Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES – Vol XX Nº 01 – Winter 1992

Volume: 20

Many people have devoted their lives to studying and practicing Rolfing. As I reflect on the countless individuals I have Rolfed over the years, I know that quite a few of them were inspired to the point where they made substantial changes in their habits. For many, their health improved significantly as they modified certain beliefs and expectations they had about themselves, their potential, and what they anticipated from life. I know other Rolfers who have had the same positive influence on their clients. When I think about how big Rolfing is, the largest imaginable space that Rolfing can contain, I know our work goes way beyond straightening spines and releasing tension in the fascia.

In the same way, yoga has the potential for dramatically influencing one’s lifestyle and deepest values. What people learn through yoga has the potential for influencing many aspects of their self expression, their self regard and how they move through life. For many individuals, learning to consciously release tension at a deep level of holding touches their very soul. Frequently yoga students get in touch with old holding patterns that exemplify ways in which they have blocked themselves emotionally. The ability to go into areas of their bodies which were previously blocked with tension enables the individual to let go of many of these old ways of being. Often, the result is a kind of newfound freedom that comes as a tremendous relief.

The examples of lessons learned through yoga will remind Rolfers very much of the typical benefits for which their clients seek the Rolfer’s services. What follows is a partial list describing these benefits. Bear in mind that this list serves as a description for the advantages for both Rolfing and yoga.
The objectives are the same.

Relief from chronic tension; improve body alignment, relief from acute pain, such as the recovery from an injury; increased body awareness; relief from emotional blocks stored in the body; to learn to move with increased grace and agility; to increase flexibility; to offset the deleterious side-effects of aging; to learn to release the tension and pain associated with working; improved stamina and performance in sports; improved health in general; relief from the physical symptoms of specific stress-related diseases and syndromes, such as asthma, Crohn’s disease, hypertension, insomnia and migraine head aches.

From the above list, I have seen people benefit equally from Rolfing and yoga. In both disciplines, the participant learns to release tension on the level of muscles, connective tissue, and viscera. Structurally, through yoga and Rolfing, the body regains its lost balance, symmetry and optimal functioning. When the breath moves into areas of the body that were previously blocked with armoring, a healing takes place that can catapult an individual into a whole new level of health and wellness. Many health problems are the bi-product of space impingement in the body. A spastic colon may be the result of an intra visceral environment that is so chronically contracted, the colon simply does not have room to perform its natural function. The same could be said of other major organs as well as the joints. Give the body room to function, and miracles occur!

In his wonderful book, Job’s Body, Deane Juhan reports that the soft tissue releases comparably in response to pressure, heat and stretching.’ When I manually stretch the connective tissue by moving the limb, rotating the spine or manipulating the flesh, the client usually finds it easy and safe to let go. The principle of “Minimal Touch” is operative here: The least effort used to obtain the most desired results yields the most effective change. Often the stretch feels more supportive and less invasive to the client than heavy pressure. Therefore, with less effort on both of our parts, she or he is able and willing to release the holding.

Inner Angle

This concept is central to the effective blending of yoga and Rolfing. It also crystallizes Dr. Rolf’s concept of lengthening while moving. Imagine you are sitting at the head of the table, doing neck work on your client. The client’s head is turned to her left. You are Rolfing the right side of her neck, below the right ear, the area around the right clavicle, etc. But the head seems a little stuck. It is easy to feel the resistance, the reluctance of the head and neck to rotate to the left. On the left side of the neck are the muscles whose function is to rotate the head to the left. Consider that the reason the head won’t rotate to the left, is that the muscles that would normally perform this function are short and rigid. For the head to rotate to the left passively these muscles need to soften and fold like an accordion. If the muscles do not let go, you will encounter a certain inability of the client’s head and neck to give in response to your manipulations. On a subjective basis, this is the kind of problem that the client reports as limited range of motion. Inflexibility is not only the result of muscles, or muscle groups, being unable to lengthen. It is also the result of the antagonist muscles being fixed and unable to release. This principle is applicable to the entire body.

Working the antagonist group, asking the muscles that normally would perform this particular function to let go into your hands, is an extremely effective way to increase the range of motion. This is where Dr. Rolf’s work around lengthening while moving really made sense to me. She was teaching that the tendons and muscle groups on the inside of the angle of movement need to yield and release. Naturally, as a Rolfer, you have the skills to produce these changes with your hands. By supporting your client’s body in a number of different movements, figure out what is being stretched and what is being asked to fold and soften while your client surrenders the movement over to you. In terms of an education, your client is learning to copy this movement because you are pointing out this alternative to her as she lets go in your hands.

Yoga and Movement Work

Where I had the “aha!” about lengthening while moving was in my yoga practice, and in leading groups and individuals in yoga. What was ironic, is that this principle was fundamental to my yoga work already in progress. As a result of the Rolfing technology I used new words to describe something I already knew. In any yoga asana, particularly the ones that require flexibility (versus the ones that focus primarily on balance or strength), there are several events occurring in the body simultaneously. A simple forward bend is a good example. The entire back side of the body is being stretched. From the calcaneous to the occiput; the demand on the body to let go is very high.

