Explorations of Earth and Sky

Pages: 44-49
Year: 2017
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 45 – Nº 2

Volume: 45

Anne Hoff: First some general questions, how long have you been practicing Rolfing Structural Integration (SI)?

Sally Klemm: Thirty plus years now.

AH: What inspired you to become a Rolfer in the first place?

SK: In my case, it was more a matter of who inspired me, rather than what; that “who” being in the person of the now departed Stacey Mills, Rolfing practitioner and instructor who steered me toward training at the Rolf Institute® during the course of my series with her. I met Stacey fifteen or more years after my first encounter with Rolfing SI. So ultimately perhaps it’s been my own body dealing with the various bumps and scrapes that I have experienced that led me eventually to Rolfing SI; more of a ‘long and winding road’ than the direct route.

AH: You grew up in California, right? Where?

SK: Right. Northern California: I was born in Berkeley.

AH: So you were at ground zero of the whole ‘60s movement?

SK: That’s right; there were lots of very dynamic things going on in the San Francisco Bay Area back in those days. And because I lived within a ten-mile radius of the university; I was able to begin attending classes during my senior year in high school.

AH: So you had not only the West Coast awareness of the Pacific Ocean and the world out that direction, there was the whole California influence of that time.

SK: Yes. Do you remember American Field Service or AFS?

AH: Yes.

SK: Between my junior and senior year in high school I spent the summer in Istanbul, as an AFS exchange student. What a thrill! I was the first person in my family to have a passport. My first plane ride was from San Francisco to New York City. Then by ship across the Atlantic aboard Chapman’s floating  campus  to  Rotterdam.  Another flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul on the way over. Because the ship was out   of commission for our return, we were rerouted with an unanticipated five- day layover in Paris on our way back. A nightmare for the chaperones but a dream come true for the seventeen year olds!

AH: When did you first hear about Rolfing SI?

SK: My first exposure to Rolfing SI emerged from doing movement work with a university classmate of mine who was training in the Alexander Technique. During high school I had a run in with (or halfway through) a plate-glass window where the window won. This was before shatter-proof glass (yeah, that long ago). The broken glass sliced through my hamstrings and severed the tendons crossing my right ankle. The surgery and recovery went well and I figured I was ‘as good as new’. But during the course of our work together, the Alexander practitioner pointed out that compensation and adaptation from that injury was limiting optimal functioning and suggested I look into Rolfing SI. The theory I read about made sense to me, so I scheduled what I thought was a consultation session with a Rolfing practitioner, but he included ‘application’ in his consultations. That initial experience was less than inspirational and did not bode well for my road to Rolfing SI.

This was back in the day when Rolfing SI was earning its reputation for being rough and painful. I left the ‘consultation’ session with my ribs bruised so black and blue that I put a good decade and a half plus the entire Pacific Ocean between my first experience in Berkeley and meeting Stacey in Hawaii.

AH: Wow. You got out in the world pretty young. Besides living in Istanbul, I know you crewed on a sailboat. Tell us a bit about that and where you were headed. Did you have a plan or was it pretty open-ended exploration?

SK: I was very much exploring the world. Let’s see, I paid for my undergraduate degree by working as a legal secretary  in law offices in the Bay Area. I took off traveling and working various and sundry odd jobs: dive shops, newspapers, teaching school in Micronesia, working for the publisher of a newspaper, teaching English in Japan, etc., etc.

AH: You weren’t fixed on any career path?

SK: Not in my twenties, no. Rather than some conviction or sense of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had strong sense of what I wanted to do. From the time I was a kid I was taken by a yearning to go around the world, preferably by sail, and live on the water. So when the opportunity arose to do just that, I jumped on it.

AH: I’m sure you’ve had many impactful experiences, tell us about one of them.

SK: In third grade, world geography was my favorite subject. I chose Myanmar (then Burma) for my report with the conviction of an eight year old that I would get there one day. And eventually it turned out that a friend and I were able to make the trip around my thirtieth birthday. In those days tourist visas were limited to a one-week stay, no exceptions. As the days ticked by a part of me was anticipating some big illumination, “Okay, I made it; what’s the story?” But of course, it doesn’t happen like that. On day five or six when it became obvious   no message was going to appear written across the sky, I headed up one of the four stairways up Mandalay Hill for a view of the sunset from the Sutaungpyei (literally ‘wish-fulfulling’) pagoda at the top.

