Zen Bodytherapy®

by John Casebere, L.M.P.

A monk asked Master Haryo, “What is the way?” Haryo said, “An open eyed man falling into the well.” The Zen koan was as much of a riddle as my pain and failing health. I was young, healthy and had been an athlete much of my life. I never thought that my growing up was all that alternative but my father was a chiropractor and treated us as we needed it. We also did not receive immunizations.

Now after several years in the military, I was facing a medical discharge resulting from my failing health (a mystery of the Gulf War). I had taken an allopathic approach to my problems with poor results. I decided it was time to go back to my roots and take a more holistic approach to my health. I was strongly drawn to massage and bodywork. The real plus was that massage felt good and helped ease my pain. While still in the service I began going to massage school at night. I had decided I wanted to be a massage therapist and share massage with other people. Little did I know I would discover not just how to ease my pain but erase it. With eyes open I found myself falling into the well. I had found my path.

While attending school I learned several of my instructors had attended some deep tissue training called Zen Bodytherapy®. Through discussions with them I ascertained that this might be the right type of “massage” for me since I received limited results with other forms of massage. It was explained to me that this was Bodywork and it was not like massage. It was deeper structural work similar to Rolfing®. I had deep tissue massage, trigger point work and Rolfing® before and I thought “piece of cake. I’ll just get some of this stuff done and see what happens.” Much to my surprise this was like no other massage I’ve had before or since.

The second session stands out the most for me: my therapist worked on my legs and feet. These areas had been painful for me for several years now and never experienced anything good when they had been worked on before and defiantly no relief at all. To be honest, at this point I was seriously contemplating not continuing with the work after this session was complete. The practitioner worked some of the most painful spots in my body on my first session. Didn’t use oil so my skin felt as though it was going to rip open when my practitioner would stretch fascia (I had not gotten that far in school yet so I didn’t know what that stuff was or even if it was important). I wanted nothing more than to get away from the pain I would experience during the session only my practitioner would keep asking me, “What level is your pain, on a scale of 1-10?” so I couldn’t concentrate on something else pleasant like the county fair or cotton candy anything but the pain. This session was no different, we went through the legs and feet, the pain was excruciating. I made my next appointment and began thinking of excuses of why I wouldn’t be able to continue with the sessions before my practitioner even said, “See you next week.”

I was driving home running through my excuses I could use to cancel my next appointment and I had to stop and get gas. I gingerly stepped out of the car expecting the bolts of pain in my shins, feet, and back to be there as they had been for so long. I put weight on my left leg and nothing happened. I stood, and nothing happened. I pumped my gas and experienced no foot or leg pain. I paid for my gas and got back into my car with no pain in the legs or feet and only a slight ache in my low back. I thought “When the hell did this happen?” I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for my next appointment. I couldn’t wait to be a Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner.


Energy, Structure, Function combined in a comprehensive form of bodywork called Zen Bodytherapy®. Founded by William S Leigh (Dub), Zen Bodytherapy® is based on Wilhelm Reich’s theory of “armoring”. Reich, a student of Freud, found that the unconscious mind was in the tissue of the body. He believed that over time your personal history built up in your body causing the connective tissue to become aberrated. He believed that with manipulation of soft tissue and a willing client you could remove the body armoring. This is the basis for other forms of healing such as; SomatoEmotional Release® by John Upledger, D.O., Bio Electrical Synchronization Technique (B.E.S.T.) Chiropratic by M.T. Morter, Jr., D.C. and Zen Bodytherapy® to name a few.

Zen Bodytherapy® is a synthesis of eastern and western beliefs and treatment modalities It is a result of 35 years of experience of the creator of Zen Bodytherapy®, Dub Leigh. Dub was a successful businessman and community leader; however, he felt he lacked “inner purpose.” “I hated my work, my life, myself. My despair hurt so much that I was forced to get into something new.” Dub says in his book “Bodytherapy: From Rolf to Feldenkrais to Tanouye Roshi.” After much searching Dub felt he needed a new life with a goal of serving. He began teaching and taking some of the programs at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. As part of residency training Dub had to go through 10 sessions of Rolfing®. After experiencing his 10 sessions, Dub knew how he would serve his fellow man.

Dub is the only person in the world to be trained and certified to teach by both Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais. After an initially rocky start with both Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais he trained with them for 12 and 10 years respectively. He helped establish the Rolf Institute and the Feldenkrais Guild in America. He has also studied with Dr. Raymond Nimmo, Lauren Berry, and Milton Trager. Out of this experience, “Dubbing” was created. It was a system of soft tissue work, joint manipulation, and nervous system reprogramming. For basic alignment, structural integration was used. Joint manipulation was performed when needed. If the problem didn’t resolve or if a joint wasn’t out of alignment and the tissue was healthy, Feldenkrais® was used as indicated.

After 20 years of learning and developing his own system of bodywork, Dub was tired and in failing health. A friend suggested teaching in Hawaii where he was introduced to Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi. Dub was impressed by Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi’s relaxed concentraion and asked whether he could come to Chozen-ji to rest as he liked the kiai (energy) of the temple. At the end of their visit, the Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi invited Dub to return as long as he was there to teach him. Dub had no idea that this Zen master and master bodyworker was to be his next teacher.

