Even the Ants Are Red in the Grand Canyon

Pages: 50-53
Year: 2015
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 43 – Nº 1

Volume: 43

Last August I spent one week immersed in Mother Nature on a river trip in the Grand Canyon in Colorado organized by fellow Rolfers. We went rafting, hiking, and climbing, and also learned new approaches to the work we all love. I’d like to share some of the moments that I feel have become defining highlights for the rest of my life.

I knew I had to go on this trip, although I had no idea what was in store for me. The truth is that I had not prepared for it as the organizers had advised some months beforehand. Still, I went for it, and headed for the U.S. with my seven-year-old daughter (the best travel companion one could ever have). She spent that week with my American family, a family who hosted me when I was in high school thirty years ago. We still keep in touch.

I began to get nervous about whether I was really prepared, if the water would be very cold, if I could handle the steep hikes with a heavy backpack. A series of doubts that slowly lessened as the days passed, so that in the end there were no doubts, only action.

There were twenty-seven people altogether: six guides (two were Rolfers and one a Feldenkrais practitioner); two instructors – Jon Martine and Suzanne Picard – who would lead sessions and mini-seminars throughout the trip; and nineteen other Rolfers. There were five inflatable boats, each with a guide for rowing, and a smaller row boat with six people. Though some names sounded familiar, I didn’t know a single person beforehand. Despite that, I felt comfortable.

We began to navigate the river in a state of calm, in total contemplation of our surroundings. No boredom, only active meditation. Thoughts came and left like the clouds we saw in the distance. All our senses were activated. No cell phones, no chairs, no electricity, only the sound of the river, a bird, the wind, bats, butterflies, and ants. With so much history in the air, our perfectly prepared guides told us stories and legends about different Native American tribes. Still, what most impressed me was how much our guides loved and respected the surroundings, the river and the canyon.

Figure 1View of the Grand Canyon.

Culture, the medium in which we live, forms us and transforms us. These days many people live disconnected from their bodies. For me, this trip was a voyage in which I had to be very present in my body. The expression, “in the present moment,” could not be more accurate! I had to be ready for many things including drastic changes in temperature: the water could be 8°C (46°F), freezing, while the outside air temperature was more than 40°C (104°F). Every new situation that forces me to get out of my comfort zone is a learning experience, but only if I am completely connected to my body.

In our daily lives we disconnect from ourselves, from others, and from the global abundance of life. One isn´t able to contaminate water, destroy forests, or destroy something in general when one is connected to and feels one’s body. I believe that this kind of behavior is only possible when we dissociate the body from the mind and we stop feeling. This corporal anesthesia makes us less compassionate, and one can imagine the consequences this leads to.

On the first day: to pee or not to pee in the river? An adventure in itself. We ended up sticking our bums off the rafts and carried on. The men among us had it easier. Any garbage we produced was taken away: everything, including our own feces. We arrived at different spots where we would debark. Precious places, small beaches, and not a trace of anyone who had been there before. Marvelous! Is that savage? Or is it respect?

We made it to the first set of rapids and – amazing! We were really lucky with the weather: almost no rain. That helped us enjoy the moments and landscape even more and, as always, there were interesting conversations among this collection of Rolfers.

At camp, for those who were used to sleeping on the ground, it wasn’t a problem. My comfort zone was challenged, also by the various little creatures running around: mice, bats, ants. Looking up, astronomy, the master teacher of humility, showed us the sky as a tapestry of stars. We didn´t have to pay an entrance fee to see this show.

Setting up and breaking camp, preparing for the day, all the different bags, making sure we had everything, that everything was in its proper place, reminded us that less was more, or at least that more was not necessarily better. We all shared the workload as a team, loading and unloading the boats, setting up the campsite, the tables, cooking space, our sleeping bags, tents, backpacks. Looking back, I still find it incredible how much those boats could transport.

No one complained. I repeat: No. One. Complained. I found myself breathing hard several times and realized that complaining disconnects us quickly from our bodies, and has an effect opposite to the desired one by not allowing us to move on.

Experiencing one week sitting on the ground, it´s incredible how the body starts to break down its barriers, little by little, and adapt. Comfort may feel good, but it can deform us and doesn’t give us a better body. Here, my body was letting go. I began to understand my patterns better, including behavioral patterns.

