Alice Billman, Certified Hellerwork Practitioner
It's interesting how people perceive things. My sister is a professional photographer. She
sees things in ways I never can. She and another photographer friend of mine have a
concept of color and light that I have the ability to see, but only, it appears, when they
take the time to point it out. Their world appears to them in shades of light and dark,
variances of azure and vermilion, and various other gradients heretofore unknown to me.
I have other friends who perceive concepts as words or thoughts or sentences carefully
thought out. I know someone like that. He has a reason for everything he feels, a
carefully thought out perception separate from his other senses. He is wonderful at
perceiving cause and effect relationships; I'm not. I feel things. I rely on an internal
sense of perception that I describe as a light/dark color movement kind of feeling.
Although it often has internal pictures, it often does not.
I'm telling you this to give you some idea of who I am, and perhaps even why I do what I
do. I sense things deeply and profoundly; I'm no stranger to laughter or tears. I touch to
communicate as often as possible, and find that the language of touch is often more
reliable for me than all the words I might have spoken. Which means, as you might expect,
writing an article like this is not the easiest thing for me to do.
Years ago, I became aware of a deep sadness and lack of personal fulfillment. I was
making enough money and had most of the external signs of success, but I had a growing
void within that couldn't be filled. My relationships with people were fleeting and
superficial. I didn't feel connected.
I painted my living room and took a seminar, fully expecting to "get over it and get on
with it." Nothing was different except that my living room looked cleaner. I bought new
carpeting. I got a newer car. I replaced the screens. I continued to do more in an
attempt to feel less. At some point I actually got the message that it wasn't working,
and that I was going to have to make more sweeping changes. I changed my hair color,
I took more seminars, I dressed differently. I was bordering on being miserable.
I closed a huge transaction at work and took my commission check home. The uncashed
check sat on my table all weekend. I could barely look at it. If this is the stuff dreams
are made of, why did looking at that check make me feel so hollow inside? I was getting
desperate for something else.
It wasn't much longer when I finally began to shift away from twenty-five years of real
estate brokerage to study Hellerwork and open my own private practice. How could I do
that? Over two and a half decades in a field to just brush it aside? How responsible is
THAT? What the hell IS Hellerwork, anyway?
Superficially, Hellerwork is a type of deep tissue bodywork. The client lies on a massage
table and looking from the outside, one might believe that Hellerwork is massage. It's not.
Massage is something done to someone. The client is a passive recipient of the procedure.
There are various types of massage encompassing everything from a feather-light touch to
deep pressure, but it's still primarily a passive experience from the client's perspective.
Hellerwork is involved. The client is involved. The practitioner is involved. It is a deeply
Traditionally, Hellerwork is accomplished in eleven sessions, each of which is approximately
90 minutes. Each session begins with a dialogue between the client and practitioner. This is
a time reserved for the client to express any concerns and/or insights since his last visit.
This is a time when the client experiences the person in front of him really listening and truly
hearing, without judgment, completely focused on what he is saying. This is active listening
and often perceived as a gift not readily available in daily life.
When we are done talking, I have my client lie on my bodywork table. I place my hands on
him and begin to 'listen' with my body to what is holding on in his, causing pain and
restriction. Throughout the bodywork session our previous heightened conversation continues
as my client begins to unravel some of his tightly held beliefs and attitudes.
As a practitioner I absolutely love this interchange; I get the opportunity to hear and actually
feel what the client is talking about, embody that feeling, and reflect it back to him. As
emotionally charged stories are released, I feel tissue release actually taking place under my
hands. I get to feel, and I find that to be immensely satisfying.
What happens next is gentle deep tissue bodywork specifically focused on the theme of the
session. Each session is different because each person is unique. People don't have fixed
patterns. Each person's pattern is a reflection of his story and life experience. Each person
sees his experience in his own way, unconsciously reacting and holding on, forming that
distinctive physical pattern that makes it easy to identify someone in the distance, long
before their facial features are discernable.
The first session of a Hellerwork series is called "Inspiration." Superficially it's about
breathing. The bodywork is focused on the front of the ribcage. Tension and tightness is
released from between the ribs, along the collarbone and around the sternum. As these
areas are released, more space becomes available within the ribcage. As the physical size of
the ribcage increases so does the potential capacity of the lungs. As the bodywork
continues, deeper and deeper breaths become possible.
The conversation between my client and I often revolves around what the client finds
inspiring. Remember when you were a child and you could barely contain your enthusiasm?
Remember the huge gasp of excitement that went along with the new bicycle or the pony?
What about that new puppy? What happened to that all-encompassing sense of joy? Where
did it go?
One of my intentions during this first session is to look at the issue of inspiration with my
client. Together we find something in his life that has the potential to elicit a gasp of
excitement. Then we work on it. Together we explore the sense itself. What does it feel
like? How does the breath move? Where does the breath get stuck? Can more air get in
when we are inspired? Does being sad or depressed impinge on airflow? Working with these
questions tends to reveal patterns. In this case, it's usually a systematic pattern or habit of
holding ones breath. As we all know, when our body is deprived of air, nothing (I mean
NOTHING) else matters.
I watch my client breathe deeper than he ever has and I feel his mood elevate. Lastly, we
look at his habits revolving around sitting and standing and work toward achieving maximal
breath capacity while standing as well as sitting.
I'm always impressed with how this one session changes people. They stand taller, have
better color in their complexions, and appear happier. It's truly inspiring.
The remaining Hellerwork sessions follow a similar pattern. There is always dialogue and
bodywork and movement education. There is always some physical change, sometimes
dramatic and sometimes more subtle, but always in the direction of being more aligned with
As the sessions continue, my clients often talk about physical challenges they have overcome
because of the bodywork. Increased range of motion is always present. Whether it's the
ability to throw a ball farther, swing a golf club higher or just reach another shelf, increased
range is always appreciated.
What I find even more amazing is the increased range of thought that appears along with the
less constricted physical shell. People begin to make changes in their lives as they progress
through the bodywork. A sense of priority arises, and personal well being surfaces as a
necessity. I've watched clients ease out of high stress occupations turning pleasant hobbies
into their main source of income. A lawyer becomes a writer, a factory worker a forest
ranger. High stress people transform into what they really wanted to be when they grew up.
I'm pretty sure this is what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just didn't know it until now.
Alice Collier, 2003