Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 41 – Nº 2

Volume: 41

Q: <i>As Rolfers? we are taught various models and tools for body reading, and we each have our own proclivities and strengths that come into play in this ? whether we see in terms of anatomy, a particular model, energy flow, etc. Can you discuss how this has evolved for you in your own practice, and what you have found helps students develop their ability to ?see??</i>

A: Models of body reading are based on some ideal body type, both in shape and in movement. In general, we create ?lenses? or ?frames? that facilitate the observation and/ or the objective of some kind of intervention after we do a body reading. During all these years of development of the Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) method, many models were created, some of them fully adopted as a pedagogic way of ?seeing,? for both modalities of Rolfing SI: structural and movement. In Rolfing classes, all models of body reading that are used have their utility and merit. Practitioners generally use models of body reading that they feel more identified with; this is a reflex of their own body experience and vision of the world.

Rolfing SI is a relational art and a therapeutic process; I would like to make a few observations that I consider to be useful before any kind of body reading or intervention. First, all human beings are singular. As similar as we may seem, we are unique and different in our ways of being and acting. This belongs to our relational field and it includes our individual history. In my practice, when I first meet a client, I want to listen in a careful way, not only to what brings him to this work, but also to how he sees himself, what kind of beliefs and values he has in life, and how all of that is related to his body. I try to get into a curious and appreciative mental state, so that I can perceive this new human being that I am meeting. It?s a receptive mental state; I avoid an investigative stance and open myself to a dialogue where my client can show himself without judgment or censorship, and where we can meet on the same level. Recognizing that this individual is unique, authentic, I wonder: in this moment, what moves this person towards his desire?; what is keeping him from moving that way?; where are his best resources?; where are these resources missing? Psychobiological, sociobiological, and spiritual-biological aspects are considered.

After this dialogue is opened, I explain how Rolfing SI works and am clear that we are not looking to fix anything. We are instead looking for an interactive process that communicates many educational aspects with the goal of promoting adaptive change toward a higher level of health, consciousness, and well-being. During this process, symptoms and discomfort may disappear and a new quality of presence, a better perception of the self, appear. I don?t promise anything, I just open possibilities, making clear that we share responsibility for the outcome and that it is a risk contract.

If the client agrees to continue, we do a body reading. I start with an ?appreciative look.? Once more I put myself in a receptive mental state, and using all my senses I try to ?receive? my client in a way that he feels welcomed and comfortable. It?s not only a peripheral and receptive vision, but also my whole presence, what I call ?peripheral mind.? It?s a kind of look that appreciates the individuality and oneness of this human being, searching first for the inherent qualities, resources, and possibilities (not a phallic eye searching for dysfunction). This reading is also a dialogue, where I can express what I appreciate and let the client also express his perception of himself. Gradually, I start speaking about the adaptation issues that can be worked on in the process, and how the client?s complains are related to them ? which means: we create a perspective together. Here all the models of seeing and perceiving someone can be used. They become less imposed and more relational. As I said before, Rolfing SI is a relational art: how I meet with the other makes all the difference in the way that we continue together.

Marcelo Muniz Rolfing & Rolf Movement® Instructor

A: Over the twenty-four years that I have been in practice, the way that I see and read bodies has changed a lot. Looking back, I can see that so far there have been three fairly distinct phases of understanding, skill, and ability. The progression could be described generally as a path of unlearning, moving from academic and intellectual understanding to experiential knowing of holism.

During the early years of my practice, I was generally focused on a segmental, biomechanical assessment according to which Ten-Series session I was doing. I was trained to narrow the field of possibilities and consider particular relationships. This type of seeing with the ?eyes? of each session familiarized me with how results occur and taught me what the Ten Series reliably produces. During the first few years I also began to develop feeling through the body. When doing neck work at the end of each session, I could feel past the client?s cervical-thoracic junction through the spine toward the pelvis. This ability to feel the progress was very exciting and encouraging. It gave me confidence because I could feel changes were happening.

