Archives for category: Massage Therapy

How do I know that I need bodywork, specifically Zero Balancing?

I had the experience recently of “limping along,” restricted in my low back, calves, shoulders, chest, and other places too numerous to mention. Some of this tension was purely physical, to be sure. I work as a massage therapist, seeing two to six clients each week day, which inevitably involves some heavy lifting. Heads alone can weigh up to 25 pounds. But a fair amount of the tension I was carrying–it sometimes feels crushing–has to do with emotional stress. At this point in my life, I’m losing friends to cancer. Four women in their fifties have died over the last five years. My aunt, my second mother, I fondly called her, had a fall which proved fatal. Both of my parents also recently passed, after several years of my helping them through growing and ever worrisome medical needs.

Life for someone in her early fifties has these sort of personal stressors–so many of my friends share similar stories–not to mention the daily calamities and world-threatening trends, natural and man-made, we read or see on the news. I suspect that my tension, which as I mentioned gives me a personal experience of what it must feel like to be a black hole, sucking my outsides in in some kind of force of nature grip, is the direct result of my literally feeling small and powerless in the face of these events, tragedies and losses.

My point is, my stress is not just in my gray matter, even if it starts there. It reaches its tentacles in the form of signals and stress hormones into my tissues. As these flow, I lock up. And I need someone to pry me loose.

Why don’t you stretch? Why don’t you meditate? Or run or swim? You may be well wondering. I do all these things, plus eat well (when I can) and sleep. I also recently cut out working six days a week.

However, there is no replacement for having someone “reach underneath my tension” as a friend and fellow practitioner calls it, and gently yet firmly create space to allow a flow I only enjoyed on a regular basis when I was a kid.

Receiving ZB from Michael Oruch

Blissed out

Lying on the table during yesterday’s Zero Balancing session in Michael Oruch’s studio and sanctuary in the Bowery in Lower Manhattan, I went from limping along to laughing in a matter of 30 or so minutes. I felt met and tended to on such a deep level–at my marrow–releasing waves, maybe tsunamis of grief–yet all the while feeling completely safe physically and emotionally. Toward the end of the session, (which is offered through clothing and requires no oil or lotion) during which Michael worked my ribs, sacrum, lumbar spine, hip joints, ankles, feet — places so numerous and intractable, try as I might I could not open them with any amount of movement or stretching–I realized I no longer felt small or powerless. In fact, quite the opposite.

This relief and aliveness was undeniable and also, for me, a hallmark of Zero Balancing sessions I’ve received from other practitioners. Walking down the street afterwards, I could say without hesitation that Zero Balancing is one of the best things in this world.

 

© 2017 Amanda King
Salem, Massachusetts

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aqua-treasure-2015When I receive Zero Balancing myself, often in the course of the session, something strange happens. I stop breathing.

This is not the usual holding my breath. It just stops, as if I no longer need to breathe for the ten or twenty seconds that it seems to last. During that time, a paradox, really, because time dissolves to leave only now, I can feel myself shimmering or slowly undulating, as if my being is suddenly floating in a delicious underwater sea. Eventually, the feeling of scintillating seems to cease of its own accord, and my breathing restarts.

I call this non-breathing time Being with a capital B. In ZB, we also have a name for it, more specifically descriptive: APNEA, or no breath.

Why does the apnea happen? No one, even ZB developer Fritz Smith, M.D., knows for certain, but he has an intriguing theory. When a ZB practitioner touches a person, feeling for held tension in a rib or a scapula, beneath the soft tissue, that tension starts to disperse. Imagine moving a stone in a dammed river–a trickle released builds and its momentum pushes more of the clogs out of the way, feeding the river’s flow.

In Dr. Smith’s book, Inner Bridges: A Guide to Energy Movement and Body Structure, he writes: “In the energy body, the moment-to-moment vibratory needs stimulate the respiratory mechanism. The body’s need for vibration can be most quickly met through the vibration of air molecules.” (p. 157)

Breathe forcefully through your nose. Notice the air enter your nasal passages, the labrynthine twists and turns of the sinuses, before the oxygen reaches your bronchial tubes and the alveoli of your lungs. The movement of the air itself, countless molecules, creates friction as it moves–slowly or rapidly through the nasal tunnels. Is friction a source of nourishment for the body? Perhaps.

Releasing energy back to its full flow by releasing tension held in bone tissue may allow our Chi or Spirit to be nourished to the degree that breathing is suspended–and with it–conventional time and space.

While this phenomenon is interesting to describe, it’s much more enjoyable to experience. In fact, it is so much a part of Zero Balancing, that it is taught in the foundation courses.

