A while back I wrote an article for Rolf Lines about the organization of connective tissue in stripes which run between the acupuncture meridians. I was inspired by Robert Schleip’s article about having clients move while we Rolf. I had many successes with it. The idea popped. into my mind of how to combine movement with acupuncture stripes. The results are the best I have had with any connective tissue release technique I have tried in the last five years. For new Rolfers and those who did not read it, let me repeat the idea of acupuncture stripes and then move into a way to combine movements with the theory.
PEELING THE SOMEWHAT TWISTEDGARLIC. Dr. Rolf spoke about “peeling the onion”. In terms of getting results in myofascial release for organizing connective tissue, peeling the onion sure beats mashing potatoes. My shoulder girdle is eternally grateful when I remember her insight.
As far as it goes, the metaphor works beautifully in theory and practice; but all analogies have their limits. The limit of this particular model is that I find connective tissue is not organized like an onion, but like garlic. By this I mean, instead of one onion inside another inside another, I observe we are really talking about cloves of garlic juxtaposed to each other. All of the cloves are nicely wrapped in an outer cover of skin, just like a garlic bulb. Therefore, I now “peel the garlic”.
As I speculate on the reason for this in terms of rationality of evolution often moving to an understandable level of organization, I come up with the following: if we take the muscles, they lie in compartments. Our more traditional ideas of connective tissue is based on a muscle-group model in its own wrapping of connective tissue. If we look at the thigh, we might think we have one “overall,” balloon with four balloons inside it. Within the skin, we have four compartments: the quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors, and adductors. Any movement of the leg in one direction will involve a shortening of the muscles in one (or two) compartments. (Note: parentheses in the previous sentence are for cases of diagonal movement where two muscles combine in shortening to produce movement, e.g. a movement which combines extension and abduction.)
Yet we know connective tissue is organized in terms of fascial planes. I saw the pictures from dissections and am convinced connective tissue planes are a rich symphony of sweeping movements within segments and across segmental barriers. I was convinced. But I must admit I have never had a map of the planes of fascia I can use in my day-to-day Rolfing…until I felt it in living bodies on my Rolfing table. The map is the acupuncture “stripes”. A “stripe” is what happens between two acupuncture lines.
The twisted garlic clove puts the two models together, combining the models based on (1) compartments, and (2) planes of fascia. The geographical borders of the individual cloves are the acupuncture meridians.
Louis Schultz indicated in our Auditing and Practitioner anatomy classes that the connective tissue of tensor fascia lata moves across the knee to encase the peronial muscles. His model sounds very simple and is useful, but when we apply the idea to what we feel under our fingers, we find the shape of the tension around the peronials on the surface of the skin is not exactly over the peronial compartment.
From that mode, I somehow expected if I worked from the surface to deep over the margins of the peronials, I would feel my fingers entering a tunnel from surface to deep. I didn’t find the tunnels very often, but if I pushed hard-and I did for many years (mashing potatoes)-l could feel the edges of the peronial muscle. And I could tickle it and get good connective tissue release.
What I find now is the tunnel from surface-to-deep is there! But somehow, there is a distortion of direction from the 90-degree angle from surface-to-deep. So, the point of entry is not just over the edges of the compartment, but often a little off to one side or another. If I start on the surface of the skin along the acupuncture meridians, my fingers can find the tunnels. But I have to push in at angles other than the 90 degrees. If I am sensitive, I can slide right in between the surfaces of the deeper compartments.
Why would there be this distortion from 90 degrees? Why not straight down from surface-to-deep? My answer is we have gone from a four-legged design, not only in terms of muscle and bone, but also in terms of fascial organization. As we get up on two legs, we are going to pull the connective tissue bag out of shape- -if shape is defined in terms of the organization of connective tissue in a four-legged animal.
