human brain. Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics, March/April 1995.
  8. Retzlaff EW, Mitchell FW. The Cranium and Its Sutures. Annotated bibliography of more than 250 papers relating to cranial therapy. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag Berlin, 1987.
  9. Retzlaff, et al. Cranial bone mobility. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, May 1975.
  10. Sutherland WG. The Cranial Bowl. Privately published, 1939; reprint, The Osteopathic Cranial Association, 1948.
  11. Upledger J, Vredevoogd J. CranioSacral Therapy. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1983.

Better Sleep Provides Brain Cleansing

Why do we sleep?

Recent research by Maiken Nedergaard and colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York shows that a major purpose of sleep is to help the brain cleanse itself of harmful materials.

How does the brain cleanse itself?

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a nourishing and cleansing brain fluid. CSF carries essential nutrients into the brain, and transports waste and toxic material out of the brain.

How does CSF flow into and out of the brain?

The brain is comprised of two cell types: “neurons” and “glia.” Glia have a multitude of important tasks and one is to control the flow of CSF. One sort of glial cell is called an “astrocyte” because it looks similar to a radiating star. The tips of some of these star-shaped cells create channels in which CSF flows into and out of the brain. For CSF to actually enter or exit the brain it passes through little holes in the astrocyte tips called “aquaporins.”

What controls the flow of CSF inside the brain?

Astrocytes and other glial cells help control the size of the space through which CSF and other substances flow inside the brain (extracellular space). The extracellular space becomes smaller during wakefulness and larger during sleep. The larger extracellular space allows more CSF to flow inside the brain.

What happens if CSF doesn’t flow well?

When CSF flow is hindered then brain cells can’t receive essential nutrients nor cleanse themselves well. This can cause cell stress that may lead to cell dysfunction. For instance neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are associated with a build-up of toxic material in the brain.

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) may help CSF flow.

One primary intent of CST, a gentle hands-on therapy, is to encourage the flow of CSF. CST clients often fall asleep during treatment. Perhaps this is the body’s way of boosting the effect of CST by optimizing the size of the space through which CSF flows.

Sleep opens the brain-cleansing pathways.

In summary during sleep the brain’s extracellular space enlarges. This allows more CSF to flow throughout the brain. CSF helps carry essential nutrients to brain cells and helps cleanse the brain of toxic material. This is a very important reason why we need to sleep.

Related videos.

The two videos inserted below help explain brain cleansing during sleep, and the system that controls CSF flow, called the “Glymphatic System.”

Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain
The Glymphatic System