© 2017, Amanda King
Salem, Massachusetts

Hand of Grace 2014My sense, as a bodyworker, that healing possibilities through touch are infinite. Professional touch, while geared to provide a consistency of experience to the client, also allows for that person’s individual response to a multitude of factors, including pain sensitivity, pressure, etc. In approaching a new client, for example, I ask her if she is used to touch, therapeutic or otherwise. If not, I approach such a client with greater awareness so as to provide an experience of the potentials of touch.

In massage, for example, my goal is to recede and to allow the client to feel himself on a multitude of physical levels – skin, muscle, fascia, nervous system, fluids, and, for me, most importantly, bone. Bone is the primary focus of my touch in the work I do known as Zero Balancing. Bone, being the densest tissue in the body, and the deepest, is believed and felt to provide a thoroughfare for the strongest flows of energy in the body. The body is an electromagnetic wonder and Zero Balancing’s founder Fritz Smith, MD has shown students over and over that firm touch applied to bone with clarity of attention yields increased and smoother flow. The best method for measuring the skeletal level flow is to feel it operating within. For many, especially those receiving Zero Balancing for the first time, it is a revelation.

“I never knew I could feel this way.”

“This is the first time I had the feeling of living in my bones versus the spaces between my bones.”

Most people describe a tingling, an aliveness, a soothing and pervasive calm that is as satisfying as, but noticeably different from, the giddy, endorphin-laced feeling that follows a full body massage.

Clarity in one’s bones starts to translate into clarity in one’s life. Thoughts, emotions, impulses, physical discomfort, movements and vitality tend to become easier, richer, more spacious, and smoother. Life, once pommeling and punishing, becomes more of a dance in which the person feels connected on multiple levels to a greater whole.

Structure&Energy2-2013Our human skeleton has a verticality that makes it a conduit of both mechanical and electromagnetic forces, what the Chinese taught are universal flows of energy. We are lightning rods, and as Jim McCormick, Five Element Acupuncturist and longtime Zero Balancing practitioner and teacher notes, “We are connected to everything else through our bones.”

One touch, as I myself have felt, can illuminate connections within the body. I remember one particularly amazing ZB session I had where each scapula was clearly linked with the opposite foot, transcending physical and neurological relationships. This discovery was deeply healing for me, a discovery of feet on the ground and wings in the air. For other people, creating or actually rediscovering connections leads to improved flow, strength and support. These relationships can be equally powerful between one person and another. Touch can facilitate this kind of bridge building.

In ZB we experience that bone holds tension, often caused by forces of muscle, tendons and joints acting upon the bone. Bone-held tension is also the result of the insults and impacts of early childhood, when bones are still growing, molding and morphing, unprotected by any muscular “armor” we may form later on. This information, this personal history, can be accessed, and perhaps even decoded, through the skilled touch of an experienced practitioner for the sole benefit of the client. The deepest, earliest, most inaccessible parts of us, are suddenly opened and illuminated, not through thoughtful questioning, but through clear and respectful touch.

Memories long forgotten often emerge vividly during Zero Balancing, and, likewise, during any touch therapy that accesses bone. I myself have experienced this many times, to my own astonishment. Many insults, once cleared, with or without verbal processing, enabled me to transcend established patterns in my closest relationships. The results are many. I feel safer with others. I am more able to be present and listen to others, ignoring and quieting the chatter in my head. I feel my feet more solidly on the ground and this stability makes me a better support for others. I can laugh at myself and at  life. All benefits sparked by the catalyst of healing touch.

When we consider how so many of us are at a loss for how to improve our pain, our lives and our relationships, perhaps it’s time we look at one of the lowest tech, lowest cost, lowest risk methods we can try.

© 2015  Amanda King

Salem, MA

In the days when Zero Balancing first appeared, people were not sure what to call it. The name ‘Fritzing’ was suggested, after Zero Balancing developer Fritz Smith, MD, an osteopathic physician and Master of Acupuncture. He rejected this moniker, not wishing to bring undue attention to his person and to enable ZB to grow and flourish independent of his authorship and personality.

‘Structural acupressure’ was his name for the work, which combines principles of Eastern approaches to energy healing and Western understanding of body structure, anatomy and scientific inquiry. It was only when a person receiving the work exclaimed that she felt “balanced to zero” that the current name was born.

What is balance but internal harmony and equilibrium? What is Zero? A complete abstraction, whereas nothingness defies quantification, by definition. In our world of stuff, how we long for open, empty space. In our cluttered minds, how we long for peace from thought. Imagine a blissful Zero, without the need to know, or judge, or understand. Imagine your ideal of balance with yourself and within yourself. In a moment, the slate of life is washed clean, and new possibilities, ones never before considered, arise.

Another reason why the name Zero Balancing is quite right for the work of bringing us back to ourselves.Image

©Amanda King, April 2014
Salem, MA

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Engaging the hip through traction is part of Zero Balancing.

