Hellerwork ~ Alignment with Gravity and Movement with Fluidity

Hellerwork is structural bodywork developed by Joseph Heller, who was a student of Dr. Ida Rolf; Heller later became the first president of the Rolf Institute. Rolfing entails a series of ten bodywork sessions aimed at restructuring the body. Heller based his work on Dr. Rolf’s techniques, adding movement education and dialogue to promote long-term, permanent change for the newly realigned body.

An important component of Hellerwork is investigating habitual movement and holding patterns. These patterns can be postural or emotional, and can be expressed through the way we move or hold our bodies. The dilemma is that our patterns are strong and can lead a newly realigned body back to its old ways of moving or holding. The Hellerwork practitioner’s goal is to facilitate increased awareness or a change in attitude to start the process of breaking harmful movement or holding patterns, which, while not necessarily bad, may simply be an appropriate response to a situation that no longer exists.

Movement education and dialogue are techniques to assist the client in recognizing and altering their holding patterns. Movement education includes learning to sit, bend, walk, and perform activities of daily living with balance, ease, and fluidity. Dialogue encourages a client to explore the feelings the bodywork raises to discover how and when they began to incorporate certain emotions or mental attitudes into their being.

Hellerwork consists of eleven sessions of bodywork, movement education, and themes that build upon one another. The themes address major polarities in life.

The first three sections focus on the superficial layers of the body’s myofascial tissue. The themes look at inspiration, independence versus dependence, and giving versus receiving.

Sessions four through seven are called the core sessions. The bodywork accesses the deeper fascial layers and the intrinsic musculature (used for fine motor movement), which must be used to produce graceful fluid movement. In these sessions, we investigate themes of control versus surrender, gut feelings, holding back feelings, and passion versus reason.

Sessions eight through eleven integrate the superficial layers and the core of our bodies to investigate themes of masculine versus feminine energies, completion, and self-expression. Hellerwork is composed of three main aspects: (1) bodywork to improve structural alignment, (2) dialogue work to uncover unconscious holding patterns, and (3) movement education to encourage permanence of the newly aligned structure. Because Hellerwork integrates work on structure, emotions, and function, it stands out as a unique and holistic form of rehabilitation. (adapted by Christine McKnight, PT, from Bodywise, by Joseph Heller and William Henkins)

Movement education addresses ways we use our bodies in our daily activities or in more specific athletic performances. Our therapy sessions teach awareness of our bodies, our breath, our contact with the ground, and our sensations, so we can change habitual movement and holding patterns to create new possibilities for freer movement. By changing our patterns, we can change our attitudes and presence in the world. This subtle body awareness prevents tension and disease from entering the body unnoticed, and enhances fluidity and ease of motion to prevent fascial restrictions from occurring or reoccurring.

Integrative dialogue provides the opportunity to explore our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world. Our bodies hold a wealth of information about our history and potential; dialogue gives us the opportunity to examine our actions, postures, and beliefs. Shifts or changes in our body posture may change our attitudes; likewise, changes in our attitudes can affect our body posture. For example, we could sit slumped in a chair and ask ourselves how that feels emotionally. Or, what if we felt excited and alert? Would we still sit in a slumped position, or would we sit in a more upright posture with opened attention?