Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 42 – Nº 2

Volume: 42

What is an edge? Why is it important? Edges are where people meet. Centers (Drummond 2014) and edges are the conditions under which individuality emerges. If you don?t know where your center is, no one can meet you. If you don?t know where your edges are, you can never meet anyone. Meeting happens body to body, space to space, and heart to heart ? not thought to thought or word to word. Just like perception, it is an active process. The success of Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) depends on your ability to truly meet your clients, understanding that some people don?t even occupy the space up to their skin. A persistent withdrawal response, a complete flexion pattern, pulls all four extremities in to the middle, the middle being the area of the body where the flexors (rectus abdominus, psoas) meet. This response is the first response of the central nervous system, emerging five weeks after conception and ideally suppressed before birth. It is activated after birth when circumstances appear life-threatening, such as prematurity, the first few weeks of life in an incubator, being intubated, separation from mom because of a difficult birth, etc. The development of our tactile cortex is supposed to help suppress it. Simply being held skin to skin decreases the withdrawal response and provides safety. If you are safe, you can come out. Some folks have been waiting for safety all their lives. These clients have distorted body perception ? if you ask them to close their eyes and feel various body parts, their perception will be aberrant. Legs are too long, ears are too close to eyes, feet don?t exist. People know their feet are there, they just don?t feel them. If you can?t feel it, you won?t use it, and until they are aware of the absences, you can do Rolfing SI on them until you are blue in the face but they won?t integrate. How can you integrate parts that you can?t really feel?

While some people don?t come out to their skin, most of us don?t stop there either. As humans, we occupy the space around us, a remnant of our animal past when we had to defend our territory. The Wikipedia entry on personal space divides neuropsychological space into three areas in terms of nearness to the body ? pericutaneous space, peripersonal space, and extrapersonal space. Extrapersonal space is that which occurs ?outside the reach of an individual.? It is further divided into focal-extrapersonal space, action-extrapersonal space, and ambient-extrapersonal space. It further states that ?ambient-extrapersonal space initially courses through the peripheral parietal-occipital visual pathways before joining up with vestibular and other body senses to control posture and orientation in earth-fixed/gravitational space.? In other words, edges exist outside the person, and they help create the center.

That space is, unconsciously, part of our identity. We must occupy that space to exist as an organism. Our defense of that space lets others know that we have a mind. Our knowledge of how we defend that space lets us know our own minds. We think boundaries really exist in space, but when you fly in an airplane, you will not see a line between Indiana and Michigan. You cannot tell where Indiana begins and Michigan ends. Without a boundary, you cannot tell where one person begins and the other one ends. Most of us do not understand that boundaries do not control others. Boundaries are the physical expression of the right to exist. If you try to use edges to control others, much of the time you will fail. But if you contact the edge, you will succeed.

What is our role as Rolfers in regards to centers and edges? If you want to be successful and efficient, you must meet your client. We must bring the concept of centers and edges to our work. Each person with whom you come in contact will engage your boundary in some way. Most of the time, it is not conscious. When we do the ?walking towards? exercise, we can really consciously meet someone. In this, I walk towards my client, asking him to tell me where to stop. Assuming that he is able to do so (many cannot), that is the space he occupies. If I cross someone?s ?line in the sand?, something happens inside. The person becomes uncomfortable; leans backwards at the ankles, or steps backwards; his heart races. The person does not occupy the space around him, yet diminishes in some way. These boundary habits are persistent and result in changes in structure, as well as a diminished quality of life. What are your boundary habits? Do they change when you work with your clients? Can some clients get closer to you than others? Why?

Our Little Boy Logo visually states that a center will develop as a result of our work, but it is edges that create a center, and a center unifies the edges. As infants, we have no edges. We need to be nose to nose, skin to skin. We have no defenses, other than simply shutting down our awareness. Our parents are our first edges, reflecting us back to ourselves without distortion (hopefully). This, to a certain extent, is our role as Rolfers. We reflect clients? movements, pre-movements, emotions, and pre-emotions back to them, acknowledge their internal experiences, correct aberrant sensory experiences; that is how edges are created to begin with. The central nervous systems of some of our clients have not yet mastered the challenges of the infant in terms of sensory integration and reflexes and for all intents and purposes are still quite young in terms of their needs. Our knowledgeable touch listens with love, and people grow.

Our defense of our space is somatic and changes over time. As adolescents, our defenses are exaggerated ? closed doors, silent dinners, violent outbursts. The edges of some clients are very thick and well-defended. Others let you get closer than is comfortable for them because they think they will hurt your feelings if they don?t let you come closer. Adults have to know where they end and others begin, otherwise relationships are unsatisfying.

Rolfers have to know where they end and the client begins as well. If one thinks of a pain pathway as learned behavior, we are actually rewiring the brains of our clients. Physical and emotional pain follow the same basic pathways (Kipling 2011).

Sometimes I describe Rolfing SI as mindfulness about structure, and Rolf Movement as mindfulness about function. They are completely interrelated. We are somatic educators, and it is up to us to teach our clients what their boundary habits are, what they mean, and how they can change. The category of movement that is associated with the maintenance of edges is ?push?. Push is how we separate ourselves from what we don?t want. In order to have an edge, the client has to push. I use ?sit-to-stand? (Bond 1993, 106-108) as one way to evaluate if people have push or not. People who don?t have push from the legs will not lean forward enough; they will tighten their quadriceps in preparation for standing and pull from their knees rather than push from the floor. People who have a withdrawal reflex on board will not be able to sequence push well. We can teach our clients to push with their heads, their arms, and their legs, and in doing so not only do we change the knee pain or the back pain, we change the meaning of these movements for clients, making it okay to push, to meet, to exist, to occupy the space around them, to let themselves be seen, to let them know their own minds. That is why we need edges.


Bond, M. 1993. Balancing Your Body: A Self-Help Approach to Rolfing Movement. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.

Drummond, B. 2014 (Jun). ?The Center of Rolfing® SI: Providing Unity to a Divided World.? Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 42(1):43-44.

Kipling, W. 2011. ?The Pain of Exclusion.? Scientific American Mind 21:30-37. (doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind 0111-30)

Wikipedia entry on ?Personal space?. http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_space. Retrieved 10/08/2014.

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