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  Massage - The Anthroposophic Approach

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By: Anders Nawroth
pgs. 43-49.doc

(Original title: Massage aus anthroposophischer Sicht. Merkurstab 1995; 48: 77-83. English by Ulrike O’Callaghan)

Massage and The Astral Body

The capacity to experience massage is given by the astral body. As it is the feel of a massage which brings the most interesting results it is of prime importance for the massage therapist to know about the astral body. An attempt will be made to outline the basic phenomena in this area.

1) Three layers
The astral body can react in three different ways depending on the quality and position of a massage movement. It is possible for the massage therapist to touch three different layers of the astral body with his massage movements: first a layer very close to the astral body, then the astral body itself and thirdly a layer which is closer to the I-organization.

Ether body
A massage movement without or with only slight pressure will engage the astral body to a limited extent. Consequently the intention of the massage movement transposes directly into the ether body and unfolds from there. It is the unfolding of a massage movement which is described by Rudolf Steiner in connection with "mild massage in the region of the spleen."(1) In order to reach the spleen and its activity, local massage is applied in the region of this organ.

Astral body
Massage movements with increased pressure will engage the astral body more strongly, as will massage movements using the qualities of the planetary sphere. This means that the astral body transforms the massage movement before it takes effect on the etheric and physical level. Now the pure astral appears, the astral lemniscate. Rudolf Steiner put it like this: ."..the further down we go from the center in massage of the trunk the greater the effect on the upper organs."(2) It is therefore not a local effect.

The I-organization
With massage movements connected to the planetary sphere we can, as it were, strike the chords of the astral body. But the decision to what extent the connection of the astral body should be tightened or loosened at different points lies with the I-organization, though this is not addressed directly. It can be addressed with massage movements connected with the zodiac, engaging the layer of the astral body that is close to the I-organization. Consequently the massage movement is transformed twice: partly in accord with the astral body and partly in accord with the I-organization. The result is a much more complex current than when we address the purely astral.

2) Overview
The massage therapist has to be completely aware of these layers and the different qualities of massage movement. Only then can Per Henrik Ling's vision be realized: to give massage a scientific basis.

(B) Massage and The Nature of Muscles

1) The dorsal muscles - upper and lower back
In Rudolf Steiner's first medical lecture course we read the following on massage:

If you investigate rationally, you will indeed find that every part of the body has a certain connection with other parts and that the efficacy of massage depends on adequate insight into these inter-relationships. Massage of the abdomen will always be of benefit also to the breathing function, a circumstance of special interest. And, in fact, the further we go from above downwards, massaging immediately below the heart region, respiration will be influenced more strongly, and further down the effect will be more on the throat organs. Massage and its effect go in opposite directions: the further down we go from the center, the greater the effect on the upper organs.(3)

Here Rudolf Steiner clearly demonstrates the lemniscate principle of the astral body in connection with massage. (If I speak of massage in the following paragraphs I refer to massage working through the astral lemniscate). The following quotation complements the one above:

And in quite a magnificent sense the astral body is the whole human being. Only this astral body is very remarkably constituted; one might say the astral body down to the diaphragm is something quite different from the astral body below the diaphragm. Astral body activity directed towards the head, the organization of nerves and senses, is the polar opposite of its activity in metabolism and limbs.(4)

This twofold nature of the astral body is also reflected in the spine, an organ of great importance in massage. The spine consists of two smaller spines "stacked" one on top of the other. Above is the highly mobile cervical spine with lordosis. Below this lie the less mobile thoracic vertebrae which show kyphosis. Further down is the highly mobile lumbar spine with lordosis. Walter Holtzapfel says: "A kind of second neck develops in the lumbar region."(5)

The bottom of the spine is almost completely immobile with kyphosis (Figure 1). It is very important to be aware of this two-foldness manifesting twice, within the upper and lower back, in the spine. (An observation from my practice: in patients with much body hair, hair growth seen on the legs often stops at the line between the upper and lower back as described above).

Astral body and muscular system
Our muscles are closely related to our astral body. This shows itself in various ways, one of which is that practically every muscle has its antagonist. This reflects the tendency of the astral body to work in polarities. A further connection is pointed out by Rudolf Steiner: "The whole planetary system lives is our muscles."(6) Getting to know the muscles of a human being we discover the influence of the seven planets. Knowledge of these facts provides us with an actual ruler - "an astral ruler" which allows us to put into practice what Rudolf Steiner explains in the first quote given in this section.

