What Is Craniosacral Fascial Therapy?

Most visitors to GillespieApproach.com want to know the answer to the question: “What is Craniosacral Fascial Therapy?”

First, it’s important to define the craniosacral fascial system. Discovered by Dr. Barry Gillespie, this system consists of a slight motion of the brain and spinal cord pumping cerebrospinal fluid into the fascial web, connecting all the body’s structural cells.

Craniosacral Fascial Therapy is a gentle healing modality that provides patients with a freely moving brain, spinal cord, and fascial web, all of which are critical to peak health. Craniosacral Fascial Therapy was founded by Dr. Barry Gillespie, who merged concepts from craniosacral therapy and myofascial release therapy, in the early 1980s.

Craniosacral Fascial Therapy is often referred to as Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy. Dr. Barry Gillespie also created the Baby Brain Score and discovered the Infant-Driven Movement concept.

 

What Kind of Healing May Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy Inspire in the Body?

Dr. Barry Gillespie has worked with patients—newborns, babies, children, and adults—suffering from hundreds of health conditions since 1980. In 2020, a mother and father from New South Wales, Australia, documented with great detail their 10-month-old son’s healing from a range of symptoms. These symptoms include allergies, breathing difficulty, buccal tie, colic, constipation, coughing, crooked yawn, ear strain, eczema, eye strain and lazy eye, gas, headaches, high palate, kyphosis, lip tie, motor development issues, nasal congestion, neck strain, oral ties, rashes, reflux, screaming, sleep apnea and sleep difficulty, speech disorder, tantrums, teeth grinding, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, torticollis and undescended testicle.

This parents’ account of their son’s progress may be the most-meticulously documented story of healing assisted by Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy. Their reporting shows how their son reacted and/or improved after each therapy session.

We need your approach in our hospitals. If my son had been treated at birth with your method, I can only appreciate how much pain and suffering would have been alleviated for him and for us.

—Mother from New South Wales, Australia

 

In another case, a mother from the West Coast, Krystil McDowall, highlighted her daughter’s healing journey, with Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy helping her heal from symptoms such as breathing difficulty, chest strain, choking, diaphragmatic tightness, eye strain, fussiness, hiccups, nursing difficulty, psoas strain and torticollis.

This mother learned that Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy isn’t an instant fix for whatever ails a person. Her journey is a testament to the fact that the body decides when it is ready to heal, part by part.

The world needs this work so much and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart that this work is in the world today.

—Krystil McDowall

The Science: The Craniosacral Fascial System

The cerebrospinal fluid is the lifeblood of the craniosacral fascial system, an integration of the craniosacral and connective tissue components. This fluid starts its journey in the choroid plexus of the ventricles, gently fluctuates through the craniosacral system, and flows within the cranial and spinal nerve sheaths out into the billions of fine collagen tubules of the body’s fascial component. Researchers have confirmed this unified craniosacral fascial system by discovering cerebrospinal fluid in the collagen tubules with surprisingly no ordinary ground substance, blood, or lymph present.

The lymphatic system returns this fluid to the venous system and onto the liver, heart, and lungs. Oxygenated blood then flows from the heart, through the aorta and carotid arteries, to the blood brain barrier of the choroid plexus. Blood exudates filter through the tight endothelial cell wall junctions and astrocytes of the capillaries to form the cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles, thus completing the cycle.

Since the body systems are healthy for almost all neonates, the most important factors for a well-functioning craniosacral fascial system are the brain gently expanding and contracting or “breathing” to pump the fluid, and the entire fascial web being open for the fluid to flow unimpeded. An unrestricted fascial system is mandatory in health for the proper cellular exchange of nutrients and waste products. As an example, birth trauma can adversely affect the infant’s brain motion. We believe that the quality of the cerebrospinal fluid flow in the craniosacral fascial system can be the key to unlock the answer to many pediatric illnesses.

What is Craniosacral Fascial Therapy - baby sleeping - Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy
Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy may benefit babies best when administered within the first hour of life.

