Yin and yang (see Figure 1) are polar opposite, interdependent principles, or forces, that together make up a whole. The balancing action between the two positions underlies a spiral phenomenon that keeps the universe in perpetual motion, for example, energy/matter, inside/outside, sympathetic/parasympathetic, and so on.
Figure 1: Yin and yang symbol.
For the purpose of this article, I am referring to intuition and intention as a nonmaterial (subtle energy) information transfer, using thoughts, feelings. and imagination. Inextricable from Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI), as well as other holistic therapies, intention is systematically and deliberately taught in our trainings. Intuition naturally emerges in a somatic practice, and can be vitalized with some simple techniques.
Intuition comes from the Latin root intueri, meaning to look at or contemplate.
Today we use the word intuition to talk about direct perception, or the ability to know something without any proof. Intuition is a normal, natural sense that is often dismissed or invalidated by Western society, especially in academia. We are trained in school to value focus and concentration over curiosity and play. This helps maintain the cultural taboo against using intuition as a resource for information gathering. As a result, the default way of paying attention tends to be through a narrow lens, and favors externalities to the detriment of our internal experience. Our lives and practices can be greatly enhanced by taking the time to examine beliefs we have about how to pay attention.
Information is accessed and processed through the senses. Broadly speaking, information coming from outside the body is called exteroception (vision, hearing, etc.), and information we get from internal signals (proprioception, emotions, thirst, etc.) is called interoception. We can engage the wide-lens, whole-field aspect of the nervous system by working with any one sense because all the senses work in tandem. For example, softening the eyes and widening the visual field slows thinking and enhances tactile sensation. Intuition comes online when we soften the senses and split our attention between interoception and exteroception.
Rolfing SI supplies us with tools that support the development of better interoception, in both ourselves and our clients. When asked to describe body sensations, we validate our subjective experience and create a more fertile habitat for intuition. Following are a few general principals I try follow during sessions that help me stay present to intuitive information. As with any kind of practice, some days I am more successful than others.
The bottom line is, information we get from the intuitive sense tends to be quiet (but not always), and dwell at the edge of awareness. It emerges in the moments between thoughts and spins away easily. The information wants to be recognized, and will show up when we create the right circumstances. We embody the contemplative nature of intuition by opening and softening sensory portals.
Intention comes from the Latin root intentus, meaning the act of stretching out.
In our work, intention is an infinite, blooming fractal that unfolds on many layers at once. The umbrella intention in Rolfing SI is to optimize the relationship of the physical body with the field of gravity. Gravity is a big-picture/universal anchor that accommodates our meaning-seeking nature and is what sets Rolfing SI apart from other forms of hands-on bodywork. We literally study the physical sensation of our connectedness to the Earth and enveloping cosmos.
Other layers of intention include the intention of your practice, the intention of the session within the ‘Recipe’, the intention specific to the client, etc. The more clear we are about each layer, the more effective the work. Skillful intention doesn’t necessarily mean concentrating hard. In fact, concentrating narrows the flow of information, as it does with intuition. Intention needs to be clear, simple, and embodied by the practitioner. Embodied means having a deep, sensory knowledge of the terrain under our hands. In the early Rolfing SI trainings, we study muscles, bones, and fascia; as practitioners, we are then drawn to additional fractal layers of anatomy. This might include nonphysical anatomies as well, such as chakras or meridians. Even though they can’t be carved with a scalpel, subtle energy systems are integral to the physical body.
In our Rolfing practices, we have the privilege to experience the incredible, often surprising effects that imagination has on tissue. As hands-on hours and results accumulate, we develop and refine our own style of stretching out, or transmitting thought, thus embodying the power of intention.
Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.
I attended a Medical Qigong certification course with Suzanne Friedman at AIMC (Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College) in Berkeley, California, in 2011. In this course, we learned a qigong movement form, as well as hands-on table work. Much of the table work was done off the body, using very precise hand shapes with exotic names, such as Dragon Mouth or Five Thunder Fingers (Friedman 2006, 66-67), to achieve desired effects. This practice deepened my understanding of the power of intention, and launched me on a quest to understand how hand shapes finesse intention.
Another important inspiration for this quest was learning Hiroyoshi Tahata’s ‘Yield’ approach to Rolf Movement (Tahata and McConnell 2015). Tahata is a Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Instructor who came to Rolfing SI from a cellular-biology background. He uses the back side of his fingers, lightly resting on the client, to evoke an almost instantaneous, system-wide activation of motility. He also uses the back of his hands, under the body, to cue the client’s system to yield to gravity. If you ever have the opportunity to watch him work, the dance he leads between interoception and exteroception is exquisite.
