Ether – space for something to happen
In the winter of 2004, I was a regular attendee at Stephanie Aucote’s yoga class in Penicuik. The studio was a warm and spacious school hall, all dark wood and heavy curtains. We yoga students were, I feel, a little entranced by Stephanie: her loving manner; her inclusiveness; her confident wisdom; her deep fascination with people; her direct approach; her conviction in energy theory; and her practical spirituality. She was a natural teacher and offered advice and healing tools in a most no-nonsense way. She believed strongly in self-responsibility, rather than blame culture. This slightly fiery practical nature of hers resonated with me. Most of all, Stephanie had a knack of leading us deeper and deeper into our bodies. The smallest simplest movement, such as head turning, became a whole universe that we could explore. There were more physical postures too, some quite challenging such as the Pyramid posture, a classic Polarity exercise. I remember being amazed at how hard I found it to hang out in this wide-legged pose, whereas Stephanie’s slender legs seemed to find it effortless. I remember one time in this pose I had rushes of heat in my body that I didn’t understand and found slightly frightening! This was one of many significant moments I had with Stephanie, where something clicks into place inside, sometimes bringing peace, sometimes bringing chaos. It was the meditations at the end of the class though, that were the highlight and Stephanie always had a new journey to explore with us.
When I arrived at class one chilly evening and mentioned that my asthma had become such a significant problem that I barely slept, Stephanie nodded knowingly. The Polarity Therapy five-pointed star exercise that she later carried out for me, released a pressure cooker of emotional tension that I had been holding in my diaphragm. My breathing normalised in an instant. I was astounded, not least because Stephanie seemed so matter of fact about it, whereas I felt like I had just exploded. I was suddenly free from asthma, but also a new truth had opened up for me. It was a revelation that my body could lock away emotion so physically and that this could cause dis-ease so directly. I turned up at class the following week feeling great and asthma-free, yet with mysterious large red blotches all over my body. Stephanie nodded again. “That’s it being expressed in your skin now. It’s a good sign.” she said. We didn’t even discuss what ‘it’ was. This was another passion of Stephanie’s: healing through the body without the need for analysis.
Air – the idea, making a change
I was astounded again. I hadn’t connected the rash with what had happened the week before. I had even been to doctor about it, who had a latin label for the the symptoms but couldn’t explain the cause. Stephanie’s language, her interpretation and the simplicity of her views were so different to anything I had experienced before. I could feel the seed that had embedded in me. As time passed and I stayed well and my curiosity grew. I found out a bit more about Stephanie and her dual career in yoga and Polarity Therapy, a system of bodywork-based energy medicine. I then attended a weekend introductory course on Polarity that she was running in West Linton. Our resonance was instant, natural and zesty. “There’s a spark between us as our fire energy resonates”, as she put it. Something about her direct practicality made this more esoteric side of life more accessible to me. I knew I wanted to go further into the healing system of Polarity, and to share some of the things I was learning. Around this time Stephanie had gone through a shift too. After ten years as a practising therapist, she decided to pass on her knowledge by becoming a trainer of Polarity Therapists – a big step. She completed her teacher training and, when she was ready to offer the Practitioner course here in Scotland, my heart told me to enroll.
My head was full of doubts. I had a science degree and certainly never imagined working with people or health. I also had an ingrained attachment to thinking, reason and rationality. The creative world of energy, intuition, touch and emotion (not to mention spirit) was at that point, beyond my life experience. My heart had momentum though and I took the leap and was one of four who were Stephanie’s first group of students in 2006. This training was organised through Masterworks International, so Stephanie had Morag Campbell and Phil Young in Ireland as her mentors. She had done her practitioner training and teacher training with Morag and Phil, and they were close friends. Their support was much needed when running the course for the first time, especially as it became apparent that these four students had such different personalities and were going to face such different obstacles and challenges.
Fire – getting started with the task
The incredible array of complex energy patterns and treatments that comprise Polarity theory are difficult to grasp, let alone teach. The learning process therefore resulted in periodic mental overload for trainer and students alike. However, Stephanie had a deep knowledge of Dr Stone’s work that enabled her to teach what she knew from the heart. She had clearly poured over his books for hours, scribbling tiny notes beside his. “As within so without” was one of her favourite quotes, and she had many examples to back it up. Like any huge challenge though, leading this course brought up difficult issues for her. In fact, I believe it became a key life-changing experience. I would certainly like to know the views of others who knew her well at this time. For me the great challenge was to let go of my thinking way of learning and being. I resisted the unproven energy theories of Polarity for some time, always asking why and wanting proof, testing everyone’s patience. It must have been so frustrating for Stephanie, and one of her common responses was “Don’t believe a word I say, go and find out for yourself.”
I now know that this process of finding out for yourself never stops, and that knowledge from experience and realisation (rather than intellect and analysis) is different and potent. The more you trust, the more you know. The more you stop thinking, the more you know. The more you feel, the more you know. It sounds so simple now. When we were in a particularly gnarly mental tangle during the course, some of Stephanie’s comments became old favourites such as: “paralysis by analysis”. She employed her fire to bring us back to action, but it must have been overwhelming for her at times. We also had fun with her phrase “well that’s interesting”, for things that come up that we don’t understand. It became a running joke. I can’t help smiling when I say it myself nowadays, usually prompted by some unexpected reaction surfacing in me, or in a client.
Water – creation: nurturing and producing
Stephanie was skilled at sensing energy in a person’s body with her hands. In fact this actually made her arms and hands shake so that she had her own trademark bodywork style which was sometimes curious to watch. She was very keen to distinguish Polarity touch from massage touch, and we had constant reminders to come back to stillness and a felt sense of energy. She emphasised trust in the healing potential of the body, trust in the Polarity process and trust that the answers are already inside ourselves. She was keen not to get too bogged down with talk and analysis and would often demand that we students stop thinking and “come back to the body”; or she would ask “but what are you feeling?” requiring a simple answer without interpretation; or sometimes she would simply instruct “just get the client on the table!”
