CAPA 1991-01-02-January_February

The Palintonic Lines of Rolfing

Pages: 42-49
Year: 1991
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol IXX nº 01 – JAN/FEB 1991

Volume: IXX


Thomas Hanna once said something like the following: “Bodywork is a practice in search of a theory.” Even though I think conceiving of Rolfing as a form of bodywork is a great mistake, Hanna’s recognition of the need for theory certainly seems to apply to our work. Dr. Rolf already has gone a great distance toward providing a theoretical frame work for Structural Integration. Her genius in this area remains uncontested. Never the-less, many of the key concepts we use every day are in great need of examination and clarification. A very good ex-ample of a fundamental concept that demands more clarity is that of a line. We talk about many different kinds of lines: e.g., lines of transmission, the third session line, and, of course, our most fundamental principle of organization, The Line itself. What is the reality we are referring to when use the word “line”?

If asked to give a one sentence definition of Rolfing, most Rolfers would probably be tempted to say that Rolfing is the attempt to balance the human body in gravity by organizing it around a central vertical axis which we call The Line. The Line is, as I said, our most fundamental principle of organization. We all know and work with this principle. Yet if a large number of Rolfers were asked to define what they mean by The Line, we would discover a great variety of answers. We probably also would discover that most of the answers were somehow loosely related to one another. At the same time, we might find that we would be hard pressed to unify all these answers into one coherent statement. The same comments apply to every use we make of the concept of line in general.

In this article I want to begin the attempt to answer the questions “What do we mean by a line in general?” and “What is The Line?” If we first can gain some conceptual clarity around what we mean by The Line, then we will be in a better position to articulate what we mean by the other lines with which we work(e.g., the third session line or the fourth session line) Gaining this sort of conceptual clarity, in turn, will pave the way for being able to state most of the constitutive principles of Rolfing in terms of the concept of lines in general. Furthermore, by being able articulate the nature of Rolf lines, we will be in a position to also elucidate what we mean by core and sleeve.

A fundamental difficulty that comes up in every discussion about lines concerns what might called their ontological status. Some Rolfers, for example, claim that The Line is nothing but an imaginary idea we project onto a body in order to make our work easier. In opposition to this view, others assert that The Line is real, that it indeed exists in some bodies, and that Rolfing can create or evoke it as a reality.

There are many variations of these two positions within our community. But each position rests on the unexamined presupposition that the subject/object dichotomy is the correct and exhaustive frame work within which to carry on the discussion. Since the advent of Descartes’ philosophy which created both the meta-physical and epistemological ground for science and the modern world, the objective world has been reduced to that which takes up measurable space. In turn, the subjective world has been reduced to that aspect of an individual’s mental and/or feeling states that does not take up measurable space and is not universal. In this overly narrow conceptual frame work, whatever is not objective is necessarily subjective and whatever is not subjective is objective.

Whether we realize it or not, as soon as we enter into a discussion about lines, we immediately fall into thinking about them as either subjective or objective realities. This manner of thinking is part of the fabric of our culture and written in to the very structure of our language. And this way of thinking creates a kind of tunnel vision that prevents us from articulating what many of us consider some the most important aspects of Rolfing. Is the profound transformational event that the creation of The Line sometimes heralds an objective event? Does it take up measurable space? If it cannot be measured, is it, therefore, merely a subjective event?

We often talk about The Line and the core as if they were the same thing. But notice, The Line is not an anatomical reality. While we can conceive more easily of representing the core in terms of anatomical structures, the concept of The Line clearly resists such representations. Notice also that while the concept of a core clearly implies the concept of a surface (or sleeve as Dr. Rolf called it) the concept of The Line does not. We say of some people that they do not have a core/Line. Does that sort of statement mean that this per-son is suffering from some strange anatomical anomaly?

A very important aspect of Rolfing theory centers around grounding our key concepts in anatomy. Yet because the theoretical framework of anatomy is riddled with the metaphysics unconsciously inherited from Descartes, it insists upon objectifing the human body as a soft machine. How then do we reconcile an anatomical representation of Rolfing with its personal and transpersonal results? Can we reasonably give an anatomical description of the core and surface of the body and in the next breath say that the core is our being and the surface is our doing?

What is it, therefore, that we are talking about when we use the word “line?” What sort of a “thing”, or perhaps better, “event,” is a Rolf line? What sort of being does a Rolf line have? Is it an imaginary projection? Does it exist in the way an idea does and hence not take up measurables pace? Does it exist the way a chair or stone exists or perhaps more the way the meridian lines on a map exist (and how do meridian lines exist)? Actually, isn’t a Rolf line more like a plane than a line? What, in short, is the ontological status of a Rolf line? I will discuss in detail the answer to this question about the onto-logical status of Rolf lines later in this article. At this point, I only want to under-score the fact that our traditional frame-work of inquiry, rooted as it is in the subject/object dichotomy, is misleading, confused, and not fully adequate to the job.


