Rosen Method Bodywork

by Sandra Wooten,
Massage Magazine

Joseph Campbell wrote, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are". (1) The goal of Rosen Method bodywork is to help us rediscover the essence of who we are. It is reclamation work (2), the work of remembering and reclaiming ourselves. It is accomplished experientially through sensing, listening to and expressing ourselves. This is facilitated through the gentle touch, presence and knowledge of a trained practitioner.


The body tells its own story. (3) It is told by the way we stand and sit, by the way we move when we walk and run, play and work. The story is told by tiny movements in the face and through all the muscles that move as we speak. Without our even knowing it, we give a picture of who we are and present lasting impressions. We remember other people by recalling their posture and their gestures, the way they move. The body we show to ourselves and the world is shaped by our life experiences. These experiences include forgotten memories and experiences that we unconsciously hold in the body by tensing our muscles. Such tension, created so that we can survive in our environment, causes pain, and constrains our ability to move easily. We "put away" unaccepted movements and emotions for safe-keeping when we are young. Once we discover how to survive in this limited way, we unconsciously continue to do so throughout our lives. Even as adults, we often sense that we still do not feel safe enough to re-experience all that we went through. Through gentle touch and the presence of a Rosen Method practitioner, we can deeply relax. We begin to remember who we are and what we know, and through that knowledge, regain fuller movement, ease and well-being. We begin to feel safe enough to express our emotions. We regain our own rhythm, our own voice, our own song.

I still clearly remember my first session with my teacher Marion Rosen. A memory of seeing my mother standing in the doorway of my childhood home came to me . She had died seven years earlier. Suddenly I missed her terribly. At that moment, with her hand on my upper back, Marion could feel and see my breath change and the muscles in my upper back relax. She asked, "What happened?" I felt very sad as I told her of the memory. Within a few moments, I was aware of her hand on my back again and of an unexpected sense of serenity. Later that evening, while reviewing the session, I was astonished by how the memory, the experience of my sadness and the ensuing physical and emotional relaxation correlated. On that day I learned about the profoundness of touch in the presence of someone who cares. Marion saw, felt and acknowledged the shift that had occurred in me. This was the beginning of my journey toward remembering and fully experiencing my aliveness. It was also the start of my abiding interest in Rosen Method bodywork. I wanted to know more.

As healthy newborns, we come into the world moving from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes with every breath we take: the easy, relaxed action of the diaphragm not only moves our breath through us, but provides a movement that reverberates throughout our entire body. We are open and expressive. Our birthright is to thrive and be accepted as we are. However, too often our exuberance and aliveness is not acceptable. For whatever reason, we need "too much" and want "too much". For instance we cry too much, express our feelings without restraint, and/or demand too much. The message, occasional or continual, that we are "too much", comes in many forms from our parents and caretakers: through a harsh tone of voice, a stern look or a heavy hand. For some, it is much worse than that. They are physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused.

Being ignored is equally harmful. As babies, we are very sensitive to our emotional environment and know when things aren't right in the family. Unable to change things, we begin to protect ourselves by "putting away" and safeguarding our essence. We do this by tensing our muscles. For instance, we are told to "Sit still" and "Be quiet"; or we are told to "Straighten up!!", or "Stop crying! You're a big boy now!". So we accommodate, even though this is not easy, especially for us as children. We adapt to the demands, pain or neglect by contracting our muscles. These contractions "hold back" our natural ability to move, feel our emotions and express ourselves effortlessly.

Each person's body shape, posture (which in the beginning largely develops through the natural movements of learning to sit, stand and walk), and attitudinal development, is greatly influenced by such individual experiences of "holding back", "holding in" and "holding down". The more we contract, the less inner space we give ourselves and the less space we take up in the world. We learn to react, move and respond from habit instead of feeling and thinking things through. Eventually, much of this restraint becomes unconscious; we simply forget who we are and how we feel. As adults, we may feel sad, but not cry. We may even think we should feel sad or angry about something, yet, feel nothing. We forget what we want, need and know and lose sight of the choices in our lives. Then we wonder why we're so tired, or why our bodies ache, or what makes us so lonely and/or frightened.

