Fascial Bodywork, by Tracey Kiernan

This is the summary of a talk given by Tracey Kiernan to the Eco Office Therapy Forum in June 2016.  As you can read at the end of the article, Tracey practices and teaches Fascial Bodywork at the Eco Offices as well as in larger conference centres.

History of fascial bodywork, by Tracey Kiernan

The Revolutionaries

Wilheim Reich

Wilheim Reich, born in 1897, was one of the first psychologists to point out that talk therapies might not be enough to deal with psychological issues and release psychological trauma.  People also have to address chromic emotional holdings in the body.  Reich described this as ‘muscular armour’ and employed massage to treat it, something quite taboo in psychoanalysis. 

His methods and beliefs led him to be convicted of fraud and contempt of court, and he died in prison of heart failure.  When in prison, six tons of his publications were burned by the court.  While his chequered history may make many question the man and his methods, there is no doubt he was on to something.

Ida Rolf

Dr Ida Rolf was among the first to describe how body tissue holds unresolved trauma.

Dr Rolf embraced a variety of approaches including osteopathy, chiropractic medicine and disciplines of the mind including Yoga and Korzybski’s study of consciousness.  Bringing together such a rich variety of perspectives, Dr Rolf finally developed Structural Integration.  Her work is the foundation of everything we know about fascia today.

She dedicated the rest of her life to teaching the technique that was later to take her name.  Structural Integration is recognised worldwide as ‘Rolfing’.

Dr Rolf had the following criteria for her Rolfing trainees. They had to be male, as the male shoulder girdle was deemed necessary to apply the techniques most effectively. They had to carry a certain amount of weight, to be able to work on the deeper fascia.  They also had to have a degree and write a paper on anatomy before class.

Sharon Wheeler

Just 23 years old and female, Sharon met none of these criteria.  Dr Rolf decided to  train her differently from the rest and see what happened.  Sharon was told that if her teacher saw her with an anatomy book she would be kicked off the course. Sharon was taught Rolfing by feel, touch, and palpation. Dr Rolf would often work through Sharon’s hands giving her a unique perspective on tissue change.

Sharon Wheeler with Tracey

Almost 50 years later Sharon is one of the most respected practitioners and teachers of fascial work in the world. She went on to develop ScarWork, BoneWork and CranialWork. All are original techniques which can yield dramatic results in just one treatment. They have been used by Tom Myers and many others.

In October 2016, Blend Therapy Training was delighted to host Sharon (pictured on the left of the picture with yours truly on the right) for 5 days of BoneWork training at the Blend School.  Clients were brought in for sessions with the students and saw incredible changes happen before their eyes. Changes were swift and appear to be permanent.  

 Joseph Heller


Trained by Ida Rolf in 1972, he became the first president of the Rolf Institute.

In the late 1970’s, with a particular interest in how emotional trauma affects both body and mind, he developed a new form of bodywork, called Hellerwork.  Based on Structural Integration, he added new techniques to release stuck emotional trauma from the body.

He wrote “The body stores the trauma of our lives in muscular rigidity, thereby keeping us stuck in the past.  When we release the tension in the body and align ourselves with gravity, we take a new stand in life.  This allows us to  be at ease with ourselves and in harmony in our relationship to others and to our planet.”

Tom Myers

Myers was another student of Ida Rolf and wrote the acclaimed book ‘Anatomy Trains’.  He has researched extensively in the field of fascial bodywork and teaches all over the world.

The Mind-Body

Tom Myers states that modern science is just catching up with ancient wisdom regarding the mind-body connection and dealing with the effect that mental states like stress have on the body.  He addressed a further question, ‘Does this connection go the other way?’, and asked ‘ If mind affects body, is it also possible to change our mental and emotional patterns via the body?’

Fascial bodyworkers believe that we can release psychological trauma by dealing with chronic tension holdings in the body.  Fascia plays a key role in releasing these holdings.

NB: The following excerpt is taken from an interview with Tom Myers.  You may listen to the full interview here: http://yogauonline.podbean.com/e/tom-myers-fascia-and-the-power-of-movement-in-mind-body-transformation/

“The idea of a link between emotions and bodily health is ancient.  In contrast, modern medical science is only just recognising the importance that mind-body connections play for our health and well-being.

