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Massage Today
November, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 11

Stay in Touch With ... How to Make a Human House A Home With Hellerwork

By Tucker Sharp

While taking a new route to work the other day, I noticed a new housing development going up in my neighborhood. The sign in front of the development project read "56 new quality homes coming soon.

Models available for viewing." I thought, "Those are not homes yet; they are merely well-built structures." No one is living in them. There is no life inside these structures. It's the life inside that makes the structure a home.

One thought led to another, and before long, I had more than a few analogies regarding houses, homes, and humans. I found myself making a comparison between these houses not yet occupied and so many of us. We have bodies we don't seem to occupy much of the time.

The Hellerwork Practitioner assists people in being not only balanced and at ease in their bodies, but also more present. In other words, we help people to become comfortable and at home in the physical "structure" that carries them around. This structure is the vessel through which we human beings animate and express ourselves.

Each Hellerwork session consists of three very distinct components: 1. Structural Integration Bodywork; 2. Postural and Movement Education; and 3. Mind-Body Awareness. In this article, I will elaborate on all three of these components, clarifying what each component has to do with being at home in our body structures.

Structural Integration

A house and a human body are similar in that they both are physical structures standing within a field of gravity. Both are subject to the laws of gravity. Consider any new house for example. It has a foundation with four corner stones on which the entire structure rests, evenly balanced and supported. Much like the house foundation, the body also has a foundation - the feet.

Now, suppose one of the cornerstones of the foundation of a house were to drop. How do you imagine this would affect the house? In no time, there would be stress cracks in walls, doors and windows might be stuck shut/open, and quite likely, the roof and the pipes would begin to leak. In short, the house would soon be unstable. If this structure could tell you what it was feeling, it would probably say, "I'm miserable! Please somebody get me balanced again!"

It's quite literally the same situation with the human body. The house left in unstable condition after one of the cornerstones was dropped can be "righted" with professional know-how, properly applied. The same is true of the human body. It can be re-aligned and "righted" again, just like a house.

It's important to keep in mind the human body is a complex, interrelated organization of bone, muscle and connective tissues. When organized appropriately within earth's gravitational field, the body actually is supported in gravity. When, on the other hand, the joint systems of the body are imbalanced, these same gravitational forces negatively impact the fascial system.

Under imbalanced conditions, the fascia shortens, dehydrates and literally laminates itself to any neighboring body part. The bones stay the same length and the muscles still function, but the shortened connective tissues pull the body into compression and rotation patterns. The body responds to these imbalances by decreasing mobility. Over time, this pattern becomes "the new you." Many so-called "debilitating conditions" are the result of this down-spiraling phenomenon. The good news is it can be reversed through Structural Integration Bodywork.

Houses have stories; one, two or three. Similarly, the human body has "stories." The "stories" of the human body are defined by the weight bearing joints of the ankles, knees, hip and pelvic complex, and the spine. You could even say each vertebrae of the spine is its own story. For a balanced distribution of weight and omni directional tension, each vertebra needs support from, and provides support to, the vertebra above and below.

When viewed from this perspective, the body becomes something more like a thirty-story building with each joint system creating a new story for the next to find balance and support. As you might imagine, it can be a bit tricky to maintain balance in a thirty-story skyscraper, like the human body. It is quite miraculous when you stop and think about it.

What holds us up comfortably? Most people think it's our bones. But if you were to remove the myofascial system (muscles and connective tissues), the skeleton quickly would end up in a pile. The bones act as the framework for the body and as attachment sites for the myofascial system. It is the myofascia that holds us together, keeps us upright, and either allows or inhibits movement.

Structural Integration Bodywork systematically uses slow, specific, deep strokes and manual manipulations. These manipulations, over time, unglue, rebalance and lengthen the multidirectional rotation patterns that rigidify in the body. The body changes because these compression imbalances in the tissues are reorganized.

This systematic approach of relating the body to gravity, through the myofascial layers, naturally aligns and improves posture. Length comes into the body allowing the reorganized muscles the space to work and joints the freedom to function. The shrinking so commonly associated with age is arrested and feelings of discomfort and pain vanish.

The Hellerwork Series generally consists of a minimum of 10 sessions of progressively balancing bodywork. Each session focuses on a different area of the body which furthers the releasing and balancing process of the previous session. The results are cumulative. When the whole body has been structurally integrated, one moves more freely and feels lighter and younger.

The human body is built to move within gravity with equal tension between the flexor and extensor muscle groups throughout the body, producing buoyancy and balanced fluidity in movement. The body must move to enjoy optimum health. This is why the postural and movement aspect of Hellerwork are important.

