Anne Hoff: I notice that Rolfers who have done visceral work for a long time and are teaching it have a form of it that fits in the Rolfing paradigm. Except for you, Peter, I don’t get a sense that people are doing that with cranial. It seems like there are Rolfers teaching cranial, but they are teaching [standard] cranial rather than a form of cranial work seen through the Rolfing lens.
Peter Schwind: I think that happened probably out of the fact that the original visceral approach was already pretty close to what Rolfers have been doing anyway – we have been treating viscera without knowing it. I can tell you a funny little story that will tell you what I mean. When I first had my first contact with the visceral modality as Jean-Pierre Barral developed it, and I was with one of my friends who studied osteopathy in the U.S. way back in Kirksville, he told me “that stuff fits much more in what you are doing; I’m just shifting around bones, what the hell am I going to do with all those organs?” That was his impression and there’s a little bit of truth in it. You should not forget that Barral ran into a tremendous resistance in the osteopathic community when he started visceral manipulation, it took quite a while until people became aware that visceral work is more than a technique, that it is a meaningful concept for various schools of bodywork.
AH: Was there any visceral work back in the original days of osteopathy?
PS:Definitely. When you look at the first class that Sutherland taught you see manipulation of the liver, mobilization of the kidney, and there were certainly healers in Europe who did that. But it never went to this level of sophistication and general application to the complexity of the whole organ system that Barral found. The roots of it were pretty much that Barral was working in a hospital where many [patients] were from the French colonies and were suffering from very severe diseases, and quite a few would die pretty quickly. Because Barral worked closely with the dean of the hospital, who was a fanatic about doing dissections, they did a lot of dissections of fresh cadavers, and Barral was able to recognize that what he palpated as articular restriction was embedded within a context of visceral strain. He would see the signs of heavy tuberculosis in the right lung of the dead person and find inside the neck of the same individual strong motion restrictions of the facets of the whole cervical spine. And then he would say, “What the hell am I doing when I mobilize the cervical spine – the cause of that motion restriction seems to be visceral.” That was the starting point. There were certainly other people who worked on organs before, he has always stated that very clearly. For example, the famous doctor Ludwig Schmidt in Germany was a pioneer like Ida Rolf in the 1930s – he was teaching what he called “gymnastics for organs,” which was a sort of modified yoga. But somebody like Barral had to come who had this tremendous capacity for practical research, going so deeply into the system that he could make it into something that is simply not comparable any more to what the others tried to do.
I want to go back to your question of why visceral work found its way into Rolfing [SI] and actually stimulated something while cranial remained cranial. I started cranial work before I knew there was cranial work. When I was a very young Rolfer – after one year – I treated a person who had an accident. I tried everything, and was not successful. Then I put my hands on the frontal bone and I realized that one half seemed to come up and down after a while but not the other side. I fiddled around a little and the other side also came up, and then the person said his headache was gone. That was for me sensing something like cranial motion. Then I heard about cranial work in 1980, Upledger had just founded the Upledger Institute [and I immediately contacted him and organized a sequence of classes in Munich]. I was fascinated by that work, but I never gave up Ida Rolf`s traditional “Seventh Hour,” [which I came to think had] a potential to evolve: a hidden dimension to it, more than what we understood from Ida and the teachers of the first generation. And then later, much later, when I realized that some European osteopaths started to use a much more intense touch in cranial work, that encouraged me to go further, far away from Sutherland’s and Upledger’s concepts and see in which direction the original work, Ida’s seventh hour, will guide us.
As important as visceral work seems to be for me, my fascination for cranial work has become almost an obsession during the last thirty-two years. What excites me the most is how the cranial system is not separate from the fascial system, the cavities inside the body, and the visceral system, how it actually interacts with those systems and how the fascial system plays the role of a mediation between all those systems.
