Anne Hoff: Sally, we’ve had a theme in this Journal (last issue) about working with children, and in this issue we have one about working with pregnant and postpartum women. However, I’m interested to talk to you broadly about female archetypes, the female body, and the whole idea of the feminine. Let’s start with a piece of your personal history. You had a bad experience with your first Rolfer, a male who took a rather dominant approach.
Sally Klemm: My initial experience with Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) was with a male practitioner back in seventies; it was during the heyday of knuckles and elbows, and wasn’t a good fit for me. I had only a theoretical notion based on what I had read, and went in for what I thought was to be a consultation; eager to learn from a practitioner what SI might do for me. I was caught off guard when the consultation shifted into application and suddenly there I was in my underwear, with my ribcage pinned to the table. I left there visibly bruised and not at all resonating with the experience. Ten years passed before certain life events led me to revisit the notion of Rolfing SI. By that time; I had relocated to Hawaii, and heard mention of Stacey Mills, practitioner and Rolf Institute® (RISI) faculty member. The thought of a female practitioner greatly appealed to me, and, even more important, she was rumored to have a gentle touch. After that initial traumatic session I felt it was important for me to work with a female practitioner. Coincidentally, I entered the Rolfing training at a time when more women were entering trainings.
AH: You’ve said that Stacey Mills was quite the grande dame of the Rolfing world (after Ida Rolf of course). She was your mentor and friend for many years as you were both living in Oahu. Say more about this relationship.
SK: I found Stacey’s work both subtle and profound. She was a good listener and engaged me in way that felt safe. During our work together my senses and dream activity were enlivened. The fragrances of tropical Hawaii and the sensuality of being in the ocean were heightened and enriched.
As the sessions of my series with Stacey unfolded, she first suggested and then encouraged me to pursue training as a practitioner. After Basic Rolfing certification, I did ‘supervision’ with Stacey mentoring me. This was modeled after supervision in the analytical model, years prior to RISI developing its own in-house mentoring program. I worked on my clients while Stacey watched and afterwards gave me feedback. This I found invaluable to my nascent practice. Although Stacey sided with Emmett Hutchins during “the split” and taught for the Guild for Structural Integration, for many years we still met to exchange sessions. Eventually our roles shifted and I became Stacey’s Rolfer. I joined the faculty in 1995, just four years prior to Stacey’s death at age eighty-three. It has significance for me that Stacey and I, two female Rolfers from Hawaii, should sit on the RISI faculty. At a time when there were many, many more male practitioners, Hawaii was a kind of bastion where there were quite a few women practicing.
AH: Gladys Mann was another early Rolfer in Hawaii, yes?
SK: Yes, Gladys and Stacey were both psychologists, both trained directly with Ida Rolf, and both practiced in Honolulu. Marianne Wassel, certified seven years prior to me, is another early female Rolfer in Hawaii.
AH: As you told us in the first part of this interview, published in the June issue, that Stacey encouraged you from the start to become a practitioner. For years, there were female Rolf Movement® teachers, but the only female instructors on the structural side were Stacey and Gael Rosewood [formerly Ohlgren]. When there was a move to make the faculty more gender diverse, you were part of a new wave of female Rolfing instructors that also included Carol Agneessens, Tessy Brungardt, and Lael Keen.
SK: Historically, it’s well-known that Ida Rolf trained more men than women in the work. I feel fortunate to have been on the forefront of the wave that included more women. I’ve appreciated being among the four women that were trained as instructors back in the 90s, and consider it propitious that we now have both more women practitioners and instructors. Not that I haven’t received excellent work from male practitioners, but women’s bodies, and how women relate to them, are very different from males. I recognize that some clients will come to see me despite there being male practitioners nearby who might be able to see them sooner than my schedule will allow. Many women feel more comfortable with working with another woman. And to some extent also, men sometimes feel more comfortable with a female practitioner. It seems optimal to have practitioners of both genders available to suit clients’ personal preferences. It’s different to be in the room with a female client as a woman in the work, regardless of gender preference or whatever. Obviously our bodies are different. As women, we experience the world differently.
AH: Yeah, just on a physiological level, women have the menstrual cycle – that’s something men know about but they’ve never experienced. It’s a time when many women have different issues like body tension or migraines or sacral pain. Certainly a male practitioner can work with those things, but it’s something he doesn’t know internally from his own experience.
SK: So it is.
AH: So there is something when, as a woman, you go to a female practitioner. Your issue might be closer to her experience than to a man’s. For some people that sense of shared experience is important for safety; for some it’s important just for feeling seen or understood. So there are many things that can come up.
SK: Or even just in terms of modesty.
AH: Standing in front of the Rolfer in your underwear! Let’s shift gears and look at some aspects of the Rolfing training. I imagine that as an instructor you can be particularly helpful to female students, helping them understand how to use body leverage as many women don’t have the strength or body mass of a man. I can think of a number of things I’ve seen demonstrated in classes and workshops by male instructors that I’ve been unable to do, because I’m not as tall, or my hands are smaller, or whatever.
