Primary Respiration

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'Subtle rhythmic expressions of the breath of life. Can be felt at different rates or as different perceptual states. Sometimes used to denote the action of long tide only (for example, Shea 2007[1])'.[2]




Cranial work is founded on the experience of cycles of movement, coupled with natural pauses, that can be palpated in the body. Health is the emergence of more coherent and stronger rhythms. The experience of rhythmic balanced interchange develops to include a wider and wider field of action, leading to a sense of non-separateness between the client, practitioner and surrounding environment.
Sutherland used the metaphor of tide to describe his palpation of primary respiration. 'Trust the tide' is a Sutherland phrase expressing the shift towards health in the clients system as the coherence and drive of the movements palpated increases. When the tide is clear and strong, clients seem to have fewer symptoms.
Primary respiration can be felt at different rates. The most common tides described are CRI (cranial rhythmic impulse), mid tide, long tide.
The primary respiratory mechanism was used by Sutherland to describe the expression of primary respiration through the structure and function of the body. The initial primary respiratory mechanism included the five core phenomena of osteopathy in the cranial field.


  1. Shea, M. (2007) Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Vol. 1. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
  2. Sumner, G. and Haines, S. (2010) Cranial Intelligence - A Practical Guide to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. London: Singing Dragon.