Polarity Therapy

Interfacing Subtle Energy with Massage

By Shirley Vanderbilt

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2004.

“The problem of healing involves the harmonious relationship
of man’s inner energies to those of the without.”
— Randolph Stone, osteopath, naturopath and chiropractor

Polarity therapy (PT for the purposes of this article) is a four-part approach to balancing the energetic patterns of the body. Based on principles developed by Randolph Stone, an osteopath, naturopath and chiropractor, PT combines bodywork, nutrition, stretching postures and attitudinal counseling to free energy blockages and establish a natural energy flow for self-healing. In his early years of practice, Stone noted that while manual manipulations provided some relief for his patients, effects were not long-lasting and did not get to the root of the problem. He surmised there must be some deeper solution and set about finding it.

Traveling to China and India, Stone spent decades investigating ancient healing methods, studying the inherent commonalities of these approaches. In his book Polarity Therapy and Its Triune Function (1954), Stone writes, “For 40 years I searched for a principle in the healing arts which would include all forms of therapy and act as a common denominator, an intelligent answer, to all the numerous contradictory theories and claims existing today. Results which are obtained in all the various fields of medical, drugless and psychological applications indicate that a hidden agent — a principle in man and the forces of Nature’s energies — is the active factor overlooked by schools of science and theories taught today.”

Drawing from Western manipulative techniques, naturopathy, Chinese energy medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, Stone formulated his therapy based on the underlying principle of wireless currents in, around and through the body. According to Stone, it is this subtle energy flow that gives life and through which the soul functions. Quite simply, disease occurs when the flow is disrupted. Polarity therapy, rather than treating disease, is focused on reestablishing the natural balance of this flow, which in turn allows healing to take place. Stone writes, “The problem of healing involves the harmonious relationship of man’s inner energies to those of the without.”1

Polarity therapy practitioners concern themselves with the positive, negative and neuter states of the energetic wiring, flowing vertically and horizontally, and spiraling from the top of the body downward and from the center outward.2 In this triune function, Stone notes the outward flow or positive pole “is expressed as motor currents; while the necessary return flow, the centripetal current or the negative pole, is expressed as sensation.” The center (or neuter) from which the energy flows and to which it returns, is considered the source of the energy and this triune action is what is required to keep the flow in motion.3

According to Stone, this circuitry flows in all aspects of life and is a basic principle in nature. Everything has a middle with opposing ends, in constant communication and relationship. In this law of relationship, there is attraction (pleasure/sensory) and repulsion (pain/motor). Blockage is more likely to occur in the negative (outgoing) flow. It is when the outgoing force is unable to remove from the system “unassimilable physical, emotional or mental material” that disruption in the circuitry occurs and the system becomes dysfunctional.4

Eleanora Lipton, polarity therapist and owner/director of Atlanta Polarity Center in Georgia, says of polarity, “We approach the body as this complex system of inherent Divine Wisdom. That’s why all the parts grow where they need to. Energy moves along its freest route; tension is an energy blockage. Release and open that pathway, and when there is a free flow, the body can sustain and nurture itself.”

Lipton is also a certified massage therapist and blends polarity into this modality. “One of the primary reasons for interfacing this work,” Lipton says, “is so clients who are accustomed to massage can get introduced to energetic work without feeling alienated from their original feeling of nurturing with massage.” While acknowledging her clients’ need for touch, she was convinced they could benefit even more from the energetic work. In the early 1980s, when she first began introducing her clients to a full treatment of PT, some were a little reluctant. After the first session, they were coming back saying they preferred a massage. But then following a massage session, they would point out that their previous benefits from polarity were more long-lasting. Thus, she began blending the two in her treatments.

Although massage and polarity therapy each stand firmly on their own merits, in combination they can raise the healing relationship, for both client and practitioner, to a higher level. Before examining this interface further, we take a brief, albeit simplified, look at the basics of the polarity approach.

The Four Components

Regardless of an individual’s chosen focus in practice, the two levels of polarity training — associate polarity practitioner (APP) and registered polarity practitioner (RPP) — cover basic required topics and modules, says Leslie Korn, Ph.D., of the Center for Traditional Medicine (CTM) in Olympia, Wash. In addition to her 26 years of polarity practice and teaching, Korn is founder and director of CTM, which provides training in polarity, massage and various forms of natural medicine on-site in rural Mexico.

Korn notes that polarity therapy “incorporates the principles of using all of nature for healing.” This is “the essence of polarity — the polarity of day and night, of hot and cold, of bitter and sweet (foods or experiences). In this regard all natural methods can be integrated, or focused upon, much like someone who does infant massage may not do lymphatic techniques and someone who does sports massage may use hydrotherapy where others may not.

“Dr. Stone emphasized that while he developed, or more correctly created, a profound integrative synthesis called polarity therapy,” she adds, “he had a great sense of humor and always left some information out of his teachings, saying, ‘Find out for yourself, prove it to yourself if this works. Don’t rely on everything I say.’ In my own work I understood this to be a driving philosophy in which there is no one final truth, but one of process with oneself and each client one has the honor to work with. This makes polarity a dynamic process, not a static one.”