Figure 2: Sensory homunculus.
We know from brain mapping that hands monopolize a disproportionately large amount of brain tissue (Figure 2). Becoming upright not only changed our relationship to gravity, it freed our hands and changed the trajectory of our evolution. This new posture allowed us to more easily manipulate the environment, stimulating the invention and use of tools. Simultaneously we started using gestures and noises to communicate, forging the language/thought/hand system.
Thanks to language and tools, we are able to record our history and build on the work of others. As embodied/enhanded agents, we have been gifted with language, creativity and culture (Radman 2013). Hands deserve our deep reverence.
In the relatively new academic field of Embodied Cognition, researchers are starting to validate the mind-body connection with scientific studies. One group of researchers has demonstrated that hand gestures in children reveal changes in understanding that is not yet conscious. For example, when a child is asked to describe a pattern of objects on the table, and her hand gestures don’t match what she is describing verbally, her gestures indicate an emerging, more accurate concept of the problem. In other studies, children who are encouraged to use gestures when describing a problem learn more quickly than children who don’t (Goldin-Meadow 2011; Goldin-Meadow and Alibali 2013).
Ancient Hindus developed a formal system for manipulating the mind using hand shapes, known as Yoga Mudra. Practitioners claim that specific hand shapes (mudras) have therapeutic properties, which range from treating medical conditions to communing with the divine (Mesko 2013). Most mudras, however, address mental states, such as calming anxiety or overcoming fear. The ancient texts say that holding certain mudras during meditation effects the ‘energy body’. These claims are easily dismissed by skeptics, but if we substitute ‘neural activity’ for ‘energy body’, the concept fits well with our present-day Western point of view.
As humans, we experience intention and intuition in an infinite number of ways. As manual therapists, we endow our hands with special access to these forces. Our hands have an inherent intelligence that serves as a direct conduit to the brain, and other perceiving organs. They are potent transceivers, effectively transmitting and receiving information with or without our conscious input. At times I find myself watching and following my hands during a session, surprised at where they end up. Hands are leading participants in our human evolution, and as such, I believe, hold an untapped potential, patiently waiting to be recognized.
I have recently been experimenting with using my hands as a stand-in for my head during meditation. This can be easily integrated into a movement practice as well. Here is an example:
After settling, checking in with my breath and feeling the weight of my body in the chair, I start to wonder about emptying my hands of thought or action. Soon, they start to warm and pulsate. Then I feel a wave-like motion that is more than the blood pumping. My skin boundary drops away and my hands feel as if they have merged with the environment. At the same time, I am aware of visceral sensations, especially in my heart. I invite my breath to embrace the sensations coming from my heart, then my breathing becomes absolutely delicious and nourishing. When I am able to recognize all these events at once, the world and my life gain relevance and I feel validated. Thoughts slow down and remain in the background as I enjoy the physical sensations of the whole-body experience I am able to access through my hands.
My hope is that the thoughts expressed here might refresh a page in your own practice manual (or manual practice, if you will).
Kathy McConnell is a Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner who has been tending her practice in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2000. Further professional trainings include Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Medical Qigong, Five Element Theory, and more. Most recently, she has been dabbling in Western Esotericism, including tarot and Visionary Cosmology (Eakins 2016). She is currently spending her free time researching and writing about hands in anticipation of manifesting a book on the subject.
Eakins, P. 2016. Visionary Cosmology: The New Paradigm. Pacific Center Books.
Friedman, S. 2006. The Yijing Medical Qigong System: A Daoist Medical I-Ching Approach to Healing. Xlibris Corporation.
Goldin-Meadow, S. 2011. “What Our Hands Can Tell Us About Our Minds.” TEDx Talks, available at http://tinyurl.com/Goldin- Meadow (retrieved 5/8/2017).
Goldin-Meadow, S. and M.W. Alibali 2013. “Gesture’s Role in Speaking, Learning, and Creating Language.” Annual Review of Psychology 2013.64:257-283.
Mesko, S. 2013. Healing Mudras: Yoga for Your Hands. Mudra Hands Publishing.
Radman, Z. 2013. The Hand, an Organ of the Mind. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Tahata, H. and K. McConnell 2015 Nov. “Rolf Movement® Faculty Perspectives: The Art of Yield – An Interview with Hiroyoshi Tahata.” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 43(3):3-4.
Intuition and Intention