The Being of Rolfing® SI

Pages: 33-39
Year: 2014
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 1

Volume: 42
Editor’s Note: Dr. Maitland was the keynote speaker at the 2013 membership conference of the Rolf Institute®. This was his presentation. In a world so dangerously out of balance as ours, the order that Rolfing SI bestows upon the body is a necessary and precious gift.

Posing the Question

Do you remember that glorious moment when you decided to become a Rolfer™? Can you recall the excitement, feelings of elation, and trepidation brought on by your decision? Since becoming a Rolfer, no doubt you have also performed inspired sessions that have left you breathless in the face of what can be accomplished. Go back to those wondrous moments. If you try to put into words what it was about Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) that put you under its spell, you will be taking a first step toward answering the question: “What is the ‘being’ of Rolfing SI?” The question is not asking for a definition of Rolfing SI. Nor is it asking for the essence of Rolfing SI. Accordingly, it is not seeking that unique quality or property that makes Rolfing SI distinctly Rolfing SI and distinguishes it from all things not Rolfing SI. After all, there is nothing unique about being unique. As we shall see, the power lies elsewhere.

I want to explore with you what Rolfing SI aspires to. For what it aspires to is what makes it the powerful and profound intervention that it is. What is going on in those magnificent moments when the compassionate and numinous power of Rolfing SI – its ability to affect the whole person by organizing the body in gravity – manifests in your work with inspired all-encompassing clarity? I am not interested in third-person descriptions in which an observer describes your behavior. I am mostly only interested in first-person descriptions – in your experience of truly understanding the being of Rolfing SI. Stated a different way, we are asking about the way of being of Rolfing SI or, what comes to the same thing, the way of being a Rolfer. We are in search of the numinous formative core of Rolfing SI – both in its formative power (which is capable of transforming a life by transforming the body) and in its seemly unlimited capacity to generate a variety of never-before-seen individual sessions. In seeking the way of being of Rolfing SI, we are also attempting to clarify, in experience, the compassionate power that makes what we do more than unwinding myofascia or just mechanically pushing flesh.

To further clarify our approach, we need to distinguish the being of Rolfing SI from what might be called the ‘doing’ of Rolfing SI. The doing of Rolfing SI is what we accomplish with our hands and elbows and words. It also includes the application of techniques and the creation of treatment strategies. In contrast, the way of being of Rolfing SI is the power to do Rolfing SI – to profoundly transform the body by embodying the principles of Rolfing SI. When you compare a Rolfer’s touch to that of a deep-tissue therapist, you discover an entirely different vector of intent that puts the release of tissue in the service of facilitating higher bodily order, not just getting rid of symptoms. You also find a distinctive way of seeing and evaluating the body. These discoveries mean that the being of Rolfing SI is also a way of seeing.


The Tao of Rolfing SI

To one degree or another, all of us have experienced the numinous power of Rolfing SI. Typically, especially in the beginning stages of our career, it shows up in our sessions now and then in varying degrees of intensity and depth. But, if we really want to explore the contours of the experience of getting the being of Rolfing SI, we need to explore it where it most clearly manifests – in those all-encompassing, creative moments when our work becomes more like an inspired performance of a piece of music than just applying a technique or dutifully following a recipe. During such grand moments, your work unfolds with an uncanny clarity of knowledge and intent that makes your every intervention effortlessly achieve its greatest effect, often leaving you breathless.1

When you truly get the being of Rolfing SI, your body gets it. Your body feels possessed of an uncanny ‘know-how’ that fills you with a profound sense of freedom and the sense that something greater is working through you. Analogous to the way your whole body and mind are seized with laughter when you get a joke or are moved to tears when you hear an inspired performance of music, you are seized with the living, breathing, being of Rolfing SI. You are seized with the practical bodily know-how that is capable of transforming lives by transforming bodies. You cannot manifest this level of understanding without concepts, lots of study, and lots of hard work. Although it can be shaped by concepts, ultimately this kind of knowing does not come from concepts alone. It is not the kind of know-how that you can easily capture in reflective thought.

