Anne-Marie Duchêne represents all that Hellerwork stands for. She explored several paths before discovering that Hellerwork was her passion. The modality not only inspired her, it gave her the will to give it a try.
Through Hellerwork, “I began to see that I could do what I wanted to do with my life and have the courage to do it.” Today Anne-Marie is a Hellerwork practitioner and owner of Art of Alignment Structural Integration in New York City.
Hellerwork is a type of structural integration founded by Joseph Heller. It is comprised primarily of three parts: realignment of the connective tissue through bodywork, movement education that aims to maintain the bodywork, and dialogue that encourages the exploration of thoughts and how those thoughts affect the body.
The goal of the modality is to restore balance and fluidity in the body, which can result in a physical and mental realignment of the person.
Hellerwork can help relieve physical pain like migraines and backaches. It also can help in coping with emotional issues like weight loss, depression, financial woes, relationship problems and stress.
The modality typically occurs over an 11-session period, each of which focuses on a theme based on the dialogue.
Inspiration is the theme for session one. During each session unexpected conversations start, leading to an increased awareness.
The session might begin with little to say because the person might not have much at the forefront of his mind because of stress, pain, anxiety or other reasons. He might talk about a lack of inspiration initially.
Whatever the response, the practitioner is listening and observing how the person's dialogue relates to his body.
Dialogue continues as the person moves under the guidance of the practitioner. Through breathing and slow, subtle movements, the person is able to release adhesions of tissue.
By the end of the session, the person might have named several things that inspire him as he connects with the deeper parts of himself through this movement and dialogue.
“It’s a conversation of liberation,” Anne-Marie said. People connect to their body both physically and emotionally.
Such a connection helped give Anne-Marie the perspective to identify what she really wanted to do with her life.
Anne-Marie moved to New York from Montreal in 1986 to pursue a career in dancing. After 10 years, though, she grew restless of the city and needed a change. She moved to San Francisco to attend the Universityof California, Berkeley, and study Cultural Anthropology. While there, she landed a job as a business leadership coach for companies like Oracle and Microsoft.
After completing her degree and spending five years as a corporate coach, she made plans to set up her own coaching company. At the same time a friend encouraged her to apply for a scouting job at Cirque du Soleil. She got the job, so she returned to her dance roots. She moved back to Montreal, where she was a scout and dancing specialist for Cirque.
When the company moved most of their scouting online, Anne-Marie knew she needed to find something new.
“I’m not a good desk person,” she said.
She moved back to New Yorkwhere she scouted for Cirque on the East Coast and danced. At this point she was thinking more and more about how she wanted to spend the rest of her life.
“I kept asking, ‘What’s my purpose and how can I serve?’”
After Anne-Marie spent two years of scouting on the East Coast, Cirque offered her a job as artistic director in 2006. At the same time she received a gift certificate for her birthday for a Hellerwork session.
She was skeptical about Hellerwork and she was busy, so it took her eight months and three cancellations before she attended the session. Anne-Marie, who had been battling 10 years of back pain, finally made the time to go in hopes of easing that pain. Her plan was to go to only one session, though, not all 11.
After the first session she felt invigorated. Not only did her back pain ease, but her body and mind had eased as well. She made another appointment the following week.
“I immediately felt the power of this work,” she said.
Her body felt more aligned with every session. She had more mobility and flexibility not just throughout her body but in her mind, which resulted in more energy. Plus, her back pain had vanished.
By the sixth session, she had a Eureka moment.
“I was overwhelmed with joy and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to learn this modality.’ I wasn’t sure what my plan was going to look like, but I just jumped.”
She enrolled in the Hellerwork Structural Integration program in 2007 and, because she enrolled late, she received training from Joseph Heller himself out of his home in California.
“It was hard to give up salary and benefits, but I knew there was something more significant deep inside myself. I said, ‘I’m going to trust this.’”
She is now the owner of Art of Alignment Structural Integration and has plans to expand the studio to include coaching. She also plans to rename her business to her last name, Duchêne, which means “of the oak” in French.
“I feel like I am a model for what I speak for,” Anne-Marie said.
“Jump off the edge and then let your wings appear.”
Read more about Anne-Marie Duchêne, Hellerwork and Art of Alignment at www.artofalignment.com.
– By Jessica Braun
Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.