Essence and Form

Roger Gilchrist, MA, RPE, RCST

Essence and Form—exploring Craniosacral Biodynamics and Polarity Therapy

                Roger Gilchrist, MA, RPE, RCST®

As we practice therapeutic bodywork, we inevitably come up against the mysteries of life.  All of our training, our experience in practice, our continuing education, can be—in a moment—challenged and humbled when we encounter such mystery.

Two different bodywork systems have endeavored to create a deeper relationship with this mystery, and help us to understand the real essence in the healing process.  Polarity Therapy has a precise understanding of the human energy system, and Craniosacral Biodynamics endeavors to hold a relationship to the core of that.  Interestingly, both therapeutic practices, Polarity Therapy and Craniosacral Biodynamics, have their roots in osteopathic medicine; each in different ways. 

Polarity Therapy was founded by Dr. Randolph Stone, DO.  Dr. Stone was also a chiropractor and naturopath.  Dr. Stone studied widely the cutting-edge trends in medicine during his time, as well as ancient medical systems from multicultural sources.  Assembling all this knowledge, Dr. Stone came to believe that there is one common denominator to Health:  energy is the basis of all healing dynamics.  Dr. Stone was famous for his statement:  “Energy is the real substance behind the appearance of matter and forms.”[i]

With his cross-cultural awareness of ancient and modern medical practices, combined with insight about energy dynamics as the foundation of the healing process, Dr. Stone developed an overall, integrative health system that he called Polarity Therapy.  This naming of his work indicates the understanding of energetic charges as the basis of all interactions:  chemical, physical, structural, and so on.  The therapeutic practices of Polarity Therapy are aimed at balancing the human energy system, which leads to more balanced physiology, increased vitality, better self-regulation, and greater self-awareness.  There are many ways Polarity Therapy endeavors to accomplish this.

Polarity Therapy is a comprehensive health care system.  It describes five arenas of therapeutic work with clients:  Polarity Therapy bodywork, energy exercises (sometimes called Polarity Yoga), energetic nutrition, self-awareness, and the healing power of Love.  All fully trained Polarity Therapists have familiarity with these five arenas of health, though many choose to emphasize one aspect of them, for example, Polarity Therapy bodywork.

Polarity Therapy bodywork uses three styles of contact, or engagement with the client’s system, in resonance with three principles that govern energy movement.  A neutral, or balancing, contact is called sattvic.  This involves light contacts on the surface of the body, or even in the field around the body.  Sattvic contacts do not manipulate the soft tissues of the body.  A more active style of engagement is called rajasic.  Rajasic contacts involve stimulation in some way, energetically or physically.  Rajasic contacts can range from subtly vibrating a point, to a Trager-like rocking of a limb or section of the body.  The function of a rajasic contact is to stimulate energy to move.  A third level of engagement is called tamasic.  Tamasic approaches are focused on dispersing deeply held inertial energies. 

These deep, inertial energies can be found as fixation in the structure of the body, the emotional field, attitudes and beliefs.  Tamasic approaches are used to confront the fixation, and challenge the system to mobilize its resources toward transformation.  In terms of bodywork, tamasic contacts are deep and dispersing, often slow, with an orientation to accessing the more deeply held energies and helping them start to move again. 

One aspect of Polarity Therapy bodywork is very structurally oriented.  We should remember Dr. Stone’s experience as a chiropractor and an osteopath.  His books are filled with classical moves from these healing practices, especially the manual medicine of osteopathy.  Around this, Dr. Stone describes the energy movements that are really the foundation of change in the patient.

On the other hand, Polarity Therapy can sometimes be practiced entirely sattvically, with an emphasis on balancing the energy dynamics in the field.  While this aspect was challenging to discuss not that long ago, more and more evidence accumulates about the human energy system every day.  The first scientific documentation of the human energy system occurred during 1991-1993, in a series of experiments known as the Copper Wall Experiments, performed at the Menninger Clinic.[ii]  Since that time, the particular details of the human energy system continue to be articulated in various ongoing studies.  Information about living energy systems is used by industries ranging from mobile phone companies, to the U.S. Army, to healing arts practitioners.  A rapidly growing sector of health diagnosis technology is focused around measuring energetic parameters.

In addition to Polarity Therapy bodywork, professional practitioners of Polarity Therapy might suggest specific exercises that can help a client with his issue.  For example, a beautifully fluid movement called “scissor kicks” can gently open the hip joints and sacroiliac joints, leading to relief of sciatic pain.  A Polarity Therapist might make dietary recommendations, for example, helping the same client reduce pro-inflammatory foods which, in turn, can reduce pain sensitivity.  Working with self-awareness is another feature in the practice of Polarity Therapy.  Perhaps in the therapeutic process the client discovers a tendency to hold energy around the second chakra, and thereby realizes the energetic underpinnings of the sacroiliac distress.

