Awakening Awareness through Touch: Rosen Method Bodywork

By Paula Kimbro, MA, LCSW

There has been an explosion of interest in somatics work in recent years, adding to the dizzying array of possibilities in personal growth, self help, psychotherapy, and spiritual practice. There is a growing recognition that working with and through our bodies is a necessity. We embody our lives. Our lives are limited and expressed through our embodiment.

Rosen Method bodywork is internationally recognized as a powerful vehicle for this somatic work. Marion Rosen, a physical therapist in Berkeley, California, created this work out of decades of experience. At 85 years of age she is still actively practicing and teaching and is acclaimed as a pioneer in the somatics field.

Paula working on a client.

Rosen Method bodywork seems simple: touch the tight spots, watch the breath, listen to the words, witness the body's response. It looks somewhat like massage: the client lies on a massage table, the practitioner uses her hands to gently explore muscle tension. The focus of Rosen Method is not on doing something to the client or fixing a problem, but rather on awakening awareness through physical touch. Chronic muscle tension is often used as an unconscious defense or protection. At an earlier time in life some experience or event may have been too overwhelming or seemed too threatening; the body responded by creating a barrier or defense through muscle tension.

Over time this organic, natural response to take care of, or protect ourselves, ceases to serve us. In fact it begins to constrict and limit us. Literally, a chronically tight muscle limits what is possible; it inhibits our full and complete expression; it limits our life. Through contacting these forgotten constrictions and reawakening awareness, these tensions--the old defenses--may soften and dissolve. The client may re-experience emotions or revisit memories and more completely resolve earlier wounds. As physical constrictions open, a new sense of space, ease and possibility emerges. Even if the client isn't ready to let go of the protection, there can still be a new awareness of the tension, a clearer sense of the way the body is being shaped and limited.

Rosen Method bodywork has an affinity with mindfulness meditation practice and with Taoism. It supports a deepening awareness of what is--through the body, through touch. It follows the flow of the openings and the closings. It is not an approach rooted in technique or changing something through an intervention by the practitioner. It is not invasive or forceful. Rather it is rooted in the practitioner's use of her hands, her awareness and her words to support and awaken the client's awareness. Being with things as they are. Not trying to change or fix something. Not doing. It's powerful. It's gentle. From this somatic experience of deep acceptance, resistance can dissolve and a renewed aliveness can be discovered. Rosen Method rests in not knowing what is wrapped in the layers of protection; not knowing how life will be expressed if the limits and barriers are released.

Rosen Method bodywork grew out of a dark, painful time in our history: the Nazi era in Germany. Marion Rosen was a young woman experiencing the impact of oppression, limitations and abandonment. This is what life delivered to her: she was identified as a Jew, and the relative ease and security in which she had lived collapsed. The opportunity to study relaxation and breathwork with Lucy Heyer was a window opening to possibility for Marion. It was a time when it was illegal for Jews to be taught and it was a quiet act of rebellion on the part of Lucy Heyer and the other students to take in Marion. Lucy Heyer was a student of Elsa Gindler, one of the leaders in the German somatics movement. Bodywork was a lifeline in that crazy, dangerous world, a turning back toward simplicity and the basics. Marion was steeped in the interconnection of mind and body.

Lucy Heyer was married to Gustav Heyer, a Jungian psychoanalyst. The bodywork students practiced their work on the psychoanalytic patients. This direct work with body had a significant positive impact on the psychotherapeutic work. Marion also had the opportunity to work for six months at the Tavistock Clinic in London where her brother was a psychiatric resident. In this leading psychotherapy center Marion was able to continue the exploration of mind-body connection.

In 1940 Marion came to America and for many years worked as a physical therapist, first at Kaiser Medical Center in Northern California and then in private practice. Her work always reflected her early education in the interconnection of the mind and the body. It was in the mid-seventies that she began to teach and explicitly draw on her early training in relaxation and bodywork. As the body mind renaissance flourished in California in the early days of the Esalen Institute, students were drawn to Marion and her gentle, powerful work. Eventually, the Rosen Institute was formed and Rosen Method training centers were established worldwide. Rosen Method is now a recognized modality for somatic exploration and personal growth, as well as a powerful complementary or alternative healing therapy.

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