Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 1

Volume: 44

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Eric Shah: Valerie, you were my Unit Two and Three Rolfing Instructor in San Diego, California, and you are now teaching in my Advanced Training (AT) with Jan Sultan in Venice Beach, California. It is an honor to interview you, my teacher, colleague, and friend. To start off, how many years have you been practicing Rolfing Structural Integration (SI)?

Valerie Berg: Twenty-eight years.

ES: What originally brought you to Rolfing SI and who was your first Rolfer?

VB: In the early and mid ?70s I was a modern dancer performing in a company and I kept having low back problems that would take me out of performing, and I had a two-year-old at the time too. My next-door neighbor was a Rolfer, Brian Fahey. I went over, did the ten sessions, and never looked back in terms of my body. I didn?t want to be a Rolfer at that time ? I wasn?t one of those ?get Rolfing sessions and become a Rolfer?. But it took care of the back pain. And, I also got a divorce ? I do think that the Rolfing [work] helped move that on.

ES: So after your divorce and after the Ten Series, what direction did you take?

VB: I got involved in a wilderness adventure company, I ran an outdoor company. I have a degree in teaching, that?s what I always wanted to do, actually, was be a high-school English teacher. So I started teaching wilderness activities. Basically it had to do with my love of movement, that when a person feels joy in [his] body with moving, [his] life is better, in all ways. [Related to this] I also love the fact that Rolfing SI transforms people psychologically ? it did me. Without even having to talk about something, it?s a direct entry into people?s way of being also.

So I was doing the wilderness training, I was doing rock climbing, I was teaching scuba diving; it was a lot to do with this kind of joyful having the body in action. At one point I lost money in my wilderness company and got convinced (and detoured) that if I went to Chicago and traded commodities where my brother was I could make money back and start my wilderness company again. Whereupon I became a commodity trader. So coming from a very physical life, I was now standing in a pit with 95% men, screaming and yelling; I had to be very physical voice-wise, projecting. I call this my spiritual detour. It had nothing to do with anything except making money. Still there was a physicality I loved and I had never been around that level of stress in my life.

So [then] I had to kind of rewind myself and take time out, remember what it was that I loved. I thought about physical therapy, thought about being a doctor, but Rolfing SI had been the thing that encompassed everything at all levels that made sense and had meaning to me ? which is the joy of movement; the joy of the body; the possibility of working with someone to actually transform and change [his] way of being, [his] possibilities. So from that point I started. We had auditing back then, so I went and did all the prerequisites to get into auditing and started my Rolfing training in 1986.

ES: Did you have a teacher or mentor that you resonated with during your early years as a Rolfer?

VB: We didn?t really have mentoring back then, but I intentionally chose [to study with] Peter Melchior. I wanted the direct connection to Ida. So I chose him for auditing. I always say Peter taught me the heart and soul of this work, but I would not have necessarily known the nuts and bolts of ?now what do I do??. So in the practitioning [phase] I [studied with] Nicholas French, who always talked about demystifying the ?Recipe? in the work. Both of those people, especially Nicholas, I would talk to frequently. And also Robert Schleip was doing his first assist with Nicholas back then. He was already on to the nerves and what was actually happening in the fascia ? and I think he shares this joy of movement, [it?s evident] if you watch Robert move. So we connected back then also. Robert is the reason that I started teaching when I did. I always wanted to do it, but he got me going, pulled me in to assist him in 2000 for one of his Basic Trainings (BT) and really handed it over to me and helped me learn to teach.

ES: Did you wait the traditional five years before you took the AT?

VB: No, beyond traditional ? I waited twelve years. Why wasn?t I taking it? Partially it?s because I was a single mother for quite a while. Also, and I still feel this strongly, you need to have a good practice, you need to have a lot of bodies to even know what the questions are, [to ask] ?Why do I need to know more, and what do I need to know?? It wasn?t the credential. It came from really needing more input and having a need to know more and to validate what I thought I knew. So by the time I went [to AT] at twelve years a lot of the people there had been practicing Rolfing SI fewer years. I went to Brazil, Jeff Maitland was teaching and I?ve always respected Jeff. It was a little surprising at how different it was than I thought it would be. The five series I had heard about was not taught anymore but we were asked to really begin to synthesize all we had learned and think about the work in a more complex and unique way for each client. It was very insecure and yet thrilling.

ES: You teach the BT (Units Two and Three), CE workshops, and AT. Please talk about the differences in teaching these courses in terms of challenges and rewards.

