Step Outside the Frame
The balancing of energy and structure at vital positions in the skeletal system can result in significant improvement in structural alignment.
By Janice Willis Barnett
Photos by Steven McBride
An increasingly popular method in the massage therapy field emphasizes the balancing of energy and structure at key points in the skeletal system. This practice, called Zero Balancing® (ZB), can result in significant improvements in structural alignment, and also can facilitate the release of destructive emotional patterns being held in the body. To appreciate how Zero Balancing does this, let's examine the concepts making up its theory and practice.
These photos show other angles of the half-moon vector of the neck. The method consists of a curved pull with a twist, to release tension in the upper cervical spine.
ZB, developed by Fritz Frederick Smith, a general medical practitioner, osteopath and licensed acupuncturist, rests on the premise that energy flows through the bones and joints of the skeletal system. Dr. Smith bases this principle, and the other concepts comprising ZB theory, on his experiences as a physician of Western medicine, as well as his studies of Eastern esoteric anatomy and theories of energy.
Based on his observations in working with patients, Dr. Smith believes that human beings have an energy body that is separate from, but in a state of interdependence with, the physical body. This energy body is directly affected by changes in mental, emotional and physical states, and, in turn, can bring about changes in the physical body. Smith discusses his ideas regarding the relationship between energy and structure in the body in his book, Inner Bridges.
In his model, the energy body consists of a general background energy field, vertical flows of energy that pass through the skeletal system, and internal flows of energy that pass through specific pathways in the internal organ systems. He divides the energy making up the internal flows in the body into seven layers, with the deepest, densest layer of this energy residing in the skeletal system. This is where ZB focuses--on the energy flowing through the bones and joints of the skeletal system.
The focus is further refined by being directed primarily to the part of the skeletal system that Dr. Smith refers to as the foundation and semi-foundation joints. Of all the joints, he believes these have the most impact on the energy body because they deal with the transmission and balance of energetic forces in the body rather than voluntary locomotion.
Movement in the foundation joints is not voluntary because of the lack of muscle tissue connecting them. Although semi-foundation joints may have some direct muscle connection, it is not enough for voluntary movement.
Smith identifies the foundation joints as the cranial bones, the sacroiliac articulations, the intratarsal articulations of the foot, the intracarpal articulations of the hand and the pubic symphysis. The semi-foundation joints include the intervertebral articulations and the costosternal articulations of the ribs.
"Once the foundation joints become stuck, they're so deep in the body, we don't realize that part of the body has been shut down," says Jerry Clark, a Johnson City, Tennessee-based massage therapist who is an experienced practitioner of this method. "This has widespread ramifications because whatever is attached around these joints also becomes impeded. Zero Balancing goes in and gently opens these joints up and allows a space for a change to take place."
The form of structural acupressure used in ZB to do this is the fulcrum. Fulcrums are always placed with the client fully clothed, and they can be created using either pressure or traction. The pressure method involves the practitioner's fingertips pressing directly against the client's bony structure. In the traction method, the practitioner may lift one of the client's appendages and take up the slack between the appendage and the rest of the body to create the fulcrum. This type of fulcrum is called a half-moon vector.
Both methods require using the natural curve of the practitioner's hands and the client's body. "One of the premises of Zero Balancing is putting a curve in when you put in a fulcrum," Clark says. "This is because energy moves in our body in curves and spirals."
Fulcrums are applied in a specific sequence, after evaluating the areas of the foundation and semi-foundation joints to determine whether or not a fulcrum is needed. "I'm looking for areas of stuck energy," Clark continues. "They may feel either hot or cold, or be dense areas that don't have an alive feeling to them."
In the top and middle pics, Clark demonstrates a half-moon vector to move energy down the arm through the humerus and ligaments of the elbow. In the bottom photo, he is working with carpal bones of the wrist.
Clark compares an area where energy and structure are out of balance with one another to a seesaw, with a 50-pound child on one end and a 35-pound child on the other. A fulcrum balances an area like this by introducing a clearer, stronger force field that allows a reorganization of energy and structure at the point of the imbalance.
"You want to bring the pressure of the fulcrum to a good hurt, so that the brain will receive conflicting signals--hurt and good--at the same time," he says.
This scrambling of signals causes the client's mind to temporarily release its old viewpoint holding the emotional and physical trauma, and offers the possibility of the more balanced picture of reality introduced by the clearer, stronger force field of the fulcrum.
Sometimes the practitioner will sense that a fulcrum needs some adjustment. "There are several different ways you can work with a fulcrum once it's in place," says Clark. "You can put in a double fulcrum, or you can change the vector of the fulcrum by making small, fine-tuning adjustments, depending on what you're feeling."
Another reason the amount of pressure applied in a fulcrum is important is because it determines whether or not the practitioner's touch is at what is known in Zero Balancing as interface. This means that the practitioner's fingertips must take up enough slack in the soft tissue and joints to get to the client's bony structure. Bone must touch bone in order for the practitioner to bring the client's energy and structure into balance with one another.
