Polarity Therapy: An Introduction
by Will Wilson
The journey began in India
In the late Summer of 1988 I was in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. There had been what amounted to a civil war going on (the cease-fire had been signed the day before we arrived!). There were no other Westerners around, there was a curfew, and little food around. It was pretty dismal, and then it began to rain. The rain in Darjeeling has to be seen to be believed. For day after day it came down. Everything was damp and cold including our bed. Pretty soon I developed a flu-like illness and chest infection. The roads were flooded, we couldn't get down to the warmth and relative dryness of the plains. By the time we did get down, I had become quite ill, but back in the warmth seemed to recover.
I never did get fully well though. I returned to work, which was stressful, and I was also exposed to some nasty chemicals in my workplace (I was a scientist in a laboratory). I realize in hindsight that these factors set a process in motion that was to make the next 2 years very unpleasant indeed. It felt like I had a low-grade flu almost all the time, with aches in all my muscles and joints, no concentration and so little energy I could hardly walk. Of course I had M.E., although the eventual medical diagnosis was "fatigue syndrome". I pretty quickly exhausted the conventional treatments for this condition (there aren't any, unless you count antidepressants as a "treatment"), and tried a range of complementary therapies from acupuncture to Rolfing, with little effect.
By a series of "coincidences" I eventually had some sessions from a Polarity Therapist, Simon Kirby (who later went on to become Director of the Immune Development Trust, an organization that offers free treatment with complementary therapies for people with immune-related problems, notably AIDS). The results were quite dramatic - in about 2-3 months I was feeling almost back to normal, with sessions about every two weeks during this period. I was impressed, and I eventually went on to train as a Polarity Therapist.
What is Polarity Therapy?
Polarity Therapy is a gentle, holistic method of treatment, applicable to many health problems and also useful in maintaining health. Central to Polarity Therapy is the concept of a life energy, which is in constant pulsation from positive to negative poles via a neutral position, creating fields and energetic lines of force. This creates an energetic "template" for the physical body, termed "The Wireless Anatomy of Man" by Dr. Randolph Stone, the founder of this therapy. Although the life energy shares some properties with electricity, one should not follow the analogy too closely, as it has many properties which differ.
Disease is a process which occurs when the life energy is blocked or out of balance. It could be said that there is only one disease, that of disturbance of the energetic system, with different outcomes depending on the nature of the disturbance, and where it occurs. To overcome these problems Polarity therapy uses a system of gentle bodywork supported by a specific set of exercises (Polarity Yoga), advice on diet and nutrition, and counseling(all within the overall energetic concept described in the later section - Polarity Therapy Theory).
It is this energetic approach which differentiates Polarity Therapy from many other forms of bodywork. Some techniques are derived from Osteopathy and Chiropractic (Dr. Stone was originally an Osteopath and Chiropractor), but use minimal mechanical force, relying instead on the life energy to do the work. It differs from Shiatsu and Acupuncture in the energy theory used, Polarity therapy owing more to the Indian Ayurvedic system.
History of Polarity Therapy
Polarity therapy is the life work of Dr. Randolph Stone (1890-1981). Born in Austria, he emigrated to America in 1903. By 1914 he had qualified in Naturopathy, Osteopathy and Chiropractic, but over the years became increasingly disillusioned with the body work approaches which he felt to be rather mechanistic rather than holistic. He wrote: "The physical anatomy of man is the generally accepted foundation and starting point of nearly all the arts today. Such a concept rests in matter, the gross product, rather than on the fine energy currents which wove the pattern of the body and which continue to animate it through life. The general practice today is grossly physical rather than atomic.
Pierre Pannetier and Dr Stone
The idea of energy fields in action through physiological functions, according to the finer lines of force and mind energy patterns, is not yet generally accepted." Although the language seems rather dated today, he was clearly way ahead of his time, realizing the implications of quantum physics in healing long before it became the talking point it is today. As such, he never lived to see Polarity Therapy become commonplace as he hoped it one day would. He fervently believed the doctors of his day would use it once they saw its effectiveness. Even today the work is not well-known outside of the USA. He traveled extensively in the USA, Europe and the East, particularly India, researching how energy might work in the body, also studying the Esoteric teachings of those countries. From these comprehensive studies, he formulated the East-West synthesis that became known as Polarity Therapy.