The distinct quality of the fascial web is that it can hold all of the following fetal and birth traumas for a lifetime: a confined fetal position for months, a multiple birth that creates a premium for space, a breech birth, the cranium wedged and engaged in the pelvis for an extended period of time, a long labor, a twisting compressive ride through the birth canal, a forceps delivery, a vacuum-assisted delivery, a caesarian section, a wrapped umbilical cord around the body, a knotted umbilical cord, and an initial breathing delay. Birth may be the most challenging human life experience.

Neonatal craniosacral fascial therapy can help the tiny body release the tissue tightness of these traumas individually, like peeling the layers of an onion, to help restore normal neurophysiology and prevent a lifetime of suffering. Emotions may surface for children and adults in their mind-body connection, but the only concern for newborns can be the physical aspect of the gestation and birth. Fortunately, they have a very tiny onion.

The craniosacral fascial system may be significantly more compromised in adults because of a lifetime of remembered and forgotten traumas and the toxic lifestyle factors of the Western culture. Restriction of craniosacral motion, blockage of cranial and spinal nerve sheaths, a tight fascial web, a clogged lymph system, a diseased liver, a congested heart, impaired lungs, and/or narrow hardened arteries can diminish the function of the entire system. Thus, a quicker and better therapeutic result would be anticipated with newborns.

The Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy’s Four Core Principles

Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy features four core principles, identified and developed over the course of Dr. Barry Gillespie’s study and practice of this therapy.

1. The Body Knows Best How to Heal Itself

The human body is an extraordinary self-healing bioenergetic organism. This No. 1 rule originates from Dr. Andrew Still’s primary osteopathic principles, discovered in the 1800s. Dr. Barry Gillespie desperately and unsuccessfully tried to fix TMJ and headache patients in the 1970s. Come 1980, he learned that he had to start going deeper into himself to let go of his ego, scientific mind and his own baggage. He found that he had to be clear and present in the moment. His primary job became to merely facilitate the patient’s healing.

2. The Body Can Remember and Hold Every Physical and Emotional Trauma Back to Conception in Its Space-Time Continuum

The second and other succeeding rules are derivative of the first rule. Dr. Barry Gillespie worked with John Barnes in his office for 10 years, learning chiefly that the fascia remembers everything—even all our traumas.

A forgotten aspect of the fascia is that it can store all the emotional baggage from our mother’s womb. As a vital part of our mother, we felt all her fear, anger and other emotions while in utero, and then we stored all our reactions to these emotions. It can be an adventure to access and release these emotions, stored for years or decades.

Almost all among the 800 research fussy babies initially cried in therapy. Krissy and Mike Myers and I believed that they were releasing physical trauma and fetal emotional trauma. We believed this complete release helped all them become happy babies. The primary question we pondered at the time was whether this therapy at birth would make them happier children and adults.

For a patient with a shoulder injury, for example, upper-body birth trauma may have predisposed her or him to have a more complex shoulder injury. Most people with the same injury would heal quickly, but this patient may not be correcting completely due to the unresolved, underlying birth trauma.

 

3. The Body Will Address and Heal Each Layer of Trauma in Its Own Space and Time

If a Gillespie Approach therapist plans a session to stretch and release the shoulder fascia, based on the previous example, the body may or may not be ready to release stored emotions at this time, according to Dr. Barry Gillespie. When the body will be ready for release cannot be predetermined.

When a patient presents, it is impossible for the therapist to know how the session will go, how many layers of trauma she or he is holding, and how many visits are needed. The therapist’s role is to simply hold the body and listen. The therapist must ask the body what layer of the onion it is ready to process now? If the body begins to “talk” by allowing the therapist to feel craniosacral fascial strain, she or he can then facilitate the patient’s healing of this onion layer.

During the session, the patient will lay supine, sit on the table or stand and then touch the painful area(s). When the patient connects the dots as the Gillespie Approach therapist’s third and fourth hands, the therapist can more easily access the patient’s top onion layer.