Interface means the common boundary between two entities. Therefore, putting a fulcrum in at interface means there is always a clear boundary between practitioner and client. This may seem contradictory, since the practitioner is touching both the structure and energy of the client, but it isn't. The key is in the practitioner's attention staying fixed on what his or her fingertips are feeling. Otherwise the boundary between client and practitioner will begin to blur, and the touch isn't at interface.
A Typical Zero Balancing Session
Jerry Clark's Zero Balancing sessions last approximately 50 minutes, with part of the session spent discussing clients' concerns. The time spent actually placing and evaluating fulcrums varies. All sessions take place with the client fully clothed.
Note: All steps are not shown in the photos at right. The key steps are depicted, though. The typical session consists of these steps.
Step 1: The client "frames" the session by stating what he or she would like to have happen.
Step 2: Clark evaluates the shoulder girdle, back and sacroiliac joints to help establish a donkey connection.
Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. Figure 4. Figure 5. Figure 6.
Step 3: Clark picks up the client's feet so that he can traction the body through the legs into the hips and up the spinal column with a half-moon vector. He then watches for working signs. (See Figures 1 and 2.)
Step 4: Clark evaluates the pelvic girdle, and the middle and lower back, by using his fingertips to determine areas where the energy is blocked. He places fulcrums in the areas that need them, and then watches for working signs.
Step 5: Clark evaluates the hip area by holding the client's leg across his or her own thigh to check for internal and external rotation. He places any needed fulcrums by taking up the slack in the hip through tractioning and internally rotating the hip at the same time, and then watches for working signs. (See Figures 3 and 4.)
Step 6: Clark moves back to the feet, and evaluates the tarsal bones for restrictions and places any needed fulcrums. He then watches for working signs.
Step 7: Clark integrates the work that has been done in the lower body by doing another half-moon vector with the legs to bring the energy down from the mid-back and on down through the hips.
Step 8: Clark moves to the upper body and does a half-moon vector with the head. He uses his fingertips to evaluate the ribs on either side of the spine, and then places needed fulcrums and watches for working signs. (See Figure 5.)
Step 9: Clark evaluates the shoulder girdle and upper cervical movement for restrictions, places needed fulcrums and watches for working signs. (See Figure 6.)
Step 10: At this point, Clark asks the client if there are any other areas in his or her body that need addressing.
Step 11: Clark finishes by integrating the energy from the upper body down through the pelvic girdle and on down through the feet to ground the client. This involves a series of fulcrums done with the fingertips, as well as some half-moon vectors.
Clark emphasizes that interface touch is the only touch used in ZB. Touch, such as blending, which involves confusing the practitioner's energy with that of the client, or touch that allows a client's energy to stream out, thus depleting him or her, is not allowed. Neither is channeling energy. These kinds of touch are not at interface because they can violate the integrity of the client's energetic boundaries.
Interface touch is also necessary for what ZB calls the donkey connection with the client. In his book, Zero Balancing: Touching the Energy of Bone, which expands the work of Dr. Smith, author John Hamwee, a student of Smith's practicing in England, explains the donkey connection. He states it resembles the situation of two donkeys going along a mountain pass with the donkey on the outside leaning into the one on the inside for balance in case the cliff begins to give way or the outside donkey slips.
Clark does a half-moon vector through the client's hip by taking up the slack from the whole body with a straight pull. Apply traction with a straight pull, and then add internal rotation with a lengthening spiral motion, and hold three to five seconds. Release force fields in reverse order.
Interface touch elicits this donkey part of the client, which can trust and feel supported by the fulcrums being placed by the practitioner. This means the practitioner's touch is never invasive or manipulative, or carries with it preconceived expectations about what a fulcrum will do or how the client should react. This way, the client's donkey knows that its integrity is being supported, not violated.
One Practitioner's Story
According to Zero Balancing practitioner Jerry Clark, as soon as he read about ZB he wanted to add this innovative bodywork to his practice. Although he was already practicing CranioSacralSM Therapy and the St. John method, he wanted what ZB had to offer--the ability to work with both energy and physical structure at the same time.
"The article that I read, 'What is Zero Balancing?' by David Lauterstein in the Winter 1994 issue of Massage Therapy Journal, just spoke to my soul," he says. "It felt like what I had been looking for."
Clark's first ZB session was with Ida Smith, one of the first teachers to train with Dr. Fritz Frederick Smith, founder of the ZB technique. "It was one of the most profound, timeless experiences of my life," he says. "I can remember feeling energy flowing in ways and in parts of my body that seemed to have been cut off for a long time."
Clark then did core ZB training with Smith in Charlottesville, Virginia, and after that obtained full certification. He has also taken several advanced courses with Smith.
He has been using ZB in his practice at New Paradigms Health Care in Johnson City, Tennessee, for more than four years. He has successfully treated clients with anything from pain caused by skeletal misalignment or stress because of a high-pressure job, to more serious issues having to do with the effects of emotional and physical trauma.
Although Clark considers his neuromuscular and craniosacral work as complementary to Zero Balancing, it is his work as a ZB practitioner that he considers most important, because it enables him to access the body's energy and physical structure simultaneously so that he can bring them into balance with one another.
