CAPA R.L - 1993-06-June

Rolfing in Russia

Pages: 8-11
Year: 1993
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES – Vol. XXI – Nº 02 – June 1993

Volume: XXI

On Wednesday, March 17, members of the Rolf Institute met with Dr. Valery M. Mikhailovsky, founder and director of the International Center School for Rehabilitation in Moscow and Vice-President of the Institute for Social Trauma, an international organization dedicated to the study, treatment and prevention of socially-based trauma. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of establishing a Rolf Institute training center in Moscow. Present at the meeting were Board. Chair Ray McCall, Executive Director James Schuelke, Assistant Education Director Cathy Allen, Certified Rolfers Darrell Sanchez and myself, and Tish Van Camp, President of the Institute for Social Trauma.

The Rolf Institute has a history of involvement with the Soviet Union, beginning in 1987 when a group of Rolfers including Willy Kaye, Helen James, Bob Murray, Dan Matarazzo and Dorothy Huntervisited Moscow, Leningrad, Sochi and Pyatigorsk (see Nov/Dec 1987 Rolf Lines). Plans to continue our work there never materialized, though Bob Murray returned on his own in 1990 and developed further contacts in Sochi, the health resort city on the Black Sea (see May/June 1990 Rolf Lines). These Rolfers agreed that their experiences were positive and that strong interest in Rolfing exists in the Russian/Soviet medical community.

As I indicated in a letter to the last issue of Roll Lines, I myself had an opportunity to demonstrate the Rolfing technique to members of a Russian delegation headed by Dr. Mikhailovsky during their visit to California in 1991. They, too, were quick to realize the value of the work. Together with Tish Van Camp, I accepted Dr. Mikhailovsky’s invitation to participate in an informational exchange and spent October and November of 1992 studying, teaching and working at the Center School for Rehabilitation in Moscow. While I was there I gave talks on Dr. Rolf’s life and work, along with several Rolfing demonstrations. The doctors, staff, volunteers and patients were all very enthusiastic about Rolfing and were most anxious to have it available at their clinic. Before I left they arranged a special meeting to emphasize how important the Rolfing work was for them and asked me to find a way for them to train as Rolfers. I agreed to bring their request to the Rolf Institute as soon as I returned to Boulder.

In January, Tish and I met with Jim Schuelke to explore both the feasibility of a Russian training and to assess the level of interest and support from the Rolf community for undertaking this project. At Jim’s suggestion I wrote an informational letter to Rolf Lines. The first Rolfers to respond were the same ones who had been to Russia previously, including Helen James who enthusiastically supports this project. She concurs that training Russian Rolfers would be an important opportunity to introduce Rolfing directly into the Russian health care system, an important step in promoting healing (See her letter to Rolf Lines, this issue.)

Bob Murray-a well-known Russophile-also contacted us to offer not only his support but also valuable information about his experiences Rolfing in Russia, including some Russian translations of articles and also the names and phone numbers of several of his Sochi colleagues. He and Michael Reams have agreed to work with Rolf Institute staffer Cathy Allen, whose academic background includes Russian history and language studies, to locate possible funding sources for the project.

As part of the ongoing informational exchange, Dr. Mikhailovsky returned to the United States in March and included Boulder in his itinerary so that he would be able to present his request for a Russian Rolfing training directly to the Rolf Institute, which was the reason for the March meeting.

During the meeting Dr. Mikhailovsky described the Center School, which specializes in post traumatic stress education and recovery with special emphasis on combat and other war related traumas. They also have programs for handicapped children, adults and their families. He stressed that the Center School is committed to the idea of strength in diversity and is dedicated to the ongoing use of cross cultural methods. He spoke of his convictions that Rolfing has a great deal to offer and that the work would be enthusiastically received and supported at his clinic.

In the discussion that followed, members of the Rolf Institute expressed both enthusiasm for the project and did some brainstorming about the technical and legal obstacles that must be hurdled. Jim Schuelke indicated that the Rolf Institute is strongly supportive of the effort to find financial backing-a sponsor or a grant-making agency, perhaps the federal government-and is ready to lend our organizational resources to such efforts.

Ray McCall raised cross-cultural considerations in training Rolfers, such as the issue of membership. Russians do not, for example, share the concept of “private practice” or of charging fees for services rendered and Rolfers would therefore be working within the established health care delivery system. Can we then have the same expectations of them in terms of dues and standards of practice? Darrell Sanchez brought up concerns about protecting the quality of the work and the integrity of the Rolf model, which concerns were shared by all present. We agreed that great care must be taken to protect the interests of the Rolf Institute, while at the same time making some appropriate adjustments in our expectations.