Ultimately, after a number of sessions, the goal is to get to the birth traumas that later manifested as a range of health conditions. The Gillespie Approach is designed to arrive at the root cause of these health conditions and help the body release craniosacral fascial strain and traumas.

The average person may have untold layers of birth trauma connected to delivery, labor and time in the womb. The time you spent in utero perhaps was the most challenging of your entire life. The strains you endured might have been buried for years or decades in space and time but must emerge and be addressed for authentic healing to occur.

The Gillespie Approach philosophy is contrary to standard manual therapy. Textbook-style approaches for health conditions generally come from the ego and rational mind. When Gillespie Approach therapists return to rule No. 1 and accept that the body knows best how to heal itself, all educational degrees, knowledge and experience fall by the wayside in allowing the body to take charge of the healing process. The goal is to just listen, allow and help the body to self-correct, according to Dr. Barry Gillespie.

4. The Optimal Time for the Gillespie Approach Is at the Golden Hour of Birth

The best time for the Gillespie Approach to be administered is during the first hour after a child is born. At this time, the trauma is the freshest. Additionally, the craniosacral fascial system is not yet locked into soft tissue adaptation and compensation. Because newborns are still acclimating to their new world of oxygen, very little drama presents. Stretching and releasing their fascia is not on the Gillespie Approach therapist’s radar. With newborns, the therapist’s job is to fully listen to their bodies with our philosophy of Infant-Driven Movement, or IDM. Since they have a clear memory of their recent traumas, newborns innately know best how to heal themselves, according to Dr. Barry Gillespie.

Ideally, every newborn would be checked with the Baby Brain Score (BBS) immediate following the APGAR score. If the baby shows signs of tightness, Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy would be administered right then and there and as needed throughout the baby’s first day alive.

The goal is for the newborn’s family to leave the hospital with a calm, relaxed baby who can breathe well, nurse well, digest well, poop well and nap well.

What is Craniosacral Fascial Therapy - baby crawling and smiling - Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy
“The best time for the Gillespie Approach to be administered is during the first hour after a child is born,” according to Dr. Barry Gillespie. “At this time, the trauma is the freshest. Additionally, the craniosacral fascial system is not yet locked into soft tissue adaptation and compensation.”

Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Treatment Philosophy

The rationale for therapy is to manually assist the newborn in relieving the craniosacral fascial strain patterns that may cause future conditions. In order to reach this goal, McPartland and Skinner report that you must reawaken the intuitive and instinctual aspects of your mind to realize that the body in its innate wisdom knows best how to heal itself. That concept shifts your responsibility from the scientifically knowing, analyzing, and fixing mode to the role of simply facilitating the body to heal itself. This theory is also in harmony with Jealous’ realization that treatment outcomes improve proportionately as you let go of your rational mind.

Magoun describes this general treatment principle beautifully: “The operator does not do the actual correcting. He merely holds the mechanism in whatever position is most favorable for the innate forces within the body, such as the pull of the meninges or the fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid, to restore normality.” Becker correspondingly adds: “The inherent capacities of the body will more readily assist the physician in the correction of the traumatic patterns.” Sutherland’s philosophy also concurs by using no direct force in treatment while making no attempt to fix or manipulate any structure.

To distinguish craniosacral fascial philosophy from other craniosacral approaches, the craniosacral system is fully enmeshed in the powerful full-body fascial web. If this web is strained from fetal and birth trauma, it can restrict the craniosacral structures at up to 2,000 pounds per square inch, dramatically altering neonatal neurophysiology.

Conventional craniosacral treatment can gently begin to open the newborn’s primary respiratory mechanism to the currently accepted craniosacral range of six to ten second cycles. But not until you help the tiny body unleash the fascial strains of fetal and birth traumas can the craniosacral fascial system open up to more acceptable cycles of one hundred seconds or more. When you add this powerful fascial dimension to conventional craniosacral therapy, we believe that the greatest chance for health exists.

