The Concept of Health: Primordial and Personal

by Matthew Appleton

The Fulcrum, Issue 27 Autumn 2002

One of the fundamental principles of craniosacral therapy is that ‘Health’ is never lost to us, it is always available. Some practitioners in the cranial field, such as James Jealous, use the term Health, with a capital H, to describe an active force that is at work within living systems, which is palpable and can be useful in assessing and improving the state of health (with a small h) of the client. As such, Health is not an abstract concept, but a function of life that is readily accessible and can be utilised in treatment.

The notion that Health is always present, even in the most extreme states of disease and disorder, is at odds with the way in which most people think about health, and can be very confusing for students or clients. Without the practical experience of palpating Health in the living system, it can sound like a very new-age sanitised view of health, in which sickness and suffering are being denied. To help clarify this confusion it may be useful to separate Health with a big H, from health, with a little h. This division is inevitably an artificial one, but may help us to orient to a deeper understanding of the spectrum of health and disease.

We can think of Health as primordial health or unconditioned health. This is not something that we gain or lose; it is always arising and is always available to us. The transmutation process that takes place within the living system as the breath of life generates the long tide and is taken up as a specific biological potency by the cerebrospinal fluid, is our inherent Health. This is what Sutherland described as Intelligence within the system. It is the fountain-head of our life force constantly renewing and refreshing our cells and tissues. It is the ‘fluid within the fluid’ and the fluid ‘that fills the room’. This is what Rollin Becker calls the ‘primary physician’. It is what does the work for us in treatment. It does not expire at death, but transpires¹.

Mechanical energies move from a high potential to a low potential. This is called entropy in physics. Thus all living and non-living systems are thought to be in constant movement from a highly organised state of being to disorganisation, as in the birth and death of solar systems. At one level this is correct. But there is also another force at work throughout nature that moves from a low potential to a high potential. This is an organising force which is also at work in both living and non-living systems, though at very different paces. This force is at odds with the concept of mechanistic science and its medicine, which views the universe as a mechanical system that began with the big bang, and life as an accidental occurrence that functions and reproduces itself in the same mechanical manner.

It is this active, organising principle in nature that we call ‘Health’. Health arises from stillness and generates motion. It creates and sustains us from moment to moment and can be palpated by practitioners as it unfolds within the living system as a series of tidal and rhythmic movements. It is always available to us to invigorate and animate our cells and tissues. We never lose our Health, only our relationship with it. It is our essential nature, the ground of our being. The role of the practitioner in the cranial field is not to ‘fix’ the client, but to help the client to reconnect with his or her essential nature, to regain the relationship with the Health that is always present.

This force is at odds with the concept of mechanistic science

What is described as health with a small h, can be called personal health or conditioned health. This is the health of our cells, tissues and body fluids as they have been impacted by experience. This experience may be pathological, physical, emotional, environmental, generational, genetic, etc. If this experience has been of such an overwhelming nature that the body-mind has not been able to fully process it, the primordial health of the system centres or sequesters the disturbance as best it can. That is, it organises around the experience in such a way as to allow the system to continue to function as fully as possible given the circumstances. This is the Intelligence of the system at work. It enables life to interact with its environment and survive at the expense of diminished health. This same Intelligence generates symptoms that alert us to our reduced health. If the experience has not been too overwhelming and we listen to our symptoms, (which may be asking us to slow down, rest, fast, exercise, or whatever) we are able to reconnect with our primordial health. But often we ignore the wisdom of the body and override or suppress its signals. This devitalises the system and weakens its capacity to express Health, thus diminishing personal health.

A vital system processes experience in short-term acute episodes involving strong symptoms such as inflammation, fevers, rashes etc. In the case of accidents there is, bruising, swelling etc. In emotional overwhelm and shock there is crying, shaking, screaming etc. When these acute symptoms are suppressed, they lead to chronic symptoms, which operate on a deeper level within the system. Sir William Osler wrote,

…the greatest part of all chronic disease is created through the suppression of acute disease by means of drug poisons and through the destructive effects of the drugs themselves.²

The naturopath Dr JH Tilden continued this theme, when he said,

Cancer, tuberculosis, Bright’s disease and all chronic diseases were once innocent colds…³

Personal health can fail. We cannot continue to draw upon it without also investing in it. The longer we ignore the wisdom of the body, the less it speaks to us. Cranial work is about re-establishing the dialogue.

Primordial Health is a constantly brimming reservoir

The relationship between Primordial Health and personal health

If we fall into the trap of trying to get rid of symptoms at the expense of listening to the treatment plan of the primary physician, we collude with the client in silencing the living Intelligence of the system. When we listen to the inherent forces at work as they centre the disturbances in our client’s systems, they lead us invariably towards Health. We listen deeply and we are answered by Intelligence. Acute symptoms are an expression of active Health at work trying to process whatever has impacted the system. Chronic illness is simply inertial Health, which can be reactivated. The system is always working towards Health, which is why it is able to respond profoundly to the most gentle input.

When we are talking about personal health, it is legitimate to talk about good and bad health. Here we are in the realm of the mechanical, of the machine that is not operating as well as it could. This is the health of modern medicine. Personal health fails, it breaks down, it becomes diseased and disorganised. Yet Primordial Health is a constantly brimming reservoir, from which we can draw to ‘irrigate the withering field’4 of our compromised and conditioned personal health. In the final analysis, personal health and Primordial Health are not separate, they are aspects of each other. When we work at the level of the Cranial Rhythmic Impulse (CRI), we are engaging with personal health, with the conditions present. When we are working with the deeper levels of the system – the mid-tide and long tide – we are accessing Primordial Health. It is the reconnecting of personal health with Primordial Health, to bring flow to the continuum between conditional and unconditional, that is the nub of cranial work. In this we are not great healers who know how to fix, but humble facilitators who know how to listen.


1 James Jealous: Healing and the Natural World Alternative Therapies, January 1997, Vol. 3, No.1
2 Quoted in Ian Sinclair: Health – The Only Immunity 1995
3 Ibid.
4 AT Still


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the CSTA.

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