First Dub resisted Zen training, earlier he had considered this energy work to be “airy fairy” and he felt a Caucasian body wasn’t designed to sit cross legged. After watching Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi work he was amazed at the results Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi could produce. He remembered watching his teachers Ida, Moshe, and Lauren do some techniques but when he and other students tried to duplicate them, they would not get the same results. Now, Dub realized that the power of vital energy was what had been missing when he would try to reproduce his teachers’ work. Remember that Ida Rolf studied and practiced yoga for 40 years, Moshe Feldenkrais was a Judo champion who wrote 3 books on Judo, and Lauren Berry studied oriental healing in China for 4 years so they all knew and experienced vital energy. The final barrier was broken down when Dub learned that a blue-eyed red-bearded Caucasian developed zazen (sitting zen). From then on he sat zazen every day.

Dub has 15 years of Zen training mostly with Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi. During his time at the dojo, they began developing Zen Triggerpoint Anatomy® and Zen Bodytherapy®. The work incorporates Ida Rolf’s 10 session sequence, Moshe Feldenkrais’ Functional Integration® and Awareness Through Movement® and the basic ki (vital energy) work of Tanouye Rotaishi. Dub also adds a number of special bodywork techniques.


Training to be a Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner demands commitment and dedication. Only with commitment and dedication will you leave the training with a new respect for the body and its innate healing properties. The realization that your training has just begun will be readily apparent to the committed practitioner.

Each training begins with a Friday evening introductory session where you meet Dub & Audrey and your classmates. Dub discusses: what he expects of you during training, answers questions about the work and teaches a movement lesson. The Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner learns 5 thirty minute movement lessons which complements the hands on bodywork session. The movement lessons are also available on audio tape which practitioners can make available to the client for their use at home between sessions.

Saturday & Sunday mornings the practitioners begin with one hour of zazen (sitting meditation in the Zen method) and hara development exercises. Beginners or people who have never sat before need not worry. The sitting is taken in short increments of time and gradually increased throughout the training. More experienced practitioners are quick to help the beginner learn how to make the sit more beneficial. Zazen and hara development are the cornerstone of Zen Bodytherapy®; it is how your ki is developed. Not only is the development of ki important but also your breathing, posture and concentration. The mind set achieved in zazen is to be moved into the bodywork session. For optimal results the Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner must be able to give his/her client their undivided attention throughout a session. This is crucial since intent has a great effect on the results a client experiences.

The bodywork training begins immediately after zazen. Each practitioner gives a session and receives a session each day. This can be at a grueling pace; the normal interval between sessions is 7 – 10 days. However, the zazen training before bodywork coupled with a salt or vinegar bath and a good meal that evening will make the next day’s session easier than expected. During the training the sequence used in Ida Rolf’s original 10 sessions is used. The techniques used to process (work on) the client’s bodies are an integration of everything Dub has learned from his teachers. Dub teaches that you can’t properly process a body until you know how to work a muscle or area at least three different ways.

A true practitioner of Zen Bodytherapy® lives by the principles they teach. This means they do zazen, movement lessons, and receive the bodywork regularly. Each aspect combines with the intent of developing a more mentally and physically focused practitioner who can provide quality body work to the client. It is also crucial to follow the routine to prevent burnout. The bodywork taxes the practitioner mentally, physically and spiritually. It is also a break in your integrity to ask a client to commit to 10 sessions of something you yourself do not practice and believe in.


The name, Zen Bodytherapy® evokes curiosity from most potential clients, sometimes even apprehension. I explain that there is no need for the client to buy into religious dogma and I will not try to convert them to Buddhism. Zen is a path of personal growth and development. I explain that the name is to honor the roots of the system and symbolizes the training of the practitioners. The Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner works with the client to provide the best results possible. An example; for the body to change sometimes the client must experience the pain stored and buried in their body. The practitioner works with his/her ki and the client to keep pain at a manageable level. Together the practitioner and client move at a pace that is acceptable to both sometimes, dividing a difficult session into two parts. In the Zen Bodytherapy® training a practitioner is taught to honor a client’s boundaries but also to recognize openings in the boundary to help a client overcome a difficult part in a session. The work is a partnership between the practitioner and client.


I took my first Zen Bodytherapy® training while I was still in massage school. I had experienced some of the work from two of my instructors Bill Thompson, L.M.P. & Shawn O’Brien L.M.P.. I noticed albeit similar in structure their work was very different and highly beneficial to me as a client. I always left their sessions feeling definitive changes in my body. I knew this feeling is what I wanted for my clients so I took the very next training. Over the past 5 years I have gone from being a physical wreck dischaged from the military because of my physical condition, to a person who can function in a fairly normal manner. While I receive chiropractic care and acupuncture I credit Zen Bodytherapy® for being a major part of my physical and spiritual transformation.

Dub Leigh and his partner Audrey Nakamura travel the world teaching Zen Bodytherapy® and Zen Triggerpoint Anatomy®. If you are interested in receiving Zen Bodytherapy® sessions or training to become a Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner, contact the author at casebere@nwlink.com, or contact Iziiorg@aol.com or visit the IZII website at http://www.zentherapy.org.

John Casebere, L.M.P., N.C.B.T.M.B. resides in Tacoma, WA. He is an Advanced Zen Bodytherapy® practitioner and a member of the Zentherapy Guild Board of Directors. He practices Zen Bodytherapy®, B.E.S.T. and injury treatment massage at Evergreen Holistic Practitioners in Fircrest, WA 253.564.7020 and is a member of the Guild of Healing Arts Professionals in Tacoma. John also Instructs Kinesiology, SOAP Charting, and Clinical Treatment and Documentation to massage students at Alexandar School of Natural Therapeutics in Tacoma, WA 253.473.1142.

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