Our first line of inquiry, then, concerns how to express correctly what it is we see happening in a body when it manifests a line and what it is we are trying to explain by using the word “line”. I have been tempted to use biologist Albert Szent Gyoergyi’s term “syntropy” to characterize Rolf lines. Syntropy or negative entropy describes the tendency in living organisms to perfect themselves, to reach higher and higher levels of organization, order, and dynamic harmony. A Rolf line, then, is a both a syntropyc principle that guides our perceptions as we work and a syntropic event. However, the problem with the concept of syntropy is that it does not convey anything about the precise nature of the order which Rolfing and the Rolf lines uniquely create in the human body.

Another word which comes closer to expressing the nature of the order created by a Rolf line is the German word “Spannung.” I understand that Dr. Rolf of tenused the term “Spannung” to describe the nature of her work. Unfortunately, no one English word is adequate to hold all the meanings of “Spannung”. Spannungis tension, span, stretch. It also connot esexcitement. It can apply to the span and stretch of a guitar string or to the span characteristic of tensile structures. At the same time it can also apply to the qualities that both mind and body exhibit during moments of exhilarating and/or intense acts of attention, concentration, or meditation. For our purposes, “Spannung” is a wonderful word. Unfortunately there is no easy way to turn it in to a technical term that sounds good and flows well in our language.

Despairing of ever finding a word that would serve our purposes, I recalled a quote from the great pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. It says: “The harmony of the world is of tension like that of the bow and the lyre.” Another less poetic but perhaps more philosophically accurate translation is: “They do not apprehend how differing with itself it is brought together with itself:-stretched back (or stretched again) harmony like that of the bow and the lyre.” I suspected that the classical Greek word for which “tension” and “stretched again” are translations, might prove to be just the word we need. As it turned out, my intuitions were correct. With a little help from my friends, Iearned that the word is “palintonos”.

The word “tonos” is the root of the word “tone” which obviously has an established and important set of meanings for us. It applies to musical sound as well as muscle tension. It does not mean any old kind of span or stretch. Rather it implies appropriate span and stretch. Thus, for example, a guitar string is in tune when it is stretched in just the right way, i.e., when it has tone or tonos in the classical Greek sense. We also use “tone” to talk about the emotional qualities in a per-son’s voice or affectivity in general. It has the following established medical meanings: the tension present in resting muscles, firmness of tissues, and normal functioning of all the organs. Most healthcare professionals easily recognize that a healthy, stress free life demands a body whose tissues are well toned.

“Palin” means “again” or “back ward” or “back” in the sense of, going back to”. A palindrome, for example, is word, phrase, or sentence that reads the same back ward a or forward,(e.g., the words “madam” and “noon” or the sentences “Name no one man.” and “Dennis and Edna sinned.”)Palingens is is the doctrine of being born over and over again or the concept ofregeneration. A palinode is a poem which retracts something stated in a previous poem. “Palin” should not be confused with “paleo” which means “old” or “ancient”. “Paleo”, for example, when combined with “onta” which means” existing things” becomes paleontology, the study of the life of past geological periods based on the fossil records.

Whitehead said that all Western thought is but a footnote on Plato. While obviously an exaggeration, there is also a great deal of truth in Whitehead’s claim. Because the Western framework of thought is so deeply embedded in the Platonic metaphysics, we must learn to hear Heraclitus and his use of “palintonos” with uncontaminated and ancient ears.

Plato’s metaphysics of disease sought freedom in the denial of the earth and the body. Plato argued that the Ultimate was to be found free of the body in an eternal realm not-of-this-earth (often jokingly referred to as Plato’s heaven). Heraclitus, on the other hand, said that the harmony of the totality-of-what-is is to be found not in the denial of one pole of an opposition, but in the appropriate span or tension between them. Heraclitus found harmony and freedom not in denial, but in the very place we always and already are. This place is our true home-a spacious realm in which we can live at ease In the limitations of form and the fullness of time. Heraclitus said that this spacious realm of all beings exhibits palintonic (appropriate tensional opposition) harmony.

Palintonic harmony is primordial. Itis not the effect of two objects causing conflict which are then somehow brought into objective equilibrium. Palintonicity is a harmonious unitary repose of self-supporting, mutually interfusing diversification and opposition. Harmony is impossible without opposition. Palintonic harmony is the primordial manner in which the totality-of-what-is in “being at variance with itself is brought to agree with itself.” In life as in art, harmony is appropriate tensional opposition. As human beings we cannot find our appropriate place or home apart from where we always and already are. Our freedom is not to be found in a heavenly realm that stands in denial of the earth and the body as Plato argued.

Freedom is our primordial heritage, our native condition. We cannot cause it, we cannot create it, and if we seek it, we lose it. It is not to be found anywhere else than where we always and already are. Freedom lives when we return again or go back to (palin) our original dwelling place appropriately spanning the uniquely lived human space between heaven and earth. When we realize our freedom, we realize our appropriate form and dwell in palintonic harmony: grounded in the self secluding, self supporting limitation of earth reaching, evolving, and lifting to-ward the ever expansive possibility of heaven.

Heraclitus does not explicitly mention the human body in these fragments, but clearly palintonicity necessarily includes our unique somatic nature. After all, at one very important level, it is our body that spans the lived space between heaven and earth. Unlike most animals, we do not orient in time and space with our spines parallel to the earth. Rather, we are upended with our feet on the eart hand our heads lifted to the heavens.

