Q: Ida Rolf was a scientist, but she also had an interest in how Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) affected human beings on many levels, including the energetic. How do you relate to the energetic taxonomy and see its impact on SI outcomes? How can we represent that dimension of our work in a plausible manner that helps to promote our work in the larger world?
A: First of all, I believe in openly including the energetic taxonomy in our concept of the work. We don’t need to have all the answers to this complex issue, just a stance of reflecting on it, trying to find out from our own experience its definition and its scope in our work. How do we affect energy and how does energy affect our work? The point is how to frame this inquiry in an elegant, open, and constructive way. To do this collectively would show the public that we honor our paradigm, that we are not putting ‘the cart before the horse’ but that we are engaged.
In Rolfing SI we come from a holistic paradigm, which includes an energetic dimension. Because it is difficult to articulate and define, the energetic taxonomy tends to make practitioners either shy, fearful, or skeptical on the one hand, or credulous, free-floating, or pretentious on the other. In the past, we have either been hiding from this question, or been extremely loose in our statements.
Yet even the most skeptical Rolfer™ secretly has some stories, observations, and questions regarding this subject. Can you imagine what we would find if we could collect all the stories, reflections, questions, and testimonials of clients over the past fifty or so years? This sort of documentation has been undertaken for years now by NAPER, a clinical project of the Brazilian Rolfing Association (ABR). Bottom-up research is carried out by ABR Rolfers, and we have a data bank of collected results from intake forms as well as client’s and Rolfer’s reports. Some of the questions asked relate directly to this issue.
Our client testimonials are outstanding, revealing the presence of the energetic dimension in their awareness and discussion of their process; they often use the word ‘energy’ as they describe physical and existential changes. Empirical evidence and good methodology can lead to new knowledge, as I found in my doctoral work, where I tried to quantify client responses from NAPER questionnaires and reports.
I believe that producing simple but honest papers and case studies in this way could begin to shed light on the energetic phenomena seen in Rolfing SI. This sort of work should come from the community as a whole. Although the faculty are wanting to better articulate the energetic taxonomy, my belief is the answers will not come from top down. Empirical reality will be the source of this articulation. So a conversation needs to happen between all ‘layers’ that deal with energy: clients, Rolfers, instructors . . . NAPER has made a start, and soon its data bank (2,000 cases now) will be available online and Rolfers all around the world will be able to add their data.
Pedro Prado Basic & Advanced Rolfing Instructor Rolf Movement® Instructor
A: The Western world has mostly been governed by information produced by the scientific method, and one commonly seeks objectivity and efficacy in ‘evidence-based’ practices and disciplines. Nonetheless, the span of the scientific method, as it is conceived now, is already being questioned in its capability to deal with certain observations and outcomes in experiments. One example is quantum physics, which is pushing science beyond classical logic. Quantum-physics observations and the growing evidence of the existence of biofields are showing the necessity of new approaches to a broader understanding of processes governing life and existence.
A transdisciplinary approach presupposes the existence of additional levels of reality, besides the physical. It encompasses nonlinearity and related phenomena and may be an important step in transcending linear ‘cause-and-effect’ logic. Transdisciplinary methodology may become a new way of producing knowledge. My understanding is that we are living a scientific revolution as defined by Thomas Kuhn. New paradigms are appearing that may, over time, break the resistance of the older ones and lead to a new understanding of reality – and its possible levels.
In the meantime, I ‘gauge’ my words according to the context. I include the ‘energetic’ aspect of our work whenever I am communicating with a client/audience that is already within the framework of such questioning.
For those more ‘evidence-based’ counterparts, I may bring up the existence of ‘unexpected’ or ‘unexplainable’ observations and relate them to quantum physics and to transdiciplinarity, bringing up the idea of a possible scientific revolution that may eventually give us a broader comprehension of our existence.
Luiz Fernando Bertolucci Fascial Anatomy Instructor
A: When we do our manual, fascial work as Rolfers, what affect is that having energetically? How does cultivating energetic awareness and sensitivity help or hinder our fascial work?
Perception and touch affect the ‘energetic flow’ and integration throughout a session. I imagine the energetic phenomena as the connection that occurs between seemingly distant anatomical parts within the body. This flow of energy through fascia, bone, or fluid seems to facilitate a kind of ‘listening’ through the whole of the body. This stream of energetic conductivity enhances the ‘system’s’ sense of wholeness. I am always humbled when a client says “I feel this in my little toe” even though I am working in the axilla.
When this kind moment occurs, I notice clients settling more deeply into the table, taking a deeper breath, or exhaling more fully. They might comment about feeling an ‘opening’ that is based in the anatomy and yet is more than their anatomy. I intentionally engage locally but hold the possibility of contacting globally, asking “Does this contact connect through the body or is it just where my hands are touching?” I hook, hold, and wait. I wait and listen, and often I begin to feel/sense/ touch a whole-body response.