Before we look at an example of ‘getting it,’ let me remind you that we are looking at the extreme all-out manifestations of inspired Rolfing SI because it promises to reveal more clearly the contours of this experience. These wonderful moments of inspired work come and go. They vary greatly in their intensity in our day-to-day practice, whether you’ve been practicing Rolfing SI thirty years or thirty days. Please do not think that you are not doing good work unless every session exemplifies the all-out extremes discussed here.

Martial artist Peter Ralston relates an incident that illustrates an aspect of what happens when you get the being of a practice. When he was a student of judo, he wanted to practice more hours than his dojo was open. He solved this problem when he stumbled upon the idea of practicing his throws in his mind. While practicing in his mind and on the mat he discovered something amazing. “While sitting there one evening working on the throws in my mind, in a flash I simply ‘got’ judo. I got what it was . . . I understood what the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, had in mind. Judo was supposed to be easy! Suddenly I didn’t have to learn technique after technique searching for judo – I could create techniques from my new understanding. It seemed unbelievable, even after my success with mind training, but the power of this insight was proven by an immediate change in my abilities. Overnight, I became good at judo” (Ralston 2006, 16-17).2 He practiced visualization and actual judo diligently and constantly until he suddenly got it. At the very same moment he grasped the being of judo, his abilities were instantly enhanced; and he became the living, breathing manifestation of the being of judo. He was able to drop his thinking self and surrender his will to the intelligence of his body. Suddenly, he was not just someone who practiced and understood judo; he was the embodiment of judo itself. Notice that he said he did not have to learn technique after technique in search of judo. Since he got being of judo, he was able to create new techniques from his new bodily understanding and perception that were precisely designed to deal with the present situation. Creating new techniques was possible because of his shift to a whole-body understanding of the meaning and being of judo.

Similarly, Rolfers who get it find that their search for this kind of whole-body understanding through practicing the ‘Recipe’ ceases. Although the search ends, they may continue using the Recipe as a way to bring this experience forth. In time, as they learn to see more holistically, they move into creative ways of working that are not dependent upon formulistic protocols. From their new understanding, they create new techniques, new ways of seeing, new ways of manipulating fascia, and a seemly endless number of varied and sundry ways to intervene. All the while, their sessions become more and more geared to the individual needs of the clients and less and less about being true to the Recipe. When they get the being of Rolfing SI, their sessions do not get sidetracked by their unsettled, self-critical, thinking mind. They become better Rolfers. Their hands-on skills and perceptual vitality are both enhanced. They are no longer bound by recipes, often get better change with less effort, see more clearly and holistically where their clients’ patterns of strain are, and create new techniques in response to their clients’ needs. Surprisingly, even if they employ the very same techniques and treatment strategies they have always employed, they get better results.

To get the being of Rolfing SI, you have to be seized with this kind of understanding not just once, but over and over again as you develop and evolve throughout your career. Then you become the living, breathing manifestation of the being of Rolfing SI and the seeing that comes with it. You do not have to search for the being of Rolfing SI, because you are the being of Rolfing SI.

For an even richer understanding of getting the being of Rolfing SI, we turn next to the great Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu. What follows, “The Tao of Rolfing SI” (Maitland 1990, 1), is a respectful, but slightly altered version of Chuang Tzu’s “Cutting Up an Ox” (Merton 1995, 45-77). The original story is about a Taoist butcher. I changed the text in a few critical places – surprisingly few, when you think about it – in order to make it about a Taoist Rolfer.

John’s Rolfer was demonstrating

His art on a volunteer from the audience.

Out went a hand,

Down went a shoulder,

He planted a foot,

His fingers joined with the flesh,

The volunteer’s body shuddered,

Softened, lengthened,

And suddenly it was integrated and at ease.

With a whisper,

The Rolfer’s fingers pulsated with the flesh,

It’s like a gentle breeze.

Rhythm! Timing!

Like a sacred dance,

Like “The Mulberry grove,”

Like ancient harmonies!

“Good work!” John exclaimed.

“Your method is faultless!”

“Method?” said the Rolfer,

His hands still in contact with the volunteer,

“What I follow is the Tao of Rolfing SI,

Beyond all methods!

“When I first began to

‘Rolf,’ I would see before me

The whole body

All in one mass.

“After three years,

I no longer saw this mass.

I made distinctions among parts.

