A Touch of Tamas

tamas.jpgIn the Bhagavad-Gita, Krisna  describes the three gunas of satva, raja and tamas thus:

Satva is pure, illuminating and free from sickness. It binds the soul through attachment with happiness and knowledge.

Rajas is full of passion born of intense desire. It binds the soul through attachment with action.

Tamas is the darkness and crudeness in man. It is born of ignorance and causes delusion. It binds the soul through recklessness, indolence and sleep. 

An understanding of the three gunas is a core aspect of Polarity Therapy. 

 In Polarity we are aware of the interactions of the gunas as we work on ourselves and others. The interplay of the gunas is a constant dance that reminds us of what it is to be human.  When we undertake Polarity bodywork our touch also moves between the three gunas, sometimes light and sattvic, sometimes stimulating and rajasic, sometimes deep and tamasic. Responding to the messages of the body we adjust our contact to communicate and inform.

Of the three modes of touch that we employ the most challenging is Tamas. We use Tamasic touch to break up chronic holding in the body. Like the earth in winter, the tissues of the body can become hard and cold and inert. This in turn restricts movement adding to inherent slothfulness and laziness and increasing the hold that tamas has over us. 

As we work to release this holding we are often in danger of increasing the very thing that we seek to release and increasing the very attachment and resulting resistance in the body/mind that created the problem in the first place. Because the tissues are hard and unresponsive most people feel the need to exert pressure and force to get the body to ‘give in’, the effects of which  can be psychological fragmentation and/or disassociation, increased resistance (a polarity response, which is the opposite to what you might expect) and sometimes even tissue damage and bruising.

When we describe tamasic touch as deep and dispersing it would serve us to ask the question, “How deep is deep?” For many body workers the concept of ‘going deeper’ means going harder.


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In the paradoxical world of Polarity it is, in fact, often the case that ‘going deeper’ is best achieved whilst employing the lightest of touch as this touch does not engender the client’s natural and intelligent resistance.

So how do we get genuine depth without creating the scenario where the client withdraws or where we force change? At this point I would like to introduce the work of Thomas Myers, a respected body worker who has practiced integrative bodywork for over 30 years and who I had the good fortune to meet early on in my Polarity journey. I mention Tom because he postulates what he calls the Five Points of Depth which are relevant to any person privileged enough to work on bodies and informs us about the nature of the deep work that we utilise. Here is my interpretation of this aspect of his work with added comments as to its relevance to the Polarity therapist. 

Intention-Invitation Information

Intention is crucial, Do you know what your intention is as you enter the field of the other person? The tissues are unlikely to open up for you if you are confused and unclear.

Every contact we make is an invitation to the client to greater awareness, greater movement, and greater relaxation. We are not pushing the client, we are suffusing our hands with the invitation to engage and respond.

Finally, information. Hands on work is essentially communication, an educational process. If our intention is to invite the tissues to take up information that they might be missing this is very different from approaching the work with the intention of ‘fixing.’

Body Use

Using muscle force on your client is a guaranteed way to create resistance and disturbance in your client and store up long term pain for yourself especially in your hands and shoulders. Use of your bodyweight in a sensitive way allows you to fall into the tissues and let it melt. If we return to our analogy of the earth in winter, sure we can break up the frozen, hardened earth with a sledge hammer or a pile driver but we could also apply gentle pressure and heat and it will eventually melt and soften. Good practitioner body use means using the minimum of force to get the job done whilst maintaining sensitivity to the client’s state. Remember, the more muscle strength we use the less sensitive we can be to the changes that are occurring in our clients body. The more relaxed we remain the more we can feel the myriad of rhythms in the body and working with those rhythms is a major part of the healing process.

Client movement.

Here’s where we as Polarity therapists introduce a little rajas into the proceedings. I often notice with clients that have long term pain and movement difficulties that they have literally forgotten how to move. They have spent so long immobilising and guarding certain areas that the nervous impulses have ceased to function as they once did, there is a sensori-motor amnesia. Here, re-education is called for. Moving the body reminds it of the sensation of movement and increases the depth of body feeling in the client. Equally we can ask the client to move themselves. Often if we find a situation where the tissue is unresponsive, asking the client to move that area gives us greater insight into exactly what layer is responding and so what depth your work is reaching

Slower is better

Speed is the enemy of depth. The faster your hands go, the more resistance you generate. Waiting and sinking into the tissues takes longer but in the long term is more effective. Determining the speed at which to enter the tissue can be determined by two questions.

1. “Is the tissue melting in front of your fingers?” If to have to pry it open you are going too fast. If nothing is happening, then you may be going too slow.

2. “Is the client trying to get away from what you are doing?” If you sense them pulling away you are going too fast. 

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 Know your Anatomy

This can be a contentious issue with many ‘energy’ workers who argue that we are working with energy anatomy and therefore do not have to know the physical anatomy in any detail. My response to this is a classic polarity one of, “Yes and No.” Whilst it sounds like a truism to say we only work with the energy I would say that the physical body is composed of energy, as is everything, and if I know where the organs are located, the form of the muscles, the natural feel of connective tissue I can work more effectively. If I have a picture of what lies under my hands ( a picture that may also be built up by what my hands are ‘seeing’) my intentions can be clearer.


 At the heart of thse points, Myers says is Resonance. There are a myriad of rhythms in the body, the beat of the heart, the high hum of the nervous system, the buzz of brain waves, the ebb and flow of the cranial pulse, the grumble of peristalsis etc. etc. etc. By training our awareness to our favourite rhythms allows us to enter a stare of resonance with our client. When we are so linked our ability to make deep change increases.

So the next time that you undertake Tamasic work think about this and remember those five important aspects as you work. 


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