Many scholars interpret the following fragment from Heraclitius as simply an expression of his theory of condensation: “The way up is the way down.” But actually Heraclitus is saying something much more profound than that. He is also speaking of the harmonic tensional opposition of palintonicity and suggesting that for human beings we find our place between up and down, between what wehave been calling heaven and earth. One could legitimately turn his a phorisma round in the following way and still retain his meaning: “The way down is the way up.” In certain respects, Heraclitus is much closer in spirit to Taoism than he is to the modern world’s philosophical heritage, rooted as it is in the Platonic denial of the body and the earth. What Heraclitus is saying is more like the following from Chuang Tzu’s “Great And Small”:

He who wants to have right without wrong,
Order without disorder
Does not understand the principles
Of heaven and earth.
He does not know how
Things hang together.
Can a man cling only to heaven
And know nothing of earth?
They are correlative: to know one
Is to know the other.
To refuse one
Is to refuse both.

Chuang Tzu concludes by pointing out that anyone who lives in denial of one pole of this fundamental structure of opposition is either rouge or a madman.

Dr. Rolf, I believe, understood “the principles of heaven and earth” and found a way to make them come alive for all of us by creating an unprecedented system of manipulation designed to organize the body in gravity. The concept of The Line represents an attempt to articulate her physical and metaphysical vision of how the human body person could manifest the principles of heaven and earth. Dr.Rolf’s concept of Structural Integration and The Line is very much an expression of her unique and creative contribution to the fundamental ontological issues exemplified by these quotes from Heraclitus and Chuang Tzu.

To my knowledge, no thinker before Dr. Rolf, Eastern or Western, grasped with such clarity the physical and metaphysical (i.e., Ontological) importance of relating the human body to gravity. The importance of the body is only implied in the above quotes. The question of how we as body persons find our appropriate dwelling place between heaven and earth is left completely unanswered.

In the twentieth century, only a few philosophers, the most important of whom is Maurice Merleau Ponty, have initiated anything like a correct philosophical investigation into the nature and meaning of the human body. For all their brilliance, not one of these philosophers yet understands, however, how fundamental the concepts of structural integration and The Line are to any philosophy of the body.

Most of the other important and interesting twentieth century approaches to the body are either too psychological in nature or so thoroughly confuse psychology and philosophy that the ontological issues are hopelessly obscured. A very good example of this kind of confusion can be found in Arnold Mindell’s attempts to state the theoretical basis of his Jungian Dream body work. Another clear example is Yuasa Yasuo’s The Body, Toward an Eastern, Mind Body Theory.

As I have pointed out in other articles, Dr. Rolf’s genius created a whole new philosophy, art, and science of the body. in order to properly identify the nature of the unique philosophical inquiry and discipline that Dr. Rolf initiated, I have argued that Rolfing is a form of somatic ontology. To the concept of “somatic ontology” we now need to and the concept of “palintonicity.” Rolfing’s contribution to somatic ontology is to be found in the unprecedented attempt to organize the body in gravity according to the principles of palintonicity.

As most people know, Dr. Rolf was influenced by many different systems of thought and manipulation. Jennette Lee’s influence, for example, is obvious and important. Two, among many, important and related concepts for the work of Rolfing are articulated in her book This Magic-Body. The first is the concept of “oppositional balance” which Lee claims is the central principle of life guaranteeing the well being and proper functioning of the whole person, body and all. The second concept is much the same as Dr. Rolf’s concept of The Line. Lee conceived of it as an “axis running through the middle point of the top of the skull toward the zenith, and downward, through the spine, to-ward the center of the earth 1. To summarize part of Lee’s theory: a full functioning healthy human being is one whose whole being, body and all, lives in appropriate oppositional balance “trued to an axis between earth and sky 2. The concept of “Palintonicty” clearly and obviously grasps Lee’s axis of oppositional balance.

At one level, Rolfing is a system of myo fascial manipulation designed to organize the body around this axis of oppositional balance. Accordingly, I find the following quote from Dr. Rolf’s book very suggestive: “These energy forces are not abstract, they manifest in real myo fascial material structures. Through its vertical stance, the organism is no longer earth-bound; the vertical expresses an energy relation between earth and sun … As order evolves, a gravity/antigravity structural organization defines itself, and this basic polarity, rooted in the earth, expresses itself in terms of vertical lift “3.

The verticality of a Rolfect body person requires being grounded on the eart hand uplifted to the sky (as well as being centered in the core/surface integration).One pole cannot exist with the other. Thus, whereas the Heraclitus fragments only vaguely hint at the importance of the human body, Dr. Rolf clearly recognized and explored the physical and metaphysical ramifications of balancing the body person in gravity through establishing The Line – the most fundamental palintonic principle of her work.

To bring this discussion back to the concept of Rolf lines, we now have a word which can be used to describe what a Rolf line is and does. Rolfing is the philosophy, art, and science of palintonicity. The attempt organize the human body in gravity is accomplished by creating palintonic order in the myo fascia. The principles of structural and energetic order are the principles of palintonicity. A Rolfed bodyis one that exhibits palintonicity or palintonic lines.