VB: So teaching Basic, where everyone starts in [his or her] teaching career, it?s an incredible thing to teach people who know absolutely nothing about Rolfing SI. I actually love this part of it because you have to dig in to every piece of skill that goes on from the time a client calls you to the time you are finished with the Ten Series. So there?s so many layers of skill ? of touch, of seeing, of embodiment, of relationship ? and so you have to go back to the beginning and kind of rewind yourself and remember ?How did I come to know how to touch?? ?How did I learn to see?? You start breaking it down; it makes you a much better teacher if you come backwards and break all that down. So to teach something that nobody knows is exciting and in a way it?s more secure.

So when you start teaching workshops to people who are already Rolfers you start at another level. But what happens with workshops is you could be teaching subject matter that they?ve heard before, but you?re teaching it from a viewpoint that you?ve uniquely put together ? and that?s a huge difference. So when you?re teaching and you create workshops, you?re digging deeper in your own interests and you have to study to create three-, four-, five-day workshops that have a lot of substance and develop the work further. It is in the teaching of workshops that I can begin to think deeper about this work and develop new ideas based on our traditional concepts and series.

Since I?m just beginning to learn about [teaching] the AT, it?s new. But these people [students] have been working for a while, everyone?s been working different levels, different numbers of clients, so it?s fun because the basics are already there, but they are not developed, they are not as fine or they don?t have as much finesse as one who?s been working longer and worked at it. So the enthusiasm and readiness of people in AT is incredible, it?s like just being given a ripe fruit that?s ready to go, you give a little drop and they move fast because they already have basic skills. It?s also just fun to be in a room of Rolfers who are all trying to learn together.

And also to add on, I got to teach an extended format [BT] in San Diego two years ago, which meant we did Units Two and Three over a period of two years, meeting once a month with a small group. It was incredible boost to my own teaching skills because I had the time to develop and integrate in between teaching sessions, [get] better skills and understand what the students needed. So that format is probably my favorite.

ES: What life experiences or interests helped form your specific style of teaching?

VB: So I said earlier that teaching?s been in my head since I was born practically ? all I wanted to do was teach. So I taught all the physical things, like scuba diving and rock climbing, and dance, etc. So it was pretty natural to start teaching Rolfing SI because I see it as an education and it embodies everything I love in terms of movement and joy and structure.
In ?93 I moved to Guatemala for four years to be with my husband while he was a journalist. I?d only been [practicing] Rolfing SI for five years, and I was traveling around with him and would end up [doing sessions for] people on the ground, on stick beds, in the jungle, whatever. I came into contact with people who had been in torture situations, villages burned, horrible atrocities. I would have my hands on them and I realized I was clueless as to how what I do would work with that. And I also would work with people who couldn?t speak English, so I couldn?t just depend on any psychobabble language of ?Oh now you feel lighter and you breathe better.? They had to tell me what it actually did for them. I still did the Ten Series on them ? I maybe wouldn?t complete it but I would follow a protocol. There were times people would say things like ?You?ve given me the energy to continue the revolution? ? or whatever, because they were involved in the fight for freedom, there was a war going on at the time. It led me into [studying] Peter Levine?s work when I came back [to the U.S.] because I needed to understand how to handle what happens in trauma in the body. I?m not very interested in sitting and listening to it and psychoanalyzing it, but I wanted understand how it manifested in the body.

So the dance [background], the trauma work from Guatemala, learning Peter Levine?s work, my interest years ago being in a Gurdjieff group (something that Ida Rolf was also interested in) having to do with evolution. What happens when we change the body? How do we manifest who we are if we change the body? How do we become fuller people if we change the body? Can I be more authentic and come to the edges of my skin and be who I am? All of that comes from all of these experiences basically.

ES: As a Rolfer and a teacher at the Rolf Institute®, how closely do you feel linked to the teaching of Ida Rolf? Has this changed or evolved through the years?

VB: I feel really close to it, and that was the reason I studied with Peter Melchior to begin with. I liked studying with people who had direct contact with her. I know that I have a reputation of being tight on the Ten Series, and I feel really strongly about teaching as much as I can, the closest I can get to the roots of this work ? so that before people start making detours and coming to their own thoughts about it, they understand the roots of it. So you learn the roots, the positions, the reasoning, the thought behind it so that the essence of it stays in the work regardless of where you choose to take it. So I?m still doing that. I still do the Ten Series in my practice. For me it has infinite wisdom and more to teach me. I love teaching the Ten Series as I learned it in a traditional way. I try to teach people to have intention. ?Is that going to change something?? ?Why?? To have thought process about it, being intentional in their thinking. Of course I?ve studied other things, I?ve studied visceral and cranial and the Levine work, but it?s all in the service of how it might show up in the work that I would understand, and understanding how it manifests in the body. So those are additions, but I would call myself a pretty traditional Ida-style Rolfer.

