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The History and Theory Behind Craniosacral Therapy

Posted by on in News

Craniosacral therapy is based on concepts that date back thousands of years and are buttressed by 20th century medical research.

An American osteopathic physician named William Sutherland is credited with being the father of what is known as craniosacral therapy. While he is credited with being the founder of this work, some of the concepts predate him by thousands of years.

Earlier Applications and Understandings

There is a Chinese text from four thousand years ago which makes reference to the art of “listening” and “calming” the heart through touching the body very lightly. Cranial manipulation is also thought to have been practiced by the ancient Egyptians and members of the Paracus culture in Peru around 2000 BC- 200 AD. This concept of listening to the body acknowledged that the vitality of the body is connected to the neural network.

More recently in the Middle Ages, European practitioners known as “bone setters” utilized light manipulations of bony structures to basically reset fractures and dislocations and to even treat headaches.



The studies of 18th century, European philosopher and scientist, Emmanuel Swedenborg, noted the regular cycle of expansion and contraction of the brain.

Dr. William Sutherland

While the concepts at the foundation of craniosacral therapy have existed through history, Dr. Sutherland created a system of research that gave us the ideas and observations that demonstrated a physiological basis. His study into the work of the cranial bones and the craniosacral system started in the early 1900s.

William G. Sutherland (1873 –1954)

Before Dr. Sutherland, the cranium was believed to be one solid bone: basically, a round hollow bowl designed to protect the brain and parts of the spinal cord. Through his study, Dr. Sutherland discovered that there are 22 separate bones that make up the cranium and that they can shift at their joints, called sutures.


Along with this discovery of movement, he also discovered that there was a sense of a pulse, a set of rhythms that were central to the functioning of the brain and spinal cord. Like the heartbeat, this pulse could be palpated. He called this pulsation the “breath of life.” It’s also referred to as the “cranial wave” and the “craniosacral impulse.” These terms all reflect the same idea.

Of course, this concept of a life force, a sense of energy coursing through the body, echoes throughout ancient cultures. Asian cultures, primarily the Chinese, speak of “chi” which can be loosely translated as “vital energy” or “life force.” In India, there’s the same concept in “prana.” In yoga, the central chakra system, composed of energy centers, runs along the spinal cord. Yogic practitioners actually pull energy – prana – into the body.

Dr. Sutherland took these mystical, clearly experiential ideas and found physical, anatomically based evidence to support the notion of the “breath of life” (or “chi” or “prana”) as being housed in the craniosacral system. Through the flow of craniosacral fluid, this energy is expressed. In the body’s innate, natural state of health, the “Breath of Life” is the source of healing and vitality. It can be tapped for therapeutic purposes.

By detecting the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, Dr. Sutherland discovered three main impulses, separate and distinct from the cardiac or respiratory rhythms of the body. With practice, these craniosacral rhythms can be felt just as clearly.

The first is the long tide, a constant impulse, occurring about every 100 seconds. The mid tide cycles two and half times a minute, so about every 20 to 30 seconds. The craniosacral impulse (or “cranial wave”) cycles every 8 to 10 seconds.

These cycles occur simultaneously, like orbiting planets in the solar system.

The impulses can be used as diagnostic tools. According to Sutherland, the long tide remains constant throughout your life. The mid tide will have variations reflective of one’s overall state of health. The craniosacral impulse cycle is indicative of the current state of health.

He also hypothesized that the sacrum moves in synchronicity with the cranial bones

 Dr. John Upledger

After Dr. Sutherland, who passed in 1954, another American physician, Dr. John Upledger, took up the study of craniosacral work.

John Upledger (1932-2012)

Utilizing Dr. Sutherland’s ideas and research, Dr. Upledger further expanded and developed the concepts of craniosacral therapy. His contributions include the identification of “energy cysts” usually caused by injury (2003). Energy cysts can cause restrictions in the craniosacral system.

Drs. Sutherland and Upledger are the main pioneers whose theories formed the basis of craniosacral therapy as we know it today.

How to Learn Craniosacral Therapy

Jumozy offers a comprehensive course on Craniosacral Therapy which includes the strokes and a complete routine for providing a complete therapeutic session on the body from the cranium to the sacrum, benefits and contraindications, origins and theories, craniosacral system's anatomy and physiology and how the system affects the body’s well-being, and how to integrate craniosacral therapy with other modalities. In addition to written text, video excerpts are included for visual, step-by-step demonstrations of craniosacral therapy techniques and how to provide a full body massage with both hot and cold stones.

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