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Ida Rolf – A Retrospective

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Rolfing collection and memory

Undated Rolfers’ Notes – Rolfing history and memory

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The editor wishes to acknowledge those who provided background information necessary to prepare this statement. Special thanks to Dr. Brugh Joy. Wayne Guthrie. Bella Karish, and Dr. Byron Gentry.

In rare moments of silence, we join the slow dance of history. Veils begin to fall, one by one. We see ourselves engaged with others acting out our a lotted scripts and making up the play as we go along. Simultaneously feeling detached and totally connected, all events are illuminated with symbolic integrity and meaning. We walk the tightrope between Destiny and Will. listen to the sound of our own voices coming from afar and from within, taste the fruit of our own thoughts as if they were anothers, and lift our Inner gaze to the inexorable beauty of being in the right place and doing the right thing at the right time.

One of the people I have to thank for these moments is Ida Rolf’. As for the sense of timing, it is also one of the features of her life that is so remarkable. She created through her life a renewed vision of the extraordinary stories told through the most ordinary aspect of our common human existence-our own bodies. I don’t know what destiny has to do with anything-no one really does-but the raw instincts of the woman cannot he effaced. And, as much as surrender, is an inviting concept. I need took no further than to her to know that creating value out of life Invariably means accepting struggle as part of the package.

Recalling Ida Rolf as a pioneer is our way of acknowledging the potent combination of perseverance and precience that she embodied. Beginning with her efforts to remedy her son’s unnamed and little understood problems, we barely know of a time when she was not involved in Investigating, learning, teaching, and refining her work to the level of profound and universal application. Our sense of the most enduring struggle is that she was adamant about creating Rolfing as a distinct process, neither adjunct to nor allied with any other approach. Once she knew what she was doing, she spent years both in England and the United States experimenting with ways of teaching her work without having It dissolve Into someone else’s brew. It was fully forty years before she saw her goals being realized.

We are all familiar with Ida’s basic ideas, yet it seems appropriate to restate and reformulate our understanding of them. She was never satisfied, never complacent about her own work. An avid reader, she was always seeking new insights. The first principle of her unorthodoxy became the idea that the body is not solid and immutable. As a fluid envelope, containing structural elements of various densities, the body represents an eminently plastic medium. The gravital tonal force that continually affects the shape and organization of the structure can be counteracted to the extent that the body may actually he supported by it. The potential for transforming the full density of the body became apparent. The implications of such work for the well-being of the person were indeed great. Through direct observation Ida began to discriminate between the average body and the normal body, opening her eyes and our own to this infinitely illuminating process of differentiation. This, along with the keys she offered to the universe of possibilities for personal evolution, constitutes her most profound contribution.

Although these principles may have been under the surface of other contemporary approaches to the body, the hallmark of Ida’s genius is that she alone struck a synthesis out of the diverse practices of her time, bringing a new idea out of peripheral and Into central focus. Ever since the turn of this century, great new ideas have developed about the relation of soma to psyche. Although it was largely of European origin, placing Dr. Rolf in this movement clarifies the context of her significance. Along with breakthroughs in psychology, her perspectives on human structure have revealed additional facets of health. Today there are several manipulative approaches that borrow her concepts. But it was her uncompromising attitude that has kept Rolfing unique. To dilute her work, she felt, would limit our ability to reach deeper into the abstractions that have become part of the model. Rolfing remains a primary school devoted to discovering just how mutable the human body truly is.

A second dimension of Dr. Rolf’s contribution is that of touch. The number of people she touched, the sheer creativity and determination inherent in her resolve to integrate her theory and practice is rather awesome to contemplate. What we have now is a way to touch each other will a unique intention. It was true of Ida, as it is true of us all, that the experience of her touch and the effects of her work evolved as her ideas changed and her experience deepened. Early impressions of her work were that it was very rough. In those days she was modeling a technique of deep penetration to establish the idea itself. Yet she was able to reach into the body mentally, creating a sense of intimacy that has often been mistaken for invasion. What she could evoke from a body was a function of her knowledge of the body as well as her innate gift of “knowing” what she was dealing with on levels other than the physical. The quality of her work could not come from either of these factors separately. She therefore steered tier students into the material aspects of the work, temporarily willing to forego the development of levels of Intuition.