Rosen Method is not meant to "fix" us or make us different than we really are. It is about experiencing our own truth. Rosen Method allows each of us the privilege of remembering and being who we are. Along with this comes the opportunity to make conscious choices. The basic premise of Rosen Method is: It is possible for each of us to move more freely, to breath more easily and to express our creativity, pain, joy, and love, more openly. In other words, to be more fully alive.


Muscles are meant to do only one thing: to contract when we need them to move our bones, i.e., walk, lift, bend, reach, see, speak. When the specific task is completed, the muscles relax. Through relaxed muscles, we get our strength and our ability to move fully and easily. With our muscles relaxed, we have greater potential for full expression.

When the Rosen practitioner works with a client, making contact with an open, sensitive hand, s/he can feel if a muscle is contracted. This touch simply brings attention to the tautness, the barrier between the client's internal experience and the awareness and expression of that experience. It is a meeting that begins with the practitioner's hand touching the tension in the body with equal pressure. While the practitioner follows the clients breathing pattern, s/he notices the subtle changes that begin to occur, such as a slight relaxing or tensing of the muscle, and/or a shift in the breathing pattern. The practitioner responds to these changes with a firmer or lighter touch. Often, the practitioner is just simply there, following the client's rhythm, keeping contact, listening, receiving, responding, without judgment. The result of this way of touching the client's body is a deep relaxation that lessens the tension and allows breathing to become deeper and fuller.


Correct breathing is inherent and comes from the non-restricted movement of the diaphragm. It is not the result of a doing or effort, but comes and goes by itself. If, for any reason, the movement of the diaphragm is restrained, movement of auxiliary muscles take over. This type of breathing takes a great deal of effort and, if carried to extreme, tenses all muscles of the shoulders, neck and jaw.(3) If these auxiliary muscles are used for breathing, then what they are meant to be used for, i.e., reaching, turning, lifting, carrying, chewing, and so forth, is greatly limited and often results in pain.

The diaphragm, our breathing muscle, divides us in half. During the third or fourth week of gestation, it forms in the neck area. As the embryo grows , the diaphragm descends, bringing along the phrenic nerve, which enervates it. The diaphragm is a large muscle that forms the floor of the thoracic cage and the roof of the abdominal cavity. The outer rim of diaphragmatic muscle fibers attaches on the inner side of the lower ribs and the tip of the sternum. Posterior attachments occur at T-12, a meeting place of many muscular attachments, and along the lumbar spine.

The heart rests on top of the diaphragm with the lungs on each side. The liver, stomach and spleen are immediately beneath the diaphragm and are connected with its tissues. The movement of the diaphragm affects the rhythms of the heart, lungs and digestive system. Therefore, the full range of motion of the diaphragm (approximately 1/2 inch), is very important in maintaining the constant movement of our viscera.

Unlike most muscles, the diaphragm does not move a bone, but moves against these internal organs. The movement is like a ripple or a wave. Rest periods are an integral part of the rhythm. During relaxed breathing, there is inspiration, expiration ,rest, and the cycle repeats itself. This cycle is essential for our health and well-being. As the diaphragm moves up and down, an expansion occurs in the chest, increasing and decreasing the size and volume of the thoracic cavity and moving the viscera. All relationships in the body depend on the breathing. Through respiration and the associated muscle attachments, the rhythms of the skeletal musculature are effected as well. Any contractions in the body are meant to be temporary. Although the diaphragm divides us physically, and primarily functions involuntarily, it can also be used voluntarily, in a limited way. For instance, we can hold our breath in anticipation or fear or tense with anxiety. Our breathing is influenced by our emotional states and physical tensions, both conscious and unconscious. Take a moment and make your foot tight. What happened? No doubt your diaphragm tightened up as well as your foot, and your breath became constricted for tension held in one part of the body creates a corresponding tension in the diaphragm as well. This further limits movement and breathing space. Anytime we have "to get a grip on ourselves", this is what happens. As this "grip" relaxes, so does the diaphragm. When we don't have to hold ourselves together anymore, not only can we move easier, but how we feel and think are no longer separated. Feeling and thinking flow into one another so that we use all of our experience and knowing to live our lives.