SK: You bring up an important and two-fold point here, Anne. Let’s look for a moment at two relevant aspects of the Rolfing training. The first aspect is body use: the way the student uses her body to employ any given technique. The second aspect is technique. Practitioner body use gets a great deal of emphasis in my classes. There’s so much going on during the Basic Training on so many levels, it’s common for students to emulate the instructor. Understanding leverage versus strength and body mass entails recognizing habitual patterns of effort. Identifying when we go from ease to effort during our sessions is important self-care for the practitioner. Being relatively long and lanky, my demonstrations lend themselves well to practitioners of similar body type. But what about those who are not?
This brings me to the second point I’d like to make, which concerns technique itself and why it is employed rather than how. It’s not how we do the technique but the concept of what’s being shown that’s significant. Finding a non-injurious way to intervene is the point – not miming the demo. When we understand the concepts behind technique, it’s possible to adapt the technique to our own use, regardless of body type. One of my strong suits as an instructor is assisting student practitioners at the table.
I’ve seen many female students through the years come in with the notion that “I have to do it this way,” which only makes the job harder than it has to be and takes a toll on their bodies. Although old myths die hard, it’s been irrefutably shown by now that you don’t have to be a big, strong guy to ‘get in there’ and get the job done. I ascribe to the notion that depth is not a question of either speed or strength. Assisting students to find their own way with their particular bodies is part of the ongoing fascination I have with the work.
AH: Have you worked much with pregnant women and with children?
SK: A fair amount, yes, probably more so in the early days of my practice than of late. During the clinical phase of my training in the mid-80s, our clinic included men, women, and children. Toward the end of the training, we were able to work with a number of pregnant women and address how their bodies change. It was a rich experience that was brought into the classroom. Post certification, I was active in the free Children’s Day clinics, traditionally held on Ida Rolf’s birthday, May 19th. I organized a number of these in Hawaii, and also participated Children’s Day in Boulder and in Brazil. In my early years as a practitioner that was always a featured day.
AH: I’m interested in whether there’s a unique stance to working with pregnant women. I remember another Rolfer once said to me that you are really affecting two beings with your work, the mother and the baby, and that it’s useful to remember that there is someone else in there.. Do you have any thoughts on that?
SK: More the orientation is to the mother carrying the child and the structural influences of the pregnancy and the changes in the center of gravity and so on.
AH: What might be some goals you would want to address around that? I was taught that when you’re working with a pregnant woman you don’t want to do anything that’s going to dramatically change the orientation of the body. You might do things that will help accommodate the changes that are happening with the pregnancy, so that there’s more ease for the woman in her body and more space and adaptability for the growing baby. Is that still pretty much the way things are taught?
SK: It’s my understanding that work during the first trimester is contraindicated, especially in the Fourth-Hour territory, because of the changes going on. What comes specifically to my mind for work after the first trimester is easing the center of gravity as it shifts, orientation to the ground, and front-back balance – particularly in terms of the lumbar fascia, in order to accommodate the tendency for the belly weight to cause the lumbars to arch forward. Postpartum work is relevant for re-establishing the Fourth-Hour line, the midline of the legs, and the relationship from the base of support up through the pelvis, into and through the pelvis.
AH: Do you remember the Advanced Training on Maui in 1999, with you and Jim Asher teaching?
SK: Yes, I remember that training very well as a very rich, cross-cultural experience.
AH: Postpartum work was very key for one of the students. Her body had not really come back to itself after delivery of her child, even though it had been some time. Re-establishing the midline of the legs was a big piece of work for her, very pivotal in bringing her sense of her body back to her. She had been sort of stuck in the pregnancy and delivery shaping of her body.
SK: I do remember; the implications of the psychobiological taxonomy loom large in that memory. Giving birth is rite of passage for women and they are forever changed by the experience. How the experience is integrated is very individual for each woman. I feel our work can serve to bridge having given birth in the past with re-entering the present moment. Clients who are mothers have often shared with me that it has taken them awhile to come back to feeling whole again, and how they’ve found a Rolfer’s sensitive touch to be a support to their process.
AH: I’m also remembering one of my classroom clients from that training. One of the pieces that I worked with her was that she had had a C-section with one of her children. This woman was very intuitive, rather psychic. As I was working something around her abdomen, she had a very clear image that, energetically, her abdomen was still open and the organs kind of spread out, like she imagined they did to get to the uterus to do the C-section. So while her body had healed fine, there was almost an energetic imprint of the surgery and of still being opened up. Do you remember that at all? I think you came over to the table and worked with us.
SK: I remember the psychobiological taxonomy as being particularly relevant for the women clients during that class. Well, let’s face it; it’s increasingly relevant for all of us at any given time. But to return to our theme, in my private practice I do see many postpartum women with a forward pull, both in the adductor compartment and in the lumbars. I learned a lot about rebalancing the sacrum and lumbars in postpartum women from working with Jim Asher during that training. Other input I’ve found helpful for work with clients postpartum has been the study of visceral manipulation and Sharon Wheeler’s scar work, particularly with Cesarean scars. I’ve had occasion to work on a number of Cesarean scars, both in class and in private practice.
