What is Somatic Transformation?

Somatic Transformation is a healing modality that uses relational and bodily-centered practices to help people change the imprint of trauma. Whether in the form of early emotional neglect or overwhelming adverse events, trauma alienates people from others, themselves, even their own bodies, generating a profound sense of loneliness and separation from humanity.

Inspired by neuroscience, developmental psychology, and somatic healing practices from traditional societies, Somatic Transformation seeks to identify and then integrate an individual’s bodily-based, intuitive wisdom with the abstract knowledge of the mind through six therapeutic practices: Somatic Empathy, Embodiment, Somatic Awareness, Somatic Inquiry, Somatic Intervention, and Somatic Reflection. The term somatic comes from the Greek word soma, which refers to unity between the body and mind.

Somatic Awareness

The body is the primary source of information about one’s internal state of being in the moment and what is happening in the environment. Somatic Awareness is a form of mindfulness that focuses on bodily-based phenomena, the moment-to-moment changes that take place within a healthy body. These changes inform the brain about safety, danger, and life threat.

Somatic Awareness offers a fundamental source of knowledge, and when combined with caring and compassion, is able to reveal the hidden wounds of trauma in the context of an intersubjective relationship. Practiced over time, somatic awareness strengthens innate wisdom and helps us to make sense out of disconnected and fragmented elements of trauma.


It can be a challenge to make sense of the fragmented inner world of trauma survivors. To help them heal, practitioners of Somatic Transformation must first learn to fully embody their own lived experience. To embody is to fully incorporate lived experience by organizing one’s own thoughts and images in a sensory, bodily-based form. Embodiment informs our moment-to-moment decisions, the choices we make to perceive reality and track bodily-based experience.

When disembodied, painful aspects of our lives remain unintegrated, leaving gaps in our sense of self and resulting in the inability to resonate and attune to others, especially when intense emotions are activated. When helping professionals become embodied and accurately perceive their own interceptions, internal bodily cues that indicate subtle changes, they can develop the ability to discern the cues of the internal world of another. When embodied and authentically interested in connection with another, we can learn to feel, touch, and taste the inner experience of the other without having to carry their experiences for them in our own bodies.

Somatic Inquiry

Based on phenomenological research methods, a somatic inquiry seeks to discern the essential qualities of an experience, the patterns and structures that constitute meaning. Practitioners of Somatic Transformation use Somatic Inquiry to uncover the sensory fragments, intense emotions, and disturbing images of dissociated traumatic memories while communicating caring, connection, and healing in the moment. The neurological patterns that develop after traumatic experience can be precisely revealed with somatic inquiry and targeted for specific somatic interventions.

Somatic Empathy

At the core of Somatic Transformation is Somatic Empathy, a practice that communicates to people suffering from trauma that they are seen, felt, and understood just as they are, enabling them to feel felt.
Practitioners of somatic empathy learn to be receptive to even the most hidden traumatic-based suffering of the other while offering containment, aliveness, connection, and integration in the moment, despite the dissociation, darkness, and confusion associated with trauma. The practice of somatic empathy creates a mutual, shared space of caring and healing, known as the intersubjective field. When a strong intersubjective field is established between people, trauma can be held and healed within that space.

Somatic Interventions

Trauma disrupts healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system, creating dysregulated neural states that negatively affect personality, physical and mental health, and behavior. Somatic Interventions are exercises and meditations designed to regulate the chronic neural patterns of hyperarousal, hypoarousal, anxiety, and depression. When we can identify and shift dysregulated neural states in the moment through somatic practices, we can teach the disturbed autonomic nervous system to maintain more optimal states for growth and development.

Another function of Somatic Interventions is to restore higher cortical processing, often interrupted in moments of trauma. Embodiment of sensory-based images, dreams, and archetypes can awaken vitality, guide the full re-consolidation of anguishing memories, and restore organization and meaning to a person’s inner world. These Somatic Interventions can make use of music, drama, and creative writing, but are most often centered around drawings that represent sensory experience, allowing the subcortical elements of trauma to be reconnected with more complex cortical processing.