In my eighth year of practice I took my advanced Rolfing training, and for roughly the next ten years I became absorbed in being able to feel and work into deeper fascial layers and joints. My focus became more narrow as I struggled to know the value of deeper work and its place in furthering integration. I placed emphasis on seeing with my eyes in terms of movement and concentrated on being able to feel deeper and more subtly, both in terms of joint relationships and inherent motion. I felt that Principles of Manual Medicine (Greenman 1996) combined with Physiology of the Joints (Kapandji 1974, 1985) was all I needed to guide me. In my tenth year of practice I began teaching as an assistant instructor. As this required me to demonstrate and explain the work, I became obsessed with knowing and being able to verbally describe the effects of my work. Apart from what my clients could tell me, I wanted to be able to know and say if my work was producing better integration. It was a matter of integrity as well as developing deeper confidence.

At about the fifteen-year mark of my practice, some interesting things happened. During a three-day course with Tom Wing, I asked him why he chose a particular location to begin his demo. He replied by saying, ?because I feel good here.? Finding his reply to be rather non-specific, I asked for further clarification. He politely did his best to come up with a rationale, but his initial answer had already jostled me. In the three days of that workshop I began a process of renewal, of loosening my grip on needing to have a logical rationale for my choices, and of trusting more deeply what I felt was real. The more I let go of telling myself a story about what to look for, the more I am able to feel what is there. A few years ago it dawned on me that I was starting to feel the body as a whole, not as an aggregation of parts. I have always understood intellectually that the body is whole, but I wasn?t experiencing it as such the way I can now. This shift in awareness can be fleeting, but is becoming more accessible all the time.

I am less focused on the visual results of a particular session because I know and can trust what the series of sessions will yield. I feel more able to trust my impressions and enjoy looking for ways to validate them through feeling the body. These fleeting perceptions sometimes occur when a client enters the room, or in conversation while sitting across from one another prior to a session. Essentially, I feel more free to perceive without having to apply a model of seeing. Nevertheless, I also feel that I need to validate my perceptions through testing, working, and re-testing. I am always looking for sources that describe new understanding of the body. Lately, I have discovered two sources that more closely describe what I feel: Stecco?s description of myofascial spirals and Paoletti?s descriptions of fascial architecture are my current guides for feeling what I see. I look forward to seeing what the coming years bring in terms of ?seeing?!

Russell Stolzoff Rolfing Instructor

A: As Rolfing practitioners we are familiar with the plumb line and grid background against which we photograph an individual to verify structural change. There have been a number of geometric models presented in trainings supporting ways to cultivate ?seeing? and ?analyzing? alignment. Perhaps the models of the X, Y, and Z axes; cylinders; the spatial planes depicted in anatomical illustrations; and movement preference were presented and explored. These models help to determine if a client?s effort in walking expresses a sagittal orientation in space (as in the marathon runner) or a homolateral/coronal plane orientation (as witnessed in the walk of someone living and working on a fishing boat). Or perhaps there is a transverse/ tabletop rotational motion indicating possible hypermobility at various sites in the body (horizontal-plane movement is not true contralateral motion). Although more abstract than anatomy, geometric models help us to see and design strategies for intervention. However, they are templates and as such often represent a linear and rather static view of reality. It is my belief that the geometric taxonomy is actually a primordial resonance shaping matter in all its forms.

In synthesizing a rudimentary understanding from the writings of David Bohm (quantum physicist), Arthur M. Young (theoretical physicist and inventor), and Rupert Sheldrake (biologist and author), the moving resonance known as the vortex ring might answer some of the misperceptions regarding the geometric taxonomy. This primal-resonance shapes both body and nature and appears to be the underlying vibratory pattern beneath what is perceived as solid form.

At this point, appreciate that the vortex ring is not static nor is ?it? a thing. ?It? is an organizing resonance. I imagine it being like the sound a crystal bowl emanates as it is rung, permeating through the room and the listener. This ?field? resonance shapes form and sustains it. We can witness its effects in the growth of the embryo and in the gradients and densities of tissues, bones, and organs. And this resonance is something that can be experienced moving through your own body.