All the colors, the nuances in light, the currents, the grand rapids. I lost a lot of my fear as I went along. I became aware of the amount of fear within my body in each new situation, pre-judging what was going to take place. Fear from the traffic accident I had in May had affected me more than I had thought. My body began to feel the impact of the waves through the raft, and the cold water splashed us. I could lean forward into them: I didn’t avoid the waves, I went with them. (Well, when the water is that cold, there is no god who wouldn’t shrink, and I cried out so loud I’m sure someone heard it in the distance.) Then it was over, and that was it.

At various stops, we would climb up the canyon to a spectacular view. Each rock was a sculpture, each new canyon within the Grand Canyon is a delight for the senses. There was so much silence, it filled you. The loss of a notion of time once again allowed us to be much more present in our bodies. We went to bed after sunset, got up at sunrise. Our vital rhythms began to synchronize, and the number nine meant as much as ten or five: only mental ideas. The sun regulated our melatonin. Long live the sun! Long live the night!

Precious locations: Tatahatso, Sheer Wall, Georgie’s Rapid, Marble Canyon, Tanner, Redwall Cavern, Saddle Canyon, and many other spots. Justin, our head guide, showed us these as if they were his own home.

Fresh food cooked every day. Laura was a genius at riverside cooking, preparing vegetables, salads, fresh salmon, even three different kinds of pastries, and all made in the blink of an eye. Everything was delicious.

There was no complaining. Nature does not produce complaints, only physical fatigue from the day-to-day exertion, which was washed away by a dip in the river. It took me three days before I could bathe in the river. It wasn´t fear, it was inhibition that I had created in my life to not continue, to secure my comfort zone (which I believed I controlled). To stop there is a kind of death. In the end I took the plunge, everything flowed like the river, and I felt more alive than ever before.

Every day Jon and Suzanne would share their knowledge and insight with the rest of us. We started the day with self-care, exchanging bodywork sessions on the back, neck, mediastinum, mesentery, and abdomen. We also did interesting neurodynamic work on the superficial fascia. What you learn through your body is not forgotten. Each day class would be held in a more beautiful spot, it was inspiring. Jon led the teaching in the first part of the trip (which I was on), though Suzanne’s input was always present.

Day 1: We did an overview of neural fascial anatomy and an initial palpation of the dermal layer. We exchanged work, and as I said earlier, each location made the moment even more special. Jon was not only showing us the techniques but also showing us the passion of his work in every little detail and explanation – it was impressive. This is one of the things I like so much about this work: people do not get tired of doing it, of learning more about it, of growing as a practitioner and as a person. I liked the work on the dermal layer, liked the explanations. I have been doing this type of work for a long time with rheumatic clients, mostly by intuition, because for the most part, they only respond to this kind of touch.

Day 2: Feet and lower legs. We hiked up a slot canyon and washed our feet in pools before mobilizing the ankles, feet, and lower legs, and then reassessed as we walked back down the canyon. It was a nice feeling after the exchange, how the body reacts, and to feel this response on uneven  surfaces. Personally I could have used more time for the exchange but Mother Nature and the river called us to go on.

Day 3: Redwall Cavern and an introduction to spinal stretches and ELDOA fascial stretches to decompress the spine, colon, and mesenteric root. [Editor’s note: ELDOA is a French acronym and translates into English as “Longitudinal Osteoarticular Decoaptation Stretches” – a system of fascial stretching developed by French osteopath Guy Voyer.] What a beuatiful location! I was so tired, it was just after lunch, and I did not feel like working. I wanted to stay with the moment, but on the other hand, the work felt so good and helpful. Jon and Suzanne so present, taking care of our individual needs.

Day 4: No work today, just spinal stretches, great for my back. What a nice group, everybody participating and getting ready for a new day.

Day 5: We did some ELDOA arm stretches and spinal twist yoga and then exchanged seated back work, concentrating on dermal layers and spinal nerves, working from anterior to posterior. Very interesting to start the day with streching with views of the sunrise. Taking care of yourself on this kind of trip is very important, especially for those who are not used to sleeping on the ground and not having chairs to sit in. Preparing the body for physical action, once again, makes you more connected to your body. Jon practices these exercises regularly and it seems that he enjoys the movement and, of course, the results.

