Tried and Tested: Cranio-sacral Therapy

A gentle healing modality used to balance the central nervous system to deal with mental and physical conditions as diverse as headaches, depression and sports injuries.

So, the upshot is that years of ongoing stress have left me with decreased spinal mobility resulting in spinal rigidity; an erratic nervous system; areas where my cranio-sacral fluid is congested, as well as hyper-toned musculature, primarily around my mid-thoracic spine.

That’s the diagnosis of Shivani Sarsthi, a Physical Therapist based out of Vancouver, Canada, who specialises in cranio-sacral therapy. Her clinical practise is at Breath and Health Alternative Medical Center in Dubai. Cranio-sacral therapy is a non-invasive approach to healing that deals with conditions under the umbrella of mental or physical health, from headaches to depression to sports injuries – under the premise that so much of what ails us has its root in the nervous system; the result of stress or anxiety.

The UAE is rife with stress-related issues, Sarsthi says. “You get a lot of Type A personalities, everyone is super-busy, rushing about from one thing to the next until the stressed state becomes normal, which leads to health deterioration until ‘suddenly’ there’s a chronic health issue, anything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to tendonitis, hip and back pain… all resulting from stress.”


I’ve just had an hour-long session with Sarsthi, it was my first experience of cranio-sacral therapy (CST). It’s a little like having a massage in that you lie on a table in your underwear covered by a towel but instead of being rubbed and kneaded all over your body, she uses a very gentle pressure on just the feet, head, neck and shoulders. In particular she works on the base of the skull and the spine. The therapist’s movements are slow and light. It is amazingly relaxing and feels absolutely wonderful.

A trained massage therapist and Reiki healer, Sarsthi has been treating clients with CST for about five years. Before that, she used a more traditional orthopaedic approach to healing. For example, if someone came in with shoulder pain, she would treat the shoulder. The frustration, she says, is that healing was often not lasting; the pain would return because the root cause of the problem was not being addressed. This is the crucial difference with cranio-sacral therapy, she says.

“You’re treating the root of the problem with cranio-sacral therapy because when you focus on the nervous system, it’s a deeper kind of healing from inside out.”

A lot of healing also comes down to something as simple as sleep, Sarsthi says. Most people who are experiencing pain are not getting into the deepest sleep cycles, which are the only states in which tissue healing takes place. CST helps here as well.


Getting back to me though. How could Sarsthi tell that I’ve got stress-related issues just by holding my head and feeling around my spine? She says that she tunes into the pulses and rhythm, the ebb and flow of the cranial-sacral fluid – this is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. According to the website of the UK Cranial Sacral Therapy Association, the practitioner “senses tensions in the body and helps to release them in a supported and comfortable way. During or after a session you may feel calm and energised with increased clarity of mind and a feeling of well-being.”

Sarsthi says she goes into almost a meditative state and feels for the movement and rhythms of the fluid, in a similar way to how a doctor might feel for a pulse to assess blood pressure. She says the rhythm of the cranio-sacral fluid can give her remarkable insights into the client.

“After doing this for a few years now, I find I can often tell what’s going on in a person’s life, for example if they’re going through a difficult time. I’m not saying I’m psychic but in this meditative state you get very sensitive.”

Ultimately, Sarsthi says she is facilitating the body to heal itself. This includes teaching the body what it feels like to be relaxed. Some of her clients are ADHD children and parents have given very positive feedback regarding changes in their children’s behaviour.

“It’s very rewarding, there’s no other profession in the world I’d rather be doing.”

Shivani Sarsthi practises cranio-sacral therapy at Breath and Health Alternative Medical Centre at 1080, Al Wasl Road,
Umm Suquim 2, Jumeirah,
Dubai. To make an appointment, tel +971 4 3489940
or email:


Cranio-sacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on healing modality used to balance the cranial rhythm, release tension deep in the body, and relieve pain and dysfunction.  A light-touch therapy, CST is used to balance the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord and its surrounding fluid) in order to decrease sympathetic nerve firing (aka the biological ‘fight or flight response’) while activating the para-sympathetic state (aka the ‘rest and digest response’). The technique involves deep focus and attention to the cranial and neck regions. Some of the mental and physical conditions that can be treated include: Depression, anxiety, migraines, joint and muscle pain, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and sleep disorders.


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