The upper back
Even the outer appearance of a human being can indicate the influence of different planetary processes on the muscles. The neck presents a kind of summary with its seven short vertebrae - a Saturn aspect. Jupiter shapes the shoulders and the region between them. Mars exercises his influence in the region of the shoulder blades. And so we might continue downwards with Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon. Perceptive patients can experience the same massage grip differently in each of these regions. We might say that the astral body connects in different ways with various parts of the back. An interesting observation I was able to make in several cases: if a patient had been at the dentist and amalgam fillings were removed, the muscles would tense up considerably with pain especially in the upper back in the Mercury region (in the proximity of the 10th and 11th thoracic vertebrae).

The lower back
In the lower back we can recognize a sevenfold form principle that is in opposition to the upper back. Looking at the abdominal organs we can see they are, to some extent, arranged from center to periphery. Bladder - Moon at the center, kidneys - Venus further out, gallbladder - Mars, liver - Jupiter and finally spleen - Saturn very close to the periphery. A massage correctly applied in the region of the lower counterpart to the shoulder blades - the hip bone - is an effective treatment for tense muscles between the shoulder blades.

2) The muscular system of the extremities
Upper and lower extremities

In his second medical lecture course, Rudolf Steiner uses different terms from the first course in relation to massage.(7) He now spoke about the inner connection of the arms and hands with anabolism and of the legs and feet with catabolism.

Thigh and calf
The head is the center of the catabolic metabolism in a human being; but "lung development is a less intense form of head development."(8) The lung is another focal point for catabolism but not as important as the head. This duality is reflected by thigh and calf in the legs. It is known that massaging the calf muscles mainly affects the head and neck, whereas massaging the thighs is beneficial in the region of the lungs including the thoracic spine.

If we take this a step further, we find points in the leg muscles which are connected to the seven planets. At the top of the back of the thigh is an area under the influence of the Moon. We move downward into regions connected with Mercury, Venus, Sun and, finally, Mars. Jupiter and Saturn are reflected in the calf muscles. For the perceptive massage therapist it is not difficult to locate these points.

Let us continue with the practical example of Mars. It is advantageous to complement massage of the hip bone with massage of the lower part of the thigh to release tension between the shoulder blades. The quality of the massage movement is of far greater importance here than in the case of a back massage. Massage movements incorrectly applied can have a disastrous effect. Another practical example: a massage correctly applied to the upper part of the calf muscles (connected with Jupiter) can relieve tension in the shoulder and neck region. Closer examination of the part of the calf connected with Saturn shows a further subdivision into seven smaller parts, each of which has an inner relationship to one of the seven cervical vertebrae. It is therefore possible to treat the different cervical vertebrae from this location.

Lower and upper arm
What has been said about thigh and calf muscles applies also to the upper and lower parts of the arm but in reverse order. Massage of the upper part of the arm influences mainly the heart and blood vessels, whereas massaging the lower arm reaches, among other things, the intestines. We get a similar division as for the legs, so that massage of the upper arm relates to centrally- positioned organs and massage of the lower arm to organs positioned closer to the periphery. Massage of the lower arm after a careful preparatory upper back massage directly benefits the intestines; the patient often experiences a "rumbling" in the stomach. Massage of the upper arm can also strengthen a weak connection between the will and the other soul activities.

3) Conclusion
Rudolf Steiner said in a lecture given in Vienna: "In reality they (the muscles) are crystallized karma. Their composition, right down to the subtlest chemical level, is such that we carry our crystallized karma in our muscular system."(9) We can gain orientation by reading the destiny script in our muscles. This will deepen both diagnosis and treatment.

The fourfold nature of the body is characterized as: head, lung, heart and intestine. In a medical lecture Rudolf Steiner said:

This inverse relationship is such that we may say : respiratory function is in an inverse relationship to sensory function, just as the blood circulation is the inverse of digestive function. The digestion, to put it crudely, is like a condensed blood circulation, or conversely: The blood circulation is a refined digestive process. And the sensory process is a refined respiratory process. I might also say: the respiratory process is a less refined form of sensory perception. These two processes differ quantitatively not qualitatively.(10)

The form used to describe these phenomena actually underlines the tendency of the astral body to work in polarities. It is also important to note that Rudolf Steiner speaks of functions and processes. We need to remember that the four regions extend over the whole human organism, though they have their emphasis in specific areas.

