Rolf Movement® Faculty Perspectives:

A Conversation with Aline Newton
Pages: 6-14
Year: 2014
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 1

Volume: 42
Author's Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with Rolf Movement practitioners who incorporate movement studies within their practices in interesting ways.Over the past twenty years, Aline Newton and I have often participated in workshops taught by Hubert Godard. When we were together in October of 2013 attending a class held in southern Spain, I was reminded of Aline?s ability to articulate her passion about her studies with Hubert in a tangible and humanistic way. I conducted this interview with her to share some of the ideas that have been so meaningful to us with the larger community.

Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with Rolf Movement practitioners who incorporate movement studies within their practices in interesting ways.

Over the past twenty years, Aline Newton and I have often participated in workshops taught by Hubert Godard. When we were together in October of 2013 attending a class held in southern Spain, I was reminded of Aline’s ability to articulate her passion about her studies with Hubert in a tangible and humanistic way. I conducted this interview with her to share some of the ideas that have been so meaningful to us with the larger community.

Rebecca Carli: Do you remember what first inspired you to study movement?

Aline Newton: When I first met Hubert at the annual meeting in 1990, he was using a different kind of language to talk about the “lived” experience of gravity. The idea of gravity is what drew me to Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI). Ida Rolf said, “A person is a smaller field of energy operating within a larger one – the gravitational field” (Feitis 1978, 27). The interaction is the key. Even though she called the work “structural integration,” I think that Dr. Rolf intuited a lot about movement and function. Jim Asher tells of Dr. Rolf going all around NYC watching people move with Jennette Lee, a dancer who wrote the book This Magic Body. In her book, Lee (1946) describes the technique of imagining the body with axes extending out in different directions through the space, which I think may be where Dr. Rolf got the idea she called “span.” I think that movement was a major part of Dr. Rolf’s vision. But the language that was used tended to describe gravity as a force coming from the outside, and good organization in gravity was expressed as “alignment” of our major segments.

As you know, different influences have come through the Rolf Institute® (RISI) at various times since Dr. Rolf died in 1979. In my basic training in 1984, Jan Sultan introduced his Internal/External Model inspired in part by the cranial osteopaths. During my advanced training in 1988, Michael Salveson introduced us to Peter Levine and the functioning of the autonomic nervous system,1 as well as spinal mechanics – all useful models, but not primarily about an interaction with gravity. Then I heard Hubert describe the idea of “orienting in gravity.” This was a completely new view for me: the idea that gravity is a kind of information that we human organisms are actively using.

RC: Yes, gravity, our ubiquitous partner in life. What other ideas intrigued you?

AN: There are so many, and they have been developing over the years. At the time, Hubert described a sense of two directions – here were IPR’s axes, but understood as something we are engaged in finding. Also, he spoke about two centers of gravity, one for the chest/head/arms, G’,2 as well as G, the center of gravity of the body as a whole.3 One exercise we did that day was to hold a marionette in front of us as we ran to stimulate a change in G’. His point of view was so completely fascinating to me that I knew right away that I wanted to study with him. In January 1991, he did a workshop in Boulder and that was the beginning of my studies with him that have continued over many years and taken me to a lot of different countries. I was very grateful to be included in a series of five workshops for French speaking Rolfers that took place in Switzerland from 2008-2011.

RC: When you first learned about the presence and function of G and G’, how did this change your work with clients in your practice?

AN: One of the ongoing conversations at the RISI is around the value of the ten-session ‘Recipe.’ It is sometimes described pejoratively as formulaic – which may be true if it becomes just a list of places to work. When I take a functional viewpoint, the Recipe starts to make a deeper sense. For example, in Dr. Rolf’s book, very early on, she states that organized feet create the base of human structure. Yet everyone who knows the traditional Recipe knows that she didn’t start with the feet. Why? You can look at the Recipe as describing a logical unfolding for reorganizing a person’s way of moving in gravity. People have written about this many times. In a building you build from the ground up. You have to start at the foundation. In a person, you are built, in a sense, from the top down, in terms of your perceptions, the early development of head control, the way that you use your arms to reach for things before you actually stand up. Clearly, if you are trying to change the foot, and the organization of G’ influences it, then you have to mobilize the upper body first. That is the logic described in the Recipe and that makes sense to me.

Dr. Rolf used the ideal of plumb-line alignment, but we can’t live there. In order to respond to our ever-changing internal needs and environment, we have to move. We may be able to maintain a visible alignment for a moment in standing, however, in order to reach, walk, move, even breathe, one or the other gravity center has to mobilize first – one has to initiate to allow the movement.

RC: Yes, I remember when I first learned the Recipe, the directions for the first session were: free the breath, horizontalize the pelvis.

