Touching to Feel: An Interview with Bodyworks Practitioner Ahmed of Touch Energetics
Releasing emotional weight through physical touch.
When I showed up at Central London-based bodywork studio Touch Energetics for a two-hour session, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Equipped only with the advice to receive my massage fully naked, suffice it to say I was equal parts nervous and intrigued. Still, as someone who is open to most things, I trusted my intuition.
For the uninitiated, bodywork is a form of massage based on the premise that our physical bodies hold memories, emotions and trauma, often unconscious processes that get ‘imprinted’ onto the body (more on this later). In addition to easing physical tension and stress, bodywork releases emotional patterns the body plays host to, allowing the patient to experience physical release of emotional issues.
Receiving treatment from Touch Energetics founder Ahmed Zambarakji was difficult to put into words, but it had a profound effect on me. Almost immediately after we began conversing at his sparsely-furnished studio, I was in tears – not because I was sad, but because he created a space that felt supportive. It felt as though the tears were simply energy in motion. As we began the session, I felt like I had simultaneously left my body and conscious state, while being deeply connected to myself. After an initial meditation, Ahmed began a combination of energy work and massage. There were tuning forks involved. At times, immense weight and pressure was applied. I was massaged in a way that I had never experienced before. There were times of discomfort, and yet unfamiliar sensations of bliss.
As someone who is on a never-ending journey of connecting back to myself, the most profound thing I noticed in the days following my session was how it had reframed my relationship to touch. One of the main reasons I’m heading back to London soon is so I can book a second session with him. Below, we chatted to the Vogue-endorsed healer about his approach, which is just as unconventional as the journey that brought him there.
How do you define yourself as a person?
I would define myself as an outsider. A little bit of a lone wolf. That was something that used to bother me a lot growing up. But as I've grown older, I find more comfort in it and I see its value. And I don't worry about it so much. But that that really has come with age.
What is bodywork?
We live in a world that I think is still based on Cartesian dualism, the split between mind and body. A lot of times people who come to me will have been in talking therapies for a while. The belief is that if we can get an intellectual grasp on what is going on with our lives, then we find some resolution. From my perspective, that's only partially true. I think if you’re a very intelligent person you can get stuck in analysis paralysis and chase your tail a bit and stay stuck in the head. So at a very basic level, what I tell people is that unlike psychotherapy, the main tenet of bodywork is that your trauma and your history and your emotions are not just located somewhere in the brain, they are also in your flesh and your muscle and your bones and in your cells. What we’re trying to do at a great basic level is circumvent the machinations of the mind by delving deeper into the body. And that tends to be a very productive methodology for people whose trauma can't be verbalized or if their original wounding was physical, like in the case of sexual abuse or physical abuse.
"What we’re trying to do at a great basic level is circumvent the machinations of the mind by delving deeper into the body"
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in London, so I'm one of those second generation kids. My folks moved to the UK from Lebanon in 1975 when the war broke out. I grew up with this schism of not being quite English enough for the establishment in London, but also maybe being too English for my family. From the moment I arrived there was this sense of: where do I belong? That was one of the many polarities that I struggled with growing up there. Also, my immediate family can be quite challenging; let’s just say we’re not all reading from the same book. I’m the odd one out, and I think there's a reason for that. People that do what I do tend to have gone through a birthing process, and that often comes out of struggle.
What was your connection to your body growing up?
Growing up, I had a very strange relationship with my own body. I didn't want to be in a body. People think of the spiritual journey as transcending the body. For me it's been the opposite, it’s been coming into a body. Physical touch was for various reasons difficult for me. I could feel very suffocated by it. I was scared of it at times. And that's rooted in lots of trauma. The reason I work with touch and massage is that it is very primal, and very human, and it’s what I personally really needed. My journey was about learning to be comfortable in my body, to lay roots and really ground into my human experience.
Did you have a pivotal moment that was a turning point for you?
As a kid, I was always very sensitive and able to perceive things that other people were feeling. And then I think I went through adolescence and it was like I put the TV on mute; the images were still playing, but I had the sound off. And that's how I got by. I wanted to have a normal life, a normal relationship, a normal career, and I felt that my psychic ability was getting in the way of that. So I sort of put it on hold. And of course, when you put something like that on hold, you can only ignore it for so long ‘til it knocks you flat on your ass. The turning point was when I was maybe 27 or 28, and in one week, I lost everything. I broke up with my partner that I loved very much. We lost the flat we were living in, I lost my job. Everything. And I went nuts. I completely lost it. And I think the helplessness that I felt, and the lack of support around me, is what forced me to take the TV off mute, as it were.
"My earliest memories as a kid were seeing people's energy fields"
You often hear this kind of stuff from individuals who have had such a shift in their trajectory -- that you're in the eye of the storm, and amidst all this chaos, there’s just this stillness and surrender.
Yeah. I think that's the key word, surrender. I was I was reluctant to fully surrender from age 10 to around 27 or 28. It was very difficult for me to fully surrender into spirit, into what was being shown to me, because I just wanted to fit in.
So what was your training once you started getting into energetic work?
My earliest memories as a kid were seeing people's energy fields. I sensd that people's words didn't always match up with what I could see or feel in their energy fields. That was confusing as a child but, when I learned to harness that ability in my 20s, it turned out to be a gift. I've been lucky enough to have several mentors who have guided me through that learning process and I'm so grateful for each and everyone of them. Without them, I would probably still be very stuck.
