Boy, have I got a treat for you!
Last month on The Craniosacral Podcast I featured an interview with a really dynamic British practitioner by the name of Andrew Stones. In order that I might better understand his background, Andrew sent me a sample of some of his writing that recounted some key periods in his development as an Osteopath and Craniosacral Therapist. I posted a portion of this writing in the show notes for the podcast, but upon reading the document in its entirety I really felt like my listeners and blog followers would enjoy reading the whole thing. Andrew has graciously given me permission to post it here. Get ready to hear things about cranial work you have never heard before! I will spread it out over two posts. Enjoy –
Adventures studying osteopathy, cranial osteopathy and craniosacral therapy in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s in the UK
By Andrew Stones
PART 1: Four gates to the city…
1) Kwai Chang Caine at the BSO
2) Osteopathic Awakening: the “Body Adjustment”
3) Classical Osteopathy and Mr. John Wernham
4) Accidental Teacher
5) Sutherland’s tradition tracks me down, knocks me for six, and a lion gets tickled behind its ears
6) A note on Shamanism and Still’s chickens
7) Carolyne takes my system by the hand, and my Buddhist fundamentalism starts to tremble
KWAI CHANG CAINE AT THE B.S.O.
There was a popular TV series in the 1970’s called “Kung Fu”, starring David Carradine, which portrayed the adventures of a Shaolin monk/martial arts master. As a young teenager I loved it, and decided that’s what I wanted to be: a Kung-Fu monk. On completing the sixth form at school however, I discovered that Ealing Council were not in the habit of giving grants to would-be Shaolin monks to sponsor their martial arts endeavors. They would, however, give you a grant to study Osteopathy at the British School of Osteopathy (that was in the days of generous Labour councils). So as a second choice, that is what I did. I figured it was vaguely related to Kung Fu – I mean, the David Carradine character, Kwai Chang Caine, seemed adept at various mysterious healing arts as well as fighting. And I figured that once I’d pulled someone apart with my “Hi-Yaa!”, maybe I could put them back together with some swift osteopathic maneuvers, just to show there was no hard feelings.
The British School of Osteopathy was a bit of a monster. Having been what might have been termed a “cottage industry” up until that point, with a friendly intimate atmosphere and only about thirty or less students per year, my intake, in 1981, was the first mega year – I think there were 90 students in my class. A few students were genuinely interested in osteopathy as an alternative system of medicine, but many were just those who’d failed to get into medical school or dentistry, and were accepting osteopathy as a lowly second choice. I couldn’t really complain; osteopathy was my second choice also. I got my head down and got on with it. I was happy to find that martial arts seemed a relatively popular pass-time in the BSO osteopathic community. The great Laurie Hartman, maestro of the “minimal leverage high velocity thrust” and technical whizz-kid of the college, was a black belt karate; and there were several college martial arts clubs. Karate, Kung Fu and Aikido were all on offer. I tried all of them, but finally settled on Aikido as my favorite. The teacher, Mick Holloway, seemed unusually deep and thoughtful in his approach, and I sensed an adventure beckoning. Mick was a student in the third year at that time.
Throughout my years at the BSO, I had a rather lowly view of osteopathy. It seemed rather mundane – not much different from physiotherapy or orthopaedics, and to me, a bit boring. Looking back now, the truth is that I was never very good at it. I do not have an osteopathic temperament. The best osteopaths, in my opinion, are those who, when they see a bicycle or other contraption, cannot resist taking it apart, discovering how it works, and then putting it back together again, adding a few improvements along the way. When I see a bicycle I have no desire to take it apart, nor even to ride it, if truth be told. I’d much rather walk. Machines scare me. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of the art, and a very spiritual man, none-the-less viewed the body as a machine. Osteopaths are “engineers” in the service of God, the “Master Mechanic”. A good osteopath is a rare thing and a wonderful thing. I will never be that, but I certainly appreciate the amazing science of osteopathy, and it’s fathering of craniosacral therapy.
But a true appreciation of osteopathy was a long way off for me back in 1981. At the BSO at that time, they taught what might be termed “orthopaedic osteopathy” – the art of wiggling, rubbing, and crunching people’s necks and backs in an attempt to resolve neck and back pain. This is what most people in the UK still think of as “normal” osteopathy, but it actually bares little resemblance to what A.T. Still originally had in mind, as I was to later discover. At the BSO however, this is what osteopathy was, or at least what it had become. There was the odd whisper here and there of something deeper – an old osteopath called John Meffan taught rhythmical long-lever techniques which seemed to have a subtle mystery to them. And then of course there was cranial. Cranial…that wicked heresy…which was rumored to exist on the top floor of the building (it’s seventh chakra, presumably), but was rarely seen in the open. If any student dared to do it in the college clinic, they had to pretend they weren’t, and when a furious orthopaedically-orientated tutor would challenge them “Were you doing cranial on that patient?” they had to answer “No, no, no sir…wouldn’t dream of it….that was sub-occipital traction, that was”. No cranial was to be taught to undergraduates, under pain of death, or banishment.