“But now, I see nothing

With the eye. My whole being


My senses are idle. The spirit,

Free to work without the Recipe,

Follows its own instinct

Guided by the natural Palintonic lines,

By the secret opening, the hidden space,

My hands find their own way.

I use no excessive force, I scour no bones.

“A good bodyworker needs a vacation

Once a year – he works with great effort

And large calluses.

A poor bodyworker needs a vacation

Every month – he mashes fascia with sweating,

Swollen hands.

“I am not a bodyworker.

And I have ‘Rolfed’ this way for nineteen years.

My hands have touched

Thousands of people.

Yet they are soft and supple

Like a baby’s.

Never do I feel pain or dis-ease.

“There are spaces in the body;

My fingers can be either fat or lean:

When this deftness

Finds that space

There is all the room you need!

It goes like a breeze!

Hence I have ‘Rolfed’ this way for nineteen years

Free of calluses and all effort.

“True, there is sometimes

Tough tissue. I feel it coming,

I slow down, I watch closely,

Hold back, barely move my hands,

And whoosh! something opens and makes way

Gently flowing like a river.

“Then I withdraw my hands,

I stand still

And let the joy of my work

Sink in. I wash my hands

And my work is done.”

John said,

“This is it. My Rolfer has shown me

How I ought to live

My own life!”

Chuang Tzu’s story is wonderful description of a practitioner who gets it with his whole being and, by example, demonstrates “. . . how I ought to live my own life.” In it, we see similarities to Ralston’s account. For the most part, the experience of getting the being of a practice with your whole being is the same whether we are talking about getting the being of Rolfing SI, judo, cutting up an ox, or performing a piece of music. Because goals and procedures by which the goals are reached for each activity are different, how they are performed obviously will not be the same. But the experience of effortless freedom that results when your activity becomes like an inspired performance is common to all forms of inspiration.

Similar to Ralston, the Taoist Rolfer was able to work impeccably and creatively with what each individual’s unique structure required without being constrained by formulistic protocols or having to deal with the interference of his thinking self. He was able to work outside the Recipe because his way of working completely and fully flowed from his living the being of Rolfing SI. Because he was free enough to become one with his client, his hands became deft at finding and creating space and allowing tough tissue to release itself without effort. He no longer perceives the body as an assembly of parts. He instinctively perceives holistically. He now sees symptoms as modifications of larger patterns and primary strain patterns as relational imbalanced wholes. Whereas he used to practice Rolfing SI with direct muscular effort and will, he now works effortlessly with his whole body and finds that his hands are capable of allowing a space for the kind of change the body can afford. As a result, order naturally and necessarily appears. Because of his new orientation, even before he places his hands on his client, his very presence is often enough to initiate change. By pre-reflectively accessing the reservoir of bodily know-how, he feels as if something is working through him making room for change. He has become like the poet whose poems write themselves.

Most intriguing of all is an experience he reports on that Ralston overlooked: an enhanced perceptual ability that both includes and goes beyond the five senses. He says that when he first began to practice Rolfing SI, he saw the whole body all in one mass. Then after three years he no longer saw the mass – instead, he saw distinctions and parts. Even though the perceptual vitality of all his senses is greatly enhanced, now he sees nothing with the eye because his whole being apprehends. He discovered what many practitioners discover after years of devoting themselves to a practice like Rolfing SI: his whole being is the sensorium. Not only can he perceive more holistically and work with more clarity and precision, his ability to perceive goes beyond the five senses, and he finds himself able to perceive with his body and energy. As a result, he can work effectively on the many levels of fixation delineated by the taxonomies of assessment. With unerring precision, his body often knows where and how to work on his client, even before he ever brings it into reflective awareness.

Bodily Know-How

To get the being of Rolfing SI is to be in touch with a reservoir of bodily know-how. As a way to catch a glimpse of this kind of freedom in action, imagine what it might be like to engage in a judo match after getting the being of judo. For the duration of the match, you would not be thinking about how to move or counter your opponent’s move. Instead, you would find yourself moving effortlessly with complete freedom, making all the right choices without breaking the flow of one movement into the next by means of too much planning or thinking. The same goes for an inspired Rolfer, an inspired musician, or an inspired butcher. Their every movement occurs at a pre-reflective level where the intention to move and the actual movement are experienced as one and the same action. This free flow of one movement into the next is not a matter of your planning what to do, willing your body to move, and then moving it. Rather, during the judo match, there is just effortless, pre-reflectively conscious, intelligent, purposeful throwing of your opponent and countering his moves. Later, when you report on what you were pre-reflectively doing, you bring it into reflective awareness and think about it. But, the minute you think about it, the exquisite free flow of one movement into the next disappears.

