Touching Donkeys at the OAAOM

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

 Over 100 acupuncturists gathered in Portland for the 2014 OAAOM (Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) Conference, June 1. By the end of the day, four dedicated ZBers got their hands on a lot of those donkeys!  (In ZB lingo the "donkey" is shorthand for the person's essential being, everything below the level of ego consciousness, which we reach through touch.) 

IMG_0298Nearly a third of conference goers left with a new experience of Zero Balancing, thanks to mini-sessions offered by Anita Wood, Lee West, Danni Verona and Liz Zenger. During a long day of lectures and seminars, the free bodywork sessions were a popular option for acupuncturists looking to give their minds a break and get out of their heads.

Many participants expressed an interest in ZB classes and local events. As an added teaser and to help support the OAAOM, Liz donated a full tuition voucher for a ZB I class as an auction item for the OAAOM fund-raiser. It was a positive collaboration for all, expanding the community and creating new connections with the OAAOM.

Bridges to Wholeness: ZB and those Affected by Cancer

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

BTW - Efrat  "Where does Zero Balancing belong in the working with people affected by cancer?"  asked Efrat Livny on the first day of Bridges to Wholeness, a 3-day workshop on ZB for those affected by cancer.  "We exist in the middle, the bridge between the chaotic, uncontrolled, disorganized energy that is cancer and the medical treatment of it.  In the middle is the mystery and the alchemy.  People need the caring touch of someone who is there not to save them, but to meet them."

"People need the caring touch of someone who is there not to save them, but to meet them."

Bridges to Wholeness is an advanced ZB training offering experienced ZB practitioners the skills, knowledge and insights necessary to develop consciousness and confidence in working with cancer patients.  Efrat Livny, creator and teacher of Bridges to Wholeness, is a certified ZB teacher and massage therapist with a passion for working with those affected by cancer.  

Bridges to Wholeness was offered in Portland in October 2014.  As one of a circle of ten practitioners moving together through the training, I found it to be not only rich in practical, clinical knowledge but also a personal, transformative experience.  By its nature, cancer pulls us down into the subterreanean darkness of the soul and challenges our most deeply-held fears of survival.  Bridges to Wholeness is an excellent training not only for those who work with cancer patients, but for anyone working with the darker dimensions of illness and wellness.

Community, Collaboration and Engaging the Whole Person: Core Zero Balancing in Portland

Saturday, January 12th, 2013


“Lean into each other fully and completely,” I said, “Let go and trust.”  It was the first day of Core Zero Balancing I, held at the Oregon School of Massage (OSM), in October, 2012.  I watched as fourteen students paired up for one of the first exercises, called donkey leans. This exercise is a simple but profound way to experience energy and structure simultaneously, while being fully connected to another person. The result? Smiles and sighs, as people relaxed into the shared experience of leaning in.  Trust and mutual support feel good.  


The benefits of learning and teaching are amplified by working together, sharing and building community.  The recent class held at OSM was a landmark collaboration, a big “donkey lean” for the School and the Zero Balancing (ZB) community in Portland.  


Oregon School of Massage is a well-established leader in massage education.  Body-mind therapies like ZB, offered as continuing education, support the School’s mission “to provide excellence in education by engaging the whole person – body, mind and spirit – in order to promote health through quality touch.”  This recent class was by far the largest Core ZB I class in Portland in many years, thanks in part to connecting with OSM and the massage community.  


Beyond massage, Zero Balancing brings together body workers from a wide variety of health care backgrounds.  The students represented a cross-section of professions —  acupuncture, physical therapy, occupational therapy and massage therapy — and brought with them knowledge and experience from many approaches to body work.


Breakthough Learning and “Ah-ha” Moments


Bringing conscious awareness of energy into a structural approach can be a breakthrough experience that brings remarkable results.  Trish Lunsford, PT, wrote after the class:


I did my first ZB session on a friend today and she had a somatic release when I was working in her sacral area.  It was unexpected and she described it as totally involuntary. … I was amazed as this was coming from a deep place.”  


For massage therapists who are used to working on the level of soft tissue, shifting the focus to bone can be a breakthrough.   Reflecting on the class, Meg Hamlet wrote:

 “This past week, doing massage, I could feel in myself and in my clients' responses the positive effects from the ZB I training. . . aspects of ZB were presenting themselves both in actual use of some fulcrums as well as a heightened awareness of the level of tissue that I was addressing (ie: soft tissue vs. bone). I was feeling enticed by bone and felt a deep connection working at the skeletal level.”



Another hallmark of ZB that is profound for many students is working explicity with expanded states of consciousness.  I saw one student’s eyes open wide with surprise when I introduced the concepts.  He explained that the material presented gave him words for something he had been sensing in his clients as he worked — an expanded state — but never knew how to explain.


