Deep Massage - Zero Balancing for Soft Tissue

Please note, this article was recently published in Donkey Press, the publication for the Zero Balancing Association here in the UK. To find out more about what ZB is, please visit the UK's ZBA website.

I remember the first time I heard the term ‘ZB’ (zero balancing). I had just graduated as a massage therapist and was attending my very first supervision session. Somehow the conversation turned to Zero Balancing, half moons, and fulcrums - I was intrigued but still recovering from a year’s course, so put all thoughts of ZB aside for a while. Yet like anything that you are drawn to, it wasn't long before it returned into my background field.

As a massage therapist (and ex-personal trainer), I have a fascination with people and bodies, regularly clocking up more CPD hours than needed, and receiving lots of amazing (and not so great) bodywork. But when I had the opportunity to experience a half moon to the feet … I knew ZB (what was that again?!) was different. Before the end of the year I had completed my ZB Core I with Sarah Stewart-Brown and John Hamwee.

I remember raving about ZB afterwards, my only slight hesitation being that it seemed to miss the squidgy bits! Given my chosen career, I have a deep love and respect for our soft tissue: all those hard working layers of muscles, tendons, ligaments, our fascia and indefinable mush that moves around within us, growing, repairing and moving us forward. So I paused, but was drawn back less than 18 months later to complete ZB Core II, this time with Meher Engineer and Sarah Stewart-Brown.

Again, I adored the work, that connection, that energy, the respect, the concept of the donkey lean in the work - that the practitioner is not the 'do-er' nor the client the 'receiver', but rather that the practitioner is the facilitator, inviting the client's body, energy and being to experience another way to be, if it wants to. This was so different to the vast numbers of requests I was getting for deep tissue massages.

Within days, I received a flyer for a course in Bristol in August 2015 - Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method. I'd never heard of David Lauterstein, but a quote leapt out:

If you touch the tissues in a manner that causes the nervous system to relax and energy to flow, you will have the optimum therapeutic benefit. ‘Deep’ is not about pressure; it is about cultivating the individual touch interface that optimally responds to dis-ease, dis-position and destiny. ~ DL

SOLD! I ordered a copy of his book (The Deep Massage Book: How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork) to see whether I really liked his philosophy, and found his writing to be lyrical, poetic and scattered with references that felt familiar. Reading the Preface, I realized why:

In 1986, I began studying with Dr. Fritz Smith, MD, the founder of Zero Balancing. Through practicing and teaching Zero Balancing, I received a language and a heightened awareness of how to convey, in my practice and teaching, the precise way to connect with structure and energy simultaneously Lauterstein, D (2011), p vi

A fundamental concept to David’s teaching, method and ethos is that of the seven dimensions of touch: Contact, Movement, Breath, Graceful Verticality, Heart, Understanding, and Alchemy. Immersing myself in a classroom full of practitioners who share a love of bodywork, a respect for the client, and an attitude of openness and genuine curiosity is deeply hypnotic. What is startlingly refreshing in the world of massage is the combination of energy and structure, without the wooliness of a slightly hippy presentation. Instead, the teaching focuses on understanding. For example, the role that the client’s nervous system has on their ability to relax is taught with a deep respect, and encourages practitioners to recognise the partnership this work requires. Indeed, one of the phrases David repeatedly uses during his teaching reinforces this concept beautifully, explaining that Deep Massage allows our clients to “relax from the inside out”.

David’s background, experience and teaching has roots in massage, Zero Balancing, Rolfing and Cranio-Sacral Therapy. So attending the course last year I shouldn’t have been surprised to feel overwhelmed by the beauty of the work, or the education. His teaching comes from his heart, which enables him to be gentle, fun and engaging, emphasizing the importance of anatomy knowledge, but encouraging this understanding to seep in, drip by drip, rather than forcing it. His lyrical way with words, quotes and music is reflected in the playing of his guitar that accompanied the guided meditations at the start of each day, and various intervals throughout the course.

David’s teaching, ably assisted by Clive Taylor and Zanna Heighton, creates such a haven of learning and comfort that I felt as though I had come home, or been taken upstream from the pool I had been playing in, and perhaps muddied slightly, so that I could be refreshed. Talking to some of the others, they all expressed similar sensations. This in turn provided the safety to explore, have fun, learn, relax and experience a new way … indeed it appears that during the first course we created a sense of family amongst the participants. Zero Balancers, Acupuncturists, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists – suddenly the mode of our work became secondary to the beauty of this work. Somehow, the teaching of the course embodies David’s philosophy about bodywork, because I believe this is his philosophy about life … providing fulcrums to my knowledge and learning, enabled my practice, my experience and my being to rearrange themselves if they so choose. I was able to relax from the inside out so that I could learn more easily and through my experience.

Without hesitation I signed up to complete DM II this August, and with a sense of what I was going to experience, I knew what I wanted to do in preparation. I organized two study review days and did a couple of swaps, but mostly I went into my head with it so that my understanding could then relax and seep into my fingers come the course. I read lots, including Inner Bridges by Fritz Smith, and both zero balancing and Energy Medicine by John Hamwee, so subsequently returning to David’s book I was unsurprised to find more and more parallels with and developments from the teachings of Zero Balancing.

Healing is done by the client with help from the therapist Lauterstein, D (2011) p 43

Attending the course, both first and second time, brought a real sense of joy back to my work and my heart. I love massage, but this way of working somehow enables me to return to the first flush of romance so that I feel as though I’m back ‘dating’ this beautiful work after 5 years of a deep relationship with it. As the quote on the initial flyer suggested, so much of the course focuses on working with the client’s nervous system; that deep is not a term reflecting the cause, but rather the effect. There is a delicacy and poetry to Deep Massage which, I believe, reflects the beauty and complex simplicity of Zero Balancing.

"When you touch someone with safety, trust and respect you then access the fundamental foundation of the person” ~ DL

Zero Balancing is done with the client supine and clothed. Deep Massage is done with the client undressed and predominantly in the prone and supine positions, although other options are available at DM II and DM III. So yes, there are some big differences. But once you get over the clothing, draping and turning issues, I truly believe that DM is in large part a form of ZB to the soft tissue. Our clients hold the authority over their body and experience, as David said on our course this year, “naive deep tissue massage is not having faith that the client is able to release and let go of their own stuff - we must trust our clients, and stand by their side. Accompany them.”

I will be putting my name down for DM III next year when David returns to Bristol in August, once again assisted by both Clive Taylor and Zanna Heighton. I am helping to organise a few review days for the intervening months, led by Clive, for those who have already completed DM I or more, and I am loving incorporating the 7 dimensions of touch into my work, even when I am not undertaking a Deep Massage protocol session with a client. Most importantly, I pledge to keep learning from my clients, colleagues, friends and mentors how best to refine what is at the heart of both Deep Massage and Zero Balancing: conscious touch.

… [the] experience of education is to keep on learning more; more facts, more concepts, more techniques. But with something that is an art and a skill, expertise is not so much about learning more, but about learning to use the basics better. A master joiner uses the same techniques of woodworking as a skilled apprentice, but the furniture he produces will look right, in some indefinable way, feel better to use, and last longer … Zero Balancing is an art and a skill, and the master does what the novice does, only with a different quality of work, and the results are more profound and longer lasting. Hamwee, J (1999) p 121&122


Lauterstein, D (2011) The Deep Massage Book: How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork
Hamwee, J (1999) zero balancing: touching the energy of bone