There is another reason for us to be pulled out of our four-legged connective tissue organizational shape. Just look at our gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the compartment behind the tibia. You will never find that Arnold Schwartzenneger kind of development behind the tibia in a four-legged animal. And when we look at the anterior compartment of the lower leg, most humans look like 88pound weaklings, compared with our four-legged friends.
Just that change in the size of the two compartments is going to pull the surface of the connective tissue bag even further out of our “four-legged” shape. The changes in relative sizes of muscles and compartments will cause even further distortion from the 90-degree angle.
As for the arms, when we stood up on two legs, we stopped using them for locomotion and support.
When I carefully examine the texture of the surface of the skin and underlying connective tissue of a body I am Rolfing, I can feel the borders of tension in areas defined in their outer limits by the acupuncture lines.
To be objective, I wanted to measure what I felt. I have for my own purposes measured the levels of tension in an acupuncture stripe using biofeedback in the form of an electromyograph (EMG). But to my dismay, I found the EMG is misnamed: it should be called the electro-MYOFASCIAL-graph. I set up my EMG and started working down the lower leg. I measured an increase in electrical activity over the anterior tibialis. “Sign of a tight muscle.” When I stayed within the acupuncture stripes, somewhat over the muscle, I got a high read-out. But when I moved down the leg, I was getting much the same reading, even when I moved into the ankle area where there are no muscles. Just what was I measuring? I decided it could not be the electrical noise in the muscle, but was, in fact, the electrical noise within the fascia!
Just to the left and to the right of the stripes, there was a fall in tension all the way down compared with the higher tension within the acupuncture stripes. The tension in the connective tissue did not spread out radically from a stuck point.
SEGMENTING THE TWISTED GARLIC. During a Six-Day Workshop, Jan Sultan taught his concept of lines of fascial tension occurring in patterns which are predictable depending on recognizable body types. His lines are often broken and do not sweep from foot to head.
What happens in acupuncture stripes in the length of the legs and arms is rather easy to follow, unless there has been some kind of trauma. Often the strip of tension in the lower leg will follow through the knee, up into the thigh. I also find the patterns of tension in the abdomen and chest are predictable, running continuously, north to south.
But things get a little crazy in terms of following the stripes up the back. If you look at the acupuncture stripes, the tension do not usually follow the stripes moving up the back. Why not-if you have a scoliosis, you will have all kinds of imbalances, left to right side.
What you get are broken stripes. The lateral and medial borders are there, all right, but you will see the upper and lower limits are defined by another connective tissue organization. Louis Schultz found in his dissection, what I remember him calling the fascial shelves and what John Up ledger calls the diaphragms. And the Indian yogis call, the chakras. For example, there is a fascial shelf for the pelvic diaphragm (root chakra); the thoracic inlet (throat chakra); the thoracic hinge (heart chakra). For me, there is one for the xygoid process, following the lower borders of the pectoral muscles, on its way around to the back (solar plexus chakra). In the abdomen, the shelf seems to be a few inches above the navel, where the third and fourth segments of the rectus abdominus meet, moving out to the 11th and 12th ribs and going deeply includes the autonomic plexus in the psoas muscle (hara center).
If you want to test what I am saying, get a living body and a good sized chart of the acupuncture meridians. Put them both on your Rolfing table; feel exactly where the tensions are as you move your fingers 1/8 inch at a time. Is there a correlation for you? If you follow the tensions along the stripes, you will feel some places get even harder, more glued, more stuck, more electric and more gunky. If you look at your acupuncture chart, in terms of geography, these are acupuncture points.
You will also be able to correlate acupuncture geography to traditional western anatomy. Many points occur at the upper or lower borders of muscles. For example, you will see this if you look at the acupuncture points of the lower leg in relationship to the lower border of the gastrocnemius. You will also locate many acupuncture points where the meridians move across bones. And you will find acupuncture points are more often than not the exact places where superficial connective tissue gets glued to the bones so the skin doesn’t move, e.g. on the sternum.