Whether we are considering judo throws, Rolfing SI manipulation, or playing a musical instrument, this intelligent and effortless freedom of moving and acting only happens when we are not attending to what we are doing. Under these conditions, there is no reflective intention in play and no thinking self to get in the way. Unless you are learning some new throws or struggling to move after an injury, you do not typically move by reflectively intending to move and then moving. If you are a master of judo, in the heat of a match, where each movement freely flows into the next, your every move would be a manifestation of a pre-reflective understanding of the being of judo. Your actions are the discourse of getting it; and the language of the being of judo is found in how you move. If you want to know whether someone gets the being of a practice and speaks its language, watch him move. (If your opponent also grasped the being of judo, it would be especially dangerous to think about your actions. If you did attend to what you were doing, a gap would appear in your freely flowing movement; your opponent would immediately sense your vulnerability and just as quickly slam you to the mat. You would surely lose.)

Similarly, a seasoned Rolfer knows how to get out the way by dropping his reflective self and letting his pre-reflective bodily know-how reveal what needs to be done and then performing the appropriate manipulations. Effortlessly, from his whole-body understanding, one manipulation freely flows into the next – intelligently, yet without the compulsion to reflect on what he is doing or without the need to grasp his actions in representational thinking. Although we do not normally associate thinking with the body, our body is a psychobiological intentional whole. It is not a thing we inhabit, but a condition for inhabiting things. Our body is who we are (our I-am-self ), and because it is deliquescently graced with mind, it is capable of assessing and negotiating and making its way intelligently through the world without engaging in reflective thought.

Initially, it may be difficult to grasp the claim that the body is intelligent because we thoughtlessly share a worldview that has stood in the denial of the body for 2,500 years. Our understanding of the body is occluded by a worldview that embraces what is known as ‘metaphysical dualism’: the view that body and mind are utterly separate and distinct ontological kinds. In the modern world, this view is also accompanied by the assumption that the body is a soft machine. When you add to these inherited blinders the fact that we are also not very cognizant of how much of our daily experience takes place at the pre-reflective level of consciousness (where this kind of bodily know-how is always operating), it is easy to see why it is so difficult for us to grasp this kind of bodily intelligence. After all, how do you grasp something that only appears when you are not thinking about it? The minute we try to think about or reflect on it, it ceases being a freely flowing activity we are pre-reflectively living through and becomes an object of thought.

Given that we tend to reduce all thinking to the reflective level of thought; given that we cannot grasp or represent to ourselves much of this whole-body knowing in reflective thought; and given that we do not trust what we cannot experience in reflection, we remain skeptical, confused, or unsure about our experience. But when you finally surrender to the way of knowing that comes with getting it, you learn to trust your body’s intelligence, and your work becomes effortless and inspired.


The Greater Whole Has No Parts to Sum

Let’s shift gears into another level of discourse. Since this conference is devoted to the relationship of Rolfing SI to complementary, alternative, and standard healthcare, I should probably say something about this topic. Have you ever wondered why so many people, including many manual therapists, find Rolfing SI difficult to understand, often lumping it together with massage or deep-tissue therapy? Just think of those clients who questioned why you were working on their feet when they came to you to get their neck fixed. Dr. Rolf often complained about how many of the manual therapists she trained from other professions would simply use her techniques as an adjunct to their already established corrective practice of treating symptoms in a piecemeal manner, without ever understanding her bigger vision.

