Consciousness is a difficult subject. We are all aware of ourselves and the world around us as a result of it, however, what exactly consciousness is remains elusive. And yet each and every one of us knows that it exists simply because we are.
What we also know to be true is that we can direct our consciousness. You may not be aware of your breathing whilst you read this, but by reading these words you might, however briefly, notice your breathing. The stimuli that the written word provides provokes a reaction in what it is we are aware of. Reading a good novel involves our imagination and our feelings, all because we have directed our attention to what it is we see and identified with what we read.
Consciousness is more often than not embroiled in our senses. We are aware of and reflexively react to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch. And our thoughts often do too. We hear a baby crying in a cafe where we were previously enjoying a lovely quiet atmosphere. Almost immediately, up pops an emotional reaction of anger and a thought along the lines of, "Shut up!" Or you may react with compassion and a thought of concern about the poor wee thing.
All too often, just like with reading a good novel or watching a good film, we become identified with these feelings and thoughts. That is to say that we believe our identity to be one and the same as the feelings and thoughts we have.
For those of us who meditate or some other activity that trains a still mind and a calm emotional state, we know this not to be true. If we can be aware of our feelings and thoughts, then we can choose to let our reactions pass us by, in a similar manner, perhaps, as when one notices a foul smell and chooses not to react because there are more important things at hand. You simply notice and carry on.
This can be hugely empowering to realise. Not everyone is happy with who they perceive themselves to be, or how they react in certain situations. There can be patterns of self-loathing, anxiety, rage, or anything in the vast spectrum of human emotions and thoughts.
We can unlearn the patterns of behaviour that make up these undesirable parts of ourselves. And we do this by applying our innate awareness - our consciousness.
In the world of bodywork, where we consciously utilise touch to work on our clients, there are some interesting and unexpected implications to all of this.
1. By utilising touch, we make the client aware of their physical body.
This may not sound like much, but when a client is embroiled in a certain pattern of being - i.e. on a regular treadmill of similar emotions and thoughts that one is identified with - then being aware of the physical body can be an eye-opener because it's not where the attention/awareness/consciousness has been recently. All of a sudden they become aware of where they hold tension and where they don't, what feels good and what doesn't. Just like how many meditation and mindfulness techniques draw one's attention back to the physical body, bodywork does exactly the same. The client becomes aware of, not the fleeting inner experience, but with the tangible physical body.
2. By engaging their consciousness in this way, we make the client aware that they can change.
Let's say we find an area of held tension. That is to say that the client has consciously or unconsciously chosen to tense a particular area, and the therapist can feel this tension using conscious touch. By working with the area and, through touch, suggesting to the client and their awareness that they might want to let this tension go, the result is often that the client's awareness chooses to let go of the tension.
In a Zero Balancing session, there are often a good number of areas of tensions that dissipate. The more they dissipate the more the client's awareness learns that it doesn't have to be stuck in the same ruts, routines or patterns.
3. By building a trust with the client's body awareness, deep and longlasting impressions and self-imposed identities can be altered for the better.
As we continue to work with a client, trust builds between the therapist and the client. And because I'm talking about bodywork, I'm not merely talking of a trust developing between the two personalities involved. I'm talking about a deeper, more subtle trust that develops between the client's body awareness and the therapist's own body awareness. The more we work with a particular client the more this trust builds and the deeper the changes go.
Often the skill of a great bodyworker lies partially in how quickly they can 'earn', 'gain' or 'build' this type of trust. (I use those words with inverted commas because they don't really work. 'Access' might be the most accurate, even if it's still off the mark.)
4. The more profound the trust is, or the more accurate the location and level of touch, the greater the shift in consciousness in the client.
In Zero Balancing we refer to expanded states of consciousness. The Psychology Dictionary defines expanded consciousness as:
"A sensory effect possible from meditation or mind altering drugs where a person feels like his mind has been opened to new awarenesses."
