Deconstruting ‘Dynamic Process Integrity’

Pages: 89-90
Year: 2019
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structure, Function, Integration Journal – Vol. 47 – Nº 2

Volume: 47

ABSTRACT The article examines and offers commentary on Dr. Rolf’s 1954 essay “Dynamic Process Integrity: Introducing Postural Integration,” noting that this may be Rolf’s first writing on what later became known as Rolfing® Structural Integration. Significantly, the author notes that Rolf viewed her work as both structural and movement work.


Editor’s Note: This article might be considered a follow-up to the ‘Gentry Notes’ published in the last issue (see articles published under the heading “Byron Gentry and the Early Recipe” in the March 2019 issue of this Journal). However, this article is based on early writing of Dr. Rolf – what may, in fact, be her very first writing. All quotations in this article come from the essay “Dynamic Process Integrity: Introducing Postural Integration,” which we include in this issue on page 85.

What words does one use to convey that there is a state of dynamic well- being that springs from operation on a dynamic level, where energy interchange can occur on the physical and muscular level without literally being blocked by the compensations which have occurred to keep the original distortions from  destroying the body.

Dr. Ida Rolf

Perhaps it is my scholarly background, having, fifty years ago, been an eager academic historian . . . Or perhaps it is my even earlier experience of having attended Orthodox Jewish academies, where hours and days were spent analyzing Biblical scripture. Though the general consensus is that Rolfing® Structural Integration is an oral culture, learned and passed on through experience rather than through written instructions, I have to admit an affinity to text, concrete and fixed text, allowing a direct engagement with and a deep understanding of the written word and – perhaps most importantly – a window into the mind of an author, in this case, Dr. Ida Rolf. Textual analysis has the solidity of ground while oral culture sometimes drifts dangerously close to hearsay.

“Dynamic Process Integrity: Introducing Postural Integration” was written in 1954 as a handout for a class Rolf was teaching in the Midwest, attended by chiropractors including Byron Gentry. It is her first written statement, to the best of my knowledge, concerning  the modality which she, at that time, referred to as Postural Integration. The title of the essay itself reveals a great deal, I believe, concerning Rolf’s state of mind in terms of the development of the work. There are two parts to the title: Dynamic Process Integrity, and then the subtitle, Introducing Postural Integration. It seems, at this point in her thinking, that she divided the state or condition to be achieved and the method of achieving as two different nomenclatures (I would like to give credit to Jeff Linn for suggesting this). Thus “Dynamic Process Integrity” is the state or condition to be achieved  as the result of the method she called “Postural Integration.” The later adoption of ‘Structural Integration’ ably combined both method and goal into one concept. It is perhaps significant to remember that the adoption of Structural Integration in the mid 1960s was achieved only after having entertained a variety of names, including ‘structural dynamics’ as well as ‘postural release’.

It is clear from the outset of the essay that Rolf is prepared to deal with large, daunting questions such as what is health (which is what she means when asserting the concept of Dynamic Process Integrity) and attempts to answer those questions in a novel way. She eschews the usual Western definition of health as being symptom free in favor of a definition that is system-based and multi- factored, what we now refer to as holistic. Interestingly, her point of attack is the ‘either-or’, ‘right-wrong’ thinking of Aristotle and the overly simplistic linear approach of science that existed until the mid twentieth century. The complexity of life systems, she asserts, demands a different approach that balances all the elements symbolized by the concept of ‘man’. To this end she presents the concept of ‘homeostasis’ as not only applicable in the biochemical area but also in the mechanical, psychological, emotional, and energetic domains. Given that this other level of ‘health’ exists, she then asks rhetorically, “How does one get people to understand that there can be and is another level of functioning? What terms can be used to express that which is essentially non-verbal – that which is experiential?” One must note with a bit of humor that Rolf was vulnerable to the same difficulties of explaining her work as SI practitioners face sixty-some years later.

