ABSTRACT In this interview, Ina Bretschneider-Baker discusses her experience with the Grunwald Eyebody Method and the positive impact it had on her eyes and life. Grunwald eye types are considered and how this information aligns with Bretschneider-Baker’s Rolfing® Structural Integration practice.
Naomi Wynter-Vincent: The Grunwald Eyebody method makes use of these remarkable pinhole glasses (see Figure 1). You mentioned to me previously that you first tried the glasses in 2015 on the recommendation of your Rolfer. Had you heard about Eyebody before? Did you have a particular concern or interest around your eyesight?
Ina Bretschneider-Baker: I first tried the glasses between Phase II and III of my Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) training. My Rolfer, Erika Gornott gave them to me to try and the impact was immediate: my system calmed down – from irritation and overload to peace and rest in the fraction of a second. I had never heard of Eyebody before – and had no particular interest in my eyes. At the time I was using varifocals on a permanent basis – for reading, computer work, and distance – and I saw them as part and parcel of the ageing process. After the Eyebody workshops, I now use weaker two-field varifocals. My glasses are in permanent movement. I take them off as soon as I am not reading or working at the PC, they are constantly
moving between the top of my nose, the top of my head, or dangling down from a string around my neck. I am not a true Eyebody follower in the sense of aiming to live entirely without glasses: I continue to find them a handy tool.
NWV: Can you tell me something about the (social, cultural, psychological) ‘history’ of your eyesight? For example, I became a glasses-wearer at around age nine because (in the classic way) a teacher noticed that I could not read everything on the blackboard (I am mildly short-sighted). But my mum was dead set against them, chiefly for aesthetic reasons, and she strenuously believed that wearing glasses was the result of people ‘reading too many books’, something she disapproved of. For her, glasses-wearing was a sign of intellectualism in direct conflict with female attractiveness, although she later reconciled herself to her spectacles- wearing daughter through the cliché of the ‘sexy after-hours librarian’. I’ve made wearing glasses something of a personal trademark, but from a Rolfing SI and Eyebody point of view, I realize that glasses limit my potential ‘eye-intelligence’.
IBB: As a child, my three elder siblings ended up wearing glasses, and I would have loved to have them too. There was a process connected to them: finding out what was wrong made you at the center of attention for a while. Glasses (and the children wearing them) had to be looked after: there were regular eye tests, and money – which was always lacking – was spent on them. Later in the 1960s there were more fashionable models of eyewear, and of course glasses stood for reading and studying; in short: being intelligent!
I did have reading glasses for a short time in my mid-twenties, when I was studying for the Japanese Language Diploma at Bonn University in 1980-1981. The Japanese texts, particularly the dictionaries, were in very small print and photocopies were still of rather poor quality. The need for them at the time felt like proof of ‘proper’ studying, and I got frames that looked very much like the glasses my father had been wearing in
my early childhood years in the 1950s. As a certified Japanese translator, I returned to Berlin in Autumn 1981, working for a Japanese trading house in East Berlin, commuting to work during the time of the Berlin Wall several times a week, until I graduated with an MA in Japanese studies, sociology, and politics at Free University Berlin in 1988. Ironically, I rarely read
Japanese texts during that time, and the need for the reading glasses disappeared, for approximately two decades.
NWV: How do you respond to the extremely detailed anatomical differentiation that Grunwald claims is possible (e.g., that it is possible to discern tension in the ‘sheath of the optical nerve’). I have read ‘debunkings’ of his theory that say that this is not technically possible. What do you think?
IBB: I do not know how you work with anatomy books, images of fascia, etc. For me, they are attempts to create a common ground for understanding while every individual using the material will re-imagine and interpret the material in their own specific In my understanding, Peter Grunwald uses eye anatomy as a common gateway by which to introduce his own personal research which is a study not really of anatomy but of the human potential to explore one’s own body and senses. Peter takes his students on a wonderful imaginative Does it finally matter whether what you sense during this journey of travelling through your visual system is really in [perfect] correspondence with what the anatomy books and medical studies tell us?
