Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 2

Volume: 42

Truth be told, I was never a young Rolfer, and am certainly not now, thirty years later at age seventy-six. Feeling old and creaky at age forty-five after my first class at the Rolf Institute® (RISI) in 1983, I went to Louis Schultz and told him that I needed to be able to sit on my feet. He kind of snickered, ?Why would you want to do that!? I told him that all the young people in class were able to sit on one foot on those pipe-legged twelve-inch-high plyboard tables that were used for Rolfing® Structural Integration back then, and I needed to as well. Louis got me so that I could do that, mainly because he was ?old? when he started and compassionate. I can still sit on my feet, though my Comfort Craft table would be shocked.

When I was certified by RISI in 1984, I was a few months the other side of forty-six years, had a son in high school, and was making my way as a single mother. I believe I owe some longevity to the fact that hard work was and is necessary on several levels for me. A Rolfer who knew a couple of trust-fund-baby Rolfers once said to me, ?We need to have more working-class Rolfers,? and I pointed out most of us are working class by virtue of the fact of being full-time Rolfers.

About six years after certification I was in trouble: I found I would go to sleep sometimes without eating dinner, just too tired, and that I was sleeping through parts of every concert that I attended. A workout coach ? the enthusiastic, dedicated, and knowledgeable Stephen Maxwell ? had been sending me his devoted clients, and coming in himself and regaling me with stories of his first Rolfing work with Richard Demmerle. I decided to work out for six weeks twice a week, and if I didn?t feel better I would quit working out and seek some other solution. Sure enough, after two weeks I was physically rejuvenated and continued working out for about ten years, with the Super Slow Method, Hammer Strength machines, and bodyweight exercises. I learned a lot during that time about strength with flow and was able to use movement work I was getting with Hubert Godard and Rebecca Carli for weight training. It was a fine collegial experience with Steve. Later, in 1993, when I fell seven feet backward and hammered my head slightly off my neck and fractured a few things (miraculously being paralyzed for only a few moments), Steve and I congratulated ourselves on my being strong enough to not break my neck.

I was pretty strong during that period of the 1990s. In fact I put my left arm into my jacket with such force that I ripped three rotator cuff tendons almost all the way through. I was in too much of a hurry to go work out and get back to Rolfing work. (By the way, it is not true that I have tried to have every injury so that I will know how to fix it.)

At some point a Dexascan revealed that I had some osteopenia in my middle thoracics, which upset me since I had been working out. Steve reminded me of the early Nautilus research with older people. As told to us by Arthur Jones when he came in person to Steve?s club, Jones? research with retirement-home residents was inconclusive on building bones with weight training; only impact such as walking and running builds bones. Weight training does have its important point though: the competent muscle and fascia bed for the bones is really important for bony strength. Jones was kind of a quiet riot of expertise then, and one of his statements was that long-chain exercises were all we need for maintenance. As I moved into doing my own bodyweight exercises, I used that maxim.
As we get older, the first few minutes of communication tend to be the ?hospital report?, and this is no different! However, moving on, the fun of actually doing Rolfing work and the intellectual and relational challenges are the main things that keep me going now.

I deeply rely on this work to keep me energized and to maintain physicality. I have regular sessions with Rolfers, both movement and structural. Although I have studied several varying kinds of energy work, by this time I have incorporated them into my physicality so that I don?t have to have an actual energetic practice. The energetic chi part is somewhat hypnotic and comes on demand. In the early days I relied on practice of the ?Golden Stove? and moved into a Ki Aikido practice exercise for myself around the time of my first Rolfing training. I still do this Ki Aikido exercise and teach it to clients who need to bring up their physicality for performance or health without having to spend years doing Chi Gong and Tai Chi. Of course, I have added to the exercise elements of the Rolf Movement work, including a tonic postural sense, and for those who want it, visualizing the chakra system. As a strength-with-flow training, I also teach an exercise I learned from the oboist Ray Still, of getting up and down out of a chair without the diaphragm locking up, using in addition tonic postural connections and energetic elements. Those are about the only things I do these days besides walking my dog and thinking about doing football-type up downs.