Polarity Therapy Theory
Although Polarity Therapy has many influences, and certainly includes elements of Dr. Stone's early training in Naturopathy, Osteopathy and Chiropractic, it is the 6000 year old Indian system of Ayurveda (Ayu=life, Veda=Study) that forms the cornerstone of Polarity energetic theory. Ayurveda perceives all form in the universe as a manifestation of 5 energies, or elements.
The most subtle energy (having the highest frequency of vibration) is called ETHER. It is the space into which the other elements manifest in a kind of step-down of energies. Thus the AIR element manifests from ETHER, FIRE from AIR and ETHER; WATER from ETHER, AIR and FIRE and EARTH from all the above. The energies in the macrocosm, or Nature, are translated into the microcosm of man in the form of (for example), breath, warmth, drink and food. (To digress slightly for a moment, the concept of the Ether was around for a long time in Western scientific thought, as a medium for events to occur in. This was later replaced in Newtonian science by the idea of a cosmic vacuum - pure emptiness.
More recently the Ether has made a comeback in the form of the Quantum Vacuum - envisaged as energy-filled space-time. More of this later.) The human physical and energetic bodies are woven from these five elements. It is the disruption of the flow of these energies which result in dis-ease. Dr. Stone chose the ancient symbol of the Caduceus or Staff of Hermes as a representation of the elements in the body.
Chakras and Oval Fields
The symbol of the Caduceus is found in slightly differing forms in many cultures across the world. In Indian philosophy and medicine the Caduceus is intimately associated with the system of energy centers called Chakras, and the energy currents flowing in the Caduceus were termed Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. The wings of the Caduceus represent the 2 cerebral hemispheres.
The central staff (Sushumna) Dr. Stone called the "Ultrasonic Core", representing the higher vibrational aspects of the 5 elements and manifesting physically as the spinal cord and Central Nervous System. The 2 serpents coiling around the staff (on the right is the positive force "Pingala", and on the left is the negative force "Ida" : this is similar to the Yang and Yin of Chinese Medicine) represent, on a subtle level, the dual aspects of Mind and on the physical level the double chain of ganglions of the sympathetic nervous system.
The crossing over of the 2 serpents creates 5 energy fields in the body, corresponding to the 5 elements. These fields are the head (Fire), the throat (Ether), the thorax (Air), the abdomen (Earth) and the pelvis (Water). Where the 3 energy currents of Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna interact are the energy centers known as chakras, which can be visualized as spinning wheels of energy which maintain the energy centers. The pelvis contains 2 Chakras, the Root and Sacral chakras, generally associated with Earth and Water respectively.
The apparent discrepancy in allocating elements to Chakras and Oval Fields is because the Chakras are named for the quality of energy emanating from them; the element in the Oval Field is named for the quality of movement through them. Thus the Earth Oval is in the Abdomen corresponding to the movement of food and faeces, driven by the Fiery energy of digestion. The Oval Fields are formed by the 4 large cavities of the body - The pelvic bowl, abdomen, chest, cranial bowl plus the throat.
The Chakras generate 5 energy currents which flow longitudinally on the body so as to form 2 circuits flowing in opposite directions. The energy currents in the Caduceus flow in a double helix pattern (similar to the structure of DNA) creating a spiral of energy around the body known as the East-West current.
Also a spiral of energy radiates out from the umbilicus which is representative of the Primary energy pattern that was present when the physical body was formed in the womb. These 3 sets of currents interact to "weave" the physical body in much the same way as a Hologram, by creating interference patterns where energies interact. Thus the body is formed from an energetic "template", built of the qualities of the 5 elements and a pulsation.
This pulsation is the positive and negative Pingala and Ida currents, and the neutral channel, Sushumna. In Polarity and Ayurvedic terminology these pulsations are Rajas, the expansive, Yang energy; Tamas, the contractive, Yin energy and Sattvas, the neutral point between the two. All life (and probably all matter) is in pulsation, and this cycle of expansion and contraction is essential to health - think of the cardiovascular, respiratory and cranial rhythms for example. The 5 elements have many correspondences with physical body areas, organs, processes and systems, as well as with levels of consciousness, psychological states, and the food we eat.