Allan Kaplan: There’s been a discussion for years of what is the place of visceral, what is the place of cranial, what is the place of Rolfing [SI], how do you incorporate it into your practice, when do you know when to use this or that. For me it’s not a question, because the perspective I come from is that it’s all fascia. It’s a continuum. If you talk to the cranial osteopaths (the French tradition and Canadians), they are talking about fascia, whether it’s visceral or cranial. I think the big problem is we are isolating them as three separate entities as opposed to saying “we are talking about the fascial system that involves the organs and the fascial system that revolves around the cranium.” One of my biggest awakenings in terms of cranial work was when I first went to a cranial osteopath. I was saying my lumbars or knee or something was bothering me, and he did his thing and then went to my head and was working on my knee or lumbars from my head. I said “what are you doing?” and he said “I can feel the connection [through many places] and I’m dealing with the whole strain pattern.” He wasn’t just doing cranial work on my head with the sutures and making sure the bones were free, he was dealing with the entire pattern. And that’s [what we do in Rolfing SI] at its most sophisticated. Think of it as, “we have the fascia of the body: what’s the best way to get to what we want to get to?”
I had a client last week whose chair had collapsed in a meeting and her back was killing her. When she hit the ground her left kidney kept on going and ptosed and was pulling into her lumbars. I mobilized the kidney, and that was 80% of the trauma right there. Then I did some back work and this that and the other. If I’d gone at it through the traditional Rolfing way, I would have done a lot of stuff out on the surface, and gone in and maybe worked in her belly a little, and possibly inadvertently have moved the kidney. [Visceral and cranial work are] dealing with those parts of the fascial net that we weren’t really aware of or taught about – it’s just the other end of the whole body of knowledge that you can’t fit into the training. Back when Ida was around, she knew about cranial and visceral work, but it wasn’t her forte.
PS: In the old days we would have tried to solve that situation of your client by working on the psoas, and sometimes we were successful and sometimes not. I know from practical research – using ultrasound – that most of the time when we try to work on the psoas we had an effect on the kidneys but not on the psoas – especially when I think about the techniques from the old days where the client would sit on the bench and as [he leaned] forward you went way in – where Ida would say “think horizontals and lift up.” Hopefully our fingers were underneath the kidney and not on the kidney and we would mobilize the kidney. I remember one of my first teachers saying “whenever you do the psoas the vitality goes up” – but it’s not the muscle that came to life, it’s the kidneys that came to motion.
The great thing is that many times during the old days we had little understanding of that what we did, but quite often we arrived – intuitively – at great results. That was such a great inspiration that I got from these guys in America, a practical inspiration, as I came more from an intellectual European background. Once I got in contact with the French osteopaths, it was interesting not to kick out what we Rolfers were doing, like the “Fifth Hour” or the psoas work, but to say “How could we do Rolfing [SI] differently, more efficiently?” Certain things we don’t do anymore, but quite a few things we may have to continue while looking at it differently. For example, I’m still investigating how the psoas interacts with the kidney, how does a psoas spasm act in relationship to a kidney that is in external rotation and ptosis; how does the psoas interact with the kidney, and how does the kidney interact with the connective-tissue campsites in the retroperitoneal space and with the fat? Personally, I benefit because I share an office with an internist and we have an excellent ultrasound. So if I diagnose a motion restriction of the kidney, we do an ultrasound and can see on the screen whether my diagnosis was right, and we do a manipulation and see whether it moves, and whether four, eight weeks later it still moves. The machine is so good we can watch the individual fibers of the psoas and see if there’s a spasm of a subgroup of psoas fibers and how we affect that. I’ve just taught a twoday course in how to use the ultrasound to observe what we do with the psoas.
AK: I remember back in the late 80s Emmett Hutchins telling me – we must have been doing a Fifth Hour – “if you feel this, that’s the root of the mesentery; before we knew what that was, we used to try to ‘Rolf’ it away.” It’s the influence of visceral manipulation – if nothing else – to give a picture of what’s going on inside the abdomen or thorax. As I was taught, we were dealing more with the outside of people. But if the strain is going through the abdomen, it’s going through the abdominal structures which are the suspensory structures of the organs, so you have deal with that stuff. It’s like the organs are the handles or a lever to deal with things – like the cranial work. That’s what that osteopath told me in that session – “it’s like you get a long lever, I could work it down there, but I can work it up here and often get a better result.”
