The Mystery of the Ten-Series Symbols

Pages: 44-45
Year: 2014
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 1

Volume: 42

Author’s note: I am most grateful to Emmett Hutchins, Carol Agneesens, Don Bruce, Jeff Linn, Michael Vilain, and (particularly) Allan Kaplan for all of their efforts and communications to help with this article.

When I was studying Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) in the mid-1990s, students had class t-shirts made with the stick-figure images shown in Figure 1. We didn’t know the provenance of the stick figures, but they clearly had some relationship to the Ten Series. Despite the lack of information, they looked cool on t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Rolfing – the Evolution Revolution – Get It Straight,” proclaiming our passion for our work. Recently, I began to wonder again about those figures, and their origin. I dug deeper into the mystery with help from colleagues, came to some definitive conclusions, and added some speculation, all of which I’ll present below.

The History

I first went on the Rolf Forum LISTSERV to consult colleagues. Rolfing Instructor Carol Agneesens also remembers the figures from class t-shirts circa the mid-1990s, and she directed me to Don Bruce, who had made class t-shirts around that time but did not know who found the images. Further digging by Agneesens and Allan Kaplan clearly suggested that the “set” for the Ten Series is actually a combination of figures from two periods (and two different sources), as they could trace only the figures for sessions seven to ten back to the early 1980s. Kaplan found versions of the figures for sessions seven through ten in his own and other students’ notes from classes with both Emmett Hutchins and Peter Melchior [both were instructors at the Rolf Institute® who later were part of the formation of the Guild for Structural Integration (GSI)]. Kaplan also located figures for sessions seven through nine in “A Searcher’s Handbook” – a manuscript that Clinton Kramer compiled based on his notes from a class with Emmett Hutchins. (The class was presumably held in 1985, the date listed next to the manuscript’s opening quote.) In the “Handbook,” Hutchins refers to the figures as “symbols” and uses them to distill the meaning of the sessions. Figure 2 shows these early “symbols” for sessions seven, eight, and nine as they were documented by a student in Peter Melchior’s summer 1985 class. The symbol for session ten is shown in Figure 3, as documented by a student in a class with Emmett Hutchins (date uncertain).


Figure 1: Stick-figure images circa mid-1990s (recreated by Michael Vilain, from a t-shirt image provided by Don Bruce).

With this much information pointing to Hutchins, it made sense to contact him. Although busy starting a six-week training just as this article was being completed, he graciously responded with information that dispelled the first part of the mystery:

The symbols [for sessions seven, eight, and nine] were developed during the teaching of the first Advanced Training Class following Dr. Rolf’s death in 1979. That class was taught jointly by Peter Melchior and I. We have always given the credit for these symbols jointly [to] that class event. However, if we must give individual credit, I would say that Peter had more to do with those for the 8th and 9th hour while I might take more credit for the 7th hour symbol . . . . They [are] standard diagrams and symbols though, [and] are still used in our training classes. (Hutchins 2013)

Hutchins says the symbol for session ten – where the seventh-session symbol is given a squiggly line – is of later origin, and may have been drawn by him or by another teacher. It is not part of GSI’s standard teaching.1 Hutchins (2013) also said, “We never developed symbols for the other hours.” He seemed to have some familiarity with some of the other symbols, but could not say when or where they came from.

I was able to get more specific information about the full set of symbols shown in Figure 1 from somatic practitioner Jeff Linn, who trained at both the Rolf Institute and GSI. According to Linn (2013), the symbols for sessions one through six “were created in a GSI class sometime in the 90s because some of the students thought there should be symbols for all the sessions.” Linn also noted, “In my opinion, these symbols (1-6) add unneeded complexity to an elegant explanation for 8/9/10.” My own contention is that they are internally inconsistent as a symbolic system, as will be discussed below.


“A Searcher’s Handbook” has Hutchins stating in the session-seven lecture, “We now come to the first symbol that we will encounter in the recipe. . . . If you are particularly observant during the course of the seventh hour, you will notice, about halfway through the session, that there will be a subtle shift where the . . . symbol will manifest itself. The integration of the body has begun!” (Kramer 1985, 158). He later says, “We have worked for seven hours to create the force. We have created a core and we have created a sleeve. The symbol . . . is one in which we may perceive the force as we have created it; a representation of a charged being” (Kramer 1985, 179). Thus, the figure really represent the culmination of the work of sessions one through seven, which is consistent with the labeling as “sessions 1-7,” a process of “length-space-stacking,” in Figure 2. Melchior stated that the symbols are “multilevel events” (not linear) that deliver a lot of information, and that the first symbol represents the “intentions of sessions one through seven, creating space and context for the ‘Line’” in a bi-polar structure (Kaplan 1987).