We can now state the transformational or ontological aspect of Rolfing through the concept of palintonicity. To express Rolfing’s contribution to the discipline of somatic ontology in some what my the poetic language: a Rolfed person is someone who has returned to his or her appropriate place of dwelling in the harmonious span or tension of the lived human space between heaven and earth. Obviously this last statement needs to be fleshed out in a mom precise philosophical language. But for now we can note that heaven and earth are my thopoetic symbols. Heaven stands for the realm of mind or reason, analytical thought, masculinity, expansion, light, spirit, being, possibility, etc., etc. and earth stands for the realm of feelings and body, aesthetic perception, femininity, contraction, dark, becoming, matter, limitation, etc., etc.

Palintonicity also can be used objectively and properly to describe the properties of tents and other tensile structures, including the human body. At the same time, it easily carries all the meanings of”syntropy” and “Spannung,” while also giving voice to all the wonderful transformational or ontological aspects of Rolfing. Palintonicity describes how structural integration feels (subjectivity) and how it appears to the trained observer or re searcher who looks at the body, say, as a tensile structure organized in gravity(objectivity). Since “palintone” is not a word used by anyone else, any other science or school of thought, we can pack all the meanings we think are appropriate to our work into it. Best of all it is a word that can apply the whole of what a human being is. The discipline and principles of Palintonicity are not limited to either the purely mental or physical, but apply to the whole of who and what we are and our appropriate relationship to the Whole.

Before we move onto the next level of analysis, notice that the foregoing discussion of palintonicty does not deal explicitly with the concept of horizontality. Because the discussion was focused on The Line, I emphasized the vertical dimension over the horizontal. I will return to the horizontal dimension in another article where I will lay out the constitutive palintonic principles of Rolfing. At this point, it is enough to realize that palintonicity applies not only to the vertical lines evoked by Rolfing, but also to the horizontal ones as well.


Thus, the concept of palintonicity gives us a way grasping what it is that Rolfing does and what it is that we experience when we say that a body has a Line. At every level of analysis, from physical to mental to emotional to energetic to ontological, the creation of a Rolf line is a palintonic event. Having found a word to hold all our physical and metaphysical meanings and experiences, however, does not completely answer our favorite question “What is the ontological status of a Rolf line?”

As I pointed out earlier, our language and cultural heritage predispose us to approach this fundamental question in terms of the subject/object distinction. Stated somewhat simplistically: if a Rolf line is not objective, i.e., if we cannot measure it, it must not exist and there fore be subjective. Such a statement about our work should leave feeling like we have been intellectually abused by some kind of psychopathic concept-albino. In order to provide a richer and more adequate frame work that will also allow us to the transcend the narrow confines of the subject/object distinction, I want to employ, for my own purposes, a distinction from a twentieth century philosophical method called phenomenology. The distinction is between two modes of consciousness, prereflective and reflective.

Let me give an example to explain the difference between the prereflective and reflective orientations. Suppose you are mowing your lawn with a power mower. As you work, perhaps you notice there are moments and sometimes long periods of time in which you are completely unified with your task. There is no thought, “I am mowing.” There is just the activity of mowing itself. You do not feel or notice yourself separate from the mower and the work at hand. The experience of yourself as separate and other than the mower and the work simply does not arise for you. This purposeful activity of mowing with out an “I” that mows is the prereflective mode of consciousness.

Now suppose the mower hits a large piece of metal which causes the mowing blade to break. At first, still in a prereflective orientation, you will be startled. But then you might step back and curse the mower, or the idiot that left that piece of metal in your yard, or existence in general. You might say “Damn! Now I’ll never get the grass mowed in time.” But notice the change in your orientation toward the mower after it breaks. No longer are you unified with it and the task at hand. You have stepped back and out of the flow of pre reflective experience. You now stand separate from your mower in the reflective mode of consciousness thinking about your situation.

When you step out of the flow of prereflective or lived experience you reflect on or think about your experience. When this happens, the prereflective lived-through experience falls apart into the world of subject and object. The word “object” literally means “that which is thrown before.” The word “subject” liter-ally means “that which is thrown under.” These words express rather well what happens when we move from the prereflective to the reflective mode of consciousness. When the mower breaks, your unified lived-experience of it as an ex tension of your purposeful activity also falls apart. The mower is thrown before you as something that stands apart from you, as a thing or object requiring some repair. In the very moment you object if the mower (turn it into an object to be thought about)you become a subject thinking about and caught in the dominion of the object. As soon you experience any part of your world objectively, i.e., as an object, you simultaneously come to presence as a subject that apprehends reality objectively. These two, subject and object, arise together and mutually implicate each other in the reflective mode of consciousness.

When the mower is fixed and you return once again to mowing the lawn, usually without notice, you return to unified prereflective experience. Throughout our lives we move continuously from the prereflective to the reflective and back again.

