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by Sula Thomas-Forero(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 12 - May 1996

Zen-bodytherapy is a system of bodytherapy and somatic education whose goals are to align and balance the structure, function and energy of the body.

William 'Dub' Leigh (USA) author of BODYTHERAPY – From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi and pioneer of this work says: "All three are interpenetrating and need to be brought to the same level of alignment and balance"[1]. William 'Dub' Leigh was one of the first people trained by Dr Ida Rolf in structural integration and was in the first U.S.A. training course of functional integration taught by Dr Moshe Feldenkrais. He was also one of the founding fathers of the Feldenkrais guild. Tanouye Roshi, a Hawaiian Zen master, and master bodytherapist was Dub's third major teacher. From the Roshi he learnt about vital energy in great depth. He describes the years spent learning with him as: "Like a post-graduate degree in reality and the meaning of life and death"[2]. Following this period Zen-bodytherapy was born.


Of the structural aspect of Zen-bodytherapy Dub credits Dr Ida P Rolf by acknowledging: "We've stood on her shoulders a lot"[4].

There are ten sessions of Zen-bodytherapy. In the session the bodies segments are systematically realigned, organised and balanced in relation to themselves and the earth's field of gravity. Gravity acts upon us every moment of the day and according to how are bodies are aligned, it either assists us or weighs us down. A body that is well vertically aligned within its field has to exert far less effort of its postural muscles and reflexes. Not having to fight gravity to stand vertically, helps free us to be just what we are.

During the ten sessions the natural form of the body is released from pain, aberrations and discomfort caused by physical, psychological and chemical trauma. This is achieved through deep manual pressure which helps release and rejuvenate the tissues. As the connective tissues release, more space and possibilities for the natural flow of movement occur in the body. The connective tissue and the vital organs then get a better supply of blood, lymph and nerve energy which automatically improves function.


To amplify the effects of the "hands on" work there are 10 custom built lessons in body awareness that correlate with each session. In this aspect of the work Dr Moshe Feldenkrais' influence and methods come into play. The lessons consist of infinitesimally small, slow mindful movements that are designed to fill the gaps in bodily awareness. The gaps in our bodily awareness are the parts of the body that we cannot feel, and what we cannot feel we have no control over. The parts we have no control over are the parts we lose; to pain, stiffness, numbness and self-limitation. The lessons teach the nervous system new possibilities for movement. It is the nervous system that instructs the movement of muscles and the muscles then move the bones.


The energy work in Zen-bodytherapy is constant throughout each session. The goals of the energy work are three fold:

* to get old stagnant energy out of the body
* to get new energy in
* to have it circulating freely throughout the body of both the practitioner and the client.

This takes a lot of work and participation from both parties. In the work the cultivation of vital energy and self-development are inseparable.

One of the ways that the practitioner can begin cultivating their vital energy is through meditation. When meditation is done regularly it begins to bear certain fruits, one of which is an increase in vital energy.

If we rely solely on our own source of energy when doing bodywork, there tends to be a burn-out in practitioners. Strong vital energy flow gets better, deeper results. Practitioners are taught when working, to keep their feet on the ground, their backs straight and to come from the pelvis and hara where the physical and energetic power resides. This helps the practitioner to maintain awareness of movements in their own energy field and that of the clients. In this way, the quality, quantity and duration of contact can be shifted to a level that is appropriate to each moment.

The Practice

The people who seem to get the most from the work are the people who are ready for change and able to be actively engaged in its process.

A case in point is a young woman in her early thirties who complained that her pelvis felt off-balance and of chronic tightness in her back, which was causing tiredness, and loss of energy. She also complained of occasional bouts of depression.

As everything in the body is attached to everything else, if one small thing becomes abberated then the whole body has to compensate. This is why we work to balance the total structure and never just one part.

On observing her body from the side, there was a strong compressive pull from her shoulder girdle all the way down into her pelvis, legs and feet. It looked almost as if she was crouching forward and the pattern seemed to be stifling her ability to breath. From the front view we observed that her torso and whole spinal axis was being pulled off in many different directions. The connective tissue patterns controlling the pulls seemed quite confusing to me. I wondered just how much headway we would be able to make. Her left leg measured over half an inch longer than the right which explained the sense of imbalance that she felt in her pelvis. Her shoulder and pelvic girdles seemed to slope off to the left. I noticed that this created a torsion pattern in her mid-section and guts. Interestingly enough she later confided in me that she had had difficulties with her eating and digestion for years.

In the first session we encountered a lot of painful hot spots in the connective tissues of her entire ribcage. As we worked around the diaphragm and the Xhipoid process her whole body began to shake. The shaking was followed by streamings of energy experienced as heat, tingling and aliveness throughout her body. The same thing happened when we worked on her legs and pelvis. When the shaking subsided her whole face looked much softer and her ribcage was expanding much more freely.

In the second session we work to balance the upper body with the lower extremities and to change the way the weight goes through the body. In this session she released a lot of pain from the compression in the knee and ankle of her left leg which had been bearing the excess weight. By the end of this session her shoulder girdle and ribcage were balanced more to the midline of her body. The outer 'sleeve' of her body had shifted too. This meant that the front of her body had lifted and lengthened allowing the back of her body to release and drop down towards the ground. Her whole balance became more even from front to back. After this session she reported a new sense of groundedness and calm. I thought that it would take till session five at least, to get any change in the balance of her pelvis. (In session five, work is done on the deep pelvic muscles that attach above the pelvis into the trunk.)

In fact, after session three, of working to get more freedom around both her shoulder and pelvic girdles, both legs measured symmetrical. For the first time in years she was able to stand without the feeling of lopsidedness and imbalance.

When she returned a month later she reported having much more energy and finding it easier to breath. She also said that she had been able to effortlessly accomplish a goal that she had been struggling with for three years. This was to improve her diet and give her body the nourishment she knew she needed. I wondered how much the release in her mid-section had helped her to accomplish this goal. She had eczema, a condition that ran in her family, but over months of eating cleansing foods, the eczema began to clear. The changes to her skin occurred progressively from her head downwards to her feet. She began to radiate a look of vitality and health. The shape and contours of her face changed making it look much softer and open. She became much happier and confident and began to take more charge of her life.

By session six, her whole body had lengthened and she had gained some height. In the session that proceeded, the strain and holding surrounding her spinal axis fell away quite easily. She said it felt like jumping into a new, more comfortable body. By session ten her centre of gravity was higher, allowing her body freer movement in any plane. I thought back to our initial session when due to the seeming complexities of her body's holding patterns, I had wondered just how much headway we would be able to make. Looking at her body now I could appreciate that she had achieved the new balance with relative ease because the 'bodywork' really was 'her body's work'. This is not to say that the body does not respond to manual pressure but that ultimately it is the wisdom of the bodies resources that facilitate and renegotiate a restructuring of its relationships.

After the final session we took more photographs to compare them with the ones taken on the first session. When her young daughter saw them she asked, "Mummy who is that?". When alignment and balance are present in structure, function and energy, the body, mind and soul begin to heal themselves.


1. S. Leigh. (1994) Bodytherapy – From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi. p91. The Zentherapy Institute Inc. Honolulu, Hawaii.
2. S Leigh (1994) Bodytherapy – From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi . p90. The Zentherapy Institute Inc. Honolulu, Hawaii.
3. Massage Magazine (1991) May/June Issue 31 p24. NOAH Publishing Co. Davis CA. U.S.A.


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About Sula Thomas-Forero

Sula is a certified Zen-bodytherapy practitioner and can be contacted on 020-7627-5431.

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