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Holding Patterns

Holding Patterns

Marion Rosen has spent her life accessing the unconscious through delicate touch

BY DIANA HEIL for The Santa Fe New Mexican

May 30, 2005

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Marion Rosen knew what she wanted to do from the time she was 22, but she had to be patient. Before she left Nazi Germany, a Munich woman trained her in an experimental healing technique. The combination of massage, breathing exercises and Jungian psychotherapy fascinated her. But when Rosen moved to the United States in 1940, nobody was interested in bodywork. She became a physical therapist instead.

Much later, in the 1970s, the sister of one of Rosen’s patients asked to learn the Munich technique. And that was the beginning of Rosen’s pioneer work in somatic healing.

Patients cried. Some pulled up suppressed memories. Pains disappeared and people became unstuck in their relationships. One patient changed over time from being a stern and sour person to being an open and fun-loving person.

“So it was observing this process that brought (the Rosen Method) about,” she said in a telephone interview last week from her home in Berkeley, CA. “It is like it is a straight way into their subconscious.”

Deep relaxation is key. The patient lies on a massage table. The practitioner touches the tight spots, watches the patient’s breath, listens to what the patient says and witnesses the body’s response.

“At the heart of the Rosen Method is the belief that chronic muscle tension comes from the suppression of feelings. When adults deny their feelings, they become stuck in a holding pattern that causes chronic pain and leads to unhealthy emotional patterning in relationships. This also limits the fullness of breath,” Libby Gustin wrote in Massage & Bodywork magazine.

Today, Rosen Method Bodywork Centers exist in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, including Santa Fe. The revolution is quieter here than in Europe.

“I think it’s not a quick fix. And in America, we like the quick fixes,” said Susan Emmet Reid, a local yoga instructor who has been going to Rosen sessions for 10 years.

She said she could never return to traditional talk therapy because the body doesn’t lie. Her husband and son have used the Rosen Method, too.

“We become more aware of what’s happening in our bodies because there’s a witness, there’s a hand,” Emmet Reid said. “The moment awareness begins there is change.”

In one session, Emmet Reid said she realized she had been suffering from heartache, and a chronic pain in her shoulder vanished . Rosen believes the method brings people to the point of possibilities.

“Very often, people don’t even know how much they know, or what they really want or how capable they are. By not having to hold back, they come in touch with that,” she said.

It also can cure asthma, migraine headaches, heart problems, weak immune systems and psychosomatic illnesses, according to case studies in her latest book.

After all these years, scientists may have found the secret power behind Rosen’s dabbling: a hormone. “I didn’t know that actually a hormone was being formed through our touch,” Rosen said, referring to a recent Swedish study about the effects of light touch.

Another study suggests that people who talk about their feelings have a better functioning immune system than people who hold them back.

The Rosen Method is hard to compare to anything on the exploding market of bodybased therapies. “Rather than doing something to them, we wait for them to have something coming out of them. And I think this is the big difference,” she said.

At age 90, Rosen has seven decades of work to inform her opinion about the healing properties of touch. She describes her work as unlocking protective layers through touch, observing a patient’s breath and talking to the patient. The touch is lighter than massage. The talk is more visceral than psychotherapy.

Rosen continues to see patients for half the day in her private office and has no plans to retire.

“I’m only going to be 91 so it will be a while yet. As long as I can do it, I will do it because it gives me so much. It gives me a joy to see people become themselves, to see people sort of opening up like flowers and understanding who they are. This is a wonderful process to watch.

“Anyway, when I go to work and I’m tired and I’m grumpy and I really don’t want to do anything, I work on the first person and I feel better and by the time the morning is over I feel great.”

She could have grown up to be a bitter woman. Her method helped unlock herself.

Rosen’s childhood was short on affection. She had a distant mother and a father who was gone to war. She can’t remember her mother bathing or dressing her. For a time, a governess filled the void, then left with no explanation.

Rosen felt like an outsider in her own family. When Germany fell to Hitler’s control, she became an outsider in her own country . Her gentile friends abandoned her. So did her boyfriend. And the universities , the movie theaters and the restaurants shut Jews like her out.

She had a fresh start in the United States, but life fell below her expectations. “I always wanted to be married and have children, many children ,” she said.

About 55 years ago, Rosen was married briefly to an alcoholic.

“I wanted him to stop drinking. Of course, he couldn’t ,” she said.

The couple had one daughter.

Through the method she developed, Rosen came to accept her life as it is.

“I felt more and more certain of myself, comfortable with myself. I may even say I felt happy. I felt good about my life,” she said.

She considers the Rosen Method a psycho-spiritual approach to healing. Though both parents were Jewish , Rosen was brought up Lutheran because her mother believed in Jesus. These days, Rosen is drawn to Hinduism.

Patients often tell her they feel connected to something beyond or connected to God. That makes sense to Rosen.

“When you breathe, when the diaphragm is working, if it works at it’s best, you really have to let go. You have to surrender to the movement, the breathing movement within your body. And then you come to that place of surrender,” she said. “This surrendering is letting yourself be guided. There’s a bigger power that comes with the letting go.”

This summer, Rosen will train her niece in the method.