by Cinnamon Cranston, Certified Rosen Method Bodywork Practitioner
– originally published in Mosaic Magazine, May 2016
We are born needing touch. Our bodies are hard wired to receive and give touch as a means to navigate our environment and ourselves. Touch is so essential to our physical and psychological development that without it infants fail to thrive or bond with others. During early development, touch lets us know who we are, what we need and how we feel.
Gentle, responsive touch, along with affirming, supportive words, is a key component in recovering from emotionally and/or physically stressful experiences because it lets our bodies/minds know that we are safe, not alone and cared for. Experiences of safe connection through touch activate the relaxation response in the body (parasympathetic nervous system), decreasing fear and anxiety and stimulating the body’s ability to self-soothe and heal.
Ivy Green, author of Relaxation, Awareness, Resilience: Rosen Method Bodywork Science and Practice (FastPencil, 2016), describes how Rosen Method Bodywork (RMB) uses this approach to address the underlying causes of stress and chronic pain. The following descriptions have been adapted from her book.
When a person does not receive enough support through gentle, responsive touch and affirmative words at a time of intense emotional and/or physical distress, the individual will unconsciously tighten their bodies to guard against their own feelings and memory of their experience. While this muscular guarding serves to protect the individual it also limits their capacity to experience themselves fully as patterns of repression and ‘holding’ take precedence over freedom of self-expression and general well-being. These protective muscular holding patterns in the body then become a nonconscious process or in other words, they become a part of our way of living and reacting to the world around us without us being aware of it.
For example, I have always been a prepared person, always ready for any possibility for things to go sideways or completely awry. My body was ‘on’, ‘ready’ and vigilant but I did not necessarily experience it this way. What I felt was the need to get stuff done. I was always busy and when I wasn’t busy I was collapsed on the couch with a creeping dread of anxiety hanging over me until I became busy again. I lived in extremes but thought it was normal. Well it was my normal.
Deep inside myself I longed for more joy in my life, more playfulness, more creativity and deeper connections with others. I felt trapped. RMB gave me the embodied self-awareness I needed to feel the feelings and experiences that had brought about my generalized anxiety and fatigue in the first place, as well as the new possibilities of relaxation, trust, safety and openness available to me in the present moment.
RMB transformed my life. Today I can play, love fully, express myself freely, ask for what I need, set healthy boundaries and listen to my heart’s desire. Today I have awareness of when I am present and when I am not. With awareness comes choice and possibility.
The quality of RMB touch is unique to most other forms of bodywork in that it employs a “non-doing hand” that is both actively listening and responding to the person being touched, while simultaneously conveying to the person the non-verbal message: “I am here with you and I care about you.” RMB practitioners believe that touch is the deepest way to know someone and that it is a privilege to be honoured and respected with our own utmost integrity and self-awareness.
Practitioners apply a gentle yet firm touch from the core of their ‘feeling’ selves with their heart in their hands, aware of their own inner feelings and experiences as well as listening to and being aware of their client’s inner experiences. This is a pivotal component to RMB. Practitioners must be able to go inside themselves and listen to their own bodies. Clients will only be able to experience themselves to the degree the practitioner can allow themselves to be present and self-aware. This is why the training for RMB includes a lot of personal growth and takes approximately three and half years to complete.
Through their touch, practitioners are listening to and receiving what is present in the body in that moment rather than thinking about what they could manipulate it to be. During this process practitioners become curious about the nonconscious holding that is present in the body and begin to explore the areas of muscular holding with their hands slowly and purposefully so the client can register the experience in their bodies and increase their self-awareness. What follows is an attunement where the practitioner and client attune to what is present in the body, as nonconscious holding patterns begin to come into awareness.
Once a specific holding pattern has emerged, the practitioner will narrow their focus into a specific area of holding in the body meeting the holding with as much support as needed for the client’s body to register the degree to which they are holding while also feeling the support available to them by the touch of the practitioner. The muscles are now in a position to do something other than holding.
Relaxation is the natural response to this kind of support; however, a protective emotional barrier may prevent the muscles from letting go. This is the place where the client comes into contact with their barriers to whatever feelings or behaviors that have been suppressed. The practitioner holds a non-verbal curiosity around what these experiences are and whether or not the client still needs to protect themselves from these experiences in this way. The practitioner wonders what the client’s life would be like without these constraints and begins to guide released muscle through a greater range of motion and possibility.
Words are also an important part of the process as the practitioner uses them as a third hand with the intention of reflecting, supporting and deepening the client’s embodied experience. Clients are invited to share their experiences if words are there for them. However, sometimes words can take the client out of their embodied experience and into a state of conceptual self-awareness, which is more of a ‘head’ place. It is more important that clients stay attuned to their body’s feelings and sensations so words are of secondary importance to the touch.
Practitioners use words to maintain the clients sense of safety, bring awareness to their feelings or experiences, distil the essence of their words, clarify the difference between conceptual self-awareness and embodied self-awareness and to clarify when their words match their body’s experience and when they do not. We also use words to meet the client in their experience, mirroring and supporting them. In this way, words can help to transform an old pattern into a new possibility of experience for the client.
For example, one of my clients was able to experience a release from a very old holding pattern when I communicated what I was feeling in her body. While I was supporting the muscular holding around her diaphragm and ribcage, I noticed that her whole ribcage was held outward and puffed up conveying a non-verbal message of: “I can do it all by myself! I am strong!” I was curious about what was underneath all of that.
I said to her that it felt like she couldn’t land inside herself or really have herself from the inside out; that she was stuck in the work of having to be strong. After I spoke this to her she felt the holding in such a way that she was able to let go and take in an affirming breath. Her diaphragm released and her muscles relaxed under my hands. Then her face flushed and tears came as she experienced what was held back all these years, her gentleness and her vulnerability. After this feeling was allowed and her body softened into deeper relaxation, she gave voice to a new experience… that her vulnerability was her strength and the holding and trying to be strong was what held her back from being her full self.
As a practitioner of RMB I have witnessed the work change peoples’ lives. People come to RMB sessions without consciously knowing what is holding them back from being what they long to be. Over time they blossom, becoming more relaxed, aware, resilient and able to live more fulfilled lives. Such change is truly a privilege to witness.
Cinnamon is a Certified Rosen Method Bodywork Practitioner and the Vice-President of the Rosen Method Institute Canada. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-203-5159.
Note: This information is for educational purposes only. It’s intended to supplement your current health program, not to replace the care of a licensed medical doctor. Thoroughly research all topics for yourself.