We also agreed that any effort to bring Rolfing to Russia would need to proceed in stages. The first stage would involve Rolfers going over to the Center School, putting potential candidates through the 10 series. These Rolfers could then assess the situation and the logistical realities of setting up a training. The second stage would involve sending a team of teachers and assistants to teach the first part of a training. This team could remain 8 to 12 weeks; however, since life there is very stressful, the probability of culture shock is high. It may be a good idea to rotate teachers and send a second team to complete the second half of the training. A series of shorter follow up visits might then be made by various Rolfers willing to lend support and encouragement to the new Russian Rolfers.

While I was in Russia it seemed clear to me that if we were to train Russians to Rolf we would need to adapt our training model somewhat. Due to the instability of the political situation and the possibility of future travel restrictions, structuring the training into two phases of auditioning and practitioning may not be the best option. A more realistic approach might be to combine them into a model wherein a basic level of Rolfing skill could be taught in 8-10 or 12 weeks that could stand on its own for awhile in the event that our ability to return to teach the next level is delayed.

It also occured to me that a Combined Studies model would work very well at the Center School, where the physicians and their support staff have undergone very sophisticated movement training in Wu Shu (Martial Arts) and a form of Tai Chi. Dance and movement therapy are important components of the Center School Recovery program. I have had a series of conversations with Gael Ohlgren about this and she feels that designing and carrying out a Russian training would provide an interesting and creative challenge for both Rolfers and Movement Teachers.

The meeting concluded with a concensus that we had made an important beginning in finding a way to bring the work to Russia. Dr. Mikhailovsky emphasized, that the Center School staff was ready and willing to join the international Rolf community and that he hoped that this could happen as soon as possible. We presented him with a Rolf Institute T shirt and the articles on Rolfing that Bob Murray had translated into Russian. The gift was returned in the form of a Center School sweatshirt which is to be worn by “the first Rolfer to come to Russia.”

Later, in California, Helen James joined Tish and I for another meeting with Dr. Mikhailovsky. She shares our concern for control of the quality of the work and for preserving the integrity of the Rolf model. Dr. Mikhailovsky again agreed that this is important and suggested therefore that the first Rolf training be very small, with six-and no more than eight-students. He further suggested that this first class consist of physicians, body workers and movement therapy staff connected with the Center. Then, we thought, the-clinic could evolve as a Moscow Rolfing center, becoming a container for the development of the work. Later in the process more Rolfers from other parts of the former Soviet Union might be trained. The initial training class could then provide potential assistants and eventually Rolfing instructors. The Center School, Dr. Mikhailovsky indicated, would be most willing to work with the Institute to preserve the quality and integrity of the model.

Tish Van Camp and I will be returning to Russia in June. As you may know, there is a civil war in the Caucusus. We have been asked to come out to a field hospital 15 kilometers from the Avkazian front to assist with the trauma work there. At theinvitation of the Society of Psychological Stress in Moscow, Darrell Sanchez and I have been working on a crosscultural, non-verbal, somatically-based and cost effective model for acute and chronic trauma that can be easily transmitted to non-professionals and volunteer workers. This model, which grew out of our somatic experiencing work with Peter Levine, is still evolving and I believe that this on-line experience will provide us with greater understanding. The Russian media will be accompanying us for a week. Later in the month, we will be traveling to the Minsk area to work with the children of Chernobyl.

We will also be spending a couple of weeks in Moscow with Dr. Mikhailovsky and continuing our association with the Center School. I am pleased that I have the support of the Rolf Institute to continue conversations about the possible training center. I should have a clearer picture of the work that lies ahead of us when I return later this summer.

Many thanks to those of you who have already responded positively to this project. At present, it is still not certain that we will be able to get it off the ground in the next couple of years, though many of us are committed to the effort. For the next couple of months, Bob Murray and Michael Reams will be working with Cathy Allen on possible funding sources. A Russia Project working group will be getting together in August at the Annual Meeting to continue the work of brainstorming the nature of the project, in all its complexity, and putting the pieces together. Anyone who is interested in the project should contact Cathy Allen at the Rolf Institute, We need all the talent and creative energy we can get!


I have just returned from a meeting with Anngwyn Hamilton-St. Just, R.N., M.A.; Dr. Valery M. Mikhailovsky, General Director, International Center School of Rehabilitation; Tish Van Camp and Ludmila Drapkina, the Russian-English interpreter. The meeting took place in Tish’s home at Pt. Reyes, CA. I am engulfed with a feeling of stepping back into Russia for a brief moment, no doubt because I was there in 1987 with the Rolfer-Physical Therapist group and am experiencing the same intense connection with the Russian people that has lingered within me ever since.

In my view, the Russian project-taking Rolfing to the Russian people is as important as any project the Rolf Institute has ever undertaken. This is a most significant milestone in the evolution of the Rolfing process and a partial fulfillment of Dr. Rolf’s dream. We have a port of entry into this vast country and are being implored to share our vital work with an elite group of health professionals who already recognize its value and credibility. Anngwyn must be commended for opening this door of opportunity to us. It is very evident that she is dedicated to this project since she has gone to great lengths in monetary expenditure and much personal sacrifice to this purpose. Dr. Mikhailovsky, on the other side, has also sacrificed himself greatly in coming here to ask for our help in taking Rolfing to a country that is filled with turmoil and trauma. To do this he leaves, even for a short time, a situation of crisis and vast need. This is a rare opportunity, my friends, a way for us to bring some balance, order and integrity to our Russian friends and soul-mates, a way for us to contribute to world healing.

