The Forest and the Trees

An Advanced Training Dialogue
Pages: 12-15
Year: 2016
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 1

Volume: 44
(Editor’s Note: This dialogue took place in November 2015 in Santa Monica, California during an Advanced Training that Jan Sultan and Valerie Berg taught, with Bridge Morgan as a table assistant. Local Certified Advanced Rolfer Bruce Schonfeld would drop in as he could, and Anne Hoff was repeating the class.)

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Anne Hoff: Let?s talk about the Advanced Training (AT), since we are connected here through Jan Sultan?s current class. What?s your background with the AT, each of you? I?m here taking it a second time.k

Bridge Morgan: Well I have only taken it as a student once, and then have assisted Jan three times.

Bruce Schonfeld: I took it twice, I assisted once, and then I have dropped in over the years when it?s in LA.

AH: How long have you each been practicing Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) and where did these different ATs come in those spans of years?

BS: I graduated in ?94 and then was on the fast track with my first AT in ?96, about two and a half years into it. That was in Laguna Beach with Jan, it was awesome. Ray McCall and Michael Murphy were there. I took my second AT with Michael Salveson up in Berkeley at the Feldenkrais Resource Center about a year or so later. It was a stellar class, so much fun.

AH: What made you do another one so soon? Was it that you wanted to experience Michael as another of the senior teachers?

BS: Exactly. Just in and of itself, I was eager to learn my trade. I organized an AT here in LA years later. Jan taught half and Michael taught half with Tessy Brungardt assisting both parts. That was 2001.

AH: What was the impetus to circle back and do that third AT? It?s a big commitment of time.

BS: I never envisioned taking the AT [just] once, I was always going to assertively study SI. So I brought it to LA and did it in two modules. It was easier to manage it that way, having the luxury of having it in my hometown. I organized it as two three-week chunks, instead of one six-week training. I think it was the first time those guys had done it that way. I wanted to study with these guys in their prime as much as I could.

AH: And does it land differently for you each time?

BS: I think so, you go through different stages of development as a student. There is no end point, there never was. There?s learning, critical analysis, un-learning, and evolving. Trying to find your own way of most authentic learning, and evolving in a way where the educational compass is pointed a bit more at pleasure instead of at being a good student on other people?s terms. Figuring out how to make learning fun and optimizing it for yourself. Studying in a way that makes you feel good and satisfied as a student, as a person. Whatever that is, whether you bring in extra anatomy tools, palpate the skeleton all the time, shadow the teacher, etc. Whatever helps you learn from the inside out. For example, I could never take notes and listen to a lecture at the same time successfully, all the way back to my childhood; I would have horrible notes and I would miss the lecture. So I had to be honest about my learning process, simplify, and solely focus on observing and listening. That was liberating. So I tend to repeat classes.

AH: So let?s have the same questions for you Bridge, what was your AT trajectory?

BM: I graduated from the Rolf Institute® in 2002 and decided to do my AT in 2006; that was with Jan and Michael. They [each taught a half of] that class. It really continued to deepen my understanding and inquiry. I connect with the idea of lifelong learning, including the idea of having an inquiry-based practice. This means that you are asking questions but not necessarily getting all the answers to those questions ? but continuing to open up more and more questions, hopefully of a better quality. I have acquired more answers, in a way, but definitely more questions than answers. So that?s what keeps me interested in continuing to take classes and study from different teachers, to see how they approach the work from their own angle. This helps me then develop my own unique angle by kind of mimicking them first, developing my own style, and then getting creative, hopefully. I wanted to continue doing AT stuff, and Jan invited me to assist him in 2011, here in LA. That was my first experience assisting. And then again in 2013 and 2014 with Lael Keen co-teaching with Jan, that was a great opportunity to assist. And now again, we?re halfway through our 2015-2016 AT with Jan and Valerie Berg. I really value the styles of all these instructors and that everybody at the Rolf Institute has their own take on it.
Here, studying with Jan, is to experience someone who really loves the stories and anecdotes of his time with Dr. Rolf and the things that she stressed as important: stories she told, authors she appreciated, thinkers she liked. I think one of his great skills is really allowing the class to take its own shape; having a plan for what he wants to teach then allowing the students? experience to play into it. What takes place day-to-day, moment-to-moment, also shapes what is important and is talked about in his classes.

