Aline: My thoughts about this are that people don’t know you very well, and there are different approaches to helping people know you, some of which have to do with talking a little bit about your past, before we talk about your vision of our work. One of the things that interests me is that you are currently our only faculty member who has also been part of the Institute’s administration you’ve also been president of the Rolf Institut and you have both the in-house, faculty perspective, and also the organizational perspective.
Michael: So let’s start there.
Aline: When were you president of the Rolf Institute? Georgette: First, you were on the Board…
Michael: Well, I began to be involved in the administrative side of the Institute in Big Sur, before the Institute was an official organization, and Rosemary Feitis ran Ida’s training school out of the trunk of her Volvo. It was in Big Sur that Ida decided to incorporate the Institute was originally incorporated as a California non profit organization. I was on the Board of Directors from the beginning of the Institute until Ida died and during much of that time I did act as Chairman of the Board.
Aline: Did you have ideas about how you wanted things to go at that time or did Ida tell everyone what she wanted and then you served more as a formality?
Michael: Definitely we were there to serve Ida-we were there to help her implement her vision. It was always a privilege to be around her in whatever capacity you ended up serving her, and I was the enthusiastic type and threw myself into it I had always had leadership roles in organizations that I’d been involved in since I was a kid…
Aline: Is that before you were teaching?
Michael: Yes, well, they happened sort of simultaneously. I was trained by Ida, two years later I was in the first advanced class she taught, then I was her assistant and then she asked me to start teaching. That was a little terrifying because I had been a Rolfer basically for five years when she put me in a position to start teaching. It was very stressful. At the same time I was involved in the development of the Institute as an organization and as a community and as a school.
Aline: So you were teaching, and you became president?
Michael: Well, what happened was that about 3 years before Ida died, she decided, and the Board decided, that it would be appropriate to have a spokesperson for Rolfing other than herself, and that we should have a president. Ida had a conversation with Joe Heller and myself. It was not appropriate for me at that time in my life to take on that kind of responsibility, so I deferred to Joe and he became the first president of the Institute. He had a very ambitious vision of Rolfing’s social growth. Joe wanted to train 10,000 Rolfers-he had been very influenced by the emerging entrepreneurial archetype that was active in the late 70’s and saw Rolfing very much as a business saw the business side of Rolfing-which no one had really articulated.
Georgette: He wanted Rolfers to make millions of dollars-that’s what he was saying.
Michael: There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I think that Joe’s vision was faster than the organization could move.
Aline: The organization wasn’t ready for marketing on that scale?
Michael: That’s exactly right. It wasn’t able to follow him. And Joe felt some urge inside himself to do this, and ultimately he left and started Heller work. I was appointed by the Board to be acting president for six months and then there was an election, and I was elected president.
Aline: Were you actually president when Ida died?
Michael: Yes. I gave the eulogy at her funeral. I went as a representative of the Rolfing community to deliver the eulogy.
Aline: Do you remember what you were thinking at the time? Were you wondering whether the Institute was going to survive?
Michael: Everyone was. That happens in any crisis, like the most recent split off, and that was one. Bill Williams had opened a school in Florida, and Joe Heller was going to open his school and Judith Aston had left and everyone was afraid that the center wouldn’t hold; and then Ida died. So I felt a tremendous responsibility to somehow hold the center, to represent the possibility that even in the midst of all of these separatist trends that the Institute still contained the core of Ida’s teaching and the core of her students and that it would continue to be the strongest and the pre-eminent school of bodywork, which I think it has been.
Aline: How do you hold the center with something like that? What did you do?
Michael: Well, you feed the strength and the vision. You find the strength and you identify with it and you cultivate it.
Aline: And you talk about it?
Michael: You talk about it and you try to build an organization that has some ability to manifest its objectives. It has to be able to do something. So the most important thing that happened at that time was-there was this great thrust about separate schools, and at that point there was great interest in Europe,
Georgette: I was going to come to America to learn Rolfing and then steal it, but when I realized how good it was, I knew I couldn’t just run away; that it would take me years to learn it well. There were these postural integration people who were teaching. It was a catastrophe: one of my friends had taken one Rajneesh class and said he was trained in “Rolfing”-it was total hysteria. So I came here and said to Michael, “We can’t let it go; we can’t stay here and pretend that nothing is happening. We can’t keep fighting small guerrilla’s among ourselves because the Europeans are imitating us and messing it up.
Michael: It was Georgette and Veronique Raskin and her brother, Van Dan Ginoulhac, who was a young French physician-“We will help you,” they said and Peter Schwind was also involved.
Aline: So basically Europe was the first satellite school.
Michael: I went to Europe; the Board was unanimously opposed to it.
Aline: You, as president, were independent of the Board then?
Michael: Well, I was elected, and at that point I had been elected by a 95% majority
Aline: Do you remember how many Rolfers there were then?