Most of my first clients were in their sixties and seventies, and though they were active, there was a clear difference from those youngsters who were classroom models. I had not yet reached that practitioner stage of which my colleague Ron McComb has spoken, where one has confidence that all the signs are all there, and that they can mostly be understood, sensed, and worked with. The aging clients were worrisome, scary even. What to do about a walk that showed signs of cerebellar malfunction, as was told to me about my mother? What was this strange feeling in the tissue ? perhaps dehydration, perhaps something else? How fragile were these elders?

However, right after I started my practice in August 1984, I sadly had family experience to draw on for this last stage of life, which gave me knowledge of the territory of these elder clients. When my mother died, she was living with me and my son, and she died for a long time, lastly over two weeks at the end of October 1984. The family had known she was deteriorating during the prior four years, after our father died, and my sister and I took turns going to her small town in New Mexico each month from our homes on the coasts to set her up for the coming month, including paying her bills, taking her to her doctors, arranging with the neighbor to give her the pills, and putting in a stock of home-made frozen dinners. Finally we went to bring her back to my home in Philadelphia.

During this time, my sister and I constantly fretted about her and whether her care was appropriate. (We spoke often with our brother, who was posted various places around the world.) We were still upset that there had been no signs leading up to our father?s death in 1980: the three weeks before were good physically, showing only some pesky arthritis. It was only revealed at the end in a flash of great pain and nothingness that his heart arteries had become blocked.

Our mother?s going was entirely different. About six months before what would be the end, her doctor had declared that she could no longer live on her own, so we practically dragged her out of her house to live with me. Then, at the end, we sat in a hospital office with her doctor in Philadelphia and he explained how the hospital committee would have to agree with him and with us that she would not recover, and agree to have the support measures taken away.

Our mother confounded that action for some eighteen hours, breathing softly slower and slower and shallower and shallower. It was a great gift that she gave me, one that told me what it physically looked like to just run down, and slip away.

Though sad, I now knew the longer stages of living into dying. This pointed me to the more intermediate knowledge of that later elder stage of ?pretty good shape for the shape we?re in.? This greatly reduced my anxiety around working with elderly clients in my Rolfing practice. I now knew what the end looked like, and mostly they weren?t there yet!

That same doctor then presented me with an elderly woman who ?had a lot of baggage.? Several family members had recently died, she was a cancer survivor, and she was seventy years old. Quaking I said, ?Does she have osteoporosis?? And he replied, ?She is riddled with it.? Of course, her pain was in one of the scariest places for direct pressure techniques: her osteoporotic thoracics. Toward the end of the basic Ten Series, with the pain lessened but still present, I decided to hang out gently but firmly on the offending ribs. After about twenty minutes, a huge dead-animal smell filled the air, and she gave a great sigh. The pain was gone, and she told me a story of a thirty-year-ago bronchitis.

Two years later, in a chance meeting, she said, ?I almost called you a few weeks ago, when I fell on the ice, but after two days I was fine.? I was thrilled. We are often told when training that after structural integration the body is more adaptable and can right itself up to a point, and that had happened. Even a seventy-year-old person was adaptable.

When the realization comes that structure can be changed at any age, then comes the fun seeking of the ways whereof that can happen. Sometimes the knowledge arrives as a bolt from Zeus: What ? the bones are not like dead turkey-carcass bones! The bones move with the breath, the bones have osteoblasts that are pumping out tissue! Like the rest of the body! The cells all turn over every five to seven years! (Yes, I love Ericksonian reframing.)

The techniques of change for the elderly most often are less than direct. The ?joffling? of Annie Dugan and Janie French and Rebecca Carli-Mills may be just the thing for joint mobilization. (Joffling is an indirect fascial technique that applies vector and rhythm in a joint to get it more balanced possibility.)

The horizontalizing of tissue down through the periosteum, while (or afterwards) working with the bones and their subtle movings, can be profound. Also, the viscera can be horizontalized and the cranium mobilized, all within indirect methods, or direct if not pointedly straight in towards trouble. All ways of structurally working with the gristle of the aged without crushing are fair game.
Within the three gravity centers of the body (hips, thoracics, and head), the thoracics may pay the biggest dividends toward the aging adaptability of integration. Here the elderly can make great strides with gently joffling the movements in and out following the breath, paying attention to the front and back spiny connections of the ribs as well as the in-betweens.

Then after ten sessions comes the payoff. What strange resilient beasts are these integrated elder men and women? Wrinkled, bony, independent, mostly spry, and willing, so willing, to sing the last notes of the last song ?til whenever.

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

Log In