Restore your body’s balance
We expend a lot of energy holding together tense and structurally misaligned bodies. Hellerwork therapists aim to release this tension- along with the habits that cause it- showing people how to maintain equilibrium and leaving them free to use their energy in more positive ways.
Hellerwork, a programme formulated by Joseph Heller in the USA in 1978, is a form of deep tissue body-work designed to realign and releasing chronic tension and stress and producing a more relaxed, youthful state. The central premise of Hellerwork is that a structurally misaligned body experiences gravity as a stressful and so movement and flexibility are limited, causing energy loss, ageing and deterioration. A body in vertical alignment with gravity experiences gravity as a supporting force, is flexible and moves easily.
The Root of Inflexibility
Hellerworkers believe that inflexibility stems from connective tissue known as fascia. Fascial tissue consists of plastic-like sheets that cover the muscles and muscle fibers and that come together at the ends of muscles to form tendons, which in turn attach muscles to bone.
In a well-balanced body, fascial tissue is loose and moist, but under continual stress and lack of movement, it becomes rigid and loses fluidity. Layers of fascia begin to glue together, causing the muscular ‘knots’ familiar to so many people. The sheaths of fascia stick together in a systematic way based on habitual patterns of lack of movement.
Because of the way in which fascial tissue throughout the body is interconnected, stress in any one area of the body affects all other areas. For example, tension in the connective tissue of the leg pulls the torso out of alignment. Heller’s treatment works systematically on all the fascial structures to improve the total energetic economy of the body.
Every Body Tells a Story
From the beginning of our lives, we begin to accumulate tensions which affect the structural integrity of our bodies. We are walking testaments of every kind of input, be it physical, mental or emotional; every influence literally becomes ’embodied’.
Long-term movement patterns—such as the lop-sidedness that results from carrying a heavy briefcase in the same hand every day—embody particularly strongly and determine the form in which the fascia stick together and become rigid. These distortions cause further imbalance until the body is chronically tense and out of alignment with gravity.
‘The body stores the trauma of our lives in muscular rigidity, thereby keeping us stuck in the past. When we release the tension in the body and align ourselves with gravity, we take a new stand in life. This allows us to be at ease with ourselves and in harmony in our relationship to others and to our planet.” ~ Joseph Heller
- Habitual physical stresses influence the fascia. A history of sitting hunched over a desk or continually carrying a briefcase, pulls the back or shoulder out of line in relation to gravity. With repetition, the body sticks in that position all the time, even when it is not engaged in the activity that caused the misalignment. The fascia glue together and the whole body becomes out of balance.
- Habitual emotional stresses operate in the same way. A sunken chest us often characteristic of depression. If negative thought patters—and the tense bodily stance that these produce over time—become a continual pattern, the body becomes glued in awkward, unbalanced postures.
- Habitual movement patterns, caused by physical trauma, ’embody’ dramatically. For example, a person who has fractured a leg tends to walk in an unbalanced way to protect the injury. The irregular movement pattern can become the body’s normal way of moving, long after the injury has healed.
As aging continues, more and more of these physical and emotional patterns become embodied in the connective tissue and we lose flexibility. The body gets caught in the trap—the more misaligned with gravity we become, the more tension and stress we experience and the more energy we expend holding ourselves together. The body shortens and stiffens and we age more rapidly. Hellerwork aims to reverse these processes.
Reconditioning the body after it has gone through the misaligning and aging processes requires releasing the rigidity from the connective tissue and changing the physical mental and emotional patterns that caused the tissue to become rigid in the first place. Here Hellerwork differs from Rolfing in its emphasis on movement educational and verbal dialogue to bring about long-term release. The full Hellerwork programme consists of 11 90-minutes sessions, each of which concentrates on a different part of the body. All except the final session incorporate body-work, movement education and verbal dialogue.
Each session begins with deep connective tissue body-work, where the practitioner uses his or her hands to ‘stretch’ the fascial tissues back to their normal positions.
The movement education aspect of the session produces awareness of the body movement patterns and facilitates discovery of more effortless ways of moving in an aligned way all the times: videos of clients’ movements are often used here.
The verbal dialogue component focuses on allowing the client to become aware of the relationship between his or her attitudes and emotions and what sort of impact they have on the body. Emphasis is on clients taking responsibility for their attitudes so that these attitudes no longer affect the body adversely.
At the end of the Hellerwork programme, there should be an effortless improvement in posture and clients will have learned to listen to their own bodies and to be experts on their own bodies’ needs and wants.
Self-responsibility is emphasised. The educational aspect of the programme gives the client the knowledge to ensure that their newfound state of balance continues (for this reason, it is recommended that the client has no further sessions for some months after the initial programme) and improves in the future. After the complete treatment, clients should be fully aware of the effects of physical, mental and emotional inputs and how they can create change in their bodies. The processes of ageing and deterioration now become more optional and a matter of personal choice.
The release of old tensions and the new focus on economy of effort free the client to expend energy in more constructive and creative ways. Hellerworkers initially show the client how he or she has unconsciously created a tension—ridden body and ease release from this. It is then up to the individual to incorporate the ideals into his or her life-style. In this, Hellerwork is a truly holistic programme.
It should always be remembered however, that Hellerwork is not designed to treat any specific ills. Rather, it is designed to establish and maintain the body in a state of optimal health—a state that can stop many health problems from occurring in the first place. Prevention is the key.