Michael: 300 maybe. But the administrative, structural problem between the president and the Board surfaced during my tenure, and in fact I think I brought it up, and brought it to a head-the fact that the president and the Board could be operating at cross-purposes, given the way the Institute was structured. I saw that it was absolutely essential that we go to Europe or it would be appropriated, but the Board was opposed to it, so I went to Europe on my own money. We set up interviews in Geneva and I did lectures and demonstrations and students came and we interviewed them and eventually we started a training class in an old abandoned monastery in the foothills of the Alps outside of Geneva, between Geneva and Lyons. My assistant was Van Dan, and he had set it up and made all the arrangements. It was quite exciting- It was a lot of fun.
Aline: So you taught there?
Michael: I taught the first two classes in Europe, but the European school.. I had fallen in love with Georgette who was a European. So the Board thought I was just running after her; but it seemed to me to be a good sign and it also has, I think, historically proven to be a successful school. It certainly was the right thing to do.
Georgette: And then Peter Schwind saw the opportunity to really do something and he started to become vocal and set things up in Germany. The French were not as receptive to Rolfing except for Van Dan and his friends, but it was a very small group, while the Germans were receptive.
Aline: It is still that way I think- the place that Rolfing seems to have taken off is Germany, and somewhat in Italy. France seems to have more legal restrictions.
Michael: It was very funny because the Italians’ English was not very good. All of my lectures were taped, and after the morning lecture, the Italians would sit during my demo with earphones, listening to the talk played back so that they could get the words. They had to struggle. Georgette spoke Italian so she was able to translate for all the students, since she spoke 5 languages. Half of the models came from Geneva and Lyons, very chic and sophisticated people, and the other half were countryside peasants, who would pay for their Rolfing by contributing to the larder. They would trade us chickens and eggs and bread, and we hired a cook, and all the students lived there and we had a huge table set out under the trees.
Aline: It sounds ideal. When do we get to go back?
Michael: It was a lot of fun. It was very intense. Teaching a residential class is very draining because you are never not working, so to speak.
Aline: So there you were teaching a residential class, starting the European school and being president of the Rolf Institute. Then what happened? Did you burn out?
Michael: Yes, absolutely. I think two things happened. At the time I think I did a fairly good job as president because I had a vision and I was able to act on it. I was able to do something at a time when it was important to get something happening so that there was some sign of strength and activity within the Institute
Aline: The vision being Europe?
Michael: Europe, and also I hired a P.R. firm in New York. You know, we were doing something. I think my great weakness was that I was not very good at building consensus.
Aline: It is sometimes hard to get something done and build consensus.
Michael: So I ended up alienating the Board. And it was at that point that Dean and Laurie Rollins had wanted very much to support Rolfing and they were working with me. We were trying to do a film, and Dean had started the Aspen Research Institute which was going to be involved in doing research on Rolfing. Dean had hired Julian Silverman to draw up a large scenario research scheme. Dean and Laurie had donated the money. Jim Oshman was involved. At a Board meeting in Big Sur, it became clear that the Board didn’t feel adequate to managing the president. They felt that I was off and doing things and that they weren’t really involved and I simply said to them “Well do something.” But it was clear that there was a power imbalance. I think only in the last few years has the Board finally achieved a certain level of self-confidence and self-consciousness in its ability to collectively govern the affairs of the Institute. What happened was there was a breakdown and Julian was into organizational development in those days, so Dean and Laurie donated the fees through ARI to pay Julian to come in and do some organizational consulting with the Board. At that point the Board and the president were going to be separate functional identities and then there would be some working relationship that would be established. There was an election that occurred shortly after that and Neal was elected.
Aline: Were you glad?
Michael: In retrospect, yes. But at the time it was a defeat. I ran to be re-elected and I had more work that I was going to do. I think it would have been a disaster for me. I was very happy to be relieved of the administrative responsibilities and to be able to come back and teach and to devote myself to my work which is much more nourishing and much more interesting- although I certainly enjoyed the work I’ve always had an entrepreneurial interest. Julian then stayed on as an organizational consultant with the Institute for several years during Neal’s tenure, and became who I eventually thought was the man who came to dinner and just never went away. But I think Julian was quite influential during that period of time, then eventually he left and we went on to our next phase of advisors.
Aline: So after having been in a fairly prominent position, it seems that you kind of drew back
Michael: Yes. I actually had a dream that told me to do that. I had a dream during the elections that basically told me that my personal work, what I should do for myself, is to no longer be identified with large groups, that I was overly identified with the group and that it was not good for me. I needed to pull back and introvert.
Aline: What did you do to introvert?
Michael: Spent more time alone.
Aline: Is that all?
Michael: Well that is what it comes down to. I took up fly fishing. I went back to my practice. I had a new relationship, and I devoted myself to the connections that I have in my community and in my immediate family, my wife and my son. My son was going into adolescence, so I focused my energy on my immediate surroundings, and on my practice. I identified myself more as a practitioner who worked in a community and I drew my sense of strength and support and identification from the community that I serve and less from the Institute.
Aline: Well, you’ve talked a lot about visions of the Institute, so my last question on this subject is: What is your current vision of the Institute?
