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What’s a session like? What’s the work feel like?
Sessions are 60-70 minutes long, beginning with a conversation (“intake”). After intake, usually you’ll be lying fully-clothed on a massage table, however sometimes Sara works with you sitting or standing. Her contact is a specific-to-you blend of gentle touch, subtle movements, and repositioning, geared toward increasing your comfort in this very moment, while also tapping into the body’s innate healing reflexes and neuroplasticity. Contact is always gentle; no ouches or force. Relief begins right away and deepens thereafter. Through dialogue, Sara guides your attention to your present-time sensations, feelings, and images to increase your body awareness, its tension patterns, and its releases and relaxation. Sessions often include self-care practices to support ease and your body’s integration of releases.. Learn more >

How Ortho-Bionomy® Feels,
Sara’s first experience with it

TOUCH—WORTH 1000 WORDS? Sara Sunstein, M.A.

Ortho-Bionomy®—I’ve been around it for 25 years now, teaching for 20 of those years, and still find myself stammering when people ask me what is Ortho-Bionomy. In this era of sound bites and specialization, how do I describe a philosophy of life, disguised as bodywork, in 10 seconds or 30 words? I can tell you it was developed by a Judo black belt turned osteopath, and that by moving with the body’s tensions, a practitioner creates comfort and support, which in turn stimulate self-healing reflexes to bring about greater ease, balance, and awareness. Having read that, do you have any idea of how Ortho-Bionomy feels? Can the intangibles of Ortho-Bionomy (O-B) be conveyed in words?

Because it was life-altering, my first experience of O-B remains vivid in my memory. I’d taken a very hard fall onto my tailbone during a dance class in contact improvisation. My tailbone wanted nothing to do with the rest of my body. It felt badly bruised; all around it was stiff, my body doing its best to immobilize the injured area. Standing, sitting, and walking all hurt. My best solution to the pain was lying on my back with my knees bent. I took the advice of a dancer friend of mine to make an appointment with a woman he described as “a little crazy, but really good.”

The woman who greeted me was about my age, smiling, blue eyes sparkling. Bubbly and perky, her energy solidly on the ground, she seemed like an overgrown pixie, or a skinny Glenda Goodwitch. I followed her to a small lavender room, barely larger than the massage table in it.

After hearing my story, she asked me to lie on the table, face up. I didn’t need to take off my clothes. She pressed a few points on my belly near the edge of my pelvic bones and asked me if any were tender, tight, or sensitive. Yes, all of them! Then she asked me to bend my knees, one at a time, so my feet were flat on the table. As soon as I’d done that, she tucked my lower legs together under her arm and lifted them, securing them between her arm and side. With her support, my legs felt surprisingly and pleasantly weightless. She moved her torso, steering my legs into a different angle in my hip sockets. My pelvis began shifting. My attention woke up, and I felt engaged in a way I’d never felt during massage. “What’s going on here?” I wondered, while she continued to hold my legs.

And then, my world changed. Within seconds, all the pain I’d been experiencing, including in the tailbone, vanished. An emotional tension I’d not even been aware of vanished as well. (By its absence, I’d become aware of its having been there.) My entire body and being seemed to exhale for the first time in a long time. My very essence resonated with the process.

By the end of the hour, the chronic tension in my low back had eased along with the tailbone. The weights I usually carried through my shoulders, my brain, and heart had lifted. I floated out of her house, my body feeling like champagne bubbles. Colors looked brighter. Feeling spacious, relaxed, and happy, and quietly enlivened, I was experiencing body, mind and spirit fully integrated as one. No longer feeling debilitated, I was confident the remaining tension around my tailbone would ease with another session or two.

Something happened during that session that I had no words for, simply my experience. The energetics had been so light and easy, and the bodywork was unlike any I’d had before. She hadn’t dug into the pain, hurting me in the name of healing. Somehow, she had used comfort to release tensions. And along the way, more than my “body” was touched. Emotional and mental lightness had arisen without any catharsis, upset, or my directly facing any emotional concerns.

It’s the non-verbal “something” that accompanies O-B that is so difficult to describe. I can show you, but I can’t tell you. From the beginning of my career, and to this day, I hear comments similar to my own, like “That’s magic!” “How did you do that?!” I continue to try to discern the qualities that contribute to that magic.

Some of them have to do with the body’s brilliance. Arthur Pauls, D.O., the founder of Ortho-Bionomy, said, “We only show [the body] reminders of what is, the rest is spontaneous. Would you show water how to run down a hill? It knows how, it only has to be set free.” When Ortho-Bionomists acknowledge and dialog with the body, we’re activating—and setting free—the individual’s innate capacity to heal. In our witnessing and allowing, rather than imposing an external model of “correct,” we’re honoring the person’s power, processes, and integrity. Offering presence, attention, and acceptance of what-is, we’re inviting clients to do the same, to reconnect with themselves—and perhaps, others–without judgment. Aren’t these attitudes themselves healing, regardless of “techniques”?

