Ep 394 – Dolphin-Assisted Craniosacral Therapy with Kate Mackinnon

Image of a dolphin against bright blue water.

The healing capabilities of dolphins have long been speculated upon—particularly relating to the high ultrasonic frequencies they emit. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Darren and Angie are joined by Kate Mackinnon to discuss Kate’s recent trip to the Bahamas to take part in dolphin-assisted craniosacral therapy, what the experience is like for herself and her clients, and how this program influences the work she does back home.


From my Hands and Heart: Achieving Health and Balance with Craniosacral Therapy

Author Bio: 

A healing arts practitioner specializing in craniosacral therapy, Kate Mackinnon has more than three decades of experience in mainstream and complementary medicine, along with the wisdom gained from many wonderful teachers throughout her career, including Dr. Wayne Dyer. She authored From My Hands and Heart: Achieving Health and Balance with Craniosacral Therapy and co-authored Elements of a Successful Therapeutic Business. Find out more at www.kmackinnon.com


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at editor@abmp.com.

Angie Parris-Raney is a licensed massage therapist and is the advertising director for ABMP. She is Chopra Center Certified in meditation and ayurvedic lifestyle. Her training explores physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Angie is also the founder of the nonprofit, Project Inti, an organization that provides aid to low-income Peruvian families and communities. For more information, visit www.projectinti.org.



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Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs for structural integration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaver dissection labs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in its fourth edition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonics, and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holistic anatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function.    

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Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Are you a massage or bodywork practitioner who's interested in equipment or amenities for your business? TouchAmerica wants to save you money while providing quality equipment backed by personalized customer service from our family-owned company in North Carolina. TouchAmerica offers a full lineup of treatment tables to go along with halotherapy design and supplies, Shirodhara kits, speakerless sound equipment, relaxation loungers, and more. Receive a 20% discount at touchamerica.com by applying your ABMP member discount code found on abmp.com/discounts. Visit touchamerica.com today. 




0:00:50.7 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford and welcome to the ABMP podcast. Once again, I'm joined today with my good friend, Angie Parris-Raney. Hello, Angie. 


0:01:00.0 Angie Parris-Raney: Hi, Darren. 


0:01:01.0 DB: Listeners, Angie is a licensed massage therapist and is the advertising director for ABMP. She is Chopra Center certified in Meditation and Ayurvedic Lifestyle. Her training explores physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Angie is also the founder of the non-profit Project Inti, an organization that provides aid to low-income Peruvian families and communities. For more information, visit projectinti.org. Angie, our guest today is Kate Mackinnon. Kate is a healing arts practitioner specializing in craniosacral therapy. She brings over three decades of experience in mainstream and complementary medicine, along with the wisdom gained through being mentored by many wonderful teachers throughout her career, including Dr. Wayne Dyer. She authored From My Hands and Heart, Achieving Health and Balance with Craniosacral Therapy, and co-authored Elements of a Successful Therapeutic Business. Find out more information at kmackinnon.com. Hello, Kate. 


0:02:00.7 Kate Mackinnon: Hi, it's wonderful to be with you both. 


0:02:02.0 DB: Kate, I know Angie and I are super excited to have this conversation. And before the pod, we just kind of racked our brains over the last three years, three and a half years of having this podcast. And we're pretty sure we have not had a craniosacral therapist on the podcast yet. So for our listeners, I know many manual therapy listeners who listen to the podcast have some experience, they've probably been exposed to craniosacral therapy, but I believe we need to dive in just a little bit. Can you explain to our listeners what craniosacral therapy is?  


0:02:35.5 KM: Yes, I would love to. And I'm delighted to initiate the podcast into craniosacral therapy. That's a great opportunity. So craniosacral therapy, I trained through the Upledger Institute and was developed by Dr. John Upledger. So stems from cranial osteopathy, which was his training and background. It looks at supporting the body from a place of assessing the craniosacral rhythm, which is a rhythm that is following the cerebral spinal fluid as it flows through the body and sort of has a ripple out effect. And we feel that rhythm throughout the body and can assess where there's a restriction, where there's a limitation, along with checking in with the fascial system and feeling any restrictions there. That's part of what we look at, as well as where there's an energetic holding. So with those three pieces of information, we get a good idea about where the primary source, like where the source of an issue is. And of course, all of us who are body workers know that many times the source of the issue is not necessarily where we're feeling the symptom. 