Michael: Well I don’t think that I have a grand vision, because I don’t think that is really what is called for. I do think that it is time for us to make some strategic decisions-which I think we are in the process of making about the way in which we are going to establish our work in the broader social context. I think that it is clear that Rolfing is not likely to get licensed on its own, and it is also clear that the profession of massage, which twenty years ago carried the stigma of prostitution and old Christian ladies, has dramatically changed. The massage profession has been rehabilitated. We should identify with the massage profession, and we should have our school organized in such a way that our graduates qualify for massage licensure in various states. We should absolutely become certified through the AMTA, which will which give our graduates the possibility of going right from our school into a state licensure. This seems do-able. All I’m saying is that as we go into this period of curriculum development, it should be done in such a way that our curriculum develops so that our graduates qualify for massage licenses. What we are doing with the Federation, our affiliation with the AMTA, all of this is really going in the right direction. So it is just a simple thing like that. Let’s develop our curriculum in such a way that our students can qualify for a massage license.
Aline: I happen to completely agree with you
Michael: I think that the definition of massage has been broadened now to include bodywork, and we have the National Certification bodywork exam. I think we should support that, and our curriculum should be designed to train people to take it. We should insist that the exams reflect what we think is important in our training. A lot of work is being done on this.
Aline: One approach is to make Rolfing a graduate level massage program, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect to have Rolfing principles represented in the first level massage exam. Ultimately, there would be a structural integration certification.
Michael: Either that or we can work towards a definition of massage that is broad enough that it allows people to practice under a massage license with very different kinds of training, so that your test would to some extent reflect your training. That seems quite likely to me, and it means that people can put out the 11 thousand dollars it takes to get trained as a Rolfer and go out and get licensed, which would be a very good thing for us to do to stimulate enrollments.
Aline: The Board and Foundations Program are already actually moving in this direction.
So let’s move away from Michael as statesman to Michael as Rolfing teacher. Can you compare how you saw yourself back in the early days as a teacher and what you were teaching with what you teach now? What do you think the biggest differences are?
Michael: Well, in those days I was simply reproducing Ida’s vision. I was attempting to reproduce as faithfully as I could what I had been taught by her. And when I teach now, I believe I teach as an inheritor of her teaching and as someone with twenty-five years of clinical practice and twenty years of teaching. Ida’s vision always forms the context, but I teach very much now from my own vision of the work. And I believe that in many ways, the work has been developed by many Rolfers far beyond where she left it, and that’s of course as it should be. So I teach much more now from my own direct experience, because now I have direct experience which in those days I didn’t have.
Aline: You’ve said “Ida’s vision” about three times already. What do you mean?
Michael: When she first asked me to teach, I taught the recipe, the ten session recipe, diligently. In those days it was even more specific in terms of what the practitioner actually did than it is as we teach it now-Now we teach objectives and we separate technique from objectives; we even separate objectives from principles-In those days we didn’t make those distinctions. So I reproduced the way she taught the recipe. It was a ritualistic approach.
Aline: In your experience of watching her work, did she work by the recipe?
Michael: No. No. I think the recipe contained a set of observations that she had made, but the recipe came into being when Ida was faced with the challenge of teaching relatively large numbers of people in a relatively short period of time.
Aline: So when you think back to what her demonstrations looked like, a 3rd hour, for instance did it look basically like what we think of as a third hour?
Michael: More or less. She was careful to do that in a demonstration. But I’ve been in many classes where old clients of hers came into the class to receive work from her and I assure you she didn’t do an advanced series of 5 on them. At that point there wasn’t even an advanced series of 5. That wasn’t invented until she started teaching the first advanced class, and then it was only four.
Aline: What did you do in the first advanced class?
Michael: Well, we learned where to go next, sort of. It was an extension of the basic class…
Aline: How long had you been Rolfing?
Michael: I’d been Rolfing two years.
Aline: Did Ida just gather a bunch of people together?
Michael: She invited ten people and said “I’m going to teach an advanced class. You come.” It was very funny because we had done the first two hours, and we were told the third session was supposed to have something to do with the shoulder girdle-At that time there was very little arm work in the basic series. It was in that advanced class that we first started to deal with the arms. We were supposed to come back after lunch and do the session, and Ida took a nap, and didn’t show up. So there we were, supposed to do a session, and we’d never been shown we had talked a little bit about it in the morning…
Aline: What did you do?
Michael: Well, we went to work as best we could.
Aline: Did she show up?
Michael: Yes, she eventually woke up. I think it was partially deliberate: it was her attempt to get us to think about what we were doing-because we were all relatively young in this work.
Aline: Did you already have a sense from studying with her that she was interested in different osteopathic techniques, cranial work, and visceral work?
Michael: Yes. I don’t think that visceral work ever had a domain, a name, before Barral. But she certainly knew there were organs in there and she knew that they had structural components. You know her famous statement that positioning the pelvis to better contain the viscera would improve physiology and her whole interest in the floor of the pelvis and urogenital functioning and the relationship of the diaphragm…
Aline: So it was there but not expressed as such?