A person's breathing pattern, tempered by experience and emotion, is as individual as his/her fingerprints. A client I had, a woman in her early fifties, would sometimes talk about very sad things, but she never cried. Instead, her jaw would get tighter and her chin would jut out a little more than usual. Her diaphragm would tighten causing her breathing to become shallow. One day I asked, "When did you stop crying?". She became very quiet. My hand was under her neck, simply holding it. Then, there was a subtle relaxing of those muscles, the position of her jaw shifted and the muscles around her diaphragm trembled. She had remembered. At the age of seven she promised herself she would never cry again. With this insight, the "grip" let go. She recounted a heart-rending experience of humiliation, shame and ridicule. When this experience happened, she felt she had little choice but to hide her feelings and put her tears away. In time, she unconsciously developed a pattern of tension to contain other experiences in her life that led to tears. Instead, the muscles in her face and neck would tighten and give her a stern appearance. She would occasionally find herself speaking harshly when other people were feeling sad. Over the course of our work together, she slowly began to more fully experience what she was feeling each moment. She found she felt much better when she could express how she was feeling: at first to herself, and then, over time, to others. Literally and metaphorically, she began "breathing easier". Her face became softer and her eyes expressed curiosity that wasn't there before.

Since our breathing is both voluntary and involuntary, it is the movement of the breath that in Rosen Method we see as the bridge between the unconscious and conscious. As Marion Rosen states, "We cannot experience the 'letting go' and peace of mind [we seek] without the physical relaxation of the diaphragm. This creates a state of physical well-being and functioning, which allows a state of emotional well-being and peace." (4) Here lies the connection between body, mind and spirit.


One of the primary ways our body communicates with us is through metaphor. Metaphors are figures of speech that enlarge on the specific meanings of the words used. As Siegelman states, "[Metaphors] combine the abstract and the concrete in a special way, enabling us to go from the known and the sensed to the unknown and the symbolic. . . The process entails describing one thing in terms of another so that from this comparison, a 'third thing', the new idea, is born." (5) Therefore, metaphor is a link between conscious and unconscious knowing. Through the caring and sensitive use of metaphor by the practitioner, and/or expressed by the client, a felt sense (6) of insight often emerges.

Many metaphors that we use are body-based: I feel brokenhearted", "I'm seeing red", "I'm seething with anger", "I feel imprisoned", "She doesn't stand on her own two feet", "I feel paralyzed", "He doesn't have his head on straight". The list goes on and on. Those metaphors that are alive with a "felt sense" for the client usually lead to significant insight. A very common metaphor we use is "A pain in the neck ". The client may well be coming to see me because she has a pain in her neck, but what could be causing it? If I ask a client what is a pain in the neck, or who is a pain in the neck, then a whole new picture and awareness opens up. A new kind of looking, listening, hearing and responding is made possible. I remember a client who found her neck painful to turn. At one point she realized that, as a child, she had "put blinders on". Her mother had been partial to her younger brother, giving him a great deal of attention while ignoring her. It was so painful that she stopped herself from seeing what was going on around her when they were together by just focusing on herself and what she was doing. She learned to limit what she saw, heard and felt in their presence. This experience of limiting herself slowly became habitual and later, unconscious. Gradually, over the course of many years, the range of motion in her neck became limited, resulting in pain when she turned her head, literally limiting her "point of view".

Image is another primary way we get information from the unconscious. The imaginal realm is so much a part of each of us that it nearly escapes noticing. Like our breath which comes and goes without our thinking about it, images come and go in the same way. Images are the connection between our nervous system and mind and reveal our inner process through memories, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations (proprioception), and our auditory, olfactory, tactile, visual, and kinesthetic senses.

