Getting Beyond Manipulation and Movement Cue to an Integration of Structural and Functional lnterventions

Pages: 17-24
Year: 1994
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES – The professional journal of the Rolf Institute – Vol XXII – Nº 2 – March 1994

Volume: 22

I must preface this article by making explicit my assumption that adaptive capability precedes in importance how a person looks in before and after pictures. This may seem common sense, but most of the Rolfed bodies I have come across are no more adaptable or intelligent than un rolfed ones. In some ways they are more rigid, being overlaid with (their understanding of) someone’s program for good posture and movement.

In cases where a person’s possible range of motion exceeds his range of lived-in motion, the impediment to adaptive capability is psychomotor. Because of this, Rolfing manipulation (gaining length and mobility) and Rolfing movement cues (having a deep internal experience, re-patterning movement habits, and releasing tension) are of little use in helping someone embody or express a higher plateau of structural order or in helping someone express himself in an unencumbered way (honest, graceful, fluid, self-expressive movement), the person already has the necessary potential for changing shape, and movement cues can lead to more rigidity and less fluidity as cortical control becomes learned reflexes (as you train yourself to replicate someone else’s movement). I am not saying here that manipulation and movement cues are bad and should be booted off the Earth to burn in the sun. I am saying that they are only half of the story and that if we think they are the whole story we will tend to use them in animbalanced way.

I think that when a person is well able to improvise and adapt, he will be able to take advantage of the manipulative work and movement cues. In the cases where manipulation and education are counterproductive because the person can not respond to the teaching except by, for example, becoming the Rolf logo, how can we remain true to the “Rolf vision” of horizontalizing the pelvis, while still preserving a person’s uniqueness, spontaneity, and ability to adapt?

Following are some techniques I have found useful in empowering people in their movement towards better psychomotor integration or honest self expression by offering them another vehicle for becoming more conscious, albeit not necessarily more cortical. These are not ways to play psychotherapist. These are some ways, for people who at this point would find manipulation and cueing rigidifying, to become more adaptable and therefore able to make use of our manipulation and cueing.

These are direct techniques. I have found them useful in fixing something broken (i.e., a person’s natural ability to set a sincere boundary has been interfered with and needs fixing so that the person can stand up straight [with concomitant horizontal pelvis] and honestly assert himself or otherwise maximize his adaptive potential. The structural shifts .following this “fix” are obvious). I have found these techniques less useful when a person is in a sickness-healing process (i.e., a person in a healing crisis may find riding the wild surf more valuable than being rescued from it). Of course, knowing whether a person wants to be fixed or wants to heal is a judgement call which occurs many times throughout a session.

The following hypotheses, definitions, and techniques are my own, but the seeds for this article and many of the ideas in it had their germination in, and a healthy cultivation by, fascinating conversations with Hubert Godard and Bill Smythe.


Adaptive potential is maximized with balanced orientation.

Balanced orientation may be defined as the freely welcomed and expressed interplay of opposites. Balanced orientation is not about finding the middle and staying there. If, for example, I only know about, only experience, or are otherwise oriented only towards support from below (and not also from above), I, am not playing with a full deck: there isn’t much interplay of opposites and therefore I am not free to adapt.

A Rolfer can create length in me, open my a/o joint, give me images of skyhooks and balloons which hold my head up, get me to release tension in my belly, even allow me to feel comfortable enough to cry about how frustrated I feel because I don’t have support for my head, but these well meaning attempts to get my head up are really mind control techniques. I am not being set free to adapt and then helped out by releasing physical restrictions to mobility, the result being that my head can come up and go down. I am being programmed and manipulated into holding my head up. Again, my point is not that manipulation and cueing are useless. My point is that there is an imbalance here which we can perceive structurally but which we can not treat with manipulation and cueing.

Back to balanced orientation. What follows is a short list of opposites which we are free to welcome and express the interplay of (or not):

<img src=’’>
Head knows where up is
Support from above
Awareness of external world
Respond to environmental needs
Able to contact “others”
I am moved
The world is active
Eccentric contractions
Spirit realm
C-I/Occiput free and adaptive

Sacrum knows where down is
Support from below
Where we are coming from
Awareness of internal processes
Make environment change to suit us
Able to contacted
I move
The world is objectified
Concentric contractions
Soul realm
L-5/S-1 free and adaptive


Recognizing a person’s postural habitus (what the person is oriented towards or away from) allows You to know what actions /movements to inhibit (or which to add), so that balanced orientation can be achieved.

I will illustrate only two stereotypical types. The interplay of the above pairs of opposites produces a marvelous variety of mixtures of qualities in people which show up in posture and movement.

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Little adaptive ability. Willful but goal less; aimless; low horizon; too few options. Little experience of support. Concentric.

Little adaptive ability. Grasping; lots of goals, but no power to achieve them. Too many options. Little experience of support. Eccentric.


Begin by finding support from below.

Begin by finding support from above

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Overly oriented towards their internal experience and therefore unresponsive. Supported from below: L-5/S-1 free.

Overtly oriented towards the external world and therefore unresponsive. Supported from above. A/O free.


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Begin by finding support from above while encouraging them to become “naturalists” while still aware of their internal process.

Begin by finding support from below while encouraging them towards sensation (not interpretation of sensation) while still aware of the natural world.

The above strategies lead these stereotyped examples towards balanced orientation or increased adaptability. The techniques consist of whatever is appropriate.


Once a person is able to adapt, who they are can inform what they do rather than what they do or can’t do determining who they are. (Using one’s arms does not compromise one’s spine.)

