The General Adaptation Syndrome and Muscle Testing


The General Adaptation Syndrome was first described by Hans Selye as the three distinct stages that any organism goes through when experiencing stress. Selye explained his choice of terminology as follows: “I call this syndrome general because it is produced only by agents which have a general effect upon large portions of the body. I call it adaptive because it stimulates defense. I call it a syndrome because its individual manifestations are coordinated and even partly dependent upon each other.” He defined these as the alarm, resistance and exhaustion phases. We can see the way that this works with muscle testing by examining the way that a muscle responds to a specific stress.

Often in a Touch for Health class, we have someone think about a stressful situation while checking an indicator muscle as a way of determining whether or not the body will respond to an emotional stress. When we do this as a precheck, we expect that the previously balanced muscle will immediately go into under-facilitation, becoming weak. This correlates with Selye’s first stage of stress — an ‘alarm’ response. In the alarm stage, we immediately go into a dip as our body grapples with the new stressor. Soon however, our body adapts and begins to compensate for the new stress and we enter the second phase which is ‘resistance’ and can also be referred to as a balanced-imbalance. The individual is managing to cope, but it is taking more energy to do so than is optimal as they have to go into a compensation pattern. In muscle testing, we often see this as a stressed, over-facilitated muscle — something that is incapable of relaxing properly. It can look like it is fine when we simply run through basic muscle-testing protocols, because it is compensating, but looking a little deeper tells a different story. When the compensation has gone on over a long period of time, eventually the body can no longer keep it up. At this point, it goes into the third stage ‘exhaustion’. Here we see the muscle go back into an under-facilitated state, but it is more dangerous this time. The body no longer has back up reserves that it can draw from and is falling apart.

The best example I have for this is what happens when a family member is in the hospital for an extended period of time. At first, everyone panics and runs to their side in a typical alarm reaction. Very quickly though, the hospital becomes the ‘new normal’. It exists in a state of balanced/imbalance as the family takes turns bringing things, dealing with doctors, exchanging news, etc. This compensation can go on for quite a long time, until eventually, the strain of the situation becomes too much, the ‘exhaustion’ phase.

“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.”

Hans Selye (1907-1982)

The GAS is one of the reasons why, in a Touch for Health Wheel or 5-Element balance where you are charting a pattern of over and under-energies, if a muscle both unlocks and shows an indicator change when you touch the alarm points, it is counted as a stress. It means that the stress in that particular area is so great that compensation patterns are beginning to become difficult to maintain and it is slipping towards the third stage of stress.

The real problem here of course is that we do not experience stress in our lives in one area at a time. It’s not like we get to recover from one before the next stress comes along — instead, we are often in all three stages, dealing with many different stressors, from the physical to the mental and emotional. If you have several systems that have been in the resistance phase and heavily compensated for a long period of time, it doesn’t take much more to push them into the final stage. We sometimes call this, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. You hear people say, “He was never sick a day in his life!” describing someone who has suddenly died of a heart attack, but what is more likely true is that he had many systems highly compensated and the heart was not able to take the last bit of stress.

Knowledge of the GAS allows us to take our muscle testing a little deeper. When you find stress in a specific meridian/organ/tissue, etc. you can challenge further to see what stage the stress is in. This could be as simple as offering a verbal challenge, or if you use a modality like SIPS (Stress Indicator Point System), you could use light and deep touch on the point to see which gives you an indicator change. If you are familiar with Powers of Stress from Applied Physiology, this is another way of gauging just how much stress the system is under. All of these are ways of making sure that we get to the root of the matter and help to reestablish balance in the body on the deepest level.

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