Hellerwork for Children

‘‘Children Learn What They Live’’

by Dan Bienenfeld

What is Hellerwork Structural Integration?

Hellerwork is a method of Structural Integration that realigns and balances the body to its natural and optimal shape and function; thus creating greater ease of movement, improved posture, mind/body awareness and a transformed experience of life.

Hellerwork utilizes the direct manipulation of the myo-fascial system. The methodical release and structural balancing of the body is typically performed in an eleven session series whereby each session focuses on a different project resulting in systematic structural realignment, and the release of chronic tension patterns previously held in the body. When tissues are balanced around joints, and tensions are released from within, an individual can feel the flow and grace of life. To achieve this rebalancing, a practitioner skillfully uses fingers, knuckles and elbows to work on your connective tissue at very specific depths, pressures, angles and speeds. Hellerwork originally developed from Rolfing.

Hellerwork’s roots are in Rolfing- how are the methods different?

Dr. Ida Rolf (1896-1979) founded the field of Structural Integration. She was a scientist, and a graduate of Cornell University in the field of Biochemistry. Hatha Yoga, Physio-Synthesis, the Alexander Method and Osteopathy influenced Rolf’s work. Although Rolf began in the late 1920’s or early 30’s, her modern form of Structural Integration, which came to be widely known as Rolfing, emerged in the 1950’s and 60’s. Her discovery that the human body structure could be so radically shifted through myo-fascial manipulation, as well as her focus on aligning the body in the field of gravity, was a revolutionary breakthrough and contribution to all manual therapies and somatic arts. Even more impressive was the fact that this could be done in only ten bodywork sessions.

‘‘The body is the hologram of the being’’
– Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller, founder of Hellerwork, studied with Dr. Rolf and helped her promote Rolfing in the 1970’s as well as serving as president of the Rolf Institute. He had an expanded vision of Rolfing and started his own school in 1978. This expanded vision included movement education and mind/body exploration as part of the method, which was not included in traditional Rolfing. The movement education component to the work empowers clients to retrain their body’s movement patterns using ease and grace rather than tension, as the mind/body exploration allows clients to transform negative patterns into positive ones. This exploration, often a dialogue, involves release and integration of old emotions, beliefs, body image issues and energy patterns. The effect of this exploration is a greater sense of knowing oneself—– the complexity of who we are involves a multitude of influences and the awareness of these influences allows for change and healing.

A chronic emotional response, an activation of an old trauma, a habitual tightening, or a repetitive strain from a job or hobby—–these kinds of influences can greatly influence the formation of deep patterns that, unless one becomes conscious of, often lead to forms of compression, distortion and rigidity.

So, from life’s most simple to life’s most complex situations this kind of awareness becomes an opening into releasing and healing negative patterns. We are then capable of experiencing life and living as transformative beings moving with fluidity and grace. Ida Rolf said:

True grace cannot be purchased; it can only be obtained through the systematic removal of the barriers, which prevent it.

Ida Rolf saw Structural Integration as an educational process, not a treatment or procedure. In this regard, the work allows us to shift unsupportable patterns and transform and evolve in accordance with our highest potentials.

Knowing our bodies and our minds is essential for personal evolution—–being an evolving being in an evolving body. Hellerwork’s elements—–structural integration, movement education, and mind/body exploration offer a unique and holistic body of work that result in powerful and greater lasting changes.

Why Hellerwork Structural Integration for Children?

Many structural patterns begin early in life. Involving Hellerwork structural education with children becomes a way of preventing a lifetime of poor posture, imbalance and body disconnection. The sessions offer children an opportunity to cultivate good mechanical patterns, body awareness, body image and physical confidence in order to start off on the right foot.

Perhaps you can answer the question: ”why work on children” by looking at your child.

When you look at your child structurally, what do you see?

How clearly can you see your child’s structural and emotional patterns?

The images in (Figure A) exemplify some common developed structural patterns that adult and child legs often take. The whole body carries patterns that are quite recognizable, but are often assumed as a shape that came with the body, and cannot be changed. However, these shapes are most typically patterns made by us for adaptive purposes, and may easily be shifted as we learn new patterns and ways of moving in our bodies.

Most people are not even aware of their own patterns. Here is a link for my book, Align for Life: Journey to Structural Integration, which will help you identify and transform some of these common structural patterns.


Of course, many of a child’s physical challenges and traumas don’t leave obvious and tangible registration in the body, not to the lay observer.

In fact, a child’s trauma will often go unnoticed.

Trauma of one kind or another can often result in the beginning of patterns that permeate the mind and shape the body. As we live our lives we collect experiences such as traumas and shock in our bodies and minds. The tendency is to hold on to the events, and it is somehow difficult to return to the original state. The collection of these experiences in mind and body can and will change our course and alter the direction of our lives.

