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Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy: The Breath of Life, Dynamic Stillness and Trauma Recovery

by Jane Shaw(more info)

listed in craniosacral therapy, originally published in issue 206 - May 2013

High up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, recently I had an experience which helped me to better understand the work I do with my craniosacral clients and how powerful it can be.  I was sitting on a mountain side one night, surrounded by tall fir trees casting shadows from the bright full moon. My intention was to just to sit and see what the natural world had to say to me. I was battling with a long held pattern of people invading my boundaries and I had come here to understand how to shift the unhealthy pattern.


As I sat in the moon light, I heard someone come up and sit down next to me. I was deliberately miles from the retreat lodge, to make sure I would be on my own. The other person did not notice my presence, but I noticed theirs and it re-enforced my frustration with my apparent inability to hold my boundary, irritating me intensely. I knew I should learn from this, so I sat and practised what I, as a craniosacral therapist, call synchronising to primary respiration, or the long tide. As I deepened into this practice, I felt a deep connection to the moon, the fir trees, the earth, the coyotes, and elk around me. I particularly noticed the magnificent firs with their strong midline spiralling deep into the earth and reaching high up to the starry sky. They seemed to synchronize with my own midline which felt stronger than ever and as the strength in my midline grew, I felt like I became one with nature all around me. In that moment of ‘connection’ to nature, my ‘intruder’ got up and left. I felt liberated.

On reflection, I realized that by becoming aware of my body’s rhythms synchronizing with those of the natural world, I had strengthened my boundaries and my core and signalled subconsciously to my ‘intruder’ to leave. I had connected to what craniosacral therapists call the Breath of Life through my focused practice. I was reassured that this healing life force is always present, in all parts of us and the natural world around us. By connecting with it and to the Stillness within, we can regulate our core, strengthen internal resources and strengthen boundaries. Craniosacral therapy is about healing from the core and re-establishing core regulation.

The Breath of Life and Dynamic Stillness in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy has been developed from discoveries about the body’s subtle physiology which show that our cells express rhythmic movement fundamental to life. The primary respiration with which I ‘synchronized’ in my body, is this subtle rhythmic expression, sometimes called the long tide. Within these tides are two key concepts for Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists - the Breath of Life and Dynamic Stillness. The Breath of Life is the term coined by Dr William Sutherland, the father of cranial work, to describe the life force in the body, which is not be confused with 'the breath of air' or lung breathing.[1]  Franklyn Sills, a pioneering leader of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST), defines The Breath of Life as the action of a divine intention in the body.[2] 

Dynamic Stillness can be described as the universal Stillness from which life evolves. Michael Shea, another eminent BCST teacher, explains it as the potential from which the form of the embryo and structure of the body arises and that The Breath of Life arises out of this Stillness or Emptiness. He suggests that the Breath of Life could be the Dynamic in the Stillness.[3]]  From a BCST perspective the Breath of Life is an Intelligent life force expressed in all of life; it is omnipresent and omnipotent.

When Dr Rollin Becker DO, a student of Dr Sutherland, asked him where the Breath of Life came from he replied “Be Still and Know”.  This is the essence of the relationship between the Breath of Life and Stillness. When the Breath of Life can express itself fully we are healthy and whole; when its expression is compromised, whether though trauma or long term stress, pathologies arise. According to Dr Becker the best way to access the Breath of Life and hence health, is to sense into deep stillness.[4] 

How do we access this Stillness? When life is hectic, stressful and overwhelming, stillness can seem very far away. When trying to survive, hold down a stressful job and put food on the table, these concepts can seem irrelevant. I propose that it is in precisely these times, that connecting to stillness, working with nature to do so, can be resourcing and empowering, helping to give us more choices in difficult circumstances.  In fact, it could be said that our disconnection from nature creates an imbalance in our bodies, preventing self healing and homeostasis from occurring.

I believe that by connecting to nature’s core rhythms, and to Stillness, deep healing can occur in even the most traumatized person. This work touches the divine in us and so seems to be a good place from which to work in whatever capacity. I learn this every day in my practice room, tuning into the slow rhythms in the natural world around me, even if I’m not sitting in the Rocky Mountains!

By tuning into the slow rhythms and stillness as a craniosacral practitioner, we can establish a neutral present space where the client’s system can begin to entrain to our slower rhythms.  As within other therapeutic modalities, we often enter into a profoundly peaceful state of presence together with our client. We may eventually get to a place where client and practitioner is indistinguishable - the giver and receiver have become one. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy could be described as the medicine of empathy, facilitated by connecting to the wider field of nature.


It is of course, not all peace and love in stillness; often this is when the pain is noticed. As healing is not a linear process, sometimes the pain can be part of the healing process. However, it is necessary to be resourced enough to touch these painful places and by doing so we can become more of ourselves which is perhaps our purpose in life; to express our true Self. Nature is beautiful, but it also primordial and raw. In the same vein, stillness is not always easy to be with, but it is healing. My experience on the mountain side confirmed for me the biodynamic craniosacral principle that stillness and the long tide are always present. The key is to access them and bring them to the fore so we can access more of ourselves and give ourselves more choices in life.

