Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Rosen Method

Well, what do you know?

The Rosen Method. Huh. There appears to be something to it, although I can't for the life of me tell you why or how it works.

As promised, I went to see Catherine MacGuinness at Body Therapy this week, and experienced the Rosen Method for the first time. Like most of you, I'm sure, I had never heard of it before, and didn't really know what to expect.

In a nutshell, the Rosen Method (developed by Marion Rosen, 1914-2012) uses touch to achieve the mind/body connection, based on the idea that the body is "a living metaphor for a person's inner state." 

(Didn't I just say that a couple of weeks ago, you guys? "After all I've learned, I should know by know that what's really happening is that the issues in my body are literally represented in my life."  Yup, that was me. Apparently, I was not the first. Marion Rosen was way ahead of all of us-- including Western medicine and modern psychology and neuroscience.

Anyway. I told Catherine the basic back story, and that I've been doing EMDR and talk therapy for the past year and a half, and focusing for the past year on long-term PTSR symptoms. My awkwardness with the intimacy of this retelling was obvious, I'm sure. But I fumbled my way through it.

She had me lie on a massage table without one of those face-rest thingies (to use the technical term), explaining that it was important for her to be able to see my face during the treatment, since she'd be reading my muscle tension and facial expressions for guidance.

That's an odd sort of vulnerability. It requires a connection between you and the practitioner that is different from a regular massage. It's also something particularly uncomfortable for me, the reigning Queen of Boundaries (henceforth known as TRQB). (Just kidding). But I complied. 

Because: mindfulness. That's what we're doing here. Mindfulness--being present in your body, in the moment-- is at the heart of so much of this recovery work. And, not-so-coincidentally, being present in this way is particularly, spectacularly difficult for someone who has spent 20 years building iron-clad structures between herself and the present moment. 

The absurdity of that difficulty doesn't escape me. How can it be difficult? How can you not simply be where you are and feel what you feel?

If I knew that, friends, I'd be off doing it instead of sitting here blogging about it. I have no idea.

Looking at those words on my screen, be where you are and feel what you feel, it strikes me that this seems like something fundamental to life, to humanity, to simple human biology. I mean, it does, doesn't it? It's as basic as breathing, as existence. Feel. Be.

And those words also conjure something more abstract, something as tenuous and transcendent as faith. Feeling and being aren't just about biology, or feet-on-floor, breath-in-body mechanics. They're also about groundedness and connection-- things some people attribute to the spiritual realm, a belief in god or goddess, and others to a sense of community with humanity, with nature, with the universe. 

Either way: feeling and being are at the essence of our sense of ourselves within our bodies, within our communities, within our world. They are, literally and figuratively, life as we know it. Life as we experience it. I am. I feel.

Imagine feeling disconnected from that. 


This is literally coming to me right now as I type. That's it. I've said The Thing.**

This has to be at the core of the fear and anger and despair and dissociation and disconnection of PTSR. Trauma doesn't just rob you of a sense of safety or innocence or invincibility. That's just the beginning. 

After that, if left to its own devices, trauma robs you of your sense of humanity. Of connection. Of being in your own fucking body. And then what? How can you take anything in when you're not there to receive it? How can you experience life like that? How can you truly feel?  And if you can't feel, how can you be?

Trauma puts you on an island, far out to sea, and then, stone by stone, it takes the island right out from under you.

God damn.


Okay. Coffee drunk, migraine pill swallowed. 

Give me a second. 

This is recovery in real time, folks. 

Watch this space.

All right. I'm back. My quota of universal truths having been uncovered for the afternoon (sweet jesus!), I'll go back to my Rosen session...

So. I was lying there on the table, face visible. She told me to stay mindful, not to follow my thoughts and get distracted from what was happening, but to "let them pass like people on the sidewalk in front of a cafe window," and beyond that, just do whatever I wanted. Say whatever came to me, or make a sound, or describe a color, or if I needed to move, move. Whatever. We were going to follow my body's orders.

It should be noted that my skeptic's heart was not encouraged by this direction. I don't typically respond well to "say whatever you want," since what I want to say, especially under circumstances like these, is nothing at all. Not a blurter, me. Not a spontaneous mover or color-describer. 

As has been, I hope, sufficiently explained above.

So I was feeling more than a little self conscious at this point (which is not, somehow, anything like mindfulness, what with the self-loathing element). This is where the hippies leave me behind. Don't tell me to do whatever I feel (again: no. QED). Give me structure! Give me homework assignments! Ask me a question that has a concrete answer, a beginning and an end, and involves no spontaneous interpretive dance!

But I digress.

Catherine put her hands on my back-- softly, gently, hardly any pressure; no typical massage, this-- and after a moment, said, "Your body loves to be touched, doesn't it?"


She smiled at my open-mouthed hesitation and said, "It does. It is crying out for this. It is responding instantly."

I decided to take her word for it.

As she continued to move her hands around my back, my arms, my neck-- pausing now and then to press lightly and hold, breathing deeply, making small affirmative noises-- she asked me mild questions: What did I do for work? I told her about coaching students, helping people achieve their dreams and receive education. I told her about teaching. I told her about writing. I told her about being a stay-at-home mom.

How did I feel about staying home to raise my children? I told her I loved it. I told her I felt so lucky to be able to do it. She stopped, hands firm on my mid-back. Exclaimed: "Wow, I can feel your joy in saying that. Your muscles here just released."