AH: I?m curious about that, because for the Basic Training there is a very particular type of material they have to cover. Then when you get into this non-formulistic advanced work, there is a lot more scope for the work to be different and for the teaching of it to be different too. You?ve seen Jan in action a number of times with the flavoring that comes in from a different co-teacher and from different students: is it like a theme with variations? Or does it become a whole different animal?

BM: It is basically similar each time he teaches it. There is a framework that?s built on taxonomies, principles, and continuing to talk about the Ten Series. But there is a different flavor that comes about from what seems important at the time, and also where the students are at with their learning. What questions are brought to class influences the course of the class. Jan really listens to what is happening in his environment rather than just talking about what he wants to talk about. How the class takes shape is really interactive in this way.

AH: The modules he brings in each day, clinical modules like the sacrum and C2, the hip stuff we did yesterday, and the whole thoracic outlet one, are those pretty similar between trainings?

BM: Yes, they are pretty similar. We might do something with lower legs one day, and notice that people are wanting more work in another part of the body based on the work we did the day before. So guiding what gets taught and stressed is based on the feedback he is getting. Maybe he starts to notice after radial decompression work that spinal work would be useful. I think he?s designing his class similarly to how he might design a session or a series of sessions, listening along the way.

AH: So it?s very illustrative then of the whole non-formulistic process. Instead of being a particular client, the class is the client. He?s designing and shaping the modules of the class around how the class itself is manifesting and integrating.

BM: It is a larger scale organism, you might say, that maybe still operates on a lot of the same principles, taxonomies, and concepts that we might use with an individual in a single session or in a series of sessions. Different levels of organization emanate outwards. If you?re just working on an organ in the body, the interesting part is how that manifests into the whole person, and how that individual resonates with the larger group of people. Jan seems to have a real understanding of the continuum of organization that takes place not only inside the person?s skin but also in a group dynamic setting. He really embodies our work in that way; he?s not talking about Rolfing SI, he?s actually showing it from his own example. Almost like he is teaching from the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in.
The co-teachers all have their own unique perspective on it, they give lectures and lessons on the things that are important to them, that they have explored more. Jan and whoever he?s co-teaching with are kind of ?riffing? with each other like two members of a band. Every pair that teaches the classes is going to create a different ?music? and you get the opportunity to hear something unique with each set of teachers.

AH: How much of the AT curriculum is fixed regardless of who teaches it? How does it vary depending on the teachers?

BM: They?ve worked to refine what the framework needs to be and what each Rolfer who goes through the AT really ought to know: things like spinal mechanics, a deeper understanding of the Principles of Intervention, and client-centered work. It?s important to meet each individual client where [s/he is] at and not just try to apply a standard one-size-fits-all to each person. That gets people a little more creative with their approach and able to design a strategy that is unique.

AH: There?s a lot of short-format continuing education workshops available, how does that compare with this longer AT format? It seems to me in the AT there is more room for assimilation, digestion, and integration of the material.

BM: I think workshops tend to be filled mostly with techniques, and there isn?t really time to dive into the theory or the principles behind those techniques. So it is up to the students to know how to utilize those techniques in a way that fits with what they do and what they understand already. And sometimes that works better than others. But if you have this kind of immersion training you are really exposed to a lot more theory along with techniques, to the point where the theory is more important than the techniques themselves. And then once you understand those principles and theories you can really start to get creative, allowing the practitioner to make up new techniques as needed.

AH: That?s something Jan has said a couple of times in this class, which is fascinating.

BM: Yeah, you can actually generate your own techniques based on what you are trying to do; whereas if you have techniques and no theory you don?t necessarily know what it is you are trying to do, you just know the technique works sometimes. Because no technique works all the time, it?s up to the practitioner to know when to use a technique and how, the timing piece is something that comes along with a better understanding of the philosophy and theory of the work. That?s what I got out of the AT initially, this idea of deepening my practice into the theory rather than just ?follow these steps?. The amazing thing about the Ten Series is that you can actually produce pretty good results by just following these steps. And the AT allows for another leap forward towards greater efficiency and efficacy.
The AT is a student-centered training in a way, so not only are they meeting the students where they are at in their learning and their background, the work that students get in the AT helps develop not only their understanding but their process in their own bodies. I am really fascinated by this idea that, as the process in a practitioner?s body continues along its path, their process in their understanding and conceptualization of the work also tends to come along. The AT gives the studying practitioner the potential to have certain types of breakthroughs. That?s the piece that people are assimilating over time, the work we get in our own bodies as well as the work we deliver.

