Presence and Intention are opening doors to feeling life.
I have been dying to discover the Rosen Method ever since Mistress mentioned to me. Already at our very first meeting, I had committed to finding a talk therapist as part of my journey with her, I imagined that I would choose someone from the same school of psychoanalysis I had used in the past, Jungian. And while I loved that and found it deeply helpful, what we don’t know very often has more solution in it than what we do know.
After getting to know Mistress a little in session and socially, where she had an opportunity to lay hands on me, to inflict various forms of sensation, and to observe and feel how my body reacted, she noted that I was holding tension and stress in my guts, that she could feel my tension. She remarked that to survive as me, to protect the self, as I had done, would have required me to shut myself down very tightly, and she could feel this in my body. It was as she manipulated my belly, producing sobs as she did so, that this line came out.
I knew she was right. So when she talked a bit about types of therapy, both talk and forms of physical therapy, later that evening over a most delicious meal, I was extremely receptive to her recommendations [in truth, I am generally extremely receptive to her recommendations—after all, that is part of the fun, right?!].
She outlined various types of therapeutic practices which she felt I would helpful, and armed with that information, I began my search in earnest. It was through this that I discovered Cranio-Sacral therapy [written about here]. That was a rewarding introduction, and is one that I will continue to go to from time to time. It is real, and unlocks things in a powerful way, but I found the person I was doing it with “unclean”—there was something I felt possibly polluting in her energy, and I was worried about that. Indeed, my Reiki Master, who I believe is a halo of white light, has talked about the importance of working with people who have pure white light and whose vibrations are as high, but preferably higher than mine. In my two sessions with her [written about here and here], I have found total purity of spirit. She’s a great teacher.
The Rosen Method
Founded by Marion Rosen, a Jewish woman born in Germany in 1914. She became a physiotherapist who specialised in breathwork and massage. Her husband was a Jungian psychoanalyst. When she fled Germany, she first moved to Sweden and then later to the UK, where she worked with clients from the Tavistock Clinic (psychoanalysis) whilst her brother Herbert Rosenfield (her original surname) completed his residency there.
“In Rosen Method Bodywork we touch people. It is a special touch that makes contact with the body. We also say we have inquiring hands that locate tensions in the body and areas that are not moved by breath” – Marion Rosen
Her knowledge of psychoanalysis through her clients, her brother, and husband, informed her of the value of combining touch with talk, and resulted in her unique approach to body work. She undertook further studies in Sweden, the UK, and the US, where she ultimately set up her practice. Today, you can find teaching centres in Scandinavia, the UK, the USA, Australia, and Russia.
The Rosen Method flows from her observation that touch is healing, and that gentle touch, combined with talk and soft music, put her clients into a trusting state that allowed for the exploration of where feeling, emotion, stress all found themselves in the body. Her practice shifted from people who were needing to be “fixed” to healthy clients, people who wished to explore suppressed aspects of themselves, who were interested in seeking more out of life.
Finding a Rosen Practitioner
This was actually not so easy. In the places where I currently call “home” there were no Rosen practitioners to be found. It was even hard to find people who knew what the Rosen Method was outside of California and New York City. In the end, I called the US HQ and found a referral, and decided to just get on a plane and go. As it happens, it is a place I find excuses to go to with increasing regularity.
What Happens in a Rosen Session
Sometimes I wonder if one should be totally open. Certainly with a talk therapist—though even many talk therapists aren’t equipped to deal with the potpourri of things I present to them—one must be totally open. Otherwise, what’s the point. But with someone who is a bit of a blend, one wonders how open one could or should be. I chose to be fully open, though I asked permission first.
The practitioner I saw has a very gentle demeanour. We had a nice long chat on the phone before meeting where she asked many of the same introductory questions that a talk therapist will ask. And at our first session, we revisited many of these issues at the beginning of the session. I find it is helpful to talk in front of someone—that the phone or even Zoom has just enough depersonalisation in it, that the socialised aspects can be blunted—and it is important to say what we have to say when the person is in the room, when we read each other’s body language, when we can react to one another’s energy.
Her calm was very reassuring. When we switched from talk to touch, she left the room to give me time to take off my clothes except “my underwear” which in my case happened to be a rather fetching bikini bottom (I was off to ballet yoga next, and was already dressed for this, and thought that Rosen would be fully clothed as had been the Cranio-Sacral experiences). I was under heated blankets (thank goodness) and the room was nice and toasty, so all was well.
She came back in and apart from asking me if there was any tension anywhere that I wanted to note to her (yes, between my shoulder blades), she began to touch me. And if there could be any doubt about whether this therapist knew what she was doing, or that Rosen Method works, it was soon dispelled by her progressive diagnosis. It is a process of very gentle touch, a bit like laying on hands. She did not find so much tension where I had said. She found it most marked in my legs.
I have muscular legs. I have also had leg injuries and suffer occasionally from cramps and quite a bit from tense hamstrings. This is a byproduct of so much running, and one which requires daily stretching. This she felt through her hands. She noted that my muscles were completely clenched, even though I was lying down, and supposedly fully at rest. Especially my right leg. And funnily enough, this is the one that is hardest to stretch.
She asked me to be present in my body. To pay attention to the things I felt and thought about in my body as she touched me. She noted that my mind would wander, and she wanted to know about the places that it wandered to, but also that I continue to bring my mind back to my body and to the present.