PS: He was not treating the cranial system as a separate unit from the rest of the body, he was using it as an entrance into everything that is present, working from there to connect into other systems that are not part of the cranial system but related to it.
AK: Exactly. He told me about a seminar with a bunch of osteopaths – some were direct students of Sutherland. He said with some patients the long-time students of Sutherland couldn’t resolve the problem, and when he looked at it, it was a very simple visceral problem. My question was “How could this person who is so good at cranial not be able to treat that thing?” He said, “It just wasn’t within the paradigm” – it just didn’t even register. It’s as though if you are listening to an orchestra and all you ever hear are violins, you don’t even notice the trumpet over there.
PS: I like that! – We only see what we know to look for. I remember one dissection course where I asked a very experienced professor of anatomy – who had been doing dissections for twenty-six years – how to find the suspensory ligaments of the lungs, and he looked at me and said “Are there any? I have never seen them.” He doubted that there are suspensory ligaments of the lungs.. But we had four cadavers, and we found the ligaments, it wasn’t that easy but we found them. And he realized that his way of looking at that region of the neck and upper thorax was prescribed through a certain tradition where you wouldn’t look for that, so he didn’t even know they existed. In the German-language literature about anatomy there is only one book, from Switzerland, where this anatomical unit is mentioned.
AH: The way you are talking about this it’s a whole fascial system, visceral fascia, cranial fascia, musculoskeletal fascia not being different things. It seems obvious that as Rolfers that would be part of our territory.
AK: We preach that there’s a fascial continuum through the body but we limit how far that goes. The truth is that it goes through the body.
Gabriela Arnaud: What’s really interesting for me about how Peter works is the relationship between the container and the contents. For me what is interesting in Rolfing is [that] the fascia is all over, I’m dealing with the whole human being, I’m not closed to anything. The fact that Ida Rolf didn’t have the time or the clarity or whatever to pass it on doesn’t mean that she didn’t take it into account, that she didn’t feel it. For me [Rolfing SI] is the widest door to body therapy. These things – cranial work, visceral work –make my work richer, I can help more people because I can listen to more things, I have to listen to the system as a whole. I like the concept of the tensions of the inside – how much should I work with the viscera that the outside can adapt to that.
AH: Would the Rolf Institute® faculty like to bring more of this into the trainings?
PS: We are starting a dialogue. I think all of us are aware that we need to widen our perspective a lot. We are sometimes concerned about the identity of our own discipline, because the discipline itself may be enriched by other methods, techniques, and perspectives, but it does not grow per se through that enrichment. Some of us are really aware that there is another step that is also important, not only putting more and more tools in our bags, but that we must understand what it means for our method if we put this tool in our bag, what is the impact it has on the basic and advanced concepts of our method. There are two dangers: one is blind orthodoxy, and the other is just copying whatever is up, then everything seems to be structural integration – I can do plastic surgery, energetic massage at a distance from the body, cold laser, anything. I’m sometimes not so sure about the speed of how we try to use things coming [from outside]. In my view, visceral and cranial and movement work are certainly the main modalities that add to our original work without leaving the field of it.
AH: Peter, I took a class with you in Santa Fe in the early 90s where you taught what you called the “drum technique,” which seemed to work with strain patterns in the thorax but didn’t name specific organs. I’m curious how much can we accomplish in the visceral layer with a general picture if our touch and sensitivity are precise, and how much we need the precision of understanding the visceral anatomy, inspir/expir of the individual organs, things like that.