Michael: It was definitely there. At one point Ida gave me a copy of Sutherland’s The Cranial Bowl. She talked often about the cerebral spinal fluid and motion in the sacrum.
Aline: Did you get the feeling she was pointing you in directions of inquiry?
Michael: Yes, I think she was pointing out, and she was also living out. She was continuing her own interests. It’s hard to know, particularly in retrospect, how much she knew and was withholding, and how much we were actually living at the frontier of her own knowledge. It’s impossible to know if there was a storehouse of knowledge that never got transmitted, or if she was actually teaching at the level of her understanding. I know in the beginning classes she certainly was teaching at the level of the beginning student. In the advanced classes I had the definite impression because I was her assistant in the second advanced class-I had the distinct impression that part of what was happening was that she was able to engage in a dialogue with students who had worked 3 to 5 years. This was the first time this was ever possible for her, to talk to people who understood her work. She had to train enough people to get the dialogue going. She had to literally manufacture the dialogue single handedly.
Aline: Maybe that’s why things have taken off so much in the past few years, in terms of theory and new frontiers of Rolfing-because there are enough people who have actually been working for long enough.
Georgette: We started to study with Upledger almost 8 years ago. These things are not new, they just didn’t come out-we were studying them then, and the teachers were talking about that..
Aline: Yes, the same is true about the role of the nervous system. I read an excerpt of minutes from a faculty meeting from 1984
Michael: Yes, I gave a presentation at a teacher’s meeting about the importance of the autonomic nervous system. I think that was one of the first additions that we attempted to make to Rolfing. Rolfing grew up during the human potential movement; it was weaned at Esalen, and emotional release was very much a part of the milieu in which Rolfing developed. In some ways it was foreign to Ida. She had a structural approach. She certainly understood that emotions played a role in structural inhibition, but I don’t think that she felt the great thrust of the human potential movement, the desire for sexual and emotional spontaneity, that was expressed in the younger generation. And many people sought out Rolfing for those purposes. So I think it was important that we come to terms with the emotional side of the work without doing psychotherapy and that meant you had to understand something about the autonomic nervous system what discharge was; what did resolution look like; and was screaming really beneficial because it obviously isn’t always beneficial, nor is crying. And of course. Peter Levine, who was trained around the same time I was, had been very much influenced by the work of Wilhelm Reich. His graduate work in physiology had been devoted to attempting to unearth some of the physiological mechanisms that may underly these somatic approaches to psychic processes. He was instrumental in Rolfing’s understanding of the nervous system.
Aline: Do you think that you, like Ida, are teaching one thing and doing something somewhat different in your office?
Michael: Well, I think I’ve been fairly frank on the faculty in regard to this issue. I have always said that I felt that the advanced class was overly dependent on a recipe. That isn’t the way I practiced, so why should I teach that way? I think that, along with some other issues, the struggle around the structure of the advanced class and the lack of ability to bring new things into the work-having it perceived as a threat to Ida’s recipe-this was a very large issue on the faculty, and ultimately led to the split. Yes, I did feel that I was in a situation where I wasn’t teaching what I was doing. I think more and more I do teach from the point of view that I practice from. And as a consequence I’ve brought spinal mechanics into the advanced class, because that’s very important in my practice. I found early on that people came to me to get structurally integrated, even if they were motivated by personal transformation. If they had a chronic back problem, it was a huge obstacle, in fact, it was impossible to get them organized unless I could resolve this long-standing problem. Since it is rampant in the population, I felt like I needed to understand it. I was unwilling to send them to someone else and let them do it. It seemed to me that this was something that was appropriately within my domain, and that if Rolfing was really such hot stuff I should certainly be able to take care of someone’s chronic back problem. It took me three or four years of sweating down in my office, and some fairly long sessions, but I eventually did figure it out. I got to the place where I could predictably make the situation significantly better. What I noticed was my practice exploded and I was able to raise my rates because I could produce a result that people couldn’t get elsewhere. I was able to bring to the problem of chronic low back pain the structural vision that I had learned from Ida. I knew that the legs were important and that it wasn’t just the spine, and that ultimately everything was connected, so I could always rehabilitate the back in the context of a larger structural vision. I got very profound results, and people sensed that. They were willing to come and pay a hundred dollars a session.
Aline: I can’t help thinking that there is still an element of not teaching exactly what we do
Michael: I think it comes down to two problems: One is the staging of learning, the staging of knowledge, the sequence in which people learn things-I can’t go into a beginner’s class and talk to them about the way I work because they would be overwhelmed with the amount of detail that I am able to hold. I’ve been doing it for so long, much of it is actually instinctive. But I think it is even more fundamental than that, that we are operating in a domain-and I think that we get into trouble with this all the time-we are dealing with such a profound subject matter that it is impossible for us to give it all due attention. If you read the Rolf Lines, and you watch the flow of popular subjects, the fads, in the Institute, you’ll see it swing from one side to another.
Aline: What are the sides?