As a teacher, I never stop learning from my students.  Watching these breakthrough moments, realizing the power of ZB to transform consciousness through body work, is  humbling and rewarding.  I am just the conduit for greater knowledge.


The Art of Engagement in Zero Balancing

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Finding the Point of Surrender


There is a point of surrender within each fulcrum where the person lets go, and that is where healing can happenWe can have the experience of being freer, happier and healthier.” 


Michael Oruch, one of the senior teachers in the Zero Balancing faculty, was addressing students during Form and Fulcrums I, an advanced Zero Balancing class offered ini July, 2012 in Portland, OR.


For both Zero Balancing students and certified ZB practitioners, Form and Fulcrums is an excellent class to expand, refine and deepen ZB skills.  The class is offered as a two-part series.  Form and Fulcrums I focuses on working with proper body mechanics and optimal positioning to deepen engagement and work with less effort.  Form and Fulcrums II accesses and works with rhythm and movement in Zero Balancing as a way to free up tenacious held energy.  This 2-day class will be offered in Portland, OR, Dec. 7-8, 2012.






Working with less effort and greater ease


Have you ever wanted to work more effectively without working harder?  A key goal of Form and Fulcrums I is to find optimal body positioning for each fulcrum, allowing the ZB practitioner to work more easily and with less effort.   To this end, fulcrums are deconstructed and reconstructed as a way to refine technique.


Oruch, the creator of Form and Fulcrums I & II, has a deep background in Chinese qigong and tai ch’i.  He was impressed by the ease with which a tai ch’i master moves, and wanted to incorporate the movement principles learned from these ancient arts into Zero Balancing.  These principles form the groundwork of Form and Fulcrums I.







Working with greater engagement


“We are able to engage our clients only to the degree we ourselves are engaged,” says Oruch.  Practitioners often think more structure is needed, but in fact more engagement is needed.  How do we deepen engagement?  Through proper alignment, good body mechanics, utilizing bone energy, knowing the protocol and — importantly — keeping a quiet mind.  “The quieter the mind,” says Oruch, “the more we can perceive motion.”  Quieting the mind is what allows us to perceive energy in the form of held tension, and introduce an effective fulcrum.


As a student in the class, I was impressed with how attention to micro-movements and small changes in my body position, such as dropping the sacrum slightly, freed up energy flow and deepened the work.  Working with and receiving feedback from my fellow students, I found out that small changes in my position often made a huge difference to the person receiving the fulcrum.  This recent class was the second time I have taken Form and Fulcrums I, but it by no means felt like a repeat.  I was able to refine my work and deepen my level of engagement in ZB.


Combining Energy and Structure in Soft Tissue Work: The Lauterstein Method

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

David Lauterstein demonstrate low back fulcrums.


In Deep Massage: the Lauterstein Method, a two-day workshop held at the Oregon School of Massage in February, 2012, bodyworkers learned to touch energy and structure simultaneously by applying the Zero Balancing concept of the fulcrum to massage work with soft tissue.

This innovative approach to touch therapy has been developed by David Lauterstein through his decades of teaching and study in the bodywork world.  David is co-director of the Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage in Austin, Texas, and a distinguished Zero Balancing faculty member.  He is also the author of a seminal new massage text, The Deep Massage Book (2012, Complementary Medicine Press).

The fulcrum is the main working tool in Zero Balancing.  It has been define as “ A point around which a lever turns” (American College Dictionary), or “An agency through, around or by means of which vital forces are exercised” (The American Heritage Dictionary).

In Zero Balancing, touch is focused on the skeletal system and on working with the energetic and structural qualities of bone as a living tissue.  In its simplest form, a fulcrum is a point of fingertip pressure that releases held tension in bone.

Applying the concept of the fulcrum to soft tissue sounds simple.  Like many simple but profound ideas, there is a world of experience to unpack behind it.  Bone and soft tissue have very different qualities, transmit energy differently, and respond differently to touch.    Bone is a very good transmitter of vibration.  Fascia and soft tissue, on the other hand, are thixotrophic, a chemical property such that they become more fluid under pressure.


The “deep” in Deep Massage does not mean applying deep pressure to tissue.  Working with both energy and structure simultaneously, Deep Massage is deep because touches the whole person.  The “deep” in Deep Massage includes the autonomic nervous system and the unconscious — what Zero Balancing jargon fondly calls “the donkey.”

Deep Massage: the Lauterstein Method  is a must for any bodyworker who wishes to work with soft tissue beyond the level of structure.   David will return to teach in Portland, November 9-12, 2012.  Check the Oregon School of Massage website for updates.

