Polarity Therapy and Biodynamics
Polarity Therapy presents an elegant description of the human energy system, and details the energy dynamics in the living system at work in health and in therapeutic practice. The intention for the article is to summarize main points of Polarity Therapy theory in relation to Biodynamic practice, and to examine skills that may contribute to our clinical work.
A basic understanding of Polarity Therapy can bring benefits to our practice of Craniosacral Biodynamics for two reasons. First, Polarity Therapy helps us appreciate the full breadth of the Original Matrix by elaborating the relationships in the human energy system. The term Original Matrix was coined by Rollin Becker, DO and has been popularized in use by James S. Jealous, DO to describe a primary level of energy dynamics (relationships of potency) that subtend the living system.[i] Polarity Therapy describes the levels of energy relationships that step down from “primary energy,” the potency of the Breath of Life. These dynamics create the human energy system, a fabric of relationships that are unseen yet orchestrate all the functions of life. Later in the article I will describe important features of this energy system and their relationship to craniosacral therapy practice
Essentially, the Breath of Life manifests its potency as a primary energy that directly infuses the living system. Additionally, a multifaceted set of energy dynamics establish relationships and govern functions in the living system, and these could be considered secondary energies. Franklyn Sills has discussed the relationship of primary energy (BoL) and secondary energy (elemental forms, geometric patterns, and more) in a series of workshops he has taught since the early 1990s called “Being and Becoming.”
The second way that Polarity Therapy potentially benefits Craniosacral Biodynamics is that certain skills drawn from Polarity Therapy can expand our aptitude and create useful nuances in our therapeutic approach. Biodynamic practitioners recognize three fields of function: potency, fluids, and tissues. These are different levels of action in the living system, and each dimension has distinct operational dynamics. Potency, or energy dynamics, create organizing forces that establish the dynamic relationships in the living system. Potency interacts with the fluids and influences the functions of the fluids. Fluids interface with the tissues and cells and exchange information between the organizing energy and the structure and functions of the body. Polarity Therapists have specific skills for engaging with each of the three fields of function. I will mention some key skills as we go further in this article.
History of Polarity Therapy
A quick sketch of the history of Polarity Therapy begins with Dr. Randolph Stone, an osteopath who studied healing traditions from around the world. Dr. Stone spent a lifetime pursuing the common denominator in health. He found that all traditional medical systems have an energy-based foundation, and he often made the statement, “Energy is the real substance behind the appearance of matter and forms.” [ii] This is similar to the Biodynamic awareness that the intelligent potency of the Breath of Life is organizing all of the dynamics in the living body.
The strongest influences on Dr. Stone’s thinking and the development of Polarity Therapy come from Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and the Hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt. Drawing on all of these traditional systems, as well as his studies in osteopathic, chiropractic, and naturopathic healing, Dr. Stone developed Polarity Therapy. Polarity Therapy is a uniquely modern system of health care that presents an integrated view of the human energy system.[iii] As a holistic approach to health care, Polarity Therapy is comprehensive and includes therapeutic bodywork, energetic nutrition, exercise, and self-awareness. It also emphasizes Love as the essence of the healing process.
There are several historical links between BCST and Polarity Therapy. Dr. Stone knew of Dr. Sutherland and the emerging model of cranial osteopathy. There are several references to craniosacral concepts in Dr. Stone’s written work, including an emphasis on the cerebrospinal fluid as the central repository of life energy.[iv] Dr. Stone uses the term the Breath of Life many places in his writing.[v] He strongly recommended H. I. Magoun’s book, Osteopathy in the Cranial Field, which is essentially the first cranial osteopathic textbook.[vi] Furthermore, an important student of Sutherland’s in the late years when the Breath of Life model was more consistently explicated, Robert Fulford, DO, was Dr. Stone’s good friend, even though Fulford was much younger Fulford embodied Sutherland’s teachings in cranial osteopathy and studied Dr. Stone’s work in Polarity Therapy. Fulford became an energy medicine practitioner, much more than a run-of-the-mill osteopath, as indicated in his 12 years of giving the Dr. Sutherland Memorial lecture annually at the British School of Osteopathy in London.[vii] I have copies of letters that went between Dr. Stone and Dr. Fulford in my files, and I am fortunate to have studied with several of Dr. Fulford’s protégés. The letters between these two important osteopathic originators demonstrate a great deal about the relationship between energy medicine and cranial osteopathy.
Basic Theory of Polarity Therapy
Polarity Therapy can be viewed as a defining model for all of energy medicine, as well as being a specific practice within the larger field.[viii] There are two primary components to its underlying theory: 1) the Three Principles of Energy Movement, and 2) the Five Elements.