Now I would like to show how these hypotheses can be the basis for empowering people in their movement towards better psychomotor integration. I will do this by showing some direct techniques for teaching someone the gesture of push. (see image below)


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To push:
The person pushing stays where he is and what is being pushed is moved away.

To pull:
The person stays put and what is being pulled moves towards him.


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I like to begin with breathing, as pushing and pulling air can allow a person to feel a real sense of power, and control in his life, as differentiated from machismo, bullying, or hype. (The way a person breathes as a metaphor for the way a person lives.) See image below.

Don’t let the person move towards the air

On the inhale, the person, allowing both ends to remain free and adaptive, stays where he is and brings the air to him. His eyes look at the place the air is coming from, while he has an internal experience.

or back away from pulling the air towards them.

Don’t let the person over compensate/overstrain and

On the exhale, the person, allowing both ends to remain free and adaptive, stays where he is and pushes the air away from him towards some particular place. His eyes look at where the air is going to while he has an internal experience.

or act as if powerless to push the air away and move backwards themselves.

This simple modality can have profound effects, as the person quickly experiences how forcefully (or not) they habitually are in the world, what they habitually orient themselves towards or away from, and the sense of honest power which a sincere push imparts.

It is interesting to note how quickly a person’s compensations fall apart when stressed (when met with a little resistance).

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When pushing, you stay put and the other is sent away. A boundary is set.

When gently pushing against someone and the other person offers slight resistance (meets your force with equal but not superior force), often what looks like a push is not. The pusher’s arm straightens because his scapula moves backwards; he has become unable to set a boundary.

No matter how hard the pusher tries.

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Conversly, when the person is being pushed against

he has the ability to determine how far and at what rate he will allow the other in.

Many times, however, being pushed upon even in the slightest amount will breech the pushee’s boundaries and…

he will not be able to keep the person out.

His scapula may move backwards, his head may fall forwards, he may not be able to honestly look at the person pushing him, and his spine may flex. He may feel overwhelmed and orient towards his internal experience, with dimished awareness of the world. He may forget what he is trying to do.

The person may even become terrified and tremble in panic, unable to maintain physical contact:

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Connective tissue stretching of the short and tight structures in these habitually flexed or hyper extended postures may serve only to make what is short and tight, long and tight, as the postures are expressions of balanced orientation.


When a person has difficulty setting a boundary-can’t make the gesture of push, never saw a real push modeled, is emotionally constrained from pushing:

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1. Stand him up with his back to a wall so that he can’t be pushed backwards. Movement backwards is not possible.

?Where are you going to push me? Look where you want me to go. Do you feel more or less whem you tuck your tail??

2. Keep him oriented so that they don’t, for example, do this:

3. Ask him to push you (put you) where he wants you
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Notice which way his scapula. moves. Encourage his awareness of how important correct scapular movement is to the sense of power in push. You may want to Rolf physically a restricted scapulo thoracic joint. Have him breathe you back without flexing to do so.

Conversely, with the person still supported by the wall and with one of their hands on your chest:

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1. With you gently pressing against their hand movement in this direction is not possible

Ask him to allow you to approach if when, and as far as he wills. This exercise can allow one to physically and emotionally explore setting a bounded invitation.

-feeling overwhelmed
-feeling forced to let you in
-giving up too “easily”
-making halfhearted attempts at saying no

Rather than

Again, be sensitive to overwhelming the person. If you do, he will lose orientation towards up and down, balanced relationship of internal and external events, and adaptability at C-1/Occiput and L-5/S-1.

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You may want to work directly with inanimate objects. For example, you may want to work with the way a person feeds himself:

Does he habitually bring the food to him? (see iamge below)

… or does he habitually go to the?

You may want to work with…

head oriented towards goal

looking at goal

the person pushing the earth away when walking.

the person pushing the earth away when standing up.

My experience has been that when this gesture is made wholeheartedly, the contact (the quality of the pusher/pushee touch) is direct and genuine.

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One can also focus on contact when working with this gesture.

It is difficult to find direct and sincere contact when orientation is compromised.
Working with this gesture of boundary setting brings up emotional material and gives yet another glimpse of the person’s unconscious workings at that time.

By not getting caught up in our insights, by paying attention to the timing of our interventions, by intervening in appropriately small doses, and by knowing when to leave the person alone to do their work, the person will not be overwhelmed or traumatized. Their emotional experience will be more of the “aha” or insightful nature than the response one gets from picking at someone’s scabs and letting the pain of the reopened wounds bring up material so that the person can “re-live” it.

The chronic inability to say no will make anyone look like they need Rolfing. The physical ability to make the gesture of push (which the manipulative work would allow by releasing restrictions) combined with adaptive capability (being able to live in the full range of motion possibilities), should, I think, allow a Rolfer to be able to say, “Ah, that’s integration.”


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When pushing and your shoulders go up and back, you aren’t pushing. Do you want to do it? (halfhearted gesture)

Are you losing a contest of wills? (Is your client pushing you out?)

Do you know how to push?


If you are pulling (bending your fingers towards you as you bring occipital tissue caudad) and your head goes forward, the wrong end is fixed; fingers and head.

Balanced Orientation for Rolfers: The Interplay of Opposites

Where are you coming from and what is your goal?

Are you aware of your internal process and aware of the client?

Are you touching and being touched?

C-1/0cciput and L-5/S-1 free and adaptable?

Are you whistling while you work?

In sum, I am not saying that everyone should work the way I do. I am attempting to build on what has gone before, without dimishing any of it.


In reality, the gesture of push does not exist except when mixed with a little reach, and vice versa.

This, and reaching, are subjects for another article.

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