Stephanie formally passed on her therapy knowledge to five people. We four original students completed our course in 2007 becoming Polarity Practitioners. Never one to rest, Stephanie then took on another student from Aberdeen, who trained with her for a short time. Her huge potential as a teacher faltered then, as she developed health issues and concern began to creep in for all of us. In addition to the therapy students, Stephanie’s wider legacy, includes the many, many yoga students who were coached in her Polarity-based wisdom, plus her wide network of friends and also literally hundreds of clients, who always got homework sheets! She was a natural advisor investing energy into passing on self-help tools for people to use at home. So Stephanie’s web of influence is local, present, strong and also invisible. This fits perfectly with the idea of a micro approach, of which she was so fond, i.e start with yourself, then the people around you and let the macro level look after itself. In her own words:
“We must start with ourselves – the ripple effect of developing our own compassion and wisdom, THAT is how each of us affects the world.”
Earth – completion
Stephanie became seriously ill with a brain tumour in February 2009. For me it was one of those deep shock moments where life turns on its head. She was suddenly facing mortality and also thrown into the world of non-alternative medicine, as she needed an immediate major operation, to her head. Once in recovery she was offered a gruelling treatment plan that, of course, challenged her ideals enormously. Thus began an unexpected and frightening journey for Stephanie and her family. We graduates tried to rally round to provide Polarity bodywork treatments daily, as she felt this would help her cope with the radiotherapy. We still felt very green but our mentor needed assistance, she needed to receive not give. In this topsy turvy situation we helped such as we could, whilst also experiencing our own reactions. Stephanie had become a cornerstone in my life, a friend and guide and I fell into the deep pain of loss and bewilderment. I still wanted to consult her on every step of my personal metamorphosis, to tell her everything as I discovered it, as she had kindly encouraged me to do. It took time to let go of this need and I was adrift for many months.
Initially it seemed that the problem was dramatic, traumatic and serious, but essentially solvable, and Stephanie remained convinced that she could beat the cancer. In fact she continued to do some therapy work with clients for almost two years until symptoms reappeared due to the tumour regenerating. Many months later, right at the end of 2011, Stephanie died. It was three years since her original diagnosis when doctors thought she might last 6 months. She and her family were free from their long period of suffering. After so many cycles of treatment, hope and improvement, followed by lows, discomfort and disability, she had said that she was ready to go. During her illness, Stephanie seemed to go deeper and deeper into energy theory and understood what was happening to her in those terms. However, it became harder to connect with her, as her mind strove and sought answers. She viewed suffering as an opportunity to learn and its intensity brought uncomfortable realisations. I know she faced many dark nights of the soul, and also many moments where she was flying high with inspiration and lightness of equal intensity – a true polarity.
In July 2012, I received a portion of Stephanie’s library and therapy resources. When I look at this row of books and CDs on my bookshelf I have a new and welcome sense of completion. I gained a wonderful range of resources on meditation, therapy, healing, Buddhism and yoga. Some of them are new to me, some are like old friends – having seen her use them and also lend them over and over again.
Ether – back to source, the cycle starts again with rebirth
As I explore these books and find inspiration once again, I also have a sense of rebirth, especially as they contain Stephanie’s words too. Most of the books are full of her responses to the text in the margins – tiny but extensive notes, drawings and symbols. Having her voice with me as I read is delightful, like having a teacher once more. And it really is her voice, full of passion and directness, and her statements make me smile with familiarity.
A common comment in the margins might be: “Exactly!” or “Yes! Yes!! And Yes!!!” or “Absolutely” or even “Thank you”. On the other hand, sometimes there is an “Eek!”, or a finger-shaking warning “Language” where an author is making words too complicated or tangling metaphors . There is the occasional “No” or “Actually, I would put it like this……………” (she even does this to the Dalai Lama!). Then there are in-depth explorations of her thoughts in minuscule but neat font, often followed by “Discuss with Morag”, or just an “M” written on the turned over page corner. Humility is present too “I didn’t have a full understanding of this before.” Sometimes she draws a tiny light bulb to show that something has really sunk in, or a tiny key to represent a fundamental point. I have the impression that Stephanie combed books rather than read them, taking each paragraph into herself to see how it fitted with her experience and drawing conclusions before moving on.
It is very striking to witness how incredibly deeply Stephanie went into the texts, cross-referencing them with each other and how confident she was with layering in her own ideas. However, she taught from that first person perspective of experience. She taught her own beliefs that were backed up by so much study. She was an experiential teacher teaching her truth and encouraging her students to find theirs. Ultimately, she found a way to, in her words “Be an instrument of peace, love and happiness.”
Willie, Stephanie’s husband, still lives in West Linton, although his love of the sea and sailing brings him to the west coast often. Stephanie’s mother lives in Currie and celebrates her 80th birthday in March. Her sister Barbara lives a sun-blessed life in Ibiza, and her other sister Heather is a Buddhist monk now in the 3rd year of a silent retreat. In May this year (2013) there will be a ‘gathering of the clans’ to celebrate the wedding of Stephanie and Willie’s daughter Zoe to her long term partner Ross. Stephanie really hoped that Zoe and Ross would marry and was quite impatient about it: I even remember her glee when two spoons were accidentally put into a cup of tea! She will no doubt be a smiling presence on the day.
This tribute is my attempt to express how grateful I am to have known Stephanie and to recognise the deep impact she had on my life, and the lives of others.
by Kerry McKay
Polarity Therapist and Yoga Teacher
West Linton, Scotland
Copyright Kerry McKay, 2013, All rights reserved.