We h a va l lx pr in cd big misunderstood in this way. I want to explore just one particularly insidious philosophical presupposition that feeds these misunderstandings. That is, the metaphysical presupposition that asserts that the universe is fundamentally a mechanical event – from which it follows that living organisms are machines. Since the way most healthcare professionals think about the body and deliver therapy is dominated by this highly misleading way of thinking about living bodies, it is very important to expose this mechanistic view to scrutiny and bring into sharp relief the limitations of any therapy based on it. As we shall see, the mechanistic ontology utterly fails to understand the organization of the living body. As a result, it also utterly fails to understand the nature of holism, which includes Rolfing SI.3

This metaphysical presupposition finds its origins in the work of Galileo and Descartes. It is coupled with metaphysical dualism, which claims that mind and body are utterly distinct and separate. It understands organic order as mechanical order – the body is a thing made of localized parts. The assumption that the body is composed of parts predisposes therapists to practice what could be called corrective therapy (a form of therapy that conceives of symptoms atomistically and treats them in a piecemeal manner.)4 Because the corrective practitioner sees the body as an assemblage of localized parts, he does not properly grasp what is essential to the holistic approach: the nexus of interdependent relationships that characterizes living wholes. Organic wholes are analogous to a hologram where the whole is present in each aspect and each aspect is distributed throughout the whole. Thus, with respect to living wholes, there is nothing more fundamental to the order and organization of the whole than the whole itself. As a result, every aspect of the organism exists for and by means of every other aspect, and every aspect enters into the constitution of every other aspect of the organism.

Although, he may pay lip service to the importance of holistic medicine, the corrective practitioner neither sees with holistic eyes nor thinks holistically. Due to his years of training in a mechanistically oriented science, he cannot help but see the body as a thing made of parts and symptoms as isolated phenomena. The mechanistic framework prevents him from understanding or even looking for the larger pattern, of which the symptom is but a modification. It also prevents him from grasping the chain of dysfunctional dependencies and tendencies to which the symptom is related and from seeing how the larger pattern is intrinsically connected to the whole body in relation to gravity. Since the piecemeal way in which he treats symptoms does not take account of the relational character of living wholes, he does not realize how an intervention in one area of the body can be limited or augmented by what happens in many areas of the body. Consequently, corrective practitioners tend not to properly evaluate how well or poorly the whole body responds to injury or their interventions and, hence, not to understand the importance of determining the appropriate order in which interventions are delivered.

To state the point differently, since he has no training in how to see the body holistically, he has little or no appreciation for or ability to apply the principles of intervention. Consider, for example, the adaptability and support principles. The adaptability principle states that order is a function of the body’s ability to adapt to an intervention. If the body cannot adapt to your interventions, it will revert back to the way it was or your interventions will drive strain elsewhere – or both. The support principle says that order is a function of available support. If there is no adequate support for changes introduced by your intervention, the body will go back to the way it was or manifest strain elsewhere in the body – or both. Lacking the ability to perceive living wholes and how they respond to injury or intervention and seduced by the mechanical ontology, the corrective practitioner cannot easily determine what to do first, what to do next, and when to finish. As a result, his client evaluations and treatment plans are always incomplete, because they are missing the response of the whole body. For example, if a client presents with any number of equally painful symptoms, the practitioner has no reliable way to decide which one to treat first. The mechanical perspective at the heart of the corrective approach is of no use in trying to decide this issue or most other clinical decisions. Why? Quite simply, the body does not respond to injury or intervention the way a machine does, because it is organized differently.

In contrast to the corrective practitioners, holistic practitioners see the body, mind, and spirit as one unified whole. Their goal is to bring harmony, balance, and morphological integrity to the whole person in relation to his environment. The purpose of therapy is more encompassing than simply getting rid of symptoms. You can easily see this purpose exemplified in the stated goal of Rolfing SI: to enhance the whole person by getting him right with gravity through removing, in the appropriate order, obstacles to the organism’s intrinsic ongoing drive to enhance, develop, mature, and become itself (what Metchnikoff, the father of immunology, called orthobiosis). Clients do not get fixed or cured. Rather, they gain a kind of structural maturity in which there is no longer any place for their troubles to reside. Symptoms5 are not seen as isolated events within the body. Rather, symptoms are treated as a modification of a larger pattern or relationship that is out of balance with the whole. Because symptoms such as back pain interfere with the goal of achieving integration, they are addressed both correctively and holistically. But, for the most part, symptoms are seen as a modification of a larger pattern; that is, as relationships, not as isolated fixations. The interventions of Rolfing SI aim at bringing the dysfunctional pattern back into appropriate relationship with the whole, including the environment. Working with the wholeness of the body and its nexus of relationships is essential to the holistic approach and the foundation for lasting change.