This was fascinating. The theory is that eventually our minds will go to places that are about tension, sources of stress. Initially I didn’t find these. As she worked from my shoulders down my body, most of the places my mind went to were random, or pressing business and social things that were on my mind generally. But when she got to my legs, and in particular to my right leg, which she spent a lot of time on, I experienced visuals of softly bursting colours. She was intrigued by this and asked me to describe them, which I did. I felt my leg as if it was waking up, as if it had been asleep, not like a waking up of pins and needles, but more like it had been dead tissue, and that her touch was making it feel, like I could feel my skin, feel the blanket on my skin. And it made my leg feel light, and less solid, and alive. It was a very curious feeling.
When I flipped over and she touched my belly I had this overwhelming feeling of being skinny, and that her touch was making me skinny. She wanted to talk about body image, and the importance of being skinny, and I talked about how being skinny, feeling my clothes on my body in a certain way, was of existential importance to me. [I’ve written about this here]. If I can describe the waistband of a skirt without elastic, that it is just a tiny bit loose on your skin, that you feel it not snug, that you feel it there, loosely, almost floating…it is very much a feeling that many clothes designed for the female body do for me, that their weight is different, that their tug and pull is different, that they are snug or loose in different ways and different places. Being skinny is an important part of experiencing this feeling—for when I am feeling bloated or heavy, that sensation is dead to me, just as it is dead when I wear 99% of men’s gendered clothing. It all just feels different.
I felt fabulous after our session was over. Light, and electrified. I felt as if I was tingling slightly, and felt very, very in my body. I felt myself walking down the hall, I felt myself taking the elevator, I felt myself walking the city streets, and I felt my energy in a different way. And it became much easier for me to be conscious about how I felt, where I was, what I was doing. The wind on my face as I came out of the subway was like breathy tendrils. Sensation was all around me in a more pronounced way. It was like being much more alive.
She noted wryly, “oh my gosh, we have so much to work on, your body is yielding so much.” She was especially intrigued by the colours and by the tension in my legs, by my body sensations, but also how when she started on my leg, I felt something “scurry away”, a little black knot of tension that ran from my leg and lodged into my shoulder, and gave me pain in my shoulder. It was slightly surreal and reminded me of one of the crazy dreams of William S. Burroughs in that surreal masterpiece, Naked Lunch. I look forward to seeing her again soon.
This was a very different experience than Cranio-Sacral therapy, and one which merits further and deeper exploration. The therapist surely matters a great deal; I noted that this woman felt as if she was radiating white light.
After my session I meandered through the City, enjoying myself, and ended up at a farmer’s market and visiting a used bookstore—two great passions a block from each other. I felt very different walking around, so when it was time to go to Gyrotonics, I was in the perfect mood to get the most out of it.
Gyrotonics Session 2
It seems that I am finding myself drawn towards activities and therapies which are much harder to find. Within the dance community, Gyrotonics is quite common, and many ballet companies have their own studios, but if you are not a ballet dancer, you may find it more challenging to find studios and practitioners.
Although I wrote previously about it [here], I feel compelled to describe it a little more. It is similar to Pilates in the sense of very focussed, gentle movement. But it is also very much more about stretching, and lengthening, particularly the joints. Muscles and muscular action lead to compaction in the joints. Releasing this tension is one of the key principles behind Gyrotonics.
There is this delicious tension between a stretch and a light workout that is about lengthening and toning at the same time—and it satisfies in a way that you feel when you get up in the morning and have a really deep, full-body, full-breath stretch.
We spent a lot of time in this session focussing on my knees, and ankles, which was curious, having just come from Rosen and not having mentioned anything to her about the Rosen Therapists focus on my legs. Although we repeated all of the same stretching movements as we had done the first time, this focus on the legs was more pronounced and longer.
She liked my outfit too. “I love it when I seem to sync up with my clients and we wear matching workout gear.” My penchant for fashionable, tight, workout clothing is brings its own joys [written about here].
She describes in a beautiful and unexpected way the feeling we are trying to generate in our bodies. For one stretch, which involves twisting the upper body and rising as we do so, she described it thus. “Imagine you are at a party and you turn and see a friend, and you say ‘oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you,’ and feel yourself rising into the feeling of greeting someone you haven’t known how much you’ve missed until right now.” It was a particularly evocative way to describe the movement and the feeling.
My teacher is a career ballerina evolved into a physical therapist, and she guides me by doing the movements as I do them, and this is wonderful to work in a “mirror” as we go through each exercise. The precision and grace and intention of every movement is both a joy and a great instructor to behold. And the parallels between what she is teaching me, what Rosen is teaching, what talk therapy is teaching, and what Mistress is teaching, is kind of unreal…Gyrotonics is all about intent, about presence, and about knowing and thinking about what you are going to do before you do it, feeling it, and then doing it.
The core of the teaching is about how we move. About removing as much muscular fight from any movement as possible, finding a state of flow, a natural grace. This is about balance, and we spend much time on balance. She talks quite a bit about moving with your skeleton, and not your muscles. That there is a natural way to move that we typically forget, and it is this inner movement which is the source of grace that dancers have.
At the end of the session, I rose from the machine I had been on, and she asked me to walk around and feel in my body and feel any differences. Once again, I felt much taller, and indeed, found myself walking much differently. As if I had found my own plumb line. Imagine that there is a thread that is attached to the top of your head, gently pulling you up, and that you are pulled up enough to just be balancing…and that this follows you as you walk. It is a rather nice feeling. It also makes “intention” and presence totally necessary for movement to happen. And it makes one feel much lighter on the feet and in the body more generally.
What do I find in this discovery of these two modalities and more generally about presence and intention? I find that I feel the world around me in a different way. Most importantly, I actually feel it. I am very far from being able to feel this in a constant way. I really have to work at it. But when I do, things come into a flow state, that feels really special, almost divine, kind of electrifying. I think of it as feeling much more alive. Tingling almost. And I really like how it feels. I begin to imagine what this might feel like all the time. Wow. Yes, please.