To Hellerwork and Back, Part 3

Once upon a long ago, or so the story goes, a boy named Jack lived with his mother. They were so poor that one day Jack's mother sent him to market to sell their cow -- a dire event when this prize possession gave them so much in the way of milk and cheese. Now, you may already know this, but Jack never made it to market. Instead he took the fast, easy option, and swapped the precious beast for a handful of “magic” beans.

Although this tale comes from times gone by, I feel that Jack's “magic bean” attitude epitomises the modern attitudes of our society. We live in a bigger-faster-cheaper society where everything has to be done while-u-wait. Fast food, quickie divorces, overnight millionaires – it seems that nothing that is worth waiting for is, well, worth waiting for any more.

Hellerwork Yet there are some things that should simply never be hurried – like healing. After the ten-minute turnaround factory production line of the chiropractors I had the misfortune to encounter, I must say that I was very wary of the healing profession. Thankfully my experiences in Hellerwork quickly showed me that those chiropractors had more to do with Jack's “fast buck – easy living” attitude than the caring approach of a real healer.

The first clues to this came when the 90-minute sessions frequently ran over two hours. Despite my time-slot being the last of the evening, I never once saw Caroline look at a watch or clock, with her full attention always turned to the task at hand. In fact, on one occasion that Mulberry House was closing early, I was offered a no-hesitation extra session, despite the fact I was only “losing” a half hour.

As this caring continued into my sixth session (focusing on the back), everything Caroline was teaching me, and many things outwith the Hellerwork sphere, seemed to be just falling into place for me. Simple questions revealed major attitudes – where does your back begin and end? Well, from the bottom to the base of the neck surely. Then, acknowledging that this was only the spine, the revelation that your back extends from the floor at your heels to the top of your head opened out so many possibilities.

I now began to understand where some of my problems in my Asana practice were rooted, in the compartmentalisation of my body. And other revelations showed me how I was trying to grip my body in a vice-like grip of control, with a resultant over-exertion. From the Hellerwork I finally began to recognise the true power of surrender and begin to access it throughout my life.

The bodywork started on the feet, which had taken much of my attention since Caroline had first worked on them. Years of climbing and hillwalking had taken their toll, and my feet were like rocks. As she worked on them again, it felt like she was popping tiny bubble-wrap pockets up and down the soles of my feet. It was moderately painful, but I had been sworn to yell out if the pain went above 2 out of 5. Caroline then eased off the pressure and I would concentrate on breathing and relaxing down the pain level, letting the muscle she was working on release. As I did so Caroline could work deeper than before, no longer meeting the resistance of a tensed muscle.

I had done this before, but this week I seemed so much more capable of releasing without fuss or effort. Most of this was due to a realisation I made over the previous week, following on from my experiences with the “concrete lump” in my calf.

When Caroline had asked me then to pull up my foot towards my shin, as she worked on my calf, I did so with a vengeance. It was only as I realised how much strength I was putting into it that I understood why my Asana practice often left me exhausted. She then asked me to try doing the same thing without such intense effort, and I had been practising this for the past week. Finally I had started to approach achieving total control by surrender, not by force.

This crossover between Hellerwork and yoga was an unexpected bonus at first, but shouldn't have been given the holistic nature of both approaches. I remember one of my Yoga teachers telling me that I did seem to put in an awful lot of effort to my practice, but at the time I took that as being a compliment. At that time, I think that I wrongly mistook effort for Tapas, but now recognise it was guidance to ease up. The problem was that no teacher ever explained to me how it was possible to achieve the same result with much less effort, at least not in terms that I truly understood. Perhaps it was part of the problem of group Yoga classes, or maybe it was just that Caroline took it upon herself not only to point out problems but to suggest solutions too.

