How It Works: An Overview of a Session

by Ivy Green

Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners use touch and words to create an unconditionally accepting, reflective relationship with their clients. Through this relationship, clients are guided into an awareness of muscles that are chronically contracted. As a client’s muscles release into the practitioner’s support, sensations and emotions that have been suppressed by muscle tension become available for conscious integration.

There are four aspects of the session that integrate together to produce these results:
– Session Structure
– Practitioner Guidance
– Client Experience
– Integration at the Barriers to Self-Experience
Session Structure

 Depending on their level of comfort, clients either remove their clothes down to their underwear, or choose to remain clothed. For the first half of the session, a client lies face down under a sheet on a massage table, with his or her head turned to one side, so that practitioners can see the client’s face and hear any words spoken. For the second half of the session, the client turns over to lie face up, with the torso still covered by a sheet. Pillows and other props may be used to insure comfort. No oils are used. A session lasts for 50 minutes. Practitioners structure the details of a session to meet each client’s needs, insuring that the client feels safe.

Clients rest comfortably on the massage table, so that all of the muscles of movement and posture can stop working and relax into the support of the table. Not surprisingly, many muscles all over the body do not stop working; they remain tense, using energy to maintain a contracted state. These chronically tense muscles believe they have a job to do. Exactly what job they are doing is usually a mystery to clients; the essence of practitioner guidance is uncovering this mystery.

Before practitioners touch a client, they visually scan the body to ascertain patterns of muscular holding. Some of the clues practitioners observe include how clients position themselves on the table, what muscle groups are contracted and raised, and what areas move and do not move with inhalation and exhalation of the breath.

Practitioners typically choose one area of muscular holding, and, with the client’s permission, lower the sheet so that they can touch the client’s skin. Using open, relaxed hands, practitioners shape their hands to the contracted muscles. Usually the initial muscle choice is an area of the client’s body that is more neutral to touch, an area that will probably not elicit a strong emotional response. This is why sessions begin with clients lying face down; the back and shoulders are well-muscled, and thus less intimate and vulnerable.

Halfway into the session, practitioners ask clients to turn over onto their backs, so that the practitioner can bring their client’s awareness to the muscles in the front of the body. The front of the body includes the muscles that Marion Rosen refers to as the “lid muscles”. The lid muscles are in the throat, the jaw, and surround the heart and diaphragm; chronic tension in these muscles “keeps the lid on” emotional expression.

Practitioner Guidance

 Practitioners continuously attune to their clients and use that attunement to guide their responses. Moment-to-moment attunement comes from practitioners’ attitudes of receptivity and openness. The attuned practitioner’s nervous system resonates with the client’s, internally reproducing (to some degree) the client’s movements, sensations, and emotions. Resonance allows practitioners to understand the client from “the inside out,” and leads to authentic, caring responses.

Attunement lets practitioners sense the moments in which their clients’ verbal, thinking minds take their attention away from their felt experience. Thinking requires effort, and practitioners can detect this effort through changes in breathing patterns, muscle tone, and facial expressions. Practitioners verbally reflect these shifts in attention to their clients, inviting their clients’ attention back to their feelings and sensations when that attention has drifted away.

As practitioners’ hands palpate and delineate muscular holding when it arises, they may describe what they observe in order to increase the clients’ self-awareness. Examples of such statements are: “I feel your muscles softening under my hands. I feel your breath moving into my hands. I see your smile, I feel you are letting me contact you deeply.”

When clients’ muscular holding intensifies, practitioners mirror these changes with their words. For example, the practitioner may tell the client that the client’s muscles have become tighter (or harder; raised). The practitioner may note that the client is holding his breath, breathing faster, or taking small sips of air. Or possibly the practitioner will inform the client that “I can feel your jaw clenching and see your forehead creasing.”

The practitioner’s intent is to keep clients focused on their actual sensations and feelings in the moment, under the practitioner’s hands. An overall attitude of curiosity and unconditional acceptance reframes their clients’ muscular holding from a problem to be solved (eliminated) to an important resource to be explored.