In 1955, when site first began teaching Rolfing as a ten-session process to chiropractors In the Midwest, her technique was a rough and exhausting materially-focused version of what we now call Rolling. She was, however, succeeding with serious physical problems that conventional medicine could not correct. Some of those original students who survived the intense three-week training process still integrate Rolf principles into their practices. Yet her work was so radical I hat virtually none of her early students adopted her approach exclusively.

Perhaps growing out of her investigations of Eastern mysticism as well as Western manipulative traditions, she once thought that pain was a necessary component of the work. Beyond the changes she wanted to effect in tissue function, she believed that the experience of pain was part of breaking through the “spell’ that a particular movement or structural pattern represented. Ten years later when she took Esalen by storm, she still held this belief. Today, one of the benefits of Rolling remains the awakening of our understanding of the many dimensions of pain. All of this notwithstanding, it is possible that we have misinterpreted Dr. Rolf all along. Perhaps more than feeling that pain was inherent in Rolling, she was single minded about developing the option of going deeply into the structure. All of her apparent intentions to allay concern about pain may have been to make certain that her students would not forego the knowledge necessary to fully reach into the actual scats of trouble in the body for fear of the discomfort it might cause.
No psychic healers, no other lay or professional practitioners of any persuasion, have this option.

In any case, her sense of what was true always exceeded the general cultural understanding of mind/body dynamics. For this reason, it seems entirely appropriate that Rolfing was regarded as the radical intervention that it was at that time. As far as understanding what she was trying to say about the relationship of structure and behavior, we were all under the same “spell” at one time. She had to speak loudly, clearly, and often to change our minds along with our bodies. Ten years of teaching, seeing the creation of the Institute, watching Rolfers work, and keeping an ear to the cultural ground must certainly have been factors influencing her continued development. Those who experienced her touch toward the end of her life, and certainly anyone who witnessed her work with children, surely understood the changes that were reflected in her technique.

Dr. Rolf’s additional contribution to us is the form itself, the process by which we address a body with the purpose of rendering greater integrity of movement and organization. Dr. Rolf managed to create the means to rediscover all that she knew and more. That she was able to teach tier ideas through the recipe means that we have been given the resources we need to become our own teachers. Whether its value is perceived as a practical guide to the work, or as a collection of abstractions which merely imply its actual practice, the versatility of the recipe gives us simultaneous access to her prescript ions as well as her encouragement to gain our own freedom of expression through it.

The recipe is also a language. Day by day we recreate the language and expand its vocabulary. Our Investigations lead us ever deeper into the metaphors of movement, structure, and community found within it. This journey into the language of the form is a journey into ourselves, revealing our true nature. The choices we make In order to live are brought repeatedly into awareness.

A fourth dimension of Ida’s character, development, and concern for Rolfing was an interest in metaphysics. Before she had a family, before she left the Rockefeller Institute, she had an ongoing curiosity about esoteric philosophies and non Western approaches to health. Long before she began teaching Rolfing in the United States, she had undergone periods of substantial inquiry into psycho physical models of integration. She gained an understanding of other levels of being that were inevitably affected through the physical technique. She developed her own conceptual models of the non-physical Body which, in reality, were props for the action of her own intuition.

The spiritual aspects of Ida’s growth have proved to be among the most interesting dimensions of her character. Most of us are aware that she was a deeply spiritual person. and that she had definite Ideas about the role of spirit and non-physical energ5-in the Rolfing process. Yet we also know that she kept her strongest opinions in the background most of the time. The main reason for this was her primary objective to see Rolfing accepted by conventional science and medicine. Her major efforts toward this end were the production of her book and the initiation of several research projects to investigate the effects of Rolfing.