Along the way I was beckoned with gestures and arm signals (no English spoken) over to a platform off to the side of the stairway. I joined quite a few local people gathered around the edges of the platform watching the most amazing spectacle. There was a middle-aged woman laying in the middle of the wooden floor who looked like she was having a seizure. Surrounding her were several men dressed in drag, conducting some kind of ceremony/ritual – a healing?, an exorcism?

It was very shamanic. I can’t remember now if there were drums or not. I do remember it was very slow motion initially; the figures slowly approaching her and then backing off. Gradually the pace picked up more and more, building toward a crescendo that culminated in them running and yelling toward the woman writhing in the center of the floor. Whereupon she sat up, powered her nose with a compact she pulled out of her pocketbook, and nonchalantly stood up as the men changed out of their dress into street wear. They were so very casual. Their manner indicated, “Oh yeah, good, it was a successful ceremony,” whereas I’m saying to myself, “What was that?” By this time it was totally dark, and by the time I reached the bottom of the hill my friend was circling the base looking for me, very worried and concerned. When she asked, “Did you get lost? What happened?,” I couldn’t even begin to know what to say. That was quite a healing and definitely outside any energetic frame of reference that I had operating within my worldview. A while later I realized how seeing that exposed me to some other very different ways of knowing and perceiving.

AH: Let’s go now to how you arrived in Honolulu and re-engaged with Rolfing SI.

SK: I arrived in  Honolulu  via  sailboat in 1983 after a four-year journey around the world working as diver, bo’sun, and crew aboard various sailing yachts, and – inevitably – sustaining more injury in the process. When the boat got hauled out for a bottom job I moved out of the harbor and into the rain forest, figuring four years [on the water] was long enough, and revisited the idea of Rolfing SI. I started asking around and heard about Stacey Mills, the Grand Dame of Rolfing SI in Hawaii, who not only taught Rolfing SI but was reported to be gentle as well. Still, I’d wised up by this time, and wasn’t about to take any chances before I got my ass on the table again, so I invited her out for coffee to check her out before scheduling with her. She agreed and suggested the Waioli Tea Room. I remember thinking to myself, “if she orders Sanka all bets are off.”

Over coffee (which she drank black, much to my relief) she told me of her involvement with Subud (a spiritual teaching from Indonesia that used a practice called latihan), and that she’d been a psychologist prior to training with Ida. In my book she seemed to model the Wise Old Woman archetype, who not only aged well but retained her zest for life. Did you ever met Stacey? Tall, and statuesque, she had hennaed hair, wore bright red nail polish, and enjoyed attending afternoon tea dances with her daughter and granddaughter. We hit it off that first meeting; I felt comfortable enough with her to schedule a session; the notion of receiving work from another woman appealed to me greatly.

AH: What was your experience of getting Rolfing sessions from her compared to that first person?

SK: With Stacey I experienced that it was possible to evoke profound change in the body without bruising. During the very first session I experienced her touch as so deliciously appropriate – I felt for the first time profound change being evoked rather than forced from the tissue. I was hooked and booked for the entire series.

AH: What was your embodied experience of the work? How did you sense the change?

SK: With enough change in my body, I could begin to feel how scar tissue was exerting certain pulls that extended from the ankle up to the sacrum. What was most dramatic to me was the change in respiration. Swimming and diving were a part of my lifestyle. I grew up on the West Coast swimming and diving for abalone. In my twenties it was the scuba training and diving experience that helped land me crew jobs on charter yachts, so respiration was a good gauge for me. The increase in respiration and range of motion in swim strokes were most dramatic.

AH: And becoming a Rolfer, how did that come about?

SK: That pretty much came about at Stacey’s bidding. Early on during my sessions with her she took one look at the size of my hands and more or less said “If you don’t play piano, I’ve got a job for you.” I thought she was joking, but next session she asked if I ever thought of becoming    a Rolfer. My honest reply was that it had never entered my mind. Maybe she was recruiting for more women in the trainings, encouraging and empowering those of us of the female persuasion at a time when male practitioners far outnumbered the women. Next session, she’d be on me again, saying “Well dear, I want you to think about it . . .” It got so I began to wonder whether I needed to follow up on her suggestion or she might not schedule my next session!