AH: Jan has made this really clear, this class is as much for us to get that work as it is to learn the advanced work. The work people are getting is phenomenal, morphing them as people. This is landing differently than just getting three Rolfing sessions. We have come back to the ?big tent? of Rolfing SI and the techniques are living in the context of the big tent, in this way we see the power of our work.

BM: I observe students at the AT changing from the inside and not just the outside, which is a fascinating thing. Some people who have problems, pain, a history of issues, injuries, developmental issues, have a great opportunity to tap into what is so powerful about this work. People who are practitioners of Rolfing SI are the people who had this profound experience themselves and are driven to understand: ?What that was and how did that happen? I still don?t understand it but I am fascinated by it, I am drawn to it, and I just want to keep learning more and more.?

AH: It?s wonderful that Ida Rolf modeled something that was so big that the inquiry keeps going. If that framework hadn?t been there we could still be practicing only exactly what she taught. It?s interesting how Jan speaks about how the Principles came out of the Recipe, that basically dissecting the Recipe generated the Principles, and from that generated this whole other way of working, which is alive. Someone might say, ?Well, spinal mechanics, all I need to do is buy Greenman?s book instead of doing an AT,? but the way it has been integrated into Rolfing SI is different than the way an osteopath would look at it and practice it. The tent of Rolfing SI is big enough that a piece of information can be brought in, but it?s sieved through our worldview to make it part of what we do rather than a distraction or an add-on.

BM: That reminds me about how Dr. Rolf and others have talked about how we exist on different planes and that the different taxonomies point to that. If we were to just narrow down our lives or our existence to one of those taxonomies it might make it simpler but it doesn?t do justice to the complexity of life. We exist partly on the geometric plane and the structural plane, by working with structure we can affect perception and all these other planes; the more comprehensive our view is of the system and of the human, then the more wide-reaching our interventions will be and the more likely some sort of transformational shift [will] happen. This is how i see Rolfing SI as developmental work. I?m fascinated by the conversation in class about how we continue to function with plasticity, like embryos, always changing and growing, even though our physicality appears static. We can hold that idea of evolving, that change is always possible and every moment that we live is different. This frees us from the purely mechanical point of view where we might feel trapped in our situation and in our bodies because this is the only option that we may know.

AH: Jan talked about how you?re giving a certain input that can allow something to come forth, it might not be even something the person has thought of previously.

BM: Yeah, it?s different than trying to teach a lesson and then that lesson is learned. It?s more like reminding that organism of a lesson that it already knows, on some deeper level. The [person remembers] it and then it becomes something very natural. Our work is watching transformation happen without being responsible for the transformative forces that are involved. And I think that?s why a lot of people become interested in embryology. You can watch fluids move and take shape without mechanics making those fluids move; so, what is it that?s creating those changes?

BS: The advanced class is enhancing strategic, conceptual, and critical thinking skills for this level of work, more than memorization.

BM: Kind of teaching someone to fish rather than giving them a fish.

AH: It?s interesting that in repeating the AT you can choose whether you want a model to work on, or whether you want to float around the room and watch.

BS: I developed that approach taking the Barral classes. My thought process was, ?I?m going to watch Jean-Pierre Barral do it a dozen times, I?m going to follow him around, I?m not going to just sit and chit chat at the tables.? So I did that for years and years, shadowing and watching him do the same technique with a dozen different people.

AH: And then you start to see what he?s doing that might be different while he?s doing the same thing.

BS: Totally, I made an informal study of his individualistic approach and style as related to theme and variation within any given technique.

AH: Deconstructing techniques so that you either understand the technique at a deeper level, or you understand how the technique can be disassembled and rearranged as needed for a particular client.

BS: Exactly, the AT is trying to help you customize the work to the individual.

BM: That?s a form of research you are doing, you are watching differences, doing certain things the same way a bunch of times and seeing how there are different changes and then changing things up. Really observing every single thing that you do and hopefully compiling a database of personal research.