In these efforts we see the continuing struggle between enthusiastic statements that Rolfing is a philosophy rather than a mere technique, and the concern for validating its quantifiable effects as well. What remains for us is the ongoing Issue of reducing to hard data an experience that for many is heavily subjective, in retrospect, the Valerie Hunt project appears to be a unique combination of the polar perspectives Ida had about Rolfing, in that scientific methods were used to quantify non physical dimensions of the work.
While this study emerges somewhat before its time in terms of its impact on the scientific community, it serves to highlight Dr. Rolf?s foresight concerning the necessity of integrating the mechanical and the spiritual realms.

As materially oriented as her process easily appears, her intuitions about the parameters of Rolfing played an important part In her choice of early students. She already had a sense of how Rolfing might develop once a significant number of people had been trained, and for a time she consciously chose people she suspected would carry the work forward according to her own desires. Of course she realized that not all Rolfers would become as spiritually inclined as she was, but she was confident that time and the consistent use of the form would inevitably lead practitioners to a similar comprehension of the magnitude of Rolfing.

Her spiritual orientation, though rarely explicit, also had a definite affect on the experience of being in a classroom with her. She had the extraordinary capacity to communicate more than she was saying. If her words represented the daily bread, what was often between the lines represented the true repast. She spoke to a part of us that needed her nourishment. And it is in that part that she is still held. In this respect, she was a true Teacher. While she managed to plant a certain lesson, what motivated her then and now us were the greater possibility, the Lesson beyond the lesson.

I don’t think that anyone could have predicted the effect that Ida’s passing would have on us. Certainly it seems that there are matters of our own growth as individuals and as a community that could not have emerged into awareness or action until Dr. Rolf died. For me, at least, filling out the picture of her personal history and the way that she dealt with the major issues of developing Rolfing has given me definite clues to appropriate thought and action. I am imbued with a heightened sense of responsibility for the name and work of Rolfing, as are we all.

Part of Ida’s legacy remains the particular set of priorities she had Ida?s Rolfing’s development. Their interplay has been a kind of (lance with the culture at large, as well as with us. She had an uncanny knack for assessing what was necessary for the continuation of her ideas, just as she had that uncanny way of reaching the person on her work table. What she knew and what she Indicated that she knew were often two different things. She couldn’t have failed to see that the changing definition of the body was moving rapidly toward greater acceptance and understanding of its relation to psyche, but she never compromised her demand that Rolling be based on a solid understanding of structure. Though her commitment to integrating paranormal perspectives into her work became more explicit as she aged, her public statements remained for the most part reserved. With no particular background in psychology, she was able to model the resolution of psychological material directly through her technique. However, what she could accomplish through her mere presence, we must accomplish through more deliberate work. We are presented with a double imperative. On one hand, theories about structure are no substitute for the ability to integrate psychological and spiritual perspectives into the work. On the other, a purely psychological or spiritual approach is no substitute for knowing structure and being able to change it.

That we need to be extremely discriminating when it comes to our long-range priorities seems Implicit. While efforts to “circle the wagons- are predictable, we needn’t fear the loss of Dr. Rolfs basic ideas, nor the forms she gave us to transmit them. We do need to beware of interpreting her too narrowly, losing sight of the larger territory that she opened In favor of preserving our small acre. She demanded that we grow, not only through the physical expansion of the Institute, but as individuals maturing into a full expression of her vision through our own hands. She was a great lady, a great teacher. Physically she has been removed from our midst. Yet none of us would be doing this work, proceeding along this path, joining in this community, if we did not continue to know her in some Inexpressible way. In our cells, our sinews, and in our hearts. We will continue to thrive on the answers that she gave us, the questions she asked, and the riddles that she posed.

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<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/1979/187-3.jpg’>Ida Rolf – A Retrospective

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