Whatever it was, she did get me thinking about the training. Because my liberal arts education lacked life sciences, I dutifully went to the University of Hawaii to see about satisfying the Rolf Institute® entry requirements. Daunted by the thought of taking nursing or pre-med courses after going around the world, I told Stacey, “I don’t think I’m ready to go back to school at this point in my life.” She then told me the Rolf Institute was starting an in-house program to satisfy those requirements. (The first pilot project organized by Jason Mixter was to eventually morph and evolve into what is now Phase I: Foundations of Rolfing Structural Integration.) So, I traveled to Boulder and did the foundations class in the annex of the old Institute on Pearl Street. It was a great experience for me. Jim Oschman taught the physiology portion, Therapeutic Relations was co-taught by two Rolfer/ psychologists, etc.

That first year ‘off the boat’ was a time of tremendous change for me. The same year I attended a transpersonal psychology conference in Davos, Switzerland and a week-long vision quest trek through the Alps afterward. This came about through another case of synchronicity. I chanced upon the flyer in California. The theme of the conference, “Individual Transformation and Universal Responsibility,” gave me ‘chicken skin’ (the Hawaiian term for goose bumps), but the deadline had already passed for the vision quest application and I couldn’t see going there for just the conference. I chanced a call to inquire and it turned out there was one spot left for each. Off I went to hear an amazing compendium of speakers: Jungian analysts Marie-Louise von Franz and Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, Stan Grof of Holotropic  Breathwork,  Michael Harner, Sandplay therapist Dora Kalff, tai chi master Al Chung-Liang Huang, to name a few. And to top it off, the closing address was given by the Dalai Lama! I came away from that very pivotal life moment with the idea of doing the Jungian analytical training. Of course I would need a vocation to finance my way through the process and voila! – why not pay for it with Rolfing dollars?

Toward that end, my plan was to take Stacey’s class in Hawaii, but you’ve heard that joke about making God laugh by telling her your plans? The selection committee had other plans. Disappointment! Instead of doing the auditing phase in Honolulu, I began taking craniosacral classes with Jim Asher and Jane Harrington and found myself at Esalen Institute in Big Sur for Gestalt work with co-founder Dick Price. (Another pivotal moment.) As luck would have it there were an odd number of participants in the workshop Dick was leading. I was the odd man out, so Dick partnered with me. During our hikes together in the Santa Lucia Range he assuaged my gripe over not being accepted into Stacey’s training with his personal story of how Ida’s work (during her tenure at Esalen Institute with Fritz Perls) relieved him of residual pain he suffered from electroshock treatments. His regard for her was immense. As we parted, he told me he would consider it as a favor to him that I return to the Rolf Institute and reapply for the training.

Within six weeks of my leaving Esalen, Dick was killed in a hiking accident very near where we had been hiking together. Yikes!!!! What could I do but sign up for the very next scheduled selection process held in Boulder?

To be honest, I had trepidation around facing another selection committee. In order to address it I decided to go on another vision quest. This one was held on Iroquois land in eastern Canada and more true to the Lakota tradition where the vision quest was preceded by a sweat lodge. (I had never been to a sweat lodge, and I imagined that between ‘rounds’ there would be something along the lines of what happens at a prize fight, where you retreat to your corner for ice water and fresh towels. Was I mistaken!) Two powerful totems came to me during that time: an owl during the sweat lodge and a snake during the three-day solo vision quest.

AH: A real snake?

SK: Yeah,  it was an actual snake. There    I  was  within  my  circle  during  the solo, beating the heck out of this drum asking for a vision, still thinking in the back of my mind that some animated message will appear in the sky (you’d think I’d learned my lesson in Burma, but expectation dies hard), when movement on the ground caught my eye. My rational mind freaked out saying “No, that can’t be real, I must be hallucinating after two and half days of no food, no water.” But looking down I picked up the corner of my mat and there was very much a snake. It came in and hung out in the circle for a while, and then it crossed over out the other side. Then [after the solo] we went back and had a debriefing with the medicine man. I don’t know what it was supposed to be, but here’s what happened. He said that the snake was a healing image, an image for inspiration and then change and healing.