In many ways I find the Eyebody approach similar to Rolfing SI: a process of exploring the wonders of a body and creating space for pulsation, for breath, for life. We work at our best when we ‘lift off’ from the anatomy books and allow our senses to sense and our imagination to guide us. Personally, I have long regarded myself as not being creative, unable to operate in the imaginary spheres: lack of fantasy, lack of imagination, lack of sensitivity and sensibility – good at coping, surviving, sorting things through and/or out, getting done what must be done. Rather more of a laborer than an intellectually or artistically talented person.
The guided meditations of Peter Grunwald made an incredible change for me here. I was willing to follow his guidance, without resistance, and to my amazement I could sense different parts of the eye: I had the sensation of fluid coming into the eye, and moving; I was able to actively change the position of my vitreous humour by using my imagination, and enjoy the difference
When I applied for the Rolfing SI training, the admission paper asked us to breathe in and out, then describe the anatomical structures that I could sense being actively involved in this process of breathing for me. I struggled with this question. Later on, I read another applicant’s answer to the same question (we exchanged our application papers after the deadline had passed) and was amazed by the very fine and detailed description she gave. So many things she could sense and describe! Seven years later, my awareness is different, and my description could be similarly rich and detailed – something that was beyond my imagination at the time. Likewise, when you turn your interest and awareness to the visual system, explore your eyes and eyesight in detail with your senses, exploring in action as much as in meditation, it is my personal experience that a high level of differentiation is possible through the imagination. Whether it is really the sheath of the optical nerve you are exploring, or your imagination thereof, is, to me, irrelevant, as long as by experience of this exploration you can sense flow, a difference in tension, in orientation, in being. A strangely wonderful journey, indeed.
NWV: I am intrigued by the connections Grunwald draws between different visual
patterns and personality types. In the history of Rolfing SI we have sometimes sailed close to these kinds of ideas but stop short of ascribing personality types to posture. How do you respond to this aspect of Grunwald’s thinking, in terms of what you learned, both about yourself, and in your work with clients?
IBB: Peter Grunwald differentiates between the ‘over-extended’ and the ‘contracted’ type of eye, each showing specific differences, anatomically, energetically, etc. There are different possible combinations of these eye types: double over-extended, double contracted, mixed type right over-extended, and mixed type left over- extended. If one wishes to explore the possible relation between different visual patterns and personal behavior and being, it is easiest to begin with the ‘pure’ types: the double over-extended and the double- contracted.
After participating in four of his workshops, I can confirm that there are clear differences which become obvious as soon as Peter Grunwald forms student groups by different eye types. I don’t presume to be an expert on his typology as I have not pursued this theme, this filter of interpretation, in any active way. I acknowledge it as one possible way of looking at people, similar perhaps to applying the specific filter of Libra and Virgo aspects to a person . . . I am wary of belief systems and have never applied these types of filters exclusively to my world experience. Though this is perhaps fully in line with me being a mixed type! Allow me to give you a very simple (and simplifying) example of the difference that might occur in social interaction from type to type. When meeting another person, a double over-extended person will feel most comfortable with a clearly defined distance – much more than an arm’s length; a double contracted person will feel most comfortable with the opposite – the closer, the better; for the mixed eye type persons there is first of all: confusion! The over-extended side likes to keep a safe distance; the contracted side looks for cuddly closeness – and there will be further differences depending on which eye is which type, right-over or left-over.
I have found this differentiation in eye types helpful, not so much for understanding others and assigning them to a specific group with defined characteristics, but as a way of coming to terms with and understanding myself better. Thanks to the Eyebody method, I have understood by personal experience that I belong to the mixed types group with a right over-extended and left contracted eye type. This difference between my eyes has [had] an impact in my daily life and been the cause of sudden irritation and confusion. Having learned to read the signs of my system and knowing better how to address them, I am much less given to these patterns. With some clients I can sense their visual preferences – and can approach them when working at the table on their contracted, ‘safer’ side first.
