Craniosacral Therapy & Reiki

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Energy-Based Modalities

Leah Smith, Certified Snoezelen Trainer, Reiki Master, Craniosacral Practitioner

Sensory processing impairments that are present from birth and follow a person through their life cycle can block the individual’s access to their innate abilities and sense of self. For these people the world can be a menagerie of disjointed and chaotic sensations that create relentless stress on the central nervous system.

At the base of all sensory imbalances is an under or over-functioning central nervous system. These imbalances wreak havoc on an individual’s ability to function within a normal range of abilities.

It is suggested that people who endure sensory processing imbalances gain therapeutic benefit from receiving non-invasive energy-based healing modalities such as Craniosacral Therapy and Reiki. These energy-based modalities seem to have an overall calming effect on the central nervous system. Regular opportunities for relaxation of the central nervous system can maximize the potential of the physiological, psychosocial and somato-emotional aspects of individuals with mild, moderate and complex disabilities.

Craniosacral Therapy

Dr. John E. Upledger, the physician featured in TIME magazine as one of America’s next wave of innovators, is celebrated for his development of Craniosacral Therapy – an innovative approach that releases tensions deep in the body to allow all body systems to self-correct. (The Upledger Institute, 2008)

Few structures in the body have as much influence over its ability to function properly as the brain and spinal cord. Additionally, few systems have as much impact on the brain and spinal cord as the soft tissues and fluid that surround and protect the brain and the spinal cord. They are referred to as the craniosacral system.

Daily, individuals are bombarded with stimuli that are confusing and overwhelming. This is especially challenging for our clients who have sensory processing issues. Over time these constant stressors cause the soft tissue to tighten, causing distortion in the craniosacral system and resulting in undue pressure on the brain and spinal cord. This undue pressure in turn adversely affects the performance of the central nervous system and can have a domino effect on all the other systems in the body.

The brain and spinal cord, two major components of the central nervous system, require a carefully controlled environment in order to develop and function optimally. The craniosacral system is largely responsible for providing this environment. It is a semi-closed hydraulic system partially made up of the bones in the cranium, face, spine and pelvis. These bones float in cerebral spinal fluid that moves up and down the dural tube in the center of the spinal column. (John E. Upledger & Jon D. Vredevoogd, 1990)

The bones in the skull are not static; they come together at suture lines in the cranium. Each bone or pair of bones is designed to move in a specific pattern of flexion and extension. This natural movement is called the craniosacral rhythm.

As an example the parietal bones at the top of the head move in a cycle of extension (expanding up towards the crown) and flexion (contracting towards thefeet). This subtle movement can be likened to the natural expanding and contracting of the rib cage as our lungs fill and empty as we breathe.

Anxiety, trauma, brain injuries, stress, and imbalances in sensory processing can disrupt the natural craniosacral rhythm. Following the above example of the movement of the parietal bones, the rhythm of the movement could be off, one of the parietal bones may be stuck in the flexion position towards the feet, or in the extension position towards the crown, resulting in a build- up of cerebral spinal fluid in the head.

Pressure in the head is a common, pervasive symptom that many people with complex disabilities experience on a daily basis. It is suggested that when attempting to balance the internal pressure, some individuals with disabilities might deliberately exert external pressure by hitting their head with their hand or with an object. This response can be misinterpreted as inappropriate behavior.

Using a light touch – no more than 5 grams of pressure (approximately the weight of a nickel) – a practitioner can palpate the pulses and rhythms in the body and evaluate the health of the craniosacral system. Then, using gentle non-invasive techniques, a practitioner can release restrictions and bring the craniosacral rhythm back into balance. Practice shows that restoring the balance automatically improves the function of the central nervous system. Often after only one session there can be a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of the build-up of cerebral spinal fluid in the head, and an overall calming effect on the central nervous system.

Individuals who are challenged by imbalances in the vestibular and proprioceptive systems can derive great benefit from adjustments to the craniosacral rhythm that is available through craniosacral therapy. Frequently, even after one treatment there can be marked improvement in the functioning of these two sensory systems.