What facilitates the ultimate release across the back side is the corresponding softening on the front side. If the front of the body tightens, the back side shortens. For example, if the hip flexors are tight (front side) the hamstrings are inhibited (back side). The spanning across and deep into the hip joints in flexion is a bi-product of the muscles and tendons surrounding the joint lengthening. Unless all muscles (or muscle groups) and their respective tendinous attachments lengthen in movement, then the integrity of the entire joint is compromised.

Muscles and their tendons contract in the course of many movement sequences. The biceps must contract to produce the strength necessary to lift a ten-pound weight. What yoga and Rolfing offer is are evaluation of the countless ways our bodies have gotten into the habit of contracting which is inefficient, unnecessary and ultimately debilitating. When we bend over to tie our shoes, we don’t have to contract our hip joints. It would work very well to allow gravity to glide us downwards.

A more exacting way to see this is to disregard the front and back of the body as two separate entities. The body is only separated when the layering of tension disturbs the integration. When the movement and the release come from the inside, there is no separation. The movement and release drop down into the core level which is ultimately how a well integrated body functions. In working with Rolfing clients and yoga students, it is extremely satisfying to witness the release from this deep place. It looks like a wave, or an opening that happens someplace deep between the front and back sides. I often have the sense that this is the place where people change fundamentally. Loosening an Achilles tendon will typically not impact someone’s life. But when this release moves into the person’s leg, when his nervous system adjusts to accommodate the increase in energy and flexibility, this is when the work gets powerful. These deep releases tend to spread in the body.

In yoga, it is easy for the student to feel that by contracting the front of the hip joints, particularly where the quadriceps insert above the femur, the back of the body tightens. The harder the student works, the more her or his body rebels by pulling back. As a Rolfer, if you are doing a manipulation where you are bringing your client’s knee towards her or his chest, and you run into some stiffness across the back, you can get great results by applying pressure to the abdomen, deep into the hip flexors and across the hip joints. This is the inner angle. It is an invaluable tool for the Rolfer and an excellent application of the principles of yoga.

Developing Strength

Muscles lose their strength when the resting length of the fibers has shortened past a critical point. At this point, the muscle fibers fatigue. Chemical waste products that are a direct result of the chronic contraction build up and act as irritants to the nerves. Releasing tension increases strength. There is another aspect to this. Imagine the muscles acting as a series of pulleys and levers. As the arm lifts overhead, the trapezius and deltoids come into action. The muscles that are being stretched are under the arm (triceps) and along the side and back of the torso (serratus, latissimus). If the connective tissue that is being stretched is foreshortened as a result of chronic or acute tension, the levers are lifting against a counter-force. This significantly increases the drag against the limb (the arm in this case) being lifted. Subjectively, the body records this experience as weakness in the arm and shoulder. Exhaustion sets in the body after physical exertion and tension-provoking activities. The body is operating within a field of internal resistance. It pulls against itself.

Weakness in the body is a presenting problem I hear frequently from my Rolfing clients and yoga students. Currently I am working with a woman who went to a neurologist for weakness in her right arm. He operated in her neck, replacing the disk between C5 and C6 with a bone chip from a cadaver. The weakness in her arm did not go away. It was only through the stretching and Rolfing manipulations that her underarm and sides of her torso released extremely deep and knotty tension. The weakness in her arm disappeared promptly. Without the counter-resistance, there was no problem in achieving complete, strong and easy range of motion in her arm and entire shoulder joint. Depending on the nature of the problem, sometimes this is a simple correction for a troubling condition.

Creating a High Demand

Another application of yoga technology to manipulative therapy comes as a result of the demand placed on the body in a variety of positions and stretches. Although the “Z Position” in Rolfing is effective, it is not sacred in terms of addressing all imaginable, tightness and areas of inflexibility in the body. The purpose of this position is to ask the body to accommodate itself to the demand of the stretches being placed on it. The other purpose of this stretch is for the Rolfer to examine the body in order to determine where the body gets “hung up”. Where are the disruptions in terms of the fluidity and flexibility of the entire fascial web? How and where is the body holding back? What doesn’t give? Why not use other stretches to expand the quantity of information the Rolfer has to deal with in the client’s body?

There is no reason why these questions are limited to the “Z Position”. It is only through a wide range of stretches that the entire picture comes to life! For some individuals the “Z Position” is easy. There is no visible disturbance to the lengthening of the entire network of connective tissue. The client sits comfortably and responds relatively easily to this particular demand. However, if the leg position were modified, is the deep release maintained? Can the body stay relaxed in response to a different demand, or does it pull up, or back or away? Herein lies the beauty of using a variety of positions to challenge the body to respond favorably under different situations. Ultimately, the greatest potential for movement, flexibility and range of motion comes not from one or even a handful of stretches. The wider range of stretches asks more of the body in terms of releasing chronic tension on a deeper level. If one stretch doesn’t get to a particular fixation in the musculature or connective tissue, there is another one that will.

1 Juhan, Deane. Job’s Body Station Hill Press.

Rosie Spiegel is an Advanced Certified Rolfer, a graduate of the Iyengar Yoga institute, a graduate of the Trager Institute and an instructor in yoga and body therapy since 1975. Her articles have appeared in Yoga Journal, Runners World and the Journal of American Massage Therapy. She is the author of Yoga for Rolfers, Movement Teachers and Their Clients and the forth coming book Bodies, Health and Consciousness. Rosie is on the teaching faculty of the Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto, California. Rosie teaches yoga for the Rolf Institute.

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