The A&P of Energy Work

By Mary Kathleen Rose and Mary Ann Foster
[Talk About Touch]

Mary Ann Foster: Recently, when I was in a coffee shop, I noticed a young man with a number of anatomy books spread out on a table. While he studied, he palpated his arm. I asked him, “Are you a massage student?”

“Yes,” he said. “Don’t I recognize you from somewhere?”

Mary Kathleen Rose: One of our

MAF: Yes, so we chatted about his school experience. Because he complained that the science classes were difficult and challenging, I asked him what he enjoyed most about school. His demeanor shifted dramatically as he recounted that he loved learning energy work—how “cool” it was to be able to change the way his classmates felt by doing something as simple as holding a person’s toes to balance their polarity.

MKR: His difficulty with science studies seems at odds with his excitement about the energy work. This speaks to a curious split between the study of science and the study of energy in the massage and bodywork field.

MAF: It’s as if energy work is relegated to a mysterious realm far from the sciences. The connection between energy and matter is exciting—to put my hands on clients and realize that they’re not only living, breathing people, but that they hold a universe unto themselves, one teeming with an inner life of shimmering and vibrating cells, molecules, and atoms; of resonating fluids; and electromagnetic fields.

MKR: My interest in energy healing began with the study of yoga in the 1970s. Learning about energy centers, or chakras, sparked my curiosity about the growing volume of knowledge and research on the endocrine glands and their relationship to the nervous system, metabolism, and immune function.

MAF: My study of biofeedback helped me to apply science as a foundation for energy work within practical massage applications. I learned how to warm my hands, slow my heart rate, and influence brain wave patterns to promote restful healing states in the client and myself.

MKR: Here’s another connection between science and body-energy therapies: In the scientific paradigm, the term motor point describes the specific location a motor nerve enters that muscle, where visible contraction can be elicited with minimal stimulation. Pressure applied to the motor point allows the muscle to relax. In the paradigm of Asian bodywork, effective treatment is explained as the process of moving or releasing energy by applying pressure along the meridians and acupressure points. It’s fascinating that many of the major acupressure points are motor points.

MAF: The motor points are important to understand, because muscles fire along kinetic chains (movement pathways) that follow peripheral nerve routes.

MKR: As we focus on the dynamic interrelationship of all the body systems, we enhance our understanding of subtle energy-based, hands-on bodywork.

MAF: We integrate science with hands-on work when our studies bridge content with practice. For example, in an anatomy and physiology class I taught, we started the energy unit with a standard definition—that energy is the capacity to do work—and examined different types of energy: potential or kinetic, electrical, radiant, chemical, and mechanical. Then, we explored the various types of energy with simple hands-on exercises.1

MKR: An awareness of the world of energy in the body gives depth to our quality of touch.

MAF: Here’s an exercise: Rest your hands on a partner’s shoulders and drop your awareness down through the tissue layers. Sense the temperature, texture, and responsiveness of each layer, as though your hands were floating on a quiet sea of cellular activity. Notice any subtle movements and vibrations in the tissues. Next, massage your partner’s shoulders for a few minutes. Stop and rest your hands again. Sense any changes in the different types of energy and share what you feel.


MKR: We invite our readers to share the connections they are making between their knowledge of the sciences and energy-based bodywork.


1. Mary Ann Foster, “Somatic Anatomy: Cells, Molecules, Atoms, and Energy,” Massage & Bodywork (June/July 2006): 58–65.

  Mary Kathleen Rose, BA, CMT, has been practicing shiatsu and integrative massage since 1985. She is the author of Comfort Touch: Massage for the Elderly and the Ill (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009).

 Mary Ann Foster, BA, CMT, specializes in experiential anatomy and kinesiology for bodyworkers. She is the author of Somatic Patterning (Educational Movement Systems, 2004).