Michael: Well, for example, there was a fascination with the emotional implications of Rolfing for many, many years, and what discharge meant and how important it was to pay attention to the emotional side of Rolfing. Then we got very, completely, obsessed with the profound amount of structural information that was available to us in other schools, that we could learn from, assimilate, and appropriate. So we’ve been in a period of drawing on these other schools and using this structural knowledge when teaching about the spine. We understand joints much better than we used to, and the relationship of soft tissue to joints; we understand the skull and the dura and its relationship to full body integration; we understand viscera, we know that the liver has a huge effect on the position of the lumbar spine, and acts on the psoas and we know how to intervene. But we are going to see a pull, and it will be necessary for us very soon, to move to another domain, another aspect of the work: the transformational, energetic side of the work. We’ll see a resurgence of this now: As the structural vision starts to get articulated, another aspect of the work will crop up. Unfortunately we think during a time of structural discussion that “Oh well, Rolfing is only about structure.” Well, it is what we are interested in at the time-but we are looking at something that has so many sides. To get good at this you need to be able to look at it from so many dimensions. That goes on both in individuals’ practices-you can watch them: someone will go through a period of learning about the emotional aspect, and then they will learn about structure and then they’ll learn about energy. They are rounding themselves out. To be good at this work is incredibly demanding.
Aline: In some ways that is what I think is really neat about the basic series- It’s sort of like the Bible: if you really study the Bible, you always come back to it from where you are and a different perspective, with a new interest, whether it is historical or spiritual, or whatever. I think the 10 session series is the same thing. Suddenly, now that I have been introduced to visceral work, I hear all the references and all the times throughout the sessions that you can deal with the viscera that I never noticed before. I think that is one of its great values for us, that we can keep coming back to it with our new perspective.
Michael: Yes-I don’t think we’ll ever find-this is an interesting question: I was going to say I don’t think we’ll ever find a way to teach beginners without drawing on the information in the 10 session format. I think that learning that “recipe” is the quickest way to grasp the fundamentals of a structural approach that has its fundamental technology rooted in soft tissue manipulation. I think it is extremely profound. I do have to say, however, that the insights regarding structural types that come down ultimately through Sutherland and as Jan Sultan articulated them, and Hans Flury, Wolf Wagnerand Willi Harder have done in terms of primary and secondary shortness, dramatically modify the way Ida originally designed the 10 series. In my opinion that element should be part of fundamental teaching because I think it teaches a way of seeing and perceiving and thinking about structure that is completely consistent with the recipe and it makes the recipe work better. With less effort you get better results. So I believe that we not only are capable of, but that we already have dramatically improved the recipe and the way it is taught. I think we should very quickly get about the business of assimilating this information and getting it into the basic training.
Aline: I always thought that Ida was very smart to choose a group of teachers to carry on her work. When I had a chance to study with each of the different people, I found that each one carried a different perspective. I sometimes have the fear, -just as with the basic series: the recipe is not a formula but it can get misinterpreted as a formula and the idea of these types is a model which can easily start to turn into anew recipe. But the model has the same problems as every model, which is that people don’t fit it. I was recently in a class and someone said: “Gee, that’s strange, you have certain characteristics of X legs and certain characteristics of 0 legs.” I wondered why he was trying to fit my body into that model.
Michael: Right, but I think the question is not so much the extent to which the models are comprehensive, it’s the extent to which the models make us more intelligent in working with the body. I think that understanding these rotational patterns makes working on legs make more sense. You can understand where the strains are in the leg. And I think the idea of primary shortness is extremely important. I have to say, I have never had a client where I didn’t find certain fundamental areas of shortness that I needed to come back to over and over again. There is a tendency in the recipe to think that once you’ve done it the recipe does return again and again, but I think in some cases there is adequate justification for returning more often than the recipe leads us to think that we need to.
Georgette: There’s a notion that says “You didn’t get it” you know. “You’re supposed to get it, in the first hour if you don’t get that, you messed up. It’s not the fault of the recipe, if it didn’t work.”
Aline: These days, I think more in terms of what are the structural themes for this person. Each session gets geared around that specific structural theme-it could be something like what we familiarly call the 4th hour line will need a lot of attention throughout the sessions in order for everything else to fall into place-Michael: This is what I would say is an advanced practitioner’s approach to the recipe. I think that the goal of the advanced class is to bring the practitioners to a place where they are able to apply the recipe to the individual structural issues before them. I think it is too much to expect from a beginning practitioner. But we could teach them about primary shortness.
Aline: Just for the record, would you give a brief explanation of what you mean when you say primary shortness? I identify that with Hans Flury’s work.
Michael: I am referring to what Hans Flury has articulated in Rolf Lines, in the Notes on Structural Integration Primary shortness occurs in a body in a way that pulls that body into its aberrant pattern-the way in which it loses itself in gravity, the shortnesses that occur that pull it out of line. Then you have a compensatory set of contractions that occur as a consequence of the primary shortness, which are, obviously, secondary shortness. It is important to make this distinction. If someone’s pelvis is pulled behind their legs, and their pelvis is shifted forward, the shortness in the hamstrings becomes extremely primary to the entire pattern. So you have to return to the hamstrings, you let out the structure, you go back to the hamstrings. But if the pelvis is pulled too far behind someone, their quadriceps are also going to be tight because they are working in order to prevent the person from falling over backwards. That would be an example of secondary shortness.