Dr. Upledger established The Upledger Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens in 1985; more than 80% of the children who receive treatment there are challenged by some form of sensory integration deficit. The Upledger Clinic has a specialized treatment room for Sensory Integration Therapy. The room, which uses “playtime” for that purpose, is equipped with toys and tools designed to develop the neurological skills necessary to perform everyday functions.

Dr. Upledger investigated the effects of craniosacral therapy on autistic children in Michigan in the 1970s. He spent approximately six months each year for three years searching for etiological factors in autistic behavior. His research included physical examinations, hair analysis, blood analysis and craniosacral system evaluations.

His studies concluded that Craniosacral Therapy was beneficial in treating Autism. When it was used to restore the mobility of the craniosacral system, typically autistic behaviors – including head banging, thumb sucking, toe walking and self-mutilation were either alleviated or diminished. In 2000, Dr. Upledger presented his findings before a U.S. Government Reform Committee meeting on Autism. (The Upledger Institute, 2008)

Reiki – The Usui System of Natural Healing

The word Reiki is a combination of two Japanese words: Rei, which means “universal life force” and Ki, which is “energy.” Reiki was re-introduced to the world by the spiritual seeker Mikao Usui in the late 1800s. In the west Reiki is referred to as The Usui System of Natural Healing, in Japan it is called Usui Shiki Royho.

The Usui system of Natural Healing is multifaceted. It is a daily spiritual practice that has 3 main areas of focus: a relationship with universal life force energy, spiritual precepts to assist with mental discipline, and the practice of focusing energy through the hands for hands-on-care. Reiki is also an energy-based healing modality that is a recognized form of preventative health care and a viable form of treatment for disease, illness and injury.

“Reiki summons the power to bestow the simple pacification, called the Soothing Hand. It helps to pacify, heal, and soothe. It does not address the activity of healing in a direct manner. It addresses it indirectly by increasing the body’s energy, by relaxing the nervous tension in the body, and by pacifying the upsets and imbalances.” (Usui, 1919 )

Reiki is a non-invasive treatment that can bring about a natural state of relaxation for the recipient. Deep states of relaxation trigger the para-sympathetic nervous system, which activates the body’s intrinsic healing process.

Reiki is easy to learn, and is considered to be one of the simplest, most effective hands-on healing practices in the world. In order to practice Reiki effectively, it is not necessary to understand how the body functions or how the healing occurs. Rather it is assumed that the energy of Reiki has its own inherent wisdom and will always flow to areas of need in the body, mind, emotions and spirit, bringing about a desired state of homeostasis and restoring balance to the central nervous system.

This hands-on approach to relaxation and wellness can be applied with a light touch, a heavy touch, or above the body in the surrounding energy fields. A specific set of hand positions are usually given as a guide for doing formal Reiki treatments starting with the head, down the torso, the legs, the feet, and then down the back. The most common sensation from the hands of the practitioner is heat; the most common response is relaxation or an overall feeling of peace.

Reiki can also be applied anywhere on the body with no specific hand position in mind. It can be applied directly to areas where there are symptoms such as pain, stiffness, or anxiety. It can be shared very informally while engaging in a conversation or while the receiver is occupied with another activity. Reiki can also be applied for just a few minutes or a few moments at a time and still be effective and bring about a positive result.

It is suggested that Reiki can release the cause of disease in the body, mind, emotions and spirit. Often with only one treatment, Reiki can relieve the physical symptoms and emotional upset associated with stress, headaches, backaches, digestive disorders and general irritability. Most minor aches and pains seem to be relieved within just a few minutes.

Moreover, Reiki seems to be very effective as first aid for cuts, burns, and sprains. Because of its known ability to speed up the healing process, it is becoming more commonly used in medical institutions worldwide to help patients recover faster from injuries, illnesses, surgery and other medical procedures. Reiki treatments complement rather than interfere with allopathic or naturopathic treatments prescribed by physicians and naturopaths.

