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Rosen Method: Hands That ‘Listen’

Rosen Method: Hands That ‘Listen’

BY ANTJE DEPONTE for The Monterey County Herald

March 15, 2002

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The massage table is cozy, thanks to a heating pad underneath its sheets. Head nestled in a soft pillow, the client lies comfortably stretched out on the stomach, covered by a light blanket to chase away the morning chill.

The surrounding silence is a perfect invitation for complete relaxation, and the stage is set for a well-deserved introduction to Rosen Method, which combines bodywork, movement, touch and verbal interaction.

“The theoretical basis of Rosen Method is that the body doesn’t lie,” explains 87-year-old, German-born Marion Rosen, the creator of the process. “It retains thoughts and experiences of what really happened. So sometimes when we are asked questions and answer with our thinking, we can influence the thinking but not the body, and the breath especially can not be influenced.”

Rosen believes there are some experiences and emotions that could not be properly handled at the time a person is confronted with them. Instead, they are put into the subconscious with the help of muscles, which in turn suppress the feelings or the knowledge of what happened and, as a consequence, later appear different in a body.

According to Rosen, this process of “working” on experiences can lead to chronic physical habit patterns — “holding” patterns — triggered by muscle tension and contraction.

“When I look at a body, I get the picture of how it would look if it showed itself in the best working order, and then I look and see what happened, how it has deviated from its perfection,” she says.

Rosen Method bodywork is distinguished by its emphasis on the client’s process of self-discovery as well as its gentle, direct touch. Using hands that “listen” rather than manipulate, the practitioner combines non-intrusive touch and verbal interaction to create a space in which the client can safely release physical tension as well as any emotion that may be held underneath.

More Than Massage

Jane Malek, a local Rosen Method bodywork and movement practitioner, walks quietly into the room and smiles reassuringly at her client

“Are you comfortable?” she asks.

“Yes,” the client replies. Malek puts her hands on the client’s back and takes a deep breath. Her fingers apply slight pressure to the muscle, slowly moving it toward the spine and back, then toward the neck and back. Gradually, all muscles are shifted and moved.

It is with this “sensing hand” that a practitioner finds areas of “holding,” guided by subtle changes in breath and muscle tension from moment to moment At the same time, the therapist acknowledges the client’s experiences verbally and invites them to state realizations out loud.

“There is tension here,” Malek says, and her fingers concentrate on a spot “Relax your breathing, let go a little.”

“I am trying,” the client replies.

But trying to relax is counterproductive to releasing physical tension and emotions since the attempt itself is an effort Malek, who was first introduced to Rosen Method after injuring her back during a yoga class in 1980, believes that the first lesson to be learned is acknowledging feelings that are held down within the body.

“We aim at learning how to relax completely, how to breathe deeply, and finally how to acknowledge the being that is hidden underneath the armor of muscle we’ve created over time,” she said. “Once we find this self, we can begin to work on experiences and feelings that at one time seemed insurmountable but have long since lost their threat to our well being.”

This is crucial, according to Rosen. “You were born to be able to do it all and you can get it back,” she says. “We help you get back to the place you came from.”

From Humble Beginnings

Rosen did not set out to become a movement guru. Born in 1914, in Nuremberg, Germany, she originally aspired to become a dancer, but when she grew to 5-feet-9 by age 14, she was told she couldn’t. She then turned to studying languages with the intention of becoming an interpreter, but was barred from study soon after Adolph Hitler came to power, because she was Jewish. At her mothers suggestion, Rosen began to study breathing and relaxation techniques, and according to her, almost immediately experienced their powers.

“When I was 21 years old, I was in Germany, attending classes with a woman who was doing massage with breathing in connection with Jungian psychiatrist,” she said. “They found that when people had bodywork accompanying their treatment, it was easier for them to access feelings and their treatments were shorter.”

Rosen’s massage studies were briefly interrupted when she was forced to flee to Sweden, where she completed physical therapy training while awaiting a visa to the United States. Thirty years later, a young woman in America who had heard about the bodywork method asked Rosen to teach her.

“During my teaching, very exciting things began to happen with the people we treated, and this is really how the method developed,” Rosen says. “We observed people during the treatment and got quite a lot of information about what happens when you treat people who are in a relaxed state. It allows them to get in touch with their feelings, and experiences that had long since been buried in their subconscious.”

Doesn’t Replace Psychotherapy

While Rosen’s bodywork method goes beyond massage and physical therapy, it is not intended to replace psychotherapy.

“We do not diagnose or evaluate conditions,” she says. “We merely facilitate the opening up. The idea is that whatever is suppressed will come out if you give it enough room to emerge.”

Today, more than 120 practitioners in North America, Scandinavia, England and Russia use the process. Clients range in age from 30 to 80 and older.

“Younger people seem more interested in a faster pace,” Malek says, “though combined with Rosen Method bodywork and movement, workouts would be safer and more effective in the long run.”

For Rosen, the turn-on lies in the power of sudden selfawareness. “When you have people change for the better, their lives open up, they lose pain and they go back to trusting themselves. And when we stop holding back, it is possible to discover what we can do, who we can be, and how we can love.”