By Monica Caspari, Rolfing® and Rolf Movement® Instructor and Tomas Makiyama, Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner
ABSTRACT Monica Caspari interviews Tomas Makiyama, a blind Rolfer in São Paulo, Brazil, about Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) training, body readings, and his insights into creativity and adaptability, among other topics.
Introduction by Monica Caspari
Tomas Makiyama, of São Paulo, Brazil, is likely the world’s only structural integration practitioner who is blind. Due to this circumstance, he has developed his own way of learning, as well as his own practice techniques.
Tomas was born in Brazil to Japanese immigrants. His blindness is from congenital glaucoma, for which he has had twenty-three surgeries over his lifetime toward preserving what little vision he has had. When Tomas became a Rolfer in 2005, he was already a physical therapist. At the time he began his university studies, he still managed to read under strong light; however, soon he needed his textbooks to be read aloud and transcribed to CDs. It was then that he went to Japan to participate in a special government-sponsored program for the blind to learn professions that would afford them independence, and Tomas studied massage therapy and acupuncture. Some time later, Tomas decided to become a Rolfer, and during his training, in both learning and practice, he used touch as a substitute for vision.
At first, Tomas was told that he could not become a Rolfer because he could not do a body reading; and I, his teacher, was told the same — that it was not possible to train a person with such grave visual deficits. But Tomas persevered, using his tactile sense to read the bodies of the class clients — and I myself learned a great deal from Tomas. The entire class was entertained when, during his delicate tactile body reading, Tomas would bring his index finger to his lips and exclaim, “But, Teacher, . . . ”; and I would see that he had located some disorganization or deficiency in the client’s tissues. In fact, Tomas has become a highly successful Rolfer: having completed his advanced training in 2014, he now sees forty clients per week.
Monica Caspari: I have heard you speak of the relationship between adaptability and creativity. What is the difference between them?
Tomas Makiyama: I believe that while we all have adaptive capacity, the same is not true of creativity. Humans, as I see it, are adaptable beings that adjust to their environments. Were that not so, we would not be able to live in very hot or very cold climates. The desert Bedouin cloaks his entire body to prevent loss of humidity and protect himself against the ambient heat. But this kind of adaptation can be accompanied by creativity: the person who builds an igloo not only adapts to the cold, but also creatively perceives that ice can be a thermal insulator. While we’re all adaptable, those of us who are also creative are more adaptable than the others. Adaptability and creativity, taken together, increase our chances of success, and even of survival.
MC: On your own life path, how have you experienced the combined power of adaptability and creativity?
TM: Interesting you ask this. I’ve had progressive loss of vision – which, by the way, is not yet over. It seems to me that my adaptive capacity is good, because I have not suffered in the transitions. Although I feel them, I don’t fight them, as many would; and when a person fights the change, it becomes harder to adapt to it. There was a time I did fight it: when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, my condition worsened and I had a huge loss of vision. But then I thought to myself, “Should I fight this change and become isolated because of it – or should I adapt to it and go on with life?”
When we accept what has happened or is happening and choose to adapt, we open the door to thinking creatively on how to adapt better – and we begin to find tools to do so. In the context of rehabilitation, the person is finding tools of adaptation: while the person’s condition will not be restored to what it used to be, ways can be found to live with even progressive difficulties – and in the process, to discover a new path.
MC: In your case, how did you seek your own tools?
TM: One must find one’s internal potential, in terms of abilities one already has, and abilities one must develop. This is the big question when a visually deficient person decides to become a massage therapist, a physical therapist, or even an X-ray technician.
There are blind lawyers, doctors, and psychiatrists, and one can consider whether one of those professions would be a good fit. But for anyone to say that someone else can’t do some particular thing or another is to erect an impediment. This should not happen, because nobody but the person himself really knows his own potential. I believed that I had the potential for far more than I had been doing, and my family supported my efforts to do more, to fly a little higher.
It makes a big difference to have a family willing to support exploration of various options and possibilities – a family that doesn’t say, “Poor thing . . . you can’t do it,” but instead asks, “What is it you’d like to do?” – and supports exploring potential that can be developed.
