The Dramatic Effects Of Bodywork On Pain Release

Based on the teachings of William S. “Dub” Leigh.


We carry our personalities in our bodies. Our bodies carry images of ourselves, our emotions, and our thoughts and patterns. Block the free movement of our bodies, and we block ourselves. Free our bodies, and we have the potential to free ourselves.

Bodies tell a lot about people, their past and their present. Simply by the way they move — they tell of injuries and emotional hurts, strengths and weaknesses. Actors know this. Watch how an actor exaggerates his body movements on stage to convey feelings and personality. A hunted man moves quickly with taut muscles, his head nervously turning from side to side. A man that has lost a sports game stands with his shoulders stooped, his head hanging down facing the floor. A frightened man walks tentatively, nervously.

Imitate these movements yourself and you will experience in your own body many of those feelings. Walk down the street or sit in a restaurant and watch people’s bodies and movements. Look at what they are telling you. Finally, become aware of yourself as you are reading this. What is your body telling you about yourself? What muscles are tight in your body? How are you sitting? What does it feel like to get up and walk? How does your body respond when you are touched?

How Your Past Creates Your Body In The Present

Bodies reflect injuries as well as past and present emotions. They reflect the injuries we have been accumulating since childhood — from falls off bicycles to sprained ankles, to torn shoulder ligaments. As our bodies heal, they try to compensate for these injuries, ultimately distorting the body’s natural alignment.

When a knee is twisted, for example, a person limps for a few weeks until it is healed. During this time, weight is shifted to the strong leg, not only affecting the leg muscles but also the muscles in the pelvis, spine, shoulders. The rest of the body must readjust to the new demands. The limp eventually disappears but the shoulders, pelvic girdle and muscles throughout much of the body have been altered to varying degrees. Throughout life, beginning with the trauma of birth, these little and big injuries — and their compensations — have a cumulative effect on the body, permanently altering the body’s gravitational balance.

Ideally, the major segments of the body — the head, shoulders, pelvis and legs — are in vertical alignment with the field of gravity. Both sides of the body are balanced and the pelvis is nearly horizontal so that the weight of the trunk falls directly over the pelvis. The spinal curve is naturally small, the head sits above the spine, and the legs connect to it vertically, supporting the bottom of the pelvis.

By the time a person is an adult, the body is usually far from ideal. There have been too many accidents and emotional traumas. “Aberration” comes from the Latin aberrare, which means to wander away from. Aberrations are distortions, which cause the body to depart from the ideal, natural form. They can refer to structure that is misaligned, unsymmetrical and imbalanced, or to tissue that are tight and contain injuries, toxins or traumas. The body copes with such painful experiences by building body armor; it gets shorter, thicker, stiffer, tighter, and bent out of shape.

The Body Protects Itself From Pain By Building Body Armor

Traumas can be cataloged in “stacks.” The older we get, the more stacks we have and the more traumatic incidents in each stack. Let’s imagine you were born in a hospital and the doctor used instruments to deliver you. The left side of your head was bruised, and your left arm and shoulder were painfully folded. These pains are recorded together with all the other sensations you experienced at the time — the hospital smell, the bright lights, the noise of people talking, the paging system, the temperature of the room, the dryness and currents of the air, all were recorded as a complete package, filed away and forgotten.

Some months later you are placed on a bathing table, and a rattle pokes you on the left side of the head. You have a sharp pain there, and your left arm and shoulder hurt. You see bright lights, smell hospital smells, hear people talking, and so on. You re-experience the original trauma and add the current experience to it.

When you are three, you fall off a tricycle and painfully twist your left arm and shoulder as you hit the ground. Your head hurts on the left side even though it was not touched, and again you re-experience sensations from your birth. This third incident is also recorded and filed neatly next to the second incident. As you get older, you notice that bright lights make your head hurt on the left and your left shoulder and arm feel uncomfortable.

Deconstructing Body Armor

Now at thirty-five you come for a bodywork session. I put my fingers into your left shoulder joint, and you have a lot of pain, not only in your shoulder, but also on the left side of your head. As I keep my fingers there, you experience the most recent trauma first. You see the tricycle fall and relive twisting your arm and shoulder. When this is processed, you may get back to the rattle and feel that same sharp pain in your head. If I stay in there with my fingers or go back in again, you may re-experience the original birth trauma. If you relive it completely, seeing the lights, smelling the hospital, hearing the people talking, and so on, you clean out the whole stack. You are freed of an entire series of traumas that were fixated in your body. Your body returns to a younger, more resilient state. You feel happier, lighter and more alive.

The purpose of bodywork is to return the body to its natural state by reorganizing and aligning the body’s structure so it will function more efficiently — with less effort.  The human body is both plastic and segmented. It is plastic because it is capable of being molded and formed. It is segmented because it is divided into parts along natural body hinges, such as ankles, knees, hips, etc. Each segment is always changing in relation to itself, to every other segment and group of segments, to the whole and to the field of gravity. Gravity is always exerting force and effecting changes at all times in all parts of the body. Bodywork brings aliveness into the body by using gravity as its tool. After bodywork, you will have lost considerable body armor. Your body will move and feel more graceful, and you will be more open to change in your life.

Within your body is a natural desire to align. Bodywork helps you open your awareness to yourself and the world about you. In this process, bodyworkers are simply the facilitators of change. They do not change you. Only you can change yourself as you participate in the process. To the extent you experience the old buried pain and traumas, you erase the blocks and barriers that bind your life and experiences.

Adapted from “Bodytherapy: From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi” by William S. Leigh. 1989. IZII and “Moment by Moment” by William S. Leigh. 1993. IZII. Reprinted with permission from International Zentherapy Institute, Inc.

The late William S. “Dub” Leigh was the founder of Zentherapy™, which integrates the principles of Ida Rolf’s deep tissue work and Moshe Feldenkrais’ body re-education with the Eastern practices of ki and vital energy. His goal was to help people free their bodies from trauma held in tissues, so that as the body changes, the mind and spirit change, too. A five-weekend Zen Bodytherapy training starts July 14-16 in Burlington, MA. Visit

Zentherapy, Zen Bodytherapy, and IZII are trademarks of International Zentherapy Institute, Inc.

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