Holding the Health, Polarity Therapy and Breast Cancer Survivors

As appeared in Energy, newsletter for the American Polarity Therapy Assosciation, Spring 2013
with Megan Brians, APP and Nat Carlson LMT, APP

For two years now I’ve been volunteering at You Can Thrive!, a breast cancer survivor foundation based in NYC.  YCT! has been operating for over five years and provides alternative/complementary care for breast cancer survivors free of charge.  The modalities represented are: acupuncture, aromatherapy, nutritional counseling, advocacy, reflexology, reiki, massage and Polarity Therapy.  When I started volunteering with YCT! my friend had been going there for acupuncture and support.  She encouraged me to share Polarity Therapy and when my Sundays opened up I did my best to give whatever support I could.  

I started out doing short 20 minute sessions in a large room with massage and/or reflexology practitioners.  Sharing a space was different from how I trained or usually practiced however I found that having others present was not a distraction but a support of the energy.  The short sessions also forced me to focus on what was essential and needed in the moment.  Overtime, and as demand for Polarity and relaxation grew, the sessions became longer and more in depth.

Being present and holding women who were recovering from all stages and forms of breast cancer was at first daunting, but as each woman came to my table I realized that all I needed to do was to pay attention to what was healthy.  I would tune into the Ultrasonic Core, or the Inverted Triangles to help the client relax and feel accepted in the moment.  I would then work with whatever pain or tension they spoke of during the intake.  I didn't have extensive training in cancer related therapy but I quickly realized that Polarity Therapy, in its gentle application, provided noticeable relief from multiple symptoms, especially anxiety, nausea, fear, disembodiment and trauma.  

Recently, I had a client come to me who had never heard of Polarity and was not sure that it would work because "I need something deep, I’m feeling really messed up", she said.  Her history included a double mastectomy a year ago, many symptoms of PTSD from the surgery, conflict with her partner and care givers, as well as uncertainty and confusion about managing her life right now. I assured her that we would be able to go as deep as she felt she needed.  With that she took a deep breath and trusted me.  

I started with her feet.  Within five minutes she was feeling a charge moving up her left leg that was distinct and interesting. she asked me what I was doing.   I explained the inside ankle point and how it helps to ground you.  When the energy in the lower body opened and settled I moved up to balance with 5 Pt. star and upon holding her hip and shoulder, she jumped.  She said felt a lot of resistance in the hip, so I backed off the pressure and said, "let’s just honor that resistance". Then as she felt into her hip the tears and anger came up. “ I thought I was done with the anger”, she said. The questions just kept coming: "Why me?” “Why cancer?” “What am I supposed to do with this?”.  Then her whole system lit up and began to flow with a deeply vital charge as she continued to release her anger.   
Soon I felt her system relax and deepen into itself and the space seemed to open for her to hear the answers to her questions.  "I think I know what I have to do, I have to share my story as part of my graduate degree application". With a deep breath and acknowledgement of this being the next step her system became even more organized and relaxed.  When the session was complete she shared how very different she felt about her life, more able to face the days to come.  I felt honored that she allowed me, a complete stranger, to witness her vulnerability and process.

It is sessions like this one that make me feel so blessed to offer such a complete system of healing. To be able to help these women trust their ability to relax and to heal. I feel that Polarity gives them a chance to fully integrate the depth of their experiences. Above all else, I think this is a vitally important experience when you are living and thriving with cancer.

Over time a few of my colleagues have joined the work at YCT! Now there are three  Polarity Therapists giving sessions consistently and more are interested in joining.  I've invited two of them to share their experiences below.

"Whenever I lay hands on a client at YCT!, I feel honored to be able to do so. I am deeply touched by each woman entrusting herself to me as she looks for support and rest in a particularly vulnerable time–this is partly in thanks to the great care the YCT! staff takes in ushering these women into various–and often new to them–healing modalities. Not only are these women contending with discomfort and exhaustion from the treatments, fear of the cancer itself and possibly depression, they have lives full of other concerns both large and small: unemployment, motherhood, romantic relationships, and daily living. My contacts and our dialogues respond to this wide variety of life events. I feel deep gratitude on meeting each woman on multiple levels and I am rewarded with grateful hugs and shining eyes. Giving Polarity Therapy sessions at YCT! has been a joyful experience all around and has marked my heart with great sweetness and tenderness." Megan Brians, APP

"Among my greatest joys in serving at You Can Thrive! is to see the glow and brightness in a survivor's eyes as she rises from the table after a session.  It gives me the sense that she has been met in a way and at a level that allows more light to shine on the very difficult process of recovery.  One of the benefits of using Polarity Therapy in the YCT! environment is that this work is an antidote to the aggressive and invasive treatment clients have experienced.  Simply opening a safe space for women to renew a connection to themselves that was wounded by their course of treatment has a noticeable result.  For many of these courageous women, YCT! is a first step beyond conventional medicine and into the realm of life energy modalities.  I am struck by the openness and receptivity of the survivors to what Polarity Therapy can offer; a gentle way of bringing support, harmony, and peace to a path of survivorship.  The grace, power, and heart survivors maintain in their journey with breast cancer is truly inspiring and I am grateful to be a part of the YCT! and Polarity community." Nat Carlson, LMT, APP

As a result of Hurricane Sandy displacement YCT! is looking for a permanent home in NYC.  Any help is greatly appreciated.