AH: So you were given some signs along the way.

SK: That’s how I took it, and proceeded to Boulder with less doubt and a more favorable outcome than the first round.

AH: Who did you do your Rolfing training with? And how was it going in with quite a spectrum of touch already from having studied craniosacral work?

SK: The very next training after selection was in Santa Fe with Jan Sultan. It was like it was meant to be. There I was in the high desert, instead of Waikiki, looking down at fossilized shells and realizing I was still at the beach even though the tide had gone out a million or so years ago. It was really a good fit for me. Jan was introducing the internal/external model and Jeff Maitland was doing his first assist. Together they were already starting to introduce this idea of the auditors getting more involved than sitting on their hands or changing sheets for the practitioners: we were working, either with the practitioners or with each other. A friend from the foundations class who was practitioning wasn’t familiar with inherent motion and had trouble dialing into what Jan was talking about. Because I had done those cranial classes with Jim, I could connect the dots and feel “Yeah, I got it.” So sometimes, he’d have me come over to his client and balance the sacrum or do a CV4 or something. That was pretty fun.

AH: Who did you do your practitioning with?

SK: Neal Powers and Helen James (aka Jimmer) in San Francisco

AH: So this is all before the ‘split’ [leading to some faculty leaving the Rolf Institute and forming the Guild for Structural Integration].

SK: Right. It was brewing, but hadn’t happened yet. I remember it was definitely in the field in my class. I did my training in ‘85 and ‘86; I think the split happened in ‘89. I had auditing with Jan and Jeff and then practitioning with Neal and Jimmer. After the split, Neal decided to go with Emmett Hutchins and Peter Melchior and was gone with the Guild. So Jan Sultan turned out to be the instructor who had the stronger influence on my Basic Training.

AH: After you completed training, you went back to Hawaii to go to work. Have you always worked in Hawaii?

SK: Yes, Honolulu has been home base for my private practice since 1986.

AH: And at what point did you become interested in being a teacher and start that process?

SK: Well, it was perhaps more a slow germination than specific point. I continued my interest in the cranial work, taking classes with various teachers when they would come to Hawaii – John Upledger, Michael Shea, Bruno Chikly, etc. – and I was studying the movement work. You may recall Rolf Movement evolved from Judith Aston’s initial collaboration with Ida. Initially certification in Rolf Movement was a training separate from Rolfing certification. When Neal Powers was president of the Rolf Institute, the separate training was suspended. But there were still workshops being offered in various places by various people. I worked with Megan James in San Francisco. I met up with Mario Finato and Hubert Godard in Avignon to drive down to Barcelona in order to attend a six-day taught by Annie Duggan and Janie French in 1988, etc.

Back in Boulder, Vivian Jaye and Jane Harrington got the ball rolling by developing a certification training for cross-training Rolfers in movement work. I was fortunate enough to be in that first cross-training group with them. It’s interesting to reflect on this absorption with the movement work, as my first movement experience went south in much the same as my initial Rolfing session; not a good client/practitioner match. I guess I felt I needed to take a class or so to get the gist of what was underlying it. I found familiarity with inherent motion from the cranial work lent itself well to consideration of functional movement; plus I enjoyed the classes very much! As it turned out, I became certified in Rolf Movement before I did my Advanced Training.

Once certified in Movement, I proceeded to assist Combined Studies and movement trainings, which I enjoyed very much. While assisting Jane Harrignton and Vivian Jaye, Jane mentioned that Tom Wing was looking for an assistant for a Basic Rolfing class that he was doing in Boulder and suggested I might look into it. At that time I knew of Tom, but I hadn’t actually met him, and felt it was time I did. I accomplished this by enrolling in his Review of the Basic Series, a continuing education class and residential workshop held in the Boundary Canoe Waters. Yum, just my style! We hit it off during the workshop, I asked him about assisting, and much to my surprise and delight, he agreed. And truth be told, Tom was stepping out on a limb, as I hadn’t done my Advanced Training yet.

It was kind of a whim on my part, but I was curious, and really treasured the opportunity to work with him. During the training a student challenged my intention to return to my private practice by suggesting I “do the math.” Her point was that Rolfing practitioners do good work in the world but there were too few practitioners doing it. Teaching groups of practitioners would support  the  growth of Rolfing SI a lot more effectively than working one on one with individual clients. I heard what she said and took it to heart. So Advanced Training with Jim Asher and Jan Sultan was the next thing in line.