By holding a safe and sacred container, the craniosacral practitioner can facilitate deep transformational change in the client. This can be effective when working in trauma recovery.

I believe that this practice of synchronizing with nature may be helpful in trauma recovery, where the body’s rhythms are out of balance. Peter Levine, the originator of the Somatic Experience approach, says that trauma can be seen as a result of various states of overwhelm, fragmentation and broken connections.[5]  He has demonstrated that trauma is not just a psychological phenomenon, it is a neuro-physiological embodied condition, involving the sub-cortical as well as the cognitive functions.

Essentially, changes happen in our autonomic nervous system in response to an actual or perceived threat. These changes activate the nervous system as our bodies prepare to meet the challenge of an overwhelming experience; traumatic impairment occurs when these activations persist after the danger has passed. Significant overwhelming events at anytime during one’s life can result in neurophysiolocial changes that alter the way a person operates in the world and relates to others.

Anngwyn St Just, a leading US traumatologist, says that, “The goal of trauma work is that an overwhelmed nervous system can return to a state of relative balance and resiliency and that one has an opportunity to grow larger than one’s story. This healing path helps one to find one’s way toward a sense of connectedness to self, family, ancestral roots, the larger community and our environmental matrix”.[6] 

St Just talks about how both external and internal resources are beneficial in trauma recovery and that external resource can provide a bridge to and support of inner resources. Many of the most important external resources are provided by elements of the natural world. I propose the connection here is primary respiration and the Breath of Life, connecting the natural world to our inner world, as my experience with the fir trees demonstrated beautifully to me.


Establishing a relational field is another important principle in the practice of biodynamic craniosacral therapy. The term relational field denotes the conjoined energetic fields of both practitioner and patient.[7]  These fields also conjoin with the energetic field of the natural world. The craniosacral practitioner must first create a safe energetic space in her treatment room in order to help facilitate deep transformational change in the client. It might be said that the ritual of creating a safe and sacred energetic field is how the healing is accessed. Orienting to wholeness, stillness and safety may be the key factors for facilitating recovery in a fragmented, traumatized system. Synchronizing with the slow rhythms of nature is a beautiful way of creating this still and safe energetic field or container.

In addition, the clearer, more defined the energetic field and therapeutic container, then the more the practitioner can see what is going on. Using the body as one of the defined fields is an effective way of creating clarity in the container. Therefore, by helping clients to become aware of their body sensation, including their heart rate and breath, they not only gain an important tool for monitoring their internal stressor, but this body awareness practice can be used as a way to teach the client how to tune into nature’s slower rhythms. Creating a safe space provides stronger and safer containment, and the more powerful the containment the more powerful the transformation.

By connecting to the Stillness we Cccess the Embryological Forces of Healing

To understand why this therapeutic approach of connecting to Stillness is effective, it is helpful to look at the nature of the embryo. How does healing occur by connecting with our embryonic origin? Essentially it is because the embryo is our original matrix, laid down by the Breath of Life. If we can access these embryological forces we can access the original blue print of health. According to the BCST model, these embryological forces emerge out of Stillness.

The embryologist Eric Blechschmidt described metabolic fields created by the embryo. “One can think of cellular ensembles and organs respectively as locally modified force fields”. These fields are carried with us throughout life, being distorted and shaped by our life experiences. Blechschmidt said that it is these movements and shapes in our metabolic fields that are fundamental to our growth and development. “The development of a human being from the earliest stages onwards, can be interpreted, in a dynamic and a biological sense, as a performance specific to the individual”.[8]  I understand this to mean that essentially by connecting again with the forces of Breath of Life through primary respiration and Stillness we connect back to the original metabolic fields, allowing new growth and transformation to occur.

Blechschmidt said that we don't develop into a human being; we develop as a human being. He notes, that the notochord represents the place that human development is oriented around and grows from because it is dynamically still. Michael Shea agrees that we start fully human and we are being created by the Breath if Life. In conversation, Shea agrees that, “The original matrix of the Breath of Life is the embryo. If the Breath of Life is always present in the individual, if you go deeply enough through the layers of neuroses and conditions, and then tap into that or touch it or feel it, bring it forth or let it be in the body or relate a person to it, that would be an image of healing through the body back to the thing that is original”.[9]  In a sense, the deep patterns pre-exist the formation of the structure and the path to connection is through the natural world.

