Richard Ennis: Russell, how many years have you been practicing Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) and what inspired you to become a Rolfer in the first place?
Russell Stolzoff: I?ve been practicing Rolfing SI for twenty-six years and I was inspired from receiving Rolfing [sessions] when I was an undergraduate student at University of Colorado.
RE: How did that work inspire you to become a Rolfer? What was the transformation you felt or what was it that grabbed your attention?
RS: It kind of came at a very critical juncture in my own personal development as a young adult. I had been a college athlete and had kind of burned out and was left with some significant physical fallout, strain. I had also moved away from my first college to go to University of Colorado, which was also [moving] away from home. I had some trouble making that adjustment on a personal and psychological level and struggled for my first couple of years at University of Colorado and finally got some help through counseling. I started to really adjust to my new environment and then the Rolfing [sessions] came along on the heels of some significant personal change. I felt it added a physical component of freedom that correlated really strongly with the self-understanding that I had developed through going to therapy, psychotherapy. I think [the psychological work] really potentiated the Rolfing [sessions] in a way; it felt like a physical correlate.
RE: To what was going on psychologically, emotionally?
RS: Right. That was super inspiring to me. It freed me physically in ways that I didn?t know were possible, just in the way my body functioned. It was a very exciting time for me.
RE: What were you studying at the time? Did you end up getting a degree at the University of Colorado?
RS: Yeah, I got a liberal arts degree that was a combination of Economics, English, and Sociology.
RE: When you got out of school, did you head right into Rolfing [SI] as a career? Or did you do some other work before that?
RS: When I went to college, I didn?t really have a career goal in mind. Nothing was emerging for me really. When I got to Rolfing SI, it was a spark ? the first time that I connected with something that felt like it fit with who I was and my interests. It was something that I wanted, but I was a little shy about wanting it. As time went on, I kind of dared to want it more. Once I graduated from college, I traveled for a couple of years and lived in Europe for about a year. I had a girlfriend at the time who was French and she had been doing the Rolf Movement training at a time when you didn?t have to be a Rolfer to become a Rolf Movement Practitioner. I guess we?re going back to that now as a possibility. Anyway, I met her during that time, and when she went back to France, I went with her and I stayed in Europe for about a year. Then I came back to the States for awhile, worked odd jobs, and then spent about six months living in Jamaica and helping some people tutoring kids in remote areas. The whole time I was traveling I had Dr. Rolf?s book, and I would look for books wherever I was. It wasn?t like now where you can go and buy [books] about fascial bodywork. There were scant things. I found Mabel Elsworth Todd?s book, The Thinking Body, and anything by Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement stuff. I was hungry for all the information I could get. When I came back from Jamaica, that?s when I started to do my prerequisites [for Rolfing training].
RE: It?s interesting you talk about coming out of your shell, the fact that you had some shyness to you, and then you ended up becoming a Rolfing instructor [and are now Advanced Faculty Teacher-in-Training]. Talk a little bit about what teaching means to you and how you?re drawn to that.
RS: I?m a bit of an ambivalent teacher. I don?t know if that?s quite the right way to say it. I find the prospect of trying to teach Rolfing SI pretty daunting.
RE: It?s a challenge but you?ve been doing it a long time.
RS: I didn?t set out to be a teacher. I received invitations to do some assisting and I just kept going with it. It?s a little bit the same with becoming an Advanced instructor. I?ve been invited to start co-teaching at that level and so I?m developing my portfolio, if you will, of getting to that level.
RE: Talk a little bit about the challenge or the difference you find between Basic Training (BT) and Advanced Training (AT).
RS: I feel the BT is taking people from what I call ?zero?. You get bodyworkers who have a lot of experience [coming into the training], but you?ve also got people who don?t have experience. Then trying to teach them this form, which is a difficult thing to learn ? it?s very nuanced, and it requires a lot of the practitioner to be able to know what it is you?re after and know when you?re getting that effect that we work for in Rolfing SI. That?s the challenge. I think of the beginning as how to really convey what this is, to demonstrate it, to help people learn it, to supervise their learning, and so forth. Then at the AT level, ideally, you?ve got practitioners who have been doing this for a while, and you want them to be able to take the next steps. It was my experience before I took my AT [and I think this is the ideal situation] that as a Rolfer I had kind of ?run out of rope?. You might be asking yourself a question like, ?Is this all that Rolfing SI can do? Or can it go further? Can it take a person further?? You?re bumping up against challenges that you?re not sure how to handle. The AT is to help you take it further, to take the work deeper in the body, to increase the effect, and so forth. Also, to be able to deviate from the progression of the ?Recipe?.
RE: When you talk about bumping up against a wall, are you are talking about a wall of limitations of the Ten Series, or just that you get thrown into situations where maybe the Ten Series, which is more of a basic teaching, doesn?t apply for whatever reason.