Client Experience

 Supportive, holding contact offers contracted muscles a new option: to surrender into the support of the practitioner’s hands by expanding from within. When muscle fibers release they become longer, flatter, and softer, with a consistency of wet clay. Practitioners’ hands can move incrementally through layers of wet clay, so that ultimately clients feel contacted right to the core of their being. Clients have described this experience as “receiving an internal rather than an external massage; melting from the inside out; flowing into the practitioner’s hands; opening to allow the practitioner to come in.”

The experience clients have of their muscles softening, to let the practitioner “come in,” is a positive response to the relationship the practitioner offers through touch. Clients’ bodies are nonverbally confirming that the experience feels good and should continue.

When clients are focusing their attention on their felt experience, and their muscles are softening in response, they feel as if someone is beside them, in touch with their inner experiences, and is offering to remain there to help. In the words of one client: “ My skin and the muscles under my skin relax. I feel safe. I feel like my internal state is being caressed.”

The safety and relaxation of the session allow suppressed sensations, emotional feelings, movement impulses, and associated images and memories to become consciously experienced. These conscious experiences are accompanied by changes in patterns of the breath, in emotional expressions, and in other minute movements of muscles, all of which give the practitioner information about the client’s internal experience.

The practitioner’s verbal observations and confirmations may elicit verbal responses from clients; this dialogue helps clients make an essentially non-verbal experience more consciously understood. As shifts occur in the client’s body, practitioners encourage clients to describe what they are sensing and feeling, and, as described earlier, practitioners respond to their client’s descriptions with mirroring words which convey understanding.

Putting nonverbal sensations and emotional feelings into descriptive words is empowering; clarifying an experience helps to make it more personally meaningful.

Practitioners closely track their clients’ bodies as the clients describe their felt experience. Practitioners want to know if what the clients are saying about their experience is reflected and confirmed by muscular shifts in their bodies, especially in their breathing patterns. When clients’ words are confirmed by their bodies, practitioners make affirming statements in response. When clients’ words are not confirmed by their bodies, practitioners reflect this to their clients. Practitioners may suggest that the clients take more time to sense inwardly again. This prevents clients from telling the practitioner what they think they are feeling, rather than what they are actually experiencing. This also prevents clients from telling practitioners “stories” about their experience, based on their past histories or their future expectations.

Integration at the Barrier to Self-Experience

 There are moments in which the clients’ process of relaxation and self-awareness stalls or reverses. These moments of transition are part of the normal process of journeying onto unknown waters, and occasionally stopping that journey for protective reasons. Clients’ bodies say “no” to relaxation and self-awareness through the involuntary muscular tightening that indicates the body is in protective mode. “No” may look and feel like a turtle retreating into its protective shell.

Marion Rosen called the muscular holding a “barrier to self-experience.” She said, “We stay with the barrier with our hands, even if the experience behind the barrier is upsetting. Sometime these places do not open up, but to stay with them over a period of time seems important.” Staying at the muscular barrier, acknowledging it with touch and words, without judging or trying to change it, is a hallmark of Rosen Method Bodywork, and differentiates it from other forms of bodywork.

As a practitioner’s hands maintain contact with a muscular barrier, making the client aware of it without trying to fix or change it, an essential shift occurs within the client. When clients acknowledge and accept, without judgment, the truth of what they are experiencing in their bodies (which might be that they are holding their breath, or that their fists have clenched, or that they can no longer feel the practitioners hands), their diaphragm muscles release, giving them a naturally full breath. This is called the breath of confirmation, or the breath of insight.

When the diaphragm muscle releases into its full breath, the parasympathetic nervous system, which organizes relaxation, restoration, and healing, is activated. There is an echo, or ripple effect, in other holding muscles throughout the body. With this relaxation, the insight experience becomes more integrated: clients begin to understand the personal meaning of their bodily experience.

Moments of relaxation that accompany insight experiences are openings through which further layers of suppressed sensation and emotion can emerge into conscious awareness. Moments of relaxation are the clients’ nonverbal “yes” to the practitioners’ support, and to further self-experience.


The following 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 5 – 9). For more info on the book:

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.