Now here?s the question: how is this vibratory pattern (or geometric model) named the vortex ring bringing forth patterns, form, and what we call the perceivable universe and body? Imagine a bagel, and let it ?explode? through you so that the center hole expands and becomes a transparent midline vertically organizing your body in gravity. The dough of your bagel reaches out and through the porous spaciousness of your body in all directions. Although this is a metaphoric image, we can still appreciate the likeness to the shape of a torus with its center of ?nothing.? Bohm (1980) suggests that it is the enfolding and unfolding of the universe whose primal vibratory resonance appears both physical and perceivable. And according to Young, this movement is multidimensional and reflexive. In other words, it is both feeding into formation and dissolving that formation, simultaneously. In Sanskrit this vibratory movement is called spanda and translates as ?throb? or ?pulsation.? In his most recent book, Sheldrake (2012) deconstructs long-held and cherished scientific dogmas. He writes of an informing intelligence resonating through the field. Recognizing this geometric movement, connecting with ?it,? and experiencing its primal resonance enables us to ride the ?ocean of consciousness? like a surfer as vibratory intelligence arises between our hands.

<i>The universe and man?s consciousness (the macrocosm and microcosm) consist in a continuum and a dynamic whole; this can be expressed by the spiral when, instead of ending it is drawn either around a sphere or a doughnut ring, so that it joins up with itself by spiraling through its own middle. This symbol which is perpetually turning in on itself expanding and contracting has an interchangeable center and circumference and has neither beginning nor end. (Purce 1974)</i>

Carol A. Agneessens Rolfing & Rolf Movement Instructor


<i>Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do. The world makes itself available to the perceiver through physical movement and interaction. . . . Perceiving is a kind of skillful bodily activity. (Noe 2004)

The world shows up for us. But it doesn?t show up for free. We achieve access to the world around us through skillful engagement; we acquire and deploy the skills needed to bring the world into focus. Presence is manifestly fragile. It is a discovery. It is how we experience it, from being in it. Perception is a transaction; it is the sharing of a situation with what we perceive. Perceptual experience is, at best, a work in progress. (Noe 2012)</i>

What made immediate sense to me relating to body reading during Unit 2 of my basic Rolfing training was the invitation to look at the body as geometric shape ? two cylinders; their shape, relationship to one another, rotations, amount of pressure inside them, how they are supported, etc. When invited to perceive the body in this way, I started seeing things that gave relevant information of where work was needed. This was sharply contrasted to the ?knowing-nodding-of-head-yet-blankstare? that accompanied comments such as ?And now notice how he is stabilizing differently with the left rhomboid,? or ?See how there is no talar glide on the right.?

From there it has systematically grown into a grid of ways of seeing very loosely classifiable under the taxonomies: structural includes internal-external, pelvic tilt/shift, spinal position/fixations, Flury?s types, etc.; functional includes continuity of movement, still points, center of gravity, contralateral movement; geometric includes line, blocks, cylinders, grid (horizontal and vertical lines), shape of space around body (including between arms and torso, between legs); psychobiological includes nervous system charge, signs of trauma, the client?s perception/self-sensing, possibly how his worldview communicated linguistically may reflect in structure and movement patterns, spatiality/relationship to space inside and around them; energetic includes flow, charge, field, hydrostatic pressure, etc. Each of these can be explored further and deepened by asking questions related to the Rolfing Principles.

There are obvious difficulties in trying to fit models of seeing into taxonomies, as all of them communicate across all the taxonomies. This grid has helped me orient in perceptual ?space,? the perceptual space that I am more oriented to, and less oriented to. It has provided a type of map, a template, to keep track of my development in body reading. Filling in the areas that are less available to me, and allowing myself to spend time with the questions inhabited there, helps to grow these fields of vision. So it can be a self-reflective learning tool.