ES: What can you say about your own unique style of Rolfing SI in your practice and in your teaching?

VB: I can only say based on what people say after they go to another Rolfer and come back to me. [There?s the] functional work, the movement piece that I learned from Hubert Godard, which is always in my sessions. I haven?t mentioned [him] yet, but Hubert is a huge influence on my work. [In my view,] Hubert blew open the Recipe in terms of its function. He still holds close to the Ten Series but has deepened the functional piece of it and made sense of why we go where we go, so I use that extensively in my practice. People are moving through the sessions; there?s always an education piece that?s going on, so it?s not a quiet nonspeaking session (but it?s not a ton of talking). I study fascial relationships every second I can get, so I am learning. My work is really fascia-based not muscle-based. There?s just a lot of education that goes on in my sessions, I know that not all Rolfers do that. And also there?s option for trauma work within the session.

ES: What influenced you to become a Teacher-in-Training for the Advanced Rolfing work?

VB: One, wanting to really understand what it is. It feels like a natural next step to honing my own skills. I?ve taken the AT, I know what it taught me. [I?m teaching with Jan, and] I have always admired Jan?s work ? it probably rings closer to the way I work than anyone because it?s very structural, it makes me feel like I?m a mud doctor, I?m in the earth, in the flesh, and I?m getting palpation certainty, which is a beautiful thing. And he?s a very clear sequential teacher and I really value that, so I wanted to study with him in terms of his teaching style. I can always hear more about his work and how he works because he?s got these forty years [of experience] and he understands where this work came from at a deep level. I want to watch that and carry that on. So there?s a selfish piece of wanting to be here in the class with him, as well as moving on to being able to teach this myself.

ES: Lastly, you?ve developed and started teaching your own course on ?structural aging?. Please elaborate.

VB: That comes again from watching what happens to people?s bodies when they lose movement. Over the years I?ve watched over and over again repetitive posturing that looks and feels like aging. It?s not about old people ? people think structural aging means I?m doing Rolfing SI on old people. But it could be a fifteen-year-old who is structurally aging. Our [Rolfing] technology can make people move and feel younger. By watching all the various segments and structures and functions break down piece by piece, I put together a course, which could be all the way from a three-day to a ten-day course, there?s many, many pieces to what happens. Even in our Ten Series you can focus on the way patterns make people feel and look old. So it comes back to my beginning premise: you find joy in full actualization in the body. It?s a pretty beautiful thing to witness, and it seems it?s what most people want ? not only to be out of pain, but to move with some kind of joy. So I?ve started teaching this and it seems popular, like people are wanting it because of the amount of aging issues going on in the culture.

ES: Speaking of structural aging, if given the choice, who would you rather do Rolfing sessions for, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? And why?

VB: Of course Hillary Clinton, because of the context of her life ? like God only knows what she?s been through, the images and the sexism and the context she?s had to pretend in. What would Hillary look like if she could authentically be the pure Hillary? How would she look, what would she say, what freedom could we give Hillary and unleash her potential? Bernie?s already got it, I mean he?s just out there, he?s just doing it, Bernie?s got it.

<i>Valerie Berg was certified as a Rolfer in 1988 and has been a member of the Rolf Institute faculty since 2003. She did her Rolf Movement training with Hubert Godard and Rebecca Carli and her AT with Jeff Maitland. She has been practicing in Albuquerque, New Mexico for twenty-nine years with a side step to Guatemala for five years. She also travels to San Diego and sees clients there. Valerie is particularly interested in the structural aging that occurs in the body ? what she calls ?non-essential patterns of aging? ? and teaches workshops on this subject. Another focus is teaching the depth and layers of the Ten Series.

Eric Shah has been doing bodywork and movement education for over eighteen years. His Rolfing practice (Structural Therapeutics) serves the surrounding communities of Los Angeles and Pasadena. He feels very honored and grateful for the training that he has received and continues to receive from mentors Jan Sultan, Benjamin Shield, and Valerie Berg. </i>

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