Holism and Organic Order

Unfortunately, holism has become a buzzword that is typically applied thoughtlessly to practices that are not holistic. Since Rolfing SI is a holistic discipline and the concept of holism is often misused and abused, we must be clear about what we mean by holism and biological order. As a way to begin thinking about it, consider an analogy from Merleau-Ponty (1963, 131): “In a soap bubble as in an organism, what happens at each point is determined by what happens at all others. But this is the definition of order.” This kind of order is at the heart of Rolfing SI and the foundation of any holistic system. Thus, the fundamental principle of holistic intervention is reflected in the soap-bubble analogy: no principle of intervention can be the fulfilled unless all are. For example, recall our discussion of the support principle. Because the whole body is an interdependent relational whole, if you introduce changes for which there is no support, your intervention will fail, and you may create difficulties elsewhere.

Too many people, including the majority of healthcare providers, are still under the spell of a ‘machine-ontology,’ believing that the body is nothing more than a soft machine mysteriously inhabited by a ghostlike thing we call consciousness. But when we examine more closely the idea that the body is a soft machine, we discover something surprisingly obvious: the way your body is organized is nothing like the way even the most complicated machine is organized. A machine is put together from pre-shaped, isolated, replaceable thing-parts. Communication between parts is made possible by connecting them by means of yet another part.

Clearly, living creatures are not made of isolated thing-parts, and they are not assembled. Since the body is a unified, seamless, self-organizing whole in which everything is related to everything else, communication is one aspect of the body’s internal milieu and, hence, intrinsic to the organism. Organisms come into being from living tissue and nothing in their process of coming to be is the least bit comparable to being put together or assembled. Biological order is self-organized and developmental; it is not an order assembled from the outside with pre-shaped parts. We do not say a baby is being assembled in the womb. We say a baby is developing in the womb. Organisms develop. Machines are assembled and have no intrinsic developmental potential. Mechanical order and developmental order could not be more different.

Strictly speaking, the body does not have parts – at least not in the same sense a machine has parts. Since the body is not made of stand-alone parts, it obviously cannot be considered an assembled structure. Since the body is not made of parts that exist independently from the body, the expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is nonsense, at least with respect to living organisms. The body is a self-sensing, unified, seamless, developmental, self-organizing whole in which no one aspect or detail is any more fundamental to the make-up and organization of the whole than the whole itself. Unlike a machine, a tent, or a stack of blocks, which have no developmental potential, every detail of the organism – whether it is an organ, a bone, or myofascial structure – is an unmistakably clear, although differently formed, expression of the same self-shaping wholeness and biological identity. Every aspect of an organism is an expression of its self-organizing unified wholeness; every aspect of the organism exists for and by means of every other aspect; and every aspect enters into the constitution of every other aspect of the organism. The whole is expressed in every aspect, and every aspect is spread throughout the whole. Each aspect of the body is what it is because it stands in relationship, not because it stands apart as its own being. You are not an aggregate of pre-shaped parts that lie side by side. Every aspect of your psychobiological nature is a matchless manifestation of your self-shaping, unified, developmental wholeness.

What we are tempted to call parts are better understood as relationships that are related to many other relationships. Thus, we can say that the body is actually a relationship in which all relationships are related. The prevailing notion of body parts is an abstraction that does not exist in nature. Organic order is developmental, self-organizing, interconnected, and


relational, hence, holistic. To appreciate this interconnected relational whole, imagine the body as a vastly complicated system of mirrors in which each mirror mirrors the others mirroring the whole.

Interestingly, our little investigation into why Rolfing SI is not better understood has made it obvious that Rolfing SI’s way of being is a way of seeing that is holistic. As such, it demands that therapy proceed in a much different way than corrective therapy. Holistic Rolfing SI manipulation and Rolf Movement® Integration cannot achieve the goals of Rolfing SI if forced to work in a piecemeal fashion, treating symptom by symptom. They must take account of many interdependent relationships, because as Merleau-Ponty’s soap-bubble analogy indicates, what happens in one place is determined by what happens every place. Taking account of interdependent relationships that are characteristic of living wholes requires determining the appropriate order in which various fixations and relationships are to be released in a principled way.

