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The Application of CranioSacral Therapy for Sensory Motor Health and Development: An Anthroposophical Perspective

publication date: Nov 1, 2016
author/source: Aurore Sibley Cst, M.S. Ed.

The Application of Craniosacral Therapy for Sensory Motor Health and Development: An Anthroposophical Perspective

By Aurore Sibley, CST-T, M.S. Ed



“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”- Albert Einstein

Visualize a child that you know. What does their movement tell you about them? Do they move with ease? Are they able to come to stillness? Do they have mastery over their instrument? Or do they struggle to find themselves in space, to sit in a chair and write, to move with fluidity and ease? Can they coordinate the movement of right and left, upper and lower body when they skip or jump or run? Are they able to do two or even three things at once, such as count and clap in unison, or are some of these things particularly challenging for them?


So often when there is a motor or movement dysfunction or disharmony, it may be arising from the structural body itself, and may be supported through a manual therapy or structural support such as craniosacral therapy. CST is a manual therapy that works directly with the structural integrity of the physical body while also supporting the nervous system, and thus other physiological processes in the body, which will have an effect not only on a person’s movement capacities, but also their general health and well-being: body, mind, soul and spirit.


When we consider this, we see that craniosacral therapy is a modality that has the potential to benefit all levels of our human experience and development. We know that there is an interrelationship between body, mind and sprit, and that treating or bringing attention to one will affect the others. Perhaps the more integrated and aligned our structural, physical body is, the more we are able to incarnate into this life on earth and engage in the world with purpose.


Think of the human being as a musical instrument. When our structural body has integrity and is tuned correctly, the muscles play beautifully. Fluid movement is music. When there is too much or too little muscle tone or nervous system agitation, movement may be compromised and the song is out of tune. The instrumentalist must work harder to make a fluid sound, and there may be a particular note that is simply stuck, a little sharp or flat. We moderate and evolve our music to fit the instrument, and it still may sound beautiful. There is no perfect body without flaw, just an archetype. But when our instruments are tuned, when we know the patterns that make up coherent rhythms and melodies, movement, and thus everything else in life, becomes easier.


When an infant is working through the phases of developmental movement patterns that lead to standing upright and walking, they are laying down the neural pathways that will serve them through life. By the time a child is ready for grade school, everyday movements should be mastered in a way that support the child’s engagement in everyday activities. If, however, a child has to think about their movement: whether to use right or left, how to coordinate two movements at once, the independent movement of one limb, or if they have to think about how to find their balance while sitting at a desk without falling over, then the higher centers of the brain which should be freed for learning, are focused on more mundane tasks in order to participate at all, and details might be missed during instruction. Distracting behaviors may present themselves. Sensory-motor development becomes observably challenged.


Movement development and the foundational senses of human development begin before birth, but it is particularly in the first years of life that the senses of touch, movement, balance and health, or vitality, develop. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian Philosopher who inspired the development of Waldorf education and biodynamic agriculture, and cultivated a philosophy of approaching human understanding through the aspects of physical, etheric, astral and ego, (or body, mind, soul and spirit), spoke of there being twelve senses, not just the five or six that mainstream science recognizes today.


The four lower senses mentioned above are the foundations of our sensory motor development, and are the senses that relate to the later development of our higher senses of hearing, language, thought, and sense of self. (The senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell fall in the middle). The lower senses are also the senses that through the stresses of the modern day lifestyle, or through trauma, such as a difficult birth or serious injury, can so often be compromised or hindered.


In Waldorf schools, the children entering the first grade are assessed for “first grade readiness.” This does not involve testing their knowledge of the alphabet or whether they can count to ten. An educational specialist takes each child through a series of movement activities and games that allows them to observe the child’s movement capacities. If a child is able to stand on one foot and count to ten without falling over, if they are able to freely cross the vertical midline without having to think about it, if they are capable of coordinating movement and speech together, and if they can toss and catch a beanbag with ease, it is likely that they will be successful in the classroom.


If a child struggles to do many of these things, the higher centers of the brain, which should be ready for learning in a school-aged child, are activated and distracted instead by having to think through a series of movements, or how to find their balance while sitting in a chair at a desk. They do not have mastery over their movement, and the neural pathways they are defining while learning may become convoluted. When thinking through their moments requires effort, they have to work harder than they should to pay attention to other things. This then may manifest as behavioral or learning challenges. Working with an occupational therapist, audiologist, vision therapist, or special education teacher may be enormously helpful. But if part of the child’s awkward movement arises from a structural restriction within their body, unless this is addressed through structural support such as CST, it will always be something the child has to compensate for or work around.


Some concrete examples may serve to illustrate the relationship between learning potential and sensory motor health. Gabriel was a ten-year old boy who was noted by his parents and teachers to be particularly restless, and frequently fell over in his chair during class. He was distractible and had a tendency to reverse numbers and letters in his writing.


Gabriel was brought in for a series of craniosacral therapy sessions over a period of several months. His teachers immediately noticed that he became more centered during class, and that he no longer reversed his letters. Some of his tendency towards silliness and his lack of uprightness continued to reappear, but over time there was improvement in his participation in the classroom.


Structurally, Gabriel had a good deal of tension and restriction throughout his Dural tube, originating in the pelvis, as well as compression of the occipital base, and temporal bone restrictions causing his CSR to be out of sync. By addressing the occipital base compression and temporal bone dysfunction, his vestibular system was able to integrate and operate more healthfully. By following these restrictions through his Dural tube and working towards the alignment of the pelvic bones, the whole body tendency towards vestibular dysfunction began to be remedied over time.


Another example: Alana was an eleven-year old girl who had been severely dyslexic until seeing a craniosacral therapist. After two sessions she found that she could read at a fourth grade level, when previously she had been at a second grade level. Why might this result occur? When we consider that craniosacral therapy is able to address tension within the intracranial membrane system, and that ocular motor function, as well as the vestibular and auditory systems can be directly affected by mobility or restriction within the cranial membrane system, it is not surprising after all to see a clear difference in the way someone is able to visually process information, or in the way that their auditory and vestibular function might improve.


These examples do not guarantee that craniosacral therapy can address learning challenges or sensory motor disturbances, however there is great potential for them to benefit and support these areas of development. In addition, when it is possible to remedy sensory motor health through manual therapy or other structural support, all the other therapies addressing the same issues become more effective. Freedom of movement compliments the integration of everything else.


Observe the people around you. Notice the ease or lack of fluidity within their movement. Notice where in their bodies they might benefit from a little structural support, and how their movement changes or integrates once this is achieved. Notice if this has a ripple effect in the way they are able to engage with the world. Notice how the music sounds with more fluidity when the instrument is tuned.