Discover the secret of total relaxation: it's all in your head

It took Matthew Barbour a while to begin believing in craniosacral therapy, but in the end he was left feeling bright-eyed and blissful
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The Independent Online

As complementary therapies go, this one takes the biscuit. Apart from sounding like a rather gruesome form of medieval torture, craniosacral therapy appears to require zero effort from the practitioner at the same time as claiming to help alleviate almost any condition, from depression to digestive disorders, to asthma and arthritis. Not bad work if you can get it.

All the more surprising, then, that this most unlikely of therapies is now one of the fastest-growing in the UK and has a base of adherents spanning all walks of life, from stressed-out executives to cab drivers, professional sportsmen to pregnant mothers, all of whom swear blind by its curative properties.

"We simply listen to your body and suggest things back," says Ged Sumner, a trained osteopath and practitioner and teacher of CST. "There's no pushing and pulling like in traditional massage. Your body does all its own work and that's why it's so much more effective than a lot of other therapies – your body carries on healing itself after you leave."

The essence behind the therapy is realigning the overall balance of the body, principally through applying almost imperceptible pressure to the cranium and spine. Its present form grew out of cranial osteopathy in the 1970s, based on the belief that the bones forming the skull retain flexibility in adulthood and that the fluid which envelopes the brain and spine has a pulse separate from that of your heart, beating between six and 15 times a minute.

By diagnosing disturbances in the flow of this fluid, which supposedly represents the life force or "chi" of the body, therapists say they can encourage the body to heal almost any malady. What is more, they insist that they are always willing to work in conjunction with conventional doctors and surgeons, and often refer people back to their GPs if they feel there is a problem better treated with regular medical practice.

"We don't treat you in any pathological sense. We offer your body the space to heal itself and make its own adjustments," Ged says. "If you don't believe it, try it." As a physically fit 26-year-old, I have long been of the belief that to get rid of a headache you take a pill, and to get rid of stress you go for a run, so it was with a healthy dollop of cynicism that I took off my shoes, lay back and waited for the healing hands to do their work.

Ged, who definitely does not seem to fit the clichéd new-age mould of most alternative practitioners, walks to the end of the treatment table and takes hold of my feet, one in each hand. As he describes how he first got involved with the therapy (he suffered from back problems that couldn't be cured by conventional practices), I wait for him to start. And I wait. And I wait.

Over the course of 10 minutes, I could not feel his hands move in the slightest, not even the faintest of twitches. Not once.

"I can sense you've got some tension in your trapezius muscle (the one fanning down from your neck to your shoulders). You've also got a very tight diaphragm. And I can also sense you've got a problem with your left leg," he says, almost as if reading off a chart pinned to my forehead.

Unsure where exactly this information came from, despite the fact that I have recurrent problems with my reconstructed left knee, I let him continue, saying nothing.

"Although you might not be able to feel it, it's important that you know that what I feel and do is real," he says, just as my cynicism is beginning to get the better of me. But as I think, I realise that I do feel tight in my shoulders, and my stomach also feels constricted.

Having carried out some diagnostics from the far end, he then stands behind me and places both hands underneath my head, again making what I feel to be absolutely no movement.

"I'm starting to feel some sacral motility," he says after a couple of minutes, not pointing out where or when or how. And then it happens. I can feel my body breathing, rising and falling completely separate from my regular breathing.

But instead of rising and then falling in sequence like my chest, it's almost as if my body is expanding for seven "pulses" and then slowly deflating, like a set of bellows, for a further seven. This is 9.30am on a bright Tuesday, with pneumatic drills going outside the open window.

Ged then says he will try to find a point of "stillness" at the top of the cycle, between my body's exhalations and inhalations. And despite my best instincts, I now know exactly what he's talking about, and at the top of the cycle after seven inhalations, it happens. My whole body tingles and feels unbelievably relaxed, and my vision goes all starry, my eyes feeling as if they're sinking down, away from my rising body. It's not exactly an out-of-body experience, but it's close.

Ged, completely unfazed by my description, sits down and leaves me to it for a few minutes, saying that I can get up when I want. When I do I feel amazingly relaxed all over, and any tension is gone.

"You should feel that your body gets to feel even better as the day progresses," Ged says. "I hope you enjoyed it."

Ten minutes later I'm out on the street, staring into the bright sunshine, feeling a darn sight less cynical. within the hour I'm at work, feeling completely re-energised. For someone who does nothing, Ged seems to do it very well.

Around 1,000 CST practitioners in the UK are accredited by the Craniosacral Therapy Association of the UK, London WC1 (07000 784 735, Ged Sumner practises at the Fountain Clinic in Islington, London N1 (020 7704 6900). A 50-minute session costs £35, or £50 if you have two practitioners working on you at the same time. They also hold regular sessions for mothers-to-be. A couple of sessions are usually enough, but more sessions are sometimes recommended for those regarded as having serious problems