Archives for posts with tag: holistic health

When I was young I hoped to find love. I never expected to find it in a seminar for manual therapists.

In any Zero Balancing workshop, a common belief holds that mutual respect and safety to be oneself fosters rapid and deep learning. As a result, at the opening of a ZB class there is presented the concept of holding each other–including oneself–in the “highest personal regard.” In other words, before we put our hands on each other, especially when we have no prior knowledge or relationship with the person we are about to touch, love overrides any tendency or propensity for snap judgments or prejudices or assumptions about the other.

Version 2

Evaluating the pelvis in Zero Balancing. Photo by Kim Lindner, Time Bandit Photography.

In this way, because we all agree to do it, we let go of the norms that rule most social or professional gatherings. How often have you been in a group where you scan new faces to see who you might trust and call friend and who feels strange, risky or even phony? It seems to be human nature to huddle with those who feel sympatico or like-minded while discounting others who seem just that–other.

In my Zero Balancing training experience spanning sixteen years (and I’ve noticed that over time, I seem to be getting better at H.P.R., so it is a practice!), in groups from Boston to Chicago to Baltimore, I join others in consciously, yet tacitly, acknowledging that we all have hearts that have been overlooked or trampled at many points in our lives. If we are going to make any headway in our work of learning and practicing a therapy that works with bone-held tension–hence the deepest parts of ourselves–we had better feel not only safe, but also loving towards those with whom we engage. Love, after all is a potent healing agent, and love is the glue that bonds parents with their children, life partners, and other deep and lasting connections.

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved and uncared for.” –Mother Teresa

“Highest Personal Regard” offers a chance to experiment with loving those you might discount, disregard or shy away from. Its request is to respect others for their humanity, their intelligence, and their sensitivity, for as I’ve learned the hard way, even the toughest looking people have soft and tender hearts.

 

Amanda King
© October 3, 2018
Salem, Massachusetts

Advertisements

What Bodies Are: Collage by Amanda King

Recently, after a deep massage, I went through what I would call an emotional storm. It started the next day and was exacerbated by a disturbing dream in which someone I loved called to tell me she was in the hospital, but her voice trailed off before I could find out which hospital. I woke with a pervasive feeling of crisis and dread which I could not easily shake. These feelings were as familiar as breathing–or not breathing–bringing me back to a period two years ago when my elderly parents, who lived in another city, experienced a string of medical emergencies, falls, fractures, ER visits, and the like, causing me to drop work and sleep to drive many times the 200-mile distance to their aid. That period ended after what I can only call a series of harrowing shocks and losses, and my husband and I finally settled back, after my parents’ bittersweet passing, to “normal life.”

Then the process of grieving began, which took its own toll: heaviness in limbs, heart and lungs; difficulty smiling; new, deeper pouches under my eyes; grayer hair; the feeling that life might punch me in the gut again when I least expected it.

Slowly, and with the help of many gifted practitioners–a grief counselor, Zero Balancers, acupuncturists, a specialist in flower essences, a polarity therapist, and massage therapists–my heart and limbs felt lighter and I began to feel like myself again.

Until this week when, after the most recent massage–offered by a strong and sweet young woman just one year out of massage school–all the tumultuous feelings returned.

Returned? Or released?

How beautifully our bodies store in their many layers and depths emotions and sensations we are not ready to process. Then, in a moment of quiet and safety, they can bubble to the surface of our skin and our consciousness.

In this case, I felt the massage, one of the deepest I’ve requested, scraped residual sorrow out of my cells.

My teacher, Dr. Fritz Smith, the founder of Zero Balancing, likes to say that every session is like a wrapped present: you never know what you will find. This was certainly the case for me in receiving work from this lovely young woman.