After I took the entrance exam for the University of São Paulo’s physical therapy program and passed, I became its first blind student. Some of the professors were fine with it, but others just didn’t know how to deal with my deficiency and see the situation as I saw it myself. To me, this attitude is contrary to the premises of physical therapy – a profession that finds ways around deficiencies. In any event, some professors never managed to deal with the presence of a blind student in the classroom. They could not see my potential and open the doors that would allow me to develop it.
After I graduated, I was invited to work with University of São Paulo Medical School professor Dr. Gregorio Santiago Montes, who headed the cellular biology laboratory. At that time, I came to realize that many professors had been unsupportive of my studies, but also that others had supported me and made it possible for me to graduate.
When I was working at the medical school, my supervisor gave me all the support I needed – including a secretary and technology that allowed me to perform my tasks. I developed a manual of medical research protocols, Scientific Research in Medicine, which was distributed to the entire faculty. It catalogued the different procedures at more than 300 laboratories, as well as the research sites and particular projects of each student. This was possible only because someone was able to look at my challenges from a different angle.
While I was pursuing my master’s degree, my faculty advisor, Dr. Linamara Rizzo Batistella, bet on my potential despite my limitations, and gave me all the support I needed to pursue my research. There was even a group that would complete questionnaires, and other things like that, which supported my capacities.
MC: How did you come to Rolfing SI?
TM: While I was in graduate school, a fellow student’s dissertation described her experience as a Rolfing class client. From her paper, I could see that Rolfing SI was both interesting and efficient. When I realized how much could be achieved in ten sessions, I understood that Rolfing SI was more powerful than everything else I was aware of at that time, including RPG (Global Postural Re-education, a protocol derived from the Mézières Method).
MC: In terms of body awareness, a soccer player can know nothing about the laws of physics, and still have superb biomechanical intelligence. In your situation – having visual deficiencies, but also other senses much sharper than the norm – how did you develop your own body awareness? And, how does your own process inform your work with clients?
TM: When we’re born, we’re not delivered with instruction manuals. For example, none of us has a predetermined way of walking and moving, and we have to learn. In my practice, I see many different ways of doing, because each of us makes our own as an expression of how we go through life. Like anyone else, I started out with little body awareness – and I didn’t gain much more through my training as a physical therapist.
In fact, the question of body awareness did not even present itself to me until I began my own Rolfing process. Intellectually, something had told me that Rolfing SI was a method I wanted to learn; but when I actually experienced it, I felt the improvement. Through that felt recognition of change, I accessed the body awareness that had only been latent without stimulation.
For me, the best way to communicate is through direct experience: When I’m treating clients and touch them, I have to adjust the position of my own body so that I can entrain myself with the other person. The change in the client happens through the contact between the entrained systems of client and practitioner – and this method is highly effective.
We have all the capacity for body awareness, but we rarely use it. If we stop to think about it, physical education is minimal. Though there could be a curriculum for development of body consciousness and perception, instead we are given a ball and told to go play games. Our physical activities are not conducive to body awareness; they’re just diversions – and we move how we think we’re supposed to. Nobody gains body awareness or perception through movements like these.
It wasn’t until I started my Rolfing sessions that I began to perceive the possibility of a balanced body, a body that could adjust, where the tissue was alive and formed an integrated whole.
MC: Didn’t your experience in Japan provide a foundation for this?
TM: It provided something – but maybe I was too immature. In Japan, the teaching is quite technical, and emphasizes correct forms and styles through endless repetition. We don’t stop to say, “This is what is happening in your body”, or to explore what it is we perceive. There’s no real context for the technical demonstrations – and I feel that to really take ownership of what we learn, context is necessary.
This is why I say that I began to develop body awareness only with Rolfing SI: it is because of the context provided by the ‘Recipe’. Take respiration, for example: it is a theme of the Recipe, which helps us to put the parts of the body into the context of the integrated whole.
