Archives for posts with tag: massage therapy

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.

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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

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

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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