By Katherine Ukleja

The Fulcrum, Issue 80 May 2020

Wise, seeing, feeling, thinking fingers
W.G. Sutherland

Touch is the cornerstone of craniosacral therapy. There are many manual therapies and ours relies on highly-refined, gentle, mindful touch, attuned to subtle phenomena. As practitioners, we use our entire sensorium and employ whole-body listening including interoception, regarded as our sixth sense. Yet touch gives us unique access to the language of Primary Respiration sensed in what Sutherland called the ‘nuances of the tide’. Human hands function as both receivers and transmitters, capable of both perception and communication. Hence two aspects of touch are vital in our practice:

What we feel when we touch our clients

What our clients feel when we touch them


By biodynamic touch, I mean touch that attends to the Potency of the Breath of Life; the power which animates the polyrhythmic cycles of primary respiration. Palpating the subtle, involuntary motion of primary respiration is already a feat and beneath that, there is the presence of Potency, the power behind the motion. This intelligent Potency performs a number of functions in all living organisms, which optimise health and potential. Franklyn Sills defined these as the organisational, protective and healing functions of Potency.¹

I see biodynamic touch as having three modes:

Relational touch
Diagnostic touch
Therapeutic touch

The three modes of touch connect us to the three functions of Potency and correspond to listening, hearing and responding, as we relate to individual stories written in the eloquent language of the body. They allow us to orient to health and wholeness as well as the imprints of experience which modify the expression of Potency and tidal flux.


The primary goal of relational touch is to establish safety in the interactive field between the client and the therapist.

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.²

The primary goal of relational touch is to establish safety in the interactive field between the client and the therapist. As hands-on therapists, our main means of communication is by touch and we each have our methods for grounding, centring and putting our hands on our clients. During this ritual of contact, the therapist’s hands function as transmitters, signalling a  host of notions such as openness, receptivity and non-judgement. A term borrowed from the Alexander Technique fits very well here: ‘touching without wanting’ – the therapist’s willingness to be with what is, without the need for the client or their circumstances to be different, takes a huge load off the client and sets the scene for open exploration.

This is when we begin to listen. Relational touch connects to the slower rhythms of the Mid Tide and the Long Tide. There is a palpable shift in the client’s physiology to a parasympathetic state. Further, relational touch focuses our listening on the organisational function of Potency, which acts to maintain order and cohesion in our ever-changing structure and function, and ‘re-orients the body-mind towards the original matrix of health’.


. . . listening is not the same as hearing

Thus, the use of diagnostic touch is more than a passive laying on of hands. It is a form of palpation that one might call an alert observation type of awareness for the functions and dysfunctions from within the patient, utilising the motive energy (Potency KU) deep within the tissues themselves.³ Rollin Becker

I equate diagnostic touch with hearing. Let me start by saying that listening is not the same as hearing. The example I like to use is that when I go to a concert with friends who are musicians, what their trained ears hear in terms of tuning, accuracy and virtuosity is very different from my experience. I am mostly hearing the tune.

During the diagnostic phase of a session, there is a flow of information that we need to decipher. We need to hear what the tissue, the fluids and the Potency are telling us; to recognise the healing priorities which emerge from within as the ‘Inherent Treatment Plan,’ a term coined by Becker to describe the self-optimising activity of the human organism. We need to distinguish between the blueprint and imprint forces at play, and tracking the action of Potency, identify where it has become condensed and inertial as it performs its protective function; its best attempt at damage-limitation. This is how inertial fulcra arise, which in turn generate various compensatory tension patterns in the tissues and fluids. It is important to remember that at the heart of a fulcrum there is a ‘high-density of health’; the Potency is at work, centring the unresolved issue until the conditions are right for healing to take place.


How we use touch in craniosacral practice belongs to an elusive region between ‘doing’ and ‘not doing’.

The inherent treatment plan is a function of the Breath of Life, life’s intrinsic ordering Principle. Once your diagnostic touch has recognised that plan, your hands need to respond to the priorities set by the Potency. In clinical practice, our therapeutic touch augments and accelerates a transmutation of Potency from the protective to the healing function. As healing occurs, the original motion of Primary Respiration is restored, and the Potency resumes its organisational function. This sequence can be accompanied, supported and catalysed by therapeutic touch within the limits of available resources.

The inherent treatment plan can present in many different ways, yet from my clinical experience, I would say there are three common paths, each demanding a different response.

Stillness can be chosen as the healing priority, in which case the stillness gets deeper and deeper. All your hands need to do is keep softening and yielding into that stillness.

The second possibility is that one inertial pattern will be chosen by the Potency as the subject for the session. It’s not unusual to feel the entire organism distort around an inertial fulcrum as well as a rush of Potency towards that fulcrum. In response, your hands can engage that imprint, move to hold the structures where the distortion is clearest and encourage a state of balance. The state of balance optimises the capacity for transmutation and mobilisation of entrapped Potency.

The third scenario is what I call ‘hoovering’. The classical name for this phenomenon is ‘automatic shifting of Potency’. The Potency seems to sweep inertia out of the way and re-animate tidal flow. Your therapeutic touch can reinforce this process by augmenting fluid fluctuation as the Potency builds momentum.

How we use touch in craniosacral practice belongs to an elusive region between ‘doing’ and ‘not doing’. Applying our analytical skills, employing both cognition and intuition gives us true insight into the power of biodynamic touch. This insight allows us to catalyse and track change in individual sessions and in a course of treatment. In doing so we maximise the scope of our hands as arbiters of healing and raise touch to an art form.

References :

1. Franklyn Sills –
2. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Publishing Group. 2015.
3. Rollin E. Becker, Life In Motion: The Osteopathic Vision of Rollin E. Becker, D.O., Stillness Press. 1997

Having practised structural osteopathy in her early career, Katherine’s affinity for William Sutherland’s groundbreaking insights led her to pursue BCST at the Karuna Institute. With over 25 years of private practice and teaching, she continues to devote her life’s work to this exceptional healing modality.

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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