There is an eternal battle that exists within osteopathy. It is a battle that exists between the rationalists and the intuitive healers (who often wind-up doing cranial). I blame this battle on A.T. Still, who, whilst clearly a profoundly intuitive healer himself, always declared that his osteopathy was thoroughly scientific and rational, and that anything that could not be shown to be thoroughly scientific and rational, was not osteopathy. Thus it is that the “structural” osteopaths (the crunch-click variety) denigrate the “cranial” osteopaths. It’s funny, I’ve met structural osteopaths who are quite happy to accept the validity of Reiki, and all manner of hands on healing, yet will not accept cranial osteopathy. My view is that it threatens their sense of identity. If they accept that cranial is a valid part of osteopathy, then they have to accept that there may be a part of osteopathy in which they are not well-versed, which might make them “partial” osteopaths. No, much safer to declare that cranial is a load of rubbish, and that they, with their dramatic crunches and clicks, are the complete deal, the real osteopaths. I doubt that Still would have agreed with them. Even in his day, Still noted that there were some would-be osteopaths who seemed merely obsessed with getting loud noises out of people’s spines. He referred to them as “crack merchants”. He also described them as “grease monkeys” and “engine-wipers” rather than true engineers of the human form. Getting pops out of people’s spines is not a bad thing, and can be wonderfully therapeutic, but it can certainly be over-used, and traumatizing if done badly.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I didn’t know much of osteopathic politics back in the early 80’s, and I didn’t really care to either. I was mainly focused on Aikido, which in my view was by far the best thing at the BSO. I wasn’t interested in seeking out the cranial Gnostics; if they were too timid and frightened to make themselves known, then sod them; I’m sticking to Aikido. It was Mick though, my Aikido teacher himself, who first sparked my curiosity that there might be something more to osteopathy; something more interesting and profound; something more than the apparent logger-head between the oaf-ish crack-merchants and the bizarre terrified cranial-ists. I’d been at the BSO a couple of years, and Mick was in his final year. It was the end of the summer term, and Mick and all of his year, had finished their final exams, and were just hanging around in dribs and drabs, completing their clinical work, relaxing, and generally winding down, and getting drunk.
Or at least, that was what they were supposed to be doing. Mick however seemed to be doing something else. Every day I would see him in the college library, studying feverishly, as if his life depended on it. Studying, in fact, as if he had some big important exam coming. But there were no more exams. Eventually I went up to him and asked “Mick, what on earth are you doing?” His answer was short and abrupt – he was generally a man of few words. “I’ve found it.” He said. “Found what?”, “Osteopathy”, “How do you mean?”, “This here!” and he pointed to the text he was pawing over. “This is the real Osteopathy; not all the stuff they’ve been teaching us.” I looked to the text. It was one of a series of what seemed like many old files of dusty hand written notes. Not modern A4 folders, but old hard back files, with reams and reams of faded notes, written in fountain pen, and in such a florid copper-plate style, that it was a little tricky to even decipher them. Dusty texts from a by-gone age. “What are these?” I asked. “They’re notes taken by a student of Littlejohn in the 1930’s – it’s all here – how they used to practice osteopathy in those days – the way lesion patterns function, and how to address them in the context of the whole person; the viscera, the psyche, the immune system. This is the real osteopathy, not what we’re taught today.”
I had to admire his tenacity, but thought him a little eccentric. Even if it might be true that the old-style osteopathy of Littlejohn (who was a direct student of Still, and founder of the BSO) had been somehow more wholistic and profound than the modern version, how could anyone hope to learn it from some old note books? If it was lost, it was surely lost forever. I left him to his eccentricities, as I saw them. It did leave me wondering, however, about the nature of osteopathy. There seemed to be three completely different versions of osteopathy in existence: American osteopathy, which apparently was no different from allopathic medicine, with its antibiotics, vaccinations and surgery; UK regular osteopathy, which seemed like a version of physiotherapy; and cranial osteopathy, which seemed totally different again– a weird system of esoteric healing. But all these three systems must originally have come from the same fountainhead. Sutherland studied with Still and never had a bad word to say about him. And how come UK and US osteopathy are so different? And what was the original osteopathy anyhow, and did it still exist, in anywhere other than a pile of dusty old notes, and an Aikido teacher’s imagination?