Somatic pioneers of the last century, like Wilheim Reich and Ida Rolf, pointed out that as well as the mind impacting the body through biochemical pathways, the body impacts the mind as well.  We tend to hold unresolved emotional trauma in the tissues, which can lock us permanently into patterns of thinking and behaving.

When stress builds up in the brain, it has only two ways out.  The first is in body chemistry.  Stress changes the messenger molecules (neuropeptides) that bathe the nervous system, which in turn changes our mood.  But not just in the nervous system.  Those chemicals have effects all over the body.

The other way distress manifests itself is in patterns of tension. Patterns that move are just fine.  We get angry, we get un-angry, we get sad, we get un-sad.  The problem arises when

they become lodged as chronic tension patterns that stay for a long time, like unresolved anger and unresolved grief.

With those, the brain keeps sending out the same messages to the same muscles, and we take on specific postural patterns.  After a while, our mind fits into that pattern, our muscles fit into that pattern, our fascia fits into that pattern, our energy distribution fits into that pattern, and all these can cause illness or an inability to move.

To address these problems, we need different strokes for different folks.  The body approach works for some people.  The talk approach works for others. For some, it’s a combination of the two.” (Tom Myers:- Fascia and the Power of Movement in Mind-Body Transformation)

The Role of Fascia

Fascia is the last stage of patterns getting lodged in body tissue. It is a comparatively static holder of postural patterns. It is therefore the first stage we need to address in therapy. 

If we change our minds or our nervous or circulatory systems or even if we change our movement patterns, we’re working against the very slow moving, steady tissue of the fascia.  But if we change our fascia first, then it’s easier to change these other systems.

A traditional anatomist might tell us that there’s no plasticity in the fascial system, but they are looking at embalmed fascia in an anatomy lab.  Real fascia in real people is very fluid, very dynamic, and has plastic and viscoelastic properties that allow us to change in ways we don’t always expect.

Once fascia starts to stretch and release, it can facilitate the re-patterning and lasting release of chronic holdings.  It can bring about a profound change in both mind and body.

Emotions are the way our bodies get in touch with our minds.  Resolved emotions build health.  Responses to stress like fight or flight successfully build strength in the body.  The stressors we face today, however, cannot always be fought or run away from, creating unresolved emotions which can break down the body.

So what is Fascia?

Fascia is a specialised bodily system that has the appearance of a spider’s web or a sweater.  It is a densely woven covering that penetrates every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as all our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. 

The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not a system of separate coverings.  It is one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption.  It connects every part of the body, like the yarn in a sweater.

Trauma, inflammatory responses and surgical procedures create Myofascial restrictions. These produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch (13.8 bar) on pain sensitive structures and do not show up on many standard tests (X-Rays, CAT scans etc).  A high percentage of people suffering from pain and/or lack of motion may have undiagnosed fascial problems.

Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies, since it surrounds and attaches to all structures.  In its normal healthy state, fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration, and can stretch and move without restriction.

When we experience physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability.  It becomes tight, restricted and a source of tension to the rest of the body.

Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injury, has cumulative effects on the body.

The changes trauma cause in the fascial system influence both comfort and function of our bodies.  Excessive pressure arising from fascial restrictions have symptoms such as pain, headaches and restriction of motion.


An extensive list of fascial research can be found on www.fasciaresearch.com.

Cell memory and heart transplant




The fuzz speech by Dr Gil Hedley


Tom Myers on Fascia



Tom Myers on Fascia and the Power of Movement in Mind-Body Transformation



©Tracey Kiernan 2016

As principal of Blend Therapy training with over 17 years experience as practitioner and teacher, Tracey has taught advanced trainings and fascial bodywork across the UK and as far as Copenhagen. The originator of TMJ Therapy (relating to the TemporomandibularJoint which affects the jaw and facial muscles) in 2000 Tracey combined her knowledge as a qualified dental nurse and advanced massage and fascial practitioner to create a unique protocol for the treatment of TMJ dysfunction.  This has been taught to around 500 therapists across the UK.