Three Principles of Energy Movement
The Three Principles describe the basic energy dynamics in any field of function, ranging from the interaction of subatomic particles to the depth of physiology in complex living systems. The Three Principles are the basic energetic charges of neutral, positive, and negative. Chinese Medicine calls these tao, yang, and yin, respectively; and Ayurveda calls these sattva, rajas, and tamas. Polarity Therapy commonly uses the latter nomenclature. It is the interaction of these charged forces—neutral, positive, and negative—that establishes motion in an energetic field.
In relation to Biodynamic terms, the Three Principles can be described as space, potency, and structure and function. The Sanskrit terms, sattva, rajas, and tamas, can also be translated as “truth, action, and inertia.” This is very relevant to our work in Biodynamics. There is a great deal of emphasis on space and the neutral in our work, but we should not forget the action of potency, and the crystallization of the pattern form in structure and function. We are always working with the relationship of these principles in therapeutic sessions.
For example, when we look at how the client holds their experience, embraces their life, and embodies their thoughts, we are looking at how negative principle and the function of inertia is expressing in the client’s life. When we ask, “How free is the potency to accommodate change? How strong is the fluid drive?” we are asking questions about how the positive principle of energy is expressing in their living system. The question, “How clearly are dynamics oriented to the midline (central energy channel) and the natural fulcrums?” allows us to orient to the neutral principle.
The Three Principles also define the poles of the energetic field. There is a neutral middle pole, a positive expressive pole, and a negative receptive pole or repository for life energy. The positive pole is superior in the body, and the negative pole is inferior. Energy moves as a fluctuation between the charged poles of the field. Enter the Tide. Dr. Sutherland would emphasize: “I want you to recognize that the first principle in my Cranial Concept is the inherent fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid!”[ix] The movement of the CSF is following the energetic fluctuation of potency between the poles of the body.
When a practitioner assesses the fluid drive during inhalation (tidal movement toward the positive pole of the body), they are bringing into their awareness the positive, active, rajasic principle and the driving force of potency. The largest reservoir for CSF, in the lumbosacral region (near the water chakra), is an area that Dr. Stone called the “vital reserve.”[x] Think about the function of exhalation stillpoints being oriented to this negative pole of the body. As the potency and fluids come to rest in the inferior waterbeds, the negative pole, the living system deepens its relationship to the storehouse of energy within. This is an aspect of the negative, tamasic principle. Finally, consider the perceptible dynamic in a state of balance, and you will understand the essence of the neutral, sattvic principle. In these ways, Biodynamic awareness potentially adds something to the practice of Polarity Therapy.
The Five Elements
The other central feature of Polarity Therapy theory is the Five Elements. Most traditional medical systems have a Five Element orientation. As energy moves in its field (driven by the Three Principles), it moves through a series of stages. These stages are the Five Elements. The Five Elements define features and qualities of energy and process. One of my Polarity Therapy teachers has said the elements are states of matter, energy, and consciousness. It is important to understand that the Five Elements describe qualitative states of one life energy in motion.
The Breath of Life’s potency has been called “primary energy.” This means it is undifferentiated life energy. The potency of the Breath of Life is unified, whole, and completely integrated in its functioning. The Five Elements are the first level of manifestation from the Breath of Life, which establishes the energetic matrix for the living system. As energy moves farther from the source (primary energy and the Breath of Life), it takes on different characteristics and qualities. It moves through stages of differentiation described by the Five Elements. This level of interaction can be called a secondary energy system. Thus, we have the Breath of Life, its potency, and the orienting axis of the midline as expressions of primary energy; and we have the chakras emerging from the midline, and manifesting the different frequency domains that are the Five Elements (differentiated energies), thereby creating a second level of the energy system.
The Five Elements interact with the Three Principles and establish themselves in the three poles of the biofield. The three poles are the positive pole from the diaphragm up to the top of the head; the neutral pole from the diaphragm down to the pelvic floor; and negative pole from the perineum and hip joints down to the bottom of the feet. As energy circulates among the three poles of the field (and the body) following the principles of energy movement, each element establishes positive, neutral, and negative relationships. Each element governs a specific area within each pole of the body. Locations and functions are set up in relation to each element moving through the three poles. The Fire element is superior in all three poles (in nature, fire rises up); thus, it governs the head, the solar plexus and digestive organs, and the thighs and motive power in the organism. The Water element is inferior in all three poles (in nature, water seeks its lowest ground); thus, it governs the breast, the pelvis, and the feet. The Earth element governs areas of support in the body: the knees in the negative pole, the colon in the abdomen, and the neck in the superior pole. The Air element governs areas of balance: the shoulders and lungs, the kidneys, and the ankles. The Ether element governs the spaces of the body.
