Overview of the Theory of Healing and Transformation
by Ivy Green
Rosen Method Bodywork, along with related methods of body-focused therapies and self-awareness practices (such as Mindfulness Meditation, Gendlin’s Focusing, and Levine’s Somatic Experiencing), maintains that the crucial first step toward change occurs when we bring curious and non-judgmental acceptance to the sensations and emotional feelings that we are experiencing in the present moment.
Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners do not move clients out of the experience in the moment by bringing them into the next moment through manipulation aimed at “fixing” or changing what is occurring in their bodies. Rather, Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners use consistent, listening touch and verbal reflection to attune to clients’ moment-to moment inner experience.
Practitioners’ attunement provides the interpersonal safety that allows clients to bring their awareness to their bodily experience. The use of gentle touch helps clients release the patterns of muscular tension that protect them from experiencing sensations and emotions which have been frightening or unacceptable in their past.
Something as ordinary and basic as muscular relaxation, when it occurs within a caring, unconditionally accepting relationship, provides clients with a gateway to sensations and emotional feelings, as well as the accompanying thoughts, images, memories, and impulses to act which have been suppressed through chronic muscle tension. Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners safely guide clients through this unknown territory by helping them tolerate sensations and emotions that may be unpleasant, frightening, or simply new and unexpected. At every step in this process, practitioners help clients regain the nervous system balance that allows them to safely allow and accept their felt experience.
The Unconscious Mind is in the Body
Bodily experience is the realm of what, since Freud, we have come to think of as the “unconscious.” The unconscious (referred to as the nonconscious in this book) is the realm of the forbidden impulse, dangerous emotional feelings, unfulfilled longings, and traumatic memories of physical and emotional pain. Our bodies develop protective postural and muscular patterns that contain and control these impulses, needs, and memories. When we choose to slow down our mind’s chatter, and allow our habitual muscle tension to release, we open ourselves to re-experiencing what our bodies have been holding down from our conscious awareness. When we focus our attention on our bodies messages, we relinquish our habitual control of what we will experience and know about ourselves in this moment.
Opening Pandora’s Box
Why would we want to experience those aspects of ourselves that we hold away from our conscious awareness with muscular tension? The answer draws upon the developmental theory called Attachment Theory. Attachment Theory explains that, starting in infancy, we learn to ignore, bypass, edit, and control certain needs, behaviors and emotional expressions that our parents were unable to tolerate. Needs, behaviors, drives, and emotions are physical processes not thoughts. To suppress them requires physical effort: we do it with our muscles, especially the diaphragm, the primary muscle of inhalation. Suppression is accompanied by changes in neurotransmitters in the brain, and hormones circulating in the blood (Pert, 1999).
Patterns of emotional suppression begin very early in our development, before we can understand and modulate them. Patterns of emotional suppression become involuntary habits. Living with involuntary habits of emotional suppression can be likened to driving a car with preset controls and limitations. This is who I am: the 40-mph, no left turn woman. The result of our patterns of emotional suppression is that we may remain stuck like a fly in amber, set in protective responses that we learned in infancy, childhood, and adolescence, which do not reflect the range of our adult needs and capabilities.
Individuals turn to Rosen Method Bodywork when they get in touch with a longing to be more whole, or to explore that forbidden left turn. They may come for sessions because their muscles ache, their resistance is low, and they suffer chronic shortness of breath and tightness in the gut. Individuals may sense that they have within themselves the potential for more emotional freedom and range, or that they could achieve a more compassionate relationship with themselves and others, as well as greater physical ease and emotional resilience.
Stuck Like a Fly in Amber
It is difficult to change our protective patterns on our own, because they operate even when we are not aware of them. We have thought about how to change our lives. We have willed ourselves to respond differently – but these patterns are not under our conscious control. The choice to repeat them is not a conscious choice, so our willingness to change is often not sufficient to get the results we desire. We can no more will ourselves to respond differently in certain situations than we can will our chronically tense muscles to stay relaxed over time.
Protective muscular patterns are retained in our body’s memory systems: to modulate them we need to access these systems. Our body’s memory systems employ different neural networks than do our verbal autobiographical memories, and thus they offer us a different window into our personal histories. Our present bodily experience is linked to our past experiences, because our bodies remember past experiences by doing them again – by recreating them in the present. In order to change the physical and emotional patterns that no longer serve us, we need to become aware of how we automatically repeat these patterns in our bodies.
Through their close attention to the body, Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners help clients become aware of the moments when their bodies tighten, when their breath becomes shallow or rapid, and when their mind spins stories. These are some of the ways that clients habitually protect themselves from experiencing emotional feelings, impulses and desires that they fear or are ashamed of.