In my experience as a Rosen practitioner, openings have occurred for clients through all of these possibilities. I remember one client who got in touch with her anger and frustration when she saw, time and time again, an image of a "little red man stumbling over an large red box". Another client had the words, "Sitting duck", come to him and realized he had stayed far too long in an uncomfortable situation where he was constantly being targeted as the troublemaker. One client had a memory of being in 5th grade. Her teacher accused her of something she didn't do. When she tried to explain, not only did the teacher not believe her and keep her in detention, but her mother did not believe her either. This unconsciously influenced her whole life. Along with the memory came a realization that since that day she had never felt listened to, or believed, and realized that she even questioned her own knowing as a matter of course. From this insight, she began the process of "keeping her own counsel" and trusting herself in new ways.

The least common way I have found for a client to make a connection through image has been through the sense of smell. However, two examples of client's connecting in this way come to mind. One afternoon, while working with a man of sixty, I was surprised when he said he smelled varnish. When I replied that I couldn't smell it, a surprised, and then wistful look came over him. The memory of a special summer came to him. He was six years old and visiting his grandfather who was refinishing a boat. He specifically remembered his grandfather teaching him how to varnish the deck and how proud he was to be helping. This was followed by a flood of memories of his childhood. Along with the memories came unexpected emotions. Although he knew his grandfather was a special person in his life, he had slowly and carefully "put away" the sad emotions of having to leave that summer. My client never saw his grandfather again, for he became ill shortly after that memorable summer, and died. After these memories emerged, a painful condition in his right shoulder began to clear up. Although there was no specific memory relating to his shoulder, there was a great deal of tension released in that area during and after this session. Along with abatement of the shoulder pain came an increase in range of motion, which has continued.

The second story revealed a sad and confusing time for Mary, a forty-five year old executive. She was relating to me that her throat had been feeling tight. She wasn't feeling ill, but wondered if she might be coming down with something. Out of the blue, she said, "I smell Manhattans!!" [a mixed drink of various liquors]. This was quite extraordinary. The experience seemed to have no meaning to her until later in the session when a painful memory emerged. She was fifteen years old, her father had mixed her a Manhattan and insisted that she drink it. As in the other example, this memory evoked others of pain and abuse by her alcoholic father. The tightness in her throat did go away after this memory. More importantly, she began to realize the impact on her life of growing up with an alcoholic father, and sought psychotherapy in addition to Rosen Method.


In giving a Rosen Method bodywork session, the Rosen practitioner simply is with the other person . Rosen Method practitioners are trained in the art of presence and the skill of gentle touch. The practitioner has the intention of being present in a fully accepting and non-intrusive manner. The practitioner is respectful of whatever emerges. Her/his hands make firm contact with the body, and at times, gently moves different areas to remind the body of the range of movement that is possible when tension is no longer needed. The response that the practitioner looks for is relaxation of the muscle under the hand, and/or a shift in the movement of breath. For the client, this may be experienced as being able to breath easier and/or relief of physical discomfort or pain.

Rosen Method looks like massage in that the client lays on a massage table and is touched by another person. However, no oil is used in this work, pillows are sometimes used to increase comfort, the client is partially clothed, always wearing underpants, and if preferred, may leave on whatever clothing s/he wants. The client is then covered with a light blanket for comfort and warmth. The session usually begins with the client lying on his/her stomach and s/he will usually be asked to turn over later in the session, which lasts fifty minutes. Some practitioners stand, others sit next to the table.

When I give a client a Rosen session, I put my hands on top of the cover to start with. Then, as the client begins to relax and become more comfortable, I fold the cover down and work directly on the client's body, usually beginning on the upper back, but taking time to notice and feel where the tension is held. One hand is used for contacting the tension and the other hand usually rests and "listens".

Some indications of tension are: reduced movement of the solar plexus, the area where the diaphragm is located, or a raised area caused by a contracted muscle. Body temperature, color and texture also tell about internal tension, constricted movement and its effects on circulation. For example, cold hands imply contracted muscles, which constrict blood vessels in the thoracic area. These are also the muscles that allow us to lift and carry, reach out to take or give, to embrace or push away. When we "hold back" here, all of these possibilities are restricted. A tense area may have a drawn, shiny appearance. It may feel "hard as a rock". Sometimes the tension is not obvious at first. Everything may look "just fine" on the outside, but gentle exploration discovers a layer of tension below the surface.