0:03:53.5 KM: So it helps us get a good sense of where the body's needing support. And the idea is that if we have an efficient, well-functioning central nervous system, so that there's very little restriction and pull on the brain and the spinal cord, then we have health in the body. It's sort of like our core place in our body. If there's stress or pulls or strains on it, on our central nervous system, that has a ripple out effect into all the different systems that we know we have in our body. So once our hands settle onto the place that we've assessed, that's the first place to check out in the body, our hands settle on and start to pay attention to the sensations we're feeling as a therapist under our hands, as well as the client, because the client is always the primary person, but within the paradigm of craniosacral therapy, it's wisdom within themselves that knows what's going on. And it's really accessing that in a wisdom within our clients that we're primarily listening to and paying attention to. So our hands are listening and they're following really the direction of our client's body. 


0:05:17.4 KM: So we're following along and the body is going to solve it in a way that, although we may know a lot about the body, it's going to solve it in its own unique way and often surprising way. Even though we are well educated and well informed about the body, just sitting back and observing and watching and feeling and supporting that change the body wants to make, the solution it wants to find, is always fascinating to me. So that can be in the physical, it can be in the emotional sometimes as a memory, with the idea that the cellular memory. So if the body has clamped down and restricted and held an area with good reason, because if it flowed throughout the body, that would be very chaotic. But oftentimes it's time for us to look at that place of holding. And sometimes there is an emotional response, sometimes with a story, sometimes not. And as it releases affects the whole body. Just as that beautiful introduction was made, it is looking at all of the aspects of ourselves. The physical, the emotional, the spiritual parts of ourselves are encapsulated within craniosacral therapy. 


0:06:40.2 AP: Just curious as a massage therapist, obviously this is going to take some time to develop this skill, this practice. So if you've never experienced the idea of craniosacral therapy and you're coming new into this, I'm assuming you're going to be teaching students like, here's kind of what's a normal pattern or maybe these are normal patterns. How is it that you're even finding that there is some stuck pattern somewhere and how would you even know that it's an emotional one or that it's some physical one? Talk to me a little bit more about that please. 


0:07:17.7 KM: First of all, feeling the craniosacral rhythm because that generally is a new palpation skill, that's a new sort of piece of information for our hands to understand. So it's a relatively slow cycle. It's similar to the rate of respiration. So there is teasing that apart and our hands go on and really it's waiting for that rhythm, that cyclical rhythm to appear under our hands. So to start to follow it. And we're paying attention to the amplitude, like how wide is it going? How much is it rolling out? There's a sensation of rolling out and then rolling in. So is that equal? That amplitude that we noticed rolling in, is it the same as rolling out as it is coming back in? Is that equal? So that's information for our hands. Is it smooth? Does it have a vitality to it? So there's a lot of information that comes to our hands by feeling into the rhythm and we have what we call listening stations. 


0:08:27.3 KM: So we'll begin at the feet or this is how we're taught and then you can change it up. But you listen at the feet, you can listen at the knees, the thighs or into the pelvis, into the chest and then the different places through the cranium because that's obviously a really significant part of our work and more unique. Well, it's not unique but more unusual to really pay attention to what's happening within the brain system and the bones, the joints, the articulations, well, the movement between the bones of our cranium. And so our hands start to be able to pay attention to how are those bones moving? Are they moving easily? Is one restricted? There are patterns of motion that we're taught that some of the bones make. For example, sphenoid that runs through the temples, our thumbs go on the temples of the bones. So we're paying attention to movements, to patterns that we're taught and the quality of that motion. 


0:09:32.1 DB: And Kate, do you mind explaining for our listeners just the... My familiarity with craniosacral work is the gentleness of the touch which can be very different from effleurage and petrissage with a manual therapist. 


0:09:49.6 KM: Yeah, that's true. So the amount of touch Dr. John would say is like five grams. So you meet the tissue with five grams which is the weight of a nickel. You meet the restriction and then perhaps you add five grams for an adult. For a baby or child, it's maybe one gram or really nothing. But sometimes there's a following of a facial restriction, say if there's been surgery in that area, there may be a sense of pressure because we're going in and meeting where that tissue is and just adding a little more. So it's more like creating a mirror for our clients so they can feel, oh, there's this amount of holding happening. So sometimes it can feel a little different to that. But for the most part it is, it's just meeting the tissue in a very, very, very gentle, I mean, as close to as non-invasive as possible. Everything kind of has an invasive nature to it, with touch, but it's like more trying to be a mirror, more trying to reflect what's happening. 


0:11:00.6 S1: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. Anatomy Trains is excited to be back in-person in the lab with Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers and master dissector Todd Garcia at the Laboratories for Anatomical Enlightenment in Boulder, Colorado. Join us for a new four-day in-person facial dissection intensive, October 24 to 27, 2023, where you'll have the unique opportunity to see in the most natural conditions possible and dissect for yourself what's under the skin. Visit anatomytrains.com for details. 