Polarity Bodywork

In Stone’s mapping of energy currents of the human body, each side of the body has five currents relating to the five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). In this model, each finger and toe correspondingly is named for the element/current running through it, and also has either a positive or negative designation. These are not static designations, but rather an indication of constant flow, with positive beginning at the top of the head to negative at the feet, and alternately positive on the right side of the body, negative on the left.5

The spiraling energy of the chakras, for which the elements are named, generates the flow for these currents. Within Stone’s triune model, positive and negative flow are also always in relationship with a third, neutral pole. Working with these concepts, when a blockage is identified the therapist uses bipolar contact, placing hands or fingers simultaneously on the negative and positive areas to effect the release of flow. Additionally, practitioners can stimulate specific reflex points and their corresponding body part, effecting a release along the associated current.6

“In polarity we focus on three different levels or qualities of touch,” Lipton says. “Each of those levels of contact relates to a different approach to massage.” Satvic touch is neutral and balancing; rajasic touch, a moderate, more stimulating pressure; and tamasic, a deeper pressure to disperse resistant tension.

“Polarity therapy is the study of the law of relationships,” Lipton says. “It starts with understanding the energetic patterns of the body. Energetic patterns do not necessarily release with muscle massage.” The work has to go beyond where the pattern gets repeated in order to effect a shift, she says. By going deeper into stress patterns, the body’s unconscious holding patterns are released.

“Stone said energy in the body is like a hand in a glove,” Lipton says. “Without the hand, the glove is not animated. Without life force, the body has no animation. Life force begins from a universal divine source.” The energy centers of the chakra system are the vortexes through which universal force manifests and is in continual connection. “We can affect those qualities of all of those bodies through clearing of energetic patterns” creating enlivening of bodies and also an energy field around the body.

“The thing we know about polarity therapy is that we can only take someone as far as we have gone,” Lipton says. “My perspective as a practitioner in my work is to create the safest and most dynamic aura around myself and in my center so that when clients come they walk into that energy. When I work on someone I am absolutely bringing my energy present, making myself known by my energy field: My presence and the quality of my contact with my voice, hands, face, everything. I touch them with my energy. That coupled energy is where we have potential for creating healing.

“By (the client) receiving and perceiving my presence, we create something together that allows energy to be even stronger. All this energy comes from Source but we take responsibility for what we ourselves project or put out there. We have to be responsible for clearing our own energy fields. My experience is to pray and attune to the inspiration and presence of Source that opens me and allows me to be my best with my client.”

Stretching Postures

As a part of stimulating and releasing energy flow, Stone developed a series of polarity yoga exercises that include gentle rocking movements once the position is attained. Practiced several times a day, the exercises are variously aimed at clearing blockages from head to toe. This series of movements can be found in Stone’s book, Easy Stretching Postures for Vitality and Beauty.7

“These postures are not necessarily traditional hatha yoga,” Lipton says, “but I like integrating them with yoga and qigong.” While yoga is a passion for Lipton and remains a high priority in her work, not all PT practitioners share her enthusiasm for this discipline. “A lot depends on what the practitioner is interested in themselves. There is always a pathway related to polarity. You don’t have to stay in a box.” But, she notes, it is in the best interest of the client to “get that piece somewhere.”

Energetic Nutrition

Air, sunlight and food — all that we take into our bodies — are assimilated to replenish our energy. Here, polarity theory also incorporates the five elements, classifying foods according to their elemental nature. Noting that “all things have polarity, and either attract or repel,” Stone says, “Diet also is based upon this fundamental law of polarity.”8 The body will crave certain foods to balance out the elements and enhance the assimilation process, such as high-protein foods (fire) for warmth and power, or fruits (air) that enhance oxidizing in the bloodstream and nervous system.9 In contrast, an overindulgence of a certain food, or its consumption in the presence of disease, can have the reverse effect of throwing the energy system even more off balance.

As a component of the polarity approach, guidance in diet changes may be suggested by the practitioner, but the responsibility remains in the client’s hands. Along with attentiveness to the elemental properties of foods, Stone recommends simple meals of limited food variety and thorough chewing to activate proper digestive processes.10

Mind and Spirit

Attitudinal healing and self-awareness, a precept of new thought and transformational psychology, has its roots in traditional healing, such as the law of karma and the teachings of Jesus. What we think and speak, we become. “To learn to control our own mind is the real purpose of all experience,” Stone writes, “because the mind is the neuter agent of the very Essence of all matter in motion. 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.”11

Like seeds planted in the earth, thoughts planted in consciousness root and grow to become our reality. “Our mind conditions our experience,” Stone says.12 Inner balance requires mindful attention to what we are sowing, whether productive plants or destructive weeds. Negative thought can block the energy system in much the same manner as a physical injury. An imbalanced viewpoint of one’s world creates an imbalance in energy flow.