Day 6Explanations and work on pericardium, sternum, intercostal cutaneous nerves, transversis thoracis, neck, and seated integration. Jon did a demo on a colleague who had had a heart surgery and was the perfect person to receive the work. Everything seemed to be so smooth, integrated within the rhythm of the journey. It was difficult to work on each other on the ground, but great to receive it. I felt so nourished.

Figure 2Morning stretches.

Figure 3The group.

We arrived where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado River, a sacred place for the Navajo Indians. The mud there is full of minerals and trace elements, transported and deposited all along the riverbed. We got naked and covered ourselves in mud. We spread the mud all over and the feeling was amazing: a deep cleansing for our skin.

We were told that the Navajos had argued about this spot. They were divided: some were in favor of selling their land, while others were not. In this place the ‘white man’ wanted to put up a hotel complex with a gondola and a pier. This would allow easy access to the Grand Canyon and the river; otherwise it was a long hike through tough terrain. I can imagine the motto. “Everyone to the Canyon!” Right. That´s the white man. Olé!

Gibney told us that this has become a political topic, which means the politicians are representing the interests of businessmen. Their arguments suggest that the Navajos would have more wealth and a fixed income. I understand the stance, but those businessmen are disconnected from their own nature, and therefore do not understand the nature of this place. This  place is not just beautiful as a geographic point on the map, or for the landscape in itself, it is beautiful to navigate, to enjoy the simplicity and at the same time the abundance of just being here. I see no reason for the destruction of the delicate ecosystem Justin told us of. This is a special place, where one can see different geological layers of Earth´s evolution. Aren’t there other places the white man can go build another amusement park? It’s already enough with the sight and noise of helicopters over the canyon. Tourists look down on us from above. How quiet it is when they disappear and you feel like you’re back in sync with the river’s melody.

For many, life’s daily routine is lived with stress, whereas the routines of the river are lived feeling satisfaction and joy, smiles and laughter. We walked on trails with our always attentive guides, Jayne, Pauly, and Kelly.

Finally we arrived at the place where we met up with the people who had signed up for the second half of the trip. For those of us who signed up for just the first half, the time came to say goodbye and get ready for the 12-kilometer (7.2-mile) hike up and out of the canyon. When I put my backpack on I felt good, despite knowing I was not exactly in shape. Farewells for those of us leaving here; the rest would go on for another week in the rapids, laughing, sharing their knowledge and experience.

As I hiked upward, each thought disconnected me from my body and I felt weaker. It was then I would tune in to my breath and feel my feet, one going in front of the other. I told myself to keep on going and my body seemed to work like new. I didn’t feel pain and that was a blessing, especially since I started this hike with the fear of a bit of back pain. Then tourists were coming down, which was the sign that the end was in sight. I admit that the final 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) took a lot out of me, and my companions went ahead. I couldn’t continue: with all my heart I wanted to cry. “I’m out of shape,” I cried. “I knew it.” But then I felt my feet rooting down into the ground and I said to myself, “one foot after the other, Bibi, don’t pant.” Then I looked back at the where I had come from. It was over and I had arrived! My companions were waiting for me with a vanilla ice cream, not bad at all. The circus of life went on.

The search for security in our lives does not really make us more secure. It just disconnects us from our present reality, and then we lose our faculties. Of this I am sure. Oh yes, even the ants are red in Colorado’s Grand Canyon. And they bite a lot. Ow.

Thank you, Michel Polen, for organizing this trip, and to our wonderful teachers, Jon Martine and Suzanne Picard. Thanks to my fellow companions in adventure for sharing this trip from the soul. Thank you Justin, Gibney, Pauly, Laura, Kelly, and Jayne of Colorado Canyon Guides, thank you especially for your love of the river. What you transmit is worth more than any salary could pay.

One begins to understand Dr. Rolf´s prescription in the context of nature, speaking about connections and relationships, and how, when you disconnect, you cannot function. Rolf made it possible for a group of Rolfers, such as ourselves, to unite. This inspired talk of another meeting – possibly an adventure in Spain in June 2016, to walk the final portion of the Way of St. James, with congresses, seminars, good food – but most of all good company. Watch for more information as this idea develops at www. bodywisdomspain.com.Even the Ants Are Red in the Grand Canyon[:]

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