The Best Kept Secret of Bodywork: Hellerwork
by Joseph Hunton

We’ve all heard how excess stress can speed up the aging process and bring on a multitude of life-threatening diseases, so many of us look to stress-reducing methods like yoga and meditation. There is also a stress relief method of bodywork that has often been overlooked. Hellerwork is a dynamic, three part system of deep tissue bodywork, movement education and dialogue designed to relieve stress and pain, improve posture and alignment, enhance movement and flexibility and increase energy. During the eleven 90-minute session series, tension and stress are released and the natural structural balance of the body is restored to a more aligned and relaxed state through a variety of gentle, “hands on” deep tissue bodywork techniques. Movement education is used to help the client develop a better awareness of their body and movement patterns. Dialogue is used to assist the client in becoming aware of emotional stress that may be related to physical tension. Hellerwork reflects the holistic approach to health, viewing the body as a complete and balanced entity, rather than merely a sum of disparate parts. This unique combination is designed to produce permanent change for lasting good health and personal growth.

To fully understand the process, it helps to learn about fascia, the connective tissue that Hellerwork directly affects. Fascia is a plastic like tissue that wraps the muscles and all the fibers that become muscle. It is like a multi-layer body stocking, wrapping muscles and weaving in layers throughout the body. In its optimal condition, fascia is loose and moist and facilitates movement and flexibility.However, due to chronic physical or emotional stress, lack of movement, or physical trauma, the fascia can become rigid and lose its flexibility. This results in the layers sticking to one another, often causing muscular knots, pain, adhesions or restriction of movement. Our own movement patterns often determine how our fascia gets stuck. Also, because it is literally “connective” tissue, tension in one part of the body can affect many other areas of the body, as well.

A body that is already out of balance may react to the simple force of gravity as a stressor, and become even more imbalanced and rigid. This is often what causes people to stiffen and shorten as they age. Hellerwork is designed to realign the body by releasing the rigidity from the connective tissue, facilitating change of the patterns that caused that rigidity and imbalance in the first place, and initiating dialogue to raise awareness of the impact of emotions and attitudes on the body. The deep, connective tissue bodywork releases tension in the fascia to systematically return the body to an aligned position. The practitioner achieves this through a hands-on process, by manually stretching the fascia back to its normal position. The client often feels a great release of tension, which produces an uncommon, but normal, state of well-being.

The movement education teaches the client to become more aware of their body and movements. During sessions, clients will spend part of the time standing, sitting and walking, and are coached on their movement patterns. Simple but effective, easy to remember suggestions and visualizations are used to help the client rebalance their movements for optimal alignment and fluidity. Video feedback may be used to enhance this process. The verbal dialogue component helps the client become aware of emotions and attitudes and how they affect the body. The focus of the dialogue begins with, but is not limited to, the theme of each session. These themes highlight common attitudes and emotions associated with different parts of the body. For example, during the first session, the practitioner works primarily on the chest and the theme is “Inspiration.” During the bodywork, the practitioner may ask, “Do you feel inspired? What inspires you? What affects your ability to feel inspired?” This dialogue helps the client become aware of how emotions can impact the body. By becoming aware of these emotional patterns, the process of change in the mind and body can begin.

Each of the eleven Hellerwork sessions has a theme and each one is designed to focus on a specific area of the body to facilitate better alignment, flexibility and balance. There isn’t one standard reaction to Hellerwork, but typical responses to sessions often include a feeling of increased height due to better alignment, ease of breathing, increased range of motion, a more graceful walk, more energy, increased relaxation, enhanced awareness and openness, and often a connection to buried emotions and intuition.

Joseph Hunton is president of the American Hellerwork Association. If you are interested in exploring Hellerwork as a client or practitioner, please visit for more info.