Polarity therapy and massage are natural partners in holistic care.
We are living in a time when energy medicine approaches are becoming widely accepted by consumers and validated by the scientific community.
Massage therapists are incorporating these approaches into their work and frequently find that increases their effectiveness. One advantage of energy-based approaches is that they give the practitioner access to more dimensions of the client beyond a primarily somatically oriented practice.
Polarity Therapy is a unique system in the wider field of energy healing approaches because it integrates wisdom and practical skills from several ancient healing arts.
Polarity Therapy bases its theory primarily on three traditional sources: Ayurveda, Chinese medicine and Hermetic healing from ancient Egypt.
This fusion of the most-established energy medicine traditions into an integrative approach was developed in the mid-20th century by Randolph Stone, DO, DC, ND. He reasoned that energy principles were the common denominator in all healing systems.
A commonly cited statement that he made is: “Energy is the real substance behind the appearance of matter and forms.” Certainly, any modern physicist would agree.
An essential understanding in Polarity Therapy is the idea of three principles of energy movement. The interaction of these energy dynamics can be appreciated in every living function.
In the world of the physicist, these are the positive, negative and neutral charges that organize the material world. These are the energy dynamics in the sun creating light and heat and sustaining life; they are the foundation of chemistry and metabolism; and these energy principles can be seen in the muscular action and physical leverage of the elbow joint.
In the vocabulary of Chinese medicine, these principles are called yang, yin and Tao, respectively. In Indian philosophy, the same principles are called rajas, tamas, and sattva.
Another influence on Polarity Therapy was zone therapy, a healing approach that was becoming increasingly popular during Stone’s early career. Combining the physics awareness of three energetic charges with the notion of reflexive zones throughout the body creates a map the human energy system. Similar maps can be found in astrological systems when they are overlaid on the human figure.
The benefit of having a specific map of the human energy system is that this reveals harmonic relationships that resonate with each other, even if they are distant from each other in the frame of the body. This helps explain why clients often complain of pain or other distress in seemingly disparate areas. It turns out these areas are often related through resonance, if not a direct physical connection.
When a bodywork practitioner understands this map, one often places their hands in ways that interconnect the harmonically resonant areas, thereby establishing a circuit that can create better flow and balance.
Acupuncture is another energy medicine system that provides a map: the 14 meridians and the extraordinary vessels.
It should be noted that the acupuncture meridian system is describing a different level of the human energy system than most of what Polarity Therapy describes. The acupuncture meridians are more about energetic channels, and these have been demonstrated to be embedded in the connective tissue system, or interstitium; whereas, Polarity Therapy is descriptive of organizing forces at a more fundamental level.
Again, this is largely about the basic energy principles of physics, and how those organize every function.
A Holistic Approach
When massage therapists and bodyworkers begin to appreciate their work in terms of energy principles, new insights arise in relation to hypertonic muscles, facilitated spinal segments, digestive imbalances, stress responses and behavior patterns. Because of this, Polarity Therapy offers a very holistic approach.
While Polarity Therapy is frequently understood as a bodywork practice or an energy healing approach, it has other aspects that make it very comprehensive. The bodywork practices of Polarity Therapy cover a wide range from energy balancing approaches to direct somatic approaches and traditional musculoskeletal work, depending on the practitioner’s licensing or certification, their skill level and orientation of their practice.
In addition to bodywork, Polarity Therapy has four other aspects in its comprehensive approach: energetic awareness of diet and nutrition, energy exercises (polarity yoga), attitude and consciousness, and importantly, the recognition that love is what really heals.
Just as it is critical to know your physical anatomy, and it can be valuable to understand the map of the human energy system, also to cultivate skills and increase precision in your practice as you mature, being humble enough to acknowledge love as what really heals takes us deeper into the wellspring of what is truly possible!
Polarity Therapy began in North America and has spread around the world. The American Polarity Therapy Association (APTA) was the first membership organization in the profession, and APTA’s Standards for Practice were modeled by similar organizations in other countries. In Switzerland, Polarity Therapy is recognized by the national health system and is routinely paid for like physical therapy and medical visits.
As a long-time teacher of Polarity Therapy, I have graduated classes in Australia, Europe and Mexico, as well as the USA. Surprisingly, there are now a number of medical doctors in Russia who practice Polarity Therapy.
Integration with Massage and Other Therapies
While it is completely possible to practice Polarity Therapy as a stand-alone healing art, many practitioners integrate it with other modalities. The membership of APTA has always been strongly interdisciplinary: it includes massage therapists, nurses, counselors and psychotherapists, medical doctors, and people who are not in the allied health professions.
There are several reasons people in other healing arts get attracted to Polarity Therapy. These include the integrative perspective, being able to work with clients more holistically, and a therapeutic model that reveals deeper interconnections among things.
When we work with more dimensions of our clients, in addition to the stresses in the tissue field, therapeutic work is more effective. So therapists interested in supporting core changes in clients appreciate the enhanced benefits that Polarity Therapy brings to their practice. Additionally, therapeutic work is more efficient when it includes the energetic dimension.
