CAPA ROLF LINES, August 1996 vol 24 nº3

Rolf Movement Integration: A Fresh Look

Pages: 16-20
Year: 1996
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol XXIV nº 03 August 1996

Volume: 24

There is a popular notion among some members in the bodywork and somatics field that movement work is difficult to speak about. This is often attributed to the fact that the English language is inadequate in describing our internal experiences. Another reason given for this communication dilemma is the fact that (supposedly) our internal experience of our bodies is such a fluid, sensory rich experience, we would have to go into our left brain to retrieve the information that describes an event that is essentially based in the right brain.

It is the purpose of this paper to move through and beyond these notions that limit our ability to intelligently and thoroughly discuss movement work. It is my intent here to explore the meanings, values, and experiences of movement work. I also want to discuss my experience of language as being as readily available to me as the myriad body-based sensations I have so diligently taught myself to feel. By throwing open the window of possibilities, the deeper reasons that support our practicing, studying, and teaching movement work can emerge. In contrast to the limitations often presented in dialogues about movement work, I feel that the material is available and can be brought to a conscious, verbal level.

Crossing hemispheres in the brain is not only a strategy for retrieving and communicating about sensory and somatically based experiences. It may also lie at the root of one of the greatest tools we can learn through movement work, namely, the ability to cognitively assess and bring to consciousness the details of how our bodies function. Giving a language to sensation empowers us in many ways which will be explored throughout this paper. To say that movement work is difficult to talk about, or that the experiences we have in movement trainings do not lend themselves to the English language is like snubbing our noses at the very art and science we are intending to espouse. Movement work is about language. It’s focus is to guide us deeper into our inner worlds, the deeper recesses of our bodies. It is there that function, form, and feelings are brought to light, and brought to consciousness. It is this bridging of inner and outer world that takes movement work out of the realm of mere folly into the domain of being a power full tool for negotiating our self and somatic development.

Having said all that, we are left with fundamental questions regarding the issues that movement work addresses. It can be said that Rolf Movement Integration is the care and feeding of our Rolfed bodies It is the continuation of the private lessons we have in our bodies that deepens the positive structural and functional changes that occurred during and as a result of the Rolfing process. For example, if it was my objective to gain relief from chronic low-back pain in Rolfing, then it becomes the objective in the movement work for me to learn to successfully manage my back while I am being Rolfed as well as after the manipulations are complete. Someone else may have sought out Rolfing to help himself gain self-awareness, increased body awareness, and more self-esteem. Then, again, the movement work would address the particular relationships in the client’s body that would “bring home” the discoveries and positive changes that occurred during the Rolfing sessions. In both examples we have learned to own the changes since they are in fact alive in our bodies. To tap into the process in such a way, going through movement sessions empowers me to gain a resource fullness on my own. Becoming self referential is one of the primary tools I have explored through Rolf Movement Integration and one of the primary focal points I engage in with my clients.

Movement work can also be examined standing on its own merits, not necessarily in relation to the manipulative side of Rolfing. Because the aspects of movement work are as varied as the number of individuals who seek out this approach, the goals and the benefits can best be described by examples. Perhaps it can be said that most if not all clients going through movement work are looking to have their bodies function better. During our training this theme emerged over and over again. The nuances of that objective on an individual basis are extremely varied. Some clients are looking to gain more energy, while others, a reduction in pain. Still others may be looking for more stamina, while others are concerned about diminished libido and armoring in their pelvis.

Not being able to make a definitive list of why people come into our practices to study movement work is to honor the creative aspect of the work. Movement work lends itself to such creativity and individuality on the part of both the educator/facilitator as well as the client. For people like me who love to color outside of the lines, Rolf Movement Integration is among the most spacious of disciplines. The tremendous innovativeness found in this approach is built into the work of those of us who are the most impassioned about what we do. Perhaps this fact makes it more difficult to pin down what the work is all about. But, on the other hand, allowing ourselves to work within and to contain this nonlinear, sometimes non specific approach to improved function gets us closer to the heart of what movement work represents. This is not to say that we don’t use specific tools, or that we are always operating out of an open, undefined, boundary less place. On the contrary, there are some very precise tools that we use in movement work and more will be said on this topic later in this paper. But as we acknowledge and become comfortable with the aspect of the work that entails our exploration into the unknown, we enable ourselves to continue moving this dialogue toward the soul of the work.


