The goals of Structural Aware-ness are the same as Dr. Rolf’s goals for Structural Integration. The difference lies in the methods employed. Technique aside, there can be tremendous similarities in the philosophical approach, conceptualizations, personal interaction, and values held. It is possible that Dorothy Nolte created Structural Awareness as a system to contain, preserve, and pass on what she learned from Dr. Rolf. Structural Awareness teaches the physical message of Structural Integration as well as the philosophical and psychological messages of how to live in yourbody in this corner of the universe.
The central teaching tools of Structural Awareness include verbal instructions and physical touching. The touch is very light and guiding and is used primarily to increase awareness to a specific area or to channel the flow of movement or energy. The instructions and touching function at the explicit, content-oriented level of Structural Awareness. In any process of education, subtle or covert messages are of ten unconsciously communicated and, unfortunately, unconsciously received. As teachers of Structural Awareness, we have considered it our responsibility to be aware of these levels in our teaching. Learning occurs more efficiently and deeply when the messages are congruent throughout all these dimensions of instruction.
The subtle aspect of Structural Awareness teaching lies with the implicit messages regarding the relationship to one’s own body. At this level, there are basic values and beliefs including the attitude toward one’s body, how to work with one’s own body-process, the experience of a sense of Self inter-penetrating with one’s body experience, the relation-ship between one’s body and the environment, and the awareness of energy flow within one’s body and in relation to the universe.
Although these topics are not addressed directly, they form an underpinning to the Structural Awareness teaching and are communicated to the student in many subtle ways. For instance, the basic con-tract for a Structural Awareness student is educational, specifically not psychological or medical. Symptoms are rarely a focus. Further-more, the teacher moves toward becoming obsolete as the student develops greater expertise with his own body. This is a parallel to Fritz Perls’ statement that we can each become our own therapist. The Structural Awareness teacher is no tendo wed with super, intuitive inspirations, so that the student becomes dependent and needs to return again and again. We have both bumped into students from years ago who proudly tell us how they have incorporated toes up, foot up, etc. into their morning routine. They are independent and empowered in their own process of working with their body.
This respect for the student’s developing expertise with his body is implicitly communicated from the beginning. “What do you want for yourself?” is a simple, yet profound question to evoke the student’s vision for his body. Instructions can be given to be used as persuasions in the student’s work with his own body. The teacher guides the student to let go of analytic thinking regarding “why” his body responds as it does. Instead, emphasis is placed onw hat the body needs, the responsibility of having the ability to respond, and how to give the body what it is asking for.
The Structural Awareness teacher seeks to cultivate the student’s awareness as a creative tool for change. It is the teacher’s ability to perceive visually and kinesthetically into the student’s body that helps stimulate the student’s awareness. The combination of the student’s and the teacher’s focus on the body encourages this process. There can be moments when the teacher’s sensing meets the student’s kinesthetic sense inside the student’s body. Moments like this are meaningful to both participants and usually mark a significant shift in the process.
On an explicit level, the Rolf lines are the most central and important concept in Structural Awareness. We consider these lines to be Dr. Rolf’s legacy, as well as a blueprint for the structure and function of the human body. Specifically, Dr. Rolf taught the vertical line going up from the earth to the sky through the top of the head, the line at the back of the waist extending toward the horizon, and the elbow and knee lines. As teachers of Structural Awareness, we literally give the student his Rolf lines through imagery, movement, and meditation. Describing these lines, Dr. Rolf said, “There is a pattern the body understands. When the body and the pattern are made to coincide, the body knows this.” This inner knowing is one manifestation of the wisdom of the body-mind. Even children respond to their personal gravity line. We ask them to hang their line on a star. As charming as this image is, it speaks to us as adults also. There is a realization that you are your body, and you are organized along a dynamic line of energy which is capable of creating a sense of balance and order. Once you are connected in this way, the possibilities for new, more useful patterns of movement become endless. There can then be a shift in the quality of movement which stimulates a shift in the way of being in the world, activating creative resources and establishing a sense of nourishing reciprocity with the energy field of the planet.
Once the Rolf lines are well established and the student has developed the expertise to work with his body using these lines, we begin to see spontaneous patterns emerge which are more useful, meaningful, and mature physiological movements. Sitting, standing, and walking seem to originate from the inner line, and the flow of movement is easier and more vital. The quality of this change has a dynamic impact on all levels of functioning. Experiencing one’s body in this manner can open awareness to the inner Self. Then the relationship with the body is transformed and the sense of Self is rooted in physical reality. The body can become a source, a well-spring, a locus for the existential sense of Self experienced physically. This is quite a different relationship than the typical body experience of symptoms, pain, and stress.
In summary, Structural Aware-ness explicitly teaches the Rolf lines and implicitly has ultimate faith in their transforming powers.
The following example of how the Rolf pelvic lift is taught in Structural Awareness is taken from the self study program of tapes and booklets. The editorial comments in parentheses are not part of the instructions given to students, but are intended to highlight the teaching techniques. The students have already worked with their breathing in the pelvic lift position when these instructions begin.
Become aware of the space behind your lumbar spine at your waistline and the floor. (The task of noticing space between the body and floor stimulates the kinesthetic sense as well as sensory input from the skin.) Turn your tail under so the space at your waistline is smaller.(Use your kinesthetic sense as feed-back to reinforce your movement.)This means that you rotate your hip sunder you, bringing your pubic bone upward toward the ceiling. The direction for the movement is shown in Figure 1.
Then let go so you are again relaxed on the floor. This movement, called “turning your tail under,” is subtle and can be felt most directly in the hip joint just at the top of where your thighs emerge from the pelvis. Keep your fingers there to help you sense the movement of turning your tail under. (This encourages self-touch as a way to identify, reinforce, and provide feedback for movement. In this way, the student gains confidence in his own ability to work with his body.)You do not need to use the external stomach muscles to do this movement. Your stomach should be quite flat when your tail is turned under. (This teaches the student what type of movement to avoid and gives him a clue to identify it. At the same time, the suggestion is that the origination of the movement can come from deeper within the torso.)
Keeping your tail under, lift your buttocks off the floor by bringing your knees forward. Your but tocks will only be two to three inches off the floor. (Another clue the student can check using both his kinesthetic sense and his hands to measure the distance.) See Figure 2.
This lift is actually a stretch from the back of your head to your knees. You only hold it for a second. Bring your waistline directly back to the floor and press your lumbar spine to the carpet. Your stomach should be very flat at this point. Hold this position for about ten seconds, breathing up to lengthen your neck. The arrows in Figure 3 show directions for “waistline-back-and-breathe-up”. (This instruction is the integration of imagery with the breath to create length. The breath imagery is a guide for channeling energy along the Rolf lines.)
Let your sacrum or the back of the pelvis relax to the floor. See Figure4. Let go of your tail. This concludes the Rolf pelvic lift.
Dorthy Nolte, Ph.D. is retired and lives in Forest City, California.
Rachel Haris, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist in Coconut Grove, Florida.Structural Awareness, Part II