AH: Was that the old advanced series?

SK: Essentially yes; the five-session template of the old advanced series was presented, along with new emphasis on alternative interventions where say the ‘Z position’ may not have been the most user-friendly or appropriate for the client. (I’m getting a little nostalgic reminiscing: what a wonderful cast of characters in that training – Rebecca Carli, Jane Harrington, Eric Dalton, and Don Van Fleet. Amazing to share the depth of those experiences with friends and colleagues for a lifetime!)

Before the split, the process for moving from member to assistant onto faculty was more amorphous. My impression is there were many folks who had assisted several times waiting in the wings with  no real set progression in place. After the split and its attendant disruption, a certain reordering occurred, changes were made in the curriculum and course offerings, and the faculty looked into how to streamline the certification and train new faculty, etc. Interested candidates were invited to attend the 1994 Faculty Meeting and the ‘Teacher- In-Training’ (TIT) process was designed to build a conduit or ‘pipeline’ for Certified Advanced Rolfers to train toward joining the faculty. Quite the amusing acronym considering the membership as well as faculty was predominately male back in those days. Ironically Lael Keen, Carol Agnessens, Tessy Brungaart, and myself were all granted TIT status that year.

At that same meeting, when it became clear Vivian Jaye couldn’t make the Movement Training she was scheduled to teach with Monica Caspari in Brazil later that year, I was eligible to go in her stead. By chance my first teaching assignment happened in Brazil in movement!

It had been suggested that candidates wanting to teach Basic Rolfing courses should audit the Advanced Training with the Advanced Faculty. This I did the following year by returning to Brazil for an Advanced Training co-taught by Pedro Prado and Jan Sultan. My first ‘official’ assist as Teacher in Training with Michael Salveson was a rough one. It was held in Berkeley, where my mother, who was terminally ill at the time, passed away during teaching of the middle hours of the Ten Series! I somehow made it through that trial by fire and joined the Basic Training faculty in 1995.

AH: This is interesting history about the predominance of men and how that started to shift. I’ve heard that Ida Rolf herself at one point had put the kibosh on women training as Rolfers.

SK: Well, Ida did train Stacey, Gladys Man, Gael Ohlgren [now Rosewood], and her daughter-in-law, the petite Joy Belluzi. I’m not sure when Joy trained, but when I went to that first foundations class, the women were all eating like mad to bulk up because applicants were supposed to weigh at least 150 pounds. You also had to submit a photo with a quarter in your palm to show how big your hands were. There’s no way Joy weighed 150 pounds.

The shift from a preponderance of male practitioners began in earnest during the ‘80s, when the notion that you had to be a big guy and push really hard to do the work gave way to more specific interventions, and when a growing emphasis was placed on body use.

AH: Before you joined, who was on faculty who was a woman, besides the movement people . . . ?

SK: Before the split, Stacey was on the faculty, and then after the split, Gael was on the faculty. And that was it in terms of structural work. Then four of us women came on to teach basic Rolfing trainings at the same time – Lael Keen, Tessy Brungardt, Carol Agneessens, and myself.

AH: You still teach both Basic and Advanced Trainings, what are the different challenges in teaching each of them, and what are the different rewards?

SK: Good question, and difficult for me to answer as each class is unique unto itself.  I frankly never know what to expect, the locations and circumstances seem to vary so widely. I’ve probably taught more classes to fill in that I wasn’t originally scheduled for than ones that I scheduled ahead of time.  I mentioned the Movement Training in Brazil earlier. About seventeen years ago I went over to Europe to cover a Basic Rolfing class for Robert Schleip when his schedule didn’t allow. That was in addition to a Basic Training in Australia, a Combined Studies Class in Boulder, and Advanced Training! A very busy time, when we didn’t have quite enough faculty to cover the Basic Training. When that changed I thought  to myself maybe I should move on from teaching beginners.