RS: I did my AT in 1998, but I would say that if I?m doing a Ten Series now, it?s very different ? even if I sort of adhere to the progression through those sessions, what [I?m focused on] is a lot of the Principles [of Intervention]. I?m digressing a bit, but a lot of the Principles have been extracted from the Recipe, and the Recipe actually follows those principles. Whether you?re going by the numbers or whether you?re going by the Principles, it sometimes will look the same way. Somewhere in the first couple of sessions, you have to address adaptability and you have to address grounding. That?s whether you?re doing sessions one, two, or whether you?re going in a more principle-based way according to the needs of the body. In the AT, that?s one of the things that we want people to be able to do ? to start to make those distinctions and decisions based on the client and not necessarily just based on the protocol.
RE: Great. Can you tell me a little bit about which teachers influenced you, who you worked with, and some of your prime influences as a teacher?
RS: In Rolfing SI, all my teachers were really influential. I feel very fortunate to have studied with everyone that I have studied with. In my BT, I was in Jeff Maitland?s first class and he was a great teacher and very philosophical. I have appreciation for that kind of intellectual structure. Then my next class when I practitioned was Gael Ohlgren [now Rosewood]. To this day, I feel that her explanation of Rolfing SI is some of the clearest expressions of learning that I ever received. Then my AT was with Michael Salveson. I regard him highly and really resonated with him and admired his style of work and tried to emulate that in a way that works for me. On the movement side, I did my Rolf Movement training with Carol Agneesens and Rebecca Carli, and that was really useful as well. Then being able to assist with different teachers on the way, that?s all been learning too. I did that with Carol Agneesens, and Ray McCall, and Michael Murphy.
RE: And Jan Sultan?
RS: And Jan. I?m sitting in at Jan?s class [right now].
RE: You?ve been around a long time. There?s the early teachings of Ida Rolf and then there?s a lot of time since and things aren?t static, things changed. I?m wondering what you?ve noticed about either new ideas coming in or significant changes that you felt over the years, whether the teaching has changed or maybe the recipient?
RS: Yeah, it?s a different time than it was. I think that I came along at the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Those aren?t clear lines of demarcation, but there?s many more things in the culture now that are in the realm of what Rolfing SI is in. I think it?s sometimes hard to convey the specialness of it in the midst of all these other things ? brands or methods that people have either already trained in when they come to Rolfing SI or they?re aware of, or they?re partaking of in certain ways. I think that it?s become more challenging to keep it pure for the purposes of learning. Not to let too many things come into it. Yet, I think sometimes our training doesn?t give everybody all that?s required to be really good at it, because it?s fairly short.
[I have] a story that I often tell when I?m teaching, I think it might be good to mention it. When I did auditing, we would watch and be in the room; there were usually eight auditors, and eight practitioners who each did two clients [through the Ten Series], and then the instructors [did sessions too]. So before you ever touched somebody, you were in the room [as an auditor watching] for almost 200 sessions.
RE: Amazing. Quite a difference from today.
RS: Yeah. Now, you watch one and then you do one. This idea is that very quickly, in Phase Two, you?re moving into actually trying to do Rolfing SI, it?s quite different. That?s a major change in the way we teach. The Guild [for Structural Integration] I think still teaches [the old] way. I?m not sure what?s better, but [in the old way] there wasn?t any doubt about what to do by the time you got to do your first one.
RE: I want to talk a little bit about your practice. You were a high-end athlete in college, and [in your work] you have a focus on athletes. You came from that background, so I assume that it drew you in to that, but what did that do to your Rolfing style? How does that fit? That?s a very different clientele.
RS: I was a basketball and volleyball player. I would say that from the start, Rolfing [SI] affected my movement so much. Even though I had stopped competing [a couple of years before], after Rolfing [sessions] I was so much better than I had ever been. I could go out and play basketball or volleyball. I was more forward. My first step was quicker and more direct in terms of basketball. I was more balanced. I was free to move in directions without having to overcome the imbalance first.
I have [worked on] various amateur athletes the whole way through my practice. It?s never really been a focus for me until recently. I took it on as a challenge to myself, in a sense, because I knew that connecting with and being able to work with professional athletes would not be easy ? and it?s proven to be not easy. Either in terms of getting going or in terms of maintaining it, especially because of where I live [in Bellingham, Washington]. There?s no professional sports teams [there], so I needed to travel. I think I?ve been really lucky in terms of receiving support from people who have paved the way before me with working with professional athletes, the Henningsgaards in Minnesota have been very supportive and have referred clients to me.
RE: When you move into working with athletes, what are the issues? You?ve potentially got somebody doing very specific motions, they may have pretty incredible body awareness. Does it drive you more to non-formulaic work, or bring up a lot of interesting challenges?