OSTEOPATHIC AWAKENING: THE “BODY ADJUSTMENT”
In 1989 or thereabouts, I found myself teaching karate at a weekend course in Canterbury. Time had gone by, I’d switched from Aikido back to karate, and through a series of mishaps and misadventures, I’d ended up switching osteopathic colleges and finally qualifying from the BCNO (British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy, now the British College of Osteopathic Medicine) in the autumn of 1988. I was still mainly interested in martial arts and Buddhism, and felt that osteopathy was kind of my hobby. At the karate seminar, there was a strong student by the name of Lucy Smith with whom I got talking after the first class. We got on well, and I discovered that she was also an osteopath and running a well-established practice in Ramsgate. She was looking for a recently qualified practitioner whom she could trust, that could come and be a locum for her for a few weeks while she took a break. She liked my karate teaching, felt she had a good sense of me, and wondered if I’d like to do it. “Sounds good to me” I replied. I hadn’t yet properly established my own osteopathic practice, and 3 weeks in Ramsgate by the sea sounded like a nice idea. “Ok then, that’s great.” She said, “And what would be really great is if you could come down and work with me for a day or two, beforehand, so that you can see the way I work, what my patients are used to” “Ok, no problem”. So off I went.
It was Lucy Smith who first opened my eyes to the deeper possibilities of osteopathy. The most striking initial thing I remember about her treatments was the laughter. Most of her sessions seemed to be regularly punctuated with chuckles, giggles, and occasional full-blown guffaws, which her clients were delighted to join in with. For her, osteopathy seemed to be first and foremost, great fun. And in amongst the guffaws, magic was happening. She used gentle rhythmical long-lever articulations the exact like of which I’d not seen before. What’s more she seemed to use a similar sequence of maneuvers on each and every client, with subtle variations. It was like a gentle rhythmical dance, an osteopathic “kata” if you will (“kata” are sequences of karate moves strung together like a dance). “That’s a very interesting style of osteopathy you’re doing there.” I commented, “What do you call that?”. “It’s the Body Adjustment” she replied, “It’s a very effective general treatment that takes into account the natural tendency of the body to fall into a right-inominate-anterior pattern, with the concomitant lumbar, thoracic and cervical rotational patterns.” “Can you do it on me?” “Sure”. And so I surrendered my system to the tender mercies of the Body Adjustment…and experienced…something new. This was osteopathy, but not as I had experienced it before. Of course I’d done long lever articulations before, but these were done in a completely different manner. Instead of taking the joint to the limit of its range of motion and then encouraging it further in order to mobilize it, as I’d been taught, these articulations were all performed within the joint’s current range. The key points were gentleness and rhythmicity – Lucy coaxed rather than pushed; and the rhythm had a soothing almost hypnotic quality to it. The way that she used her consciousness seemed also entirely different. In using the long lever of the femur, for example, to articulate the hip, I’d been taught that one focuses one’s awareness purely and simply on the hip, as that is the joint one is seeking to mobilize. This new style was different. It seemed that in each and every one of Lucy’s long-lever articulations she was keeping part of her consciousness, part of her awareness, on the whole body. One may be articulating the hip via the femur, but what effect is that having on the cervical spine? (and for sure, it will be having an effect, due in no small measure, to the unified fascial field).
This way of working made the osteopathic treatment a completely different experience for the patient. One felt one had been “met” as a whole, and related to as a whole, and that the treatment as a whole had been a gentle suggestion to the body, a gentle reminder of wholeness, not just a series of disjointed techniques. It was deeply deeply relaxing, and deeply, deeply therapeutic. And what’s more, on top of that, every now-and-again she’d throw in a bit of cranial! I was wowed, to say the least. “Where did you learn your osteopathy?” I had to know. “At the European School (ESO) in Maidstone”. Ah, the ESO…I’d heard tell of such a place. I’d only known it as being famously the one and only college where cranial work was taught openly and unabashed to undergraduates, a sort osteopathic equivalent to an Amsterdam cannabis coffee-bar, I’d always thought. But now that I knew that this phenomenal Body Adjustment style was also taught there, the ESO was fast starting to take the form of a veritable osteopathic Shangri-La in my imagination. “Will you teach me your style of osteopathy?” I asked. Lucy thought for a moment. “Well, if you want to learn cranial osteopathy properly, the best thing to do is go on a proper post-graduate course. But the Body Adjustment? Well, to be honest, I think you’re best bet is to learn that from the man himself.” “The man himself? Which man?” “John Wernham. The Body Adjustment is his baby. He developed it from the osteopathy he learnt from John Martin Littlejohn in the 1930’s. Mr. Wernham is in his eighties now. He was teaching at the ESO when I studied there, but now he runs his own college. It’s a small-scale operation, and I’ve heard he’s amenable to respectful approaches from graduates from other colleges, who want to learn his method. He’s the master of the Body Adjustment. He’s its creator.” My mind was reeling. Could this be the osteopathy that Mick had discovered years before in the BSO library? Now not just in note form, but in living embodiment?