It also helped me to understand on a corporal, visceral level how the soft tissue–muscles, fascia, internal organs (heart, lungs, guts)–absorbs and cushions the daily shocks and frustrations of life. Psychiatrist and trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk writes about this extensively in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. “One of the ways the memory of helplessness is stored is as muscle tension or feelings of disintegration in the affected body areas.” p. 267. He goes on to write: “One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life.” p. 274

Zero Balancing teaches that the soft tissue, also home to acupuncture meridians, typically stores emotions felt–expressed and unexpressed–while bone, the deepest, densest tissue in the body aside from the teeth–frequently holds experiences from early childhood when bones are so plastic and forming, as we take our first steps, for example. In childhood, our soft tissue is soft, not yet hardened into a protective layer that so many of us over a certain age share. In childhood especially, things “cut to the quick” because physical muscular barriers are not there. In my own Zero Balancing sessions, I have uncovered long-forgotten memories and sensations from pivotal childhood moments, along with other experiences that affected me to the core.

Which brings me to my point: how wonderful to let go of grief, anguish, anger, frustration, humiliation or whatever else your loyal tissues may have packaged up in literal human Ziplocs.

Sometimes you can let go by yourself–through running, yoga, meditation, boxing, etc. But sometimes, like I did, you need a helping hand.

 

© Amanda King
Salem, Massachusetts

Patience makes for an excellent therapist-client relationship. People in crisis are a handful. Often, they need not only your hands, but your ears, eyes, and undivided attention. They need time and patience and compassion. How can anyone let go of their burdens without these things?

My great joy in being a massage therapist and bodyworker is not just loosening a muscle. It’s loosening a life pattern, detangling defenses and soothing a jacked-up nervous system. This takes patience and consistent willingness to be with my client as she is, without the desire to put her on the fast track to physical and emotional stability.

In working with several clients, I had to set aside my personal frustration with their distractability, chronic lateness, bad moods, grating tone, and seemingly self-absorbed behavior. I also chose to listen without rushing them to the table, whatever the day’s schedule. Had I discounted them or dismissed them on this basis, I would have lost connection to human beings I greatly admire: people who have endured great pain, peril, betrayal and calamity, and who are fighting to right the ship of their lives.

How can I judge a person on a first impression? I long ago learned the danger of that. My most treasured friends are people I might have labeled “difficult” or “self-absorbed” or “too nice,” had I not waited for them to reveal their beautiful hearts to me. On the massage table, whether clients seek massage therapy or Zero Balancing, people drop their defenses and release their peccadilloes. They become still and trusting, cautiously testing the waters of their own deep inner sea.

I stand by as a grateful assistant, a Carol Merrill or Vanna White who, with a touch, shows them the right window or door leading to undiscovered treasures: a joyful body memory of swimming as a child or being held by a parent; or a well of grief under a rib that now can be drained; or the epicenter of some mysterious pain or chill in a hip. Afterwards, they  breathe easier, or laugh, or yawn after weeks of insomnia.

Version 3

It is a tremendous privilege when I am lucky enough to witness this unfurling over time. Repeatedly, I observe remarkable transformations as people discover their inner strength and vitality. One woman who believed she was destined for a wheelchair after several surgeries rediscovered the strength of her legs. Another plagued with anxiety and the need to rescue others tapped into her own inner calm and clarity around her boundaries and role. A third stood up to her abusive boss, showing courage I’m not sure I would have.

In each of these cases, I could have considered these folks drains on my body and my heart. However, in witnessing rather than ‘fixing’, I simply give them time and space enough to shed the stuff that’s holding them back, which life rarely seems to do.

 

© Amanda King
Salem, Massachusetts

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

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

Image

In Zero Balancing touch therapy, there is a concept of a donkey lean. Why a donkey? Politics aside, donkeys, as observed by ZB founder Fritz Smith, MD on many trips to Mexico, lean into one another for comfort, stability and support. This comes in handy when a donkey is climbing a steep trail or when another big animal can share the load. In Zero Balancing, the donkey is a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that respond to the world according to instinct, the parts arguably more in tune with inner and outer nature. In exploring a donkey lean, we ask students to partner up and lean into each other – either back to back or side to side – so that both are unstable without the other. It usually takes some negotiating to find the place that feels good, sure and stable to both people. Once there, both can lean and let go, lean and relax and understand on the level of instinct what it means to trust.

Trust is the foundation of touch in Zero Balancing. Just as we negotiate the balance achieved in the lean, we Zero Balancers negotiate with our clients touch that offers the best support, comfort, release of tension, and pleasure. Touch that feels good, unequivocally, is bound to be therapeutic. 

© 2014 Amanda King
Salem, MA