Bridging Body and Mind Through Touch: Zero Balancing Principles and Touch Skills for Lay Healers and Contemplatives

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The separation of body and mind in Western culture has deep historical roots in both ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian world views.  From the beginnings of the phonetic alphabet to our high-tech multi-tasking present, the life of the mind seems to have spiralled off from the body and left it behind.  Embedded in abstract intellect, we have lost awareness of our instinctive and sensual nature as living animals.  The mindful life of the body lies repressed in our cultural collective unconscious.  We have literally lost touch.  The path to healing and wholeness lies in the body and the senses.  Conscious touch is the gateway that brings us there.  Touch heals.


Modern-day progressive Christian groups have drawn on ancient healing practices — contemplation, prayer and the laying on of hands — to create a service for healing and wholeness called Taize.  While Taize healers are lay people and not professional bodyworkers, their healing work connects them physically and energetically with those seeking their help.  They face some of the same challenges as bodyworkers, and can benefit from the conscious awareness that Zero Balancing brings to touch.

Learning to consciously touch energy and structure.


On Feb. 18, 2012, a group of Taize healers at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, had the opportunity to learn and practice touch skills and guided meditation based on Zero Balancing principles.   Through lecture and experiential exercises, the group learned how to be aware of touching energy and structure in another person, and how to touch at interface.  Interface touch is a key skill in Zero Balancing, the ability to be connected to someone in a way that has clear boundaries and feels healthy and comfortable to both people.  Touching at interface allows you not only to be connected to someone, but to make a clean, clear disconnect when the experience is over, so that neither person feels drained or overwhelmed.



Touching Body Energy and Body Structure: Benefits of Zero Balancing in an Acupuncture Practice

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Half moon vector at the feet.

Zero Balancing is a hands-on system of body-mind therapy which balances body energy with body structure.  Gentle and non-invasive, it is performed with the client lying fully clothed on a massage table.  Fingertip pressure and gentle traction are used to release held tension, and to align structure and energy in the bones, joints and soft tissue.


Born from an integration of East and West, ZB has its roots in both osteopathy and acupuncture.  It combines Western understanding of structure and anatomy with Eastern understanding of energy flow.

Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of qi, or vital energy, in the meridians, which flow like rivers of energy through the tissues of the body.  In Zero Balancing, the focus is on the energy system of the skeleton, and how energy moves through bone.  The practitioner develops an ability to consciously and simultaneously palpate both the energetic and structural anatomy of the body, and to distinguish held energy at the level of bone.  Zero Balancing techniques release held energy, or tension, in bone, allowing the client’s system to rebalance and reorganize.  When imbalances are corrected at the structural level, the efficacy of acupuncture is enhanced.

Acupuncture students at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine were recently introduced to some of the fundamental concepts and techniques of Zero Balancing in a short presentation, including experiential exercises and hands-on demonstration.

The donkey lean

Students learned a felt sense of energy and structure in another person through an exercise called donkey leans.  The name derives from the observation that donkeys will lean into each other for support while walking up hill.  Leaning fully and completely into another person is an activity that requires trust and letting go.  In leaning, each person unconsciously senses and adjusts to the other person’s energy and structure.

Students were also introduced to a vocabulary of conscious touch, and practiced touching at interface, the form of touch used in Zero Balancing.  Interface touch is a way of touching that allows one to be connected, but still have clear awareness of energetic and physical boundaries.  It is a healthy and comfortable way to touch, for both practitioner and client, and is useful in any form of body work.

The presentation ended with a demonstration ZB session, and an opportunity for those who wished to receive a ZB touch technique, called the half moon vector.

Bringing Zero Balancing into a Massage Practice

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Zero Balancing skills can enrich a massage practice.

Zero Balancing (ZB) is an original and coherent system of body work, bringing together health care professionals from diverse backgrounds:  acupuncturists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, and others.  One of the strengths of ZB is that it offers hands-on skills that can bridge these diverse professions.  ZB principles and touch skills can enrich body work and manual therapy done in wide variety of settings with different modalities.


Recently, I was asked, “I know I can practice ZB as a stand-alone session, but can I integrate it with other modalities in my massage practice?  Will I learn something I can use in the rest of my practice?”  The answer to this question is emphatically “Yes!”  as a group of massage therapists found out in a recent one-day workshop, Introduction to Zero Balancing, held at the Oregon School of Massage, in Portland, Oregon, in December 2011.


Introduction to Zero Balancing introduces the principles of touch, concepts of body energy and body structure, and basic hands-on techniques of Zero Balancing.  It enables practitioners to “try out” Zero Balancing.  Participants observe a demonstration session and learn a short sequence of techniques, called integrating fulcrums, that can be applied with other work.


Integrating fulcrums

The day opened with a short guided meditation, called the pyramid meditation, designed to bring participants into awareness of their own body energy and body structure.  This meditation also sets the intention of creating a space where learning is easy and we hold each other in the highest personal regard.


Most of the morning was spent introducing the foundational ZB concepts of energy and structure, and then embodying those principles in two-person touch exercises and ZB “games”:  handshakes, donkey leans, finding the blue line, and getting into the box!  Through a simple handshake, participants practiced touching energy without structure, touching structure without energy, and touching both simultaneously.