The other most accessible method of ?seeing? for me was to copy the person?s pattern of standing, walking, and breathing in my own body and noticing what I needed to contract and change to replicate that. This orienting to interoception (perception of stimuli arising within the body) brings the relationship between perception and presence into focus. As Noe says in the opening quotation above: ?The world makes itself available to the perceiver through physical movement and interaction . . . . Perceiving is a kind of skillful bodily activity.? It has also allowed glimpses of not seeing the lateral rotation in the person?s femur as that ?only,? but of how he creates that structural outcome in the way he relates and orients to space. This invites ?swimming upstream? to the organizing maps in the person?s nervous system. Cameron (2001) describes these maps as follows: ?They are maps of the body in relation to the internal structure and function of the body itself as well as the immediate environment within which the body resides.? Body schema and body image are two such maps (Paillard 2004). Craig (2003, 2009) elaborates on interoception: ?The body and subjective awareness of the body, including visceral awareness, instantiates the ?self ? and provides the intermediary by which the nervous system interacts with the external world.? According to Esrock (2010), ?the thesis is that the physical body, as it develops within a social world, shapes our emotions, thoughts, concepts, and beliefs ? which we ordinarily characterize as mental ? and serves as a necessary starting point for understanding all human processes and activities.? Included in these ?human processes and activities? are posture and our movements, and how they get organized.

In your thoughtful question of how body reading has evolved for me in my practice, I can summarize that it was helpful to deepen and start working from where my strength was, that it naturally developed into broadening across taxonomies, and that it is now oriented more and more to the perceptual nature of how we embody ourselves. Regarding the part of your question relating to what helps students: in classes I have seen different of these ?invitations to seeing? land for people with different learning and perceptual styles. It is always meaningful to see when a light goes on and our world opens up to the world of the person we are attempting to perceive. What I have found most effective for students is simply to ask them what they see. Then to help them categorize this information (available and primary for them in their learning styles) under models of seeing and taxonomies. This orients them to a map, and informs where in the landscape they are most resourced, and where less so. The invitation is to view from as many different models as possible: this gives dimension to the complexity that is there, of what the person communicates through his form and movement, and moves us into more fullness of perception.

Asking questions that deepen the model we have primary access to supports growth in that model of seeing (e.g., if describing a still point while a client is walking, questions might be: how big is the area that does not move?; how deep into the body does it seem to go?; what effect does it have on the surrounding areas, on the rest of the body?). Asking questions related to the models less available to perception, and waiting to see what arises, gives the opportunity and opens the space that will eventually be filled by information that we can describe and will be useful in the strategizing of our work. This broadens our perception.

The broadening of our body reading helps us invite/engage our clients into their lived, felt experience, and meet them where they are in terms of how they perceive themselves. This shifts them from being watched as object to a collaboration of exploring how their phenomenal experience meets the anatomical reality of their structure. It also gives us information that is most relevant to them, and valuable information as to how they orient with the body maps mentioned above. It engages them as meaningful participants from the outset of the work. It also helps to distinguish Rolfing SI from other modalities they have experienced.

Marius Strydom Rolfing Instructor

A: Does this sound familiar?: I was standing with some of my fellow students as Stacey Mills, my practitioning (now Phase III) teacher, was describing what she was ?seeing? about her client. We were all nodding, as if we were in agreement (none of us wanted to look stupid). After she turned, preparing to do her session, we whispered to each other, ?Did you see anything??

I remember being told by one of my teachers that if I can?t see, just do the ?Recipe? and I will learn. So I started out with ten 4×6-inch cards, one describing each session ? do this first, this next, etc. I would put the card for the session under my table (so my client couldn?t see it), and I made sure that every part of the body relating to that session was pink! I began having my clients stand up more often during sessions and asked them to relate their experiences. I then used their descriptions as a ?lens? through which to see what had changed. As I was told would happen, I did begin to see predictable changes relating to each session and the Ten Series as a whole.

We have been admonished in the writings of Dr. Rolf and others to learn to ?see? in order to become accomplished at our profession. In reality, what we need to learn is to ?perceive? (which means ?to become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses?). What I?ve learned over the years is that ?seeing? only with my eyes can be limiting.