CLASSICAL OSTEOPATHY & MR JOHN WERNHAM
Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still in 1874. A Wild West doctor, healer and bone-setter, Still was convinced that the keys to health lay in an understanding of the way the anatomy of the body worked and the ways the different parts related to and affected each other. To this end he dissected corpse upon corpse upon corpse (in the Wild West, corpses were not difficult to come by). He developed a theory that the body contained within it, all the resources for self-healing that it needed. Access to these resources is maintained through such things adequate blood supply and drainage, unimpeded nerve supply, efficient lymphatic drainage, and fascial freedom. But structural anomalies and misalignments can compromise all of these things, and lead to illness. By deft physical maneuvers, some adapted from bone setting, many created anew, Still found he could free up the body’s inner resources – literally giving the body access to its own resources once again, thus facilitating a return to health. He used what at first glance looked like a simple system of bone-setting to successfully treat all manner of conditions, even including such things as serious infectious diseases, and tumors, and his success rate was phenomenal. Of course, his osteopathy was not just a system of bone setting, but a subtle adjustment of all the tissues – muscles, fascia, nerves, blood vessels and organs, as well as bones – in accordance to what was required. He was also skilled in what was called “magnetic” (energy) healing, though he did not talk about this much, and did not claim it to be part of osteopathy. With all his success, he very much saw his osteopathy as a complete alternative to the allopathic medicine of the time. Thus his students were taught, in addition to regular manual osteopathy, basic surgical procedures (to use only on rare occasions when absolutely necessary). He was against the use of vaccinations and most drugs. His osteopathy was never envisioned as a system of orthopaedic medicine just for musculoskeletal problems; it was always envisioned as a complete system of alternative healing for the treatment of everything.
Students came from far and wide to study with Still. William Garner Sutherland studied with him and in 1899 had the idea of investigating the mobility of the cranial bones. John Martin Littlejohn, a Scottish academic traveling in America, received such amazingly effective treatment from the Lightening Bonesetter (as Still was often known) that he decided to remain in America and study osteopathy til he had mastered it and could take it back to Britain. This he did, and on his return to the UK in 1917 he founded the British School of Osteopathy in London.
Littlejohn’s osteopathy was different, stylistically, from Still’s. Whilst Still was famous for his speedy and highly specific treatments (a motto of his was “Find it, fix it, and leave it alone!”), Littlejohn took a more gentle and ponderous approach. A Littlejohn treatment would generally include some attention being given to each part of the body, for example working through each limb, and each part of the spine. As each part was steadily attended to, it would be balanced in relation to the whole (in this regard perhaps reminiscent of Alexander Technique table work). One could therefore perhaps refer to Littlejohn’s style as “whole-body-balancing osteopathy” as distinct from Still’s aggressive lightening specificity. Though Littlejohn taught at Still’s osteopathic college in the States for a time and was, like Still, massively talented, the two men did not get on well and argued bitterly about the way osteopathy should be taught. It was not till the Scot returned to Britain that he could finally teach his own version, the “Littlejohn method”, in peace. Like Still, Littlejohn envisioned osteopathy as a complete system of healing for the treatment of all manner of human ills, and like Still, he got excellent clinical results. Though slightly different from Still’s osteopathy in its manner of application, many of the individual techniques Littlejohn used were of course the same, and his philosophy of was identical in terms of its vision and breadth. It was this method that he taught at the BSO right up until his passing in 1947, and which John Wernham and others learnt directly from him.
By the latter half of the twentieth century curious changes were taking place in osteopathy on both sides of the Atlantic. Still’s predictions, that osteopathy and allopathic medicine would have a dramatic battle, and that osteopathy would emerge victorious whilst allopathic medicine would be defeated and humiliated, had not come to pass. On the contrary, allopathic medicine had gone from strength to strength and was now a lot more sophisticated and effective than it had been in 1874. What’s more, the public’s, and the governments’ faith seemed to lie squarely in allopathic medicine. With this in mind, the osteopathic professions of both the UK and the US got nervous, and felt that in order to survive they had better modify their osteopathy to make it as acceptable as possible to the regular medics. Some practitioners disagreed of course, but this was by and large the way the wind was blowing. In the US the osteopathic profession modified its self by gradually minimizing the amount of manual osteopathic technique performed by practitioners, and making osteopaths virtually indistinguishable from regular doctors. Still’s principles were thrown out of the window, and osteopathy seemed in danger of being lost. In the UK through the latter half of the twentieth century, BSO osteopaths concentrated on eradicating Still’s osteopathic diagnosis and osteopathic thought, and replacing it with allopathic diagnosis, and allopathic thought, and a simplification of osteopathic techniques. Still’s and Littlejohn’s cranial, fascial, visceral, lymphatic and oscillatory techniques were largely abandoned, presumably because they were thought too obscure to be explained to doctors. Littlejohn’s whole-body approach to the work was also abandoned, in favor of specific crunches and clicks. To become acceptable to the medics, the BSO, the spearhead of UK osteopathy, transformed the work into a peculiar brand of physiotherapy, complementary but no longer alternative to allopathic medicine. Osteopaths started specializing in the treatment of bad backs, albeit often rather poorly. Thus was born “orthopaedic osteopathy”, more commonly termed “structural osteopathy” (a misnomer – all osteopathy, including cranial, is“structural” i.e. involved with the structure of the body). If you describe to an American what a British orthopaedic osteopath does, he is apt to say “Oh yes, that’s what we call a chiropractor”. Although he may well say he’s never heard of osteopathy as such, when he returns home, if he checks his GP’s credentials, he may well find that in the small print, the GP is actually described as a “Doctor of Osteopathy” despite the allopathic approach offered.