These three-pole functions of each element triangulate through the early embryo, creating positive, neutral, and negative relationships for each element through all three poles of the body. In relation to health dynamics, if an element goes out of balance in one pole, compensation will be created in the areas of the other poles governed by that element. This fact alone creates a wider view in Biodynamics, in the sense that it defines commonly related fulcrums. When the practitioner knows this, they can have insight to some of the intricacies of the living system. With an awareness of commonly related fulcrums, the practitioner can understand why they might be seeing relationships of imbalance. Additionally, the awareness of these relationships demonstrates that it is often useful to work with them together in the same session to facilitate better overall balance for the client.
Essentially, the elements establish harmonic relationships throughout the three poles of the biofield. In other words, the area governed by a given element in one pole of the body will resonate with the areas governed by the same element in the other poles. (For example, the breast, as it is governed by the Water element, is harmonically resonant with the pelvis and the feet.) These resonant relationships are harmonics of each other, just as middle C on a piano will resonate with all the other octaves of C. Working with all the harmonics of a given element helps to bring an overall balance to that element as it circulates through the living system. In this way, Polarity Therapy is especially adept at balancing the circulation of energy.
Each element has a central theme, dynamic quality, and overall function. These general correspondences follow: Ether = space, the field, dynamic equilibrium; Air = movement, balance, integration; Fire = power, concentration of energy (drive), motivation; Water = flow, relationship, cohesion; Earth = structure, boundary, and the form of experience, including physical body.
Each element also has a way it behaves and a defining issue when it is out of balance. The behavior (function) of the Earth element is about stability, foundation, ground, support, security, and trust. When the Earth element goes out of balance, issues of instability, ungroundedness, insecurity, and fear prevail. A different kind of imbalance of the Earth element can result in fixation, rigidity, and inflexibility. The lesson available at this level of experience is learning to trust. The function of the Water element is about relationship, sensation, fluidity, and feeling emotions. When the Water element is out of balance, difficulties present in relationships and the ability to feel experience. For the craniosacral therapist these effects could be noticeable in the fluids of the body. The fire element is about power, assertiveness, motivation, and physical action. Challenges with any of these things could reflect an imbalance in the Fire element. Conscious growth at the level of the Fire element often involves learning to forgive, and finding balance with the right use of power. The Air element governs integration, balance, and communication. If the Air element goes out of balance, issues of imbalance, scatteredness, and charged dynamics commonly occur. Finally, the Ether element is about our access to space and the ability to seek a neutral.
In the process of Polarity Therapy bodywork, it is common to make connections with our hands between two of the areas governed by one of the elements. We do not typically do this in a pure craniosacral practice. The Polarity Therapy approach is to connect energetic harmonics in order to bring deeper balance to the living system. Most commonly, connections are made among all three poles of the body, allowing an energy to circulate balance itself throughout the entire field, since energy movement is a field dynamic in relation to the charged poles of the field.
For example, working with the Fire element often involves a series of connections from the thighs (negative pole of Fire) to the solar plexus (neutral place of Fire), and solar plexus to the head (positive pole of Fire). This helps bring balance to the function of that element in all three poles. Another example is balancing the Water element with connections between the feet and the pelvis, then the pelvis and the chest or breast.
Polarity Therapy also uses different types of contacts in relation to the Three Principles and the behavior of energy in areas of the body. A light, gentle or off-body contact that is often very subtle is called a “sattvic” contact. This is most similar to the style of contact we typically use as craniosacral practitioners. In Polarity Therapy, the purpose of this style of contact is to let the life energy move and to balance itself. Sometimes it can be valuable to stimulate or promote the movement of energy. This is done with a vibrating or rocking style of contact, called a “rajasic” contact. (Obviously, we would never do this inside the craniosacral system, but this can be very useful outside the dura in the fascial fields of the body.) Finally, there is a deep, dispersing type of contact, called a “tamasic” contact. This is used to disperse deeply held, inertial energies and tissue contractions. In a massage orientation, the tamasic contact is most similar to a deep-tissue approach, but there are ways to do this with intention as well. Being able to use these different styles of contact can add beneficial skills to one’s therapeutic repertoire.
For example, Robert Fulford, DO invented a device called the percussion massager (similar to the modern commercial product, the Thumper) and he would use it along adult clients’ spines before settling into subtler cranial osteopathic work. He felt most adults’ energy was too dense and needed liberating before their potency could really make changes. This is similar to a tamasic approach. Basically, if there are deeply held inertial energies, it is often more efficient to get things moving by liberating the contracted forces. I should clarify here that a tamasic approach is not used indiscriminately or as an ‘application of blind force from outside’ (to paraphrase Sutherland); it is not done as a manipulation. Appropriate use of tamasic contact can be done with sensitivity and a deep orientation to the potency in the client’s system and the way it is holding experience.