Some massage therapists love incorporating Polarity Therapy as a component in massage sessions, for any of the reasons we mentioned. Others find that at some point they transition their bodywork practice to Polarity Therapy for less stress on their own body as they age. Some practitioners create an elite practice with Polarity Therapy. This is easy to do because most clients find the effects relaxing and transformative.
A friend of mine had been a massage therapist all of his career. He had a full and busy practice because he was good at what he did and committed to it. About one year into including Polarity Therapy in his practice, he said, “I just want to do this with all of my clients because I can’t believe how much is happening!”
A Neutral Center
An amazing thing about Polarity Therapy is that it can be effective when applied at very basic levels. Then, with increasing experience, one develops precision. Stone was an osteopath–he understood precision in bodywork approaches. Sometimes we misinterpret that as deeper contact or better leverage. Yet, as an osteopath, Stone knew a secret that is true in energy dynamics as well as the structure of the body.
Jim Feil is a chiropractor who lives in Spain and studied with Stone intensively for several years. In a conference presentation for the APTA, Feil recounted how in one seminar Stone went on emphatically for four days, insisting that “the real power [for change] is at the fulcrum, never at the poles.” But what does this mean?
This is an osteopathic tenet that Stone appreciated in a deeply energetic sense. Every pattern—of motion, of rest, of action, reaction, distress, organized patterns and eccentric ones—is oriented to a neutral center. This is where lies the transformative power for change.
So many therapists spend time chasing symptoms—the spastic muscle, the activation in the nervous system, the irritable bowel. A deeper question is not so much about cause (there are plenty of causes for our symptoms), but is about process.
Where did the energy stray from its center? How did it lose its orientation? Why is it holding this pattern? And what can be done about it?
Fortunately, Polarity Therapy provides many different answers to the last question—from nervous system balancing, to visceral reflexes, specific understandings of the connective tissue matrix, energy field balancing, and awareness of the relationship of consciousness and body process.
One Polarity Therapy research study was supported by a major grant from the National Institutes of Health. The study focused on using Polarity Therapy for stress management in caregivers of dementia patients. The research was conducted by Leslie Korn, PhD, BCPP, et al. It demonstrated that Polarity Therapy was effective for significantly reducing the stress of caregivers, thereby improving quality of care for the patients.
The study also showed that Polarity Therapy is a complementary and alternative medicine practice of choice for this purpose.
One unique feature of Polarity Therapy as a profession is board certification by an independent international certifying agency. The Board Certified Polarity Practitioner (BCPP) represents the fully qualified Polarity Therapist. This distinction is unique among the bodywork professions.
Polarity Therapy is the only specific profession to date that has developed an independently governed board certification credential. Among other things, this means that Polarity Therapy is well-positioned to interface with the other allied health professions.
Polarity Therapy has had relationships with the spectrum of health care professions since its beginnings. Stone himself was an osteopath, a chiropractor, a napropath (connective tissue expert), and even received licensure as a midwife.
I know one medical doctor who quit her practice at a major medical university so she could practice Polarity Therapy and homeopathy. Another colleague in the field was an executive at the National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine who retired to practice Polarity Therapy.
Bodyworkers who include Polarity Therapy naturally become more holistic. They find themselves working at levels they could not previously access with their clients, and the clients discover they are making different kinds of progress.
The highly integrative perspective of Polarity Therapy has deep understandings of human experience that are based in ancient wisdom traditions. These insights help us have clearer views into our clients’ processes in ways that support them to rebalance, return to homeostasis, and cultivate resiliency.
An energy medicine model, or any healing art for that matter, that draws from several enduring wisdom traditions creates a philosophical foundation for appreciating the healing process. Stone was a mystic in addition to having a spectrum of degrees in the healing arts.
Everyone who knew him said he had profound insights about the real nature of things. Karin Stefan, my yoga teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, met Stone when she was a young woman. Through a friend of the family, she and her mother were invited to dinner at Stone’s home in Chicago.
Stone entertained them for several hours with the profundity that was normal for him. As they were leaving, Karin said to the others, “I feel like we were just told the entire story of the creation of the universe!”
That is how energy medicine is, when we really understand it. Polarity Therapy is a highly integrative model that presents both the big picture of energy medicine and the details of the various layers of the human energy system.
Learning some basic Polarity Therapy skills always makes a contribution to your existing practice. Going deeper into the Polarity Therapy approach in energy medicine cultivates perception, widens our therapeutic spectrum, and increases precision in our practice. For me as a Polarity Therapy practitioner for 35 years, it has been a humbling and insightful journey.
About the Author:
Roger Gilchrist, BCPP is a polarity therapist and teacher. His school, Wellness Institute, was founded in 1991, and has conducted Polarity Therapy trainings in the USA, Australia, Europe and Mexico, as well as via distance learning.