Copyright 2018 Alice Billman CA Cert #1933 (562) 708-1202
FM Online Newsletter
A publication of National Fibromyalgia Association
Vol. 3, No. 16
September 3, 2003

Hellerwork: Using Deep Tissue Bodywork, Movement Education and Dialogue to Treat FM
by, The American Hellerwork Association

Hellerwork is one of the "best kept secrets" in bodywork for the treatment of fibromyalgia. As anyone who has been diagnosed knows, there are no known cures or quick fixes for this condition. However, Hellerwork can lessen the pain and severity of many symptoms of fibromyalgia through deep tissue bodywork, movement education and dialogue.
Hellerwork is a three part system designed to relieve stress and pain, improve posture and alignment, enhance movement and flexibility and increase energy. Dialogue is used to assist the client in becoming aware of emotional stress that may be related to physical tension. It reflects the holistic approach to health, viewing the body as a complete and balanced entity rather than merely a sum of disparate parts. The unique combination of structural bodywork, movement education and exploring the impact of emotions and attitudes on the body is designed to produce changes for lasting good health and personal growth.
Although Hellerwork may be effective for temporary pain or tension relief, we recognize that pain and tension are usually the result of an overall pattern of imbalance occurring in the body. Rather than treating the pain or tension "symptom" of this imbalance, Hellerwork focuses on rebalancing the entire body, returning it to a more aligned and relaxed state.
To fully understand how Hellerwork works, you must learn about connective tissue, and how the force of gravity impacts the connective tissue system of the body in such a way that it moves from a "normal" into an "average" condition.

What Are Connective Tissue And Fascia?

Any tissue in the body that has a connecting function is considered to be connective tissue. Tendons, ligaments, and even blood are connective tissue. The form of connective tissue that Hellerwork primarily affects is called fascia. Fascia is a plastic-like tissue that wraps all of the muscles, and all of the individual fibers and bundles of individual fibers that become muscle. Fascia comes together at the end of the muscle and becomes the tendon, which attaches the muscle to the bone. The fascial system of our body can be seen as a multi-layer body stocking, with fascial sheaths wrapping the muscles and weaving in layers throughout the body. Because of this, stress in any area of the body has an effect on every other part of the body. For instance, tension in the connective tissue of the leg pulls the tissue throughout the torso.

In its optimal condition, fascia is a loose, moist tissue. When there is continual loose movement and balance in the body, the fascial body stocking stays loose and mobile, facilitating the movement between different parts of the body. However, under continual stress and lack of movement, fascia becomes rigid and loses its fluidity. Layers of fascia begin to glue to one another, causing the '"knots" you may have experienced in your back or neck. The sheaths of fascia stick in a systematic way, based on our habitual patterns of movement, or more correctly, lack of movement. Although people most often associate tension and stiffness with their muscles, it is actually the connective tissue that accumulates much of this stress.

What Do Gravity And Alignment Have to Do With Hellerwork?

Gravity is the force that pulls any two masses together, notably the earth and our human bodies. We learn about this force early in life, but then get used to it, although it continually pulls on us. Alignment simply means that things are in a straight line. If items are in a zig-zag pattern, we would say that they are out of alignment. In Hellerwork, the main direction of alignment that we consider is vertical alignment - are the body's segments stacked in a straight line from the ground up, or are they at a tilt, or perhaps a zig-zag.
If a body or structure of any kind is vertically aligned, gravity is a benign and positive force - it keeps us on the planet! It also supports us in being balanced. An imbalanced body, however, feels gravity as a stress.

Connective tissue - specifically fascia - holds our bodies in their contracted form, and movement patterns determine the particular form in which they get stuck. There are three main factors that cause our movement patterns to become unbalanced. They are (1) ongoing physical stresses, (2) ongoing attitudes and emotions, and (3) incidents of physical trauma.

The Three Main Components of Hellerwork

Reconditioning the body requires not only releasing the rigidity from the connective tissue, but also bringing awareness to and changing the patterns that caused the tissue to rigidify in the first place. The three components of Hellerwork - deep connective tissue bodywork, movement education, and verbal dialogue - aim to do just that.

Deep Connective Tissue Bodywork

Deep connective tissue body work is designed to release the tension that currently exists in the connective tissue, and to return the body systematically to an aligned position. This aspect of Hellerwork is a "hands on" process, in which the Practitioner works with his or her hands to release tension in the fascia and to stretch it back into its normal position.
When asked how Hellerwork achieves this, Alice Collier, a practitioner in Seal Beach, California said, "Many people with fibromyalgia have a limited range of movement due to painful joints. Hellerwork stimulates the lymphatic system to get the blood pumping and the fluids moving. This fresh circulation around the joints nourishes the tissues for less pain and more freedom of movement."
When working with clients who have fibromyalgia, most practitioners feel the most important thing is to work slowly to avoid a possible flare-up.

Movement Education

If the bodywork aspect of Hellerwork is like taking the dents out of a car's bumper after the car has run into a tree, then movement education can be likened to reeducating the driver so that he won't continue to destroy his vehicle. No amount of removing dents will keep a car beautiful if the driver is continually hitting trees!
Through the Hellerwork movement education program, you become profoundly aware of your body and your movement patterns, and as a result discover easier, fuller ways of moving. Simple and easy to remember suggestions and visualizations are used to rebalance your movement for optimal alignment and fluidity.
In movement education, we focus on the use of your body in daily activities. With all clients we work with sitting, standing, walking, and movement patterns that are common to everyone. Additionally, your particular movement interests, like your favorite sports, or your job activity, will become the focus of some movement lessons. Video feedback is often used to assist the movement education process, and to allow you to get a picture of how your body is moving from the outside.

Verbal Dialogue

The verbal dialogue component of Hellerwork focuses on allowing you to become aware of the relationship between your emotions and attitudes and your body. As you become aware of these relationships, you are able to become responsible for your attitudes so that they are less likely to limit your body and your self expression.

Dr. Dohn says, "Hellerwork practitioners are specifically trained in emotional rapport and providing a safe space for exploration and expression of deeply held feelings. Discovering, expressing and letting go, allows for the energy to dissipate and enables the body to relax."
The focus of the dialogue begins - with but is not limited to - the theme of each section. The theme highlights the more common attitudes and emotions that are associated with the area of the body that is worked on in each session. In Section 1, where we work on the chest, the theme is "Inspiration.". Your Practitioner will inquire into your experience of inspiration: Do you feel inspired? What inspires you? What affects your ability to feel inspired? Through this process you can begin to understand some of the attitudinal and emotional forces that impact your body. Simply becoming aware of them begins the process of change. As the tension that is associated with these emotional patterns is released, some of the pattern itself may be released. Your awareness facilitates the process of change in your body and mind.
Diane Lewis, RN and Hellerwork practitioner in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, says, "There is a noticeable, physiological change in the tissues as a result of Hellerwork. We look at how the person moves, how they carry themselves, their diet and even explore past traumas. It's the whole body approach - mind, body and spirit - that makes such a difference."

For more information on Hellerwork and a nationwide practitioner directory, visit or call 1-800-392-3900.

 Copyright  © 2003 National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) All rights reserved.

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