Many physicians who discover themselves on a path of increasing awareness are naturally drawn to holistic medicine. Holism is a conceptual framework which frequently broadens one's perspective and sometimes provides more adaptive techniques in clinical practice. Despite the value of holistic medicine, it often fails to provide a context for understanding its essence.
While an enormous variety of systems, models, and perspectives exist, few tend to provide insight into the essence of healing or offer an integrated view of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions of being. The development of psychoneuroimmunology as a field of study leans in this direction, yet there are many levels of subtler phenomena than where the interests of this field are currently focused.
This is where the life's work of Dr. Randolph Stone is immensely valuable to us in providing a context for understanding holistic medicine. Dr. Stone's integration of most of the world's major medical traditions (Western and Eastern) is an incredible synthesis which can enrich our understanding far beyond what the study of any single system can do.
Randolph Stone (1890-1981) was an osteopath with an insatiable curiosity. His curiosity became focused in two primary ways: a relentless search for the most effective healing methods, and a penchant for travel through which he circled the globe several times.
Shortly after graduating with his D.O. degree, Dr. Stone was shown a simple manipulative technique which seemed to elicit consistently effective results both for physical release and emotional catharsis. Perplexed by the fact that this technique had no conventional explanation, Stone sought an answer. The answer started to come into focus when he took his first trip to the Orient and to India. As he learned about the medical systems in both cultures, he realized they were founded on a premise long forgotten in Western medicine--the premise of Life Energy.
The Chinese called this life energy "Chi," and in India it was called "Prana." Stone realized that both cultures were describing the same thing as the animating force in the body-mind: subtle, electromagnetic forces which govern physiological activity. As he continued to travel, it became apparent that most indigenous cultures had an energy-based foundation to their medical practices.
This realization hinted at the answer to how the mysterious treatment had been so effective. It also catalyzed a powerful drive in Randolph Stone to integrate a detailed understanding of the human energy system and the therapeutic approaches that affect it.
With this inspiration Dr. Stone studied a number of non-Western medical traditions to complement his Western medical training. These included traditional Chinese medicine, Hermetic medicine, and Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. Stone drew ideas most heavily from Ayurveda, which literally translates as "the science of life."
All of these systems shared several common themes, from which Dr. Stone began to gain insight into the essence of all medical traditions. The most fundamental premise each system held was an awareness of life energy as "the real substance behind the appearance of matter and forms." These non-Western medical approaches also described in detail how this life energy moved, its patterns of flow, and the forces it exerts through the body and mind of an individual.
With his increasing understanding of how the mechanics of subtle energy influence, in fact create, the physiology, structural alignment, cognitions and emotions in human beings, Dr. Stone sought to share this awareness with his medical colleagues. Borrowing terminology from the new physics as a field of energy dynamics, Dr. Stone called his medical synthesis Polarity Therapy. Beginning in the 1940's and continuing until his death, Stone published a number of books and monographs to illustrate this integrative understanding of healing. These are now collected in three volumes (Stone 1985, 1986a, 1986b).
Essentially, living beings are polarized energy systems. The basic energy dynamic repeats itself at an infinite number of levels. This dynamic, which consists of a positive, expressive pole; a negative, receptive pole; and a neutral, integrating aspect, is essential to all of the energy-based medical systems. While this energy dynamic is described throughout the non-Western medical texts (some of which are among the oldest literature of the world, dating back 5,000-6,000 years), modern research has validated the action of charged energy systems as the primary mechanism in many life functions (Becker & Seldon, 1985). Consider, for example, the electro-magnetic attraction of the sperm to the egg, the very beginning of a new generation of life. Other examples include oxygen transport in the bloodstream, the polarized helix of DNA, cellular metabolism, nutrient absorption, the electro-chemical action of neurons, and dipole functioning of the brain. Essentially, electromagnetism is the foundation of life.
Dr. Stone's Polarity Therapy also includes insight into quantum physics and the relationship with life energy. One characteristic in non-Western medical systems is their description of five elements, or quantum levels of reality. Polarity Therapy follows Ayurvedic medicine in naming these levels Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These are archetypal labels for the quality of different phases (quantums) of energy. Notice the correspondence to the states of matter described by physics: solids, liquids, gases, and plasma. Ether, then, is the ground of being, or space, in which the other elements have their existence. Is it any surprise that physicists have begun calling the ineffible realm to which subatomic particles/waveforms disappear and from which they return "ether"? It would seem the ancients of other cultures had a profound insight into the nature of reality just beginning to be understood by empirical science!
