Journey of insight: Creator of famous Rosen Method still going strong in Berkeley

Marion Rosen has spent most of her long life healing people — both inside and out.

The 95-year-old Berkeley resident is the creator of the “Rosen Method,” an internationally known massage-therapy technique that not only relaxes aching muscles, but also helps people find the root of their tension, often a long-suppressed trauma.

The Rosen Method evolved over a period many of years, but its genesis came in Munich, Germany, where Rosen studied breath and relaxation techniques as a young woman before the war. Training with some pioneers in the field, she began to discover that people experienced their emotions more easily through certain types of bodywork.

Marion Rosen uses her massage-therapy technique — the “Rosen Method” — on a patient in Europe. photo/paula morrison

After escaping Germany with her family shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938, Rosen further refined her technique in Sweden and then New York City.

Eventually, she ended up in Berkeley, where the Rosen Method Center launched in 1980. Her technique — distinguished by a very gentle, direct touch, using “hands that listen rather than manipulate” according to the center’s Web site — has spurred the development of Rosen Method Centers around the world.

They are located in Israel, Australia, Norway and 10 other countries, and in all there are now more than 1,400 registered practitioners of the method worldwide.

There are at least five books about the Rosen Method, including one that Rosen wrote herself and another that she co-authored at age 79.

Now, 16 years later, Rosen still has much to say about her method, which involves not only sensitive touch, but also keen observation of the breath and communication to unlock emotional experiences that have never found expression.

“We have found out that in relaxation there is a chemical formed called oxytocin — it gives peace and quiet to people,” Rosen said in a recent interview.

“They relax in places that are tight in people’s bodies. The places are tight because the person has experienced something they couldn’t handle. In order not to handle it, they use musculature to repress their memory.”

Rosen said that when the proper area is relaxed with the proper touch, “Quite often, the memory will come back that was put away in their unconscious.

“We don’t actually work with them on the memories,” she added. “The memories often just come out … if we can, we refer them to psychologists.”

Still active at 95, Rosen maintains a private office in Berkeley and works four mornings a week, teaching and giving treatments. Coming up next month, she will be one of the teachers for the Rosen Method Winter Intensive, an in-depth, weeklong training course in Berkeley.

She shares her Berkeley home with her dog, Goethe, and loves to sit in the sun and have people come to visit. Her family includes a daughter and a recently married grandson.

Rosen considers herself lucky that she and her Jewish family were able to flee the Nazis.

“I wasn’t at home for Kristallnacht — only my mother and older sister were home,” she said. “My father was on a train, so nothing happened to him. We lost our money and our house, but we all got out and were healthy.

“I lost everything,” she added. “I left Germany with two suitcases and made it.”

After making it to the Bay Area in 1940 after stops in Sweden and then New York City, Rosen landed a position as a physical therapist in the 1950s at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, where her techniques and movement exercises proved to be a big hit.

“People got so excited when they heard about the treatments that they wanted to learn it, too,” she said. “Finally, I had about 10 to 12 people who wanted to learn, so I started teaching a class. After that, other people wanted to learn it, too.”

Rosen is considered a luminary in the history of bodywork therapy, and her name is often mentioned alongside the likes of Moshe Feldenkrais (the Feldenkrais Method), Milton Trager (the Trager Approach) and Ida Rolf (Rolfing).

Looking back on her long life and significant work, Rosen is proud of her accomplishments.

“It’s amazing to do work this way and have things happen that you don’t expect,” she said. “I feel very grateful for that.

“It’s great that people carry it on in different countries — in Sweden, Germany and here.”

But more than being proud about having her name live on as part of the Rosen Method, she is overjoyed how the technique has helped so many people both physically and emotionally.

“It really influences people in becoming themselves again,” she said. “They regain a part of themselves that they’ve put away and suppressed. By relaxing, they feel they’ve become whole. They become more powerful and become more themselves.”

For more information about the Rosen Method: