Archives for posts with tag: wellness

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

Image

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

Zero Balancing Session

Evaluating and balancing the sacroiliac joint in a Zero Balancing session.

“An intent to heal can get in the way of seeing.” Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

In Zero Balancing, at the start of the session, we ask the person receiving the treatment to state their goal. Their goal, ultimately, can take a multitude of directions. Relieve the pain in my left foot.  Help me address my performance anxiety. I want to feel a deeper connection to myself and what is universal in me. 

Once stated — or framed, as we Zero Balancers call it — the intention for the session is clear, empowered and a mutual contract between the practitioner and receiver. The intention creates a rich and potent force that informs every touch in the ZB session that follows. How does this happen? Not with continued intention, which some hands-on or energy work prescribes. Rather, in ZB, once the frame is uttered, clarified and agreed upon, we let it go. We spend the rest of the session giving the person on the table our full and quiet attention. We clear our mind of random thoughts and chatter, and, in doing so, give with exquisite focus and purpose. For this reason, we do not talk much, if at all, with our client as we work.

One way in which Zero Balancers are able to clear our minds while we work is through our mode of touch. Known as Interface, this touch exists at the place of meeting between two beings, two bodies, and two energies. Interface Touch enables us to put our attention (that word again) on where our own working surface — fingers, thumb or palm — meets our client. In the beginning of practice, this takes work! As one becomes more proficient, one feels more, senses more, discovers more about the person in our care.

Because our focus is on our touch, and on the richness of the signals coming to us proprioceptively, we stay in the now. As we do — and this story is my experience after ten years of ZB practice — the frame or intention of the client is magically, mysteriously and often surprisingly addressed. The foot that was hurting and wobbly now feels light, yet stable like a suction cup on the floor. The bones that were aching feel seen, cared for and acknowledged. The worried mind is calm and contented. How did this happen? I have no clue and no control over the outcome. Nor do I want to, for I’ve discovered that the ZB I would envision for you is never as rich or as sweet as the one the universe provides.

© Amanda King, 2012

Amanda King
Cambridge, Massachusetts