For me, another key for accessing the energetic, in addition to structural/ functional considerations, is perceiving the whole person as I work . . . front and back, down to the heels, etc., as well as the space around an individual’s body.
Often there is fulcrum of unusual quiet within an individual’s body – as if the tissues are organizing or holding a previous insult and wrapping around it as a way to contain the insult. Osteopaths say, “The body wraps around its lesions.” These fulcrums seem to be doing just that. When recognized and released, there is a concurrent flow and release through the system.
I notice an energetic shift at the end of a session as a client sits and then stands and walks. For my eyes, there is the lift of integration and a ‘glow’ of remembered uprightness. Movement is more graceful and fluid. The body is whole . . . a ‘new being’ stands who is more than the sum of his or her anatomy or structure. The unity of body-mind-spirit seems to be realized and refreshed when I as practitioner engage the energetic qualities of our work.
Carol Agneessens Rolfing Instructor Rolf Movement Instructor
A: People who were there in the early days of Rolfing SI have told me that Ida Rolf reacted very aggressively when students used the word ‘energy’. According to their reports, she would challenge them: “What do you mean when you say ‘energy’?” Later she was more tolerant. There’s no doubt that Rolf was interested in the effect of manual work on the energy field that surrounds living organisms – but she did it by touching the fascial system.
Some of our Rolfing colleagues like to go the opposite way: they try to influence the structural order of the physical body without touching the fascial system. If I understand their approach correctly, they touch certain points outside the body. It would be interesting to practically test such a purely energetic approach, say on a client with a displaced coccyx that does not move at all when we perform a motion test. The result of the energetic treatment could also be checked using imaging like radiography. This might help to prove whether the energetic taxonomy has real value or it is just wishful thinking.
Working on the energy fields that surround us will certainly help to promote our work for those people who have chosen to live in an esoteric world. However, it may not do much to promote our work to the rest of the world.
Peter Schwind Basic & Advanced Rolfing Instructor
A: Energy is that stuff that is everywhere, like qi in Chinese medicine. We feel it, we move in it, and it moves in us. Yet there is great disagreement about what it is. Also some disrespect is sent toward those practitioners who investigate the field of energetic realities, even though Dr. Rolf herself was curious on this subject.
In my own practice, and in keeping company with other Rolfers and structural integrators, I have noticed that the people who do not move, for instance, are sometimes hostile to movement work. Is it because the work is of no value to them, or is it that they do not move, and hence cannot appreciate the subtlety of energetic transmission through a structurally integrated body (or, one that has not been, as Dr. Rolf used to say, ‘processed’.) Perhaps the same is true of energy. This is an easy leap for me to make, since movement is evidence of energy, which travels not only vertically along lines of gravity, but in every direction through the fascial matrix. Those who move can see this movement, or lack of it, in others.
We notice it in all of our clients, even though many practitioners interpret their observations in mostly mechanical, geometric, or structural terms. But the body, which is not only structural elements, does not reveal itself in static postures. It reveals itself in how energy – movement – does or does not flow, and in what directions, vectors. Much is written in the flesh in this manner. It is not a mystery to those whose studies have included learning to discern this part of the ‘code’ of a human being.
Energy shows up in my practice in a variety of other ways. In the practitioning phase of my training in 1992, one of my student clients showed up in my vision as wearing the kind of garb and headgear that I had seen on people who are of the Amish faith. Upon questioning, with the support of my instructor Bill Smythe, she spoke of having grown up in an isolated, cult-like arrangement with her family and small community. Was this energetic awareness of her background that somehow revealed itself through her structure and/or movement and/or energetic presence? I don’t know, but the vision of her matched her experience and made sense in my observation.
How was it important to the work? I’ve asked that question many times, as I’ve had many similar experiences. I can only say that having that ‘window’ of sensing and observation open allows me to feel, sense, and appreciate the complexity of the person who comes into my office. I will never know what the client is really there to discover. I think many times s/he doesn’t know, even if there are stated goals. But as Ray McCall said in an earlier article, the thing that everyone comes for is change. We can’t appreciate how that change will occur, or what the later effects will be; we only know that change will take place whether we can apprehend the nature of that change beyond the purely physical or not.
I will leave you with one thought – why do we have the capacity to perceive in whatever way we perceive? One mode of perception is not inherently better than another; one style will usually feel more natural to the observer in question. How do we cultivate that mode, and add layers to our understanding, not just of the biomechanics at work in our clients? How do we do what Dr. Rolf suggested, and look to feel and illuminate the energetic layers of the people who seek out our service? I hope readers will be encouraged to trust more their senses and intuitions, while always grounding them in the physicality of themselves and the client.