Aline: Are you, in your work, still thinking in terms of “straight”?
Michael: No. I think in terms of continuity, and I think in terms of balance. I absolutely have experienced the presence of a vertical column-I call it a column instead of a line-but I feel the power of a central vertical column, which is associated with what we have traditionally understood as core. This word still remains relatively abstract and undefined for us, but I believe we should retain it, and continue to look at it. It contains a notion that is somewhat unique to Rolfing and which I think is energetically and experientially true.
Aline: If it is not straightness and alignment, what are the hallmarks of balance?
Michael: Alignment would be a characteristic, but continuity is the essential prerequisite to alignment.
Aline: Do you mean alignment as in the ear, shoulder, hip etc. line up?
Michael: I think that ultimately what is most important to me is that the body works together as a whole. Integration is more important to me than what I think some people may call straightness. The power seems to come from connectedness: when the body behaves as a whole, it seems to me that it spontaneously moves toward balance and verticality. I view verticality as an emergent phenomenon. It is not something you try to get. It is a gift. Get continuity, get connectedness, get mobility, get the joints open, get the tissue body moving all the way through itself, get it expressive, and you will end up vertical.
Aline: You mentioned core as something unique to Rolfing. I’ve noticed that depending on how they define Rolfing, these days, Rolfers are feeling more or less insecure: If you have been defining Rolfing as about alignment, there are ten or fifteen techniques now that are talking about posture, and if you’ve defined it as deep tissue manipulation and working with connective tissue is what is unique about us, a lot of people are talking about fascia now. I think that the sphere of what is unique to Rolfing keeps changing. What do you think?
Michael: To me, what is most unique to Rolfing and the Rolf Institute is the quality of the community of Rolfers. I believe that is what sets Rolfing apart from other schools. We are historically precedent-we’ve been around longer, we were the first ones to talk about it, everyone else has split off or taken from Rolfing. And there remains a large collection of practitioners who- have been doing this work long enough and who were originally close enough to Ida that if you were looking for someplace where her vision is carried through in a most profound way it is still the Rolf Institute. I think it is in the people that a lot of Rolfing’s uniqueness occurs. In terms of the format, or the content of the work, I think this notion of core is a fundamental notion that we have yet to fully explore. There are other schools that have ideas of core: I think Reich had a notion of core, an energetic core deep in the body-I don’t know if he carried the metaphor purely structurally, I don’t know if he located it. He definitely had an armature model of the body, where there were layers of armor that were associated with the consequences of frustrated primary intentions, primary drives. Reich was at heart an optimist regarding man’s nature. I think Reich believed that man was, deep in, fundamentally good. If it wasn’t for the suppression of his fundamental instincts toward sexual gratification and self-expression through work and play, a lot of these secondary neurotic phenomena wouldn’t occur. So all of the peripheral muscular contractions were really just derivative of the frustration of this deep primary core of trustworthy, pleasurable sensations. That notion of core, I think, has some bearing on our work.
It may be that we will someday demonstrate that Rolfing is able to shift muscular control from an “extrinsically” driven system to an “intrinsically” driven system and that there are discrete neurological differences between the two. That would make Ida happy. For now, I think we should explore the implications of developmental reflexes (which are less consciously controlled motor responses), for our understanding of this shift from extrinsically, more consciously, or over-consciously controlled movements to intrinsically controlled, more instinctive movement. These developmental reflexes seem to be a sort of alphabet of movement that includes temporal sequence. I think there will be observable physiological correlates indicating the presence or absence of these reflexes in the motor patterns of any individual and that this physiological, functional approach will tell us something about the structure of core that no one else is talking about.
This convergence of a vocal articulated theory of structure with a community of dedicated, experienced, intelligent practitioners creates a dialogue that is unique to Rolfing and the Rolf Institute. That is, by the way, why serious students study with the Rolf Institute rather than at any of the spin off schools.
Georgette: The Chinese also have a notion of core.
Michael: Yes. You know, I am a practitioner of Chi Gung. In the Taoist schools there is a notion of core that is an energetic center, that I think corresponds very much to what Ida saw as the central vertical line, the “Line” in capital letters. She was attempting to align awareness in the body in a way that would support her notion of core.
Georgette: And then kundalini.
Michael: Yes, which is associated with it also, kundalini energy. But what is the notion of core that is unique to us? What I am trying to get at here, and want to come back to, is that it seems to me that when you start to work with the body, one of the problems that you get into immediately is that the body is only observed in consciousness, subjectively, that is. I can only observe my body in my own awareness. So, do I observe my whole body at once? Where do I locate my awareness in order to have it positioned in a way that leads to maximum benevolent functioning of my body? And how do I do this in a way that does not produce over-controlled motion but promotes the release of these “instinctive” patterns or reflexes?