Another example is the rajasic contact. In craniosacral work, this is sometimes used when working with visceral dynamics, wherein a vibratory contact is utilized with the connective tissue envelopes surrounding organs. Vibration transmitted through contact helps the connective tissues release adhesion and patterned conditions in the protein fibers of the connective tissues. As the initial release of the conditioned pattern occurs, potency sweeps in, delivering the energy to make deep and lasting changes. States of balance and other therapeutic skills can then help potency make the most beneficial changes possible. Focusing the right frequency of vibration into strained tissue or an inertial fulcrum can create an opening to a new opportunity for healing. Again, this is done with sensitivity and an awareness of the entire biofield in relation to the specific therapeutic process.
Geometric Lines of Force
Another contribution to our work from Polarity Therapy is the awareness of lines of force and geometric patterns in the body. There are two significant geometric patterns we will consider: the Five-pointed Star and the Six-pointed Star. These two patterns represent complementary energies, or yin and yang. The Five-pointed Star is the more negative, receptive pattern and represents the embodiment of energetic dynamics. Embodiment—the physical world and the physical body—is resonant with the negative principle, or yin. Indeed, the shape of the physical body is a five-pointed star (viz., the Vitruvian Man drawing by da Vinci. Thomas Myers’ brilliant work in Anatomy Trains reveals how major fascial planes of the body follow this pattern.[xi] These lines of force are both energetic and structural. Because these lines of force run through the body’s connective tissue matrix, understanding this pattern indicates primary compensatory fulcrums built into the body. Hence, when a client has an issue in the sacroiliac or hip joint on one side of the body, it is common that the opposite shoulder joint will begin to exhibit secondary inertia that attempts to compensate for the primary issue. Later, the jaw, A-O joint, or SBJ might go out in relation to the inertia in the hip. It is interesting to note that all the connective tissue tracts of the body are suspended from the cranial base, with musculoskeletal tracts attaching primarily to the occiput and visceral tracts attaching primarily to the sphenoid and pterygoid processes. This fact helps substantiate the old osteopathic tenet that sphenobasilar dynamics are the primary structural fulcrum in the body.
The second important geometric pattern is a set of lines of force comprising a Six-pointed Star. In this pattern, two equilateral triangles point oppositely through each other, one with its base superiorly and directing toward its apex inferiorly, and the other with its foundation below directing itself toward an apex at the top. This pattern describes the dynamic of projection and reflection from one pole to the other, and intimates the wisdom in Dr. Stone’s oft quoted Hermetic axiom: “As above, so below.” In craniosacral practice, there are commonly reflective dynamics between the head and the pelvis, for example. Indeed, the occiput and the sacrum sometimes look like oppositely pointing triangles in the anatomy of the body. Franklyn Sills has referred to the Six-pointed Star as “the shape of the Primary Respiratory System.”[xii] This pattern is the energy dynamic that maintains the integrity of the field. As it maintains the overall equilibrium of the field, the Six-pointed Star is the geometric embodiment of primary energy, rather than the conditioned energies of the physical body and its processes (as in the Five-pointed Star).
Embedded in the Six-pointed Star are the midline and the chakra system. The midline is the central energy axis, and the chakra system converts the primary energy of potency into the resonant frequencies, or qualitative states, of the Five Elements. The chakras are the energy centers from which the vibrational frequencies of the elements radiate into the field. Chakra is the Sanskrit origin of the English word, “circle.” The chakras are classically visualized as whirling vortices of energy emanating from the midline. As energy descends from the ajna chakra, or the seat of potency in the third ventricle, it generates the five elemental chakras: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, successively. Energy fields form around each chakra to support specific functions in the cavities of the body (for example, the peritoneal cavity). These cavities are divided by the various diaphragms, as transverse orientations in the connective tissues, which are strongly influenced by tension gradients above and below. The energy of each field, the visceral tone of nearby organs (including hypotonus or spasticity), the fluid viscosities and pressures above and below each diaphragm will be transmitted into the diaphragm, as an organizing divider, which is then subject to these forces. Subsequently, the diaphragms become primary force organizers in the body, which is why they are often poignant places for therapeutic work. Here again we have a dynamic interface among energy dynamics, structure, and functions in the body.
