Article Index


Introduction of movement in Cranial Bones as a concept 


"Within that cerebrospinal fluid there is an invisible element that I refer to as the 'Breath of Life.' I want you to visualize this Breath of Life as a fluid within the fluid, something that does not mix, something that has potency as the thing that makes it move. Is it really necessary to know what makes the fluid move? Visualize a potency, an intelligent potency, that is more intelligent than your own human mentality."

Dr Sutherland graduated from The American College of Osteopathy in 1900 with honours. He was then twenty-seven years old. Osteopathy was not his first calling. He was born on 27th March 1873, the second of four children of Robert and Dorinda Sutherland. Robert worked as a blacksmith and lumberjack. By the age of fourteen William had already left school to help with the family finances. He went to work in the local newspaper, “The Blunt Advertiser.” When, shortly afterwards, the publisher left to join another newspaper he wanted William to go with him. Several other moves followed until in 1895 he went to Austin in Minnesota, to The Austin Daily Herald. It was here that he first heard about Dr Still and his new’ cure’, Osteopathy. 

William's younger brother, Guy, suffered a health problem from which he recovered after receiving osteopathic treatment. William was hooked. In 1898 he enrolled in the, then, two year course in Osteopathy. While a student he was examining the bones of a disarticulated skull and noted the bevelled edges to the sphenoid bones, when the thought “bevelled like the gills of a fish, to allow for respiration” first struck him. Although he dismissed the thought, it would continue to recur until he felt compelled to investigate it further.

After graduating, Dr Sutherland, as he now was, opened his office in a room of his parent’s house. He quickly built up a successful practise and soon was able to rent his own office. In 1907 Sutherland became president of the Minnesota State Osteopathic Association. He started to lecture on health issues, some of which were published. In the meantime, he continued to study the cranium. However, it was not until 1924 that Sutherland started to set about gaining some proof for his theory. He had married for the second time and on his honeymoon had attended the annual conference of The American Osteopathic Association. Perhaps it was this that inspired him to start buying equipment he would need for his experiments.

At that time, William, like all other physicians (except those in Italy and later Israel), was taught that the joints in bones of the skull became fused together in adolescence and, therefore, incapable of movement from that time forward. William's examination of the twenty-two bones that make up the human skull convinced him that they were designed to accommodate movement. As he believed that nature never did anything without a reason, he determined to test his theory and reconcile it with what he had been taught. He required first-hand experience, so who better to experiment on than himself?

He devised a helmet, which was capable of restricting individual cranial bones. He reasoned that if they were already restricted by fusion, he should feel no difference, so he started a series of experiments on himself. He carried with him a notebook to record any possible symptoms. He also engaged the services of his wife to note any changes in temperament that might escape his attention. In his first experiment he nearly lost consciousness and released the pressure. Immediately he felt warmth and fluid movement along his spine and also movement in the sacrum, the big triangular bone at the base of the spine. He repeated the experiment several times with the same result. This supported the conclusion that, not only did the cranial bones move, but the sacrum did also by way of the membranes connecting the two. He continued with his experiments and developed methods in his clinical practise based on them. Eventually he was able to achieve considerable clinical success with his patients.

He extended his research to children and particularly to new born babies and the restrictions that were imposed by the birthing process. He continued to write and talk about his cranial concept over the following years but there appeared to be little interest shown by the orthodox profession. In 1939 Sutherland published his only written work, apart from his articles in various journals, which he called The Cranial Bowl. This was a relatively small Volume, designed to attract the interest of the practitioners of orthodox medicine rather than a textbook explaining his methods.

"You know from your experience as the patient that the Tide fluctuates; it ebbs and flows, comes in and goes out, like the tide of the ocean. You will have observed its potency and also its Intelligence, spelled with a capital 'I'. It is something that you can depend upon to do the work for you. In other words, don't try to drive the mechanism through any external force. Rely upon the Tide." Here Sutherland gave us a basis for Craniosacral Therapy – little or no force.

In the 1940’s, The American School of Osteopathy started a course called Osteopathy in the Cranial field, directed by Dr Sutherland. The clinical success he was having by treating the cranial bones was at last attracting the attention of some member of the orthodox medical profession, who wanted to learn his methods. As the popularity of the course grew, Dr Sutherland had to train more teachers to cope with the demand. Among the first of these were: Viola Fryman, Rollin Becker, Anne Wales, Howard Lippincot and many more who went on to promote and teach Sutherland’s work.


DR. HAROLD IVES MAGOUN Snr. (1898 – 1981)
Dr Magoun was one of the first students taught by Sutherland, and did much to promote and teach cranial osteopathy. He has a special place of honour as he wrote “Osteopathy in the Cranial Field”, considered to be the “Bible” of Sutherland’s methods. Published first in 1951, and endorsed by Sutherland who was still alive, it set out in a clear way Sutherlands thoughts, with the objective of attracting more orthodox osteopaths to this field. It is still a textbook of The American Cranial Academy and The Sutherland Teaching Foundation.