For example, after an accident, soft tissue injuries (although often painful) do not show up on x-rays and structural imbalances are not noticed on MRIs, unless something is torn or broken. This is because structural balance, or structural medicine is not yet recognized in a lens that observes this full body approach to integration.

Overlooked structural issues in children usually result in structural imbalances as adults. But this doesn’t have to happen. Hellerwork Structural Integration for children teaches the individual to release and heal negative history and conditioning. As a result, young humans learn to transform experience and disruptive patterns at an early age, thus making it possible to rid themselves of negative patterns while creating positive ones. This way, children live and learn as evolving beings in harmony with their bodies and minds.

Hellerwork is found to be very effective where drugs, surgery, or conventional interventions are not proving effective for certain ailments (although Hellerwork is often effective in tandem with traditional therapies). Common ailments include:

* Poor posture and most structural imbalances
* Scoliosis
* Growing pains
* Constipation, colic, and other digestive issues
* Trauma
* Low height and weight issues
* Social, emotional and behavior problems, i.e. concentration and attention, ADD and ADHD, shyness and low confidence
* Many neuro-musculoskeletal issues, such as:

– Proprioception and sensory integration
– Balance, coordination and strength
– Developmental delays
– Gross and fine motor development

It becomes infinitely easier to return a young child’s structural patterns back to a balance than it is as an adult. There is less discomfort involved, and a significant difference in the amount of pain associated with the work. And ultimately, way less work to get there.

‘‘The human body is not static; it’s plastic, and that plastic quality enables a person[s] body to be realigned into a more optimally functioning and feeling human being’’ -Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Fascia, also known as the organ of structure, determines how our bodies are held together. Fascia is often disregarded, yet the web-like organ has such an enormous impact on the shape and movement of our bodies. People are only vaguely aware of how our bodies are actually held together. It is the soft tissues, such as tendons, muscles and ligaments that hold the bones in position. Our bones are not locked into place as firmly as they may seem; in fact their positioning rigidifies in response to accumulated stressinduced tension in the soft tissues. On the other hand, bones do not grow unless some stress in the soft tissues directs their shape. So, stress plays a very large role in determining the shape of our bodies.

Fascia is the connective tissue that plays the most central role in holding the entire body together. A major component of soft tissues, fascia runs throughout the body in planes that tie together the entire network of body parts. It wraps around muscle fibers, bundles of muscle fibers, organs, bones, etc. The body’s fascial system functions as a multi-layered matrix, whose sheaths wrap around tissues as they weave in and out of layers in the interior body. In this sense, and manner, everything in the body is connected to everything else. There is no part of the body that is on its own—–all parts are wrapped together by fascia and have the potential to affect other parts.

Although fascia has a pronounced fluidity, it is also phenomenally stress-responsive. If a particular part of the body is under severe stress, the fascia supporting that area will harden to accommodate the demand. Over time that fascia toughens and binds body parts closer and closer together so that the structures become tighter and tighter. Since fascia runs in planes, if one part of a fascial plane becomes bound up, it pulls on and shortens the rest of the plane much as a snagged place on a piece of stretched cloth distorts the adjoining area of the fabric.

’’Fascia is the connecting line between the psyche and the soma’’ -Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Factors that shape us…

There are five major factors that influence the shaping of ourfascia, which, in turn, shapes us.

These five major factors, in combination with our genetics, environment, stresses and that mysterious part of ourselves called spirit, most directly affect how we live in our bodies. They include imitation, habit, emotions, physical trauma and gravity. Alone and in combination,these factors have influenced the shape of our bodies, the way we move, balance and alignment, accumulated tension and, most noticeably—–the physical discomfort relating to these developments.

Imitation is the earliest way most of us learn to hold and carry our bodies. As infants, we learn how to move by imitating models—–usually our parents, siblings, and teachers. How many times have you seen junior walking in back of macho Dad trying to carry himself in the same way? We learn to hold and carry ourselves according to whomever we model or imitate. Cultural pressure greatly influences the appearance of our bodies. We imitate media induced standards of beautiful people. If you have ever served in the military, you were required to adopt its standards of standing and walking.

Habits are like alter egos—–our habitual self that loves to do things a certain way almost every time; for example, the way you comb your hair, brush your teeth, open doors, shake hands, carry a briefcase, sit, walk, talk, act and react the same way nearly every time are the habitual self manifest. Nerve and myofascial pathways therefore lock in habits. As habits become imprinted through repetition, our bodies take shape to suit the habitual postures or movements, and the body, like a machine, runs this pattern automatically. This is why it is so hard to change habits. In the realm of habits, we become like robots, unconsciously trapped in our own neuro-motor patterns. The accountant who slumps over his desk all day, the factory punch press operator whose shoulders are stiff from repetitive motion, the saxophone player who contorts his body in relation to his instrument—–these are all examples of careermolded bodies that are often victims of the alter egos I’m calling habits.

