Moving Therapy

Hellerwork teaches release of physical and emotional tension.

By Anita Boser

September 2007

    Jessica Roshan’s scoliosis was taking its toll. “Over the last 10 years I lost three inches in height,” she explains. “The slightest roll-out of my foot or a bump into something could throw me way off balance and require a chiropractic adjustment...my neck, back and pelvis ached most of the time.” At the urging of her chiropractor, the 55-year-old Roshan decided to try managing her scoliosis with an out-of-the-box modality: Hellerwork.

Introduced in 1978 by Joseph Heller, Hellerwork is based on the more-familiar practice of Rolfing, which uses deep manual pressure or structural integration to release blocks in the body’s connective tissues and decrease structural tension by realigning the body. Heller himself became a Rolfer in 1972 and was named the first president of the Rolf Institute in 1975. Although Heller patterned his bodywork approach on the ten-session Rolfing program, he felt that restructuring alone wasn’t enough to achieve long-term permanent change. So Heller created his own dynamic system of deep tissue bodywork, movement education and dialogue to provide a natural, holistic way to enhance movement and flexibility, improve posture and alignment, and relieve pain—producing permanent change for lasting good health and personal growth.

There isn’t one standard reaction to Hellerwork, but typical responses include an improved range of motion, more energy, increased relaxation, a more graceful gait, slightly increased height due to better alignment, ease of breathing and enhanced awareness. “I left each session feeling more balanced in my body and experienced more mobility immediately afterwards and long term,” explains Roshan. “My visits to my chiropractor decreased as my body was more able to stay in alignment...since seeking Hellerwork, my pain has dramatically decreased.”

Behind the Work

To fully understand the process, it helps to learn about fascia, the connective tissue that Hellerwork primarily affects. Like a multi-layered body stocking, fascia is a plastic-like tissue wrapping muscles and weaving in layers throughout the body. In its optimal condition, fascia is loose and moist, which helps it facilitate movement and flexibility.

However, chronic stress (whether physical or emotional), lack of movement or physical trauma can impair this flexibility. Also, ironically, the very activities that many individuals engage in to maintain and improve their health and fitness can also make them vulnerable to stress and strain, especially on tendons, ligaments and joints. As a result of all these stressors, the fascia can become rigid.

When this happens, the layers of fascia stick to one another, often causing “knots,” pain, adhesions and restriction of movement. In addition, because it is literally “connective” tissue, tension, stress or knots in one part of the body can affect many other areas of the body. How and where fascia gets “stuck” depends on each individual’s unique movement patterns.

A Hellerwork practitioner releases tension in the fascia by manually stretching it back to its normal position. This release returns the body to a more aligned position, helping the client to feel an uncommon, but normal, state of relaxation and well-being. In this state, active individuals are also better able to safely enjoy their fitness programs and routines.

Hellerwork is conducted in a series of eleven 90-minute sessions, each of which has a named theme (such as Inspiration, Standing on Your Own Two Feet and Reaching Out) and focuses on a specific area of the body to enable better alignment, flexibility and balance.

At Hellerwork’s core are the established holistic benefits of deep tissue bodywork. “My Hellerwork practitioner, Ilona Lord in Tacoma, Washington, did these deep tissue and muscle release techniques while having me make subtle movements in conjunction with the work,” reports Roshan.

“Much to my surprise, there were times where old memories and emotions filled my mind, as if those memories—some of which were quite emotional—were stored in the places she was touching. Ilona would have me take deep breaths and talk to the extent I wanted to as she focused on the area and listened to me. It was quite releasing.”

Hellerwork’s conversational dialogue component helps the client become better aware of emotions and attitudes and how they affect the body, and usually revolves around the session’s pre-set theme.

By becoming aware of and vocalizing emotional patterns, the process of change in the mind and body can begin. To help make this change permanent, Hellerwork’s movement education teaches the client to pay close attention to their body and how they carry themselves. During sessions, clients spend part of the time standing, sitting and walking, and are coached on their movement patterns.

Simple—but effective—suggestions and visuali­zations are used to help the client rebalance their movements for optimal alignment and efficiency; video feedback is sometimes used to enhance this process. With their newly heightened body awareness, clients can implement Hellerwork principles in their daily lives, remaining vigilantly aware of those postures and movements that invite negativity or rigidity into the tissues.

Through the physical, emotional and educational process of Hellerwork, the relationship between practitioner and client intensifies, intensifying the modality’s impact. “A link gets established between the practitioner and receiver,” explains Roshan. “It was as if my body was leading Ilona in what I needed, while she allowed herself to be led to the problem areas. It is a symbi­otic relationship.” As the practitioner guides the client over the course of Hellerwork sessions, many people experience a noticeable shift as mind and body return to their natural balance. “I now get Hellerwork once a month,” says Roshan. “After each session I feel more balanced in my posture, more ‘in my body looking out’ rather than living only in my head. I feel more in touch with myself...it’s fantastic.”

To find a Hellerwork practitioner in your area, visit www.hellerwork.com or call 1-714-873-6131 (CA).

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