I felt more relaxed, closer to the table. I tried to stay present.

She slid her hand under my left shoulder and lifted it, then released it. It didn't fall back to the table, but stayed, rigid, suspended in the air. 

I am, ahem, tightly wound. 

She pressed it down, then lifted again. Down. Up. Down. Easier each time. Muscles beginning to understand what relaxing was, relative to their normal state. Muscles began to prefer relaxing.


She kept her hand under my shoulder and pressed lightly on my back, my shoulder blade. Not firm pressure like a massage, just soft, curious pressure. Inquiring fingers. Tension here? Here? Why? Where? What?

And suddenly, I just started talking.

I told her about my accident in more detail. I told her about the years since. I told her about my migraines, about my desire to lose weight, about my anxiety, about this blog.

At some point, she slid her hand out from under my shoulder, and it slumped to the table, softened, relaxed, as if I'd just undergone a deep Swedish massage. She had done nothing more than lay her hands on my skin.

She had me turn over on my back, and put her hands on my abdomen. I told her that I've gone to the doctor many times over the last 15 years to complain about my inability to draw a full breath. I go for long periods-- sometimes more than a year or two-- where I feel like I can't fill my lungs, like I'm slowly suffocating, unable to get enough air.

I'm in one of those periods now. My poor husband always asks if I'm upset about something, because I keep heaving enormous sighs. I'm just trying to catch my breath.

She told me this is a common condition for people with PTSD. The diaphragm contracts as part of the fight-or-flight response-- in which state PTSD sufferers permanently reside-- and prevents the lungs from expanding. As she said this, she laid her gentle hands over my midsection, right above my diaphragm.

And just like that, I kid you not: I took a deep breath-- the deepest breath-- a breath that completely filled my lungs without struggle-- for the first time in almost two years.

Throughout the session with Catherine, I kept waiting for the "real" massage to start, the one with firm pressure and muscle manipulation. With the Rosen Method, there is no such work. In that way, I admit, it's not the most satisfying experience while it's happening.


I stood up from the table, and felt... relaxed. Not a little relaxed. Relaxed like I'd just had deep body work done. My back, neck, and shoulders felt warm and soothed. And over the next hour, where, after past massages, the tension usually returns and the migraine kicks in, I felt progressively more relaxed.

In fact, three hours later, I felt even better than I did when I left Catherine's office. My back was more comfortable than it has been in months. My neck, which had been hurting all week, was pain-free. No migraine. No migraine!

And today, three days later, my neck and back feel as good as they've felt in recent memory. The discomfort, my constant companion, has not returned.

I don't know how it works. I don't know why it works. I don't know how it will impact my work with Dr. Oz (although if this post is any indication, the intellectual work is getting a boost from the physical work, which is exactly what I'd hoped for). I can't explain any of it, so I don't know what to expect.

What I do know is that my skeptical self is withholding judgment for the foreseeable future. The Rosen Method will get its chance with me. Let's see what happens next.

I've got another appointment this Wednesday, and will continue once a week for a while. My body is crying out for this, according to Catherine, and if current results are to be believed, she's right. Time to turn off the intellect, the skepticism, the self-consciousness, and let the body be my guide.

As weird as that sounds, I think it's the only way I'm going to get any further on this journey. My thinking brain has taken me about as far as it can. 

Time for my body-- which has been here all along, waiting for the rest of me to return from whatever shrinking island it's been stranded on all these years-- to show me the way.

**I once saw Charlie Rose interview Tom Stoppard, and he asked him what part of a play he most enjoys writing. Stoppard thought about it for a moment, and then said, charmingly, "I like writing the part where the guy says the thing." Meaning, the part where the meaning of the play, the whole point, is revealed in a single passage, like you can do in plays but not really anywhere else. The part where the guy says the thing. So rich. So perfect. In the words of a certain subset of friends: this has become a permanent part of my head!canon.


  1. This sounds like a great experience.  Anything that helps you get your breath back is worth the price of admission.

    "How can you not simply be where you are and feel what you feel?"  This is something I love about having a dog.  She's a shining example of how to live in the present moment.  She hates fully, loves fully, and snores her head off whether asleep or awake.  There's no pretense with a dog.  Her life is one of authenticity and enthusiasm.

    "Trauma puts you on an island, far out to sea, and then, stone by stone, it takes the island right out from under you."  Powerful.  It will take time to put the island back, but you're making fruitful steps in that direction.

    "Your body loves to be touched, doesn't it?"  My hat is off to you for being able to deal with this kind of thing!  As a New Englander, I would be contractually obligated to run screaming into the parking lot.  

    I love the anecdote about "I like writing the part where the guy says the thing." Tom Stoppard is wonderful.  Thanks for passing this on.  

  2. kate, you are brilliant. xoxo lisa

  3. Hi - I loved reading this entry, because I have experienced a similar phenomenon in trying to treat thyroid cancer with a practice called Medical Qi Gong - it was amazing, also performed by a massage therapist, involved even less touching than what the Rosen method appears to involve from your account, and yet, it made me conscious of the mind/body/spirit connection in a way I have never experienced before. It continues to unfold two years later. It is so cool to read someone else's account of a similar experience.  If you are interested, you can read about mine:
    I would love to hear what you think about it.  Peace to you :)
    Lisa at Daily Presents