Consequently, Polarity Therapy embraces Bodywork, Counseling, Dietary advice and a system of exercises known as Polarity Yoga. To describe the correspondences of all the 5 elements is beyond the scope of this article but some of the correspondences of the Fire element include: the Solar Plexus chakra (Manipura), Metabolism (including the Digestive system and muscular metabolism), Sight, Motivation, Vitality, Laughter, Joy, Anger; foods that need sun to ripen (e.g. grains) or have a bitter taste. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The elements also interact, combinations of Water with the other elements describe the bodily fluids e.g. Water + Air = Sweat. Combinations of the Ether element express states of mind, e.g. Ether + Fire = Anger, similarly combinations of the Air element represent qualities of movement e.g. Air + Earth = Contraction, those of the Fire element represent bodily states e.g. Fire + Ether = Sleep and those of the Earth element physical structure of the body e.g. Earth + Air = Skin. The polarity therapist holds these combinations in mind as he/she works or takes a case history. The details of these interactions cannot be covered in detail in an article of this length.
Modern Physics and Polarity Therapy
Although much of the theory of Polarity therapy is based on ancient knowledge many physicists are theorizing a similar model to that described above to account for "Reality". This is the concept of the Quantum Vacuum (QV) - energy-filled space-time, not normally obvious to us but the source of all manifestation in the "real" world.
The energies in the QV are limitless and give rise to physically observable matter as mass by the formation of a spin and vortex in the QV which creates a standing Scalar Wave (the so-called "Blip and Bud hypothesis). These Scalar Waves (Scalar = a quantity with magnitude but not direction) occur in the QV like ripples on a pond from a stone dropped in it and are quite different from Vector Waves (which have direction), such as electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves can be detected with conventional electronic equipment, scalar waves cannot. To detect scalar waves requires a "chaotic scalar interferometer" and there is evidence that the human brain acts as such a hypothetical instrument, enabling us to "tune in" to information in the QV.
This information is not normally conscious but that does not mean we are not affected by it. We are not normally conscious of frequencies beyond the visible range of light but that does not mean we are not affected by fields from TV, microwaves, high voltage power lines, for example. Perhaps Polarity Therapists and others who work with "subtle energies" can sense into the QV - an information-rich medium which pervades Space and Time, within which communication is faster than light, and from which physical "reality" emerges. We all have the equipment, and it's far more sophisticated than the best from the electronics industry!
A possible explanation of how Polarity Therapy might achieve its profound effects revolves around the idea of Bose-Einstein Condensates. The concept of these condensates is a little too complex to go into here, but the essence of them is that parts which go together to make up a system will come together to behave as a whole, coordinated system. According to physicist Herbert Fr’hlich, in the body a system of electrically charged molecules ("dipoles" i.e. polarized molecules with a positive and negative end) are vibrating.
Beyond a certain threshold, additional energy pumped into the system (such as occurs during a Polarity session) will cause them to vibrate into unison, pulling them into a very ordered form of matter termed a "Bose-Einstein Condensate". In this state it is possible, for example, that a dysfunctional organ will work more effectively, as the tendency for things to break down and fall apart (entropy) is countered by the increased order in the system. Indeed, it may well be that the formation of these Bose-Einstein Condensates is the mechanism that "holds things together" and maintains living organisms in a high degree of order and coherence necessary for life, against the tendency of entropy. If this system begins to break down, organisms will gradually function less well, leading to illness and degenerative disease.
What happens in a Polarity Therapy session?
Since Polarity Therapy recognizes illness arises from imbalance or blocking of the energies described above, the therapist will be looking beyond the symptoms the client may present for the real causes of the complaint. Often the presenting symptoms are not the real cause. To this end, most therapists will begin by taking a wide-ranging case history, aiming to pin-point the fundamental elemental imbalances. This may take most of the first session, although generally there will be a short session of bodywork too, to enable the therapist to gain a sense of any general energetic imbalances.
Therapists may also make a structural assessment also, similar to that performed by Osteopaths and Chiropractors. For this outer clothing will need to be removed, but normally most Polarity bodywork will be done with the client fully clothed.
The bodywork involves many techniques, mostly very gentle: for example, cranial holds, rocking movements, some techniques similar to reflexology, and some techniques derived from Osteopathy and Chiropractic, but with an energetic rather than manipulative focus. Characteristic of Polarity Therapy are Bipolar contacts (i.e. using both hands, or fingers of both hands - each finger relates to a different element) which link energetically and functionally related areas of the body to facilitate the movement of body energy. Both light and deep contacts may be used, but forceful manipulations are not performed in Polarity therapy, and it is therefore suitable for elderly and frail clients.