Somatic Reflection

Somatic Reflection is a shared body-centered dialogue that synthesizes the sensations, intense emotions, and symbolic images of lived experience for incorporation into the self. In the context of an intersubjective field, Somatic Reflection allows people to grasp the powerful forces of trauma that have been at the root of their struggles in life, forgive themselves and others, and acknowledge the ways they have unintentionally hurt others.

Providing opportunities for gradual shifts in self-identity and behavior, Somatic Reflections often conclude the processing of lived experience but can also initiate or be embedded within a therapeutic encounter.

How is Hellerwork SI different from massage therapy?

A common misperception of Hellerwork Structural Integration is that it is a type of deep tissue massage or simply a method of myofascial release. While there are certainly similarities between these modalities, Hellerwork SI is actually fundamentally different in that its primary goal is to reorganize and balance the whole structure of the body in terms of its relationship to gravity.

Although many methods of massage can be very effective at loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, detoxing and relaxing the body, Hellerwork SI is different in that it achieves these types of benefits as a by-product of the work rather than its primary objective. Hellerwork SI and Massage are mutually beneficial as they can work together to help bring the body back into balance.

Hellerwork SI aims to release, balance, and reintegrate the connective tissue bindings of the body specifically to allow for ease, elasticity and fluidity of movement in gravity. By addressing these original restrictions of the body, long term and stable gains can be made in the overall ease and balance of the whole fascia web of the body. As the fascia bindings are released, the need for the body to compensate and tighten no longer exists. Consequently, symptoms of pain and discomfort are gone.

Dr. Rolf, the founder of Rolfing SI used to say: “Anyone can take a body apart, very few know how to put it back together.”

The true genius of the Hellerwork SI method is its ability to reshape and reorganize the body according to clearly defined principles in a systematic and consistent manner and to integrate these changes so that balance is found in both movement and gravity.

Hellerwork Structural Integration and Yoga

If you are a seasoned yoga practitioner desiring a deeper yoga practice, or a beginner who would like to start enjoying the benefits of yoga, there are several ways that Hellerwork Structural Integration can complement your practice.

Ease of Movement

An important part of Yoga is attaining and maintaining certain postures to promote health and well-being. It can be a great way to relieve stress and improve flexibility overall. Hellerwork SI treatment can help by making it easier for you to move your body, which will of course make practicing yoga that much easier as well. With a good Hellerwork practitioner, you can regain flexibility that may have been lost due to age or lack of use.

Sense of Emotional Well-Being

Hellerwork SI treatment has been said to give people an enhanced sense of emotional well-being, which is a well-known benefit of yoga as well. Combining Yoga and Hellerwork SI together can help many people reduce the stress that comes with everyday life and attain a higher level of overall happiness.

Improved Posture

Hellerwork SI works on the tissues that influence the alignment of the body and improves your posture naturally. When your body is properly aligned and your posture is improved, you may find that some of the more advanced yoga poses and practices are easier to attain and maintain. And, improved posture can help you in your everyday life as well.

The Benefit of Combining Hellerwork SI with Chiropractic Work

Fluid movement and function of the body is primarily achieved through the relationship of the bones and the fascia of the body. The bones of the body act as discrete compression resistant structures, and the fascia act as a continuous and inclusive web of tension that envelops the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, nerves, arteries, and veins. This relationship of the bones and the fascia in the body can be described as a Tensegrity structure.

When the bones and fascia are in good condition, force is transmitted through the body with ease and vitality. However, when either the bones or the fascia become distressed, this will impact the entire system of the body via the continuous web of fascia. As the body compensates around the area of original distress, additional restrictions in the body will naturally arise.

From this standpoint, it is clear that we need optimal alignment of the bones and also optimal balance within the web of fascia in order to experience full mobility and ease of expression in the body. Each system is interdependent of the other, so it can be of great value to work both systems together.
To this end, Hellerwork Structural Integration and the chiropractic method are ideally suited to compliment each other in the pursuit of re-establishing fluid movement and optimal function back to the body.