To Hellerwork and Back

On a cold Sunday morning, the scene in the street where I live was simply begging me to write Hollywood’s next blockbuster sequel, “Stepford Husbands”.

A chorus of power washers hummed as two ragged rows of men discharged their Sunday duty, blasting, frothing and waxing away every trace of grime from their respective four-wheeled treasures. Putting aside the comedy element of this synchronised Sunday spongedown, I couldn't help but think how strange it is that many of us take better care of cars than we do of our bodies.

Hellerwork I am no exception. If my body was a car, I know which one it would be, and it isn't one of those shiny new models on the front row of the lot. Near to the back, there you'd find me as that Ford Mondeo with many scratches and bumps that can be read like a history of the cross-country adventures and near-misses its been involved in over the years.

At least, that’s how I felt a few years ago when my aches and pains finally took me to my first Hellerwork session. In many ways it was the end of a journey rather than the beginning, one which had started with my Yoga practice several years before. The growing body awareness that my practice had given me made me rethink some old injuries, wonder if there was something I could do about them. Deep inside I knew that there had to be something out there that would work.

I started exploring, but was quickly sidetracked by some chiropractors who exchanged my hard-earned cash and eight months of frequent sessions for a big sense of disappointment. Disheartened, I doubted if anything would work but then something strange started happening. Out of the blue, my attention kept being drawn to a therapy I'd never even heard of before -- Hellerwork. When I watched television, someone would start talking about it. Open a magazine and there was an article about it. Hit the ‘Net, and people were discussing it.

Fate, anyone?

Digging a little deeper, I found out that Hellerwork aims at structural integration -- that is, to change the structure and functioning of the body such that it can work in its most efficient way, undoing some of the negative habits we have picked up over the years.

As well as direct bodywork, Hellerwork involves learning about our bodies, getting to know how best to use them in our daily lives. Its founder, Joseph Heller, was a Rolfer who found that although the foundation of Rolfing was sound, it did not make any attempt to tackle the 'tensions' of the body that came from the problems of the mind. His solution was to develop a component of psychosomatic enquiry to deal with this mind-body connection.

The more I found out, the bigger that glimmer of hope grew. And eventually it led me to Edinburgh, a 90 minute drive away, to the door of Scotland’s only Hellerworker, Caroline Tremlett. Right at the start, Caroline asked what I expected of doing the Hellerwork series? I said I just wanted to explore what it could give me, but I reckon that my hopes were much higher than that. I was just worried that, after the chiropractic experience, any expectations might just lead to disappointment, so I kept my real hopes suppressed for then.

Caroline started with a thorough assessment, then instantly impressed me with her first observations on my posture. She simply showed me the twisted lines of my body’s truth in the mirror. At rest, my right shoulder was visibly lower than the left, and from a side-view my torso was stuck in a mild back arch. My arms floated out to the side and, worst of all, when I looked down without moving my head forward I couldn’t see my toes for my stomach! Yikes! Somebody do something!

The first actual bodywork started on my chest, and it wasn't more than a few minutes before I could see the effect. This manipulation was at a deeper level than a massage, and as she started to work my body, Caroline asked me to breathe into the pressure of her hand, then to release. This was the first of many realisations of the similarities between Hellerwork and Yoga, where surrender and “playing the edge” are both so important.

Now I couldn't lie to you, the bodywork element isn't totally lacking in discomfort, but at all times the whole situation was very much under my control. At a word (or a grunt) Caroline would ease off the pressure and work at a more superficial level for a while. Also pervading the work right from these first moments was a sense that every move was to my benefit, freeing areas of the body that needed to be “unstuck”.

In fact this is exactly how Hellerwork approaches bodywork. It targets the fascia, which are the sheets of connective tissue that surround the muscles (think of the clear, thick film that surrounds a chicken breast). As we get older this tissue tightens, often from specific injuries, dehydration or just the ageing process. These fascia form a whole-body system, and are meant to ease movement, allowing one muscle to glide past another unhindered. Unfortunately they can also become sticky, causing obstructions and resulting in pain.

Thankfully, Hellerwork can reverse this process, and before I knew it both my shoulders had loosened forward and out, and were levelled off too. There followed a lot of work around my rib cage, arms, shoulder blades and then on to my hips and hamstrings (which at this time I thought of as my big “problem areas”). We chatted throughout this bodywork, on a variety of topics relating to me and my life, especially my Yoga practice.

I never really noticed at the time, but with hindsight this was all part of the psychosomatic element of Hellerwork. So it really is quite subtle, just a light questioning through the session as to how you feel or what you think about certain things, or what matters are arising as they work with you (kind of like Samskara’s rising during Yoga practice).

With some final work about my neck, the first session was finished. The immediate changes in my body were striking, however what really impressed me was my rekindled sense of hope. I actually dared to believe that this bodywork might be a long-term for my long-term problems.

Maybe I could get this Ford Mondeo sparkling again!

Hellerwork article: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Written by Scott Rennie

Scott teaches general "Yoga for Wellbeing" classes and specialist "Yoga for Pregnancy" classes throughout Ayrshire and Glasgow. He is affiliated as a teacher to the Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (, and is also available for one-to-one sessions to help you develop a regular home practice, deepen your existing practice or to tackle specific issues that cannot be addressed in group classes. You can find further details or contact him through his website at Scott's Hellerwork session took place at Mulberry House, Edinburgh. You can contact Caroline Tremlett via email at: carolinetremlett [AT] aol [DOT] com. To learn more about Hellerwork, visit