Postural and Movement Education

Once the body is reorganized and back in balance, the person needs some postural and movement re-education to maintain the "new and improved" lengthened alignment. What Joseph H. Heller (the founder of Hellerwork) noticed, was that unless people were educated about how to move more effortlessly and efficiently, old habits would re-assert themselves, pulling them back into old patterns.

While it's true that form creates function, it's also true that function creates form. It works both ways. That is why each Hellerwork session has a corresponding postural/movement re-education aspect to help support the body's changing alignment.

To understand this, you might try the following postural awareness lesson. For this awareness lesson, it's necessary to acquaint you with your "pelvic bowl." The front of your pelvic bowl is an imaginary line from the front of your hips, across your lower belly under your navel. The back of your bowl is from side to side across the top of your buttocks. The sides are defined by the most lateral edge of the upper hipbones, with the landmarks of the bottom of the bowl being the anus and genitals.

Stand up and place the palm of one hand just below your navel (on the front of the bowl) and the other at your low back (on the back of the bowl). This is your pelvic bowl."Imagine this bowl is full of soup. See whether you can find that place where your bowl is nearly horizontally balanced front to back, with the front of the bowl tilting slightly forward. The front hand should be a bit lower than the back hand.

Now notice what happens when you tip your bowl back (spilling your soup). It causes the back hand to go down and the front hand to come up. This will result in some very significant postural changes. Below I list several possibilities, see which of them you notice.

  • Your chest may have dropped and become more concave. As your pelvis spilled your abdomen back, you might have straightened through your lumbar curve (the lumbar curve is essential for low back stability).
  • When your chest dropped, you may have collapsed the front of your ribcage, compressing your lungs, which diminishes your capacity to breathe.
  • Your head might have shifted forward in gravity to an unsupported position in front of your shoulders (rather than sitting on top of them where it belongs).
  • This, in turn, might have compressed the back of your neck putting undue tension on the Temporal Mandibular Joint (jaw joint).
  • It's likely to stress the entire top and back of the shoulders (a condition that can lead to rotator cuff problems over time).
  • It also is likely to create tension in the upper back myofascial systems.
  • Your hamstrings and quadriceps might have tightened in various ways, which could produce tension in your knees and limit mobility in your ankles and feet.

Now consider this: What I have outlined here actually is a simplified version of the whole compensatory picture. Quite literally, every aspect of the body is impacted by this one postural imbalance. Without education designed to alert us to the many ways we unknowingly misuse our bodies, we create multiple compensatory patterns.

This will lead to bodily stress and limited range of motion. This is why each individualized session of the Hellerwork series features several postural and movement lessons.

Mind-Body Awareness

So, we now have our bodies back in balance. We have learned how to move our bodies in a way that supports and maintains the new balance. So why do we need the body-mind dialogue aspect of the Hellerwork Session? Simply put, we need it because we, as human beings, have a reciprocal body-mind system. Our bodies are the instrument through which we experience life. We cannot have a mental or emotional experience without its corresponding bodily experience. This doesn't mean, however, that we always are aware of every aspect of ourselves or our bodily feelings. There is no evidence we are conscious of all our feelings, and much to suggest that we are not.

As Hellerwork Practitioners, we are not interested in turning our sessions into psychotherapy sessions. Our intention, in terms of this third component of the session, simply is to open up some form of dialogue regarding the connection between one's mental and emotional experiences and the corresponding bodily experience.

For example: Notice how you feel as you are reading this article. On a scale of 1 to 10, how relaxed are you in your chest, neck, throat, shoulders, stomach, etc.? Take your time. Then, when you are ready, think back to one specific life-altering event. Think of something you did, or something that was done to you, or something you experienced that you feel profoundly altered who you were something that left you feeling significantly different than you felt before the event occurred. Now, as you think of this event, what happens in your body? Do you find yourself tensing certain muscles? What else happens in your body? Does it feel as though you can no longer sense certain parts of your body? As Hellerwork Practitioners, we are interested in this type of awareness. It's these kinds of bodily responses we want to help you to discover. We want to help you discover these responses because we human beings are a mind-body reciprocal system.

It's this kind of awareness the awareness of what happens in your body when you think certain thoughts or have certain emotional experiences, which will again, much like the movement component, help you to maintain the balance in your body that occurred as the result of the Structural Integration Bodywork.This awareness component, much like the movement re-education component, helps support the body's changing alignment.It's, much like the movement re-education component, one of the three components that helps make the physical structure that is your body into a comfortable home a home full of life!


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