In Zero Balancing, a fulcrum is the working tool. The point of balance, created using a curved hand or fingers, or through the building of a stretch or vector held stationary, creates a space akin to the eye of a hurricane. Around this still place, offered to the body through touch, those mysterious ingredients that are a being – flesh, bone, mind, spirit – can organize themselves, often in a matter of moments.

In Zero Balancing, the practitioner’s touch aims for bone tissue and connects with, but does not invade, the musculoskeletal structure. Bone tissue, with its high degree of collagen fiber makeup, actually conducts energy when compressed or stretched. Energy set in motion from deep within the bones affects not just the place touched, but the entire body-mind system. Sometimes these shifts are palpable only to the person on the table. At other times, the entire field of the room can change as a result of a well-placed fulcrum.

The more one practices any body-mind system, such as Tai Chi, yoga or meditation, the more one becomes sensitive to this subtle weather.

In massage, which is one of my foundational studies and loves, touch is attenuated. Some practitioners even work through a session without removing their hands from the client’s body. In a massage this type of touch equals value, and it is what the person on the table craves.

In Zero Balancing, my other foundational study and love, the long strokes of massage on skin are replaced by the gentle staccato touches of the practitioner’s hands or fingers on the client’s bones.

Touch to the tarsal bones of the foot.

Touch to the tarsal bones of the foot.

Bones, Zero Balancing founder Fritz Smith, MD, discovered early in his over fifty years of teaching and practice, hold and transmit vibration. In touching them relatively quickly and firmly, using an approach called Interface, Zero Balancers seek to both access and free that held vibration back into the person’s system.

The best way to do this, Dr. Smith teaches, rather than to linger, is to be quick and clear when touching bone.

This clarity of touch pays dividends. Released tension once held in bone tends to recharge and animate a person’s entire musculoskeletal system. Often, after a ZB session, people report feeling more energized while at the same time feeling calmer.

Because this touch occurs on such a deep level, we hold it usually no longer than ten seconds. If an area is particularly tight or congested — say on the scapula, the lower ribs, or at the upper trapezius muscles of the shoulders and neck (yes muscle, but sometimes as hard as bone!) — often a series of even shorter touches or fulcrums are used. This allows the tension to mobilize and dissolve, leaving the person feeling deeply open and refreshed.

Long or short, one type of touch is not better than another. In working with the muscles, fascia or soft tissue, long continuous strokes bring great relief and elongation of the tissue. In working with the bones, tiny touches or brief, deep contact are akin to striking a beautiful bell and allowing its music to pour forth.

Amanda King
Cambridge, MA
© 2013

In the time that I have practiced Zero Balancing, I have discovered a need of my own to create a focus for my learning. On one occasion, I might choose to see my client’s energy in terms of movement through body structure. Or, I might choose to focus my attention on limiting mind chatter so that I might be present and focused on the session for the good of the person on the table.

This week my practice is about letting go of any notions of weakness or fragility in my tools — my arms, hands, shoulders, as well as my legs and feet. My intent — to feel my own strength — not only allows me to erase decades of personal and familial conditioning, but it also gives me new confidence that I can work with anyone. By anyone, I mean my usual clients: men and women. Many people require a fair degree of contact so that they might feel that the tension they hold in their skeleton is not only accessed, but mobilized and released.

How did I uncover this strength ten years into my Zero Balancing practice? I studied this past weekend with ZB faculty member MIchael Oruch, who has developed a series of workshops for bodyworkers, Zero Balancers specifically, utilizing principles from Qigong. One takeaway from the class: a curve is stronger than a straight line. A curved hand, for example, held in position under my client’s back, has its own integrity. My hand becomes a bolster, a support and the structural foundation of a powerful fulcrum designed to catalyze and disperse deeply held tension. The client breathes, exhales and surrenders fully. Instead of collapsing under this increased weight, my curved hand holds steady, maintaining contact for the moments required. I do not strain, even under the weight of a large man or woman. My shoulders drop. I can smile as I feel their tissue soften under my hands.

Michael himself had a daily Qigong practice for many years before he came to Zero Balancing. He then attended, according to his own estimates, close to 80 workshops with Zero Balancing founder Fritz Smith, MD in the space of five years, observing the master at work. Fritz, who is not a big person, nevertheless, in my own experience, feels big when he is working on you. His curved hands and fingers, carefully positioned on a rib or cradling my sacrum, hold all of me while he works to free a particular spot. That is the magic of Zero Balancing and its greatest expression: to acknowledge and hold a person in his or her totality, even while covering a seemingly small territory with one’s hands. It is all about connection, clarity of touch and complete focus on the client.

Knowing that I am strong means that I can be a stable source of support for each person who seeks my care.

© Amanda King
August, 2012