RS: I think you have to really penetrate the specificity of each athlete?s sport and the way that [he uses his body to do it]. There are some real common things I?ve discovered with football players as a whole, but then there?s [variation]: like if you?re a defensive lineman, you do things very differently than if you?re a wide receiver. If you?re an offensive lineman, you do things very differently than a defensive lineman. I think to the extent that I, as a Rolfer, can understand the specificity of those things, it?s easier for me to make a direct impact. And at that level, where immediacy of effect is crucial, you have to make a direct impact.
RE: The other night, we were talking about the huge jumps between being a good high school athlete and a good college athlete. Then you go up again when somebody gets into the pros. Then you go to the good pros. There are these huge jumps in ability. I?m wondering how you see that from a Rolfer?s perspective. Is it biological, psychobiological? What do you see in those people that allows them to be at that high level of achievement?
RS: I think that a lot of it is what people refer to as ?god-given?. At some level, the physicality has to be there. A lot of these guys who do one sport, they could have done another too ? they?re that good, they?re athletically that gifted. At a certain point, you have to specialize even further, so they?ve done that. And I think that at the professional level, there?s a kind of a mental component too. These guys are super-competitive, and their livelihood depends on winning their positions. It?s like there?s a few thousand guys waiting to take their spots if they falter. They have to be able to stay in the game. That?s the tagline of my company Stolzoff Sportworks, ?Stay in the game.?
RE: Russell, besides what we?ve already covered, how would you describe your style or interest or focus as a Rolfer, and how does that come into your practice or into the classroom when you teach?
RS: I feel like there?s two distinct things that are primary for me. One is to teach people about how to have the right kind of relationship, what I call the ?Rolfing relationship? ? which is not wholly different from other types of therapeutic relationship. In my limited experience, I find that at the juncture of AT, Rolfers have a lot of questions about framework issues in their practices and how to relate to their clients. How clients ?use? the therapeutic relationship ? what psychology calls ?the therapeutic use of self?. [Editor?s note: see Carole LaRochelle?s interview with Stolzoff, ?The Therapeutic Use of Self in Rolfing SI and the Bodynamic System,? in the July 2015 issue of this Journal.] We don?t really have a framework for that in Rolfing SI. [It?s a question of] ?What is the role of the practitioner apart from what the practitioner does with his or her hands?? I know Pedro Prado has his psychobiological emphasis, but I feel like my emphasis is more relational, about how you bring yourself to bear in the relationship with different types of people. How do you form agreements with your clients about what you?re going to be doing in such a way that it helps to foster good outcomes? That is something I?m passionate about.
RE: So this implies that you both have to be your ?self?, so there is authenticity, but also be able to present an appropriate self for given situations. Can you discuss how that works for you?
RS: That would be one way to approach it. I think that once you start realizing that being a practitioner is a role, then you can be more or less identified with the role. Depending how flexible you are in your own character, you might be able to take on different roles with different clients, so to speak. That might not be congruent for everybody, and not everyone has that flexibility; some people might need to be more in a certain kind of role. Even for those people, to recognize that is to gain some self-awareness so that then they can do that better ? then from that place, where they?re coming from, they can form the more appropriate relationship. My personal style would be toward the direction that you?re suggesting.
So that?s one realm that I?m excited about, the therapeutic use of self. The other realm is the perceptual realm. Especially with AT, we?re hoping to help Rolfers expand and deepen their perception, and also their skill levels in concert with that perception. We need to learn how to go deeper in the body and we need to be able to do that based on our perception. That also means based on our perception of how the body is changing when we go deeper.
RE: ?Deeper? – meaning what?
RS: Deeper meaning deeper. Deeper meaning more towards articulation, though also in terms of people?s experience. But if you think about it, in some ways, structurally anyway, the deepest layers of restriction or limitation are going to be closest to the skeletal joint structure. In order to be able to intervene at that level with confidence, and the assuredness that you?re not going to hurt somebody, and that there is a positive change possible, you need to be able to perceive that, first of all, it?s at that place. Second, that you can go to that place with skill, that you know what you?re after in the sense that your expectation of what?s going to happen when you get there will be met with some possibility of validating your perception. I think that that [perception] is something that takes a long time to develop. It doesn?t end in your AT. It starts from your AT. That’s my feeling.
<i>Russell Stolzoff is a Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner. He is currently the Chair of the Rolf Institute Executive Education Committee, a Rolfing Instructor, and an Advanced Faculty Teacher-in-Training.
Richard Ennis is a Certified Rolfer in Menlo Park, California and on Whidbey Island in Washington State. He is also Chair of the Rolf Institute Research Committee, on the Scientific Advisory Council for the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation, and Chair Elect for the Board of Directors of the Rolf Institute®.