Rolfing, perhaps more than any other bodywork modality, is an infinite field of exploration. No one person can say that they fully understand the myriad ways that the different facets of a human body, emotions, perceptions and beliefs relate to and influence each other.
With appreciation to those practitioners, I’ve included them below, with links to where you can find out more from those whose words inspire you. I found that these quotes provoked some reflection for me, illuminating some of the hidden aspects of Rolfing, and I hope they do for you too.
When thinking of Rolfing, a massage, or a chiropractic treatment, we traditionally imagine it as something that’s exclusively focused on a particular system of the body i.e. muscular or skeletal. Usually it goes like this: Rolfing works with fascia, massage treats muscles, and a chiropractor works with the facets of the joints. This approach is reductionist and misses the fact that human body is, as Certified Advanced Trainer Rich Ennis points to, a wonderfully complex network of living relationships with a moment-to-moment goal of preserving its systemic integrity. According to Rolfing’s perspective, a body that is stable, mobile and adaptable is a testimony to a well integrated system.
Before anything can happen, before there can be any notion of agency, the body needs to be oriented – organised, as Marcela MN Bugge says – in the world. It needs to be able to tell the ground from the sky, the front from the back, the left from right. Then and only then can we begin to enact our desires and action can take place. Orientation-seeking is our pre-movement, our pre-gesture and pre-action. The more oriented we are, the more successful action ensues. To sharpen this orientation is what Rolfing is concerned with.
This quote by Adam Mentzell makes me think about why so much of our operating system is below our level of awareness. Dis-owning different parts of our body is part and parcel of the growing up process. Somehow, at least in the West, we are made to feel awkward about our anatomy. We all know that attribution of gender specific behaviours makes boys feel uneasy about their pelvic movement, whilst girls are often unsure how to accommodate their budding femininity. As years pass, these learned patterns of being in the body are integrated into our postural structure and become unconscious. The work of Rolfing is to unearth such patterns and help them to untangle.
How do we react to stress? To tense up is the only response the body can give to a traumatic experience. The muscles are a binary system: they can either contract or release. To release means to be safe, so when the system has been jolted by an event that’s difficult to integrate, this safety is gone and the tension moves in. But the physiology of tension is more costly for the organism then the physiology of the resting state. If unaddressed, persistent tension, as Owen Marcus eloquently describes, can lead to long term health complications.
Too many of us are unwittingly confined, as Linda Grace puts it, to see our body as a living lump, a tedious companion that we are bound to for life. When we change this view, our body can become a vehicle for rich growth in awareness. To spark this curiosity for embodiment, to touch and be touched, that’s the province of Rolfing.
Rolfing is not a psychotherapy, yet, it works with the container of the psychological processes. It is thus relevant to many things we wouldn’t normally think of, like public speaking. When we feel well oriented in the world and sure-footed, then our emotional processes are inevitably affected. As James Howard talks about in his blog, both extremes that lead us away from being well balanced affect how we present ourselves to the world.
Our body is our agent for action in the world. It is very quick to adapt to the shape in which we spend most of our time. To protect its integrity the body uses fascia to reinforce these adaptations. Unfortunately as Janu Vanier observes, our most common shapes are not necessarily the ones we want to fix our bodies into. In the age of the iPhone this also means sore thumbs, overstrained eyes and protruding heads.
Fascia more and more occupies the centre stage of the latest manual therapy research. Back in 2003 in Munich a team of researchers led by Dr Robert Shleip discovered that this wonderful organ, is, as Megan Amber Cox says, richly innervated – and in fact can contract and relax just like a smooth muscle of the body. This means that we now have a scientific basis to prove how a skilful bodyworker can help to induce structural changes in their clients.
Meran Cassidy points here to a poverty that we are rarely aware of. When our feet are only touching, but are not being touched by the ground, it is impoverishing for our sensorial awareness. To stand well and to walk well, the feet need to be what we Rolfers call “haptic”, they need to be able to know the texture, the temperature, the surface of what supports them. In that way we arrive at under-standing.
