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December 1997

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by Morag Campbell

It goes without saying that the way that you touch someone whether it be in the therapeutic context or in the more intimate context of a personal relationship is extremely important. Through the medium of touch we can convey a whole gamut of messages, a silent communication takes place every time we place our hands on another human being and as with verbal communication, touch can elicit a whole range of responses in answer to that contact.

As bodyworkers we have a special responsibility to be "present" in our hands as we work not only so that we may be sensitive to the feedback from the tissues beneath our fingers in order that we may physically dialogue with them effectively, such as when we coax tense and held muscles to relax and soften, but we also have to be mindful of the emotional communication that is also a big part of the work. It is therefore pertinent to take a good look at the three modes of touch as described by Dr Stone in his writings and to consider their use and their communication pattern to the client.

As with all things in this system the modes of touch are divided into a triune function. Lets look at each in turn.

SATVIC touch is categorised as neutral and is generally described as balancing. Returning to this mode of touch after stimulating or releasing the body allows the energy to disperse and move where it needs to go. It is also an opportunity for the practitioner to "listen" to the feed back from the body and then act accordingly. The touch can range from a deep contactfull hold or moulding to the body through to extremely light contact just at the surface of the skin and even off the body altogether. There is no movement involved. The practitioners hands just rest with the client and allow the energy to express itself in whatever way is appropriate. Even though this touch is described as balancing there is nothing wishy washy about it. This neutral touch is full of potential energy. Within this neutrality there is a resonance with the core energy and the source and because all undifferentiated energy is present in this neutrality all things are possible. The ether energy held here encourages an openness and expansion of the energy fields to allow for the interplay of the other elemental energies. With this openness comes the potential for the air energy to create movement and change, the fire energy can thus be released to warm and further expand the body, whilst this warmth and expansiveness allows for the easier flow of fluids through the body and the earth energy is represented by the release of old toxins through the eyes, lungs and skin. This mode of touch which is more about "being " than "doing" also needs to convey a sense of safety and support in the face of all this opening.

RAJASIC touch which Dr Stone described as positive is designed to stimulate and mobilise the energy allowing it to expand outward (centrifugally) from the centre. The touch involves a range of movements from small circular, almost massage like technique , done with individual fingers over a small area, through to larger movements involving rocking the entire body. Movement is the key word here. By moving we are introducing the air element to our client to elicit a response from their energy. When stimulating a small area with the fingers it is important to move the underlying tissue and not just the skin. When larger whole body rocking is called for then it is important to rock the body at its natural frequency. In purely physical terms it requires the least effort on the part of the practitioner when you rock the clients body in this way. This allows you to maintain a high level of sensitivity to any subtle shifts or changes in the holding patterns within the clients body. When rocked at this frequency, which is dependant on the size, weight and tension pattern of the client, a loosening of the emotional and physical holding is much more likely to occur as the client relaxes into the comfort and ease of this natural rhythm. If we impose our own frequency of movement on to the client then the movement can feel uncomfortable and sometimes be disturbing to them creating more tension and holding.

TAMASIC touch is described as deep and dispersing. This mode of touch is used primarily to break up long standing holding and tension in the physical body. It facilitates the return of long stored energy back to the core (centripetal flow). This is a more invasive technique than the previous two and the practitioner should be aware of this. Hard, dehydrated tissue does not readily surrender to persistent, hard pressure which can be extremely painful causing the client to pull away and even drive the blockages deeper in to the energy system.

When performing tamasic bodywork you should only apply pressure for short periods of time ( 30 secs to 1 min) then release the hold and allow the body to adjust and relax before reapplying another short application to the tissues and energy. Prolonged tamasic contacts exhaust tissue and can weaken energetic response even further.With this in mind it seems to me even more important in this case to gain the trust of the tissues by applying steady, but increasing pressure to the body at a rate that the client can deal with for short time periods. There is a reason for the holding. These defenses have been set up over years and I feel that a "slowly, slowly catchy monkey" approach is a better way to proceed than a battering ram at the portcullis. By adopting this steady, intermittent but persistent method the client does not feel the need to "run away" withdrawing their energy and shutting down on their emotions.

Many therapists use tamasic work when trying to release old emotional holding patterns however it is most important that you do not confuse an emotional response due to prolonged deep and painful pressure with the true release of old deeply held emotions. The fiery release often initiated with this work may simply be because you have hurt the client. Nor should you think that this kind of release due to therapist inflicted pain will bring up old buried emotions with it. The tears that sometimes occur as a response to this form of tamasic work are little more than tears of anguish at being abused by a therapist that you trust. This said there are of course some clients who believe in the maxim "no pain - no gain " and in this instance the best approach is to do just enough tamasic work to satisfy their need for confirmation and then to lead them into an understanding of therapy as a more subtle phenomena.

Remember our original statement about touch being a mode of communication. It is especially important to consider what the message is you want to give here. Is it "I want you to let go because I say so" ( me clever therapist - you client) or "I want you to let go because you feel safe and willing enough to enter that arena on your own with my support".

One other point. Communication is in the feedback and touch is no different to verbal dialogue in this regard. Listen to the message that your clients body is giving you and respond with your touch. If the conversation doesn't flow then change the message you are giving and convey that through your hands. Happy talking!

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