Printed by Massage Magazine, March 2011
This is an interview with Gary Strauss who has been working in the energetic healing arts for the past 30 years. He teaches around the world and has a unique form of cranial-sacral bodywork called Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™ (ICSU). He is the founder of Life Energy Institute, also know as Polarity Healing Arts, which has trained thousands of massage therapists in California, Arizona, New York, Switzerland and Japan.

We asked him about the benefits of Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™ and how it could help massage therapists and their practice.

What is ICSU™?
It starts with the study of the anatomy and the physiology of the cranium, the spine, the sacrum and the connective tissue system with the study and application of techniques to enhance how these systems function. The concepts of working with the cranial-sacral system stems from osteopathy, a form of medicine that seeks to create cure by physically working with the body. This suggests that when the cranial-sacral system is functioning well that there is health. Anything that works to enhance that system is “cranial”. But that is not a pure view. A pure view goes back to the work of William Garner Sutherland and utilizes his body of cranial work. He had specific hand-holds on the bones of the cranium and the connective tissue system. I believe ICSU™ is working with the whole system, and the center focal point being the cranial-sacral system itself.

Often massage therapists have a much more muscular orientation. ICSU™ will add a connective tissue orientation and promote the unwinding of the connective tissue. When the connective tissue is unwound the body can release stored stress and tension. The way I see it, we are designed to digest our life each day. When we don’t and life is too hard, tension or the undigested experiences can get stuck in our body and we tighten. As we get tighter, the connective tissue gets harder and loses elasticity. In unwinding, the tension starts to back out of the system and releases. That is an unwinding quality. The practitioner learns how to support the system to release tensions.

Why is Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™ a good tool for bodyworkers and massage practitioners?

Body workers and massage therapists have to find a way to do their work that is caring of their body over a long period of time. Many of them break down in their shoulders, their wrists and their backs. ICSU™ gives a very deep tissue, whole system release without using the force that you use in massage. With Craniosacral Unwinding™ we can get to a similar place without doing hard physical work. This is a very intelligent way of working with the human body. You can get results much quicker and deepen your ability to help people with less effort. It is great for the practitioner because it will soften their practice. They will get better results by integrating these tools. I think this is important for the massage therapy world. For decades, I have been training massage therapists at Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing in Los Angeles and South-West Institute of the Healing Arts in Tempe, Arizona and our practitioners are the most effective and least injured of any other practitioners that I’ve seen.

Is Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™ difficult to learn?

Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™ is a simple effective way that is easily understood and learned by any practitioner. Anybody can do this. It will improve every modality or every technique that a practitioner uses. Modern massage is an eclectic art and today’s body workers are some of the most educated, experienced and equipped people. Most importantly, ICSU™ is a way of relating to the body-mind continuum. It is an understanding and an application of that understanding. It has far reaching effects in many different dimensions. Traditionally after giving a massage, you feel tired. Practitioners will feel better after giving a session that has ICSU™ in it.

How did you come to learn and teach ICSU™?

I first learned cranial-sacral in a Polarity Therapy environment from Dr. John Beaulieu. He introduced cranial-sacral from an energetic perspective. Most traditional cranial-sacral system trainings begin from a physiological perspective first and then the energetic perspective gets introduced at more advanced levels. From my point of view, teaching the energetic component of this work first gives more support for the inherent healing wisdom of the body, and the practitioner has jump start to learning and refining their gifts as healer from this place. I love seeing the students’ “lights” turn on, to what they are capable of in terms of helping someone else.

When I came to cranial-sacral work, I studied with Dr. John Upledger and the Craniosacral Bio Dynamics community founded by Franklyn Sills, Hugh Milne, and other osteopaths. I read William Garner Sutherland and studied with doctors in the chiropractic world. As a result, I have a very broad view and that is what is unique about our school. It takes from all different disciplines. That is why we call it Integrative Craniosacral Unwinding™.

How does ICSU™ work?
Particularly, there is a viewpoint in ICSU™ that there is an inherent unifying intelligence within the system itself that is deeply meaningful. The job of the practitioner is to help that intelligence by organizing energy, and that helps to maintain integrity where people have lost it. This is unique and at the heart of ICSU™. I am deeply interested in the idea that it is the client who does the healing and the practitioner is appealing to that intelligence to do what it naturally does. That concept is the basis of all the work that we teach. People become empowered by this work. Students can get this right away, without thousands of hours of training. After taking one class, it becomes part of you. ICSU™ has a reputation for doing things that other modalities don’t because it works with the heart of the human paradigm, the Life Energy system. We try to address all the different systems and how they relate to life and we train people in all those ways. This is a multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary approach.

What is holding space?

Another way our approach is unique is by integrating the concept of holding space into the work. This concept of holding space is important because it has a suggestion for the way that you relate to someone else and the way you relate to yourself. There is a way for you to relate to yourself first that will optimize the potential of what you are about to do. There is a way of honoring that intelligence. People don’t heal the same way. They don’t respond the same way. There is a unique-ness around each person. We call it holding space for that person’s way. When the practitioner does it really well, great things happen for the client. Doctors with good bedside manner help their patients heal better than doctors with poor bedside manner. If they think the patient has a problem, that becomes a formative factor and it is an imposing thought. If the doctor thinks the patient is there to learn and open up to their experience of their particular health challenge, it is a very different approach regardless of the therapy that they use. Our modern language for bedside manner is holding space.

What inspires you to keep teaching and working?

I just taught a class this weekend, Craniosacral Anatomy and Listening Skills, and I was telling my students that one thing that is still interesting is that I really enjoy teaching and doing this work even after 30 plus years. I love working with people. At the end of two days everybody was ‘wowed’ by their experience. Students who came into class with serious problems or injures said they felt like they did 20 years ago, before their injury. That is a common experience. Students are being healed as they are learning the work and practicing with each other in class.

I have heard it said that Craniosacral is the Rolls Royce of bodywork. What do you think of that statement?

Dr. John Beaulieu said that. I like that. Craniosacral bodywork is a very refined way of working. It is very articulate. It has luster to it. It’s dynamic, has beauty, and is a great vehicle to help us relate to life.