Figure 2: Symbols for sessions “1-7” and “8-9,” from a student’s notes of a 1985 class
with Peter Melchior. Courtesy of Allan Kaplan.

Hutchins told Kaplan’s class that the session-seven symbol of the cranium, spine, and sacrum was a “worm” that you had to get to “relate to the outside world through the girdles” – work that would be done in sessions eight and nine, which “contain all we believe about bodies” (Kaplan 1987). Notes from Melchior’s 1985 class, in turn, have him teaching “sessions 8-9 are a pair where you’ll integrate the length you achieved in 1-7 with functional movement,” and labeling the two symbols collectively as “sessions 8-9” (Kaplan, various). Melchior stated that “at the completion of these hours all movement originates from the lumbodorsal hinge” (Kaplan 1987). With the eighth and ninth sessions, one is a lower session and the other an upper session; thus you “bisect the two figures with a horizontal line” and do “both of the halves of the two figures” in each session (Kramer 1985, 181), again implying that the figures together are the representation of the sum total of the two sessions’ work, able to express in two forms or energies (Kramer 1985, 178). Hutchins links back to the session-seven symbol and says that in sessions eight and nine “we are trying to get symbol seven more distinct here, cleaner and freer. If you start bearing in on the girdles – being heavy-handed – then symbol seven will shrink and maybe even disappear. You have to nurture symbol seven whilst you are working. . . . Structural integration is the relating of segments so that they will act as a single unit” (Kramer 1985, 182).

The X-shaped figure Hutchins distinguishes as solar, representing movement, communication with the external world, and action from the lumbodorsal hinge – the midpoint of the X in the symbol (Kaplan 1987). He also stated, “This figure is result. It is also the definition of particle (or current) as we have discussed . . . about the electromagnetic fields of the body. This figure has no pelvis and there is no shoulder girdle. There is a dorsal hinge and it is from this point that all of this figure’s movement radiates. This figure is all movement and all action” (Kramer 1985, 178).

For the figure with right-angled limbs, Hutchins said represented order (top/ bottom, left/right, horizontal/vertical; core/ sleeve, and hinges) and identified it as lunar noting that it is nourished from the universe and nurtures itself (Kaplan 1987). Hutchins advises to “pay attention to working the core to the outside . . . the figure is seeking unity with the universe, not isolation, and it seeks integration through the girdles. The girdles are the middle ground through which the core will find a unity with the field in which we live” (Kramer 1985, 182). Also, “This figure is stimulus. It is also the field phenomenon in our discussion of electromagnetic fields of the body. . . We see here right-angledness, and we see horizontals as well as verticals. There are all three axes; there is entry and exit from the body. This is getting oneself in agreement with the universe. Control is through the top of the head, vitalization through the feet” (Kramer 1985, 178).

“A Searcher’s Handbook” does not give a symbol for session ten. A version attributed to Hutchins (undated) is shown in Figure 3, while Kaplan’s (1987) class notes from Hutchins show the same representation with little lines coming off at angles all around the body, as if it is radiating energy (rather than the horizontal lines of the mid-1990s figure). Hutchins (2013) states, “The wavy line (to me) implies a core structure free from the girdles and with independent spinal motion.” A student’s notes from Hutchins’s class state that “the Tenth hour integrates movement through the joints[,] enabling the body to stay in dynamic balance around the X, Y, Z axes, as it functions within the gravitational field. . . . [It] completes the process of organizing the body so that the gravity field supports the body’s energy field” (Kaplan, various).

Figure 3: Symbol for session10, from a student’s notes of a class with Emmett
Hutchins, date uncertain. Courtesy of Allan Kaplan

Now to the later symbols. No one I contacted was able to say what about the Ten Series the symbols were intended to represent. Hutchins and Melchior created symbols for sessions seven through ten that clearly represent the goals, or essence, of the sessions, in both their look and the way they described them in their classes. Looking at the additional figures for sessions one through six, it is hard to apply the same logic. Instead, it would seem they are more likely shorthand for the back work done in each session, as many show a seated figure. Kaplan and I discussed this in a phone conversation (2013), referencing back to his class notes (1987).