During the workshops, wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses is not allowed. Only the pinhole glasses, made to Peter Grunwald’s specific design, are permitted. There is a richness of meditative explorations, lectures, exercise rituals, physical activities, and last, but not least, the practice of ‘interviews’, in pairs, during which the person being interviewed is blindfolded and led by the partner, hand in hand, contracted-eye side by contracted eye-side, through a room or a garden. These interviews have helped me to develop and trust my own imagination and ability to visualize. Prior to this, I was not able to use my imagination like this; I could think, but see nothing. That has profoundly changed with the practice of Eyebody interviews. My newly discovered (and maybe rediscovered) ability to use words to create a visualization is something I use with my Rolfing SI clients regularly, in particular when asking for their active participation and movement during a session.
All of the practicums in the Eyebody method enable exploration and understanding of the different eye type patterns, they help people to experience their impact on many levels – physical, mental, psychological – in daily life. While the advertised goal of the Eyebody method and the workshops is to enable participants to eventually live without visual aids, it does not stop there, just as the Ten Series does not aim narrowly at the release of specific aches and pains. The physical level is only one aspect, a starting point, but the real goal is transformation of the whole person. The different eye types, in my understanding, are not fixed entities, but rather snapshots within an overall fluid system. Workshop participants learn to adjust their over- extended or contracted eye(s) to a new, perhaps ideal, ‘neutral eye’ way of being and seeing while exploring and sensing their own bodies, particularly their visual system. They can experience that change is possible to the extent that one is willing to let go of old attachments and habitual [visual] patterns, allowing for presence in the here and now. Participants’ willingness to explore and allow new experiences may enable them to establish a new sense of vision: one that does not depend on grasping only at sharp, clear vision, but which allows for flow, sensing, intuition, time, visualization, and being in the here and now. And life might be very different if we could learn to see with these new kinds of vision.
In German, the Eyebody mantra is lebendige Aufmerksamkeit, which Peter Grunwald translates as ‘lively attentiveness’. But for me, as a native German speaker, the translation does not have the same connotation. Despite decades of switching easily between German and English, I hit a wall here: ‘lebendige Aufmerksamkeit’ touches me deeply in a way not matched by ‘lively attentiveness’. Peter grew up in Bonn with German as his first language and my first three Eyebody workshops were conducted in German. I specifically attended a workshop in English to see if it would make a difference and found all the other aspects of the workshop completely the same – except for the mantra. So, I have embraced not only being a ‘mixed’ (or mixed up!) type, but embraced being German, after all…
NWV: I am very interested in the spiritual or existential dimension of Grunwald’s work – in our email exchange you mentioned the idea that this work is, finally, a ‘preparation for dying’. Can you say a little bit more about this?
IBB: For me, Eyebody practice has Zen-like aspects, with rituals to enable the individual to arrive at inner balance, fluidity, and presence, and to allow them to let go of old patterns and attachments, embrace the unknown, be more sensing and present. But I do find it very difficult to give an answer to your question here. The more I try the more difficult it becomes. In my experience, Eyebody has helped me to move from survival mode into increased presence to real life. But how can I describe this?
Peter has a way of connecting eyes, brain, and body; he applies this in his lectures and his practice – and this creates results. He also has developed a very detailed system of connecting and relating specific parts of the visual system with essential or spiritual qualities. During his meditations, this aspect is more in focus, and I found it not too difficult to follow his guidance and experience change. But I am far from being able to reproduce this on my own; I have not studied this in enough depth and detail. As I can remember it, Peter describes a pathway of the visual system, from the auxiliary, though to the anterior and interior eye, all the way up to the upper visual cortex – and then out though the different energetic layers into the universe – and this, for him, anticipates the process of dying, based on the assumption that the spirit will leave the body via this pathway. And if one exercises this route often enough, the danger of going astray in the process of dying – and having to be reincarnated to solve the resulting confusion – is minimized. This, evidently, is a belief that I cannot finally argue for or against. However, the practice of Eyebody does result in a different quality of life, so maybe death will also be more clear, light, and easy.
