Editor's note: This is the third story in a holistic health series
BENNINGTON -- It may or may not come as a surprise that Hawaii was recently named the least stressful place to live in the United States, according to a recent Gallup-Healthways survey on daily stress levels of Americans.
Hawaii has held this accolade since Gallup began measuring daily stress back in 2008.
Well, if you're reading the Bennington Banner, you most likely do not reside in Hawaii. If you do, stress reduction is something in which you are probably well-versed; however, it never hurts to learn a little bit more.
Stress is a serious problem in our country. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 33 percent of Americans feel as though they are living with extreme stress, while 77 percent of the population regularly experiences physical symptoms caused by stress.
It's been proven that prolonged stress on the body can result in serious health complications, including and increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
It is my hope that by writing these weekly stories on stress reduction that I perhaps open your eyes to holistic therapies that have been proven to reduce stress equally as successfully as other Western methods, and which you otherwise may have never considered.
Kim Marsha, a massage therapist at Jophiel's Beauty in Bennington, has been practicing massage therapy for just under two years. During her time at the Green Mountain Institute for Integrative Therapy in North Bennington, Marsha discovered her passion for polarity therapy, a much less invasive therapy which works to redistribute energy systems within the body so that they may function in their natural state, without blockage.
"If you think of the body as a battery with a positive, negative and neutral charge," said Marsha, "The therapist is working with opposing poles in the body to help restore balance and let the energy flow more freely."
According to Marsha, polarity is based on the concept of a life energy constantly pulsating from positive to negative poles via a neutral position.
The therapy was first applied in 1947 by Dr. Randolph Stone, a holistic medicine practitioner based in Chicago.
Following his retirement in 1974, and the publishing of seven books and medical pamphlets on the subject of polarity, a group of Stone's students continued to research his teachings and founded the American Polarity Therapy Association in 1984.
Marsha, who was thoroughly trained in a myriad of modalities at the GMIIT, explained that there was just something about polarity therapy that spoke to her.
"Everyone has their own experience with polarity," she said. "That's what I feel is so great about it. It will be different with each person and results will vary with each session," she continued. "Some may feel a powerful sensation, while others may feel a more subtle one, like a pulse through the body."
Marsha explained that polarity, unlike traditional massage, uses a light, concentrated touch on the client's head and feet.
"Just being able to connect and experience the different layers of a person instead of just the physical," Marsha said, "Is amazing. It's nice to bring the body mind and soul into harmony and balance with each other so that people can truly relax."
Gentle rocking can also be incorporated into polarity therapy, which, Marsha said, more vigorously redistributes energy throughout the body.
Overall, according to Marsha, polarity has been proven to be an extremely calming therapy from which many can find a place of deep relaxation.
The American Cancer Association notes that polarity, although not an effective cancer treatment, has been recommended by physicians as a tool for relaxation.
"During the sessions," Marsha said, "clients are fully-clothed, unlike traditional during a traditional massage treatment. For some people," she continued, "this can be reassuring in itself, as many of us feel vulnerable otherwise."
Marsha said that it comes as a surprise to some to hear that the majority of polarity work is done by the client themselves.
"I'm really only the vessel," said Marsha. "I give people the opportunity to go within their bodies and focus on what's really going on. So that they can heal."
When Marsha began working on me, I immediately relaxed into the table, almost falling asleep.
As she lightly placed her fingertips on my forehead I noticed that after a few minutes, my breathing had slowed and the tension had melted from my face.
When she moved down to my feet, she placed the tips of each of her fingers on the tips of each of my toes.
At this point, I was completely relaxed, and unaware of anything outside my closed eyelids. However, after the session, Marsha noted that while she was working on my feet, she noticed that some of my toes were twitching.
"That's actually a good thing," she said. "It means that energy was being released from your body."
According to Marsha, releases differ from person to person and can occur through the hands and feet, in addition to toes.
"I was once working on a man and I noticed that his hands and arms were seriously twitching throughout the session," she said. "I asked him afterwards if he realized that was happening and he said no. That really is quite common -- just means the therapy is working."
When it comes to stress reduction, Marsha recommends a regular regimen of polarity therapy.
"Ideally, clients would undergo polarity on a weekly basis, if possible," said Marsha. "If that isn't a possibility, then perhaps once or twice a month."
Marsha noted that any amount of self-care always proves to be beneficial, especially if you are stressed.
"It's always a good idea to do whatever brings a sense of well-being," she said. "We all live such hectic busy lives, I think taking the time to really relax is the key to that."
Polarity sessions range in price, depending on the practitioner. Treatments by Marsha at Jophiel's Beauty cost around $25. To schedule an appointment, call 802-442-9404 or visit the spa at 532 Main St., above Panache.
Contact Elizabeth Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.