Working with the Edge: Scanning and Unruffling

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

First Published In Touch, Vol. VIII, no. 2, June 1996

I presented some of the material in this article in lectures at the June 1995 Ontario Therapeutic Touch Retreat in Aurora and at the November 1995 Annual General Meeting of the Therapeutic Touch Network (Ontario) in Toronto.

The direction to place your hands 2 to 5 inches from the skin and sense the physical field edge is as standard in teaching scanning today as it was twelve years ago, when I first learned to do Therapeutic Touch. In both The Therapeutic Touch, (1992, p.45) and Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch, (1993, p.26), Dolores Krieger says that scanning is done 2 to 3 inches from the skin. Janet Macrae says 3 to 5 inches in Therapeutic Touch: A Practical Guide, (1987, p.26).

Many teachers, human and animal, have taught me that there is more to scanning, and that unruffling can be more effective if done on an “edge” rather than within the particular level of the field.

In scanning, we often find our hands varying in distance from the skin as they follow the contour of the physical edge. In some places where there is an energy flow block or slow-down, our hands will be pushed further out from the skin by the energy build-up. In places where there is a depletion of energy, our hands will be very close into the skin.

There is a very distinct edge or beginning to the physical field. I teach a way of finding this edge by starting about 12 inches out and coming in toward the skin. Try this above your arm. Indeed, as you proceed from 12 inches out to skin level, you may perceive different edges or density changes. One of these will be most apparent and that is the edge that I ride in scanning the physical field. As I feel for this edge over my lower arm right now, I find it 3 inches out from the skin. As I scan toward the wrist, it rises to 4 inches and over my hand it is 6 inches.

The feeling at the edge is much more distinct (particularly in the case of problem sites) than within the physical field. Over a problem site, the edge almost shouts, while the field between the edge and the skin rumbles in a quieter, deeper, off-key humming.

Even more valuable and fascinating, is that unruffling at the edge is more effective, both in speed and result, than unruffling within the field. One of many dramatic demonstrations of this occurred last winter when I was asked to work with Navvi, one of the SARI therapeutic riding horses, who was blinking a lot and rubbing her eyes.

Navvi is an Appaloosa mare. Among the characteristics of this breed are white sclera around the eye (so that the eye resembles a human eye) and problems with poorly-formed tear ducts. Navvi herself has permanently runny eyes because the normal tear drainage is exterior rather than through internal ducts that in other horses go from the eye to the nostril. In the past, clogging of her rudimentary eye clearing system has resulted in sinus-like headaches.

On this day, Navvi’s eyes were bloodshot and the field over them was built-up and heavy. I started to unruffle within the physical field with no result: the field did not respond, nor was there any clearing of the eyes. I felt as if I could unruffle here all day and not have any effect. I paused, found the very obvious physical edge (in this case about 6 inches out), made two clearing passes over one eye–and sclera changed immediately to normal white. The other eye responded equally fast.

In my experience, unruffling the edge of the physical field over localised and immediate problem sites such as swelling, cuts, skin rashes, broken bones, works very rapidly to relieve pain, swelling and irritation, and to speed healing. In my past experience with rapid response to therapeutic touch, I suspect now that I unconsciously unruffled the edge. Now I search for and work with the edge. Unruffling over more serious, long-term problem sites often involves additional work with grounding, different kinds of unruffling movements, or attention to the chakras.


Krieger, Dolores. The Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help or Heal. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Press, 1979.

Krieger, Dolores. Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1993.

Macrae, Janet. Therapeutic Touch: A Practical Guide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987, 1996.