Other ways I notice that the body is not relaxed is through the client's position on the table. For example, The client's chest may not rest comfortably on the table, implying tension in the upper chest as well as across the shoulders in the back. One hip may appear higher than the other, or legs may be held tightly together, giving the appearance of a "pillar", rather than of two legs that move independently of each other. I often tell the client what I'm noticing. I sometimes talk about how a particular area of the body would rest or move if the tension wasn't there.

When I am working with a client, I notice the shape and posture of her body and it tells me a great deal about her life experiences and how she presents herself in the world. The familiar physical pain or discomfort experienced speaks directly to chronic tension. I watch, feel and listen with rapt attention to the client while at the same time drawing on my own experience, internal awareness and knowledge in order to assist in the unfolding of the client's process.

The questions that are always in my mind are: Who would this person be without their tension? What hurts? What does the shape and posture of this body tell me? What is the potential for movement and expression if this muscle relaxes?" My attitude is one of "not knowing", non-judgment and curiosity. I am there as an observer, witness and facilitator of the client's experience. The result of my intention, attention and knowledge is the creation of a safe place for the client, allowing, over time, for trust to deepen. In this environment, the client begins to listen to him/herself in a new way.

The practitioner will often verbally respond to the changes happening in the body in order to increase awareness for the client. S/he might say, "This muscle under my hand just softened", or "Your shoulder just let go (or tightened). What happened?" The practitioner uses words sparingly to enhance awareness, not to interpret. If the practitioner feels a muscle change, she may simply say, "Yes", in a soft voice. This acknowledges that a change has occurred but without interrupting the inner process. The "Yes" is a suggestion to the client to notice what else is happening, i.e., a thought, an image, an emotion or a familiar or unfamiliar physical sensation. Such noticing allows a person to tap into the unconscious process, much like being in a "waking dream". Sometimes there is an experience of a felt sensation, a memory or deep insight. Often, the client will talk about what she experienced at that moment. The practitioner listens carefully to what the client is saying while watching and feeling the responses in the body to what is being said. At this point, more may be said, either by the practitioner or the client, in order to continue an unfolding of the inner experience. Often it becomes clear to the practitioner, by observing the changes in the body and/or the facial expression, that the client has made the connection on her/his own and nothing more needs to be said.

Clients often relate a thought or an image as it occurs. Sometimes these are accompanied with an emotional response. Though emotions relating to past experiences often emerge, I think of them as the layer between who we had to become in order to survive and, who we really are. It is as if the emotions evoked from the traumatic events in our lives are held in abeyance until we feel big enough, strong enough, safe enough to finally allow ourselves a felt sense of the old experience. As awareness of these old emotions emerges, a choice is possible. We can re-experience them as we are now: bigger, stronger, safer, and knowing much more than we did at the time of the trauma.

We often learn to express our emotions with force or effort, causing tension throughout our body. In Rosen work, as our muscles relax and the 'grip' lets go, we have the opportunity to honestly feel the emotion as it is in the moment and to touch the depth of it. Sometimes there are words that express what is deeply felt; sometimes the experience is beyond words. As this process happens, we experience more breathing space, both physically and metaphorically, for the diaphragm no longer needs to hold on so tight.

As clients embody the work, they learn about themselves and they learn to identify what is truthful in themselves. The awareness gained, along with the knowledge, touch and presence of a Rosen Method practitioner, allows a deep relaxation to occur where balance, ease and well-being can manifest. These changes sometimes become conscious during a session, or sometimes over the course of a week or two, through memories, dreams or images. More often there is an accumulation of tiny changes and the client will simply notice, at some point in the work, that s/he is feeling better and that living his/her life doesn't take as much effort as before.

The environment of a private session is one of trust. There is safety to speak about what is being experienced in the present moment. Rosen Method is a process that is gently self-revealing for clients, allowing reflection of their true being, recognition of their integrity and aliveness and the barriers that restrict them. This, in turn, allows awareness and choice. The work provides an environment of self-discovery and profound insight, where "listening" to the inner self and remembering includes, but does not limit itself to, sensations, images and memories. It becomes possible for the client to re-establish a conscious and personal sense of her/his inner process and a deep connection with self-trust and knowing.