Touch, when guided by skill and experience, can release much tension. As Beth Pagel’s quote shows, this is a letting go of crucial importance. When fascia begins to glide and fluidity returns to movement, we are also witnessing the return of possibility. We can again enjoy our bodies in an uncomplicated way, with walking, breathing, and gesture – bearing witness to our integration.
To achieve the goal Gary Gurney identifies here, we work with manipulation of the connective tissue, with enriching perceptual patterns, and with influencing coordination. This triadic approach is key for a meaningful and transformational Rolfing experience.
Archie Underwood continues: “As a practitioner I can only guide my client through this process of self discovery, but it is their journey of awareness. With awareness comes change in the body, the more we listen to our own internal signals of distress the more power we have to change unhealthy and habitual patterns.”
The wonder of the journey through the 10 Rolfing series is its insistence of mapping each area of the body in a systemic way. This mapping gives each client precious information about what’s good and resourceful and what’s forgotten and in need of attention. So we travel through the 10 sessions and grow in self awareness and learn new responses to the incessant questioning of the environment.
The holistic nature of Rolfing highlighted by Tim Oxendahl is key to understanding why it is so more than a massage-type technique. What happens in a Rolfing session is also a therapeutic encounter. We have the triangle of the client, the Rolfer and the method. It is the Rolfer’s responsibility to hold a space of safety during the session so all three can unfold. Only then can the client be truly touched and begin to heal.
Pain is a powerful motivator; we can either direct its energy towards its fast disappearance, like with pain killers, or we can choose to work with it and try to understand the message beneath. If we embark on the latter, as Thomas Gilliford proposes, then we are learning, we are growing in self knowledge.
We are really not sure, not even the scientists, what the human body really is and what are its limits. Yet what we know for sure, is that the body is in the world and that the quality, the depth, the richness of it experiencing the world can be increased or diminished. By spending time in what Mary Bond aptly terms the “terrain” of the body, and aided by the tools of Rolfing, our capacity to experience the world definitely increases.
The discovery that freshly Rolfed clients usually make after their session is that their body feels somehow heavy and easy to move at the same time. This is the start of the change in our relationship to gravity that Darrell and Vivian talk about. This heaviness in the body feels pleasant and reassuring, we begin to discover that our embodied density and weightiness contributes joy and clarity in how we go about everyday business.
Really the aim of Rolfing is as simple as Andrea Newman says, to restore the body’s natural capacity to be well in gravity and to move with ease. Even if under the skin there seems to be confusion and lost-ness, when tissues are being given direction and a nudge towards order, things improve. The most profound healing can have very uncomplicated beginnings.
It is at the foundations of Rolfing that the force of gravity is the context for all of our other relationships, as Bart Adins contextualises, from our very first days. This insight was Ida Rolf’s genius and remains at the heart of her method. The way we relate to others in the world is constantly permeated by the gravitational pull. Hence, if we work with gravity we work with all our relationships, physical and symbolic, as they all happen in gravity. Our job, as Rolfers, is simply to help the body find its way into the best possible alliance with this force and allow the rest to fall into place.
Breathing is by far the most incessant movement of our lives. Every exhale and inhale is repeated thousands of times a day, each sending the body into gentle flexion and extension. This movement ripples through the entire system, affecting our well-being, as Emily Wishall makes clear. As Rolfers, we believe we should not interfere with the breathing itself, but instead work on its container, the fascial bed that moves with it.
At least half of the 10 sessions in the Rolfing series are devoted to developing and sustaining a strong sense of support, or our foundation, as Christi Mueller Caspe says. Only where the body is adequately “under-stood” can freedom and poise emerge. This doesn’t only mean good feet supporting the pelvis, but also rootedness of the lower back in the sacrum, or the head in the upper thoracic. The foundations are found on every level.
I hope you enjoyed these quotes and explorations of Rolfing. If you live in London or St Albans and struggle with lower back pain, poor posture, or just want to gain a greater awareness of your body, feel free to contact me.
Yours in health,