As Rolfers®, we all have had the opportunity to witness how our work improves our clients’ lives, whether their physical structures or, sometimes, deeper, more all-encompassing transformations. When clients experience the benefits of the changes that have happened, they wonder how to ‘keep’ the new, pleasurable organization and often ask for advice. Of course, nothing can be ‘kept’: we cannot through effort recreate an experience. Yet there are ways we can give ‘homework’ to support the client’s ongoing process of embodiment.
Movement is an event that happens in the moment; it cannot be controlled through willpower. Ease appears when congruence between intention, meaning, and capacity allow coordination to happen, dependent on gravity and subjective resources. So while the client cannot keep an experience, what can be kept and nourished is the feeling of the experience. This memory can be a powerful bridge to recall the physical organization that was the underlying condition for what was experienced. Even more than that, what can be kept is the awareness that his/her system has the option to use – in a different, meaningful way – resources that, for many reasons, thus far had not been at the service of their well-being.
Rolfing sessions provide a safe context in which our clients can experience different and more economical ways to organize their system in gravity and increase their capacity for expression and efficiency. This is an educational and transformational process that allows clients to revisit their habits and build new ones.
Habits Have Deep Roots in Personal History
Habits involve the physical body, perception, and meaning. They bridge between our physical resources and our personal history – the context in which we have grown up. They create security and quick responses in the ‘feed-forward’ activity of everyday life. (‘Feed forward’ is in contrast to ‘feedback’; in everyday life activity happens in feed-forward mode, where we are not aware of our doing while doing, but can only evaluate later whether the movement was successful or not.)
They allow us to react without needing to be conscious. Habits of movements are, by definition, automatic and unconscious.
Habits are functional for survival. They are efficient in some ways, even when not economical. In fact, there is always a reason, a secondary benefit, in keeping a dysfunctional behavior; usually it allows the individual to avoid some more threatening sensation. For example, it could be a compensatory pattern to avoid physical or psychological pain; a way to adapt to the social and cultural context in which we live, in order to be recognized and accepted; a way to shape oneself according to a body image that fits a belief system; or a way to accommodate to repetitive movement related to a work setting. There is always a meaningful reason to build and keep our habits, one that we are not even aware of most of the time.
We cannot deny or ‘cancel’ our habits, they remain as options in our ‘toolbox’ forever. But we can build new ones, closer to our current options and maturity. With the Rolfing process, clients can connect with resources not previously available and start building new ways to deal with gravity and the context of their lives. It is a process and it requires time and experience: it takes time and repetition to build new synapses and new associations and to appreciate the ease that accompanies a more organic way of moving in gravity. It means dropping the secondary benefit of being in the ‘known’ and exploring something new and unfamiliar. It’s not only about having the potential to act differently, but also about the potential to feel comfortable and safe. That means recognizing and legitimizing our power to change.
Inviting our clients to spend some time everyday recalling and nourishing what they have experienced as beneficial in the sessions has strong added value. They cannot change the way they orchestrate movement, or build new associations and patterns, unless their nervous system is available, their emotions are quiet, and curiosity is present to lead their attention toward the goal of better function in their lives. Just allowing time to create this deep connection with oneself is a powerful practice that can evoke deep change.
From this perspective, ‘homework’, or ‘a little time to reflect on yourself’, can be suggested on many levels: actual exercises to support on the physical level; self-treatment; the use of ‘keywords’ or metaphors as reminders, during the day, of something achieved in the session; images to evoke a different postural pattern; etc. The main focus is not so much what is done, but more a change in attitude, the awareness that it is important to dedicate time to oneself, to – in a broad sense – take responsibility for one’s well- being. In this way clients can develop curiosity about the ways they organize themselves and respond, and become aware that they have the potential and the power to develop autonomy and efficiency in dealing with life’s stressors.
Homework Must Be Individualized
Homework must be tailored to the individual client’s special qualities and needs. As Rolfers we have to be creative and have a rich repertoire of suggestions. A good strategy is to offer easy practices, avoiding complex movements or settings. Offer something that can be done at any moment of the day, even in bed. Sometimes it is just to remember an image, or a little trick to trigger a particular reaction in the body. We can propose exercises to prevent the buildup of tension, or to self- treat when discomfort manifests as pain or tension. We can address part of the system or highlight connections between parts . We can influence some function – like freeing the breath, or building the
capacity to rest; in other words, building support, increasing the phoric capacity to allow weight to flow. (Phoric capacity is a concept introduced by Hubert Godard. It indicates the sense of weight, how one finds support in letting gravity / weight in gravity provide support for orientation and movement in space.)
In order to meaningfully select a homework suggestion, we need to take into account certain elements:
From here, the question becomes “What is beneficial for our client, what do we want to achieve?” There can be many options:
Tools Are Useful
Consider using tools, such as blankets, ‘noodles’, balls. Or have the client build an uneven surface to lay, sit, or stand on as a productive challenge for his/her system. (The presence of ‘interference’ creates an unusual situation that can facilitate the experience of new connections and responses to stress in the body.)
We can suggest the use of soft or hard support. Without making a rule, it is in general a good strategy to find balance and compensate: soft support for hard tissue and vice versa. In this way, the person can experience the ‘missing’ sensation through the medium of support. From the same perspective, we can propose stable or unstable supports: stable when the person needs to develop the capacity to rest, and unstable when he/she needs to develop the capacity to find balance and mobilize.
Active movement can be beneficial on its own, as well as working to support good habits; whether walking, swimming, dancing, etc., have the client engage in quality training that matches his/her unique needs and preferences.
Rita Geirola was certified in Rolfing in 1987 and in Rolf Movement in 1997. Her background includes studies in the field of physical education and the Mézières Method. She was certified as a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method® in 1992 and as a Pilates Instructor in 1998. Her main curiosity is in finding different approaches and different language to attune to individual client’s needs and resources to achieve full development of their potentiality and integration. Her work and teaching are deeply impacted by the points of view of Hubert Godard, Peter Levine, and Moshe Feldenkrais.