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0:12:22.1 DB: All right Kate, let's transition because you recently took a trip to the Bahamas to take part in Dolphin-Assisted Craniosacral Therapy. Can you explain what it is and how it combines the healing power of dolphins with craniosacral therapy?  


0:12:36.2 KM: I would love to, because this is my favorite, great, one of my favorite parts of craniosacral therapy. So this program that's run in the Bahamas which is Dolphin-Assisted Craniosacral therapy. So the way the program is set up for clients is they will receive a little table work. So that's usually with their primary therapist, who's coordinating the team, with maybe one or two other craniosacral therapists. So there's maybe three people at the table. And so that's kind of our regular work, multi hands work. And then we take our client at some part during the day, this is a four day program, to the dolphin sanctuary. And there the client is floating in the water. This is salt water. So the dolphins are there in... It is like a container. So there's a floating... There's a floor that we're standing on as therapists. 


0:13:39.6 KM: So we're holding usually our client by their feet, or perhaps if the client wants to be held and supported by the head and shoulders, then that's how they're floated. And the dolphins, usually there's two dolphins. Sometimes we're lucky and we get more dolphins than two. We'll be there in this area that they are actually free to swim out of, and often they do and come back in. Usually what I observe is they will come, they will oftentimes swim underneath all the clients. So maybe there's maybe like six clients there floating in the water. And the dolphins will go down and I'll see them swim under. It's almost like they're scanning, like they're checking everything out, what is going on, just taking in all the information. And then there will... Then we'll do different activities. 


0:14:39.4 KM: Sometimes they'll come in and touch with a nostrum, and they'll come in and perhaps touch a client in a specific place, or they sometimes will just come and lie by you. They'll sort of come in and more of their body sort of is touching the client. Other times they're creating like wave patterns that move the client in certain ways. And sometimes clients move towards one another. Sometimes they sort of seem to rearrange how everything's lined up. And they'll make all their different sounds, so they have probably sounds that I can't hear but oftentimes I'm hearing different noises, click sounds that when you're the person lying in the water, that really has a profound effect through our bodies. 


0:15:35.5 AP: Okay. So I'm gonna ask the question from a therapist point of view. So just taking what you've already given us about what craniosacral therapy does and how you're feeling, you explained beautifully. The image of the ocean was coming into my mind even while you were talking about how things are flowing out and flowing in, and how big is that wave? So when you're in the water, and I'm imagining you're just kind of holding your client there at first, how is the medium of water changing what you're feeling? Let's just start there before we bring into the dolphins, and then how does that facilitate even deeper healing? But just from that therapist point of view, I wanna kind of know what that feels like. 


0:16:17.6 KM: Yeah, it's a great question because what we do as part of this program is oftentimes, and then after the client's finished with the dolphin portion, they have the choice of either to work in the pool, keeping that medium of water or back on the table. So the water itself is an added piece that I just love. I'm a big water person. So that capacity to use the water, because you have this freedom of movement, you sort of got more of that 360 degrees of movement to really feel into things. But when the client is lying in the water with the dolphins, there is this sort of undulation, there's this extra motion that a body, the client's body can make that can be sort of a side arc or an arm might float out, or the body may, the client may rotate, roll over completely in the water and be face down for a while. 


0:17:23.2 KM: So there is... I mean, we are... Our human body is made up of so much water. That fluidity, that sense of movement and freedom of flow through our body, we know that's one of the basic tenets of a healthy body is movement. So wherever there's movement, we have health. Wherever there's sort of restriction and holding, we know the body's gonna struggle. And that's when we get some of the issues that we have. So yeah, you're absolutely right that that modality of water is super helpful. As well as we may be, there's always more capacity to heal and to work through things. And it is amazing when there are, you have a more complex diagnosis, more complex set of issues, whether it be a lot of trauma or a combination, whether it's been a head injury or a spinal cord injury or a diagnosis of cancer. I mean, yeah, all of the above. All of the above. 


0:18:30.3 DB: How are you prepared to work in that environment? Is there special training beyond your initial training? Do they give you guidance before you actually do that, or are you just jumping in and experiencing it and practicing it? Because water has to be obviously a different medium than being on a table. And then also adding a live animal to the sequence as well. Could you just kind of explain that to us?  