At the end of that session, Caroline guided me through a standing forward bend. I had been voicing annoyance over the past few weeks at the regression of my flexibility as my home practice took another nose dive. She started by making it clear that she wasn't trying to teach me Yoga in any way, just showing me a different way of thinking about how I moved. In the next few seconds, as she guided me down in an ease-ful fashion, rather than my usual 'keep the proper alignment' ultra-stiff fashion, the realisation dawned on me that it really doesn't matter how you get into an Asana (within the boundaries of safety). What really matters at a physical level is just doing it in a fashion that is ease-y upon your body (which will, of course, differ from person to person).

It made me think of Yoga Sutra 2.46, “Sthira Sukham Asanam”. As the great Patanjali said, Asana's should be steady and comfortable. I finally think I might understand what he means by this on a practical level, and again it's quite ironic that the person who helps me access that wisdom isn't a Yoga teacher.

A couple of weeks later, and the lessons in comfort and steadiness went on to another level. I'm not really sure if it was the accumulated effect of everything that we'd done so far, or just that I was getting into the way of it. Whatever the reason, the discomfort of the adjustments had become quite minimal, in fact I would even go so far as to say it was often enjoyable.

This session focused on the head and neck, with the right side of my neck being a particular “problem area” of mine for years. Since I was about 17, I have been constantly aware of painful tension building up in this area, which led me down the ruinous path of “popping” my neck on a frequent (and increasing) basis. This tension would build up until it became so annoying that I had to dissipate it by twisting and turning my head and neck as if I was practising for a role in “The Exorcist”.

And I don’t mean once a day, or even once an hour. Every ten or fifteens minutes I would pop my neck, with appropriately stomach-churning crunching noises and a look on the faces of innocent bystanders that belied the fact they half expected my head to detach and bounce off across the floor.

This work was done with me lying on my back, and started with the back of my neck. Caroline cupped her hands under the arch of my neck and manipulated the fascia as I moved my head in the way she directed me. The gentle stretching involved in this simply felt “just right”, as if my spine was extending from the base right up to its connection with my skull. Then she worked on the sides and front muscles, tracking my head movement as I looked to either side.

As she worked, I suddenly realised my neck doesn't actually work the way that I thought it did. Much of the restrictive feeling in my neck, it became apparent, was self-imposed through an ignorance on my part as to how I could move my neck.

One of the most enlightening moments was at the end of this session when I was getting dressed. As I bent forward to tie my shoe-lace, Caroline sprang across the room and placed her hand on the back of my neck, making me realise how much I hold my neck back, chin up too high, almost all of the time.

The next session, which was really just to finish off the last one, involved more work on the head and face and included the infamous “finger-up-the-nostril” adjustment.

This wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, as a (gloved) pinkie is used to adjust the fascia on the inside of the nose. This was fine on the left, but a bit more painful on the right. Also high on the pain scales was the work inside the mouth (new glove), on the gums (not too bad), jaw muscles (excruciating) and tongue (may actually have passed out momentarily on that one). On the plus side, if anyone requires someone to be interrogated without leaving marks I have some new techniques to try. Seriously though, I did notice right away that my jaw was moving more freely, my breathing a bit easier through the nostrils and the ease of movement in my neck was just indescribably delicious.

The neck awareness this session gave me has stuck with me ever since, and has in many ways transformed my life. My practice benefited immensely as I finally understood how I could properly lengthen my spine. I now find it easy to notice when I am holding my head too high, and usually ease off that tension without resort to the damaging act of popping my neck.

Of course it would be nice if the tension in my neck would just go away completely, but I guess that’s just wishful thinking. Like Jack, it would be great to have some magic beans, but isn’t it funny how often it’s not the beans themselves that make the result, but the work that they need thereafter.

Just as I need to constantly maintain awareness and take other steps to release my neck tension, Jack ended up doing all the work that led to him “obtaining” the hen that laid the golden eggs. He had to climb up and down that beanstalk several times, run away from a man-eating giant and then there was the matter of chopping down the beanstalk itself.

Hopefully we can ignore that Jack’s story involves a little bit of housebreaking and theft and a bit of murder (do they get much bigger?) but you get the point. There really are no magic beans, and even with a bit of help such as healers offer you still need to make a bit of effort yourself.

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