I have had one spiritual experience during one of the workshops, and it is my most intense memory from the several Eyebody workshops I have done. We did a practicum that resulted in me ‘communicating’ with a flower, or, put another way, I had a powerful sense of experiencing contact between the iris (of my eye) and an iris (the flower), multidimensionally, heart to heart. I was recently reminded of the distinction when reading David Abram’s excellent book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (2010). He describes the way that our habituation to looking at the natural world on a screen (TV or laptop) means that, for much of the time, we experience the world in two dimensions rather than three:
As we spend more and more of our lives gazing at screens, tuning our senses to the fabricated distances that we see there, the instinctive participation of our eyes in the near and far of the world is suspended for longer and longer periods . . . If you are watching a nature-based program on television – observing a female lion, perhaps, as she lolls with her cubs under the shade of an acacia tree – and you happen to stand up and walk across the room, notice: your movement does not alter anything on the screen. The depth of the room, of course, shifts around you as you move – the bookcase looms up in front of you and then recedes as you step past it . . . yet the spatial positions of those cubs do not shift in relation to one another, or to the acacia tree behind them. For you and those lions do not inhabit the same space. There is no depth between you and those creatures, since you stare at them from a position entirely outside of their world (Abram 2010, 90-91).
The experience with the flower was an epiphany that quite blew my mind; a level of communication and connectedness – with an iris blossom and thus the world – previously unknown to me; a breathtaking and absolutely beautiful communication. It’s a memory I treasure but I have not invested more of my time to explore these kinds of experiences. I see myself as a witness, rather than as a follower or ‘believer’ of the Eyebody method, and limit myself chiefly to the practical applications of Peter’s work for daily life. I leave the possible transcendental aspects to others – perhaps there is too much resistance on my side!
NWV: What has the overall impact of learning about and experiencing the Eyebody philosophy and techniques been for you – personally and in your practice? Do you see a gap in the Rolfing SI training as it currently stands? Should we, as Rolfers, have something more to say or do around these questions of eye use and eye coordination?
IBB: For me, the impact of experiencing the Eyebody approach has been very personal: the changes that occurred when first putting on the pinhole glasses; how confusion fades and I can settle peacefully in my body when I wear them; how my touch changes; how I find my senses rather than getting stuck in my brain or trains of thought; learning to trust myself, the earth, the universe . . .
Finding out about my eye ‘types’ explained a lot for me – and going through the Rolfing SI training in parallel to the Eyebody experience was, for me, a good combination: a process of personal growth, falling apart, differentiating and [re-]integrating on a different level. The fundamental difference for me between the two aspects of my training is that I can share the richness of the Rolfing SI experience with my clients in sessions, but cannot share the Eyebody experience as such with clients. Peter Grunwald presents his stories and conclusions from his own lifelong search, but he seems less focused on sharing the processes of his work in order to create autonomous practitioners in the way that Rolfing SI does. Frankly, I do love the teamwork of Rolfing SI over Eyebody’s somewhat lonely embrace of light.
As for our training, I have little to complain about. Of course, we can always address in more detail certain structures here and there. It is our task, as Rolfers, to pursue the wide array of subjects that are touched on in our training in more detail. The training is already very rich and my view is that we should not overburden the Basic Training with more content. Nevertheless, I would welcome greater focus on the history and philosophy of Rolfing SI in the Basic Training and its context within the human potential movement: new and younger students may have little knowledge of this.
Ina Bretschneider-Baker experienced her first Rolfing SI sessions with Erika Gornott in April 2012. A full-time office manager, supporting two children and two elders, she enrolled in the European Rolfing Association’s® modular training, graduating in 2016, shortly before her sixty-first birthday. In December 2019 she also completed the European Rolf Movement training. Officially becoming an old-age pensioner in August 2021, Ina is very much looking forward to dedicating herself fully to her Rolfing SI practice in Erkrath, Germany.
Naomi Wynter-Vincent certified as a Rolfer in London in 2014, and as an Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner in Munich in 2017 and 2019, respectively. She holds degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Sussex, and University College London, including a PhD in psychoanalytic theory and literature. Her website is at londonrolfing.com. Wynter-Vincent is also the Europe Editor of this Journal.
Abram, D. 2010. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York, NY: Vintage.