AN: Horizontals were a difficult concept for me – and I couldn’t see them! Horizontalizing the pelvis implies an ideal position that doesn’t fit with the reality of movement. A way of understanding the logic of the first session is that we have to help make available a change in G’ (the gravity center of the chest) in relation to its reference point: the imaginary line between the heads of the femurs. Usually we will see a preference, with G’ habitually staying either behind or in front of that line. Session One opens up the potential for changes in that habit that will lead to changes in G, the general gravity center, which is referenced by how the weight falls through the feet at Chopart’s joint line,4 which will be part of the traditional Second Hour. Without the movement perspective, it would be hard to justify why Session One would come first.

RC: I first learned about Rolfing [SI] while I was a graduate student in modern dance. Through umpteen Rolfing and Rolf Movement sessions, I gained a powerful felt experience of the changes our work could create. To a dancer, they were profound in increasing freedom of movement, ease, and range of expression. Once I began my studies at the Rolf Institute, I searched for a theory that could explain my original felt experience and I found it when I heard Hubert speak for the first time at a U.S. annual meeting.

AN: I had my first Rolfing sessions while I was in college studying philosophy and psychology. I didn’t have back pain – I had late adolescence! My first Rolfing series felt like a huge emotional/psychological transformation. Difficult feelings I didn’t know I had surfaced; more ease and confidence followed. I found it fascinating that my sense of myself could change through a physical experience. So I came to Rolfing [SI] as a profession from that angle. I wasn’t a dancer or an athlete. Many people associate movement with exercise, dance, or sports, but I am drawn to movement because it’s the nature of what it is to be alive. You can’t do anything without having an embodied aspect to it. Even today’s roboticists will tell you that embodiment is necessary for intelligence! (Pfeifer and Bongard 2007). “Embodied” means interacting with gravity, with the environment, perceiving.

RC: Yes, I love that. Charlotte Selver often spoke about moving to wake up and come to your senses!

AN: I am interested in the smallest movements, ones that don’t seem like movement to most people. The movements that allow us to keep our balance, the way weight transfers when we take a step, the way we manage the movement of breathing without disrupting our stability. Hubert would call these “pre-movements.” I love the quote from Dr. Rolf: “In order to be a Rolfer, you have to be willing to live on shifting sands” (Feitis 1978, 53). Part of the challenge of being a human being is how to find stability without getting rigid. How to find security in a world that is changing all the time, which is what she expresses so beautifully in her statement. How to find a way to feel secure that doesn’t involve clinging to things that are going to get away from you. You have to be able to change the fixed point, to adapt. That is what movement work is to me. Even before someone else could see you as moving, you are dealing with all these different basic questions. Very often, these little movements that we associate with stability are also linked to a person’s way of making meaning.

RC: Can you say more about the relationship between pre-movement and perception?

AN: As our understanding of movement has deepened, we see how movement depends on perception. So much of early development has to do with learning to perceive – to select invariants to organize our world. Renegotiating the selection process is part of what movement work is about, long before gross motor movement enters into it. In order to change a movement pattern in an athlete or dancer, we must first go to that pre-movement level, because once the dancer or athlete is performing the movement, the die is already cast. The person has already picked the information that becomes the basis of the movement. Hubert really helped me see and understand this – and that gravity may be the only real constant we can perceive.

RC: How do you work with these ideas in a tangible way?

AN: On a fundamental level, the knowledge of how perception affects function, which becomes structure over time, shapes the way that I conceptualize my work. I ask myself a set of questions that becomes the basis for my ongoing assessment of how to shape the session and series of sessions. I might ask myself, “What is this person’s capacity to pick up her surroundings and sense of space around her?” In my office, I have a whole wall of windows that offers a panoramic view of Boston. About 85% of my clients come in and say, “Wow, what a great view!” However, there are some people who enter and don’t even see it. That already tells me something about how they relate to their environment. I don’t judge the people who walk into my office, but it is something that I notice. How people inhabit the space around them is as important to me as any structural consideration. I might ask myself, “How does the sense of the floor show up in their feet? Is there room for adaptation in G’, in G?” I ask myself a different set of questions to approach the question of what I am going to do first. It’s a conceptualization that I feel comfortable with. For example, if I set out in my First Hour to mobilize G’, then I may consider: is it the shoulder girdle that is really holding the whole system together? If the person is using his shoulder girdle for stabilization, then I could work really hard from a tissue perspective; however, when he stands up he will go back to his shoulder strategy. Like many of us, I don’t make a distinction between changing a person’s functional way of moving in gravity and Rolfing SI – they are happening simultaneously.

RC: Are there ways in which you do make a distinction between structural and movement work?