After 2012 I needed to take a health hiatus and stopped teaching trainings  entirely. By the end of 2015, however, I decided    to jump back in the game in order to co- teach an Advanced Training with Pedro in Boulder the following year. When that training didn’t pan out, I got recruited to teach a Phase II Basic Training instead. Once again, not quite what I had anticipated or planned for myself, yet it turned out to be a momentous return in many ways. It was a small class, for one thing. (I think I do better with small classes, because I can give more individual instruction.) I celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of my certification that fall. My assistant, Keith Economidis, had been a student in a class I’d taught twenty years earlier, so another anniversary of sorts. And the class was highly motivated to train sooner rather than later. Feeing at risk of getting ‘caught out’ and having to wait a year during the transition at the Rolf Institute to shorter intervals between phases for compliance with COMPTA and federal regulations, they asked for another Phase II to be added to the schedule. It was rewarding to work with a younger group of eager beginners, and I finally felt the advantage of being older and more seasoned in the work.

AH: So you foresee teaching both Basic and Advanced trainings in the future?

SK: Oh yes, Basic, Advanced, and continuing ed. Of course Advanced Faculty are eligible to teach the basic classes. It was valuable experience for me as Advanced Faculty to cycle through the Basic Training. I got to see how people are entering into the training at the ground level from the vantage point of their track toward eventual Advanced Training. It lent a fresh perspective too on how the Intermediate Training workshops might better prepare people for all the Advanced Training has to offer. With the hope, too, that our more senior instructors will eventually be freed up to offer post- advanced instruction.

AH: Changing direction a bit, as a teacher, how closely do you feel linked to Ida Rolf’s teachings? And has that changed over the years?

SK: I feel very closely linked to Ida Rolf’s teachings. I wasn’t trained by her. My instructors all trained with her, so I am one generation removed. During her lifetime she changed and developed the work continuously. She died in 1979 but her pioneering spirit lives on over the years as Rolfing SI continues to morph and change with the times. In 2017 Rolfing SI is more than a one-woman band, it’s a whole body of work with a history, science, and philosophy that I’m glad to be a part of. A lot more is known about the nature of fascia now than in her time. Not just the fascial system, but the body system of the whole; which I find very exciting. Attending the first Fascia Research Congress at Harvard Medical School in 2007 was a tremendous thrill for me, just wonderful.

AH: And when there is a new piece that’s brought in, either through fascia research or other studies you do, like your cranial studies, is there a way that it still fits to you under a certain model of Rolfing SI, or do you feel more like you’re doing different things? Like when you’re doing cranial, are you doing something different, or do you see it as part of the Rolfing process?

SK: It fits into Rolfing SI via the principle of holism. Structural integration works with the whole person. Fundamentally I do that. I jokingly say I consider myself a fascia-ist and fascially oriented. But I can’t possibly limit myself to that. Inherent motion doesn’t parse out well. (When Emmett Hutchins heard I’d been studying craniosacral work, he took me aside and advised me to leave that out of room when I was doing Rolfing SI, or to specifically state which techniques were cranial and which were Rolfing SI.) And I have taken tutorials in visceral manipulation and a semester of acupuncture study in the past. All of it has informed my touch. In terms of evoking change, I include motility as well as mobility and work across that broad spectrum. I use direct and indirect techniques. It’s so interwoven in me . . .

AH: . . . that you really can’t tease them apart?

SK: Yeah. I try to be aware of the inherent motion even if I’m working on some . . .

AH: . . . gnarly tissue?

SK: Yeah.

AH: What can you say about your own unique style of Rolfing SI?

SK: I may be too close to it to say. What would you say about it?

AH: I’ve experienced you as a mentor, an Advanced Instructor, and as a practitioner. Based on how you interacted with my clients in mentoring – and I’ve seen it as a client with you giving me work – I think you have a particular gift for engaging the individual, meeting the person holistically and uniquely where he or she is at. It’s a dimension that gets added to the hands-on work. You have a way of finding and articulating someone’s leading edge, where that individual needs to grow from, whether it’s the client on your table and what that leading edge is to become more embodied, or whether it’s the student working at a table in a training and you’re coming over to observe and facilitate the development of that person’s work. You’re not somebody who just leaves the client on the table to silently experience, you’re very engaged. And the dialogue informs the person in a similar way that your hands are informing and bringing something together. Does that make sense?