The use of Reiki has also been successful in treating a variety of chronic conditions. Frequently when someone is suffering from a chronic condition the overall vital life energy in the body becomes depleted. It is common for the Reiki treatments to initially restore the vital life energy in the body and then rebalance the chronic condition therefore requiring longer treatment over longer periods of time. Reiki has moved into the mainstream of complimentary approaches to healthcare. It is being taught in nursing schools, practiced in hospitals world wide, and has been studied by international institutes of health.

Case Study

When an individual is under extreme stress resulting in anxiety, their sensory system is overloaded and they are unable to balance their internal environment. As a result, the mind responds irrationally, and the person may think, say or do things that are out of character.

One participant that I treat in the Snoezelen room came in one day and talked about wanting to hurt herself. She said she was so stressed that she felt like doing something crazy. What she really wanted was to have the anxiety stop.

After a few minutes of applying Reiki to the places on her back where she was feeling anxious the participant started to relax and the tension in her body began to melt. After about ten minutes of receiving Reiki she commented on how the anxiety had stopped; she felt safe and had come back to her sense of self.

I often share Reiki with the participants that I take into the Snoezelen room. It is easy enough to do this while doing a few minutes of massage, or when a participant is in the swing, lying on the huddle cuddle pillow, or anytime that you are sitting close to one another. For some of the participants I serve, Reiki is a regular part of their treatment plan.

It is worth mentioning that sharing Reiki is not restricted to the flow of energy through the hands. Often people report an over all feeling of calm just by being in the presence of a Reiki Master or practitioner.


“My two sons, both diagnosed with Aspergers, NEVER go to bed without running around the house screaming as soon as I announce it. Just hours after their first Reiki treatment, when I said it was time for bed they just got up and went to bed.”  ~ M. Knutson – Hillsboro, OR

“A Certified Reiki Master since 1995, and mother of a young child with Aspergers, I began using Reiki on my daughter one day out of sheer frustration during the rumbling stage (the pre-cursor to an autistic rage) I tensed as I saw the storm brewing on her face and reached out to Reiki to calm me in the face of it. I hadn’t expected the result I got from my child. I felt not only myself grow calmer but felt her shift as well. Her muscles relaxed, she sighed and slumped against me, using her hands to motion to me to continue Reiki. Since that time, I’ve routinely included Reiki as a treatment for my daughter and other autistic clients not only during times of crisis but to improve sleep quality and quantity, reduce the number of rumblings and rages, decrease stress and anxiety during transitions and as a method of self-soothing.”  (Long, 2008)


Following is a summary of a few of the points mentioned in the article.

  • Energy based modalities relax a person from the inside out. Once the eternal environment is refreshed there is a natural increase in autonomy which heightens enjoyment and enhances quality of life.
  • It is a known fact that each individual will respond in their own way to the healing systems. As with all things, individual preferences may determine the enjoyment level for participants. For example we know that some people like a gentle, light touch while others prefer more pressure.
  • Craniosacral Therapy is a non-invasive technique that activates the body’s natural healing process. Used alone or in conjunction with Sensory Integration Therapy, it can create a foundation for improved neurological functioning, streamline cognitive processing, and assist with the integration of sensory information.
  • Reiki is gentle yet powerful, subtle yet effective. By eliciting an overall calming effect, it can alleviate some of the major symptoms experienced by people with autism and other developmental disabilities such as anxiety, fear, headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension and sleep disturbances. (Long, 2008)
  • A little bit of Reiki each day is a simple and effective way to manage daily stress and physical vitality. Reiki is an excellent form of preventative health care, and can also be used as intervention in First Aid situations.
  • Hands-on energy modalities can be an excellent conjunct to already existing treatment plans and are not intended to take the place of allopathic medicine or sensory integration therapy approaches.
  • Energy work can help to soothe the central nervous system, thereby assisting people with developmental disabilities to come back to their senses and return to a natural state of well being and relaxation.


John E. Upledger, D. F., & Jon D. Vredevoogd, M. (1990). Craniosacral Therapy. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press.
Long, R. M. (2008). History/ Hospital Use. Retrieved from

The Upledger Institute, I. (2008). The Upledger Clinic. Retrieved July 28, 2009, from The Upledger Institute Usui, M. (1919, 03 19). Lecture to students. Tokyo, Japan.

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