In the US, disciples of Sutherland kept their heads down and sought to keep alive the flame of the Stillian-Sutherland tradition, often whilst under duress. Members of their own profession frequently branded them as quacks. In the UK, John Wernham and a handful of traditional practitioners who were direct students of Littlejohn, saw as early as the mid 1950’s, the way things were heading in British osteopathy and sought to take remedial action. Initially they set up a small organization, the Institute of Applied Technique, which was dedicated to research, development and maintenance of the original application of osteopathy – to all conditions, not just bad backs. Wernham himself developed the Body Adjustment, a particular sequence of maneouvres performed methodically and carefully as a protocol, with appropriate variation, a la the tradition of his teacher, John Martin Littlejohn. This method, he came to call “Classical Osteopathy” in later years. During the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, Mr. Wernham taught at virtually all the major UK osteopathic colleges, but was repeatedly unhappy with their approaches, which he found either too allopathic or too eclectic. He was interested primarily in transmitting what he had been taught by his teacher Littlejohn, who had learnt directly from Still. He was not really interested in playing second fiddle to a bunch of orthopods, physios, crack-merchants or cranialists, as he saw them. And so it was that by the time I came to seek him out, he was running his own small college, just down the road from the ESO in Maidstone, which he called at that time, simply the Maidstone College of Osteopathy.
One had to be patient, whilst listening to a John Wernham lecture. In any given lecture, this thorny octogenarian would spend about 60% of the time decrying the failings of the other colleges, for example, the ESO with its cranial infiltrators (“It’s all very well, but it’s not osteopathy”), the BCNO with its naturopathy (“They know an awful lot about carrots; they don’t know terribly much about osteopathy”), and of course the BSO (“They’ve lost it”). About 30% of the time would be spent simply reading aloud from notes taken from Littlejohn lectures; I often found these quite dry and boring as they seemed to comprise an inordinate amount biochemistry and micro-physiology (with which Littlejohn had apparently been rather obsessed). The remaining 10% however, was pure gold. He would, at any moment, digress into some fascinating anecdote from his vast clinical experience about how, for example, to specifically address eczema via classical osteopathy, or how he had effectively treated a case of obesity by addressing the pelvis. For him, the integrity of the pelvis was central to the osteopathic approach to health – if the pelvis was attended to, other aspects would most often fall into place, particularly in the context of the Body Adjustment. If the pelvis was neglected however, other corrections would rarely hold. He would, at any moment, ask for a volunteer, and in the middle of a lecture about this or that, start demonstrating technique for us to observe. And what beautiful technique it was: apart from the long lever articulations, there were delicate and refined rotatonal manipulations, lymphatic drainage and visceral work, and even simple cranial and facial techniques (a la Littlejohn, rather than Sutherland; presumably originating with Still). His manipulations were absolutely specific. He once adjusted my atlanto-occipital joint – it felt like he had very kindly and gently lifted my occiput and replaced it delicately atop my atlas in the exact correct position. It felt wonderful.
In many ways he had the air of an old thespian, and would often wander into the realms of literary analogy. A stuck pelvis, for example, he once compared to Colleridge’s “painted ship upon a painted ocean” (“no movement, you see”), and was most put out that the majority of the young students in the class did not know the quote (“You don’t know Colleridge? You’re a poor lot!”). A friend of mine reminded me recently of Wernham’s intense energy which indeed had an extremely upright and Edwardian quality to it – one naturally found oneself sitting up a little straighter when he entered the room. This old man had grown neither weak nor mellow with age, and was more passionate, vehement and clinically effective with his osteopathy than anyone I had thus far met. He was ferociously passionate about good osteopathy. He was also passionate about good English. Once, when a few students were missing from a lecture, a chirpy Australian student perked up “Don’t worry Mr. Wernham, we’ll find the absentees and we’ll…er…we’ll give them a bollocking!” Without missing a beat, the old master simply lowered his head, peered over the top of his spectacles, and said in a somber tone, “Miss Clancy, the word is rollicking”. We all smiled; at times it was rather like being a part of a real live period drama.
Though I no longer use the Body Adjustment as my modus operandi, (soon after that, I started my cranial adventure), Mr Wernham’s impact on my life still rings clean and clear like a deep-sounding bell. For one thing he was living proof of the fallacy of the idea that “retirement” is somehow an inevitable part of life. The idea that after the age of 65 we have to start going down hill is nothing more than poppycock. If we live a life in which our work is also our passion, why on earth would we want to give it up, and why on earth would we do anything other than continue to improve, even into our eighties, nineties, and beyond. Of course the physical body becomes a little weaker, but Mr. Wernham was living example that the spirit and energy can most definitely continue to become even stronger with age. I imagine John Wernham’s demonstration of this truth was a great inspiration to all who knew him. It certainly was to me.