To achieve attitudinal healing, Stone emphasizes the importance of tolerance, nonjudgment, forgiveness and embracing the wholeness of life in both thought and action. At the base, this work should be a deep spiritual connection to the Creator, the essence of this energy system and all that is. “The higher we set our vision toward Unity and Causes of Life, the greater will be the uplift of our mind and thinking process,” Stone writes.13

Within the context of the client/practitioner relationship, acknowledging connection to Spirit may be a part of the verbal counseling process or a subtle holding of intention by the therapist. “One’s role is to help the client achieve a state of balance and to undertake change in their lives that furthers their health and well-being,” Korn says. “When I do my intake I ascertain the role spirituality plays in someone’s life. If they say it does then we can explore the role of spirit. I usually take the lead of the client in this process in order to avoid imposing a belief. Hence, polarity encourages us to hold the highest good in mind, intentionality, on behalf of the well-being of the client. So this is done by bringing ourselves into a quiet mind state and not thinking about a grocery list while giving a session.”

Interfacing Polarity with Massage

What is the added value in combining polarity work with massage? Addressing this question, Korn says, “Polarity is a comprehensive system that incorporates bodywork, nutrition, attitudinal healing and specialized yoga exercises. It is also a philosophy of life and bringing balance to complementary forces. It is also a way of life that encourages natural lifestyles such as limited alcohol, no smoking or drug use. Massage therapies are not rooted in these approaches but are more oriented toward a musculoskeletal change based on mechanism of function.

“Polarity complements massage and it often facilitates a deep, spiritual and emotional change resulting from the awareness of energy. Awareness is a key word here, and while massage may support growing awareness of ergonomic factors, or postural influences (as does polarity), polarity extends the awareness to the one of self and the relationship to the cosmic forces as it were.

“Conceptually, all modalities should serve as methods within a repertoire of choice that is isomorphic to the client. Not everyone will respond to polarity, nor to massage, and likewise just as people may train in the same method it doesn’t mean they practice it the same way. Helping someone is so much about interpersonal chemistry between the practitioner and the client.”

As one trained in a variety of manual, psychological and energy therapies, Korn not only practices but also teaches within a multi-modality framework. “It is common,” she says, “that as we develop as practitioners in any discipline that we transcend any one dogma and identify what the client needs and whether we are the ones to provide it or refer them. One example of interface is how some polarity techniques may be taught to other practitioners to use in their own repertoire. I have developed a protocol for diabetes treatment that integrates polarity therapy and lymphatic massage that we are now teaching to massage therapists. They may choose to continue their study of polarity or not, but the few techniques they learn enhances their results.”

Lipton’s goal in developing an interfaced approach has been two-fold. From one perspective, her purpose is to increase her clients’ awareness and acceptance of polarity therapy. From another, she says, “The idea is to have polarity more understood in its relationship to massage; and massage more understood as not only muscles and tissues but also energetic patterns.” Polarity deepens the perspective, for both practitioner and client, of seeing stress patterns in the body from an energetic point of view.

Giving an example, Lipton recounts a client with a year-old chronic knee problem, unresolved after visits to physical therapists and a massage therapist. In a polarity session, Lipton began with soft contact on the knee, then moved into the verbal process of exploring with the client the onset of her condition and accompanying life events surrounding that time. “Don’t just think about it, but also feel it,” she directed the client. “Feel the energy of it.” At this point the client realized the injury was actually three years old and related to her husband’s diabetes onset and her accompanying emotional reaction. “The knees relate to where we might be stuck in our lives,” Lipton says. “Every place in the body has relationship with somewhere else. What polarity added is this ability to have a pathway into the emotional and mental patterns that were co-creating stress patterns in the knee.

“To do polarity with some massage techniques gives someone a very wonderful feeling of being loved and contacted.” The interfacing goes both ways. Some of Lipton’s clients come to her just for polarity, but if she feels neck tension she might add a little neck or foot massage. Generally her clients are face-down and disrobed, allowing for both massage and polarity techniques. After applying long strokes, she goes deeper to locate stress or pressure points, then proceeds in connecting them to other reflex points and on to polarity points, both stroking the area and holding the point. In this way, she combines the best of both modalities.

Balance in Practice

Interfacing polarity with massage practice has significant implications beyond the benefit to the client. “Therapists can keep integrating and expanding because energy is infinite,” Lipton says. “There is quite a show of massage therapists burning out within 5–8 years because it’s so physically based,” whereas polarity is not so exhaustive. “It’s wonderful for them to have options so they don’t have to quit. They can just take it to another level.”

This perspective is also shared by Korn. “I think often massage therapists come to polarity after they have practiced for a while to deepen their training,” she says, “and to have a method for understanding what they perceive as energy fields and intuition, but which may not be covered in their basic training. As someone who is trained in and practices both methods I personally find that because polarity is what I have termed a ‘meditative touch,’ it provides a deeply satisfying shared experience of a state of consciousness called ‘somatic empathy’ — the psycho-bioenergetic attunement between client and practitioner.

“Many massage practitioners burn out for two reasons. One is the physical strain and the other is the often mundane aspect of massage treatment. This is when many massage practitioners seek out polarity therapy. Polarity provides options for integrating a lighter touch (though it also provides for a very deep touch), as well as a more profound relationship as an educator and helper-healer.”