By JAN HOGAN VIEW STAFF WRITER


"Growing old is mandatory," said Michael Kastris. "Feeling old is optional."

 He was speaking about Hellerwork, a deep-tissue style of massage. Literature says the doctrine is based on the "inseparability of body, mind and spirit, making the connection between movement and the body alignment and restoring the body's natural balance from the inside out."

Through a series of sessions, it's been said to remove stress and pain, improve posture and increase energy. Kastris said major metropolises like Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle are way ahead when it comes to embracing the program. Hellerwork is making strides in those cities.

Here in Las Vegas, Michael Kastris, 51, says he is the first licensed Hellerwork therapist. To earn his license, Kastris traveled to a training center near San Diego every month for 16 months. He spent a week there each time, learning the technique.

Kastris is an experienced bricklayer by trade. His boss at Ace Masonry, Glen Bott, worked around his Hellerwork training schedule to keep him. But then, it was a win-win situation -- Kastris' friends and co-workers volunteered as his training subjects and got free massages.

Hellerwork massages last between an hour and an hour and a half. The theory goes that once the body is in proper alignment, that translates into how a person interacts with others, views events and how he or she approaches life. Kastris was first introduced to Hellerwork by a friend about 25 years ago. It was the time of mind expansion with yoga, EST and similar doctrines.

"I had no idea what it was," he said. "I thought, 'What the heck.' It was novel. It was interesting. And I wondered how changing your body could change how you felt about life." After anyone goes through the program, he said, they walk with efficient movements and sit properly, with the pelvis and rib cage correctly aligned, putting no stress on the lower back. Some say it helps sleep patterns, digestion and flexibility.

John Hava, 70, a retired electrician who lives in the northwest, recently finished his 10 sessions of Hellerwork. "I've always had back problems," he said. "But I was in a car accident about a year ago, hit head on, and that really triggered things." After his first couple sessions, Hava said he noticed a difference in his back and his freedom of movement.

Connie Johnson, 51, a yoga instructor, just began Hellerwork sessions. "It's intense," she said. "It's similar to Rolfing but it goes into body alignment and how you sit and how you walk and what you do. It's not your typical massage. There's even (a component) where you get an emotional release."

However it affects one's life, it doesn't do it in a couple of sessions. Hellerwork is based on a systematic approach and involves 10 separate sessions, each one building on the previous one. They are generally scheduled once a week or once every two weeks.

Before Kastris was halfway through getting all his sessions, back in his 20s, he noticed a difference in the way his body moved. "I felt like a dancer and, believe me, I'm no dancer," he said. "But I could tell I was standing taller." He now undergoes maintenance treatments. To the casual observer, he does walk with an easy grace and seems to approach things with quiet introspection. He said anyone can feel better with Hellerwork. "It doesn't mean you're going to feel like a 20-year-old," Kastris said. "But you will be more graceful and have more energy."

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