When all is said and done, it is not surprising that Rolfing SI has been misunderstood. Confusion about holism and Rolfing SI abounds. Because most people are only familiar with the corrective approach, they can only think about how things work from the mechanistic point of view. Furthermore, since the word holism is often misapplied to activities that are not holistic, most people remain in the dark about what holism is. To obscure matters further, corrective therapy (with its commitment to the mechanical view of reality) is the way most healthcare practitioners practice their art and the way most clients experience manual therapy. On top of that, we cannot even call upon biological theory for help. While being explored by a growing number of biologists, a fully developed theory of holism and biological order does not yet exist; and many biologists still maintain a mechanistic view of the body.

While these ideas are a bit complicated, they are not too difficult to grasp. But given that it took a little intellectual labor to articulate this understanding of organic order, holism, and the kind of therapy it demands, is it any wonder that many people do not understand holism, and, hence, Rolfing SI? After all, in a world where sound bites pass for understanding, philosophical elucidation is rarely tolerated.


Experiencing the Power of Rolfing SI

In preparation for the group experiential exercise, which will bring our talk to a close, let’s pick up the thread from where we left our discussion of inspired Rolfing SI. When our work is inspired, we are energized and ignited by the power of Rolfing SI. We find ourselves in a potent state of allowing, infused with creative energy, and able to instinctively access the reservoir of our bodily know-how. Our discriminating consciousness and feeling nature become integrated in a form of perception that transcends, without leaving behind, the senses, giving us the ability to perceive with our whole being. As each intervention flows unencumbered into the next, we pre-reflectively perform the art of Rolfing SI in perfect freedom. In this way, the being, the seeing, and the power of Rolfing SI appear.

After all this talk, it is only fitting that we conclude our discussion of the being of Rolfing SI with a group experiential exercise designed to allow you to experience the power and being of Rolfing SI without your having to engage in its hands-on activity. Ordinarily, you do not experience its power independent of the activity of practicing Rolfing SI. But today, we are going to create space within which you will be able to perceive its presence, unmediated and unencumbered. For a hands-on therapist, such an experience can be very useful. If you can recognize the power of Rolfing SI without using your hands, you will be better able to recognize its appearance when you are using your hands. As a result, you will be in a much better position to cultivate it.

In order to provide you with a bridge to a direct experience of how the being of Rolfing SI appears, I will briefly discuss indirect technique as a way to remind you of what you already know. Imagine a structure that should be straight but is sidebent to the right. If you are tempted to push it to the left in order to strengthen it, you would be employing a direct technique. But if you were to push the structure further to the right into its lesion and let it unwind back to what is normal and straight, you would be applying an indirect technique. Now, the most fascinating aspect of the indirect technique is the second phase. The first phase we understand quite well. We mobilize our will, exert a little effort, and gently push it to the right. But in the second phase, instead of mobilizing our will, we step out of the way and allow the body to straighten itself. We step out of the way and drop our self. We do not use our will or employ any effort or intention to make the change. Rather, we allow the body to find its way home.

Going one step further: if we can allow the body to find its way home in the second phase, do we even need the first step of pushing it further into the lesion? The answer is no. We could, for example, just hold the cranium, let go of the self and all desires to help the person, and just let the body find its way home. If you were to successfully apply this technique, you would find yourself practicing an aspect of biodynamic craniosacral work.

Let’s take this exercise yet another step. If by cradling the cranium we can allow the body to find its way home without using our will, what would happen if we removed our hands altogether from our client’s body, got ourselves out of the way, and just let the body correct itself? Although your hands are remarkably sensitive, your ability to perceive with them is limited by what hands can perceive. By removing your hands from your client you open yourself to perceiving with your whole being, body and all, as well as transcending the limitations of your hands and other senses. If you were to successfully apply this technique, you would become like the Taoist Rolfer, no longer bound by seeing the distinctions or encumbered by the limitations of senses, but able to perceive with your whole being. In this highly potent state of allowing, you see more and feel more; and change for your client is inevitable. You are manifesting the being of Rolfing SI – because you are infused with the power of Rolfing SI that is at the compassionate core of our work.