Until the idea of Robert Schleip’s article (encouraging Rolfers to use more movement in their manipulative work) entered my present inspiration, I used to put my fingers into the points (like putting them into sewing thimbles or the bottoms of ice cream cones) – they tunnel you down into the connective tissue, but not always at 90 degrees. Great places to get a grip on the connective tissue!
I would have one finger on each side of the stripe which was tight. I would rotate them both clockwise and counter clockwise. One way, I would feel resistance; the other way, ease of movement. I would push the points in opposite directions, away from each other – for example, on the two lateral margins of the erector muscle in the lumbars (bladder meridian’s two branches) one up and one down. I would get resistance one way and ease of flow the other. Then I would push and twist getting maximum resistance and thereby stretch the connective tissues. Then hang out until I got all the release I could.
I also got nice changes by pushing the connective tissue together, following the easy flow of twisting back in the reverse direction. This effect might have something to do with the “cross strain release” referred to in the appendix of Upledger’s book, Craniosacral Therapy.
Then the thought came in: what kind of movement is appropriate for releasing acupuncture stripes? Dr. Rolf said we should get in there and call for movement. Our traditional idea of tracking is to get some movement of the body at the joint above, below, or where we are working with our hands. We hold and call for nearby movement. It works, and because it works, we tend to repeat it without exploring. But if meridians starting in the fingers or toes go over several segments, can we track with the fingers or toes and effect the whole stripe bordered by the meridians? You sure can!
If connective tissue really connects, we should be able to feel a movement of a toe up in the head. And for tracking, you should be able to hold the head and wiggle a toe and get good release. In fact, I will bet you will get even better release than you get now, where you have your hands on several adjacent stripes at the same time, holding them together in their pattern of disorganization so they cannot slide in relationship to each other.
Try. Next time you have somebody with a tight sternocleidomastoid muscle, get them wiggling their toes and moving the stomach meridian and you can feel it under your fingers, in the flesh up on the lateral border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle where it attaches to the clavicle.
And if you get them moving the appropriate combination of fingers and toes, you can tune in on the two edges of the connective tissue tension in an acupuncture stripe. (use the finger or toe where the meridian originates).With your fingers into the finger grips of the acupuncture points, call for movement. Tremendous release no work. And it is predictable in terms of getting you to the objectives of the session you are doing.
For the central and governing meridian, you can use nodding movements of the head to lengthen or shorten the lines.
If you have ever played a clarinet or saxophone, you have an advantage over the rest of us. You can get as many fingers and thumbs into the points as limited by your imagination and the proximity of the points. And if you feel what you are doing, you can stretch in seven directions at one time and do an even better job.
I must admit my sessions look a bit untraditional – my clients look like they are doing an uncoordinated go-go dance in yoga asanas nodding their heads, tapping with a finger or wiggling their toes. But, boy do they love the changes.
If you want to try something that is simple, here is a recipe for some of the best balancing work you can do for the sacroiliac joint manipulation. It is the sixth session; the client is on their abdomen. Move your fingers down the sacroiliac joint on one side. Feel where the tissue is hard, thick, and resistant … where there is a center of gluing. It will usually be an inch down from the top, in the middle, or a half inch up from the bottom, all depending on the structure. Put one finger on each side of the joint. Push into the resistance with your fingers moving in opposite directions, parallel to the sacroilliac joint. Just enough push to build up a tension. You are peeling onions, not mashing potatoes. Then, get them to track both feet, with the feet moving in opposite directions. One foot up as the other goes down. Hang on to the flesh until it releases as they move. Do the other side.
It should do most of your sacral adjustments in a few seconds. Just that one move will probably save you half the time you would spend on the lower back. And if you want to correct subluxations further up the spine, then you have a solid base to put it on. The scoliosis or lordosi or kyphosis you correct in the rest of the sixth session will have a better chance to stay corrected.
Stanley Rosenberg is a Certified Rol fer in Silkeborg, Denmark.