SK: Yes, particularly the part about being engaged. When I notice clients zoning out, I tend call them back. There’s  a difference between going deep inside versus dissociating or simply falling asleep. There are less expensive places to nap!

AH: How do you recognize, with clients on the table, what to draw their attention to, and how to language it?

SK: Very often I begin and end my sessions with reference to gravity and ground. I like to bring into the conversation that the body exists within the larger context of earth and sky. We exist in time and space on a particular planet that has this gravitational phenomenon that keeps us from spinning off into orbit. We habitually go about our days so preoccupied with various thoughts that we rarely bring this basic connection into our awareness. Making specific reference to this has been a very rich tool for my sessions. Together we can enter into an exploration and mutual participation in the human embodiment experience.

These gravitational forces are present and there’s a supportive quality to our world whether we’re aware of it, or relate to it, or not. If we can begin to awaken and sense into that relationship a little more, not feel like we have to hold up the whole show, there’s often a lot of relief and relaxation that enters into our experience. At least that’s what’s true for me. Ida’s saying ‘Gravity is the therapist’ is right up there at the top of my list of all- time-favorite Ida Rolf quotes.

I’m fascinated by what quantum physics says about gravity, and the Newtonian definition of gravity as determined by planetary mass still holds some weight in my day to day. The principle of support is a good analogy for, or synonymous with, the planetary mass that actually does support and nourish us. And we don’t exist in a vacuum. We are, each of us individually, connected to gravity and ground via the breath. Not our physical body so much, because that’s always changing; it’s the breath, the dynamic aspect of the breath, the vitality in that, that is actually bridging gravity and ground within us.

AH: So with gravity and ground, are you using ‘gravity’ to mean more the experience of the body in space?

SK: Yeah. But it’s also a bit ambiguous because in what we refer to as ‘outer space’, there is no gravity.

AH: It gets very closely interrelated on the ground.

SK: Yeah, and in our lived experience, unless we somehow go outside the gravitational field, we have this force, this gravitational force, that is the space that our life form exists within.

AH: And for you, the breath is the bridge to hold both in awareness?

SK: Right, it relates us to each. It’s the connection.

AH: Do you bring this deepening into gravity and ground into the classroom when you teach?

SK: I have been, yes.

AH: Especially in the Basic Trainings, students can get very caught up in their heads trying to ‘figure it out’. How do you bring them more into ease and the personal relationship of gravity and ground as a place to learn?

SK: Oh that’s a good question! Well, I’ve become more bold, I think, about introducing and including more experiential activities with movement, sitting, and stillness, that hopefully serve as an avenue toward this. My first ventures years ago with  bringing  this  into  the classroom often met with resistance. “How does this relate to where I put my elbow?”, “What does this have to do with technique?”, etc. Throughout the Phase Two, Embodiment training I taught most recently, we did daily experiential activities around respiration, chi gung, movement, even meditation. Understandably I had some apprehension about once again placing this  emphasis on breath and presence, but I went for it anyway as I feel it very strongly influences and informs how technique is delivered. In sharp contrast to previous years, the feedback from the group indicated it was very well received and most appreciated. Being on the other side of sixty-five, I’m enjoying an elder role with younger students. This lends some credibility to the notion that we might thrive in our embodiment as we age and mature as practitioners; that it is possible to be at ease in gravity and ground on an ongoing basis throughout life.


AH: Thank you, Sally, for this rich discussion.

Sally Klemm is an internationally recognized Rolf Institute instructor who teaches worldwide while maintaining a private practice in Honolulu, Hawaii. A native of Berkeley, California, Sally is a graduate of University  of California, Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science. After a four-year sailing voyage around the world, Sally was introduced to Rolfing SI by Stacey Mills, who convinced her to stop trimming sails and start aligning bodies. She has called Honolulu home since 1983. Sally’s private practice includes Visionary Craniosacral Work© as well as Rolfing SI and Rolf Movement Integration. Her extraordinary ability to blend an organized cognitive style with deeply intuitive understanding reflects her fascination with the unity of the psyche and the soma. Sally joined the Rolf Institute faculty in 1995.

Anne Hoff is a Certified Advanced Rolfer practicing in Seattle, Washington and the Editor-in-Chief of this Journal.

Explorations of Earth and Sky[:]

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