Another, perhaps simpler, approach to explaining what is going on when working with Stillness is to look at the work of Dan Siegel. He says that each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. “Solitude is an essential experience for the mind to organize its own processes and create an internal state of resonance. Respecting the need for solitude allows the mind to ‘heal’ itself - which in essence can be seen as releasing the natural self-organizing tendencies for the mind to create a balanced flow of states. Solitude permits the self to reflect on engrained patterns and intentionally alter reflexive responses to external events that have been maintaining dyadic dysfunction”.[10] 

We Can Tune into Nature’s Slow Rhythms to Access Healing

I was reminded under the fir trees that Craniosacral therapy is a practice for tuning into nature’s slow, healing rhythms. We are part of nature and healing is a nature-al force, which is easy to lose sight of when practising in a therapy room. I also believe that this is a practice for everyone, whether therapist or client. It can be practised consciously in a focused manner sensing the all pervading Stillness around us, or unconsciously, by going for a walk in the park, or doing some gardening.  I believe that nature will always hold the base line of the Dynamic Stillness as an orienting fulcrum.

As a practitioner of biodynamic craniosacral therapy, if I can hold a clear field, and a dynamic field, by connecting to the Stillness in myself and in the natural world around me, then healing might just happen, as it did that night in the mountains.

Short Meditation Exercise to Connect to Stillness

This exercise attempts to guide you to notice the stillness within yourself. There are many layers and depths of stillness. See if you can notice some stillness within yourself, however light or deep. Stillness is present in all of us at all times; it’s not a matter of creating it, it is a matter of tuning in and noticing it underneath the surface.

Get yourself into a comfortable sitting position. If you can, sit outside, or near a window overlooking some trees, or overlooking some water, or just notice the wind, sun or rain on your skin. Take a moment to settle yourself. See what you notice in your body. Maybe start by noticing your breath, watching the inhale and exhale.

You might notice that you have an ache or pain, that you feel a little uncomfortable or your mind keeps going back to that conversation you had at lunch. If you can, bring your awareness back to your body and see if you can find some ease underneath the surface, underneath the pain, underneath those irritations.

Bring your awareness back to your breath and allow it to fill your whole body. Allow your whole body to breathe. Maybe invite some settling deep inside yourself. Maybe invite some stillness, underneath the outer surface.

Have a look at the tree, or water, or feel the sun on your face. Notice everything about it. If your mind wanders just gently bring it back to the tree. Watch the wind move the leaves in the tree, the sun glisten though the branches, the rain pour down its trunk. Just observe. As you connect with the tree, notice what happens in your body. You might notice that there is a little more space, that your breathing has deepened, that you are more settled. Just notice any incremental changes.

Slowly move from your noticing your body to noticing the tree and back to your body. See what happens. Notice the stillness in the room or space around you.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are my own interpretations and experiences of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy; some will be held by the wider cranial community and others more specific to me.


1. William Sutherland Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation, Inc. 1990.

2. Franklyn Sills Craniosacral Biodynamics Revised Edition Vol. One North Atlantic Books 2001.

3. Michael J. Shea Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Vols. One. North Atlantic Books 2007

4. Rollin E. Becker D.O. The Stillness of Life Stillness Press 2000.

5. Anngwyn St Just A Question of Balance 2008.

6. Peter Levine In an Unspoken Voice How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness North Atlantic Books 2010.

7. Franklyn Sills Craniosacral Biodynamics Vol. Two North Atlantic Books 2004.

8. Eric Blechsmidt Edited and translated by Brian Freeman The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy P61,61 North Atlantic Books 2004.

9. Michael J. Shea Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Vols. One, Two and Three. North Atlantic Books 2007.

10. Daniel Siegel The Developing Mind How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are The Guilford Press 2012

Further Information

Jane is a co-organiser of the Breath of Life Conference, an internationally renowned event, which brings together distinguished pioneers in mind-body therapies. It intends to provide a forum for practitioners and scientists to exchange ideas at the cutting edge of holistic healthcare. The next event will take place in London on 25 and 26 May 2013. Speakers include Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, Michael Shea and Lynne McTaggart. 

Upcoming courses with Jane Shaw: Workshop  'Working with the Stillness in nature for trauma recovery', July 25 & 26 2013, Galway, Ireland. For more information please contact Jane on Mob: 07974 159460;


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About Jane Shaw

Jane Shaw RCST BCST is a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist, practising in Ireland. She believes that healing needs to start at the core, working from the inside out, to effect lasting change in individuals and society. By returning to our body's natural rhythms, through Craniosacral Therapy and other core healing therapeutic approaches, we can find more balance in ourselves, in our family, and in our community.

Her passion is to make this therapeutic work more accessible by raising awareness, educating and establishing more low cost clinical resources. She has a particular interest in working with women who have suffered trauma, believing that by helping women to heal their deep wounds a more harmonious and balanced society can ensue.

She trained with the Craniosacral Therapy Educational Trust in London and is a tutor on Craniosacral therapy practitioner trainings. She is committed to continued study to learn from new research and developments in holistic health.

Jane also holds workshops and retreats in wild and beautiful places around the world, teaching participants empowering skills and techniques to help them find internal balance and to reconnect to their health and wholeness, through working with the natural world. Jane may be contacted on Mob: 07974 159460; 



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