Allowing the Transformation To Emerge

An Interview with Tessy Brungardt
Pages: 29-33
Year: 2016
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 1

Volume: 44

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Ray Allen: Could we start, Tessy, with you talking about your own personal history? What were the experiences that led to you getting Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) sessions and then deciding to become a Rolfer?

Tessy Brungardt: Before I was a Rolfer I was a scientist – my degree is in environmental biology. I used to write environmental impact statements and do lots of natural history. I was outdoors all the time, but definitely working in a scientific mindset. But back when I was in high school I was a gymnast, and I hurt my back. My back hurt every day, more or less. I could manage it, but it was there all the time. At some point I started looking into the distant future, which in those days was thirty years old, and I thought, “I’m going to be really tired of this by then.” I don’t know what I thought about forty, fifty, or sixty years old, but I was thinking I’d be tired of this by age thirty.

Miraculously enough, I had a roommate who had tried Rolfing sessions. She told me about Rolfing SI, and it made sense to my scientific mind. I found a Rolfer in Florida, Jan Davis. She’s deceased now, but she was a wonderful woman. I was twenty-three, and I was your worst client. Jan said, “Organize your structure” and “Ten Series,” and I said, “Fix my back!” She said, “Get in alignment with gravity,” and so forth, and I said, “Whatever, can you fix my back?” I would agree to anything on the possibility of that, so I did the Ten Series, and it did fix my back, but it did so many other things too. I became almost two inches taller, which is a lot. Now, I’m at the towering height of five feet, so that mattered. It changed my posture and how I oriented. It changed the shape of my face in a noticeable way. So I thought, “Okay, I’ve handled my body. Now I can go on about my business.” Then I moved to California and had a chance to either start my environmental consulting business again or to do something else. As I was thinking about this I suddenly thought, “I want to be a Rolfer.” It called me, something about it called me. So I wrote to the Rolf Institute® and found out how to do it, and I did it, I became a Rolfer. I have been practicing Rolfing SI now for thirty years this year [2015].

RA: I’ve known you long enough to have heard you talk many times about how Rolfing SI has served as a frame of reference for viewing life. Could you talk a little bit about that aspect? How, through the process of having received Rolfing sessions and becoming a Rolfer, has your outlook on life been informed or re-informed?

TB: We start with structure because we can see it and put our hands on it, but it works through the whole person. We?re not a body-to-mind connection; we?re a body-mind. So when I could feel, for example, adaptive capacity in myself, when I could do things more easily with my body after a session than I could before, that adaptive capacity radiated outward into my whole life. I started to think, “Well, if I’m after adaptive capacity, then I want it everywhere.” I want it in how I think about problems – for instance in child rearing or in dealing with, I don’t know, social security. How can I increase my own adaptive capacity in how I relate to life, so that the rigidities are reduced and the fluidity is increased within what is available in the system? This is holism.

RA: Beautifully said! Could you talk about that transition from being primarily a practitioner to being a teacher as well?

TB: I love to teach. I’ve come to teach whatever I’ve focused deeply upon in my life. I did gymnastics, and I became a gymnastics teacher. I started studying environmental biology – ornithology, which is the study of birds, was my main interest – and I became an ornithology teacher at the local college and also for the Audubon Society. There’s something about teaching, about knowing something and wanting to know more about it, about that process of articulating what it is you understand, that helps you understand more deeply. Maybe it’s as simple as having people to talk with about what you love. You get to do it with them, talk about it with them, and have fun with them, doing the thing you love. Some aspect of that part of teaching calls me forth.

I went to Rolfing school and saw that my understanding of Rolfing SI was so small, and I looked to my teacher, Jan Sultan, and saw this whole deeper level of understanding. So I started to think, “There is plenty here to keep me interested.” By the end of my first auditing, I knew I wanted to teach if I could. I finished my training, completed all the requirements, worked many years, and did continuing education (CE). Then Michael Salveson invited me to assist with him. I found that to be wonderful and wanted to continue on.

There’s something about articulating what it is you think you’re doing that makes it more real. I love to share with people, and I always learn from my students, especially in the advanced classes because they bring such rich experience. There’s a collegial exchange that happens, but there’s also fear of not knowing in public [laughing] that drives one to study in a dedicated fashion!

RA: One of the things I love about Rolfing work is that it uses all of me. It’s not just my brain, it’s my intuition, my heart, and my hands too. These are all integrated in my response. As someone who’s been your student many times over, one of the things that I’ve found you do very well is to language that, to communicate that idea really effectively.

TB: Exactly. There?s an art to that, and I enjoy that art.

RA: Could you talk a little bit about the transition from teaching the Basic Training (BT) to teaching the Advanced Training (AT)? And were you part of the development of the advanced program?

TB: No, not really. Dr. Rolf gave that to her teachers, and I would leave the whole story of the development of the AT to the people who were there. When I did my AT in the ’80s, it was in a process of further development. The inquiry was, “How do you do a series of Rolfing sessions that are not tied to the ‘Recipe’?” That was the type of AT I received, though we did learn some of the standard positions tied to the [original] advanced sessions. But the contemplation was, “How do you move into something more advanced than the Ten Series, something that?s really client-centered?”

In a way, the AT is continuing to be developed. Though we have a written curriculum and have stated the content we will commonly teach, there’s also a portion of the training that’s available for further development along the lines of the interests of the person teaching. So there’s the core curriculum at the advanced level and room for the further development of the work because it’s in the practice that we get the ideas that feed back in and change the work.

RA: So how did you come to teach on an advanced level?

TB: I became interested in the challenge of teaching experienced practitioners. I had taught a lot of CE, so I had the opportunity to work with people who’d been in practice for varying amounts of time, and I got to see the challenges that arose from that. In the meantime, my work continued to develop, and I learned interesting things in my practice and felt it would be very interesting to have a collegial exchange with people who had some experience because you can have another whole level of conversation with experienced practitioners.

When you teach the BT and then CE, your students show back up in your classes, and you can see what they got and what they didn’t get in the BT. Sometimes I would see someone who had totally missed something, and I’d wonder how that happened because I could remember teaching it to that person. I’d think, “What happened there?” I got to see the ways in which the information landed in people, how some things reside and some things don’t. What’s interesting in an advanced class is that the students bring what they learned from whatever teacher they had for BT, plus they bring what they learned in CE and what they learned in their own practice. They bring this whole mix that has gotten them to a certain point. What’s beautiful about the AT is that you get to use that as a base to lever their work to another whole level. That is very interesting to me – to have the person come in and to see all of that person’s possibilities and the things [he or she has] learned and the limitations [he or she has] acquired, often in body-use habits, and work with that Rolfer over time to increase [his or her] capacity. That’s a transformative process, and that’s really fun to do, as a group.

RA: And fun to experience as well! You’re speaking to the question that we discussed before we actually got started with the interview. If I’m certified to practice and I have my BT, why on earth would I go back and do the AT? You’re suggesting that something happens in that rich stew of being with other Rolfers that challenges you and that you otherwise wouldn’t experience if you were to continue on your own.

One of the things that I’ve felt is very different, having had you as a teacher in the BT and then having had you in the AT, is that there’s a transition from experiencing you as a teacher to experiencing you as a mentor and colleague. It’s not as though someone’s telling you, “Do it this way.” There’s an active dialogue going on, and the dialogue is unavoidably informed by who else you?re doing it with and how that chemistry works. Can you speak to that?

TB: There’s no doubt that different classes have different chemistry. Some are more fluid and harmonious than others are, but I find that if the class has a good container and people are allowed to bring what they have, then the harmony is immeasurably increased. I put a high value on the container being able to accommodate what people bring because people learn better when they can show up as themselves and comfortably express themselves. They’re available to interact in a way that they learn things.

Some people think that Rolfing class is someplace you go to learn techniques. You do learn a lot of techniques, but what you’re actually learning in class is the power of Rolfing SI, which is not just techniques. You’ve heard me ask this question often, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” In other words, get out of the habit of thinking, “Here’s a knee that has some trouble, and I’m going to apply this technique.” That’s one level of working, but the deeper inquiry is, “How did it come to be that way, what does the client think about the knee, how does my body use impact my effectiveness as a practitioner, and how does my understanding and ability to talk to the person affect everything?” It’s in that whole vision of the system, in relationship to gravity and to other systems, that the transformational process arises. So the Rolfing classroom is not a place where you learn techniques, it’s where you learn what Rolfing SI is. You learn about containers, you learn how to talk to people, and you learn how to manage yourself, including your body mechanics and your charge. I try to set it up so the container is a Rolfing container. In that “stew”, people get to feel what Rolfing work is and the possibility of it. When that is present, the classroom works well because everyone in there loves Rolfing SI. We all have that in common, so how do you build on that to see the possibilities inherent in our work? This underlies everything and binds us together in a way that we can be of service to the art of Rolfing SI, together.

RA: And speaking personally, it certainly bound our group together. As you just said very beautifully, if I had to think of a single thing that rose up out of my experience in the AT, it would be understanding that Rolfing SI is a process of inquiry within a certain way of thinking about experience, a frame through which to see and engage experience. It?s really that sense of inquiry, not a set of absolutes, not something that’s already known.

TB: From a teaching point of view, that?s very interesting. I am the teacher. I am also a colleague, but you came to hear me talk. One of the things that?s very interesting is watching people work and seeing what they understand, what they don?t understand, and where there?s room for more possibility. A lot of this shows up in the way students perceive, how they think about what they?re doing, and how they use their bodies. Those are the places ? their belief systems, their perception, and their body use ? and they?re all tied together of course. What I?m interested in is helping people in the class perceive the places where they have unnecessarily restricted themselves. How can they use the body so it?s not a strain, so they can start to perceive things they didn?t perceive before, so they can understand what they?re doing at a deeper level? That?s where the transformation of the work comes from.

Part of what I want is to make sure that students get work they need in the class, that they have practica and an exchange of sessions that specifically address their needs so that things really change during class. Because it?s in the experience of it that you come to understand the power of the work, and it is very powerful. That?s another part of how the classroom works. People get what they need so that they understand within themselves how powerful it is, and they can transmit that.

RA: In the advanced experience, one of the things that I realized was that in order to contemplate something, you have to be aware of it as a possibility. So for me it was that increased awareness of other possibilities, or the very notion that there are other possibilities, that invited my curiosity to follow some of these things out. You can do it this way or that way and still be operating in that atmospheric envelope of Rolfing SI.

TB: There’s so much diversity and possibility within that. In the BT there’s so much information coming in to the students. I feel like if my students get 30% of what I have to say, it’s great. Part of what happens in that 30% is that they hear this and they don’t hear that, and a whole belief system arises out of that. We take this into our practices and work as if it’s true. And it is true a lot of the time, but the situations in which it’s not true drive people to CE and AT. In other words, maybe there are whole other ways you can look at it. One of the things that happens for people in AT is they get this incredible freedom to think other thoughts and try other things. Along their path, they often acquired some line of thinking that they hold as true, and again it is true probably, but there might be other truths as well. That’s one of the things I often hear people say – that they were able to think much more openly, so they could perceive better and could then address the needs of their clients much more specifically. Their work became more effective and was therefore more satisfying, and their confidence increased. That’s the trail. If there?s one thing I hear most often, it’s, “I feel more confident and satisfied with my work at the end of the day.” Which is so great! Go out and experiment!

RA: I like what you just ended with, “Go out and experiment,” because for me it was the need to continue to challenge myself if I was going to do this, and that meant taking risks and trying to do something different than how I’d done it before. I have my notes on the Ten Series from many years ago, and I still find that I will read them today and realize that I’m reading them totally differently than I read them a year ago. I had fixated on certain aspects and subordinated other aspects, and all of a sudden I could see things differently and maybe even more telescopically, more holistically. I’m sure it must be true for you as well.

TB: Absolutely true for me. I’m learning all the time. It’s wonderfully exciting to show up every day for thirty years in my Rolfing room, work with people, and learn new things all the time and understand more deeply. It’s like I said before: when I first started, my idea of what was possible with Rolfing SI was like this little layer of something, like the bottom layer in the spanakopita. Now I have all these rich, deep layers with different flavors, and there’s even more. I observe that my own teachers are still learning and developing their work, even though they’ve been working twenty years longer than me. There’s this milieu in which we work, where we hold the question, “What’s the nature of being a human being related to our planet?” Where is the answer to that? It’s an ongoing inquiry that can last. And because we love structure, because we’re Rolfers, we can do it in fascia. People who want to have the exploration in some other way can do it without fascia. But I love to do it Rolf’s way.

This speaks to why people would continue their Rolfing education. You hit a plateau, where your understanding is limited. I have a limited understanding, even though it’s much deeper than it was earlier. (Sometimes I wonder what I was doing back in the beginning. People liked it, though – they came back!) That desire to be more effective and deepen my understanding makes me take more classes to explore other techniques and to get work myself, and to teach Rolfing SI drives me to open my mind to the other possibilities about which I may not be aware. It’s not that there was anything wrong with what I was doing, it’s just that there was more I could have been doing.

RA: It’s this idea that, in a sense, you’re continually radiating out, driven by the possibility of new knowledge. I guess here’s what I was thinking: the best experiences I’ve had have really been about learning how to learn. That’s what I was hearing you speak to. You’re learning how to continue to learn. You’re learning how to construct a process that leads you to new insights.

TB: Yes, and I think this is at the heart of the AT. What happens when you become a Certified Advanced Rolfer is that you go out and experiment, but you have to know something to have a successful experiment. You can do any old thing and you’ll learn from it, but your experiment, your inquiry, becomes so much richer if you know more and have a deeper understanding. You can start to have these inquiries, exploring the nature of what manifest humanity is in gravity. But part of how you get that deeper understanding is by learning how the cuboid works and by really understanding that the cuboid injury was very traumatic for that person. It’s the whole range of skills that allows you to have an intelligent experiment and an intelligent inquiry.

RA: I think one of your greatest strengths that perhaps you take for granted is that, as excellent as you are at radiating out, in the manner in which we were just discussing, at the center of all that, there is that cuboid. You are very grounded in the foundational ideas that constitute the modality of Rolfing SI, versus some other modality.

TB: That’ s exactly right, and that is at the heart of what Rolf had to say “it matters if it’s in alignment. This was her inquiry: “What happens for someone who’s in alignment in the field of gravity?”. That means that the relationship between the navicular and the cuboid matters. Because if they’re not in alignment, there’s some kind of limiting adaptation that is going to happen that eventually provides a system-wide effect. It’s what they say, “The devil is in the details.” You work in a systematic way with the fascial system to organize the actual stuff of the person in the field of gravity, that’s what Rolf said. I try to stick with that, all the way down to this little phalange. The little joint between the phalanges matters all the way up to your jaw, and the jaw affects your ability to express yourself. It’s a whole system, but it started because you jammed your finger or someone hit it and it’s not in alignment. Knowing how to do that is crucial to our work, but it’s not all that our work is; it’s just the doorway into the whole system. When someone said to Rolf that she was only concerned with the body, she replied that she cared about a lot more than just the body, but the body was what she could get her hands on. So I’m in the contemplation of the organization of human structure in the field of gravity all the way down to this phalange. That’s how I stay true to Rolf’s teachings. Systematic differentiation of the fascia – she said that’s what Rolfing SI is, so I go with that.

RA: Bravo! Tessy, could you talk a little bit about other things that you?ve studied through your career and how they?ve influenced or in some way affected your thinking as a Rolfer?

TB: This is an important question because I find that Rolfers tend to be curious people. They’re interested in many things. They study all kinds of things, and the question often arises, “Can I bring this into my practice?” Or, “What’s okay to do, what’s Rolfing SI and what isn’t?” Part of that I spoke to in the response to the previous question, where I talked about the basis, as I understand it, of Rolf’s ideas. Rolf studied all kinds of things that influenced her thinking and then she died, and we were left with the inquiry. My teachers, myself, and now you are left with the inquiry of the nature of manifesting in gravity for human beings. Then we came to discover the cranial system, then the visceral system, and more recently the neural system. All these things profoundly inform our understanding of the nature of our existence. Suddenly we realized, “Oh yeah, what my liver is doing really matters. It matters to my ribs and it matters to how good I feel.” And if you study acupuncture, you might say it matters to your emotional constitution. I might think about the cranial system and what that is in a person and how that affects the alignment of the person, or how restrictions in the shoulder girdle end up in the dura. Or I might think about how impact traumas travel through the whole person from [his or her] belief system to how [his or her] heart is organized relative to the diaphragm. It’s the holistic view that allows us to take in this information and have it influence our thinking and deepen our understanding, then bring it into our practice and use it to develop our Rolfing skills. It can feed us that way. Certainly all of those things have influenced me. I’ve studied with Upledger and Barral. I’ve studied the nervous system and with Peter Levine. And there’s more, there’s always more. Our understanding and our refinement keep getting better, and they will keep influencing us. So when you’re in your Rolfing room, you take all this wonderful knowledge and you start to play with it. That’s part of the fun of Rolfing SI – trying to figure out what is going to achieve a higher level of order in the system.

RA: All that you just said leads me to think about a duality. On the one hand, someone suggested that Rolf was only concerned with the body, or there’s this notion that we understand ourselves as being more than our body and as somehow transcending our body. On the other hand, our body is the antenna through which we communicate with experience. What I heard you speak to, which is very interesting, is that our body, this antenna, is the sum result of all of these experiences that have preceded this moment and are embedded in there, like it or not.

TB: Yes that’s right, including your genetics – your family genetics, your human genetics, your evolutionary genetics – as well as your culture, everything that happened to you, and your belief systems. It’s all there. Transcend the body? Isn’t that what they call death? Whatever it is you think happens later, you don’t get to be here without the body. This influences your world and is completely influenced by your world. That’s part of what’s so great about Rolfing SI, because it’s that interface that we’re working with when we organize the cuboid.

RA: Yes, it’s that sense of awe. Indeed you’re touching on this, but implicit in that is this whole universe of the human experience.

TB: Yes, your personal experience and the human one.

RA: Tessy, why wouldn’t I just do a series of CE classes instead of the AT?

TB: The AT is a unique container that you really don’t encounter anywhere else, and it has to do with the time that you spend together. It allows for your skills and your limitations to emerge in the presence of other skilled people and with a teacher so that they can be addressed. This doesn’t happen over a weekend. There are things that take time to unfold, time with people. Rolfing SI is a process that happens over time. A weekend workshop here and a one-week workshop there are very helpful, but the AT provides a container for our inquiry and a level of interaction and intervention that allows the transformation to emerge.

RA: There’s an analogy for me to draw in terms of my experience of learning. It’s incubation with time, and you can’t cheat time. It’s that idea of moving together in an integrated way and evolving holistically. I think that’s part of this incubation experience, that immersion in time.

TB: It’s such a unique and beautiful opportunity. Where else do you get to immerse yourself in the field of a profession that you love and have it work on you while you learn and work with others. You emerge with something unique that’s not duplicated in any of our other trainings.

Tessy Brungardt received her BA in environmental biology in 1976 from New College in Sarasota, Florida. In her studies and career afterwards, she enjoyed exploring the interface between the natural world and the science of how things work. When she was introduced to Rolfing SI in 1979, she was inspired to take this exploration into the human realm. She became a Certified Rolfer in 1985 and a Certified Advanced Rolfer in 1988, and she completed her Rolf Movement Certification in 1994. Tessy became certified to teach for the Rolf Institute in 1994 and became an Advanced Rolfing Instructor in 2002. She has had the privilege to teach all over the world. She maintains a full practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where she especially enjoys working with children and musicians.

Ray Allen holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree and has had a distinguished career as a college educator. Since receiving his certification from the Rolf Institute in 2003, he has maintained a Rolfing practice in Baltimore and is licensed to practice in Maryland. In 2013, he was certified as an Advanced Rolfer. 

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