Playdoyer for Acknowledgement of the Role of the C.N.S. in Our Work

Pages: 21-23
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – (Genérico)


At last year’s European annual meeting, Hans Flury gave a short lecture about differentiating between two working styles: the physical mode, which is using the mechanical plasticity of the connective tissue, and the informational mode where we communicate with the central nervous system.

This inspried me to do two simple tests to find out what percentage of my work is in the physical and how much in the informational mode. First I bought a big piece of fresh meat and tried to do some “Rolfing” with it. I could separate some fascial planes and loosen some adhesions, but it didn’t feel at all like “Rolfing ” to me. So what’s the difference to a living body? It could be only the missing dialog with the nervous system, or it could also be some chemical difference in the c.t. between an alive and a dead body. To figure that out I did the experiment with a physician who injected anaesthetics into parts of his body, and I ‘rolfed’ him there. I found out that this didn’t feel like “Rolfing” either and that it was very hard to get any clear tissue changes; and I couldn’t imagine to be able to enjoy working in this mode year after year…. So I’m pretty clear now that in my practice the informational mode makes for at least fifty percent of my practical work. And I guess that this would probably be true for a lot of my colleagues too.

The thing that strikes me now is that the theoretical models that Ida left us focus almost all on the physical mode. And we are very poor in theoretical models for the informational mode. (There are exceptions like Michael Salveson’s models for A.N.S. and stress). We even tend to ignore that there are already models available (like in Feldenkrais work) about the communication with the C.N.S. that could help (us) to understand a lot of what we do in our practical work.

One example: For now decades Rolfers tried to explain how it comes that in an integrated body the lumbar spine lengthens when the knee moves forward in walking. Some of us are able to believe that the psoas can actively lengthen and ‘push’ the lumbars back. Anatomically this is pretty ridiculous! (And it also could never explain to me how the psoas then still swings the leg forward during its action). Looked at neurologically, it’s pretty easy: Ida told us, “When flexors flex, extensors extned”, which is part of Sherrington’s first law. More specifically, it is that if we contract one flexor muscle not all extensors of the body extend, but only those that are connected with the nervous innervation of this flexor muscle about the same level of the spinal cord. So if I use the rect. fem. to walk from it has no close nervous connection to the lumbar erectors, and the tonus of the lumbar erectors won’t change much when the rect. fem. contracts (actually the rect. fem. will tend to tilt the pelvis anterior). But the psoas is very closely connected with the innervation of the lumbar erectors at the spinal cord. So if I swing the knee forward by psoas action (=contraction) this invites also the lumbar erector muscles to lengthen! And as most dancers and movement teachers know, a graceful movement begins with extension of the antagonists shortly before the agonist starts contracting, and then during the movement the tonus decrease in the antagonists exactly parallels the tonus increase of the agonist muscle.
So if our clients stand up after a fifth session and their pelvises swing nicely forward and back during walking, it’s because we educated their C.N.S. by our work!

Another example: What gives the lift of our clients that they gain during Rolfing? One thing is obvious, that a straighter spine and high arches make the body look longer than a curved spine and flat feet. But we were also looking “which muscles” could lift the body up from the inside. We were very fond of our tensegrity mast model and some of us were believing that the rot. brev. muscles would go at least at some dorsal vertebrae in a direction where they could lift the body up. Then Wolf Wagner came and told us that the rot. breves arise at the bases of the spinous processes and therefore the tensegrity mast has no muscular basis in the body. He then proposed his hydrostatic model and suggested that we could squeeze ourselves up like a toothpast (tube) by contracting the transv. abdom. and other transverse oriented muscles.

But why does this beautiful lift have to be a muscular contraction? Wouldn’t it be more natural to think that this lift could be an effect of letting go of unnecessary contractions in our muscular costume? Again, muscles lengthening because of a better organized motorcortex. This would also explain why we sometimes see people gaining considerable lift from other sessions or experiences than Rolfing.

There are more areas where an understanding of the C.N.S. could stimulate our models and our work. (e.g. the importance of lower arm and hand work for the whole body, because of the unproportional large representation of our hands in the motor cortex).

But we should mainly start developing process-oriented models how to work with an alive nervous system. (e.g. I suggest that it’s not very effective to use only a few body positions – supine, prone, sides during most of our session time; the learning of the C.N.S. and its transfer seems to get stimulated much more effectively if we apply the new principles in at least a dozen of different contexts.)

So, in other words, we should start to have our theoretical models parallel the level and the sophistication of our practical work. At the moment our theoretical models are coming mostly from the realm of static and dead “things”: blocks, cylinders, tensegrity masts, spiral, … But the body is not just a dead thing like a house or bridge. It’s an alive process! So I suggest we should orient our theoretical background and our “Rolfing language” more than we did up to now on process oriented models, like gardening, teaching, biology, kybernetics, N.L.P., etc.

For example: There is a lot in the Feldenkraise method what we can learn about influencing the relation of muscle action the motor cortex. But besides the muscles that we affect we also know that the fascia has special nervous innervation too. And we don’t know much about their representation and organization in the brain and spinal cord (at least I don’t). I suspect that these nerves are organized similarly but also a bit differently than the proper sensomotoric nervous syst. E.G. according to Weber-Fechner’s law to communicate with the sensomot. nervous system, it’s most effective to work with the lightest possible touch (just like most Alexander and Feldenkrais practitioners do). But there seems to be a new layer of effectiveness involved by working “deeper” with some fascial structures. Maybe there are different rules about communicating with those nerve endings in the fascia.Playdoyer for Acknowledgement of the Role of the C.N.S. in Our Work

To have full access to the content of this article you need to be registered on the site. Sign up or Register. 

Log In