Neonatal Craniosacral Fascial Treatment

Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy is primarily predicated on clearly “listening” to the craniosacral fascial strain patterns without trying to mechanically fix the little body. You are trusting that she knows best how to heal herself. Can you put aside your ego and let go of your thinking, analyzing, controlling, rational scientific mind? Can you also trust that the brain motion and fascial strain you are feeling is true? Can you detach yourself from the treatment outcome, even if working with a loved one? Similar to the Tao philosophy, can you just be in the present moment to facilitate the newborn’s healing? Your mindset may be more important in her healing process than any manual technique.

This clinical approach uniquely adds the fascial dimension to the craniosacral modality. For example, if you have completed the compression of the fourth ventricle procedure of an adult patient and are gently following sphenobasilar flexion and extension, quietly listen for any neck fascial strain pulling on the occiput. If the head and neck start to slowly move in any direction, follow that fascial strain pattern down into the trunk of the body. The fascia will tighten to a still point, and then the entire craniosacral fascial system will release. The brain and sacral cycles can now open to higher values.

A single Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy therapist can provide adequate neonatal care but may have distinct physical limitations. A preferred team of two providers can treat the newborn more effectively in three-dimensional space. Since poorly applied therapy may compromise a vulnerable newborn, correct technique is an absolute necessity. It is of critical importance to fully support her head, neck, and body and also move in a gentle therapeutic flow as not to mimic shaken baby syndrome.

After one provider of the team does the Brain Score, they must tell the parents that the newborn may act out her traumas during the sessions. If the mother has already had treatment, she can have a better understanding of her child’s experience. With one therapist on the cranium/upper trunk and the other on the sacrum/lower trunk or both thighs, each is “listening” for and following craniosacral fascial strain. Together they may feel pulling or torquing in her core link. As the providers carefully support the child, she may lift up off the table, twist and turn, and even revert to the upside-down position. Neonatal craniosacral fascial therapy can become a whole-body event.

The newborn appears to be mitigating her earlier gestation, labor, and delivery traumas through a craniosacral fascial unwinding process. Birthing professionals have reported that this treatment appears to reproduce the trauma of delivery, but in reverse sequence from the presentation back into labor. This observation is consistent with the philosophy that the fascia remembers all of its past traumas.

As she reaches a still point in her craniosacral fascial system, her soft tissues can release. Her cranial bones can now shift to a more symmetrical position and her brain and sacrum can open to longer cycles, reflecting a better flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Please let her mother hold her for about five minutes before repeating this procedure so that she can establish neurophysiological homeostasis.

At the completion of her second treatment session, her craniosacral fascial system may be totally relaxed with her appendages limp. Many neonates can now have a symmetrical head and brain and sacral cycles of over 100 seconds. After she rests for five minutes in her mother’s arms to allow her central nervous system to reset, one provider can retake her Baby Brain Score and compare it to her initial score to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.

A perfect Baby Brain Score does not necessarily indicate that therapy has been completed; there still may be some deep fascial strain present in the body, which may eventually cause a condition(s). We consider the 100-second brain and sacral cycles as baseline starting points for pediatric health.

The therapeutic goal of completion is not to reach a specific numerical cycle, but for the provider to hold the neonate’s craniosacral fascial web at the beginning of a visit and not feel strain anywhere in the body. Then the values of the presenting brain and sacral cycles will be normal for that child. Since children experience the usual physical traumas of growing up, we also encourage medical providers to follow up with re-evaluation and therapy at all well visits.

If a perfect score has not been attained, the providers can reassure her parents and treat her on a timely basis until her final score is in the range of 6 to 8, depending on the unchanging umbilical cord point value. If she has not positively responded to craniosacral fascial therapy in this first hour of life, the providers must notify her attending medical doctor.

With the Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy, the maternal therapeutic goal is for the baby to be completely happy and content. The neurophysiological goal is for the cranial, dural tube, and sacral structures to be moving slowly, freely, and in synchronicity, while quietly sitting in a fully unwound fascial web. At this point, we believe that the central nervous system can function optimally to give the child the best opportunity to thrive in life.

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