Structural Awareness, Part I

Pages: 28-29
Year: 1989
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – (Genérico)

"True grace cannot be purchased...it can only be created by the systematic removal of the barriers which prevent it."-Ida P. Rolf Ph.D.

Structural Awareness is based on the assumption that you are constantly in the process of creating your body, whether consciously or unconsciously. Further more, this process is a psycho-physical event that is continously occurring. There is no body or psyche that is “real and permanent” but rather an inter related unfolding process. From a Buddhist point of view, there is no discrete “I” and from a physics point of view, there is no solid body (Tulka, 1977). There is only a moment-to-moment process as at is occuring, to consciously participate in your own creation.

One Structural Awareness client had a literally moving experience of this process while working with his breathing. He stood in front of a mirror watching his ribs move with every breath. For along time he was entranced and said nothing. Finally he turned and remarked with child like awe, “I feel like I’m giving birth to myself ” (Shane, 1976). Implicit in this experience is the realization that you are responsible for creating yourself.

The story of how Structural Aware-ness was created begins with Dorothy Notte’s training in Structural Integration in 1957. During the next eight years, she attended Dr. Rolfs training classes and collaborated with her on a children’s project. Movies of the children sitting, walking, running and spontaneously playing were taken before, during and after their Rolfing. There was a great deal of discussion about movement as a result of this project, and Dorothy remembers absorbing much information about movement from Dr. Rolf at this time. Dorothy spoke to Ida many times about people wanting to do something for them selves after their Rolfing, and Ida’s initial response was, “I know, I know.
Everybody wants to do it without hands.”

Finally in 1962, Dr. Rolf taught Dorothy and other students her standard set of exercises. Ida also gave Dorothy some additional information and exercises that she didn’t have time to teach within the class. So Dorothy began working with every thing she had learned from Dr. Rolf and taught movement to groups of people who had not been Rolfed. Dorothy al-ways took before and after pictures of each class and saw that her students were doing quite well “going up their line “Dorothy showed Dr. Rolf the before-and-after photos of a movement class of teenagers. Ida’s response was, “My Gawd, you’d better call this Structural Aware-ness, so people will know it comes from Structural Integration.”

Implicit in this story are some important observations about the development of Structural Awareness. Movement clients in the early sixties had literally never heard of the Rolfing work. The terms “Rolfed” or “Rolfing” had not yet been coined. So Structural Awareness classes became an outreach to educate the public about Structural Integration. Structural Awareness has historically been taught both in groups and individual sessions. Before-and-after photos of each session have consistently shown improvement in alignment and flow along the same lines as the Rolfing work. This is not to say that movement work can accomplish the same goals as Rolfing. No, it cannot. However, movement education can be an independent intervention as well as an adjunct to the Rolfing work. It is also important to note that the word “awareness” was carefully selected to describe the movement work. The critical role that awareness plays in the experience of our selves as human beings is central to many different systems. For instance, Dorothy worked with Arnold Kegel, M.D. regarding the role of the pubococcygeal muscle in the floor of the pelvis. Kegel?s teaching was that “Structure is a function of awareness,” and this is a basic tenet of Structural Awareness. Gestalt therapy also recognizes the key role aware-ness plays in the therapeutic process. Dorothy had given Fritz Peris his first three sessions of Rolfing during the mid-sixties. She then arranged for Fritz and Ida to meet, and their continued association at Esalen Institute opened many doors for Rolfing.

In 1976, Rachel Harris trained Dan Kamin who is a professional mime in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He continues to teach Structural Awareness to performing artists, graduate students in the theater arts, musicians, and fine artists. In 1982,Rachel trained Adv. Rolfer Sonya Milton who integrated Structural Awareness in to her Rolfing practice. As many of you know, Sonya and her husband Harold Milton are now at Unity Village in Missouri training to be ministers.

Structural Awareness classes have been held in many settings besides private practice: hospitals, Y’s, universities, growth centers, churches and private secondary schools. Classes can include intra or interpersonal awareness exercises, didactic information, body-mechanics techniques, psychological exercises, guided imagery meditation and, of course, the movement patterns. Most of the class time is devoted directly to movement, and the class usually ends with the meditation.

Two published research reports have shown psychological improvement in body image variables after a series of Structural Awareness classes (Shane,1978; Harris, Nolte and Nolte, 1980). A self study program in Structural Aware-ness was developed by Rachel Harris in1980. The package consists of three sixty-minute audio tapes accompanied by three illustrated books. This taped series teaches the movement patterns Dr. Rolf taught to Rolfers plus a few extra details. Side two of the third tape takes you through the Basic Awareness Sequence which includes a movement pattern for all the major joints in the body: toes, ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders and neck.

The following definitions and illustrations are taken from the first Structural Awareness booklet. They are selected to give you a sense of the instructions used in teaching Structural Awareness (Harris,1980).

Kinesthetic sense: This “sixth sense” provides you with perception of physical position, movement tension and the relation of one body part jot another. You are asked to use your kinesthetic sense to feel your body from the inside during the Structural Awareness process.

Breathe up your line: This instruction is given quite frequently and refers to the first Rolf Line which is the vertical core line (see figure). The inhalation is coordinated with this line in order to give a more powerful message to your body to lengthen up. As you inhale, imagine your breath flowing up your core line, through the top 04 four head. The imagery and movement of your breath help to create a feeling of length. Another image for breathing up is to imagine an elevator for your core Rolf Line as you inhale you group floor by floor.

Another article about Structural Awareness will appear in Fall issue of Rolf Lines and will include experiential exercises.

Rachel Harris, Ph.D. is a psycho therapist and instructor of Structural Awareness in Coconut Grove, Florida.

Dorothy Nolte is a retired Rolfer and instructor of Structural Awareness.


Harris, R. “Effects of intervention on teenagers’ physical and psychological identity.” Psychological Reports, 1980, 46,505-506.

Harris, R. Self study program in Structural Awareness, 1980.

Rolf Ida P. Taped lecture on values of exercising, 1962.

Shane, R. “Moving through the body: The process of Structural Awareness.”

Voices, 1976, Summer, 31-33.

Shane, R. “Clinical and research findings regarding the therapeutic impact of human movement.” Sciences et Motricite,1978, 1, 33-43.

Tarthang Tulka. Time, Space and Knowledge. CA: Dharma Press, 1977.Structural Awareness, Part I

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