PS: The drum technique was a very simplistic first approach for me to go especially in the inner depth of the thorax, because I knew that Ida Rolf had stated that she always felt like something would pull her down inside the thorax behind the sternum. When I looked at photos of her, I always felt people did great work with her but nobody knew really how to go inside the thorax and release its inner dimensions. So the drum technique was a very naïve – efficient up to a certain degree – first approach to get inside: subtle compression, support from behind, compression from the front or the side, modification of the different directions, getting releases in there. My interest was not to reproduce what I had already learned from Barral about the organs, I was trying to work with the inner walls of that drum and the inner subdivisions – what I call nowadays the inner shape of the thorax. Those two Santa Fe workshops were a starting point to say there must be more than anatomy, because anatomy helps only to localize certain layers. Anatomy is very important to know, especially anatomy of the living body, to recognize where we are with our hands, but anatomy does not teach us what to do, that’s a big illusion. Anatomy is important just for the topographical orientation.
AK: “The map is not the territory.”
PS: Exactly. What started in Santa Fe was a very stimulating investigation. We had this very simplistic block model at the beginning, and I think behind it there was a true question of what are the most significant components of shape that make the organism – and that’s not anatomical units, it’s not the muscle starting here or this and that. These components of shape, when we put it down to a very simple threedimensional perspective, are units that are cavities into cavities into cavities, and their inner subdivisions. So there are cavities and there’s a container around them, and the container is mostly the muscle fascia, the bones act as spanners as Ida Rolf said.
For a long time we treated only the container, mainly muscle fascia. When you look at certain traditions of osteopathy you see that they treat the contents, they look at one unit and see how it moves in relationship to the other. But on both sides there is something missing, because there must be something like the maintenance of human form, not just of movement and function but also of form. If there weren’t form and inner shape, one evening the liver would be on the right side and another evening on the left side, or inside the buttocks. I think that the human body doesn’t manifest in straight lines – you can relate it to a line, but there are no straight lines in the body. It’s all curvatures, cavities and curvatures.
For me the most interesting thing to say is “How does the container, which is the muscle fascia, relate to the contents? And how does the membrane system on the inner walls of those cavities build a bridge between the container and the contents? And how do I find those important areas of transition where one container meets the other container? – like the peritoneal meets the subperitoneal, and the peritoneal meets the retroperitoneal, and the peritoneal meets the endothoracic, and the endothoracic goes in the pipe of the neck goes into that cavity of the head. What is extremely important to investigate is that at those areas of transition we find key points where we are able through touch to treat the container and the contents at the same time. That’s very different both from traditional osteopathy and traditional Rolfing work. We try by minimalizing our approach in a very precise way to treat the container and the contents at once.
At the level of the spine, that means that we don’t need to get lost in the individual fixation or rotation or translation of a few bones; it means that we are treating curvatures instead of joints. So we treat larger units but in a very precise way. That means we are looking at how one cavity of the body meets the next cavity of the body. Why is it still Rolfing [SI]? – Because it’s related to gravity. Just as we look at cavity to cavity, we look at the curvatures in the back, we have a bunch of kyphosis and a bunch of lordosis there. My experience tells me that quite frequently if we try [to make] those transitions from one curve into the next curve more fluent (instead of throwing everybody into more extension and making them longer and straighter, or reducing spinal curve), if we just focus on the transition between one curve and another, we get very stable results.
When I talk about shape, the body is composed of bags into bags into bags, and I have to recognize the innermost construction of the most important spacious containers and how they wobble on each other. The peritoneum is like a fluid-filled synthetic bag that balances on another bag which is the subperitoneal space, and then there’s the retroperitoneal, and they have a micro-capacity of motion up and down. If one slides, for example if the peritoneal slides down as a whole bag in a relationship to the whole retroperitoneal space (where you have the psoas and kidney) and gets stuck there, and you cannot make it slide up again, you can do whatever you like for the individual restrictions inside of the container, or you can work for ten sessions on the outside container, but you will never arrive at a true improvement. That’s my very personal statement about the shape of the body and how to do Rolfing [SI] out of this. How does this sound to you?
AK: Having done several of your classes, I like the idea, and it’s part of the continuum. Even if you have restrictions between organs within the bag, you can work on the bag for a long time and if you don’t deal with the restriction you aren’t going to be able to change the shape of the bag.