And, what about O-B’s “aura,” which holds the energy of the work? Like the practitioner I first saw, it’s playful, light-hearted, approaching the cosmic laugh.

These are the aspects most visible to me now. The light of a different season may reveal others, currently in shadow. Given that, I’d like to offer a revision, for now, of the 10-second description of Ortho-Bionomy: “A field where a wondrous synergistic melding of touch, physiology, relationship, and cosmos occurs.” Please, join me there.

If you’d like to actually experience this wondrous synergistic melding called Ortho-Bionomy®, or want to know about upcoming classes, please call me at 707-825-0822.

Who’s this appropriate for?
All who want to be involved in their healing process are welcome. People from all walks of life benefit from this work: attorneys, teachers, techies, construction workers, police, moms, musicians, restaurant workers, shop owners, athletes, dancers, psychotherapists, and bodywork professionals. Since the work is gentle, it’s excellent for babies, children, and elderly, and also those who are highly sensitive or fragile. Because Ortho-Bionomy® accepts people as they are, even teens appreciate it.

How does Ortho-Bionomy® differ from Massage and Chiropractic?
Massage practitioners usually focus on muscles, using strokes, stretching or deep pressure to soften tensions. Chiropractors use manipulations to bring bones and muscles into “correct” anatomical alignment. Both these approaches impose change upon you from the outside. Ortho-Bionomy® practitioners impose nothing from the outside. Instead we use gentle movement and touch to stimulate your body’s self-healing reflexes. In this way, your body self-corrects from the inside and better understands its healing process.

How many sessions will it take to feel better?
Most people feel a positive difference after their first session, and even during it. Predicting how many sessions someone may need, however, is not possible.  With years of experience, Sara has learned that two people presenting the same symptoms have different healing paths and pacing.  “Weekend warriors” may feel back to “normal” within four sessions, whereas clients with complex injuries or conditions usually take longer. Additionally some people discover they’re fascinated with their body’s intricate layerings, and continue getting sessions to learn more about themselves and/or to attain a new, previously unthinkable goal, that of feeling great, rather than just being out of pain. Every body and individual story is different.

How much does a session cost?
Initial sessions, approximately 90 minutes long, are $175.  Follow-up sessions, 60-70 minutes, are $140. Sliding scale is available–please ask Sara about it. When Sara’s traveling outside of Berkeley, rates vary depending on location and whether clients are also taking classes the same week.

Can I use insurance to pay?
Payment in cash or check is required at time of session, and you’ll receive a statement to send to your insurer for reimbursement. Car insurers usually reimburse for Sara’s services; you’ll have to check with your adjuster to be sure. Most medical insurers don’t, but no harm in asking whether your provider will.

Are there times when your work is contraindicated?
Most situations in which there is pain or discomfort, Sara is able to effect some ease, even if not able to change the disease process, e.g., cancer, multiple sclerosis, or degenerative arthritis. Surgery rehab involving a wound to scar and mend is best done 4-6 weeks out from surgery–but other aspects of the surgery, such as surgical trauma or swelling, can be addressed immediately. When other methods are not advisable, “too rough,” or have failed, Sara is usually able to help. Please call to discuss your specific concern.

Can I garden, do yoga, work out or get chiropractic after a session?
Sure you can, but it’s not recommended. What happens on the table starts your healing process; in the next 24-48 hours your body systems deepen their understanding of what’s going on, and they continue to release, integrate and re-align. So it’s best not to stress yourself or add more info into the mix too soon after a session. Usually walking is a beneficial way to support your body’s re-education. Chiropractic before a session is fine if it is okay with your chiropractor.

How are Ortho-Bionomy® Practitioners Trained?
The Society of Ortho-Bionomy International® establishes curriculum and training requirements for practitioners and instructors. While there is no central school, registered instructors teach all over the country and abroad. Many enjoy traveling and go to towns where an interested person or massage school sets up classes for them.

There are three levels of Practitioners and two levels of Instructors. Training emphasizes decreasing pain/increasing comfort, listening without judging, and doing this by contacting different aspects of the body, such as joints, muscle, bone, fascia, fluids, viscera, and so on. Additionally there are classes in Isometrics, Posture, Movement, Cranial, Ethics and Emotions, Anatomy, and more. Beyond classes, those aspiring to be practitioners are required to do 150 or more hours of supervised sessions.

People are welcome to attend classes without signing on to do the whole training program. Many classes do not have prerequisites and are open to anyone interested in learning the work–no previous massage or bodywork training required.

To see the classes Sara is teaching, go to her Classes page.
For specific training information, see

Please note: Any benefits or claims stated on this website are based on Sara’s personal experience with clients. Her work is educational, and while it may result in relaxation and reduction of discomfort, it is not a substitute for medical examination, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information, read the Disclosure/Consent.