The definition is accurate in that the expansion refers to new awarenesses. Those who work in skilled touch therapies, including Zero Balancing, would add to the list of meditation and mind altering drugs, though. Bodywork can produce similar results.
If a therapist presses in just the right way, at the right spot, at the right time, the client will go into an expanded state. It's not as hard as it sounds because a therapist learns to 'listen' with his or her hands. And expanded states are not as exotic as they sound either. We are all aware of what it's like to be asleep, or to be mentally active in our jobs. These are two different states of consciousness. What we're talking about here is placing someone in a state of consciousness that's outwith their normal mode of operating in the world. In a state where they are not identified with their thoughts and feelings as they are in their everyday state of mind.
Expanded states in a Zero Balancing session are not just common, they are almost guaranteed. That's not to say that everyone will have out of body experiences! Some do, mind, but it's more common for some to experience a silencing of the mind, others a deep relaxation or a growing sense of rejuvenation, and others still have memories flash before their eyes. And the effects vary in their nature and they are never quite the same, but rare it is that someone remains unaffected. (I'd imagine this is possible only if the trust isn't there.)
Being less identified with who you think you are is what allows for personal growth and transformation to take place in a Zero Balancing session. What growth and transformation takes place, exactly, is out of the therapist's hands. It's up to the client and their consciousness to decide in what direction they will grow. But grow they shall.
The Zero Balancing Touch Foundation is a registered US charity that was set up by the Zero Balancing founder, Dr Fritz Frederick Smith, to protect the legacy of Zero Balancing. The main premise of the Foundation is to explore the benefits of skilled touch on health, wellbeing and realising human potential. As such, they've recently commissioned research into the effects of Zero Balancing.
The results of the research are encouraging, and I'll share them with you in a moment. And they certainly won't come as a surprise to those who have received Zero Balancing, either.
The full research paper is currently not available for detailed analysis, however. Instead the Foundation has released some of the key headline results.
"measured stress reduction during a 30 minute Zero Balancing session was 61%"
I have to admit that not publishing the full research paper does leave me feeling a little uneasy in an era when vested interests are rife in the world of research and there is not enough transparency.
That said, the Foundation isn't some bogus organisation with opaque funding. They are run by volunteers more driven by passion for a method of healing than by some desire to cover up their tracks or promote a toxic substance. Zero Balancing, in my experience, does nothing but benefit people and the world at large. Sure, the Foundation exists purely for the purpose of furthering Zero Balancing and communicating its merits - so they do have an axe to grind. All organisations do. People coming together with a shared objective is pretty much the very definition of an organisation. In this case, it's about furthering our understanding of human touch and its effects for the benefit of the Zero Balancing method. Mostly altruistic, I would say. And partly for the benefit of therapists like me. Good research results could help me earn a living. Which is not in the same league as the profiteering nature of corporations. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it will help me, my clients and my colleagues to have something objective and concrete to turn to when attempting to explain just why Zero Balancing is so good for (almost?) everyone.
So, what were the headline results?
Quoted directly from the Foundation's website:
The questionnaire used was a Likert-type scale wellbeing questionnaire. Thankfully the research didn't rely on a mere questionnaire. Electro Derma Activity (i.e. skin conductivity, as used in polygraph tests), temperature, oxygen/pulse and heart rate variability were also measured throughout.
The Foundation rounds off the research with a lovely conclusion:
"The study results show ZB Touch facilitates the release of 61% of deeply held stress in a person, and in so doing invites their mind-body-spirit to find a new equilibrium in this new environment. This new reduced stress state not only supports physiology and wellness at a physiological level, this new mind-body-spirit equilibrium importantly provides an easier environment for positive changes to lifestyle and behaviour to occur."
The Foundation continues to pursue research into Zero Balancing and they've started to look at brain waves and how these change during a Zero Balancing session. Exciting stuff! I look forward to hearing more.