There is more to be said about the fact that the work itself needs to be integrated with our language, English in particular. In fact, the language of movement is the cornerstone that enables me to enrich my life by using movement as a tool for self and somatic development. It is my ability to communicate about my inner world that helps me feel more healthy, more powerful, more connected, and more alive. This is true whether what I am describing is a functional issue (e.g.., there is more pressure in the bottom of my right foot when I walk), an emotional issue (e.g.., that wave filling up my chest now is sadness), or a psychological issue (e.g.., I can sense in my body a readiness to release this old habit).

One of the most vivid examples that comes to mind concerning the utilization and implementation of movement work concerns one-on-one and group interactions. As members of couples, families, organizations, communities, and nations, we can be hindered in our individual and collective evolution by barriers that prevent us from communicating authentically our feelings, our thoughts, our needs, and our desires. It is fairly common knowledge that our psychological profiles play a huge role in enabling or disabling us from moving ahead successfully with our goals and ambitions. It is less commonly understood the role our bodies play in that equation. For people who struggle with chronic frustrations in terms of self-development, so much of that feeling of being stuck can be referenced back in their bodies. Feeling stuck then becomes less of a metaphor and more of a description of the condition of the joints and the connective tissue, as an example. Movement work then becomes a vehicle for exploring the particulars of that stuckness, a tool for moving beyond previous forms of rigidity and inhibition.

Like Rolfing manipulations, movement work is not a panacea. However, when the indication is made properly, the tools we use in Rolf Movement Integration become enormous stepping stones, both for ourselves as well as for our clients, on the path of self and somatic realization. Rarely does a work day go by when I wish I had more powerful tools for moving more deeply into my client’s journey of unfolding. For me, using these tools includes trusting deeply my intuition, paying attention to my own inner process as well as that of the client, and allowing my own body to contain high levels of life force and integration. Under these circumstances, I feel blessed to reach into the souls of my clients and to share these precious gems. Our bodies have a language all of their own. In a way that is different from our spoken language, this language is based in sensory data. Our bodies communicate to us in surges, shapes, pressures, pleasures, emotions, waves, pains, and blocks. In other ways, our bodies relay to us pictures, images, feelings, and associations. Imagining that our bodies are like a three-dimensional Imax screen, the quality and quantity of information that moves across the inner visual field is infinite in variety. For many newcomers to this work, the first (and often the most profound) step ever taken in this process is in learning to turn one’s full attention to the screen. Many of the people who profit the most from what movement work offers are those who are beginning on this journey with virtually no previous experience in tuning in to their bodies, much less finding the words to describe their inner experience. Although it is not necessarily exciting to talk about, paying attention to one’s inner process is transformational unto itself.


As Teachers of Rolf Movement Integration we use a wide variety of tools while working with our clients and students. Touch is certainly one of these tools. The way we touch the student is typically different than the way, as Rolfers, we touch our clients’ bodies. Often the touch in movement work is light, with an emphasis on bringing the client’s awareness to a certain place or places in his body. It is not a law that we must use a light touch, however. It sometimes may be appropriate to reach deeper into the client’s body with more pressure. But typically, since the client is repeatedly encouraged to source information from the inside out, the our touch tends to be more evocative. We are not particularly interested in causing the client to change in the same way that the deeper Rolfing manipulations are designed to do. Rather, the common thread that runs through the ways we are putting our hands on the client’s body is to bring more awareness. This is a very general way of describing a quality of touch that engages the client into noticing what he is doing and how he is doing it.

More specifically, as movement teachers we may touch our client’s body to explore the range of motion in a particular joint, such as the hipo shoulder. Knowing how powerful it is for the client to become more mindful of his inner process, the we can be completely satisfied with a touch that facilitates this kind of increased awareness. If we move a joint in the client’s body through its range we, along with the client/student, are making an inquiry at the exact time. Exploring then becomes a process and tool complete unto itself.

We often cue the client with suggestions designed to bring the client’s attention to particular parts of his body. These cues are often in the form of questions. By asking the client questions, we are setting in motion an ongoing inquiry on the part of the client. This is one of the most beautiful gifts we are able to give the client in this process: to become curious about how his body works and to become curious about the deeper elements of his internal process. The client’s ability to name his feelings translates into the client becoming a more successful communicator in general. There are fewer times in the client’s life when he is left with an inability to identify what is happening in his inner world, fewer times when he feels stuck and out of touch.