Consider another example. As you are reading along in this article about Rolf lines, normally you give no notice to or think about the fact that you are reading. Now that I have pointed this out to you, you are probably thinking about your reading of this article. As you read this reference to the fact that you are reading this, it usually becomes difficult if not impossible to mad this as you think about your reading this. Before I brought your attention to your reading, you were reading prereflectively. More than likely you stopped reading as you thought about and reflected on what you were reading and the fact that you were reading. In thinking about what you were reading you turned this article into an object and you became a subject. In doing so you separated yourself from the flow of reading, oriented yourself reflectively, and became a subject who objectified this article.

If you are understanding what you are reading, you will probably and for the most part remain in the preleflective mode. But, if something does not make sense, or if suddenly you understand an idea in away that is new and exciting to you, you will separate yourself from the flow of prereflective understanding and reflection what you have just read. Perhaps you will think, “I don’t understand this.” Or “Yeah, I’ve experienced that.” Most of the time when you move to the reflective, the word “I” will appear somewhere in your thoughts or verbal expressions. The appearance of the word “I” is not essential to reflective consciousness, but it does indicate how reflective consciousness always marks the appearance of a subject who reflects on an objective world.

The prereflective/reflective distinction is neither the same as nor meant to replace the unconscious/conscious distinction from psychology. The unconscious simply refers to those aspects of prereflective experience about which we are either self deceived or unskilled at bringing to reflective awareness. In self deception reflectively misinterpret to ourselves and others our experiences and motives and call them something they are not. We say, for example, we are doing something from love or for a person’s own good when in fact all we are doing is acting out our own anger or patterns of abuse. Prereflective experience, then, includes and is a much larger field of awareness than what has traditionally been called the unconscious. This last point equally applies to Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. With practice and intuitive skill we can learn to properly interpret reflectively those aspects of the prereflective that Jung called archetypes.

One of the more insidious biases of Western culture is to see reflective under-standing as the only form of understanding there is. In fact, until the birth of phenomenology, Western philosophy mistakenly considered the essence of all thinking and understanding to be reflective. But as we have seen, there are in reality two ways in which thinking, consciousness, awareness, or understanding can be oriented: prereflectively and reflectively.

Indeed some of our most highly prized I human activities are undermined if too much reflection is involved. Consider the I following examples: the inspired performance of a piece of music, the moment of inspiration in which the solution to a scientific problem emerges full-blown, the appreciation of nature during which yourself is lost to the beauty before you, or the intense moment when an athlete scores the winning point in the final seconds of the game.

If you reflect too much or at the wrong time during any of these activities, the whole experience falls apart and is lost. If the athlete thinks, “Great, I will now score the winning point!” he probably won’t. The musician’s performance will probably lose its inspired quality if he reflects on how well he is playing. With too much reflection, the scientist could loose the thread of the solution that is unfolding through him. The beauty of nature will die in your attempt to comment on it.

Prereflectiors is a form of understanding. It is also the prior condition of reflective understanding. Prereflection is an orientation, a capacity for experiencing realty without separating from it. Reflection is an orientation, a capacity for experiencing reality by separating from it. Reflection splits unified experience as under into a subject and object. Prereflection is unification, an understanding which participates in that which is understood. Reflection is separation, an understanding which steps back from and out of unified experience, splitting it as under into an object to be thought about by a subject.

Unless the world were already opened up to us prereflectively, there would be nothing from which to step back and on which to reflect. All theory, whether it is scientific or speculative, is an attempt tounder stand reality reflectively and as such it is ultimately grounded in and dependent upon prereflective understanding.

The bias of Western culture toward seeing reflective understanding as the only legitimate from of understanding leads to a complete failure to recognize the importance and existence of prereflective understanding. This prejudice mindlessly relegates all prereflective experience to the subjective because it ignorantly assumes that whatever is not objective is necessarily subjective. As a result of this bias, all of our discussions about the nature of Rolfing, including our discussions about Rolf lines, consistently confuse and blur important differences between subjective and prereflective descriptions and definitions.

Let me underscore this important point: not only is prereflection a form of understanding, it is also the prior ground or condition of all reflective understanding, of all forms of subjectivity and objectivity. Subject and object arise from preteflection. The world of subject and object comes into being at the very moment we step out of the flow of participatory lived through understanding and begin to think about what we are experiencing. Prereflection cannot be, therefore, a form of subjectivity.

The following diagram is a useful way to display the relationship between the prereflective and the reflective:



With the prereflective/reflective distinction now in hand, we can return to our discussion of Rolf lines with a more adequate framework within which to ask our question, “What is the ontological status of a Rolf Line?” The implication of this distinction for our discussion is that we need to try to grasp what a Rolf line is not just from the reflective orientation of subjectivity and objectivity alone, but also from the prereflective orientation as well. That is, we must try to give an objective, subjective, and prereflective description of Rolf lines.


To display how the core/Line appears to us in our prereflective and reflective experiences, imagine that you have just finished an exemplary session with a client. Your client gets off the table, stands up, and after a few moments of experimenting with her newly found level of integration, finds her Line on her own without any assistance from you, and then lights up with that characteristic “ah ha!” look of amazement which clearly communicates to you that she is profoundly aware of and feeling her Line. The moment during which you both savor and delight in the joy of experiencing core/Line, before either of you has the inclination or ability to speak about the experience is the prereflectively lived-through-experience of core/Line.