And with this context, one can say, “Wow, yes – the feet do support breathing, and affect how the thorax is positioned and how the ribs work!” When we put what we sense in a context, it expands our ability to perceive the body. Trainings for other modalities are more concerned with technique, with exactly how something must be done, and the subtleties of how to move one’s hands just so, etc. Anyway – without Rolfing SI, I probably would have herniated a few discs by now.
MC: Was your first experience with SI through the recipe, or through non- formulistic work.
TM: Through the Recipe.
MC: And how was that for you?
TM: I got my first sessions from a Guild [for Structural Integration] practitioner. I remember how light the touch was, and thinking at the time that it wouldn’t do anything. But after the first session – despite the lightness of the touch, which at times was barely perceptible to me – so much became clear to me. I felt my body to be much more balanced, and when I went up the stairs, I sensed a certain verticality and much fuller breathing. I asked myself, “How can this be?” I began to sense from the inside everything I had studied about the body, which made things much clearer.
MC: What are your thoughts about Hubert Godard’s work on sensing and perception
– on how we hear, touch, and see?
TM: The concept of perception is important in many contexts, such as philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive sciences, in respect to this: the cerebral function attributes meaning to current sensory stimulus according to the person’s memory of past sensory experiences. Godard’s approach brings a new direction to Rolfing SI, helping us to begin to appreciate the role of reinterpretation of experience for relearning motor patterns. Working with this perspective helps integrate changes in movement patterns into the body.
But to apply Godard’s insights about perception is very specific to the circumstances of each client – especially in regard to whether the client wants to change, or is receptive to the possibility of a particular change. And with many clients, showing them the changes is a challenge.
For me, the best way to communicate is through direct experience: When I’m treating clients and touch them, I have to adjust the position of my own body so that I can entrain myself with the other person. The change in the client happens through the contact between the entrained systems of client and practitioner – and this method is highly effective. Working with the senses as we change the spatial arrangement of the body through touch allows the person to integrate more easily and makes the session more efficient. And of course, working through the fascial system, when we touch a part, such as a lower leg, we can feel the entire body, which makes the work much stronger.
Walking with the client, we can feel the vectors of movement and see how the movement has changed. The thing is to transmit this information to the client so that the client can perceive the change. For some clients, this is very difficult. Those who do lots of physical activity can perceive more easily, and dancers, runners, and other athletes tend to perceive their bodies quite well.
Of course, runners don’t really know exactly how they run. But, when we work with them and their structures begin to change, they notice the differences when they compare the current state to how things were before. With a basis for comparison, it is easier to perceive change. The person recognizes a change in breathing by perceiving a difference. How the foot meets the ground, how the leg is aligned – perception is the effect of comparison.
MC: When you’re walking with a client, how do you touch the client? Front and back – or how?
TM: For a structural body reading, I begin by touching the person from head to foot so that I can perceive the body’s dimensions and distortions, and also notice the distribution of tonus in the fascia and levels of tension in the muscles. From there, I begin to develop my strategy, whether the work be according to the Recipe or non- formulistic. Next, I do my movement body reading. I walk with the person, one hand on the person’s back, at about L2 or L3. If necessary, I investigate the entire
Some clients are so dominated by their intellects that they can’t feel physical changes. Others don’t want to change – or maybe the change requires too much energy. But somehow they know they can be better, and they keep coming and eventually do feel better – even though they do not necessarily perceive how or what is better.
MC: What would you like Rolfing Instructors to learn from your experience?
TM: Of course, teaching Rolfing SI to a blind person is entirely possible – otherwise, I would never have been taught. But instructors should be more open to that possibility and provide tools for developing one’s own means of perception and experimenting with the body. Observation of students’ experiments can inspire change in how Rolfing SI is taught.
Let’s consider, for example, how body reading is usually taught. For me, the body is a verticality that deforms in space, and I ask how I can help the body to relate better to gravity. The body must be balanced in three dimensions. In this respect, my perception is different from the perceptions of those who look at the body as a front-to-back and side- to-side structure, and within those two dimensions miss the body’s true three- dimensional nature.