One of my clients recently finished a series of movement session with me. He told me that the hip pain that used to cause him suffering was gone since his Rolfing and movement lessons had begun. But, said he, he still had questions about the placement of his feet and the distribution of his weight when he walked and sat. “Good!,” said I. The client realized immediately how far he had progressed. As we discussed his remarks, he saw how those questions hadn’t even existed before. Having had some chronic problems in his hip prior to beginning the Rolfing and movement sessions, the client recalled that before there was just this “thing” in his hip that wouldn’t go away. With his hip not bothering him at all now, the juices that he felt flowing in his body were directly related to his willingness to explore the new options he had, including asking questions. Having arrived at a place where he was continuously inquiring indicated a definite positive therapeutic response to the movement intervention.

The use of metaphor is an important tool for teachers of Rolf Movement Integration. Body parts are likened to things in nature (a willow, mud, wind, waves), building materials (springs, coils, hinges, columns), food (cooked linguini, pudding, melted chocolate), and animals of all kinds. From an energetic perspective, we become quite conversant in perceiving shapes, sizes, spaces, and surges in our bodies. The movement itself is often compared to the ways animals slide, slither, and stalk. Similes and metaphors are often used in describing the matrix of our bodies, particularly its relative density and fluidity. In all of these examples, metaphors enable the client to go outside of any literal framework of describing what he may be noticing. This is extremely freeing for both of us. In these instances, using metaphors can help make the work more valuable, more utilizable over time, more fun, and more creative. If the client weren’t limited to describing exactly what was happening inside of his body, he gains far more options by having permission – indeed, being encouraged to explore what his body is like. The use of metaphor gets the client off the hook from having to be “right” about sensing, communicating, and articulating about his body.

An analysis of bodies from a functional point is a primary tool of Rolf Movement Integration. Information gathered from kinesiology, physiology, anatomy, biology, and physics plays an important role in our work. What we know about spinal mechanics, for example, helps us figure out what is right as well as what needs correcting with a client’s walk. By knowing how movement travels through a healthy spine, we have a template to use over any spine whose movement deviates from the ideal. Using what we know about the way the feet work, both in relation to the floor and in relation to the rest of the body, helps bring a focus and an objectivity to our evaluation of the client’s movement through his feet. Since many movement sessions focus on aspects of the breath, the movement teacher must have an understanding of breathing from a physiological perspective, as well as from an energetic and structural perspective. This includes such concepts as the way the lungs, torso, ribs, and overlying musculature change shape and size in response to a full breath.


Students in Rolf Movement classes will hear their teachers talk about support as much as practically any other principle presented in class. Our interest in support reflects our fascination with the different ways that all of the body parts interconnect. Where and how our feet are functioning during walking, for example, determines to a great extent the way our other body parts are allowed to or are prevented from functioning optimally. If my feet have problems balancing on the floor, it is inevitable that that difficulty will be communicated up through my legs, through my pelvis, and into the rest of my body. This is a support issue. If my feet are strained and are not able to rest, how can my spine ultimately surrender to gravity? There is no place for my spine to relax into, given the lack of integration that begins low down into my feet. These are some of the principles and issues we deal with in Rolf Movement Integration.

A key element relating to support concerns the major weight blocks of our bodies, particularly the pelvic girdle and the shoulder girdle. In movement work, we are always interested in the way the lower weight block makes it easier or more difficult for the upper weight block to move fluidly and to allow for expression. The reverse statement is equally true. Ultimately, relationships in the body are continually being examined. If my feet drag heavily along the floor when I walk, how does this lack of support get communicated through my spine? On a different note, when I allow my ribs and lungs to expand fully and effortlessly each time I breathe in, how does this affect my ability to connect through my feet into the ground? These are all examples of the countless issues concerning support. These are also key considerations in the latter sessions of the basic Rolfing series, in which we are notably more focused on movement and integration than the earlier sessions.

Support is an interesting concept because it crosses the boundaries of different paradigms. Questions about support can be grounded in the physiology of the body, just as well as in the individuals psychology. When questions such as, “What are the support issues around the sacrum?” are asked, the deeper connections (or lack of) in the bodies we work with reveal themselves. Neck strain can be linked to hyperextension of the knees, for example, as a result of inquiring about the support in a client’s body. Likewise, information about a person’s psyche becomes apparent when she examines ways in which she has prevented her body from being supported by the earth, or by certain people in her life. It is impossible to examine every permutation of this approach, given the vast variety and individuality of each client’s journey. It is the particular challenge of each of us teaching this work to uncover and select which strands to tease from the overall fabric of each client’s body.

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