The experience of the bodywork is often deeply relaxing and may also lead to emotional releases such as tears or laughter. The bodywork aspect of the work is difficult to describe, it needs to be experienced.
Advice will be given where necessary on dietary change which may help to balance the 5 elements. Also, due to toxic accumulations of waste products from food additives, environmental pollutants, etc. specific cleansing diets and procedures may be given to rid the body of this toxicity. Individualized exercises may be given to support the bodywork. These are by no means onerous, they are gentle and fun to do. They also help the client gain more "body awareness". An example is given at the end of this section.
The doctrine of "Energy follows thought" or "As we think, so we are" is adopted by Polarity therapists - the foundation of our health imbalances are often derived from our processes of thought and emotional patterns. Polarity therapists will often help clients to become more aware of these areas which are detrimental to their health. Often shining the light of awareness onto these areas is sufficient to begin the process of change. Also symptoms are thought of as messages which can show us areas of our life and actions that require attention. Ignoring or suppressing symptoms may result in more serious problems later.
Above all illness is not thought of as an "enemy" to be "vanquished" - the image, for example, of the "invading" microorganism, but a complex pattern of disharmony involving many factors. Through its holistic approach, Polarity therapy can help a wide range of problems, as well as being an excellent way of maintaining health. It is compatible with many other forms of bodywork, but seems to blend especially well with Craniosacral therapy and Zero Balancing, subtle bodywork therapies well known in the US and growing rapidly here in the UK.
A case study
General fatigue and exhaustion seem to be very common presenting symptoms these days. Rachel (not her real name) came to me with a history of many months feeling lack of energy, irritable, depressed and full of self-pity. She also had intermittent constipation and a tendency to oversleep.
In the first session I established that she felt cut off from her body and had problems expressing anger. Breathing into her chest area was very limited, her diaphragm was restricted and also the right side of her body felt energetically depleted, with tight muscle groups on that side. The overall picture was a depletion of the Fire element (blocked anger, depression = held down anger, lack of energy, tight muscles on the right (Yang) side) , and the Air element also (poor breathing). The latter compounds the problem as Fire is dependent on Air for combustion. Various tests on Air and Fire areas confirmed my suspicions.
In the next session I worked on the thorax and diaphragm to improve breathing and gave her some exercises to do between sessions to further release the diaphragm. Also we started to look at changes in her diet to include more Fire foods. By the next session she felt some improvement in her energy levels and I began to work specifically with the Fire element. I worked the Fire umbilical spiral current and she "felt energy moving everywhere" - which was quite a novel experience for her. She was able to describe feelings of warmth and tingling spreading through her body - this is a common sensation as Fire energy becomes unblocked.
But when I came to work with the reflexes to the Liver and Gall Bladder (Fire-associated organs) things really began to happen. Working with these reflexes, I was aware of a build-up of energy in the room. Gently I placed my other hand over the liver area and almost instantly her face turned red, she began kicking and this gradually subsided into sobs then tears. Later she was able to share with me the anger and hurt she had never expressed towards a certain important figure in her life. This proved to be a turning point, and within a few more sessions the problems she presented faded away. Not all people find such a dramatic resolution, and gradual progress is more the norm, but I thought to give this as a clear illustration of the power of Polarity therapy.
There seems to be increasing interest in Subtle Energetic or "Biofield" therapies, and gentle forms of bodywork. Some approaches seem to be new, some a rediscovery of ancient arts, most are probably a combination of both of these. Polarity therapy spans thousands of years of effort to understand the processes of health and disease. And as more and more the physical universe is seen to be a dance of energy we should remember that our very thoughts and intentions shape it, our environment, and our health.
To leave you with Dr. Stone's words: "All training, all experience, and even the suffering in life, have only one objective and that is to enable us to learn to control the mind substance within ourselves. It is the most subtle and intangible form of matter, like an airy nothing which pervades and rules all things. All conditions and limitations are produced by mind essence and substance. The moulds of pleasure and pain, health and sickness, are formed by our own thought patterns of harmony, limitation or discord."
Will Wilson practices Polarity Therapy and Craniosacral Therapy in North London.