Half moon vector at the legs


One of the key skills of ZB which has profound application with any form of body work is learning to work at interface.  Interface touch allows practitioners to work with good energetic boundaries.  Client and practitioner are connected physically and energetically, but without transferring or blending energies.  Through a fundamental technique, called the half moon vector, participants learned and practiced working at interface.  Later in the afternoon, this technique was expanded into a short full-body sequence that integrates energy and structure through the entire body-mind.


No matter what background or level of skill a massage therapist brings to Zero Balancing, the principles and touch skills of ZB can always benefit his or her practice.  “Nearly every massage client gets a half moon vector from me,” says T.J. Ford, LMT, certified Zero Balancer and owner of Sophros Fitness, “ZB informs every massage that I give.”

Touching the Whole Person: Body Wisdom in Spiritual Healing

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Even a simple handshake can touch the whole person.


“Have you ever had the experience of touching or speaking to someone and then feeling, after they left, that part of the person was still there?  As if they had left something of themselves behind?”


Everyone in the room laughed empathically when I asked this question.  They were all familiar with the experience I mentioned:  connecting to someone for healing, and then not having a clear energetic separation after the healing was done.  In the language of Zero Balancing, I explained, this is called a clean, clear disconnect.


I was addressing a group of contemplative Christian healers at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.  This group offers healing touch and prayer at a traditional service for healing and wholeness, called Taize.  I spent 3 hours with this group on a Saturday morning in September, 2011, presenting and practicing touch skills and guided meditation based on Zero Balancing principles.


Although the study of Zero Balancing as a body work system is limited to health care practitioners and students, there are profound principles and skills within it that can be learned and usefully applied by anyone.  Zero Balancing has its own vocabulary of touch, which helps us to bring conscious awareness of how you touch, who you touch, and what you are touching.  With conscious awareness, you can learn to touch in a way that feels safe, comfortable and healthy for both people.


Using a guided meditation called the pyramid meditation, first we practiced bringing awareness to our breath and how it moves through the energy centers of our own bodies, and between heaven and earth.  The meditation also helped us create a clear, empowered space where we could hold each other in high regard, and learning was easy.


I talked about the metaphor of two bodies — the energy body and the structural (physical) body — and how touching the whole person means touching someone energetically as well as physically.   Energy and structure in the body are like the wind and a sailboat.  For the boat to move, the wind has to fill the sails.  This happens by aligning energy and structure, creating a clear, organized field.  When we are fully present with someone and touch the whole person, even a simple handshake brings joy and ease, and fills the sails with wind.


We practiced exercises designed to give participants an experience of touching both energy and structure, including the donkey lean, and interface touch.  You can learn more about these by reading the earlier blog posts, Learning to Lean in and Trust and Interface Touch: How to Stay Connected Without Feeling Drained.

Learning to Lean in and Trust

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The ZB Donkey Lean, as demonstrated by Fritz Smith and Patrick Dorsey


The room grew quiet and peaceful as thirty-four massage therapists and students, standing in pairs, leaned shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back against each other. ”Lean in completely to your partner, so that both of you are off center and support each other from falling,” I instructed them, “Trust the other person. Leaning requires you to over-ride the information that you are unstable, and trust that you are stable. When you lean into each other, you are contacting both the energy body and the physical body of the other person. Leaning involves communication, relationship and instinct. Leaning is a shared experience.” As each pair of students let go and leaned in to each other, sighs of relaxation could be heard throughout the room. The sensation of support and connection that comes with touching the whole person brought feelings of ease and joy.


This roomful of healers, gathered at the Oregon School of Massage, were practicing an exercise from Zero Balancing, called “donkey leans.” Fritz Smith, M.D., the founder of Zero Balancing, was fascinated to observe that donkeys will lean into each other for support as they walk up a hill. He used this image of the leaning donkeys as a metaphor to convey how we can touch both energy and structure in another person, one of the hallmarks of Zero Balancing.

The “donkey leans” exercise was part of a 1.5-hour continuing education workshop  at the Oregon School of Massage on Monday, July 25, 2011 entitled Interface Touch: a Bodywork Skill from Zero Balancing. The workshop used presentation, hands-on exercises and meditation to convey an understanding of energy and structure in the body, and relate it to different forms of touch. Interface touch is a technique of touch, used in Zero Balancing, which creates connection while still maintaining a clear sense of boundaries between self and other.

Touching energy and structure simultaneously, and the ability to touch at interface, are  just two of the skills from Zero Balancing that have profound application in the wider world of bodywork.

Additional Reading:

Elizabeth Zenger. Interface Touch: How to Stay Connected without Feeling Drained.

Lisa Berger. Thriving at Interface.