Polarity Therapy provides a comprehensive description of the human energy system.  This is an integrative model based on Dr. Stone’s diverse studies.  The Polarity Therapy model differs from the acupuncture meridian system because it is essentially describing a different level of the human energy system.  Polarity Therapy focuses on the core of the human energy system—the midline and the chakras, the field dynamics (charges, or polarities) and the currents generated by them, the energy harmonics created by the Five Elements and distributed through the three poles of the energy field, organ resonances with the Five Elements, structural reflexes called lines of force, and ways that energy affects the physiology of the body. 

Craniosacral Biodynamics is a different, yet related, therapeutic practice with some philosophical similarities to Polarity Therapy.  Both originated in osteopathic medicine, which has always professed to be both a philosophy and a science.  Both endeavor to understand, or at least appreciate, the mysteries of life.  While Polarity Therapy endeavors to describe this through its model for the human energy system; Craniosacral Biodynamics is oriented to holding a therapeutic relationship to those mysteries.

Another osteopath, William G. Sutherland, DO, spent a lifetime developing a specialty in osteopathic medicine called cranial osteopathy.[iii]  He worked out the details of several core functions in the body, including 1) the biomechanics of the movement in the sutures of the skull; 2) the distribution of forces through the dural membrane, which he called a reciprocal tension membrane; 3) the dynamics of the fluctuation in the cerebrospinal fluid; and 4) the energetic oscillation that drives that phenomenon.  The first three of those aspects are the physiological components of what John Upledger, DO, later called the craniosacral system

The emphasis for Dr. Sutherland was the energetic process driving all of the physiological expressions.  He had such reverence for this process that he called it the Breath of Life.  Sutherland pointed to an energy movement that he called Primary Respiration as the dynamic which distributes energy through the living system, thereby animating ones being and propelling the healing process.  Primary Respiration is essentially the field dynamic of the human energy system.  One of Sutherland’s successors, Rollin Becker, DO, discussed an energetic exchange between the physical organism and the field around it.[iv]  Modern research has shown that this idea is consistent with observations in biophysics.[v]

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists practice in relationship to this essential energy movement called Primary Respiration.  They use very subtle skills that assist the living system to balance and/or therapeutically transform its processes.  Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST) works with a spectrum of dynamics ranging from an orientation to the dural membrane, cranial bones and sutures; to fluid dynamics; spinal structure; possible nerve impingement or facilitation; autonomic nervous system balancing; and, at more essential levels, the overall distribution of vital energy.  This therapeutic range can yield benefits in the structure of the body, its physiologic balance, sensory-motor functioning, ability to reduce stress levels, capacity to self-regulate, and general motivation or drive in life. 

Craniosacral Biodynamics  describes “three fields of function,” or the arenas where it works.  The three fields of function are tissues, fluids, and potency [energy dynamics].  I am convinced that if Dr. Sutherland had lived after the revolution of quantum physics entered public awareness, he simply would have used the term “energy” to describe the movement of the Breath of Life.  Common examples of the three fields of function are these:  the work of most massage therapists is focused in the tissue field. One familiar example of work with the fluid field is lymphatic work.  Finally, the field of potency—or the energy dynamics in the living system—provides another level of therapeutic work. 

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists are different from other craniosacral practitioners in how they practice.  Other styles of CST involve a somewhat more manual approach, whether to the bones and membranes, the fluid dynamics, or other structural relationships.  Albeit very subtle, some amount of manipulation is used with the client’s system.  (Dr. Upledger attempted to define how subtle this is when he stated his well-known admonition for less than five grams of pressure.)  In contrast, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists work with the energetic forces organizing human experience.  Whether in the dural membrane tensions, the position of vertebrae, the contraction in and around a joint, or a strain in the connective tissues, there are forces that are organizing these experiences.  BCST practitioners use subtle skills, including states of balanced tension and other augmentation skills, in which the energetic forces are essentially set up to work with/transform their own process, leading to the corresponding changes at the more obvious physical levels.  Although this is a very subtle practice, clients should be leaving with tangible physical benefits or other noticeable improvements.

Many BCST practitioners have additional experience with trauma resolution, and some are adept with neuroendocrine regulation.  All of this takes place in relation to the great mystery, the Breath of Life, and its field movement, Primary Respiration.