In the second half of the essay she answers her own rhetorical question. Given that the concept of posture marks, in her words, a “dynamic balance of the parts of the body,” the goal of her system is to create superior health by achieving “equilibrium.” While there are different concepts of posture in the general population, the concept of posture that she is presenting achieves a “patterning of the body . . . which permits the greatest ease of movement and maximum functioning of the body.” She refers to this as “Dynamic Posture” or “Integrated Posture.” She then makes the claim that a manual manipulation process that takes only ten to twenty hours, and includes movement education, can change postural patterns for a lifetime.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rolf’s thinking at this time is the role of movement. As a practitioner I have always found the place of movement within the SI field to be unclear. Movement integration ostensibly seems like a secondary feature of integrating the ‘structure’ of a human body. However, this essay gives pause. In 1954 Rolf compares the results and the efficacy of Postural Integration not so much with chiropractic or osteopathy but with movement therapies. “This level which we have chosen to call ‘dynamic posture’, in which the greater degree of energy exchange comes so apparent – can be established by various methods. It occurs as the result of the establishment of a body  movement more appropriate to body structures (not to be confused with calisthenics).”

Thus, the appropriate field of inquiry for the practitioner is movement, specifically, appropriate movement. Why undertake Postural Integration then? Because Postural Integration is superior to lengthy movement therapies because it includes physical manipulation of tissue, which helps achieve quicker results in terms of new patterning: “A quicker and simpler method starts with manual manipulation which removes the interfering restrictions, followed by a more positive training in body movement.”

Permanent change of patterns, however, comes about only if movement education is adequate. In a sense, physical manipulation creates only the potential for integrated function; only movement education can transform that potential to a lifelong pattern: “It is to be noted that these changes made possible by manipulation, are made permanent only by the pattern of formulated, not random, body movement, which often occur spontaneously, as the restrictions to movement are released.”

Further proof of the importance of movement can be found in her discussion of the time interval necessary for the ten- hour processing of an individual. Initially she claims that the series can be spaced out over any length of time. “Fortunately, this ten-hour sequence may be spaced in any convenient fashion – completed in two weeks or two years.” However, she quickly adds that prolonging a series over a two-year period would probably not deliver satisfactory results because humans are “unable to remember the level from which they have emerged, for anything but a short period of time.” In other words, without correct movement, the gains realized by the client from each session may be lost without movement awareness. As a practitioner and a reader, I can only conclude that Rolfing SI might be a misnomer that should be abandoned in favor of Rolfing Structural and Movement Integration.

Rolf then takes aim at the question of how her system differs from the older systems of chiropractic and osteopathy. She asserts two differences. First, the older techniques rely on local corrections whereas practitioners of Postural Integration approach problems by viewing the whole body. Thus spinal problems, for example, are approached by “adequate stacking in space of the gross weight units of the body, the head, thorax, pelvis, legs rather than by placing of individual vertebrae.” Second, the results of Postural Integration are permanent and that the change is so fundamental that “reversion to the old level does not occur.”

Rolf concludes that the method of Postural Integration can be summed up in one sentence: “to get the muscle group nearer to where it belongs.” This advice of course later evolved into the familiar Rolfing refrain of “Put it where it belongs and ask for movement.” She ends the essay once again affirming that learning Postural Integration cannot be done verbally in ‘how-to-do-it’ style: “This technique is essentially non-verbal and requires experiencing.”

From the ‘Gentry Notes’ published in the last (March 2019) issue of the  Journal,  one could see that many aspects of the ten-session  series  were  still  in  a  state of evolution in the early to mid 1950s, particularly a seventh session that did not yet address the head segment. This essay demonstrates, however, that  the  ideas and concepts fundamental to Rolfing SI were already well formed in 1954. I am still struck by Rolf’s comparison of Postural Integration with movement therapies, which reaffirms my belief that Rolfing SI should be considered as a movement therapy – just another consideration that makes our work distinct from other modalities.

Szaja Gottlieb is a Certified Advanced Rolfer living and working in San Luis Obispo, California. He is the Research/ Science Editor for this Journal. He believes in the transformational power of SI.

Deconstruting ‘Dynamic Process Integrity’[:]

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