PS: If you come from the right angle, and you talk to the inside of the bag and the outside of the bag, you may be sometimes lucky that that very specific fixation of the organ will let go.
AK: That brings us full circle back to [the question of] what is the best way to enter the body, whether through this system or that system or that one. And is there one best way – it depends on the person, it depends on the strain. . . .
PS: I have a very provocative answer for that. I would say you can enter it from wherever – as long as while you work at the entrance point, touching one system (for example, a boney articulation and its related ligaments, like between the talus and calcaneous in the foot), you talk to that connection, those units, in a way that you are connected to all the other subsystems in the body at the same time. So while we are working in one place, and might feel some opening there, we will not be able to feel the whole body at the same time, but what we should try to feel is how the main restrictions of that body, that shape and individual pattern of strain, how those react to what we are doing in that local place; we sense whether those restrictions close down more or open up a little bit more. Then we can modify what we do locally in that ligamentous strain between the calcaneous and talus in a way that they open more and more.
AH: So what you are saying is very much like what Allan described the osteopath doing, except he was using the head to reach through, but you are saying you could just as easily be at the foot and work through that.
PS: I agree, however we go far away from the true area of conflict, like sneaking into the system, and talk to these very few critical places.
AH:Peter, you said it doesn’t matter where you start. One thing I wonder about is with certain clients, is a certain doorway “better”?
PS: I think that if you want to have an impact, you need a handle. There are people who have absolutely no visceral restriction and if you start to work there you have simply zero results. When I said before you can start wherever you like, that’s not the full truth. You can start wherever, if there is a manifestation of the strain. And you might use that strain far away from the larger strain as an entrance. There are some people who you might just touch related to the viscera, and there’s a beautiful door, and if you don’t walk through that door you won’t get any result at all. Or there are some other people where the cranium has been nailed together like a coconut for fifty years and you can do whatever you do but if you don’t go to this specific layer of fixations there will be no results. But even this person, if you find a true restriction, even in a ridiculous detail, like let’s say in the right cuboid, there is a chance that if you talk from the cuboid fixation to the coconut head and you get it somewhat to open, and then you work diagonally from the right foot to the left side of the cranium all the way through. We need a handle.
What’s funny about the Rolfing approach that’s certainly different from any good osteopathic approach is that aside from the most significant restriction, we want to do something else. A good osteopath leaves the system the way that it is, and will only go to the most significant restriction and trust that with the minimum of stimulus the organism will repair itself up through the level that is necessary. That’s a beautiful concept, and it’s very, very efficient when it’s done precisely. However, it is a therapy of the status quo. It is fantastic to get the person who is totally stuck in certain inner dimensions out of this being stuck, but it does not necessarily mean that there is any personal evolution. And this is the big challenge of the Rolfing concept. [Putting aside the] naïve development of the human potential movement of the 1960s – which was a funny combination when you think that Ida’s early ideas were in the 30s, and in the 60s we tried to be opposite to the 30s, politically – aside from this illusionary aspect of trying to create a better human being, there are a few grams of truth that we should not lose, which have nothing to do with the desire to create a better human being but have a lot to do with the desire to create more inner freedom – and that’s something different from helping somebody to be able to raise his right arm again after it was stuck with a frozen shoulder for two years. For me, a good practitioner should be able to deliver both, or at least offer both, be able to help [the client] use the shoulder again and still offer to the organism a few items that offer a little bit more of freedom in expressiveness, movement, emotion, whatever. That’s of course a very big project that we have to be very careful with.
GA: For me, that’s what’s different, that’s the inspiration that made me study this. I think that’s the difference between Rolfing [SI] and other methods. If you get the shoulder free in one session in osteopathy, that’s it, but you don’t see the development of the client. [Rolfing work] is a chance to feel different. Why else would someone go to a Rolfer? I work in Mexico City . . .
PS: . . . She’s the only Rolfer in all Mexico . . .