As soon as she comments on her experience and says something characteristic like, “Wow! This is incredible. I feel so light and fluid, as if I’m balanced on a column of air inside my body.,” she has moved from the prereflective experience of core/Line to a reflective, subjective description of core/Line. Her subjective report on prereflective experience is away of thinking or feeling about how this experience is for her. Typically, phrases such as “It feels to me like….” or “I feel as if I am…” appear in subjective reports. “I” or “to me” and “feels like” are common but not essential indicators of the appearance of a subject reflectively commenting on the feel of her own experience.

Your client’s subjective report represents her attempt to express in her own language her prereflective lived through experience of core/ Line. In saying how it feels to her, she steps out of the flow of prereflective lived-experience and subjectifies it. Her subjective report may or may not the same as yours or another client’s. Given the great variety in people, bodies, and how they orient toward the world (e.g., verbally, visually, emotionally, intuitively, energetically, kinaesthetically, or in some combination) we should not be surprised or dismayed by the great variety of possible subjective descriptions.

Sometimes a subjective description represents a quite narrow personality bound perspective on prereflective experience. At other times it can be an amazing revelation expressing an expansive and awesome prereflective experience of core/Line. As our prereflective experience of core/Line deepens, we are enriched. As we are enriched, so too are our subjective descriptions.

Unlike objective descriptions, we are not usually concerned about whether subjective descriptions contradict each other or are universalizable. After all, a subjective description is often merely a report of how something is to me and hence maybe quite different from how it is for you. At the same time, we often find great similarities and family resemblances among I the many subjective descriptions from our clients and colleagues.

The existence of these strands of overlapping similarities among subjective reports are actually quite important to a certain aspect our work. Whether you are a Movement teacher or Rolfer working with the movement modality, notice that most of the cues you give your clients are subjective in nature. An objective anatomical description of the Line or core is usually neither appropriate nor helpful in assisting your client in finding her Line. Certainly, for some clients and situations an objective cue could sometimes be useful. But, if you pay attention to the ways you are most tempted to educate your clients, I think you will find that the great majority of your cues are, indeed, subjective.

Given that an important aspect of Movement work concerns finding the appropriate subjective cues for educating our clients, we should not be surprised to discover .that when we speak the language of Movement we tend to speak subjectively about many of the key concepts of Rolfing, including core/ Line. For example, you might ask a client to imagine, feel, or visualize the core as a slinky of light, or as an undulating wave, or as a space that opens and extends up in front of the spine around which the outer body effortlessly balances, and so on. Many such examples of subjective descriptions and cues abound within our community. On the one hand, to demand that all these subjective ways of speaking be made objective, e.g., grounded in structure, anatomy, or physics, is naive and destructive to the verbal-visualization technologies of RMI. On the other hand, to always eschew objectifing the concepts of RMI or to be only willing to speak subjectively about our key concepts is equally problematic. In order to avoid unnecessary arguments with each other, we simply need to recognize the difference between subjective and objective descriptions, the contexts within which each is appropriate, and when one will not substitute for the other.


As I pointed out previously, we sometimes use the concepts of Line and core interchangeably and other times we distinguish between them. By paying attention to the varying contexts within which these concepts are employed, i.e., by attending to how we as the community of Rolfers actually use these words in our every day speech, I discovered that we tend to make a clear distinction between Line and core only at the objective level of analysis. Prereflectively and subjectively, we tend not to distinguish them.

At the objective level of analysis, the concepts of Line and com mark out rather different territories in the body. We have already noted that whereas the core easily lends itself to anatomical representations and implies the concept of sleeve or surface, the concept of Line does neither. Indeed, the concept of Line is not anatomical concept at all. Subjectively, when we are assisting a client in finding her I Line (or core), we do not distinguish between Line and core. Subjectively and prereflectively they function as the same concept for us. The distinction between Line and core becomes important at the objective level of analysis when we at-tempt to talk to other professionals and make sense of our key concepts in the languages of structure, anatomy, or physics.

A number of related examples of an objective definitions of Line and core al-ready exist within our community. I do not want to provide anything like an exhaustive or definitive examination and cataloging of these various definitions. Rather, I want to offer one objective definition as an example of how one might proceed within the framework of the reflective/prereflective distinction.

One promising way to understand the objective concept of a Line is to begin with the concept of a line of gravity from kinesiology. In order to understand what the line of gravity is we must first understand the center of gravity. In Kinesiology, Luttgens and Wells define the center of gravity as “an imaginary point representing the weight center of an object, that point in a body about which all the parts exactly balance each other, or the point at which the entire weight of the body maybe considered as concentrated. “The line of gravity they then define as “an imaginary vertical line that … passes through the center of gravity”5.

To make this concept of a line of gravity useful for Rolfing theory, we must expand it a bit. Imagine the body as tack of blocks or as a stack of cross-sections. Next, imagine drawing a vertical line through the centers of gravity of the blocks or the cross-sections. The resulting line would constitute what we call The Line. How close to straight this vertical Line is determines how well organized this body is in gravity. The extent to which a body approaches or fails to approach this straight Line is the extent to which it is organized and balanced in gravity. Thus, the Line is the line of gravity in a balanced or Rolfed body.