Aline: Is that implying that there is an active will involved in this positioning?
Michael: Yes. This is related to the notions of meditation in the sense that you use your will to hold your mind open.
Aline: Hubert Godard describes this in a way I really like, which is to ask, not what can I do, but what prevents me. You’re not focused on an action
Michael: A release, you let go. I agree. I think as a Rolfer I’m very interested in releasing. Mostly we release, and then life manifests itself. But I think you can go further. I think it is possible to take an active role, and identify with something in the body that is trustworthy, uplifting and empowering, and that I call the core. I think you can identify with the core, and you can align your will with the core, and at that point, I think you place consciousness in the body in a way that the will is appropriately aligned with the natural process of the body. That is sort of what I mean.
Aline: How do you do that in your work? What are you doing in your work that speaks to this notion of core?
Michael: I think that for me, the core gets manifested energetically, in the person I am working with, and in myself, by a deep flow of sensation that occurs in the center of the body.
Aline: I see what you are saying: the focus of your work becomes allowing that to manifest in yourself and your client.
Michael: Yes. I think people get stuck in their bodies by struggling with the problems. That is why Hubert’s statement, “What can I let go of?” is a very important breakthrough, because then you are not trying to make the situation better because you don’t really know what to do anyway. All you can do is let go of something. So in the early stages of Chi Gung training, that is exactly what you do. The first thing you learn to do is to dissolve. You dissolve all of the restrictions in order to get them out of the way so the body can begin to unify. When the body begins to be unified, you then have a trustworthy manifestation of phenomena that you can begin to identify your will with. So you feed strength. I’ve begun to experiment with this in my practice now. I start to work on someone, and I’ll be working along, getting the release, and doing my job, and talking to them, and then I’ll say, ok, now I want you to bring your mind where I’m working, and dissolve. And it’s very different when they do that. There is obviously a dramatic difference between bringing your mind to bear on the body, and just treating it as if it were independent of your awareness, or the client’s awareness. I am absolutely convinced of this. And I think in the beginning it is a process of dissolution, but ultimately I think you do get to a place in your body where you can locate awareness in a place where your will is aligned with natural manifestations. So that it’s not your trying to stand up straight there’s no longer this question of your putting yourself in a position, it’s more that you experience something so profound inside of you, and you identify with it. And that is what supports you, and it is outside of your will. But you can align the will with it.
Aline: So, how is this coming into your classes?
Michael: Well, it hasn’t yet.
Michael: I think there’s some talk about organizing the next annual meeting around this subject of core. I think we are feeling a little more competent about our structural understanding on the faculty. And we don’t feel that we are total idiots and naive anymore. We can talk to other people and other schools. I think we have people in the Institute now who understand joints and cranium and viscera as well as any other place on the planet. And I think we had to do that, at least I had to do that, and I think many other instructors had to do it, in order to feel comfortable. Otherwise we were charlatans. Ida always said get your physics before you do your metaphysics, and we didn’t have enough anatomical knowledge, to be frank. We had to do our homework.
Georgette: She would also tell people go to chiropractic school and then come and be a Rolfer.
Michael: Learn the fundamentals. We’ve spent the past eight years on the faculty nailing down the fundamentals of mechanics. And at this point I think we are prepared to carry on a relatively high level conversation about it. So now we can begin to swing a little bit in the other side, and apply these principles to some of the phenomena that may be associated with Rolfing as a transformative technology-which obviously Ida was interested in. But I think that we can’t go too far in that direction without having a very, very solid footing in the mechanics. Also just for very practical reasons: it is tough to market transformation these days. If Rolfers can, in the context of transformation, resolve true structural problems, they are going to make a good living.
Aline: It used to be the other way around. People were really in it for the transformation, and the chronic problems got fixed along the way. Today, people are in it for their back pain
Michael: and they’ll get transformed in the process. Right.
And the other thing that I think is important about this, and this goes back to what we were saying earlier-that you can’t talk about everything at once-I think that what is important about this is that we have spent some time now talking about our work in a way that is more accurately a reflection of how the body actually exists. From a mechanical point of view, however, it is easy to objectify the body. If we objectify the body, we will ultimately fail in our task because the. body is not an objective event, it is an event in consciousness, so it always has to be dealt with that way, because it occurs in awareness. That is the only place we know ourselves, is in the context of the structure of our own awareness. It is not just an objective phenomenon. If we do that, we’ll fail in our transformative task, and I think ultimately, we won’t bring anything new in. Let’s face it, the osteopaths know a lot about joint manipulation. Maybe we bring in some skill with soft tissue work, but there’s more to Rolfing than that. Our task is to create a context in which we can talk about the body in anew way, in a non-objectified language, that is true to the experience that occurs when someone touches you and you feel profound shifts occur in your awareness. And that, I think, is where we are headed.
Georgette: But Michael, wait. The osteopaths per se are being adulterated now, and have been for a long time, by official allopathic medicine, and not many allopaths are skilled manipulators. I think we are trying to make skilled manipulators.