The following are some observations and interjected thoughts after spending a weekend in this bi-cultural milieu. I include myself as a participant in this project as an explanation but without the expectation that I will, in fact, take part although it is my hope that I can.

1. The Rolfers who will begin the initial segment of the project must, themselves, establish a sound and collaborative relationship prior to departure. They will require planning time and an orientation to the cross-cultural aspects of interpersonal relationships. This is vital to establishing a healthy and unobtrusive atmosphere that will be fairly free of misunderstood good intentions.

2. The needs to be fulfilled are vast and at this time, I believe, are beyond our comprehension. I cannot overstate the importance of this project. The part we play and the way we play it are not only affecting the players or the institutes they represent-we are in a position, right now, to make a difference in the future of our people, our countries and our world. We have an opportunity for Rolfing to stretch itself beyond its imaginings.

3. Bridging the communication gap is vital to the success of the project. I observed that there are three major tiers of understanding involved in a two language interpreter process: a) the initial information spoken to the interpreter, b) the interpreter’s understanding of the information, and c) the receiver’s understanding of the information relayed by the interpreter. The structure and nuance of the language and the experiential background of the parties are also factors to be considered. As the meeting progressed, it became apparent to me that both Dr. Mikhailovsky and I understood the medical language, and this afforded us a direct and clear communication in those areas of application. Medical terminology and jargon are universally understood by the medically trained. It was designed to that very purpose. The Rolfing candidates that Dr. Mikhailovsky and Anngwyn have chosen are physicians or highly trained medical professionals. I believe it will be necessary to access this common language-especially for the ones of us who have experience in rehabilitation and pediatric settings.

4. I feel strongly, and Anngwyn agrees, that the initial number of Rolfing candidates be kept small. Six trainees would be a maximum number. The logistics are complex and extensive. Even the simplest of supplies are not available there. The things we take for granted in America are either unaffordable or not available or accessible in Russia. For example, they don’t have paper products, disposables, film, slide projectors or other AV equipment, copiers, Rolfing tables or even hot water. There is one sink with a cold water faucet for the entire clinic. The scheduling will have to be entirely flexible. Patients will be coming for treatment at the clinic each day. They arrive at unscheduled times since they rely on public transportation. Buses break down frequently, and schedules are erratic. Many times patients have to stay overnight, sleeping on mats put down on the floor. This training will offer a tremendous challenge as it will create new and interesting problems to solve.

5. I believe that we should participate as fully as possible in treating patients in the clinic while we are there. To have a physical therapist-Rolfer with a background of clinical experience would be a definite advantage. We can also present lectures to them. Anngwyn gave a number of lectures. She said that they were pleased with all the information she presented and were hungry for more.

6. Funding, of course, is the bottom line in order for this project to go forward. Food and housing will be provided by the Russians. Anngwyn lived with the Mikhailovsky family during her stay in Russia. Compensation for the participants’ lost income and transportation would be the other major expense. The necessity of major funding needs to be an accepted fact. However, the true longrange value to Rolfing is incalculable.

I have set out some of my thoughts and impressions about the Russian project. I think Robert Murray would be a logical choice for this mission. He has studied Russian language and history for years and has visited there several times as you probably know. He and I know each other quite well from our time together while on the 1987 trip to the Soviet Union and a later visit at my home in California. I believe Bob and I could prepare a solid groundwork toward the training of Rolfers in Russia. We could Rolf the candidates-two sessions per week-and also treat patients and deliver lectures. The candidates could complete their auditing training with much time for observation, evaluation and study. Bob and I would need lead time together. This will require careful planning and attention to detail. We would benefit from some planning time with Anngwyn in order to eliminate many of the pitfalls. It will require chameleon-like versatility and adaptability, but it will also be a challenge that will stretch and strengthen our abilities to and beyond the foreseeable limits. I realize that what I have set forth here is sketchy and in no way detailed. However, I wanted to set my thoughts down while they were still fresh.

The weekend spent in the presence of this group has affected me deeply. Each is intensely committed. Dr. Mikhailovsky worked into the night while I was there until 3:00-4:00am was the usual. The intention is clear cut-the sensitivity, awareness and response to each other was demonstrated over and over in the non-verbal communication that transpires and was addressed. No assumptions were made-feelings were dealt with when they presented. I saw them as close-knit, courageous, intelligent, and they respect each other greatly. I feel privileged to have had this time with them.

Helen G. James

To have full access to the content of this article you need to be registered on the site. Sign up or Register. 

Log In