0:18:53.0 KM: A good question, and yes, there is training to work as a therapist in these programs, there are required, classes that we take. So there is the basic one where we go and we learn how to work in that medium of water. Like how do you facilitate our body in the medium of water when they start to feel... Because there can be more of that physical movement. Like how do you feel into that when you're working with somebody in water and allow that movement and facilitate that movement to happen. So in that first training class, there's a lot of experience of that. There is one day where you work with the dolphins. 


0:19:42.9 KM: So you learn how to help support your client in that situation as well as being in the ocean, which is just amazing to be in the ocean and work with one another. So there is that class, and then there's another class called [0:19:57.0] ____ Barda, which is the one that I wrote about in my newsletter, which is where we do four days in with the dolphins. So each day we get to work with the dolphins and get to be trained of how do we support somebody in that environment as well as, again, more time in the water. How do you facilitate the movement and enhance the craniosacral experience in the medium of water. So yeah. So there's that training to do before you work as, participate as a therapist in the program. 


0:20:41.9 DB: And Katie, if you don't mind, let's flip it to the clients. What kind of response do you hear from the clients afterward about the experience in the water with the Dolphins?  


0:20:51.9 KM: I mean, there's so much that goes on just from... I know, you know, from having received it, there's so much, it's almost... And we do have the client just really be with that experience for quite a long time. You can see the glow, [laughter] certain beaming glow that we can observe and especially with the children. If a child is participating in this program that they are just so excited and quite verbal often whilst they're in the water with the dolphins, but when they do get to speak about it, what happens in the program is they'll have that experience, say on the first day, and then the next morning is when we're in circle. And the clients then share, after they've had a night's sleep and really start to assimilate the information, we'll share within the group whatever they want to share, but that's when we get to hear what they experienced. And oftentimes they're just really blown away when the dolphin touches them in the place that is a key issue, is a primary place for them. 


0:22:02.2 KM: And they can think that... I mean, I observed in this last program was working with somebody on the table in the morning and she said, oh, I have this place that is really showing up on the left side of my head. I'm gonna take that when I go to the Dolphins. I'm gonna take that inquiry, that question there. And then I saw the dolphin come, and clicked to this place, same place, left side of the head that she was really curious about getting some help on. And that's where the dolphin came up and touched her with a nostrum. So, that's really neat. And the sound, it's like the sounds the Dolphin makes have... Because we are water, it's like that vibration, that ripple effect, that shifting happens. When we think about how we use ultrasound on machines to help people, and say like a physical therapy setting, but we have an animal here that's capable of something similar to that. That's pretty amazing. 


0:23:07.7 AP: With that client that you're speaking of who, where the dolphin touched the left side of the head, what was that client's experience then afterwards? What did they share and how did it affect them? What did they take away from it?  


0:23:21.1 KM: I think oftentimes it's a validation, you know that they feel very validated and there is this change in the quality, what they're noticing through that area of their body. Oftentimes there's a sense of opening, of clearing, of resolution essentially. 


0:23:41.6 AP: Wonderful. That was gonna be kind of a question of how do you help a client then integrate whatever the experience that they had with the Dolphins in the water into their waking life now? What does that process look like?  


0:23:54.0 KM: So, after the Dolphin experience we immediately will do craniosacral therapy to help integrate their experience. For me as a therapist, it's like being... They've just had like 10 cranio sessions, and I get to then integrate those changes and help them sort of process it. And so there is this ongoing, so it can be sort of months afterwards the client continues to process and track changes with what they're working on. 


0:24:33.1 DB: So, Kate, as we bring this podcast to a close, I'm sure our listeners are really curious, how has this program influenced the work that you do back home?  


0:24:42.2 KM: Well, I know my clients are always super interested. When I get back, they're like, what was it like, what did you experience? But I do notice that I feel like I bring those, the dolphins, you get to know their personalities, you know their names, and they all have different personalities just like we do. And so there is this sort of getting to know them and I feel like I bring them home with me. So sometimes in my head, my internal conversation, I will ask them to come in and support me, help me. Or clients will say, could we work with the dolphins here, even though you're not in the Bahamas right now, Kate? And they love to have that be a part of their experience on the table. But I just, yeah, I always feel like I have learned so much and a lot of it is hard to put into words. It's just sort of a felt sense. There's a... My clients will reflect to me, wow, that was a really deep session. You've changed is what they'll say to me. You've changed. There's an efficiency and, yeah, deepness to my work, I think, that changes. 


0:26:03.1 DB: I'm gonna thank our guest today, Kate Mackinnon. For more information about Kate and the amazing work that she's doing, visit kmackinnon.com. Thanks, Kate. And thanks Angie. 


0:26:13.7 KM: Thank you everyone. 


0:26:15.3 AP: Thank you so much. 




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