During a session, if a client’s nervous system becomes dysregulated by fear, anxiety, or other emotions, the practitioner is able to help the client’s nervous system down-regulate from too much arousal (fear accompanying strong emotions) and up-regulate from too-little arousal (numbness, disengagement). As their degree of fear/anxiety/shame diminishes, clients become able to tolerate the emotional feelings, impulses, and desires they have suppressed with protective defenses. The simple fact of having a guide who is closely attuned to one’s bodily experience creates a degree of safety that is difficult to achieve when one is alone. Feeling “safe enough” opens the door to curiosity and exploration, making the journey into the unknown possible, and healing.
Reclaiming Inner Resources for a More Authentic Life
When clients feel safely held by their Rosen Method Bodywork practitioner’s touch and attunement, they can risk opening themselves to their inner experiences. Because Practitioners convey unconditional acceptance, clients begin to share that attitude. As clients allow their inner experience to come into the forefront of their awareness, without judgment or analysis, they enter a deep visceral experiencing in which their protective defenses and levels of anxiety are at a minimum. This allows entire realms of previously unavailable material – such as memories, fantasies, and images – to come into conscious awareness. Deep, undefended experiencing unlocks deeper experiencing, forming a royal road to aspects of themselves that they have learned to suppress, or which have remained undeveloped.
Marion Rosen stated, “We treat our clients as people who are not in touch with their full potential. They have hidden their ‘jewel’, and often they find it again through this work. This is what we call their truth, their being, their self: everything that enables them to live a life full of possibilities.”*
Without the blocking effects of fear, our emotions tell us what we really want, provide us with the energy, drive, and behaviors to get what we want, and give our lives personal meaning. We can live more authentically because we can make decisions based on our felt needs and desires. We can be aware of our emotions while we are in relationships, and while we work and play. We can approach that epitome of psychic health, the ability to simultaneously feel and deal – to be aware of our emotional feelings, and use this awareness to act in our own best interests.
* Rosen, M. and S. Brenner. 2003. Rosen Method Bodywork: Accessing the Unconscious Through Touch. Berkley: North Atlantic Books, p 29.
Breath and Transformation
The thoracic diaphragm muscle, the primary muscle of inhalation, is the pivotal muscle for emotional suppression as well as for emotional awareness and expression. Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners are constantly aware of the tone and movement of their clients’ diaphragm muscles. When Rosen Method Bodywork sessions facilitate the release of chronic tension in their diaphragms, clients are able to access their authentic emotional feelings. Marion Rosen described the process toward this breath:
When a feeling comes, the diaphragm swings. When there is trust, the diaphragm releases. When there is surrender, and peace, the diaphragm completely lets go and there is a connection to something beyond oneself, which becomes available to the self. I cannot bring people to this place of trust and surrender. This happens as a byproduct of this method. But this is where healing takes place. This healing will be reflected in the person’s ability to use more of their full capacity, to live more meaningfully. You cannot take tis experience away from a person. It does change their life. This is what I mean by transformation.
In spite of its apparent simplicity, Rosen Method Bodywork results in an expanded sense of body, mind and spirit. Clients may experience a feeling of renewal, and a restoration of mental and physical health and well-being. The “byproduct” of this method is an experience of deep trust and surrender, a transpersonal state in which clients feel connected to something greater than themselves – to a God, a universal intelligence, or a compassionate universal energy. For some clients, the experience of uniting their minds, bodies, and souls brings with it the experience of being fully alive, and the sense of living in a meaningful universe, connected to everyone and everything. However fleeting this expanded state of consciousness is, once individuals have experienced it, they know that it is a part of them, intimately connected to their breath, and that they can access it again.
This information is an abridged excerpt (with permission from the author) from the book Relaxation, Awareness, Resilience: The Science and Practice of Rosen Method Bodywork, written by Ivy Green (Fast Pencil, 2016, p 10 – 15). For more info on the book: www.relaxationawarenessresilience.com
About the Author:
Ivy Green holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology form the New School for Social Research in New York City. She is an Internationally Certified Alexander Teacher, a NYS Licensed Massage Therapist, a Senior Rosen Method Bodywork Teacher and Certified Rosen Method Bodywork Practitioner. She is a member of the teaching faculty of the Rosen Method Open Centre in New York. In addition to maintaining a private somatic therapy practice, she has worked for many years as a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counselor and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology. Her articles about Rosen Method Bodywork have been published in the online Rosen Method International Journal, and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines.