Embodied Being: The Philosophical Roots of Manual Therapy

Pages: 20-24
Year: 2016
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 1

Volume: 44

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Introduction: How This Book Came into Being

When I was first made a Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) Instructor, I was struck with how little writing there was about Rolfing SI, apart from Dr. Rolf?s publications.To counteract our tendency toward becoming a largely oral tradition, I asked Anna Hyder to help me convert Rolf Lines (the previous incarnation of this Journal) from a newsletter to a journal. One of its primary purposes was to publish clear trails of where we had come from and where we were going, as well as to detail important discoveries that impacted the work and how it was taught. Aline Newton was the first Editor-in-Chief.

My new book Embodied Being: The Philosophical Roots of Manual Therapy (North Atlantic 2016) represents the consolidation of a number of trails that span some thirty years. It includes topics such as: how to work nonformulistically using a principle-centered decision-making process; how to think outside the subject/object distinction; a chapter on psychobiological assessment; a three-step self-teaching process for learning how to see holistically (how to see, not just look); understanding embodiment as homecoming; finding our true home; the appearance of the numinous in the context of manual therapy; and a sustained critique of metaphysical dualism (the view that mind and body are mutually exclusive and that the mind inhabits the body like a ghost in a soft machine).

Embodied Being is not a book strictly about Rolfing SI. It is also not a how-to book of techniques or yet another attempt to rehash the Ten Series. Rather, it is about the structure and meaning of manual therapy. Embodied Being begins and ends with the exploration of the ?inner? world of practice. It is designed to lay bare and provoke the conditions and way of perceiving that make the holistic practice of manual therapy possible. This approach also promises to illuminate the freedom of embodiment ? metaphorically, a kind of homecoming in which we find our place in all of this.

The deconstruction of metaphysical dualism found within Embodied Being can encourage us to begin our investigations into the nature of manual therapy and the freedom of embodiment with new eyes ? eyes that have learned to see the body not as a soft machine, but as consciousness. For in the end, the mystery of consciousness is the mystery of the sentient body.

<i>(Editor?s Note: Ray McCall?s review of this book appears on page 47.) </i>

Embodied Being

<i>Chapter One: Homecoming </i>

From Embodied Being: The Philosophical Roots of Manual Therapy by Jeffrey Maitland, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey Maitland. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

Of all the things that inhabit this vast universe, nothing is more enigmatic than what is closest to us ? our own nature. We know ourselves to be conscious beings, capable of both abstract thought and complicated emotions. But as soon as we try to say what consciousness is or how it exists, we quickly find ourselves embroiled in a morass of philosophical confusion. Things are not much different in our attempts to understand our emotions. But perhaps the most elusive of all is our own embodiment. The more we try to grasp it the more easily it slips away.

We are embodied beings. What could be more obvious? Whether we experience great sorrow or irresistible joy, it is our body that undergoes the experience. It is not enough to say you understand a joke if your body is not moved to laughter. Getting a joke is laughing at a joke. Similarly, if you are listening to a piece of music and you are not moved by it, you probably are not appreciating it. From the deepest samadhi ever imagined to the most cerebral experience ever conceived, the body always participates. To talk about experience is already to talk about the body.

Yet, a cursory look at the history of Western philosophy reveals an astonishing lack of nuanced attention to our bodily being. Instead of an examination of what it means to be embodied, we find no shortage of disparaging remarks about the body. The body is often seen as a nuisance always getting in the way of our more intellectual/ spiritual concerns. As Nietzsche observed, ?Were it not for the fact that man has a gut, he would think of himself as a God.? Given that all experience is bodily, it is most surprising that no sustained philosophical understanding of our somatic nature appears until the 20th century. This kind of historical legacy should give us pause and remind us to hold our presuppositions up for careful examination throughout our investigation.

The roots of our understanding of the body go back some 2500 years ago to the dawn of Western philosophy when Plato put forward the view, known as metaphysical dualism, that mind and body are separate entities. Aristotle famously captured Plato?s position when he said that the mind is to the body as the pilot is to the ship. Because Plato recommended that we fastidiously care for our bodies, he was clearly no hair-shirted ascetic. But he was not exactly a fan of our embodiment either. He considered the body a lesser reality than the mind and claimed that the body was the prison house and the disfigurement of the soul. Centuries later, Galileo and Descartes added to metaphysical dualism the idea that the body is a soft machine ? prompting 20th century philosopher Gilbert Ryle?s clever remark that, in Descartes? view, a human being is a ?ghost in a machine.? As we shall see, even though metaphysical dualism has received a great deal of critical attention, some of its most problematic assumptions still inform our view of the body and, hence, how therapy is delivered and received by the client. From the beginning to the end of our investigation of manual therapy, we will, therefore, continually not only call into question the pervasive problematic assumptions associated with metaphysical dualism, but also suggest possible ways to refurbish some of our key concepts. In Chapter 6, we will also lay out the principles of intervention and a three-step method for training those perceptual skills that are necessary and essential to assessing clients within a holistic approach to manual therapy.

From Symptom to Self-Discovery

When clients seek the services of a manual therapist, they are typically looking for improvement in their functionality. They may want relief from their aches and pains or better-coordinated possibilities of movement. Once these goals are achieved, satisfied clients terminate their therapy. They are free of their pain but not changed in any fundamental way. In contrast, some clients are so dramatically changed by their therapy that their life takes a surprising new direction. Clearly, their therapy was not just about treating their symptoms, curing their disease, or getting rid of back pain. It was also about something more existentially comprehensive and compelling. It was also about completing the self, about maturing and becoming who they truly are. And in finding themselves, they also discover where they belong. ?To touch? also means ?to ignite,? and it is clear that the touch-based therapy they received ignited in them the age-old quest for self-knowledge and illumination.

These dramatic differences in results are due to radically different approaches to therapy. A great many practitioners attempt to alleviate the client?s problems by treating symptoms in a piecemeal way. As we shall see, it is significant that these practitioners tend to be metaphysical dualists who believe the body is a soft machine. In contrast, the holistic practitioner tries to bring harmony, order, and balance to the whole of the client. In the case of Rolfing [SI], one further requirement is added ? to facilitate the integration of the body and the environment in gravity.

Both approaches can relieve the client?s aches and pains, but the holistic approach can become more like an education in completing the self ? how to become who we are ? rather than an exercise in simply easing symptoms. Symptoms are not ignored or considered unimportant in the holistic approach. Symptoms are addressed along the way but are not seen as isolated events. Symptoms are understood to be modifications of larger patterns. The main event is not symptoms, but the lack of integrated balance in gravity and the effect larger patterns of strain have on the body as a whole. The holistic approach is good at relieving pain, facilitating functional economy, and normal coordinated movement. But, the holistic approach also has the potential to accelerate the completion of the mature self. By speeding up the maturation process, clients are put more in touch with themselves. As they appropriate more and more of their freedom, they more and more experience the joy of finding themselves and their place in the world.

If you are not familiar with the holistic form of manual therapy, you may be surprised to learn that such an approach is capable of such global change. In fact, there are quite a number of holistic therapies capable of such far-reaching changes. The holistic approach is capable of creating new possibilities for the future by erasing the patterns that bind us to a dysfunctional past. It can so profoundly reshape the body that there is no longer any room for emotional torment. It can free you of pain. It can release your joy and put you in touch with the true nature of things. It can teach you how to move with grace. It can open your heart and introduce you to the numinous.

Of course, not everyone who undergoes the holistic approach will get the same results. The experience of harmony, order, and integrated balance to which holistic therapy aspires can be shallow or deep. Many people are simply not prepared for nor interested in pursuing the heights to which holistic therapy sometimes ascends. Many just want relief from their pain. But for those who are ready, it can be a liberating experience. A good way to capture this experience is to see it through the metaphor of homecoming.

Waking Up to Your Feeling-Nature

The Buddha is reported to have said, ?The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.? With this statement he clearly recognized the reflexive character of consciousness. Unlike a mechanical apparatus, when a living creature senses something, it also senses itself sensing. No matter how rudimentary or complex something is, if it is capable of reflexivity (self-sensing), it is possessed of sentience. Sentience is common to all living creatures. With respect to human consciousness, we can say that human consciousness arises as a wildly complex elaboration of sentience coupled with the evolution of language. We will return to the idea of sentience and the discovery of the sentient body in Chapter Eight.

We live in an ocean of sentience. But because our consciousness is dominated by the stance of an onlooker who narrowly objectifies reality, we no longer trust the information we can gather with our feeling-nature. But notice, your feeling-nature is not just limited to particular emotions or feelings alone. Your very ability to feel this or that particular emotion or feeling depends upon having a feeling-nature in the first place. Your feeling-nature is more like an organ of perception that lives throughout your body in every nook and cranny. It is part of how you know where you are in space; it is part of what allows you to sense that somebody is behind you; it is what you feel when you feel something is just right or that something is amiss. To be able to rely upon it and use it in the practice of manual therapy, however, we must practice and exercise it. Even more importantly, in order to have this clear-minded imperturbability at our disposal, we must free ourselves as much as possible from our own conflicts and fixations. We will return to a discussion of our feeling-nature in the chapters that deal with the nature of perception.

The metaphor of homecoming is well suited for describing the potential of the holistic approach. At this point in our exposition, it will be more useful to appreciate the aesthetic aspects of self-discovery before we delineate the important details of how holistic manual therapy is practiced and differs from the more common approaches. To that end, we will examine the metaphor of homecoming as a way to get a felt-sense of what the results of holistic therapy look like to an observer and feel like to the client. This process of letting the potential of holistic manual therapy show itself through the metaphor of homecoming will assist us in getting to recognize and appreciate our feeling-nature and its manner of perception. It will also help to guard us against prematurely succumbing to empty abstractions in the place of felt lived experience.1

If you can imagine how it feels to live your body in a fluid, light, balanced way, free of pain, stiffness and chronic stress, imperturbably clear minded, at ease with yourself and with the gravitational field and environment, then you will have some sense of what it means to be embodied; and you will understand part of what a holistic approach like Rolfing [SI] can achieve. The experience of coming home is an adventure in self-discovery. With it comes joy and a deep sense of gratification that results from being in agreement with your circumstances, finding your self, and feeling like you belong. Suddenly, the world feels like a great work of art. It seems to exhibit an astonishing level of habitable orderliness and connectedness that is difficult to express in words, but is perfectly obvious to the whole of your feeling-nature. This kind of order is not driven by OCD or any neurotic need for neatness. In the grand simultaneity of things, the harmony we feel with nature, a beautiful piece of music, or in homecoming is the same. We feel at ease in a world that seems designed to bring us pleasure in just being here enjoying the freedom of embodiment.

Following Samuel Todes? (2001) lead we recognize that we are creatures with a need for a habitable world. As we all know, the world is not always an easy place. It is filled with many difficulties and obstacles, small and calamitous, man-made and natural, which frustrate our attempt to make our way. We find ourselves inexplicably thrown here in the midst of circumstances where the way is not always clear. It can leave us feeling lost, alienated, or lacking a sense of belonging. At the same time, things are not always all bad. Coming into agreement with our world and gratifying our need for habitable order brings with it varying degrees of freedom and ease. We cannot change the fact that everything changes, nor can we rid the world of all its dangers and obstacles to our path. When we come to finally understand that freedom is the creative appropriation of limitation, we discover how we can and do find ways make our world habitable. And the most profound way to make the world humanly habitable is to free our feeling-nature and body of conflicts and fixation. Such a body can more easily adapt to changing and difficult situations. It can, as we say, ?roll with the punches.?

?The world of human experience is the humanly habitable world, not just because we make it so, but because the world enables us to make it so? (Todes 2001, 176). We are able to be at home and at ease in a world that makes sense to us because the world appears designed to provide us with the means to make it so. We know from evolutionary biology that the organism and its environment evolve together. A relationship in which organism and environment evolved together would provide an organism with a powerful evolutionary advantage. It is certainly reasonable to assume that ours is just such a favorable enabling environment.

The Need for Order

A surprising place in which to find a way to describe coming home is Kant?s aesthetics (1734-1804). Although Kant does not make this comparison specifically, because of the close connection between beauty, order, and feeling based judgments, a case can be made that his analysis of the appreciation of beauty can also serve as an elucidation of the experience of homecoming.2

For Kant, the appreciation of beauty is not a frivolous pursuit of pleasant experiences. The power of beauty to profoundly move us lies in its ability to engage us in the free play of the same cognitive processes we employ in the pursuit of knowledge. As cognitive beings we are always in search of knowledge. In advance of any experience of order, we are prepared and ready to find order. But, because we are also limited beings, we can neither fully comprehend nor prove this order. Therefore, in order to practice science, we must adopt a heuristic principle that assumes that nature is in harmony with our rational demands for order.

In the appreciation of beauty, this heuristic principle is unexpectedly confirmed; and we find ourselves at ease and at home in a humanly habitable world filled with beauty. The appreciation of beauty gives us an experience similar to the profound gratification we feel when we make breakthroughs in our pursuit of knowledge. We are profoundly moved in the appreciation of beauty because it sets in motion the same harmonious, orderly, intellectual activity that we enjoy when we are engaged in research. In the appreciation of beauty, however, we are freed from the constraints and rigors of the kind of rationality required by the pursuit of objective scientific knowledge. As a result, we can revel in the joy of coming home to a world that appears specifically designed and ordered for us. The pleasure we feel is a result of the deep gratification that comes from experiencing that our need for order is profoundly confirmed. Although there is no designer, natural beauty seems specifically designed to give us the kind of pleasure we as cognitive beings would most enjoy. The important difference between science and the appreciation of beauty is that beauty comes into being without the benefit of concepts. Ultimately, beauty is the non-conceptual revelation that the ground of being and the ground of our being are the same. Great works of art and the beauty of nature are windows to the world before it is conceptualized.

You do not have to agree with all the details of Kant?s approach to appreciate the depth of understanding involved in describing what it feels like to come home. It is significant that both Todes and Kant see in us a deep need for orderliness. Remarkable as Kant?s elucidation is, however, something critical is missing. Conspicuously absent from Kant?s exposition of the kind of orderliness revealed in the appreciation of beauty, is any reference to the body. Surely, the delight and ease we feel in the presence of beauty is also a bodily comprehension. Great art and the beauty of nature move us, sometimes profoundly. They do not just give us a pleasure limited to cerebral free play. Our feeling-nature is joyfully released in the vertical. Being embodied means that we have found our true home and our whole body participates in the appreciation of beauty and the experience of self-discovery it calls forth. This kind of joyful homecoming is nothing if it is not comprehended by our feeling-nature and body as a whole.


Kant?s aesthetics allowed us to uncover this deep-seated need for order at the heart of our quest for knowledge. But this constitutive need is not limited to our cognitive facilities. It is fundamental and all pervasive ? it involves the whole of us right down to the cytoplasm of our cells. To return home is to find a world filled with beauty and a world to which we can belong. Everything seems to participate in a celestial harmony, grand in its purview yet utterly simple in its presence. We are greatly moved by the sheer beauty of it all while embracing and being embraced by a magnitude of order that cannot be specified. Because it is known without concepts, it is beyond words. Yet, it is utterly and conspicuously obvious to our feeling-nature. Homecoming is not just about cerebral free play. It is also about our upright body being released in gravity and dancing in the free play of verticality where our world makes sense and supports us as we make our way home. Homecoming is the event of embodiment, an event so close to us that we often need to be reminded of its importance.

First and foremost, holistic manual therapy is about coming home to our bodies, to the balanced integration of core and surface in the uplifted but grounded free play of our verticality in gravity. As Rolf repeatedly said, when the body is organized in gravity, gravity is no longer the enemy of the body but its liberator. We get in trouble when the order-thwarters are greater than the body?s ability to freely and orthotropically appropriate gravity in the free play of the vertical. But when the organization of the body is improved upon, aches and pains begin to disappear, the conflicts and fixations that weigh us down begin to dissipate, and we begin to wake up to new possibilities for our life. Coming home is coming home to our bodies.

Kant?s homecoming, while exposing our fundamental need for order, is just a bit too cerebral. In order to underscore the importance of the body, you could say that Rolf discovered the somatic secret of alchemy ? a morphological imperative or somatic analog of the need for habitable orderliness and the means to bring it about. Comparing the art of Rolfing [SI] to how chemists determine the purity of substances, she says, ?. . . if the angles are not sharp, show only sporadically, while the bulk of the material is ill-defined or amorphous, the chemist is warned that his substance needs further purification . . .? (Rolf 1977, 31). Analogously, as bodies approach integration in gravity through the shaping process of Rolfing [SI], they take on a more and more integrated well-defined form, and as a result, function more economically and exhibit easy, coordinated movement. The more well defined the body becomes, the deeper one?s experience of freedom, sense of place, and sense of belonging becomes.

When a body attains an integrated well-defined form, it manifests the beauty of normality: ?And when you see normal structure all of a sudden you say, Why yes, of course, I recognize this as normal structure. Oddly enough, we all have intuitive appreciation of the normal. When we do see something that?s normal we say, Isn?t that beautiful? Doesn?t he move beautifully? etc., etc. Nobody asks you to define that beauty ? everybody recognizes it. It?s an intuitive appreciation of normalcy? (Rolf 1978, 189). Thus we can say, the homecoming consists of realizing the beauty of normalcy. To those who may be put off by the word ?normal?, remember that Rolf also said, ?Average is not normal.?


In our initial attempt to get a felt sense of what holistic manual therapy is and what it aspires to, we saw that it was able to handle a great many of the physical complaints clients present. In addition, we uncovered a potential for self-discovery and growth. As a preliminary way to give voice to this potential, I likened it to a homecoming. Perhaps the most obvious but least appreciated feature of homecoming is that it is a bodily event. Homecoming is coming home to my body at ease and free in a humanly habitable world. A body that feels at home, whose feeling-nature is free of conflict and fixation, and is at ease in an ever-changing world, is a body integrated in gravity.

Metchnikoff, the father of immunology, coined the word ?orthobiosis? to describe the ever ongoing striving of life to improve upon and enhance itself and its circumstances. With respect to human beings, orthobiosis must also include orthotropism: the body?s ever present seeking the vertical. As we begin to find integration in gravity, our movement becomes more coordinated and less encumbered. We find ourselves dancing free in the integrated and grounded verticality of our upright bodies. Manual therapy is simply the conscious expression of these orthobiotic and orthotropic impulses toward our own enhancement. Orthobiosis also extends its reach to our environment. We can see the results of our orthobiotic striving everywhere in our ceaseless shaping and improving upon our environment. The word ?radical? means ?to return to the root?. In that sense, manual therapy is the most radical approach to shaping and enhancing our selves. It goes to the source and works with the body?s own strivings to enhance itself.

Living in a habitable world presupposes, of course, that there is a beautiful and habitable world that can be perceived. But, sometimes the suffering is too much and we resort to armoring ourselves against the struggle with gravity and too many order-thwarters. We rigidify, densify, or make ourselves too soft in a futile attempt to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, such a defense makes it much more difficult to appreciate the beauty of the habitable world. When our body is in this kind of defended state, the beauty of the habitable literally makes no appreciable impression upon us ? we become immune to being moved by beauty. Thus, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that manual therapy is the conscious expression of orthobiosis. Shaping the body and its relation to the environment through manual therapy is one of the most direct and powerful ways to make it possible to find our way home. The comfort of embodiment, the ability to feel at home and at ease almost anywhere, is an expression of the freedom that arises when we fully embrace where we already and always are.3

<i>Jeffrey Maitland, PhD, has spent most of his adult life deeply investigating Zen practice, philosophy, and the nature of healing. He has practiced Zen over forty years and is an ordained Zen monk. He is also a Certified Advanced Rolfer? and Advanced Rolfing Instructor, a former tenured professor of philosophy at Purdue University, a philosophical counselor, and an energy healer. Maitland has published and presented many papers on the theory of somatic manual therapy, Zen, philosophy, and Rolfing SI. His research, articles, and book reviews are published in numerous professional journals. He is also the author of four books, three of which have been translated into other languages. They are Spacious Body; Spinal Manipulation Made Simple; and Mind Body Zen, which was written at the request of his Zen teacher (Roshi). His fourth book, Embodied Being: The Philosophical Roots of Manual Therapy, was just published (February, 9, 2016). He lives and practices in Scottsdale, Arizona. </i>


1. For more on the perceptual capacities of our feeling-nature, see my book Mind Body Zen. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010.

2. For a more in-depth approach to Kant?s aesthetics than I can provide here, see my article, ?An Ontology of Appreciation: Kant?s Aesthetics and the Problem of Metaphysics? in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 13:1 January 1982, pp. 45-68.

3. In Chapters Ten and Eleven, we will return to the notions of embodiment and homecoming by investigating the experience of the seasoned manual therapist in love with his work. In an effort to further deepen our understanding of these matters, we will continue to uncover and elucidate their numinous dimension. In Chapter Eight we will introduce the idea that the body is sentient.


Maitland, J. 2010. Mind Body Zen. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Rolf, I.P. 1977. Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structure. New York: Harper & Row.

Rolf, I.P. 1978. Ida Rolf Talks about Rolfing and Physical Reality. Rosemary Feitis, Ed. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Todes, S. 2001. Body and World. Cambridge, MS: MIT Press.[:de]<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/2016/1451-01.jpg’>

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