I’d visited Mr. Wernham at his Maidstone college and had been courteously welcomed. Interested graduates from other colleges were generally treated with both kindness and sympathy, as pour souls who had been wandering in the wilderness of the ridiculous travesty of the so-called “osteopathy” taught at other colleges. I’d explained that as a recent graduate from the BCNO, I’d yet to establish much of a practice, had limited funds, and yet was keen to learn his method. In response to this, Mr. Wernham very kindly allowed me to attend his college for the extremely modest sum of £15 a week; for that I got to attend a couple of lectures and a practical session each week on an ad hoc basis as a kind of post graduate guest. I think Mondays was the day I used to go there. Meanwhile, I still didn’t have much of a practice going, so, seeking to supplement my income I phoned up the BCNO and asked them if they had any work opportunities, They said that yes, I could come and work as a junior clinic tutor. It was the BCNO’s somewhat dubious practice to employ recent graduates as clinic tutors – dubious in the sense that as a recent graduate, one of course does not have much clinical experience to call upon. None-the-less we were employed.
They also told me they were looking for someone to assist the lecturer in a new 4th year course that was just being introduced called “Soft Technique”. At the end of the 1980’s/beginning of the 1990’s, a new tide was beginning to turn in the development of British osteopathy. Cranial, which had been known about and despised by UK structuralists since the mid 1960’s, had not gone away, as they’d hoped, but instead, had seemed to have gone from strength to strength. The ESO, that deviant and eclectic college, still enthusiastically taught cranial work to undergraduates; Thomas Attlee, a graduate from that self-same college had set up the first Craniosacral therapy school in Europe (CCST) (“Craniosacral therapy” being simply the term for Cranial osteopathy as taught to non-osteopaths); Franklyn Sills had followed suit, setting up the Karuna Institute in Devon with his wife Maura; and Stuart Korth had started the Osteopathic Centre for Children (OCC) which used mainly Sutherland’s method. Through all of this, the general public were beginning to become aware of cranial work and its affectivity, especially as applied to children. In addition to this, other more obscure varieties of osteopathic technique, many of which had been part of the original osteopathy of Still and Littlejohn but had subsequently fallen into disuse within the mainstream (though many remained integral to Wernham’s Classical method), were also now starting to make a come back, re-branded under various new titles. Thus the names Visceral osteopathy, Muscle-Energy Technique, Strain-Counterstrain, Functional Technique, and Harmonic Technique were all being bandied about, though few at the BSO and BCNO knew much about them. The ESO had a distinct advantage in this regard in that eclecticism had always been its reson-d’etre, and it already taught many of these methods. When prospective osteopathic students quizzed their interviewers at the BSO and BCNO however, saying “So, when do we get to learn cranial?” they were met with nothing but an awkward silence.
To remedy this situation, and not too proud to bow to popular demand, the BCNO had initiated a 4th year practical course entitled “Soft Technique”. As far as I could work out this course was meant to be a kind of dumping ground for “all that weird stuff” in the above-mentioned list. I could never quite tell if “Soft” referred to the fact that none of the methods involved clicks and cracks, or that the structuralists who ran the college simply felt that anyone engaging in such practices must be a little soft in the head. Who knows. None-the-less in the autumn of 1989 I found myself assistant to the main lecturer in Soft Technique. Mainly it was MET (Muscle Energy Technique), because I think that was the main thing she knew. Whether she would have expanded her repertoire by the end of the year however, I and the students never found out, because only a few weeks into the course she had a big row with the principle and stormed off. I was left holding the baby. I turned up on the Tuesday afternoon to help her take the class, and found out that literally she’d just stormed out of the building moments earlier. I don’t know what the row was about, but the principle had a rather quick and embarrassed word with me, and checked if I minded leading the class that afternoon. I was ok with that. I’d taught karate for some years and the idea of teaching osteopathy didn’t worry me too much. I think I taught them MET that first week. By the next week however, the college still hadn’t found a replacement lecturer, so I was leading the class again.
By this time I was a little irate; the college still weren’t paying me any more money than a lowly assistant’s fee, and I was also bored with MET, which I had never been particularly mad about in the first place. I’d been studying at Mr. Wernham’s college for about 6 months and I was deeply enthusiastic about the work: the Body Adjustment and the theories of Classical Osteopathy, so I thought to myself, why not? I’ll introduce them to some Classical work. They loved it. They were fascinated and enthralled. This was, in my opinion, because the techniques, practices and principles of Classical osteopathy are just that – more fascinating, enthralling and engaging than orthopaedic osteopathy. Classical osteopathy surely contains much more of the real “meat” of osteopathy. A colleague of mine once described Mr. Wernham’s osteopathy in rather crude but none-the-less accurate terms: “It’s the real meat-and-two-veg of osteopathy. With so many others, you only get the veg,” Anyway, they loved it, and wanted more. Within a few days the college principle phoned me up and told me that some 4th year students had petitioned him not to employ a new lecturer for the Soft Techniques course – they wanted more Andrew and more Classical osteopathy. My fee was summarily raised and I went on to enjoy a fun year of learning and teaching. On Mondays I’d learn Classical osteopathy in Maidstone, and on Tuesdays I’d teach it at the BCNO in London.