Another way to characterize the Line is to say that it is the intersection of the sagittal and coronal planes in a balanced or Rolfed body. It is important and necessary to add the phrase “in a balanced or Rolfed body” to both of these definitions. Otherwise we do not have an adequate definition of the Line.

To say that a body has a Line or is well organized in gravity comes to the same thing as far as Rolfing is concerned.

Apparently, however, this point is not as obvious to other theorists as it is to Rolfers. One need only look at the drawings of bodies with sagittal and coronal planes that accompany Luttgens’ and Wells discussion of the line of gravity to realize that little understanding or visual demonstration of our concept of bodily order exists in their text (Figure 1-11)6. Both drawings exhibit, for example, short lumbars and anterior lumbo dorsal hinges. Further examples of this lack of understanding by Luttgens and Wells can be found in Figures 15-3 and 15-4. 7 They represent the pictures of two individuals standing in three different poses which are supposed to show: a) hyper erect attention, b) over relaxed zigzag alignment, and c) good posture and alignment. What is particularly striking about all these photographs is that the position of the legs remains fairly constant in all three poses, i.e., behind, as we would say, their Lines. In other words, Luttgens and Wells do not seem to grasp how important the organization of the legs is for optimal alignment of the body in gravity.

The Line is a palintonic event. At the objective level of analysis it describes oppositional balance in tensile structures such as tents, suspension bridges, and human bodies. As Rolfers we attempt to evoke oppositional balance between, for example, head and feet. Creating a Line also requires back/front balance, side/side balance, up/down balance, inside/outside balance, as well as verticality and horizontality. Phenomenologically, we express this balance by saying that a Rolfed body is grounded, uplifted, and centered in the core/surface integration. Thus, there is more to our concept of the Line than there is to the kinesiological concept of a line of gravity.

In any case, we now have an objective definition of the Line. The Line is the line of gravity in a balanced or Rolfed body or where the sagittal and coronal planes intersect in a balanced or Rolfed body. With this definition now in hand, we can proceed to an objective definition of core and sleeve.

The core is an interior space in the body which lies close to and runs all the way along the Line. To speak rather loosely, the core is fatter than the Line. There are a number of ways to represent the core. For example, imagine the two sides of the body as two ellipses. Each ellipse has two foci. Imagine drawing another ellipse that includes as part of its boundary the inner foci of each ellipse. The inner ellipse is the core. Or more simply, imagine the body as a cylinder with an inner cylinder. The inner cylinder is the core.


<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/1991/350-1.gif’>

The core follows the Line. It begins at the top of the head, runs down though the thorax, pelvis, and legs. It includes the space between the legs, and emerges through the soles of the feet just in front of the heels. The lateral edges of the core go through the eyes, the schial tuberosities, and includes part of the inside surface of the legs. Thus, for example, the palintonic line or plane that is evoked in the second session of the ten series is the lateral edge of the core.

The anatomical structures within the boundaries of this core space are part of the objective reality of the core. As Rolfers we are most interested, of course, in the myo fascial structures. Some of these are the adductors, the pelvic floor, the psoas, the area of the palate, the deepest myo fascial layers of the back and so on.

The surface or sleeve of the body is the space that surrounds the core space. Some of the structures that constitute the surface are the ilio tibial band, the rectus abdominis, the rib cage myo fascia, the myo fascia of the jaw, the erector spinae and so on.

Using these objective definitions of Line, core, and surface, I believe that it is possible to state most of the constitutive principles of Rolfing, basic and advanced, in terms of palintonic lines. Although stating these principles in detail is the subject of the next article I am writing for the ROLF LINES and somewhat beyond this article, I think it might be useful to suggest the direction of the next article.

Thus, I have already pointed out, for example, that the constitutive principle of the second session is the creation of a palintonic line or plane that runs along| the lateral edge of the core. In the lower legs, access to this palintonic line is gained through the interosseous membrane and the bottoms of the feet. The third session line is also a palintonic event. It constitutes the guiding principle for the entire third session and its appearance signals back/front balance. The palinitonic line of the fourth session runs up the front of the core and in conjunction with the work of the fifth session creates oppositional balance through the front of the core and between surface and core. Access to the front of the core can be gained through the adductors, ramus, and psoas, for example. The palintonic line of the sixth session runs along the back of the core. Access to this line or plane is in part gained by working the deepest myo fascial layers of the back.

If the foregoing attempt to define Line, core, and surface objectively is successful, then it follows that the descriptions of the palintonic lines upon which they are based are also objective. These palintonic lines describe the unique and unprecedented kind of order or appropriate op positional balance that Dr. Rolf discovered she could evoke energetically and myo fascially. As I quoted her earlier, “These energy forces are not abstract; they manifest in real myo fascial material structures.” Every attempt to evoke any particular palintonic line is already the attempt to evoke the Line. Each palintonic line manifests a particular dimension of the organization necessary to the final objective goal of Rolfing which is to balance the body in gravity.

If I may be permitted to alter Dr.Rolf’s words to make a point, I would say, “These palintonic lines are not abstract; tifey manifest in real myo fascial material structures.” They are part of the constitutive principles for the organization of the human body in gravity. Further more, palintonic lines are manifest, objective realities, obvious and perceivable by thetrained eye.

