Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 1

Volume: 42

The universe has no center and no edges. In order to be an organism in said universe, we need a center and an edge. In order to have a Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) profession, we all need centers and edges. The center is where you are and the edges are where people meet. These have dependent origination, that is, the center helps create the edges and the edges help create the center. Gravity, edges, and Rolfing SI help create centers. Other people, family, and culture create our edges. The ?Recipe,? the Rolfing method, helps us create the individual?s center. The relationship between the Rolfer and the client helps create edges.

At the moment, many Rolfers see our profession as poised to disappear. Professions with a narrower domain and lesser impact are trying to legislate us out of existence ? subsume us into their ?box.? Or, cranial work, visceral manipulation, and SourcePoint Therapy® are taking us away from Ida?s central vision of what Rolfing SI is, and our work is becoming inclusive to the point of stating that Rolfing SI is everything. Our road to destruction is twofold ? we are either too small or too large. Sounds like we need an edge.

Another word for edge is boundary. Another word for boundary is identity; and since edges are where people meet, it is other professions that will help us decide those boundaries. Our mission, to organize the body in gravity, creates a center. This is a literal, objective, measurable center, and a subjective, psychological one as well. I know of no other profession that does this, and has the pictures to prove it. If there is no one else that is in our ?league,? besides the other schools that are heirs of Ida, where are our edges? If we meet no one, we are everyone. This is how we get to the ?too inclusive? pole.

According to Webster ?s dictionary, identity is 1) the relation established by psychological identification; 2) sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing, oneness; and 3) to conceive as united in spirit, outlook, or principle. If we satisfy numbers 1) and 2), then I think 3) will just naturally follow amongst our membership.

Rolfing SI ends up being transformative bodywork because we change the first definition for our clients, the relationship established by psychological identification (and the second definition, if we have pictures that document the emergence of horizontals and verticals). We help our clients with the awareness of their centers and edges, which results in the conditions under which individuality emerges. The best map for transformation of identity comes from Ken Wilber?s Integral Theory. This is not just a cognitive philosophy, it is also a body-centered one. Each of the splits in identity that Wilber talks about live in our central nervous system. Our identities get smaller, more defined, as each brain part develops and myelinates (as the human body grows and develops we go from spinal cord/special senses to brain stem to limbic system to cortex). We become ?larger? again as we practice the discipline of transformation. The road of life is to become more divided as we grow and age, and then, at twenty-five or so, we start the long journey back to wholeness.

If we unify persona and shadow, we get a whole mind. If we unify mind and body, we get a whole life. If we unify life and death, we get a whole organism. And if we unify organism and environment, we get the whole kit and caboodle ? Unity. How do we unify organism and environment? Gravity. So here we are, back at Rolfing SI.


Those professions that help us create our edges are those that explicitly state that their mission is to unify splits in identity through their own body of work/ knowledge. Some examples could be Somatic Experiencing? (life/death, trauma, brainstem), constellation therapy (family history/unity), and the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy (mind/body, limbic system). All use mindfulness as a tool to work at their various levels of identity.


My special ?center? tools are ?squeeze and breathe? back work (our familiar back work with an emphasis on a total flexion pattern) and SARA (sacral ambulatory/ respiratory axes).

<i>Squeeze and Breathe </i>

I remember being taught a Rolfing technique (seventeen years ago now, be kind) where the person was seated on a bench with his back against a wall. The Rolfer sunk into the client?s abdomen and contacted his psoas, then had him peel his upper body away from the wall, one vertebra at a time. ?Squeeze and breathe? is merely a variation of that, where the individual is seated on the bench, in proper position, with a bolster or yoga brick between his knees. The Rolfer stands behind him doing the normal back work, but the addition of the person?s compressive force at the knees applies a slight lateral expansive force at the sacroiliac joints. At a certain point in the forward roll, the client may hold his breath. Stop at that segment and have him gently extend his trunk back into your hands. Resist this motion and have him breathe several times to get a felt sense of that area of the body through the breath. Then have him continue flexing over to the end of his range.