"There's always something that happens when a fulcrum is properly placed and held for the right amount of time," explains Clark. "But we never really know what the change is."
Sometimes an area may not be ready to completely open up. Clark says that he may reevaluate an area after placing a fulcrum and find that the energy is still somewhat impeded. He will then try again with another fulcrum, and if there is still no change, leave the area as it is, respecting the body's right to make its own decision about opening up.
"When a fulcrum is put in at interface," he explains, "clients will always feel that they have the ball in their hands. They can go as far as they want to with how much they feel safe to release. They will feel supported."
The individual process is further facilitated by the practitioner's response to the client after placing a fulcrum. At this time, the practitioner watches to see if the client goes into what is known as a working state. Signs indicating this state include, but are not limited to, rapid eye movements, changes in skin color or breathing patterns, bowel rumblings and various other body movements.
These shots show a half-moon vector through the whole body done from the feet. Take up slack from the whole body with a curved (half-moon) pull to engage both energy and structure.
"Any time a person is in a working state, you want to let that play out," Clark says. "Let it just happen because the person is also having a very deep internal experience. They need to experience the shift or change that is taking place. Sometimes it can be a very profound thing, especially for somebody whose energy has been stuck for a long time."
Clark claims that the working state can be similar to an out-of-body experience for some clients. "At the same time it is actually bringing them more into their bodies," he says. "But sometimes they have to get out of their bodies to come back in."
This seems paradoxical but makes sense if thought of in terms of the old adage about stepping outside the frame in order to see the picture.
"I see our bony structure as our frame," explains Clark. "That frame can become narrowed by our life experiences. As we're growing up and being formed by other people's opinions, they become our own belief systems. We start to hold these patterns in our body, and they become part of who we are. What Zero Balancing does is open this old framework up so we can see other possibilities."
This means stepping out of the old emotional and physical framework to the new viewpoint opened up by the clearer, stronger force field of the fulcrum. But it is a process. As already emphasized, the amount and rate of change is up to the client.
Zero Balancing always recognizes the authority of the client's individual process. This and the noninvasive and nonauthoritative nature of interface touch, and the feeling of support and trust evoked by the client's "donkey," can be extremely beneficial for those dealing with trauma from sexual or physical abuse.
Individuals who have experienced serious trauma, which is causing dysfunction in some area, will obviously require more ZB sessions than those with less serious issues. It is also not uncommon for clients, regardless of their issues, to feel that nothing has happened during a session because of the nonmanipulative nature of ZB. Sometimes the results will not be felt until hours or days later.
There are clients who may not be able to relate to the subtle nature of ZB at all. But those who do will recognize it for the powerful tool that it is, and resonate completely to David Lauterstein's description of it as the "Holy Grail of bodywork" because of its mind/ body dynamic.
For More Information
Jerry Clark is a mentor in the Zero Balancing certification program. He can be reached at: 423-928-9394. Additional information about Zero Balancing can be obtained by contacting the organization below:
Zero Balancing Association
801 W. Main St.
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Web Site: [www.zerobalancing.com]
There are so many possibilities for using Zero Balancing, as it is still a growing body of knowledge; the possibilities of its fulcrums are limitless. Teachers such as Jerry Clark's mentor, Ida Smith, keep adding to its possibilities by expanding the ideas and concepts of founder Dr. Smith. Hamwee's book, mentioned earlier, has helped potential ZB practitioners, as well as the public, to better understand what ZB is about.
Evidence, such as that presented by Robert O. Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden in The Body Electric, regarding the presence of a measurable force field flowing through and around the bones and joints of the skeletal system, also helps support ZB theory. The evidence for the existence of human energy fields that renowned neurophysiologist Dr. Valerie Hunt discusses in her seminal work, Infinite Mind, also helps confirm the views of Smith regarding the energy body.
Zero Balancing is pioneer bodywork. It has stepped outside the frame which held bodywork that either addressed structure or energy, but not both at the same time. As such, it is a harbinger of the possibilities for working with the structural/energetic dynamics of the human body in the 21st century.
Janice Willis Barnett holds a B.B.A. from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. She is a freelance reporter whose work appears regularly in newspapers and periodicals in the Southeast. She has been a Zero Balancing client of Jerry ClarkÕs for three years, and is collecting accounts of experiences that individuals have had with Zero Balancing for a book on the subject. She can be contacted via E-mail at: Janice61320@aol.com.
Becker, Robert O. and Selden, Gary. The Body Electric. New York: Quill Books, 1985.
Clark, Jerry. Interview by author. Tape recording. Johnson City, Tenn., February 2001.
Hamwee, John. Zero Balancing: Touching the Energy of Bone. London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 1999.
Hunt, Valerie V. Infinite Mind. Malibu, California: Malibu Publishing, 1989.
Lauterstein, David. "What is Zero Balancing?" Massage Therapy Journal 33 (1994): 28-35.
Smith, Fritz Frederick. Inner Bridges. Atlanta: Humanics, 1986.