Emotions also shape our bodies. Have you ever looked closely at an angry person—–the scowling eyebrows, the tight shoulders, the jutting jaw? That person is stuck in this angry shape simply because he/she forgets to let go or come out of the body pattern associated with the emotion once the anger is gone. This view may sound extreme, but it is not. We all hold on to emotions in our bodies and as a result our bodies have adapted into these emotional shapes. It is amazing how accommodating our bodies are.

Physical trauma, reinforced by habit, is often responsible for throwing the body out of balance. For example, when a bone is broken we typically splint or guard the painful areas, which put the body into a different balance and holding pattern than is natural. If you have ever broken a leg you may have noticed that long after the cast was removed you continued to favor the other leg; and thus, your body carries that imbalance, despite the fact that no real weakness remained in the fractured area.

‘‘When gravity isn’t tearing something down, it is upholding it.’’  -Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Gravity. This abovementioned quotation from Ida Rolf is a deep expression of the equipoise between the constructive and destructive aspects, and the powerful influence of gravity. Gravity is as crucial to humans as water is to fish—–we are rarely aware of gravity, yet it affects us at every moment and our very existence crucially depends upon it. Gravity is the invisible force field that supports whatever is in alignment with it, but will cause stress in your body in response to whatever is not properly aligned. Dr. Rolf also said:

‘‘The balanced body does not experience weight due to gravity.’’

You can have a very different experience of the aging process if you learn how to stay in good alignment—–less range-of-motion loss, more flexibility, an upright posture, better organ functioning and more energy. If you don’t believe me, listen to Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel Prize winner for brain research: ”Better than 90% of the brain’s output is directed towards maintaining your body in its gravitational field. Therefore, the less energy one spends on one’s posture, the more energy is available for healing, digestion and thinking.”

If you really consider the nature of our influences, you will surely see how impressionable we really are.

Rolf’s idea of alignment, as seen below, involves all of the body’s major segments balancing easily along an implied vertical orientation axis that she called, ‘‘the line.’’ See figure B.

‘‘Children learn what they live.’’ –Dorothy Nolte Ph.D.

A poem that relates a child’s learning and developmental patterns to their life’s experiences, written by Dorothy Nolte Ph.D., former student of Ida P. Rolf, surely explains the foregone conclusion of how it is that one’s patterns are learned as a result of childhood experiences. Nolte’s poem, although it is geared toward personal qualities learned through life’s experiences, also pertains to physical structural patterns learned through life’s traumas and repetitive patterns.

Here is my corollary to Nolte’s ‘‘Children Learn What They Live.’’(see full text version below)

‘‘If children live with acceptance, they learn to love’’

If children learn to love, they grow up with open hearts; their bodies and even their shapes will reflect this.

‘‘If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn’’

If children grow up protectively and defensively the body will reflect this as an armored façade, or a defeated stance, which becomes a natural and reasonable adaptation to these conditions.

Structural patterns result from habitual or chronic use that lead to individualized body shaping. Certain structural patterns may originate from temporary adaptations to life’s circumstances, which we call functional patterns, but over time, with repetition and hardening they often become structural patterns; because the body’s structural system is always customizing to the use patterns, it doesn’t take long for the structural patterns to take hold and result in shapes and postures that reflect the conditions that molded them into those shapes.

The same rule applies to the psyche. One is always reacting and adjusting to life’s conditions, and as the psyche adapts, so does the soma (the body) as a measure of their inseparability. Trauma of one kind or another can often result in the beginning of patterns that permeate the mind, and shape the body. As we live our lives we collect experiences that register as trauma and shock in our bodies and minds. The tendency is to hold on to the events, never able to go back to the pre-trauma state. The collection of these experiences in mind and body can change our course and alter the direction of our lives.

Does my child need to be injured or hurting to receive Hellerwork SI?

In her work with children, Rolf emphasized that even babies are born with structural imbalances, and often come into this world with patterns of stress that have a subtle, yet ongoing influence on both their growth patterns and their adult form. The best and easiest work with children takes place when they are not impaired. The basic goal is to restore balance and alignment with gravity, which eventually results in a more confident, flexible, coordinated, conscious and aware child. Again, a child’s trauma will often go unnoticed. Through the Hellerwork series our children can learn to release old events and conditioning, and be left with a ”new skin,” so to speak, on life and living.

Working with children requires less pressure than it requires to work with adults, as they are generally less tight and dense due to their youthful stage, along with the fact that they have not had too many years to be at odds with gravity.

In completion, I received Structural Integration at age 18 after suffering from extreme scoliosis. The profound effects of straightening out my body and creating a new dialogue with my body were life changing. Hellerwork Structural Integration offered me healing of both body and mind, and resulted in a life dedicated to helping others do the same.

In Good Health,
Dan Bienenfeld

Certified Practitioner of Hellerwork Structural Integration since 1980 Guild for Structural Integration
Educational committee for International Association for Structural Integrators
Hellerwork International Education and Training Chair.
© 2013

Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.