Seeing the body in only two dimensions prevents us from seeing what exists at levels beneath the surface. I look for how the body, in a static state, deforms in space, and how to bring it into better alignment with gravity. I also want to assess deformation during movement, which is different. When we see how the person is moving to the back, to the front, or to one side, what we see is a flat movement – even though movement actually happens in three dimensions. Which vectors does the person’s movement engage? This is what I perceive as I walk with someone.
And the clients are intrigued, asking how it is that I know they step with their weight rolled forward on their feet – or that their feet are asymmetrical. It is because of the pattern of the force of their movements. This vector, that path of transmission of force, this change in the position of the tissue, too much bone for the space in the fascia – with things like these, one can make a very precise body reading.
I also ask whether there is contralateral movement not just in the superficial fascia, but also in the bones. When we sense the superficial fascia, we also sense reverberations from deeper layers because it is all one tissue. Teaching with questions like these, and encouraging students to learn and practice in this way, could make a big change in the conceptualization and understanding of Rolfing SI.
We often spend hours manipulating tissue in order to loosen it, or to disengage one thing from another; and working in the way I’m describing makes our efforts more objective. It is easier to perceive through touch a shortened psoas or the presence of a palpable visceral restriction than it is to visually observe the outside of the body and infer what is happening inside.
When we touch, we sense what is happening in the tissue; that is, touch is another diagnostic method to be deployed alongside the visual reading, whether of the static state or of the body in motion. But this only works when we can touch in three dimensions – and many of us touch only in two dimensions.
spine, and sometimes perceive that more movement happens, say, around T2 – but that nothing moves above. Or, I might perceive the absence of contralaterality at the axial level (though it is present in the limbs) – or even that the spine is still altogether. It’s just that, more or less.
Having designed the strategy at the start of the session, I feel how tonus is distributed in the fascia when the client is lying down, and keep working according to my hypothesis from the evaluation. As I work, I continually perceive how the fascia responds – in terms of both direction and depth – always looking to see how the movement propagates through the body as a whole. At the end, I have the client stand up, and I re- evaluate the body both in static standing and in motion.
MC: Do you have any advice for your colleagues – whether new or experienced?
TM: I think Rolfers need to lose their sense of self-importance and learn to be more open to new situations. If we don’t have the humility to want to reinvestigate in a new way something we believe we know already, we won’t be able to improve. For example, someone can learn a particular maneuver – but what it is that one knows is only what was learned at a particular moment. To learn the maneuver again, preferably with other students, is to learn it in a new way until one develops one’s own way. There is no single right way of body reading, and neither is there any single right way to perform a maneuver. There is the way you do it now – and a way to do it that is more efficient. And – learning with others is always best.
I have a friend – a gravure artist – who keeps repeating courses she has already taken. She says that each time she learns
something new, something she missed before. There always is something more to be had, something she didn’t get before. Because Rolfing SI is an art, we can’t learn everything the first time around; and as we each find our own way, we should study what others have done and continually learn from their techniques.
There is no such thing as “The Technique”: there is the Tomas technique, and the Monica technique, each person developing their own, combining what they have learned from others and what they themselves have developed, making their own synthesis, creating their own identity, their own way of being a Rolfer. Some believe that Rolfing SI is too limited, and go off to learn other modalities, such as osteopathy or chiropractic. But a practitioner doesn’t need to collect a certificate for every type of body therapy in the world. What we need to do is to grow professionally as best we can by developing our own techniques within the system of Rolfing SI. To put it another way, there is no single formula, but only the formula that each of us creates for himself.
Isn’t that all it is? The time comes when we have absorbed and processed everything, and we decide that one solution works better than another. Each of us will find many ways – and even our own ways – to do the work.
Monica Caspari, of São Paulo, Brazil, taught and practiced Rolfing SI and Rolf Movement work worldwide for thirty years. She was a prolific contributor to this publication; unfortunately, this piece is her last. See “Remembering Monica Caspari” on page 74.
Tomas Makiyama, of São Paulo, Brazil, is likely the world’s only SI practitioner who is blind. Due to this circumstance, he has developed his own way of learning, as well as his own practice techniques. He was already a physical therapist when he became a Rolfer in 2005. He completed his advanced Rolfing training in 2014.
Observations of a Blind Rolfer™[:]