Another fourfold aspect is due to an anatomical fact that is part of a massage therapist's everyday experience. The upper back - neck and thoracic region - is large in comparison to the lower back - dorsal and lumbar region. The upper extremities, the arms, are small in comparison to the lower extremities, the legs. Here we can see how the spirit and soul aspect of the human being harmonizes human anatomy by creating this twofoldness: small arms - large upper back, large legs - small lower back.

(C) The Hand
Margarethe Hauschka writes about the hand:

In another way the whole human being in his functional threefoldness is depicted in the hand. The finger rays with the sensitive ends are the part in which the soul-astral element expresses itself. The point-like action belongs to the astral body and produces consciousness. The nerve-sense pole is reflected in it.

The palm which we can open and close, which permits us to produce systole and diastole, is related to the rhythmical system. Massage movements made with the palm can be given a special "breathing" quality. With the thumb we enter the field of the will, when we put it in opposition the hand becomes space. Thumb gestures are will gestures, they may have a rough, indeed, almost brutal effect.(11)

It is this threefoldness within the hand and its meaning for massage which, is of special interest. Every massage movement is a gesture. It derives its basic direction from the part of the hand applying it. A massage movement applied with the fingers will draw its effect from the form-giving dynamic of the nerve-sense pole. If the massage is carried out by the thumb, the effect emanates from the releasing dynamic of the metabolic pole. Massaging with the palm of the hand brings the benefit of the balancing dynamic of the rhythmical system.

The next step is to see how the effect of the form-giving dynamic influences the human organism. This will lead us to the correct way of massaging with the fingers. In order to find the right massage movement for the thumbs we have to investigate how the releasing, mobile quality acts on the various parts of the human organism. The same applies to the balancing processes and massage movements using the palms of the hand.

Different regions
Under the heading "Massage and the nature of muscles" is discussed the different regions of the body and the connections between head and calves, lungs and thighs and so on. In massage it can be especially fruitful to get to know the relationship these parts of the human organism have with the four elements. Take, for example, the alchemist terms Sal, Mercury and Sulfur. The Sal process relates to the elements water and earth, the Mercury process to air and water and the Sulfur process to air and fire. This offers a perspective where, for example, the head belongs to the earth element, whereas the intestines at the opposite pole belong to the fire element.

This means that for a massage of the calf muscles acting through the astral lemniscate the massage therapist needs to derive the quality of the movement from the earth element. This can be further elaborated by using the three parts of the hand to work in different directions. The same applies for thighs and the water element, upper arm and the air element, lower arm and the fire element.

Developing the quality of each element in three directions we arrive at the twelvefold nature of the zodiac. Getting to know the zodiac we can put the above into practice.

Anders Nawroth, Massage Therapist
Moosvaegen 23
S-153 37 Jaema


1 Steiner R. Spiritual Science and Medicine (GA 3 1 2). Lecture of 5 Apr. 1924. Tr. not known. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1975.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Steiner R. Three Lectures to Doctors (in GA 314). Lecture of 31 Dec. 1923. Tr. R. Mansell. Long Beach CA: Rudolf Steiner Research Foundation 1990.

5 Holtzapfel W. Im Kraftfeld der Organe (in the force field of the organs). Ch. 4: Die Niere (the kidney) p.73. Domach 1990.

6 Steiner R. The Inner Nature of Man and the Life Between Death and Rebirth (GA 153). Lecture given in Vienna on 9 Apr. 1914, p. 73. Tr. D. Osmond, C. Davy. Rev. A. R. Meuss. Bristol: Rudolf Steiner Press 1994.

7 Steiner R. Physiology and Therapeutics (in GA 3 14). Lecture of 9 Oct. 1920. Tr. A. Wulsin, G. Kamow. Spring Valley NY: Mercury 1986.

8 Steiner R. The Spiritual-Scientific Aspect of Therapy (GA 313). Lecture of 16 Apr. 1921. Tr. R. Mansell. Long Beach CA: Rudolf Steiner Research Foundation 1990.

9 Steiner R. GA 153 loc. cit. p. 70.

10 Steiner R. Anthroposophische Menschenerkenntnis und Medizin (in GA 319). Den Haag, 16 Nov. 1923. Not tr.

11 Hauschka M. Rhythmical Massage P. 157. Tr. L. D. Monges. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1979.

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