For more information about:
You Can Thrive!  www.youcanthrive.org.  

Make Pain Your Advocate

No one wants pain. Most of us avoid it, get angry because it’s there, become depressed when it won’t go away. What if we can make pain our advocate? What if our pain can help us improve our lives?

At the moment I’m sitting here with a severe aching pain in my heel. It’s flared up off and on over the years and I’m not sure I’ve gotten the message. If I listen, my aches and pains can tell me things, both shockingly clear and brutally truthful: “Walk lighter, lose 10 pounds, stand lighter, carry less, rest more, get new shoes, get more massages, see your physical therapist, do the exercises she gave you years ago!”

I have heard so many excuses, from myself, to not do exactly what I should do to relieve my pain. Sound familiar?

So what is pain really?
Pain, in the physical sense, is a signal from your nervous system. A chemical process is happening in your body, one of the countless numbers of such processes happening inside your body  every moment of the day, which causes a particular string of neurons to fire. The problem is that this electric, chemical, physiological message is direct, and immediate, but often goes unheard and unacknowledged. The ability to really hear, become aware of the pain, is lost in the stress of everyday life. The problem remains, but over time you  become numbed to the signal: blood flow is constricted, pain is lessened, as your body helps to keep you going, to serve your need to push through each day. Numbness is a great coping mechanism for the short term. But in the long term, it becomes debilitating.

Pain messages don’t go away, they just go underground; they settle deeper into the system and begin to block the healthy flow of blood, nutrients, and life energy. As a massage therapist and energy worker, I often work with clients who discover on my table the pain that has gone underground. They are shocked at what happens when they finally slow down, and let themselves acknowledge their body for an hour or more.

This is what I’m experiencing now. This pain has been underground for a while. But for the last few days I have worn the wrong pair of shoes. Now I am unable to walk. So now, I have to listen.

My foot, your shoulders, your mother’s hips, it’s all the same process. Like when your back “goes out.” The musculature surrounding your spine makes endless shifts and adjustments to help us through our day. As you ignore what these muscles need, the pressures compound, until you are doing something that seems so ordinary—bending to pick up one of your kid’s toys, or twisting to grab something in the cabinet, and whammo! You’ve found the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is an apt metaphor.

“With pain as my advocate I shall not hurt.” This phrase has been repeating in my head while I’ve been contemplating this article.

The first part of this phase comes from my teacher, Ellen Krueger. During a session a few years ago, as she was counseling and using Polarity Therapy to help me through chronic hip pain, she said, “Let the pain be your advocate.” The phrase hit me like a lightning bolt. I realized in that moment that my life and my work were causing this deep, debilitating pain. I knew I had to quit my demanding spa job and focus on my own practice. Otherwise I soon wouldn’t be able to work at all.

“I shall not hurt.” What is the difference between pain and hurt? My heel is in pain but my soul is hurting. I am hindered by this pain, I can’t do what I’d like to and that hurts. I feel sad, angry and frustrated. This makes it harder to relax and tune in and listen to what may be a difficult truth. I just want the pain to go away so I can get on with my life. What a subtle violence this attitude does to my body. I want to keep going even though my body is sending the message to stop. I can’t stop: I’ve got clients to care for, my mouth to feed, rent to pay. I have no safety net in which I just lay down for a month and heal. So healing takes longer, a lot more awareness and support.

The pain in my heel says that my body needs attention. The pain in my heel says that there is a deeper hurt inside of me.

The hurt is not my body’s fault, it is not my heel’s fault. Once I take full responsibility for the pain, I can begin to make choices. I can find the practitioners that I know will help me. I will work to release the physical tension and the mental blocks; I will acknowledge the patterns that lead to this particular pain and begin to heal the hurt.

Can I then take the next step? Can I love and embrace the wisdom of my body? My body knows a lot more than I give it credit. It deals and copes with and achieves so much more than I can ever imagine, so much more than I am even aware of. It is my temple. It is the house through which my soul can achieve its existence, can express its essence and light. Why do I keep battering and polluting my temple?

When I do step up, when I take care and get help, I am amazed at how quickly my body temple responds. I let go, and my body says, “Let’s go.” My body carries no hard feelings. My body is always ready to be better. My body seems to have an unconditional love for my soul; that love brings me to tears. I don’t know what else to say except thank you to my painful heel for inspiring me.