SUTHERLAND’S TRADITION TRACKS ME DOWN, KNOCKS ME FOR SIX, AND A LION GETS TICKLED BEHIND ITS EARS…
In the 4th year class I was teaching at the BCNO there was an enthusiastic Canadian student by the name of Carolyne Abrams. Not only was she already well versed in naturopathy to a level beyond that which was being taught at the college, but she was also, in addition to her BCNO studies, simultaneously attending Thomas Attlee’s College of Craniosacral therapy on weekends. She enjoyed my Classical osteopathy lectures, and asked me if I’d ever explored cranial. I said no, but that I would be interested learn it at some point. She offered to show me some. And so it was that I first submitted my system to the tender mercies the Sutherland tradition. Carolyne gave me a treatment. The treatment felt pleasant enough. I found myself drifting off into a pleasant dreamy place. It felt a bit like a very deep sleep, though I was still conscious. At the end of the session, Carolyne said “Ok, you can get up now”. I said “Ok”, and went to get up. But nothing happened. My body felt like lead. Heavier than lead. It actually felt as if it had melted, and melded itself with the earth below. There was no way I was getting up. “Er, is it ok if I just lie here for a bit?”, “Sure”. As I was lying there, Carolyne went on to tell me what she’d felt in my system – that my chest had felt filled with a blackness, which to her had felt like a combination of grief, shock and exhaustion, and that this had started to shift and release through the session. I was stunned.
To say that this first session had a large impact on me would be an understatement. It had a massive impact on me, – on my whole world – on my whole way of thinking. The thing was, the things she was saying about my system somehow felt true, even though if you’d asked me about them previously, I’d not have been aware of them. And then there was the fact that my body was literally glued to the couch, refusing to get up. It was as if my body was saying “Andrew, just lie here. You really need to listen to this. This is true. And this is the way ahead…” So I lay there and listened. After a while I asked Carolyne: “You know that part of the treatment when you were on my Solar Plexus; that felt very powerful. What were doing there?”, “I tickled the lion behind its ears.” “I’m sorry?”, “Well, when I was on your Solar Plexus, the image that came was of a lion, and it seemed that he was wanting to be tickled behind his ears, so that’s what I did.” Ok, now I realized it was time to surrender. Time to surrender all that I had thought I knew. This was a new road, upon which I would undoubtedly need some help and guidance, and probably further treatment. Even if my mind had wanted to object (which it didn’t), the body does not lie. I was lying there feeling as if I’d been knocked down by a ten ton truck, or been administered a large dose of morphine. This was undeniable; something very profound was going on.
A NOTE ON SHAMANISM & STILL’S CHICKENS
If one reads through the various cranial texts, such as Magoun’s “Osteopathy in the Cranial Field” or even any of the Craniosacral therapy texts (which can be a bit more whacky) the “tickling the lion behind the ears” technique is no where to be found. There is no such technique. And yet Carolyne was undoubtedly doing cranial on me. So what was going on here? What was and is going on here, is surely that Sutherland’s tradition, be that the tradition of the cranial osteopaths or the craniosacral therapists, can and does act as a gateway for practitioners. A gateway to what? To the unseen worlds of the shaman. Cranial work is based on listening. Listening not only with one’s hands, but also with one’s whole being. Listening from a quiet still place. Given that the unseen worlds of the shaman are undoubtedly real, and can be accessed in quietness and stillness, from a reverent and sacred space, is it any wonder then that they sometimes pop up in the middle of a craniosacral treatment? And when they do pop up, how do we as practitioners, respond? This is an area of great disagreement among cranial practitioners. Some (though not all) cranial osteopaths would say that when curious visions come up, we should ignore them and return our attention to the anatomy, because we are osteopaths. Some (though not all) craniosacral therapists would say that when curious visions come up, we should ignore them and return our attention to the fluid tide, because we are craniosacral therapists. More adventurous and free thinking practitioners of either denomination however, when met with a curious vision such as a being from another dimension, take the view that, if it seems desirous of being interacted with, why not try interacting with it? “Because one might be led astray and get lost!” Some may say. But the question occurs to me: is that not the very nature of life itself?….perhaps the nature of courage….the willingness to explore into the unknown…..and to risk getting lost……to risk venturing into uncharted territory and to try doing things that have not been done before…. Even on occasion, perhaps to try tickling a lion behind its ears?
And in terms of the tradition, I think it is also of note to remember that Andrew Taylor Still himself was very much a shaman. Reading his autobiography it is difficult to come to any other conclusion. He talks unequivocally of instances of clairvoyance that he himself experienced, and he also talks of his skill in the art of reading “signs and omens”. He tells the story of the day he told his wife to set a third place for dinner, even though they were not expecting any guests. On being questioned as to his reasoning, Still replied to her that earlier that morning, he had been watching one of their chickens. The bird had stood in the doorway of the kitchen and it had then suddenly spun around three times in a circle. From this he had known there would be a third person at the table for dinner that night. He was not wrong.