AN: Hubert talks about the difference between lesion and inhibition. In my practice, for example, someone might have had a Caesarean section, and yes, there is a scar – a literal, physical scar. However there can also be a ‘perceptual scar’ that can result in the simple self-protective (and often unconscious) gesture – “I don’t want to separate the two sides of my scar.” This would be a movement inhibition. On top of that, there might be the huge emotional impact of having an unwanted C-section with the anesthesia and so on. That makes three different layers that may be involved in this scar. Even the most sophisticated manipulation of the scar tissue will not be effective in the long run if what is most operative is the person’s sense of, “I better hold on.” That is a different story and the distinction can save us a lot of energy as practitioners. Having the distinction of lesion and inhibition in our vocabulary allows us to frame things more specifically and that is very powerful.

RC: So often clients have an objectified sense of their bodies, as if they are not at home.

AN: Clients come in and talk about their bodies as seen from the outside. We have all had this experience: I’ll ask a client what she is experiencing and she tells me what someone else told her about herself. The body as an experience is very tenuous in how we talk about ourselves. Or I ask my client what he is experiencing, and he says “nothing.” What he means is nothing out of the ordinary, or not in pain. He doesn’t mean that he isn’t having any sensations because if that were true, he would fall down. Perception is an invisible part of what it means to organize ourselves in space all the time. Bringing awareness to reference points that can help someone experience her body as organically connected to the world around her – such as ground and sky or a sense of backing, for example – reframes the person’s experience of her body as an activity that can be affected by shifts in her perception. Movement work is a frame for how I do everything with a person; it’s how I talk to myself about my experience of my work. Once you start to think of a person as an activity, your work becomes a different thing.

RC: Can you say more about what “embodied” means to you?

AN: It’s a different concept to start from the idea that a body is an activity, not an object. Unwittingly a person is making choices about how to create enough stability not to fall down. That is what it means to “be in a relationship with gravity.” We might consider that a person’s extra tensions and tight places are whatever is working the most to keep him upright on an ongoing basis. To accomplish this mission, he is inadvertently choosing a perceptual strategy, a movement strategy, over and over again. That strategy is reflected in the short tissue – the tissue can’t help but respond to the excessive loading. It’s not simply a tight muscle, a misbehaving part – it’s an honorable strategy for managing in gravity. There is logic to that system. Often, people talk about tight places as bad, but instead I see them as a reflection of the strategy that is being used to help the person stabilize. It’s an activity that he may employ many times per day, perhaps causing the pain that motivated him to call me. A manipulation that affects the tissue may also wake up the person’s capacity to catch on to his stabilization strategies and give him the freedom to make a different choice.

RC: A different choice?

AN: Renegotiating something so basic can go to the deepest places in a person. There can be emotional associations related to the most basic sense of security and often formed before we were old enough to use words. How a person stabilizes can have a lot of metaphorical dimensions. Along with just maintaining a sensitivity to this possibility, we can also be in conversation about what feels good about doing it this way, what feels dangerous about doing it a different way, or what feels potentially good about new options. People will often volunteer the imagery that comes to them in association with their different postures. To me, that is a key feature of integration. It’s important to consider how the extra tension is serving the person. Usually it is helping him feel more stable or safe. Then new options can evolve for stability and safety that may not cause extra tension or pain. We are not trying to strip away defenses, not just releasing tensions or opening up the fascia, we are trying to offer options for living more harmoniously with gravity, as well as having access to a bigger expressive range.

Rebecca Carli became a Rolf Movement Practitioner in 1987, a Certified Rolfer in 1989, a Certified Advanced Rolfer in 1992, and a Rolf Movement Instructor in 1994. She holds BA and MFA degrees in dance and graduated from the Pennsylvania Gestalt Therapy Institute in 1991. Rebecca first began ongoing studies with Hubert Godard in 1991. She lives and works in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Aline Newton is a Certified Advanced Rolfer, in practice for almost thirty years. She holds her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MA in Education from the University of Toronto. She served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the international Rolf Institute from 1994 to 1999. She has also been on the faculty of the Foundations Program of the Rolf Institute. Since 1990 she has studied extensively with Hubert Godard, and became a Rolf Movement Practitioner in 1996. She practices, teaches, and lectures in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  1. Levine’s work went on to become So­matic Experiencing™.
  2. In front of T4/T5, more or less.
  3. Most often somewhere around the um­bilicus, more or less between L2 and S2 – but not always! In some movements, the center of gravity, G, does not fall inside the body confines.
  4. Between talus, calcaneus, navicular, and cuboid.


Lee, J. 1946. This Magic Body. New York: Viking Press.

Pfeifer, R. and J. Bongard 2007. How the Body Shapes the Way We Think. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Feitis, R. (ed.) 1978. Ida Rolf Talks. Boulder, CO: Rolf Institute®.

A Conversation with Aline Newton

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