Libby Eason Rolfing Instructor
A: I notice a perennial problem in discussions about ‘energetic work’ within SI; that problem stems from trying to parse one dimension of the SI work as fundamentally different, but without really defining how it’s different. My opinion is that this issue plagued the Rolf Movement work, but, at the same time, many people have now worked to remedy that situation – better defining how Rolf Movement is different from Rolfing SI and, at the same time, how and why it fits naturally into a more comprehensive model of the work. The mystery is always there – we don’t have to fear losing our friend, the mystery, by taking the trouble to ground the work in contemporary science.
The value of so-called ‘energetic work’ is real. The word energetic is disappointing; and it obfuscates. The word ‘energetic’ begs for specificity. Worse, SI suffers from another puzzle for people to struggle with; useful work gets put in a context that insures the least chance of being appreciated as an important dimension of SI. How to move forward? Good to start with the basic premises and questions:
What is the nature of what we do? – Structural integrators restore normal capacities to stand, sit, and perform all the vital actions of life. How do we evoke these outcomes? We touch fascia, deeply or subtly. We inspire people to feel a more differentiated sense of their bodies. We bring awareness to the manner in which movement is initiated. We offer challenge and reassurance. In short, we touch the minds and hearts of our clients in numerous ways. We communicate – we listen and we inform. We communicate the essence of Rolf’s vision, via physical touch, skillful presence, words, guidance, inquiry, and – most important of all – the clarity of our own heart and mind. We communicate things that may not, as yet, be fully explainable. But communication itself is the nugget of what we do.
Communication is a two-way activity. We can only communicate meaningfully with someone with whom we have developed some degree of rapport, with whom a portal of interpersonal availability has opened up. Communication deepens as rapport deepens. Once there is rapport, communication enters another level. This ‘other level’ is the domain of what Daniel Siegel calls ‘interpersonal neurobiology’. This level reveals itself – something both profound and, at the same time, not completely mapped. We know it’s scientifically real. Researchers can see, for example, brain changes, endocrine changes, and so on, as two individuals communicate invisibly.
We don’t know exactly how all this works, although we know how to build skills to do so. But the phenomenon of communication that shifts physiology at the most subtle levels demands words and phrases more thoughtfully determined than ‘energetic’. We need words that point to what changes, what our intervention is intended to shift at a behavioral level. For example, are we intending to facilitate support, and if so, how do we determine and demonstrate that a person’s system has more support?
The word ‘energetic’ doesn’t tell us anything about what is particular to the intervention in terms of the Principles of Intervention, the putative basis of our work. To put this another way, what about all of our work lies outside the domain of energetics? Energy means the power to do work, physically. It’s the power to think and feel and imagine. Energetics is the activity of our metabolism. It’s the electromagnetic fields of our muscles, our organs, and our brains. These dimensions of ourselves never turn off so long as we draw breath. Energetic dimensions of our being and our work are omnipresent and ubiquitous to all that we do. What then is useful about the descriptor ‘energetic’ for which we have no distinguishing feature?
It’s practical to back up and ask, “Why does one wish to use this term, energetic?” “What are we pointing to?” There’s maybe something itching to be expressed. We hear and feel passion from those who use the term, there’s passion to hold a container for something very important. The work itself is important.
Do we need to indicate that some or much of our work is invisible? As a Rolf Movement Instructor, the challenge of teaching things that are mostly invisible is familiar. It requires digging a bit deeper than the ‘body as anatomy’, for example. What capacities that change coordination can be taught, can be evoked? You can’t dissect coordination. Coordination is not ‘stuff’. But many invisible things no longer strike intelligent, thinking persons as odd or needing of camouflage. Much of what occurs in SI is at the level of mind. And what occurs at the level of mind doesn’t have to be kept in the closet. We can measure and prove the repeatability of outcomes in which, somehow, the brain demonstrates that something new has registered. We can objectively observe that integration of new information has occurred: information that human beings typically hunger for – information about belonging/not being alone; information about location via weight and the matrix of space; information about safety; information about body differentiation and articulation, about permeability to the life all around us, that we literally cannot lose touch with but, from which, we often feel isolated.
And bodies typically hunger for better proprioceptive, interoceptive, exteroceptive information, for example – but all of these forms of information are, to the naked eye, invisible. What’s more, these flows of information often cannot be traced in measurable ways, even with advanced technology. As relational organisms, we fortunately have other, better, ways to determine the presence or absence of vital information. We have inherent capacity for whether vital information ‘lands’ in a system or not. We observe a person’s behavior and ask about the person’s experience. In a place of rapport, we see/feel what the system wants us to see. Relational communication transcends traditional physics. We can ground what we observe in terms that can be agreed upon.
Rolf’s SI proposal is about delivering better information. Define those dimensions of information, ones that are missing for an individual, and that does a lot to define the work. We step out of the ‘material versus nonmaterial argument’ and move towards a model of the work congruent with the modern world. One can acknowledge all the complex ways we swim in an ocean of interpersonal communication.
Kevin Frank Rolf Movement Instructor
The Energetic Taxonomy[:pb]The Energetic Taxonomy[:]