Michael: Yes. We wouldn’t have a market niche if osteopaths were doing manipulation. They didn’t do it, so we are going to do it. And we are sitting on a gold mine. There is such a crying need. Every year Bell Telephone Co. publishes a list of the five categories in which there has been the greatest increase in yellow page ads. Massage therapy is number 2. It is a booming profession because it provides what is missing. And as medicine gets cost regulated and you have to have managed care where someone’s got to approve your treatment, medicine is going to be taken over by corporations. The high quality, hands-on health care is going to become more and more marketable, and more and more needed. And the fact that you can relieve the consequences of strain and stress and particularly if you understand the nervous system and the viscera and a way to approach the body from a non-objective point of view where you are training the person in their own awareness, you will never starve and you should be able to make a good living.
Aline: It’s interesting that your emphasis is on consciousness and awareness right now, because there are all those famous quotes like Ida saying the pelvis disappears in movement, and in a way you are really trying to get to the place where you don’t have to think about, you’re not thinking about holding a line or anything like that. You must mean consciousness and awareness in a different way. Sometimes people think they are so sensitive and aware about their bodies but they are controlling something.
Michael: Yes, exactly, because they are still thinking in terms of bones and muscles. What the Taoists taught me is that the body is ultimately a flow, and you identify with this flow of consciousness, that is what the body ultimately is. It’s not different from consciousness. It’s not that consciousness manages this assemblage of sticks and levers and pulleys. No. That’s not the way the body ultimately appears in conscioussness. Ultimately the body appears in consciousness as a flow of sensations.
Aline: So do you think you are at a point where you can begin to bring some of these ideas into your classes?
Michael: Well, um, not quite. I think that I’m still in a period of gestation with all of this. I’m very self-conscious about it because I feel that it is easy to lapse into a way of talking about it that is meaningless and trite, and miss the point all together.
Georgette: On the other hand there is so much to learn with spinal mechanics
Michael: And there’s so much to do as a teacher to get people’s manipulative skills up to a certain level?
Aline: Well, there is an old idea about direct transmission. I do believe that in teaching, people learn a lot through imitation of who the person who is teaching them is, and not necessarily just what they say.
Michael: I absolutely agree with that, and I have experienced it. Going back to the idea that we have to be careful not to objectify the body, it means ultimately that as a Rolfer you work from the domain of your internal experience that is quite different from just the application of intellectual skills and diagnosis and anatomical understanding. At that point we have just jumped over the last fence of acceptable metaphors in society and we are talking about healing. We don’t have a very developed language to talk about it with and we don’t have a very large group of people who really have much experience with it. There is a large group of psychics who seem to operate largely outside their body. But people who work directly from an internal experience… You know, there is a bodywork community emerging now, and it is a very radical way of knowing and being in the world, and it is not just pop psychology. I think we are in the very, very early stages here. But I would like to have the next annual meeting devoted to this topic. I think the time is right and the last couple of meetings have been devoted to structural ideas and structural types. It would be interesting to talk about this and see what the community’s common experience is. There is a tremendous amount here. I think we have a lot of experience that we have not yet been able to clearly articulate. It is very easy for us to let our experience be drawn into pre-existing and perhaps not entirely accurate metaphors that come from other cultures that came before us. But I do believe that what we are trying to do is not a return to another way, I think it is an actual step forward. I think we are trying to live a biological life, to extend consciousness in a way that is pioneering. It is something new that we are trying to do. People have gone before us, but I think they didn’t do it with the same kind of commitment to the individual personality and all we know about psychology and the structure of the ego and self awareness and family dynamics, and the whole mess of daily life. We keep that intact; we keep our psychological personality intact while we make these kinds of spiritual moves in the body, as we bring consciousness into the body. We are not going to get rid of our egos.
Aline: Do you mean that the spiritual traditions that came before us were based on separating from your personal psychology?
Michael: They had no personal psychology, aside, perhaps, from astrology. Personal psychology was an invention of the West. It is a very recent phenomenon. We invented it. And in my opinion, that is the missing piece. We should not give this up. I think some of the great spiritual work is being done right in this country right now people dealing with the nasty, embarrassing details of their messy personal lives.
Aline: My uncle says he thinks that marriage is an ashram for two.
Michael: Exactly. It is a step further than sitting on a mountaintop and dissolving in universal bliss.
Aline: It has taken a long time for people to realize that there is a certain kind of holiness in those nasty details of daily life.
Michael: Well, that’s what it means to fully occupy the body, to bring consciousness into your liver, and the whole bloody mess.
Georgette: Traditionally, you are only supposedly entitled to be a wise man after you’ve lived life, educated children, had a job, done all those things. Then it was alright to go out and develop that other part. But it was senseless to try to do it too early. Isn’t that so?
Michael: It is so.
Aline: It’s certainly true in Jewish tradition, you weren’t supposed to study Kabbalah until you were forty and married.
Michael: I think the spirit does spontaneously begin to manifest in later middle life.
Aline: What am I supposed to do til then?
Michael: Study. Prepare yourself, so when it happens you can fly.