  • Traditional session-one back work was done with the client seated on the table with his feet in contact with the table and knees up, as would seem to be depicted in Figure 1. The practitioner would stand behind the client and do general spreading work to the back.
  • Session two back work was done on the bench, with the client connecting from the floor through the back, generating support from the ground and creating length. This could be what the artist was depicting.
  • Session three typically did not have back work on the bench; rather, it was done with the client in a sidelying posture. According to Kaplan, Hutchins said there was no such thing as third-hour back work, while Melchior said that if you needed to do work on the bench, you must have the client stay upright to maintain the front-to-back relationship you have worked on through the session. Perhaps this is what the symbol attempts to depict.
  • Back work in session four gives the client access to his sit-bones, and is to create space in the lumbars and balance length from inside (adductors, hamstrings). This would seem to be what the artist is indicating.
  • Session-five back work is to balance the psoas work. As the session has created length in the front of the body, you don’t have the client roll forward, but you may have him hinge from the sit-bones with an erect torso and activated psoas. Kaplan believes the symbol here shows the figure too far forward, although the arrows in front of the body do indicate the anterior length we are working to attain.
  • Session six has no bench work as the back work is done with the client prone on the table. This is consistent with the figure.
  • The mid-1990s symbol for session seven adds arrows to the earlier symbol. Kaplan’s notes have the goal of the back work on the bench being to link the trapezius to the lumbodorsal hinge with the client upright, keeping the head on top and relating large broad planes. The later figure does stress the importance of the head through the added arrows, but it does not depict a seated figure and does not seem very well correlated. It seems a better representation of Hutchins’s stated goal for the session of “intrinsic movement of the neck muscles” (Kramer 1985, 158).
  • Kaplan’s (1987) notes say that back work in sessions eight and nine is “whatever you need” with eight being more structural and nine more functional, with goals of connection through the feet, length, ease, mobility. The mid-1990s versions of the symbols for sessions eight and nine add arrows of directionality that could convey the connection through the feet and a more structural sense in “8” and functionality in “9”, but again without really making the symbols a good fit as a representation of back work alone. Perhaps “8” is meant to convey a lower session with girdle integration and function through the legs, while “9” expresses integration and function through both girdles, as would be achieved when both sessions were completed. This makes one wonder whether the artist for these figures was aware of the earlier explication that the two images combined were the representation of sessions eight and nine.
  • Session-ten back work, per Kaplan’s (1987) notes, is “whatever it takes to do the job.” The mid-1990s symbol does not seem to be about back work alone, but more about the horizontals one works to achieve (but depicted only in the spine).


It would seem that the mid-1990s figures added to and modified the earlier symbols to make a complete series, but in doing so the creator most likely combined two different premises: symbols that represent session results (the purpose of the original symbology), and symbols that encode instructions for back work during the series. In doing so, the artist made a representation for the Ten Series that is graphically strong and intriguing (Figure 1), but internally inconsistent.

It would be an interesting exercise to modify the complete set into two forms, each internally consistent. The first would follow the earlier premise that the symbols distill the completed work of each session. This would require modification of symbols one through six. A second set would follow the (assumed) later premise that the symbols represent back work, requiring modification of the final four symbols. These complete sets of symbols could then be more useful aids for visual learners.

Anne Hoff is the Editor-in-Chief of this Journal, and maintains a Rolfing practice in Seattle, WA. She blogs about Rolfing SI and embodiment at www.wholebodyintegration.com and can be emailed at [email protected].


  1. According to Jeff Linn (2013), in teaching “Peter and Emmett had two different symbols [for the tenth hour, neither of which is shown here]. The symbol that Emmett gave us for the tenth hour in 1992 and in successive classes in the 90s was the symbol of what he called ‘the circle squared’ (which is also the astrological symbol for earth). Peter used a line with a spiral around it to represent the tenth hour. . . think ‘tornado with a line in it.’”


Hutchins, E. 2013. Personal communication (email) with the author.

Kaplan, A., various. Archival collection of class notes, including student notes from a 1985 class with Peter Melchior and from an undated class with Emmett Hutchins.

Kaplan, A. 1987. Personal notes from classes with Emmett Hutchins and Peter Melchior.

Kaplan, A. 2013. Personal communication (telephone) comparing the Ten Series symbols with his 1987 notes on back work.

Kramer, C. 1985. “A Searcher’s Handbook” – unpublished manuscript of notes from a Rolfing class with Emmett Hutchins; passed hand to hand in the Rolfing community.

Linn, J. 2013. Personal communication (email) with the author.The Mystery of the Ten-Series Symbols[:]

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