BS: Yes, surveying for consistency and continuity. Evaluating the evaluators. Also, comparing and contrasting all the teachers? findings in the room with each other has always been a curiosity of mine and part of my learning process. Looking for continuity and discontinuity.

BM: It?s interesting you say ?continuity? because I think as Rolfers what we are mostly noticing is discontinuity and we are trying to make a coherent picture out of what does not express continuity. Forming an understanding of pattern recognition requires that the practitioner do a great deal of observation, otherwise observing something once or twice you are seeing a random jumble of different
responses and outputs.

BS: And there?s the continuity we provide over a volume of work. I think about what we do sometimes, and a component seems to be about providing a volume of coherent work. Whether it?s eight or twelve sessions, the exact number doesn?t matter. At a baseline the amount of manual-therapy time, the volume of work, is enough to address the whole body and whole person comprehensively. It?s another way to refry Dr. Rolf?s original vision, it?s that you address the form comprehensively.

BM: The Ten Series too is something that has a lot of form to it, but if you apply it to a hundred different people they will have different responses. We sometimes talk about how everybody gets these certain kinds of change, but I don?t think that is necessarily the case. Some people really change in one way and another person changes in another. The old adage is that to do the Ten Series for five years creates a sense of pattern recognition that emerges from doing all these things and observing a whole lot of different responses. Once you start to see themes emerge from doing a certain pattern, then you can deconstruct it and apply that Recipe in a way that is more consistent, effective, and efficient.

AH: One thing I?m really admiring is the efficiency of Jan?s work. While some Rolfers don?t want to spend the time and money needed for the AT, I?m feeling that if I can absorb the efficiency of Jan?s work, that alone will make the training valuable. And it?s hard to learn that unless it?s modeled by somebody who really is a master.

BM: I think efficiency is a key concept in the AT, what Jan and Valerie call ?economy?. It is not only the economy of the practitioner, the time you?re spending in session, how much you?re getting done in that time. It is also the economy and resources of the client, not wanting to take a whole bunch of time and money to create change. After practicing the Ten Series a long time, in sixty minutes a person could allow for change in the feet for instance. But then one of the advanced instructors might show that practitioner how to create that change in ten or twenty minutes. So people say ?Why do I need the AT if I can already do the job?? ? and the answer is ?because you can find out how to do the job five or ten times more efficiently.? For me, in studying visceral, neural, and cranial work, etc., what I am after is to become a more efficient and effective practitioner. And to use my knowledge of different systems to study the interaction between those systems, to hold those pieces in the context of the whole person. I use these tools to help me create sessions that are more consistent and more resourcing to my clients, as well as less taxing to my own body.

AH: We are seeing all these pieces come together even in the small modules of work on each other after demos. The changes we are getting in three sessions is maybe more than the person got in their last five or ten sessions. I think it?s the powerful way that these pieces are being drawn together.

BM: It?s the specificity in the AT. And I think a lot of Rolfers might hear that and say, ?Well, why be more specific, I don?t want to be more reductionist about it, why do I need to know the nuances of anatomy or joint surfaces or things like that?? I think some people feel that by focusing too much on the details, you can lose a sense of the big picture. Partly true. But by not focusing on the details you can lose the ability to further refine your understanding of the big picture.

BS: Well put, Bridge. You never lose sight of the forest because that?s what we do, we?re generalists; and we?re SI practitioners, that?s what we do. We address the forest, trees, and systems anatomy interrelationships. The AT is very conducive to weaving together different approaches and improving the clinical skills of each practitioner. In general, the approach is inside-out rather than outside-in. Meaning that it?s more catered to the details inherent to each individual.

BM: I agree. Enhanced reasoning skills from a larger context. Meeting each client where s/he is and allowing each interaction to be really useful. You?re going to come away from the AT a better overall practitioner due to improved assessment, strategy, and technique. Practitioners take home a better sense of both the forest and the trees.

<i>Bridge Morgan fell in love with Rolfing SI over twenty years ago. His background in biology, psychology, and East/West philosophy fuel his ongoing inquiry into the mystery of life.
Bruce Schonfeld is fascinated by the inter-relationship between the container and its contents. He has studied Rolfing SI and visceral osteopathy since 1992.
Anne Hoff began studying Rolfing SI and craniosacral and visceral work in the mid- 1990s. She is also deeply involved in studying the mind-body interface through psychological and spiritual traditions. </i>

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