Check this claim out for yourself. For example, during your next second session, stand your client up after doing only one lower leg and notice how the lateral edge of the c6re responds all the way up to the eye on the same side. The line may get lost a bit in the thorax (the back work of the second session should bring this line through the thorax better), but you should notice the effect on your client’s face. This openness and length is not the projection of an imaginary line onto your client. It is an example of a vector of lift and oppositional balance in your client’s body in relation to the gravitational field.


Recall that the prereflective dimension of experience is lived through experience and the prior ground from which subjective and objective experience emerge. Most of our attempts to either objectify or subjectify core/Line are important and necessary to our work as Rolfers. Ultimately, however, every reflective analysis must make sense of, articulate, and finally be measured against our deep estlived experiences of core/ Line before we will be satisfied with it.

Prereflectively, free of all conflict and fixation, the core/Line is our being and the surface is our doing. To gain access to our core is to gain access to the being of our human being. As I have stated in other articles, the being of our human being is the site at which Being is revealed. Our core is allowing and our surface is our will. The core is the place from which we orient toward the world and the surface is our orientation. In terms of temporality, the core is our lived-present from we which orient toward our lived future on the basis of our lived-past.

As human body-selves we continually mobilize ourselves in various ways to orient toward our world. This mobilization to orient is the surface and an act of will. Since the core is the place from which all mobilization to orient proceeds, the core never mobilizes itself towards any-thing at all. The surface is always some form of doing and willing and the core is always just being (i.e., being orising) and as such is always an act of allowing.

Metaphorically, the core “faces” in two directions at once. One direction is toward the infinite or perhaps better, the ultimate ground of Being and the other direction is toward the often conflicted and fixated human self and world. Ultimately the core of our human being is rooted in Being itself and is the event of primordial relationship (the Buddhists call it Karuna and the Christians call it Agape) which allows forth the totality of what is in time and space.

Before I conclude this paper, I briefly want to mention a possible psychological definition of the core and surface. By the very nature of its framework of inquiry, a psychological approach is an objective approach to com and surface. Thus, from a psychological standpoint the surface is our ego-self and the core is our true self. The true self is our innermost sense of identity. The realization of the true self completes what Jung would call the individuation process. The true self has many different names. Indian philosophy calls it the atman, Taoism calls it chenyen, them edieval alchemists called the virunus, and some call it the witness-self.

Since the core “faces” in two directions at once, it “faces” toward self and world and toward what is no-self. The core is the site at which Being is revealed and as such it is paradoxically both self and not-self. Thus, deeper than all psychological descriptions is the ontological which attempts to grasp the mystery of Being through the being of our human being as the site at which the radiantly presencing spaciousness of no-self sees itself as all of THIS.


As I have stated many times, Rolfing is a unique and unprecedented philosophy, science and art of manipulation. As a way to give people a quick and hope-fully easy way to grasp the unique nature of our work, I coined this heuristic maxim: “Don’t push the stars, change the sky.” Metaphorically, fascia is the sky or the context within which all systems of the body are embedded and function. When a therapist says, for example, that aligning the spine through adjusting sub luxated vertebrae will enhance our well-being, he is appealing to a star-model. By pushing the stars he claims to be able to affect the sky in a positive way. In contrast, Rolfing is a sky-model. We say that we can affect the stars (i.e., the systems of the body, the emotions, the energy, the psyche, etc.) in a positive way by transforming the sky.

Rolfing represents the creation of anew paradigm of manipulation and ex planation. Thus, every attempt to under-stand Rolfing according to already existing paradigms of manipulation and explanation such as those represented by Physical Therapy or Chiropractic, to pick just two examples, while perhaps some what useful to us, will ultimately turn out to be inadequate. We must learn to appreciate the uniqueness of our system and realize that when we say that Rolfing creates palintonic lines of order in the body, we am not speaking metaphorically. We are explaining what we do in terms that are appropriate to our work.

Palintonic lines can be spoken about objectively subjectively, and prereflectively. And even though at times we may find it useful to conceive of these lines as something we project onto a body, they are not in any simple way a mere projetion. These lines are them to be seen and the work of Rolfing establishes them in the myo fascia.

If we try to understand these lines according to some paradigm of explanation other than our own, we will find ourselves bogged down in confusing explanations that lead us astray. We do what we do in a way that is unique to Rolfing, No other system of manipulation attempts to create the kind of order in the body that Rolfing does. Because we work form a sky-model, our explanations will never be adequate if they are grounded in star-models.

We balance the human body in gravity by establishing palintonic lines in the myo fascia. Rolfing is that simple.


1. Jennette Lee, This Magic Body, (New York, 1946) p.48.

2. Ibid., p.50

3. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing: The Integration Of Human Structures, (New York, 1971)p.289.

4. Luttgens and Wells, Kinesiology, Scientific Basis Of Human Motion,(Dubuque, Iowa, 1989) p.22.

5. Ibid., p.22.

6. Ibid., p.22.

7. Ibid., pp.432-433.The Palintonic Lines of Rolfing

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