Now that we have arrived, it is time to return to where we started – not just to the start of this talk, but to when you practiced Rolfing SI on your first client. In that first moment, in that first stroke, all of what we have been talking about was there. It was there in all your classes and there in your Rolfing SI room. Now can you take what you have perceived and bring it to bear the next time you place your hands on a client? Let your work manifest the being of Rolfing SI and let your body and hands be its living appendage. [Editor’s Note: The group experiential exercise that Maitland mentions is not included here, nor is a transcript of the question-and-answer period.]


  1. For a much more detailed description of how the transformative turn to a creative performance occurs and is experienced, see chapter 4 in my book Spacious Body.
  2. What is particularly fascinating about Ralston’s account is that, without real­izing it, he stumbled upon Goethe’s method for learning to perceive the being of something. Goethe called the being of something the ‘Ur-phenom­enon.’ The implications for Rolfing SI are enormous. The Ur-phenomenon gives us a way to make sense of the otherwise incoherent idea of an energy blueprint that sustains and maintains our physical body. We can also use the idea of the Ur-phenomenon to clarify the meaning and role of the Little Boy Logo in our thinking about the body. We could argue that the logo is not an example of the problematic notion of an ideal body, but rather a concrete univer­sal. As such, the logo could be seen as a symbolic representation of the human Ur-phenomenon. For a discussion of the importance of the Ur-phenomenon to Rolfing SI in our search for the being of Rolfing SI, see my article “Patterns that Perpetuate Themselves” (Maitland 2009), but ignore the last paragraph, it is wrong and confused.
  3. My criticism of the mechanistic ontol­ogy and the kind of therapy it supports should not be taken to mean that I be­lieve a mechanistic approach to biology is altogether wrongheaded. I have no objection to the methodology of trying to understand biological processes through mechanistic models. What I object to is the unsupported idea that all living crea­tures are nothing more than machines. This latter view is metaphysics, plain and simple, not science. It results from confusing methodology with ontology.
  4. The ensuing comparison of the holistic and corrective approaches to manual therapy rests upon what I have called the three paradigms of practice (Mai­tland 1995). They are the relaxation, corrective, and holistic paradigms and represent three ways any form of health­care can be practiced. The goal of the relaxation paradigm is to bring about the relaxation response by means of a vari­ety of techniques from hot packs/cold packs to massage therapy. The corrective approach is designed to release the body from pain and dysfunction. Practitioners tend to treat in a piecemeal fashion as if symptoms were isolated phenomena. The goal of the holistic approach is to introduce order, balance, and harmony into the whole person by integrating the body in the environment. Practitioners treat relationships rather than isolated fixations. These distinctions are often blurred in the actual practice of many manual therapists. Even though they may have been schooled in a correc­tive approach, with enough experience many practitioners start seeing rela­tionships and patterns rather than just isolated symptoms. As a result, they often find themselves naturally working in a holistic way at times. As a matter of course, the holistic practitioner can accomplish the goals of the relaxation and corrective approaches, but relax­ation and corrective approaches cannot accomplish the goals of the holistic ap­proach, except by accident.
  5. The word ‘symptom’ can be understood in at least three ways: 1) “a sign of something else such as a disease state,” 2) “fixation (lack of appropriate conti­nuity),” or 3) “somatic dysfunction.” I mean ‘symptom’ in the second and third senses, and I use ‘fixation’ and ‘somatic dysfunction’ interchangeably. The first sense is used by the medical profession because it deals with disease. Rolfing SI is about structure and order in gravity, not disease.


Maitland, J. 1990 May/June. “The Tao of Rolfing SI” Rolf Lines 18(2):1.

Maitland, J. 1995. Spacious Body. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Maitland, J. 2009 Sept. “Patterns that Perpetuate Themselves.” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 37(3):23-30.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1963. The Structure of Behavior. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Merton, T. The Way of Chuang Tzu. New York: New Directions.

Ralston, P. 2006. Zen Body-Being. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.The Being of Rolfing® SI[:]

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