I once had a student who was struggling with seeing until she really understood that it was okay to see differently. I asked her to describe her perceptions in whatever way she wanted. She perceived her client?s body as an apartment house with too many people in one apartment, no one in another, sadness and or fear in another. She said she needed to get more people in the empty apartment and get fewer people in the one with the party. When I looked at the body through her lens it made total sense to me! It then became okay for her to become comfortable perceiving with her primary lens. I also know a twenty-plus-year Rolfer who, for all her years of trying and working on it, still ?sees? primarily with her hands, not her eyes. As she briefly watches her client, she gets a visual impression, a glimpse of what seems odd. It is not until she sits quietly with her fingers resting on the clavicles, the feet, the sacrum, etc., that she can listen to the story of the body ? rigid or fluid, flow or not, space or congestion, agitation, density, etc. A few minutes of listening in and it becomes clear where to go and how to proceed. This perceiving is also ?seeing.?

I like to think of the taxonomies (segmental/ structural, geometric, functional, energetic, psychobiological), the ?models of seeing? that have been used in our profession, as lenses through which we can perceive our clients. These lenses can provide a framework upon which we can organize and describe our perceptions. We can ?see? how a person?s body/being has changed as a result of our interventions.

I recently saw a quote from Anaïs Nin which is appropriate here: ?We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.? Our perceptions are developed by culture, astrology, personal history, spiritual beliefs, etc. It is important that you know and are comfortable with the lenses (biases) through which you perceive! Your lenses aren?t less or more effective than another?s, though they may be limiting, as most models are. It?s important to try on and explore new lenses in the ongoing process of learning to expand our comfort zones as well as our perceptual field. Seeing/perceiving will indeed make you more accomplished at our profession. A simple way to experience widening your field is to practice being grounded through your legs and feet while at the same time feeling your physical boundaries become more dispersed and expansive. Include both the spacious and the ground in your attention as well as attending to whatever you are doing/being/experiencing within and around you. Continually practicing this will greatly enhance your perceptual skills. For me now, I have simplified the lenses we have developed within the Rolf Institute® to the following questions:

1. Where can this person use more:

? space ? length ? depth/dimension ? support ? symmetry ? flow/connection ? movement ? life ? biomechanical efficiency?

2. Does this segment fit with the rest of the body?

3. Where can there be more dimension and how might optimizing support help the process? (I most often ask this.)

Keep it simple! (?Let?s see if we can get more space here so your shoulder can work better.?) If my assessments are too specific, especially anatomically, I may predetermine a path to the goal. If I become too attached to my path, I may miss other very important information and easier paths. I have had students who perceive so many things that they get confused. If you are doing a Ten Series, remember that you only need to ?see? what is important for that session and the goal of the Series. If you are doing a non-formulaic tune-up or advanced sessions, then the above questions may become important in helping to design the progression of steps for the mini-series.

No matter which lens you use for your pre- and post-session assessments, it is important to use that information as just one piece which informs you as you touch your client. Thinking you know what is going on with your client, based on your pre-session ?seeing,? doesn?t mean that is the only, or most important, thing happening in the body. The pre-session assessment only gives us an idea of where we may be going. For me, the really important perception begins with physical contact. Then I am informed of the specifics of how to get there. When your client is on the table, take a few minutes to be with yourself and your client. With a neutral contact (inquiring, unbiased, spacious, and present), perceive what his body has to communicate to your senses. Once I begin touching my client, I may be led in a different direction than my original intention. Develop a broad spectrum of lenses and a broad spectrum of contact skills and listen to your client with all your senses.

In summary, if we change ?seeing? to ?perception,? more possibilities are available. Perception is what we do during a session. By learning to include more lenses, we consciously broaden our perceptual field. When in physical contact with my client, my neutral frame of mind and widening of my perceptual field allows me to perceive many more layers and expressions of physicality of the whole. Doing the same during the pre- and postsession assessment allows me to experience more of who my client is (instead of fitting her into a comfortable box). This helps to allow her to step into who she is becoming.

Thomas Walker Rolfing Instructor


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Stecco, L. and C. Stecco, 2009. Fascial Manipulation, Practical Part. Padova, Italy: Piccin Nuova Libraria.On Seeing and Body Reading[:]

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