The interplay of these two factors--the field dynamic of energetic systems having positive, negative, and neutral poles; and the quantum levels of matter and energy described as the five elements--gives rise to all phenomena. In fact, the energy-based principles of Polarity Thearpy provide a model which can describe everything from the simple atomic bonding in table salt to the complex physiological actions of the human body. Furthermore, the intricacies of this system, when studied in greater details, provide a format for understanding the arising and movement of emotions in human beings, as well as cognitive processes and the evolution of consciousness.
Because of this, the Polarity model has been embraced and used by members of most health professions, including doctors, psychologists, nurses, and rehabilitation specialists. The principles of Polarity Therapy seem to provide a better understanding of the interplay of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels of being than any other system. In this way, Polarity Therapy provides a more integrative context for holistic medicine.
The clinical techniques of Polarity Therapy include a wide spectrum of modalities, all focused on balancing the energetic relationships in the body. Because energy subtends physiology, cognition, and emotional functioning, as the energy patterns in patients become more balanced, conditions in the physical, mental, and emotional spheres of patients improve.
The most commonly practiced therapeutic technique is Polarity bodywork, using hands-on contact with harmonically related areas of the body. One example of this would be connecting the colon to its reflexes in the positive and negative poles of the body, the neck and the knees. This simple set of manipulations is often helpful with colon spasticity, diarrhea, or constipation. It also benefits mental and emotional sequelae related to the element which governs colon functioning. This is a simple example of Polarity bodywork, which is highly developed and often involves far more intricate applications.
Verbal counseling is also a clinical skill used by Polarity Therapists. Any psychotherapist can tell us how counseling moves energy! Polarity counseling may involve processing emotional issues, or may simply involve providing wellness education to the patient. Research increasingly documents how mental attitudes, emotions, and belief structures influence health.
Diet and nutrition can be another sphere of clinical practice for Polarity Therapy. Nourishment according to the energetic relationships of food can greatly benefit our patients. Additionally, safe and gentle protocols for detoxifying the body and helping balance physiological functioning are part of the Polarity literature.
Exercise is another arena where patients can be taught simple self-help approaches to improve their functioning. The exercises used by Polarity Therapy are based on easy stretching postures which provide not only structural release, but promote energetic balancing as well. In this way, these exercises have effects in levels beyond the physical body.
Finally, there is one element of Polarity Therapy which embraces all of the clinical skills of the practitioner and is really the essence of the healing process. This is the quality of love. Love is truly the essence of healing--compassion on the part of the physician, and self-love within the life of the patient.
A new science of energy-based medicine is emerging. Based on the awareness of subtle electromagnetic phenomena as the organizing principle in matter, energy-based medicine is focusing more closely on the essence of life itself. Scientific communities, professional organizations, and research institutes are helping to complete a circle of understanding of what the ancients meant by "life energy."
At the core of these groups are Fetzer Institute, the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM), and the American Polarity Therapy Association. These groups are demonstrating that the gap between Western and Eastern systems of medicine is not so wide as it once appeared, and that an energy-based perspective in medicine is a unifying model bridging both cultures and time, and helping us grasp the essence of healing.
As energy-based medicine becomes increasingly established wtih an empirical foundation, the principles of Polarity Therapy are proving to be both accurate and useful to the range of health care practitioners. The pioneering work of Dr. Randolph Stone helped us achieve this current level of synthesis. More recent works have refined the expression of Polarity principles (e.g., Sills, 1989), yet the life work of Randolph Stone was a spark which ignited a fire of universal understanding.
Roger Gilchrist is the founding director of the Wellness Institute in Crestone, CO. He is a medical psychotherapist and Registered Polarity Practitioner. He is the current Vice President of the American Polarity Therapy Association and conducts Polarity Therapy trainings across the country. Wellness Institute, P.O. Box 928, Crestone, CO 81131 (719)256-4500.
Becker, R.O. & Seldon, G. (1985). The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life. New York: William Morrow & Co.
Sills, F. (1989). The Polarity Process: Energy as a Healing Art. Rockport, MA: Element.
Stone, R. (1985). Health Building: The Conscious Art of Living Well. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS.
Stone, R. (1986a). Polarity Therapy: The Collected Works of Dr. Randolph Stone. Volume One. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS.
Stone, R. (1986b). Polarity Therapy: The Collected Works of Dr. Randolph Stone. Volume Two. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS.
The professional organizations mentioned in this article may be reached as follows:
American Polarity Therapy Association
P. O. Box 19858
Boulder, CO 80308
International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine
11005 Ralston Road, Suite 100-D
Arvada, CO 80004
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