This technique has both mechanical and neurological considerations. The primitive reflex you may be eliciting during this technique is called the ?crossed extensor reflex,? and is a part of the withdrawal reflex. The withdrawal reflex is the first functional layer of the central nervous system, and starts to appear five weeks after conception. The crossed extensor reflex can still be elicited in an adult; for instance, when you step on a sharp object while walking. The flexors on the injured side contract to pick the foot up and away from the object while the extensors on the opposite side contract to keep you from falling over. This facilitates contraction in the muscles in the hip and leg on the opposite side to get the center of gravity over the supporting leg. Walking on two legs co-opts, or transcends and includes, the crossed extensor reflex. It?s supposed to anyway.

In this technique, have your client lie prone with his feet off the edge of the table. Palpate the bony landmarks of the sacrum ? the inferior lateral angles and the sacral sulci ? to get a general sense of symmetry as well as muscular and ligamentous tension. Then explore the plantar surface of both feet by pressing firmly into the tissue. You will usually find a place around the ball of one foot that is the most painful. That?s the leg to start with. Let?s say it?s the right leg. Sit on the person?s right side, facing his feet, and stabilize that side of the sacrum firmly with your right hand. Hold the right leg just proximal to the knee with your other hand and very slowly abduct and slightly externally rotate the leg until you feel like the sacrum is being moved along with the leg. This can happen as soon as the first 2° of motion and as far along as 20°. This tiny movement of the sacrum is the first barrier. The earlier in the range this occurs, the more impaired the movement at the sacroiliac joint is.

Once you hit this barrier, go down to the foot and place the ball of the foot against your thigh (or bench, because to hold on to the sacrum and the ball of the foot at the same time results in bad body mechanics for the practitioner). Then ask the client to press against you (or the bench) into plantarflexion, steadily but firmly. Notice if his breathing stops, and call it to his attention as well. Many, but not all, will hold their breath as they attempt to do this. This is significant ? holding the breath during this contraction inhibits sacral motion around the horizontal axis. And since you have the legs in slightly different positions with relationship to flexion and extension, you are also creating a (slightly) oblique axis. At the place where the client stops breathing is the conflict between the axes of breathing and walking. Some people are unable to maintain a steady, firm contraction; rather, they push when they inhale and let go as they exhale. You must make the client focus on doing the two things at once ? pressing and breathing. After three, four, five, six breaths, the person?s breathing with spontaneously deepen, and simultaneously, you will feel increased movement around the horizontal axis of the sacrum. Savor this. Spend time here if you both notice a big change; or you can abduct the leg further, resist plantar flexion, and have him breathe again. Then, with the leg still abducted and externally rotated, go to the client?s head and have him lift it off the table to the place of perceived stiffness. He stays there (you help him hold his head up by placing your fingers on the sphenoid wings and your thumbs just above the bridge of his nose), feels into the stiffness, becomes mindful about it. Attention is energy, so it usually resolves, and the person can feel it decrease in twenty seconds or so. (If you don?t feel it letting go after about a minute, move on.) So, you free up the horizontal axis of the sacrum and then you work on the horizontal axis in the head. Repeat the whole procedure on the other side.

My post-ten clients really benefit from this technique: it brings additional freedom to the pelvis, beyond what is achieved in the first ten sessions. I find that I often use this technique in my First-Hour back work as well, especially for people with lumbar pain. They feel like the area that hurts is really being focused on, and it satisfies my Rolfer?s need for organization rather than fix-it work ? the best of both worlds.

Centers and edges work together to create identity. Since this article is about centers, the next one will be about edges.

<i>Barbara Drummond is a physical therapist and a Certified Advanced Rolfer working and living in Oak Park, Illinois. She also incorporates her Hakomi training and an interest in developmental neurology into her work. </i>

To have full access to the content of this article you need to be registered on the site. Sign up or Register. 

Log In