This article has explored the contributions that Polarity Therapy can make to the practice of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. In a significant way, Polarity Therapy helps us understand the Original Matrix—the relationships in the field of potency that form the human energy system. This subtle energy system is the underlying template for all the dynamics of life. To summarize important aspects of the energetic matrix of the living system, we can name the following relationships: The Breath of Life manifests an open field that is unencumbered and permeated with biodynamic potency. The energy field becomes charged (polarized) and potency fluctuates between the poles of the field. Three Principles of Energy Movement (neutral, positive, and negative) govern the movement of energy through the field. As energy moves out from its source, progressively denser expressions of energy occur, which can be seen as stages in the movement of energy. These stages are the Five Elements. In the human energy system, the chakras along the midline express these elemental energies initially, as sequentially lower frequencies (in the descending direction) of the one movement of life energy. The Five Elements then establish resonant harmonics in the three poles of the human energy field. Additionally, specific lines of force create organizing geometries, to which the body always orients its process. These lines of force and geometric patterns are both energetic dynamics supporting the field and structural relationships supporting the body. Considering the nature of the Three Principles (space, potency, and form; or, neutral, action, and inertia) and the nature of the Five Elements helps us appreciate the energetic voice of the living system and engage with it appropriately. Different styles of contact may be appropriate at certain stages of therapeutic work, and the use of a range of therapeutic principles and energetic resonance may be beneficial.
Biodynamic principles make a contribution to the practice of Polarity Therapy.[xiii] The appreciation we have for the neutral principle is well-developed in Biodynamic CST. Especially, using therapeutic skills like the state of balance is a profound therapeutic principle. One of my teachers, Tom Shaver, DO, himself a student of Robert Fulford, has said: “Boundary techniques will always work; working through the neutral is always more powerful!” Additionally, the recognition of the inherent treatment plan is a valuable part of our philosophy. Life has a self-corrective function that, when the conditions are established to facilitate this, will infallibly guide the living system back to a clear orientation to its natural dynamics. Finally, the deep sensitivity to processes at play in the living system and the specific dynamics of reorganization is cultivated in a Biodynamic approach. Awareness of the three fields of function and the interrelated dynamics of potency, fluids, and tissues becomes a poetic way of appreciating the dynamics of life.
It is my hope that this article conveys a sense of relationship between the two fields of Craniosacral Biodynamics and Polarity Therapy. While each discipline is a unique therapeutic practice, each field contributes to the other in important ways. There is much more to be discovered about the nature of these two practices, together and independently. We can only wonder how Dr. Stone and Dr. Sutherland would describe their work now, if they were living in this new era of Energy Medicine!
Roger Gilchrist, MA, RPP, RCST®, is the founder of Wellness Institute, an international school for training in Polarity Therapy and Craniosacral Biodynamics. He is the author of the book, Craniosacral Therapy and the Energetic Body, and has developed a distance learning program for certification in Polarity Therapy. For more information, visit: www.WellnessInstitute.net.
[i] Jealous, J. S. (1997). Healing and the Natural World: An Interview with James S. Jealous, D.O. Alternative Therapies.
[ii] Stone, R. (1986). Polarity Therapy: The complete collected works of Dr. Randolph Stone. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS Publications. Volume 2; page 207.
[iii] Sills, F. (1989). The Polarity Process. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
[iv] Stone, R. (1985). Health Building: The conscious art of living well. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS Publications. Page 13.
[v] Stone, R. (1954). Energy: The Vital Polarity in the Healing Art. (in Polarity Therapy: The complete collected works of Dr. Randolph Stone). Sebastopol, CA: CRCS Publications. Volume 1; page 57.
[vi] Stone, R. (1957). Energy Tracing. (in Polarity Therapy: The complete collected works of Dr. Randolph Stone). Sebastopol, CA: CRCS Publications. Volume 2; page 224.
[vii] Milne, H. (2005). The Breath of Life Conference, conference presentation. London.
[viii] Gilchrist, R. (1994). The Essence of Energy-Based Medicine. Holistic Medicine. American Holistic Medical Association.
[ix] Sutherland, W. G. (1990). Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy. Portland, OR: Rudra Press. Pages 13, 31-32, 173, 179.
[x]Stone, R. (1954). The Mysterious Sacrum. (in Polarity Therapy: The complete collected works of Dr. Randolph Stone). Sebastopol, CA: CRCS Publications. Volume 2; page 22.
[xi] Myers, T. (2008). Anatomy Trains. (Second edition). London: Churchill Livingstone.
[xii] Sills, F. (1993). Conference presentation. Burlington, VT: American Polarity Therapy Association.
[xiii] Gilchrist, R. (2003). Cranial Osteopathic Skills in Polarity Therapy. Boulder, CO: American Polarity Therapy Association.
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