I hope you can find some inspiration in your pain, wherever it is. Let your pain be your advocate and I hope you are relieved from your hurt in the process.

      "These pains that you feel are messengers.
Listen to them. Turn them to sweetness."

There are many ways to embark on the journey to and through your pain. Here is one way to begin, with a simple meditation. I suggest trying this with an area of chronic familiar pain, rather than with acute pain, which may require medical or professional support.

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place pillows anywhere you need to feel your body completely relaxed and at ease.
Begin by noticing your breath; follow its flow in and out of your body.
Allow your mind to become aware of the area of pain that you are curious about.
Notice the size and shape of the pain. Does it have a color or texture? Has your breathing changed as you started to notice it?
As you begin to meet your area of pain, let your focus become soft and receptive, as if you were sitting down to listen to a child tell their story.
Notice what comes to mind as you remain here, receptive to your pain. Allow anything that comes to you be the message. Don’t edit or push anything away in this time.
Stay as long as you feel is right.
Take a deep breath, thank your pain, be gentle with yourself as you begin to come back.
Journal or call a friend to share your experience; this will help acknowledge the message.

Crooked Carrots

The other day I was shopping at the Union Square farmer’s market and I fell in love with the carrots. They were a bright, almost transparent orange, and they came in a stunning variety of sizes and shapes. Some looked as if they had legs, and arms, and torsos! They all looked so different from one another, and their variety was humorous in an odd way, like little orange people tossed about.

I picked up one that had two distinct legs, held together by a healthy trunk, and another that was fat and round. “ Who knows?”, I thought, “maybe these funny carrots will each benefit the area of my body that it resembles—legs, torso, belly.”
As I was walking down 2nd Avenue back home, I kept thinking about that haphazard pile of carrots. Then I thought about the generic rows of carrots at the supermarket, all the same shape and size, laid out carefully, and lifelessly. I realized that it wasn’t just the carrots. All the vegetables at the supermarket looked the same,manicured mounds of generic-looking apples and oranges, carefully crafted tufts of broccoli.

And then I realized that the entire supermarket experience thrives on this kind of reliable, bland sameness. What subtle messages we get from the culture at large--even from the supermarket! That somehow life is easier, more democratic, and more desirable, if all our choices are homogenized. All carrots look the same so why take take the time to look , touch, consider, or even smell them. Just pick up a pre-packaged bag and away you go.

I have often felt the pressure to conform, to look a certain way, eat a certain way, be a certain way. Anything so that I wouldn’t stand out. But there was so much joy in looking at these craggy, organic carrots. Maybe there is some joy, I thought, in being what I am organically; crooked or straight, fat or thin, ambitious or lazy.  As a licensed massage therapist and polarity therapy practitioner for almost 10 years, I’ve seen over 1000 human bodies. I have seen an immense diversity of size, shape, age, and color. I feel great joy in discovering what has made  each  body take  it’s particular shape, size, and form. And my heart breaks when I hear a client trying to put their body into a prescribed “ideal” box, and being angry and frustrated that ‘my body won’t do what I want it to, won’t look the way I want it to.’

If we truly want to find wellness, maybe we should follow the lead of those carrots. We are who we are because of where we grew, and where we continue to grow . Like the carrots we have found our space in this world; we have pushed through life’s resistance, and that process has given us our shape and substance. The carrots were not comparing themselves to each other, and thankfully neither did the farmer.  

Rejoice in your uniqueness. Rejoice in where you came from how you grew. Rejoice in the ways, every day, that you continue to grow through the challenges that shape you inside and out. Stop and take a moment and rejoice in how amazing it is that you are right here, right now, reading this. And then know that you are already very well.


She held me in her hands
like a smooth stone

 I felt myself filled, though
my body's container was gone

like the Chumash Indians -- almost extinct,
their spirits visit us in dreamtime
through stones
          Aiyana Stern

I met Aiyana at the Yoga Journal Conference here in NYC in May.  I was giving introductory Polarity sessions, using a folding lounge chair, each lasting about 20 minutes.  I was honored that she felt inspired by her experience to write so eloquently about something so intangible, the experience of one’s self reflected, held by another.  For me I feel this is what healing is about.  To feel your self held in the gaze of life.   Who or what holds that gaze doesn’t really matter, it is the quality of presence that completes the circuit, allowing for the return of self, back home.  

The experiences that have been most healing for me have been the ones where I came to realizations in my own time,  taking responsibility for my own experience of myself and feeling held and accepted no matter where or how far I went.  When it’s happening it feels like all the tension that has me wound up, tension related to pressuring myself to be ‘perfect’, begins to release it grip.  The tape recorder in my mind slows down and allows for my inner voice to come through, the part of me that doesn’t listen to the tape, the part of me that knows I am whole, well and already prefect.

What are some of your experiences with healing?