My own experience of receiving the initial session with Marion Rosen was one of profound proprioception. It allowed me a total inward focus. Her touching me with reverent presence allowed a gentle inner unfolding and her quiet words led the way, not as an inquiry into my mind, but a signal to my body and my unconscious knowing. Her softly spoken "uhhuhs" were like the bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel strew along the path so they could find their way home.

I realize now that her knowledge and experience allowed her to register the changes in my body, as they began to emerge from unconsciousness to consciousness, by following the movements she was so accustomed to noticing. Her life experiences and her skill, gained through working with the breath for many years, guided me. There was a resonance between us that allowed a deep connection within me and a profound sense of safety. I remember going away from that first session with a new awareness of myself and a wonderful feeling of inspiration and well-being. Subsequent sessions engendered the same result, but followed various paths. Sometimes a memory would come to me a few days after the session. Often, I simply left the session relaxed and increasingly able to notice my responses and reactions during the week. Once in a while I would leave feeling my anger or sadness. During several sessions I experienced incredible joy and, once in a while, a deep sense of thankfulness and grace. Each experience has had a profound and lasting effect in my life.

Perhaps the words of a student best describe the possibilities of Rosen work. In December of 1990 I was invited to teach doctors and nurses at Narcology Hospital #17 in Moscow, USSR In class I did a demonstration of the work on one of the students, the Head Nurse for the hospital. It was a profound experience for both of us. After the session, through an interpreter, she said to me "You know, I understand that Rosen Method is about relaxation of the muscles, but now I know, it's really about relaxation of the soul".


Rosen Method bodywork is preventive health care at its very best. It provides an environment where we can learn to listen to the "language" of our bodies. The body often speaks to us in ways we've forgotten to honor. Our bodies speak to us through metaphor as well as through physical discomfort and pain, ease and disease, and through images that spring from the unconscious as we relax. The language of our bodies speaks to others through our posturing, whether it be through our attitude or the way we carry our bodies.

People from all walks of life make appointments to receive Rosen Method. Many make appointments because they are suffering from chronic muscular pain and/or manifestations of stress that include symptoms such as irritability, headaches, exhaustion, and fatigue. They want the pain and tiredness to go away. Some come because they "just don't feel well"; they are in that grey area between health and illness, ease and disease. Others come for sessions because they want to learn more about themselves, to experience themselves more fully and to feel their aliveness. This work is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy as the two modalities enhance one another. It is not recommended for people suffering from severe emotional disturbance or acute physical pain.

The cost of a session varies, but is in the range of $50 - $80 per session. It is possible to receive sessions from advanced students or interns and their fees are lower. Clients may come for sessions once, weekly or bi-monthly until their pain goes away. For those wanting to know more about themselves, "that", says Marion with a smile, 'takes a little longer".


Rosen Method Center Southwest is an educational center providing group trainings and individual bodywork for personal growth and professional development. Lecture/Demonstrations are scheduled and can be requested by groups. Workshops, a prerequisite for entering the Intensive or Local training, are held several times a year throughout the U.S. Intensive trainings, held three times a year, draw people from all over the world and are held in Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM. Each Intensive includes a creative activity such as working with clay, stone, maskmaking or writing.
1. Osbon, Diane K. Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Harper Collins, NY: 1991, p.15.
2. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Wild Woman Archetype, Jungian Storyteller Series, Sounds True Recordings, Boulder, CO: 1991
3.Todd, Mabel Elsworth. The Thinking Body, Dance Horizons, Inc., NY: 1937, revised 1979, p. 1,231. Much of the technical information in this article has been gleaned over the years from this landmark book.
4. Rosen, Marion. Private conversation, 1987
5. Siegelman, Ellen. Metaphor & Meaning in Psychotherapy, Guilford Press, NY, London: 1990, p. ix, 4.
6. Gendlin, Eugene T., Ph.D. Focusing, Bantam Books, Inc. NY: revised edition 1981, p.10.

Copyright 1994 SANDRA WOOTEN, Massage Magazine
Sandra Wooten is the author of  Touching the Body, Reaching the Soul. You can contact Sandra Wooten at

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