June 17, 1982
Dear Rolfers & other Interested Persons,
I wish to open a dialogue in Rolf Lines concerning the topic of pain. I want us to consider if pain should be associated with Rolfing as we know today. If not, then how do we change the image of Rolfing from a painful experience to one of relief.
Pain is the experience of a sensation too intense for the individual to stay focused on the feeling. A painful sensation is one which the receiver associates with the distraction/disorganization of tissue. This association of an intensity level of stimulation with disorganization and distruction is what creates the fear which shatters a person’s focus and breaks their contact with the feeling.
Webter’s definition of pain is: A state of physical or mental lack of well-being, or physical or mental uneasiness that ranges from mild discomfort or dull distress to acute, often unbearable agony. Pain may be generalized or loclaized and is the consequence of being injured or hurt, physically on mentally.
Four years ago there was a lot of tension and confusion around the topic of “painless Rolfing” as some Rolfers studying with Judith Aston called their work. There were arguments which declared that Rolfing must be a painful process, and others that disagreed firmly. The technical aspect of pain in doing the work got mixed up with the legal position that the word “Rolfing” must not be modified by an adjective consistantly if we wished to maintain the word “Rolfing” as a registered term. Then, of course, there were the various political alliances which used the word “pain” to either be for or on against Judith Aston.
Out of all this confusion came a higher awareness within The Institute that it may not be necessary to create as much pain as had previously been accepted as normal.
At the same time that the concept of painless work was beginning to enter the awareness of the membership, women began to be trained as Rolfers in greater numbers. The class before me had three or four women (as Practitioners), and the one after me had all women. This was a big change and there was a lot siad about it at the time in the form of chit-chat. The energy in these classes was softer, and I believe the instructors were surprised by the fine results. Partially, as a result, what is being taught now, I believe, can be call painless.
At the beginning of the first hour, before I have begun to work, and the client is anxiously waiting on the table for that first contact, I have the person’s highest level of attention. I talk to him and explain as follows: “In Rolfing change comes about through the cooperative attentions of the Rolfer and the client. I apply pressure to the tissue which is stuck and in which you (the client) have lost some degree of conscious awareness. This pressure creates stimulation in that tissue of such an intensity that you are able to learn to re feel the tissue again. As you feel the tissue at a deeper and deeper level, the flesh changes accordingly.” With that I begin to work. I do one or two moves, then stop. I ask the client what he felt in his body. After his response I tell him that is the intensity is too much he must tell me to ease off or stop. Once this settles in, the client realizes that he has control over the intensity level of the process. This makes deeper relaxation and contact possible. The client soon learns on an experiential level that he and the Rolfer are immediately engaged at the same point in the client’s body. The Rolfer feeling the tissue under his hands in all its subtle detail while the client feels the same detail in his body through the internal pathways of his consciousness. If the Rolfer creates more stimulation in the tissue than the client can as simulate at “one point in time” (pain), the client will withdraw his attention/energy from the point of contact, and the tissue will cease its accommodation to change.
We might consider teaching our students of Rolfing more about how to think and talk about the sensual experience of Rolfing and how to use the word “pain”. Teaching Rolfers to educate their clients on how to communicate to others their Rolfing experience will begin to disassociate Rolfing from the word pain. Our clients will then be able to think in terms of simulation intensity in graduations from mild, to intense, to intorelable (pain). If this is done, possibly they will discontinue calling nearly all unfamiliar stimulation pain. This could create a void which would be filled with other, more appropriate adjectives modifying the expression of their experience.
Such communication efforts may not seem important on the surface, but 2 years ago, I sat on the Boulder Mall giving out information on Rolfing and answering questions. I had a sign saying FREE INFORMATION ON ROLFING, a stack of literature and a book I was reading. Every few minutes a person would walk by and say something like “I hear it is painful” and walk on, or they would say, “That’s painful stuff” and walk on. After a number of these incidents, I stopped a man and asked him point blank, “What do you associate with the word ‘pain’? He said, “When I broke my leg skiing.” The next person said that she associated pain with an appendicitus attack which nearly killed her. From this I realized that when a Rolfed told a friend that Rolfing was painsul, the friend immediately put it into his category of experiences which contained his most painful and disorganizing experiences.
Pain is the word we use to describe the sensual experience of a disorganizing process in the body associated with an emotionally or physically damaging event. That’s why people avoid pain. It is the body’s message to consciousness that it is being disorganized (destroyed). We must separate the association of pain and Rolfing if we are to be convincing in our pitch that Rolfing organizes and returns order to the structure.
If people hear that Rolfing is painless and call it a painful process, the fault then can be traced to their Rolfer for either trying to muscle his way through their tissue or not educating his client on how to use language more accurately. Of course, there are always a few people who enjoy telling “war stories”, but there’s nothing that can be done about such people. We work in the sensation zone between pleasure and pain. We must begin to encourage the use of language which expresses this.
I encourage Rolfers comments and opinions in Rolf Lines on this topic in general and my opinions specifically. This kind of dialogue could be good feedback and opinion distribution to the Board, Ethics Committee, Education Committee, and President’s Office.
Grand Junction, ColoradoThe Subject of Pain