GA: . . . [I’ve had a client] tell me it’s the first time he’s been touched like that, just from me putting my hands on his back. That’s worth it, when I doubt what I’m doing, whether I’m really helping people, when I encounter this kind of “thank you” in a deeper sense. It’s not that [the client’s] knee doesn’t hurt anymore, it’s something healing inside. But how do you talk about why do people go to Rolfing sessions?
AH: Maybe that’s back to what you said about process. Maybe part of why we hold to the ten-session model is not just because of its formality as a model but because the ten sessions allow us a process, which potentially allows something to happen that does not happen necessarily if you are, say, just trying to fix somebody’s shoulder.
AK: One thing with “fixing,” say you are dealing with someone’s knee, there’s a difference between just concentrating on the knee and that’s the session and looking at the knee in the context of the entire body. That’s the Rolfing approach to dealing with an injury. You might make the knee feel better, and you instill a lift or integration to the body. I think it’s important for people who don’t buy into the idea of Rolfing first aid to consider that approach, because that’s where it’s really effective.
PS: Like some of us I do two completely different things in my practice. I have a straightforward Rolfing practice, that of course uses other things I have learned, but the people come for a sequence of treatments, many for ten, sometimes it’s only seven or eight; for post-ten [work], usually three maximum. And aside from that I have a practice of what you could call manual medicine, where doctors send people with very specific issues. For me it is really two very different things. I do manual medicine with very limited intervention for a certain problem, and that sometimes works quite well, and sometimes it doesn’t work, where people need more all-over treatment to have a stable result, and then I ask them to come for Rolfing sessions. I do these two different things, and I teach these two different things. When I teach for the Munich Group and for the Barral Institute, I teach my personal approach to manual medicine – which is strongly influenced by osteopathy and other disciplines, but mostly techniques I developed myself that come out of thirty-two years of practice. I think Rolfers can benefit, but it’s not necessarily a part of Rolfing [SI], it just makes your Rolfing work more effective if people have very heavy symptoms which can’t be resolved with traditional Rolfing sessions. In Rolfing sessions I of course [will include these other techniques] but the goal is really to treat the overall fascial and membrane system.
I just announced an advanced Rolfing training together with Christoph Sommer in Europe for 2012. The theme of this class is: “what does alignment mean for the container and the contents?” – alignment in the sense that a human being can be upright not using permanent control or struggling, but somehow settling down – and respecting the fact, to quote Hans Flury, that every human structure is individual. The aim is to find the best solution for that one individual structure in the field of gravity that has a certain amount of ease and balance between all the subsystems, whether the lymphatic system, the arteries, the nerves, the membranes, the organs, the fascial containers of the muscles. To use that fascial system as the mediation between these systems so that they all work together in a better way. We want to teach people to treat the organism as an orchestra, not as single voices or single instruments.
For me the fascination has never stopped about this project. I am still – after twentythree years – a student of Barral, and I teach some of my stuff for his club, and I have so much respect for his mode of working. But I am as well interested in another concept. If I would name that concept it has to do with the fact that on a very modest level I want to give my very personal interpretation of Ida’s thought. Barral told me one day, “of course Ida was very good, but nobody knows what she was doing, we only got interpretations of that” – that’s a great statement.
AH:Already so many Rolfers in their individual practices are doing their own interpretation. The question is how much room do we have to keep a cohesiveness but also allow an evolution to incorporate things that Ida Rolf didn’t have time herself to develop and incorporate, to bring in other people’s mastery. We have a lot of brilliant people in our community.
PS: It’s very interesting, this question of how much we can open ourselves. I remember one of my teachers in the field of psychotherapy, before I became a Rolfer, said: “A therapy is a contract between two people and nobody from outside has the right to intervene in it, otherwise you can’t master the psychotherapeutic situation.” For me that’s true, if somebody is certified as a Rolfer, they can do what they like to do in their office, they do their best from their perspective. The problem arises as soon as you have an organization and you are a teacher, you have a responsibility not only for what you like to do and think you are good at, but you also have a responsibility for the concept, otherwise the concept gets lost.