CAROLYNE TAKES MY SYSTEM BY THE HAND, AND MY BUDDHIST FUNDAMENTALISM BEGINS TO TREMBLE…
Over the next few months, Carolyne took my system by the hand, and helped it on journey of deep therapeutic transformation. She taught me some basic craniosacral methodologies that she had learnt from the CCST course, which were of course interesting, but to be honest, of less significance than the actual treatments she gave. I’ve always experienced good treatments as being deeply educational, as well as deeply therapeutic. As Carolyne helped my system to move into a new state of being, from that new state, new perceptions naturally started arriving, and new abilities began to unfold. I found myself beginning to re-think not only osteopathy, but my whole life.
In terms of osteopathy, Carolyne was the first practitioner who had ever worked on me who seemed to be able to literally see inside my body. Later I was to learn that many cranial practitioners can of course do this, but Carolyne was my first experience of it, and it was a major wow. With her hands on my chest she could “see” exactly what my diaphragm was doing, and describe it, and many other detailed anatomical structures as well. This was impressive. She could see them as they were stuck. And she could see them as they changed. She could of course feel them as well, by more conventional means; but it was as if “seeing” and “feeling” were not exactly separate, as we normally view them; it was more like they were on a continuum, along with a kind of 6th sense “knowing” as well. Now it was no longer just “I feel tightness in your diaphragm”; now it was “I see-feel-know tightness in your diaphragm, and now I see-feel-know it releasing.”
Beyond this there were the visions. Each week Carolyne would see a lion in my Solar Plexus, and each week it would be in a different mood, or a different state of health. Sometimes it would seem sick and needed healing, other times it just wanting a playful tickle behind the ears. Sometimes it was angry. One week she sadly reported that the lion seemed to be dying, and that nothing she had done had seemed to help – all she could do was trust the process. Her trust paid off however, and by the next week the old dying feline had been replaced by young bouncing cub. I did not know what to make of any of this, but it seemed fascinating and delightful – and certainly a fascinating way to work.
I realize that to move from the gentle, physiological, whole-person-osteopathy of the Body Adjustment, straight into visionary shamanic craniosacral weirdness, may seem a bit of a jolt to the reader. I mean, one might have thought I could have at least had the decency to spend some time appreciating the mobility of my Temporal bones perhaps or the cranial meninges, in my introduction to Sutherland’s tradition, before being launched into the outer limits of cranial shamanism. I make no apologies however. This is the way the universe presented the work to me, so this is the story I tell. There would be many years of later study, of such things as the details of cranial anatomy and physiology that only brain surgeons and cranial practitioners really need to know about. For now I just surrendered to this process and went with it as it flowed.
Then there was the challenge to my life philosophy. I could not deny that Carolyne’s treatments seemed to be having a deeply therapeutic effect on me; that at some deep level my heart was being eased. This felt very real. It affected me deeply and made me re-think my whole life. It didn’t seem to quite fit with my buddhist philosophy. The Buddhism that I had studied, and that I had taken as my life path, was very action-oriented. The spiritual path, the path to the overcoming of all suffering according to the Buddha, was spoken of in terms of the “Noble Eight-fold Path”, and described in terms of things one has to do: right livelihood, right meditation, right understanding gleaned through studying the scriptures etc. Meditation itself involved vigorous concentration and effort. There was no talk of just relaxing and receiving. I hadn’t found any scripture in which the Buddha had said that a wonderful way to overcome suffering is just to lie back and receive a lovely treatment. I had therefore previously thought of all bodywork and therapy as being at best palliative, and at worst highly indulgent. It surely could never root out suffering at its core because it didn’t involve vigorous action, and therefore did not transform karma (the patterns of habitual actions and their results) – it was too passive on the part of the recipient, or so I had assumed.
But now I had a problem. This stuff that Carolyne was doing to me didn’t feel palliative; it felt very profound. The effect of it seemed more profound even, than any effect I’d previously experienced through meditation. This made me think. Similarly, Carolyne’s insights into what was going on for me on a personal level seemed more profound and to-the-point than anything any Buddhist teacher had ever said to me. And this was equally confusing for me because she wasn’t even a Buddhist! Though she had told me that she felt a kinship with the native American traditions, she wasn’t really an “ist” of any sort. She was just herself.
Meanwhile my own Buddhist teacher, my “guru”, a man who had been practicing Buddhism for over twenty-five years, did not seem to be doing too well in overcoming suffering himself. Sadly, as each year passed, he seemed to be becoming more and more alienated, isolated, and miserable. From all sides, it seemed to me that the universe was whispering to me “Andrew, time to loosen up your Buddhist fundamentalism a little…” So I did.
CONTINUED IN NEXT POST …