AH: Another rite of passage for women is menopause. The whole question of whether to do hormone-replacement therapy or not is a fork in the road. There’s your personal choice, and there’s also the influence of the culture.
SK: When women clients ask me for advice, I encourage them to move toward what is right for them rather than be swayed by the latest ‘craze’ or trend, be it hormones, diet, or exercise. I’ve thought a lot about personal choice and the influence of the culture – not just in regard to hormones or aging, but in general – throughout my Rolfing practice. We’re irrefutably conditioned by our culture and, currently, our society is fixated on youth and appearance. How to feel secure or supported when our collective orientation is ever moving away from the natural world in favor of social media is a dilemma we all contend with every day. Personally, I’m more apt to regard gravity as an ally rather than the enemy and attempt to come ‘home’ to my feet on the ground rather than relying on the ‘experts’ in the cosmetic or pharmaceutical industry. But that’s my personal bias.
My thoughts about aging are mixed, as are my thoughts about ‘science’. I’m fascinated by science and eagerly await the developments in science and technology that substantiate our work. I also recognize that science is invested in ‘truth’ and a consensual reality that is not there as of yet. We would all like definitive answers but scientific answers are changing all the time, just as we and science are changing. In Ida’s time the efficacy of our work was thought to exist solely within the realm of fascia, but that’s no longer the case. For me personally it kind of comes down to the difference between quantifying data and quality of experience. Optimally our research would include statistics from all practitioners’ clients on increase in range of motion, flexibility, coordination, etc. This would help a lot in terms of measureable gains from our work. And it also goes without saying the quality of the experience from a potent session is hard to quantify.
AH: What about cultural or religious elements that interface with being female? I’ve had Muslim clients who wear the head scarf, or bring their husbands along to their sessions. And there was one American man who had become a Muslim, he brought his wife to his session because it wasn’t appropriate for him to be alone in that context with a woman other than his wife.
SK: Oh interesting! I’ve had women accompany their husbands to sessions, and vice versa. And I’ve worked on folks in the Hawaiian community who did several sessions before they would even consider taking off their muumuu [the traditional flowing Hawaiian dress]. Speaking of Hawaii, it is a culture and an environment that is very feminine in many ways – it’s verdancy, for example, and the goddesses of the culture emphasize the feminine as the creators and the nurturers. Stacey was an important embodiment of that for me.
AH: A client from Hawaii showed me a picture where he was standing in front of the Hindu temple on Kauai; he was wearing a pink sarong. It seems there’s a broader range for masculinity there. On the mainland U.S., and in some other countries as well, you would not likely see a man in a sarong, and many men wouldn’t even wear pink shirts. Hawaii is a place where the ‘feminine’ seems more embodied by both men and women, although of course there are strong expressions of the masculine as well.
This takes us to ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ as archetypes, like yin and yang. In these archetypes, the feminine is dark, receptive, intuitive, mysterious, while the masculine is light, penetrating, logical, known.
SK: In our work, we know more and more about what goes on. I was enthralled to go to the First Fascia Research Congress at Harvard Medical School in 2007. I just thought that was a coup. And also, I’m still just stunned by the mystery of all that we don’t know. It really retains that mystery bordering on the magical and the miraculous to me that this work can’t be explained within the paradigm that we have in science right now.
AH: There’s the masculine and the feminine right there.
SK: In my movement training, Viviane Jaye made references to this being called upon within any individual. If it’s a male practitioner, to somehow include his yin side or female into the equation that he brings to the table. For women, there’s a certain audacity also that is being asked for, to have the audacity to penetrate someone’s tissue is pretty yang.
AH: I think we’re seeing, as a culture, that gender is not binary, and yin/yang are also not strictly one or the other in a binary fashion.
SK: We draw these arbitrary lines and limits, and it’s much more amorphous than that. We had some transgender clients in the Berkeley class I taught as a Teacher in Training with Michael Salveson as lead instructor. Initially there’s a current of puerile curiosity that segues into focusing on the task at hand. And ultimately what transpires is dealing with the structure of the person on the table. Part of our personal maturation process as a practitioner is to bring into our awareness and neutralize our various beliefs and biases.
AH: What are your thoughts about aging for yourself and related to female clients you’ve worked with?
SK: At sixty-seven I’m definitely feeling my embodiment differently than at the start of my Rolfing practice when I was in my thirties. I can empathize more with clients my age than I did when I was younger. I can feel their desperation as they struggle with painful knees, loss of memory, and the rest of the seemingly inevitable issues that go with the territory of aging. Yet I’m often taken aback to work on younger clients who are physically worse off and in more pain than I. These feelings have definitely impacted the way I approach people of all ages. The presenting issues shift too, from sports injury and integration postpartum for example, to increased emphasis on coordination and balance.
I find too that my regime of personal self-care is vital and gets continually tailored to meet the needs of my aging body. If sessions I receive now aren’t quite as dramatic as those of my initial series, the work registers and resonates on a deeper level of ongoing appreciation. My practice changes with time, just as I change with time.
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.Working Women[:]