More Than Zero

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The workplace can be stressful. But what if you could take 45 minutes out of your day and emerge calm, grounded, and serene? Or perhaps you’ve been feeling fatigued and run-down lately—what if you could take that 45 minutes and return full of energy and focus, no caffeine necessary?

Zero Balancing, or ZB, is a unique form of bodywork that combines osteopathic massage manipulation with the energy work of acupuncture. Together, these techniques can help your body and mind move to a state of relaxation and clarity, or balance.

I’ve experienced Zero Balancing from both sides of the table. As a practitioner of Zero Balancing since the early 1990s, I’ve seen the benefits firsthand: my clients leave the session feeling energized or relaxed, focused or calm, depending on their mood. When I’m the recipient, it has the same effect on me. It’s just this quality that makes ZB ideal as a midday getaway for stressed-out office workers. And because there’s no oil involved, a post-massage shower isn’t necessary.

The basis of ZB is integrating structure (your body) with energy (the stuff that moves your body). ZB also works with the nervous system, engaging specific sensory endings with touch, pressure, and movement. The practitioner offers pressure or movement in the form of a “fulcrum” and then pauses to allow the body to integrate. This makes ZB different from many other forms of bodywork, where the practitioner and the client often have goals like increasing movement in a joint, for example.

What to Expect
Before your session, the ZB practitioner will often ask, “How would you like to feel when we’re done?” Motivated to go home and finish that paint job? Calm and focused for that meeting with the boss this afternoon? Quiet and ready for a good night’s sleep after a long week? It’s an interesting question, and one that many of us are rarely asked. But it’s an important question, and getting your body, mind, and spirit on the same page, so to speak, is one of the tenets of this 40-year-old form of bodywork.

When you book a Zero Balancing session, you can expect to spend some time talking with your practitioner, giving them a brief medical history, and then answering that surprisingly  difficult question of how you want to feel. The sessions are done fully clothed, with the client lying face-up on a massage table.

The practitioner addresses the whole body during the session. She starts at the feet, applying a gentle half-moon-shaped traction to the legs. She then moves to your torso, working under your body, along your spine and ribs. Moving down to the sacrum, the large triangle-shaped bone at the base of your spine, she works into your hip joints with gentle rotation and traction, continuing down to the ankle and foot.

Once the lower body has been treated, your therapist moves to the head of the table and gently tractions your neck. She then continues to work under your body along the upper vertebrae, shoulder blades and shoulder joints, and up into the neck. Several more half-moon-shaped stretches are applied to your neck. She then gently tractions both shoulders, and does a closing sequence ending at your feet.

The whole treatment takes 30–45 minutes, and even though there’s a general protocol, every session is different and focused on what you need that day. Zero Balancing isn’t a medical treatment, nor does it specifically treat any medical conditions; depending on what you might have happening with your health, you should check with your doctor before receiving a session.

History of ZB
Zero Balancing was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Fritz Smith, a medical osteopath who also studied other alternative therapies emerging at the time. He studied with Ida Rolf, who developed Rolfing, her eponymous method of structural integration. During that time, Smith also met English acupuncturist J. R. Worsley, who brought classical Five Elements acupuncture from Asia to the West; Smith moved to London to study this then little-known Eastern healing practice. Smith combined elements of the energy work of acupuncture with the more structural work of osteopathy to develop Zero Balancing.

Today, there are thousands of ZB practitioners around the world. They may be massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, MDs, dentists, or physical therapists. For a list of certified ZB practitioners near you, go to

“Human beings have structure, and, being living systems, they also have energy. ZB uniquely works with both structure and energy,” says David Lauterstein, a ZB practitioner, massage therapist, teacher, and author based in Austin, TX, who studied with Dr. Fritz Smith. “It relieves tension connected with both the muscles and the skeletal system, which is an important benefit. ZB is essential therapy for every one of my clients.”

For most of us in this increasingly busy and chaotic world, ZB can provide an important opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and our spirit and return to our lives more grounded and integrated.

Always check with your doctor before undertaking any new exercise or bodywork.

T. J. Ford is a bodyworker and a health and nutrition coach who lives and runs in Portland, OR.


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