They always say that when the student is ready the teacher would arrive.
Not for one moment do I believe I know anything or any one discipline. I think it's just part of the problem with the wellness word right now. My biggest gripe is the amount of, shall we say, ‘spirituality lite,’ where it’s like I’m gonna take a little bit of Ayurveda, a little Chinese medicine, a little transcendental meditation, and they’ve done each of those things for like three minutes, and they go out and call themselves healers. For me it’s always been kind of a deep dive.
What does your practice look like today?
A pivotal part of that today is yoga asana, which happens every day and that's about ninety minutes to two hours a day. Dance is also a huge part of it for me. The freedom of dance is something that's put me back into my body a bit more. And of course, when I am working with clients and when I am in that process of connecting skin on skin with someone, that is bringing me deeply into my body as I work with them.
And then, of course, there’s my meditation practice. The first phase of my meditation practice, every day, really, is all about grounding and dropping in and laying roots. It’s about being in the body and take that very simple Buddhist practice of observing the breath and physical sensation of air on the skin and the weight of the body. Only once I have done that am I able to start tuning into what’s going on beyond this dimension.
"There are so many studies that show a shift in brain waves, a reduction in cortisol levels and blood pressure, how we become more creative and more insightful when we're in nature"
What would you say is your hope for human suffering on a global scale?
I'm not saying this to be antagonistic, but human suffering is irrelevant right now. It has to take a back seat for the planet. This is what I mean about the wellness industry kind of disappearing up its own ass a bit. It can be a little narcissistic about me and my journey, how do I feel, and it becomes very self-serving. But there’s a clock ticking. I think this idea of how do we fix our problems, especially in the developed world, kind of needs to take a backseat to how can we serve the planet and actually address what's going on environmentally.
If someone doesn't have access to an energy healer, what are little steps someone might be able to take on their own?
That’s kind of a tricky one, because I think what I do is so physical. Assuming that this person is someone who struggles to be embodied, the first thing I will say is that embodiment and touch and connection is a learned behavior, and like anything it takes practice. My first therapist used to say hugging me was like hugging a plank of wood. You can’t take that and shove them across the spectrum in one day -- they have to take little steps. And those little steps might be learning a handshake or hug, or to receive massage -- to take baby steps towards learning the power of touch and connection to put them back into their own body. You can’t throw them into a tantra workshop day one, they’re going to freak out. I think there is something to be said for moving slowly. I would also say the most important thing is grounding. If you’re trying to build the skyscraper, you don't start with the forty first floor. You have to go into the earth and dig deep foundations and build it from the ground up. I always encourage a kind of connection with nature, practices like doing a walking meditation in nature barefoot.
Why is nature so important?
We are all so disconnected from nature. Nature is the oldest physician, and in our lives, in London and New York and Los Angeles, we tend to forget nature or minimize it. It’s not a top priority. But it really is. There are so many studies that show a shift in brain waves, a reduction in cortisol levels and blood pressure, how we become more creative and more insightful when we're in nature. It's just such good medicine. And I think we forget to do it when live in cities because we're always in such a rush to get from one place to the next. It seems like such a silly little thing to say, but it can be so valuable to just take 20 minutes to go out on your lunch break and walk through the local park.
"To be well means being in good physical health, having clarity of mind, and being immune to the chaos that surrounds you every day"
I had a meditation teacher who once told me: if you are born to two parents, you have trauma. So I was wondering if you could kind of define what trauma means, because your work isn't just for those who have had an aggressive assault.
No, by no stretch of the imagination. I think the best way to answer this is through storytelling. When I was working through my own stuff, I went to a place in Arizona called the Meadows, they have a program that’s based around trauma and abuse. And I feel like I couldn’t label a lot of what had happened to me as abuse or trauma. Even though that is clearly what it was, I felt a lot of resistance around those words. The lexicon of the vocabulary that we use around this stuff isn’t always helpful for people because it makes you think of rape or physical assault, the big stuff. And this woman there who was helping me through some stuff, she said this thing that really stuck with me. She said: if someone gets smacked in the face and you knock them out cold on the floor, that’s a really overt act of abuse that put them in their position. But there are other ways that people end up on the floor as well. If you have someone poking you in your side every day for 20 years, the sum total is the same. To have that finger at your side the whole time, if that goes on long enough and it's done with a certain kind of energy, that will knock you out the same way a punch to the face will. So yes, we all have trauma. But like human bodies this trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the punch in the face that knocks you out in one fell swoop is easier to deal with than a lifetime of lots of small termites gnawing away at your bones.
What does it mean to you to be well?
I see well as the baseline. That's the place from which you build joy, and from which you build everything else. It means being in good physical health, having clarity of mind, and being immune to the chaos that surrounds you every day. Living in a city, we have to go out into the world with a fair bit of armor, because it’s just too freaking chaotic out there. The way people move through the world can be very aggressive, especially in London with the political climate right now. Living in a city you’re on a treadmill moving at 500mph and your sense of self-worth is based on how productive you are. When I’m out of the rat race, and I’m in my body, and I’m breathing, then I’m well. And from that place, everything is possible.
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