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy focuses on working with the “breath” in the human energy field.  The field fluctuation of energy (Primary Respiration) is the substrate for the tissue movements, motility and mobility, and fluid dynamics.  All of the rhythms in body physiology are harmonics of the basic field pulsation.  The power of Craniosacral Biodynamics is its ability to work at this very essential level of the field fluctuation.  Additional advantages of BCST are the ability to work with fluid dynamics and the particular features of tissue patterns.  A possible deficit in this model is the absence of a pragmatic description of the human energy system.  In other words, the ability to therapeutically engage the essential field fluctuation is a specific level of therapeutic process; a different level of engagement is relating to how the field dynamic ramifies to other particular functions and their harmonics in living process.  This latter is better described by Polarity Therapy.

In India it is commonly said, “The one river of Prana divides into the five pranas.”  In other words, the one fundamental life energy translates itself into the specific forms of life energy:  the Five Elements, principles of energy movement, field currents, reciprocal tension dynamics, and the various movements of life.

I am describing here how each of these two therapeutic systems have a deep relationship to the mystery of life—the energetic dynamics that are the foundation for life itself.  One system presents a descriptive model for how those movements take place, and the other orients to working with very essence of those movements and the core of our being.  It should be apparent that each of these models has something to contribute to the other.  In many ways, the therapeutic practices are very complementary to each other.

It is important to acknowledge that many therapists practice in one of these disciplines, not both.  We have already mentioned that the complementary aspects of the two fields likely offer valuable understanding in an integrative approach to healing.  In fact, each of the disciplines could be viewed as a specific therapeutic specialty in the larger, emerging field of Energy Medicine.  I can envision a future where integrative therapists are familiar with the entire spectrum of health and healing, even while most choose to specialize in particular disciplines.  The combined professional conference of these two fields is one step in this direction.

My experience with other bodyworkers when they encounter either one of these professions is that they often have an “Aha!” that immediately shows them a deeper understanding of the work they’ve already been doing.  Then, when they go further and actually study the details and practices of the profession, they begin working at higher levels and working with less effort.  Dr. Stone used to advocate “effortless effort” in therapeutic work.  More effective results start to happen, and the work becomes more efficient.  Clients notice the difference. 

In my own practice, I have found that a combination of these two disciplines is amazingly effective.  The healing power of being able to relate to life’s most essential dynamics, to work with the forces underlying the conditions, to understand the movement of energy throughout the body and how that is the real foundation of health, all lead to me to a very integrative awareness with my clients and their process.  It is truly humbling to begin to appreciate the self-corrective functions in life, and the ways that nature reestablishes balance on its own.  Being able to support this process therapeutically, when necessary, is profound; and knowing that this process takes place on its own is even more profound.  The wisdom to know the difference is a sign of therapeutic maturity.

In this article, I have tried to give you some insight to the Polarity Therapy model as well as the practice of Craniosacral Biodynamics.  Along the way, we may begin to appreciate how one or both of these professions can contribute to the rest of our bodywork practices, and the healing arts in general.  One of them describes the essential “breath,” or movement of life energy, and the other describes the forms that it takes as it moves through the living body, and a range of skills to use in working with those processes.  This relationship between essence and form is the dynamic at the heart of the mystery of life.  In honor of this mystery, I will close with some phrases that are not my own, but drawn from the Heart Sutra:

Form is not different from Emptiness

And Emptiness is not different from Form.

Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.

The same is true for feelings, perceptions, motivations, and Consciousness.



Roger Gilchrist, MA, RPE, RCST® teaches Polarity Therapy and Craniosacral Biodynamics internationally.  He is a past vice president of the American Polarity Therapy Association, and author of the book, Craniosacral Therapy and the Energetic Body.  As the director of Wellness Institute, Roger recently posted new videos on Polarity Therapy on the YouTube channel, WellnessInstituteNet.  Other articles, videos, and resources are available at



[i] Stone, R.  (1986).  Polarity Therapy:  The Complete Collected Works of Dr. Randolph Stone.  Sebastopol, CA:  CRCS Publications.

[ii] Green, E., et al., (1993).  Anomalous Electrostatic Phenomena in Exceptional Studies.  Subtle Energies.  Volume 2,   Number 3.  Journal of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine.

[iii] Sutherland, W. G.  (1990).  Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy.  Portland, OR:  Rudra Press.

[iv] Becker, R.  (1997).  Life in Motion.  Portland, OR:  Rudra Press

[v] Ho, M.  (1998).  The Rainbow and the Worm:  The Physics of Organisms.  Singapore:  World Scientific Publishing.


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