Body in balance

Have you noticed colleagues crouched in front of their computer screens with their shoulders so hunched they look like they're suspended from coat hangers? If you catch yourself doing this, hold the position and see where it's creating tension in your body. What are your muscles doing? What is the shape of your spine? Are you breathing freely? Is there a tight ball sitting between your ribs and belly button?

These are classic symptoms of stress. It's not all bad. Amazingly, you manage to survive – sometimes even thrive – on the adrenaline. The problem comes when your body becomes "addicted" to it, and your coping threshold gets higher. The more stress you pile on, the better you seem to meet the challenge. Your body doesn't complain as much any more. In fact, what's happened is that it has adapted.

This new pattern is, however, far from the body's natural, ideal, state of equilibrium. Over time, the impact can begin to show up in niggly aches and pains, headaches, and, often, more serious illness.

Time to get holistic
Polarity therapy sees the body as more than just skin, bones, organs, nerves and muscles – it's a dynamic, living system (and "system" is meant in the quantum physics sense of the word – something in nature, business or anywhere else that functions as an interdependent, interconnected whole). At the very finest level, it says, we are energy, and every cell vibrates at the frequency needed to sustain life and to maintain physical form.

All energy is governed by three electromagnetic charges: positive, negative and neutral. In Polarity, the body is seen as an energy field with natural currents and patterns that vitalise the body. A healthy system is dependent on its ability to maintain free-flowing energy circuits and any disturbance will eventually result in pain, discomfort or even illness.

Anything that happens in one part of the system (for better or worse) affects the other parts, and the tendency is to adapt to the circumstances in order to establish a new state of equilibrium or "dynamic balance". In the example of stress in your shoulders, a Polarity practitioner would recognise the imbalance resulting from the muscle contraction and, while facilitating the release, would also work towards balancing the whole system.

In Polarity, both the practitioner's hands are placed on the body, usually using a light touch. The intention is to encourage the client's energy to flow from a positive to a negative point (set up by placement of the hands), through the neutral point – thus giving direction to the energy and "reminding" it where to go. Once the energy is balanced and flowing freely again, the body should have the capacity to restore or heal itself. The focus is on the person, not the symptoms in isolation, though, of course, they provide clues about the possible causes of the imbalance or interruption in the flow of energy.

While Polarity therapy is not aimed at treating disease or illness, it has been known to help in a wide variety of conditions – from migraines and asthma, to back ache and arthritis – but not in a "quick fix" sort of way. It also helps to relieve stress, promotes deep relaxation and works gently to release emotional imbalances and trauma.

You take charge
Polarity requires a paradigm shift – away from the expectation that someone will make you well, to the recognition that the practitioner is there to help you on your journey towards wellness. This takes the form of body work, emotional support and providing a safe space for your personal growth. The key is raising your awareness of your body, and taking responsibility.

If this sounds onerous, consider the debate around taking diet pills vs making a change in your lifestyle and eating habits. We know the first option seldom works (and it's even more rarely effective in the long term), while the latter is the road to greater self-awareness, self-respect and long-term results.

Where it all comes from
The founder, Dr Randolph Stone, who lived in the US at the turn of the century, was way ahead of his time in the holistic system he introduced. He was trained, among other things, as a chiropractor, osteopath and naturopath, so he had an intimate knowledge of how the body functions.

Yet, he felt, there was something missing, as many associations between parts of the body could not be explained within these disciplines. His search took him to the East, where he studied the ancient energy healing systems, on which he based Polarity therapy, making it a balance of Western and Eastern philosophies. What Dr Stone had found was what he liked to refer to as the "wireless anatomy" of the body.

The three basic energy currents in Polarity therapy are the long-line currents which flow vertically up and down your body, a spiral current which emanates from your umbilicus, and an East-West current that flows around your body from side to side.

The chakras, or energy centres, occur along the central core of the body. From the Indian Ayurvedic system, Dr Stone incorporated the elements of either, air, water, fire and earth, that govern specific parts of the body and which each have a positive, neutral and negative triad relationship. Going back to the hunched shoulder example: looking at it simplistically, this could result in an imbalance in the air element. The air triad relationships on the back of the body are shoulders (positive), kidneys (neutral) and ankles (negative), and on the front of the body, chest and lungs (positive), colon (neutral) and calves (negative).

So, if the air element was out of balance for a long time, your body would probably begin to show stress in some of the areas mentioned and symptoms would arise to alert you to do something about it. While a Polarity session might consist of body work to balance the air element (and any others that might have been affected), diet and exercise could also be discussed.

Are you feeding your imbalance?
In Polarity, foods are classified according to the elements: air foods have oxidising properties, usually grow "in the air" such as on trees and include citrus fruits, apples, some nuts and yoghurt. According to your imbalance, a practitioner would have to help you decide if you needed more or less "air" food.

Fire foods include "hot" foods, high protein foods, grains, legumes, garlic, onions and radishes. Water foods include leafy greens, melons and squashes, and earth foods are underground plants, such as potatoes and tubers, as well as starches. Dr Stone also devised what he called a "health-building diet" and some cleansing or detoxifying regimes on which practitioners are qualified to provide guidance.

You might also be shown some Polarity yoga to do on your own. The exercises include a specific awareness of the elements and how they can be balanced through the use of exercise and breath.

During a session, you might be invited to explore your emotional well-being. How is the stress impacting on you? Why do specific things provoke a stress reaction in you when they may not in others? Can you locate in your body where it is that you experience stress, panic, fear or any other emotion? Is it that tight ball in your solar plexus, a heavy weight on your chest or maybe a constriction in the throat? These clues will help a practitioner to guide you through the underlying emotion that gets stuck in your body, creating a cell memory that locks us into emotions, no matter how hard we try to let go. A practitioner would gently help you move through these physical, energetic and emotional blockages so that you can regain a state of wellness in all aspects of your life.

Ultimately, it's all about balance. Finding balance in our lives is something most of us strive for. But if you turn it around and start with yourself, you'll be surprised to see what happens around you.

The facts

  • Polarity therapy is relatively new in South Africa (the first practitioners were trained about I2 years ago), but it is popular in the US and the UK, and is also practised in Europe and Scandinavian countries.
  • There are about 20 Polarity practitioners in South Africa, mainly in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and more are being trained. It involves a two-year part-time diploma course, currently only being offered in Cape Town.
  • A session usually lasts around an hour and you remain fully clothed. It is advisable to have four to six sessions before re-assessing, to give the body a chance to realign itself.
  • The South African Polarity Therapy Association (SAPTA) is affiliated to the Confederation of Complementary Health Associations of South Africa (COCHASA), and its members are governed by a constitution and a code of ethics.
  • For more information and referrals, contact SAPTA's chairperson Gillian Warren-Brown on 021-6854352 or 082 928 2688; e-mail: polarity@webmail.co.za
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