Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – WINTER/FEBRUARY 1997 – Vol. 25 – Nº 1

Volume: 25
This article is a revised transcript of a presentation from the Berkeley 1996 Conference of Heirs, the centennial celebration of Ida Rolf's birth. The talk was originally titled, "Motility as an Expression of the Body's Relationship with Gravity." Bob Brill, Rolfer and visionary, thankfully helped me to come up with this new and improved title.


In my article on joint motility (August 1996 Rolf Lines) there is an introductory discussion of an understanding of gravity that goes beyond the Newtonian view. In working to understand the full significance of joint motility I began an earnest exploration of the scientific fundamentals of motion, verticality, balance and gravity. This presentation is the result of that exploration.

For Dr. Rolf, our work was essentially a study of the effects of gravity on the human structure. We may seemingly have drifted far a field from this study of gravity with our adventures into biomechanics, trauma resolution, injury repair, etc. However, gravity may still be the best place to look for answers to a couple of the more primary questions in our work today. I.e., Is motility significant and/or primary in structural integration and optimum somatic function, and further, with what are we working when we do what we may be calling indirect, unwinding or energy work?

I believe that the answer to these questions lies in the connections that can be made between motility and gravity. If we have yet to make these connections it is because of our outdated and mistaken understanding of the phenomena of gravity. In our work, we are generally still under the influence of the 3-dimensional Newtonian concepts of gravity. Our models of structural symmetry, support and movement are significantly colored by this influence.

Shifting our concepts of gravity to keep pace with the progress of science will have profound affects on our work. Compared with experience prescribed by the Newtonian view, 4-dimensional experience is much more interactive and available for transformation.. In 4dimensional reality there is not a one way, linear relationship between a force of gravity and the human structure. There is no independent or separate actor, action or acted upon. Nothing of relevance is lost to the past or held waiting for the future. Being and evolution are synonymous. Structural support, adaptability and integration are better seen in moving asymmetry than in static symmetry. 4dimensional gravity can better explain many of the factors of multi-dimensional movement, energetic function and somatic evolution that we have been attempting to include in our practice and descriptions of Rolfing.


The response of the structure to the condition of gravity was one of Dr. Rolf’s most significant contributions to the field of human structural science and health. Her insights created a larger view of the body in relation to its environment that automatically produced more wholistic concepts and models for all of somatic science and practice. However, when we look over Dr. Rolf’s published work we get a mix of concepts and metaphors concerning gravity. It is the downward pulling villain that always wins and the therapist that lifts us up. To get along with gravity, structure must struggle to maintain a centered symmetrical balance of its parts and segments. Yet, she also speaks of gravity as an intricate and ever present supportive web. I have wondered if this paradoxical mixture demonstrates that Dr. Rolf struggled to gain some coherence between her own internal experience of motion and lift and the dominant Newtonian view of objects locked in an eternal struggling with forces.

“Shifting our concepts of gravity to keep pace with the progress of science will have profound affects on our work.”

In Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures, Dr. Rolf examines the condition of the random human body and sees compressions and thickenings as the result of parts not being supported against the force of gravity. Throughout the book she presents several structural and functional explanations for how the body could counter gravity’s downward pull. She describes how a vertical thrust can be created with the alternating tone of agonist and antagonist muscle groups. She discusses a scaffold-like support in the structure of the thorax. She speculates about the helio tropic reach of plant life as an antigravity force and proposes an energetic theory that could explain a similar reach in humans.

In her book, Dr. Rolf also begins to use the language of field theory, which provides a more multi-dimensional “feel” to her descriptions. However, seeing the body with an energetic field being effected by earth’s gravitational field remains a 3-dimensional model of gravity. This field theory of gravity, as with all three dimensional gravitational models, is no longer thought to be accurate.


Gravity is a theory about motion. For Newton, gravity was the answer to the questions of, why things are always falling toward the earth and why the planets orbit the sun. To explain this, Newton theorized that mass has an attractive force. The greater the mass, the stronger the force. He was trying to explain motion. With motility we are also trying to explain motion. The motion of motility does not behave as if directed by an earthward pulling force. Structures expressing motile action seem rather to be exploring space in all directions, including up. Here are a few things we can say about motility:

– Motility is an intrinsic motion, inherent to the soma.

– It is a spontaneous motion. It is involuntary, having no external cause.

– Motility is distinguished from the voluntary action of musculo skeletal system that we call mobility.

– From the Random House Dictionary of the English Language: Motile, adj., moving or capable of moving spontaneously. Motility, noun.

Jean-Pierre Barral, Visceral Manipulation.

“The viscera have an intrinsic active motion which we call motility. They move independently, with a motion which is slow and of such low amplitude as to be almost imperceptible. Visceral motility is perceptible to the hand but requires an educated sense of touch. It is the kinetic expression of tissues in motion. We have no scientific explanation for this phenomenon, and are aware of it only from experience.”

– Not a result of some other physiologic activity such as respiration, peristalsis or the cranio-sacral rhythm.

– Motility is often described in nonphysical terms, such as:

Michael Salveson, Rolf Lines, 1995

“Another aspect of inner sensory experience that I believe is relevant to a discussion of the bodily roots of state of consciousness is the apparent ‘flow’ of sensations that one encounters. The small, autonomous motions and flows, the streaming and pulsation, that characterize much of our inner sensation…”

Bill Smythe, Rolf Forum, March,1996

“In a class that my friend and colleague, Dr. Peter Levine, and I taught together in Denmark in 1989, we creatively defined motility as “floatility” as a way of giving expression to what many of our students said was their felt sense. In essence the whole human organism is like an ‘ocean’ with its various array of living creatures seeking their own impulse or life expression.”

<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/1997/482-1.jpg’>


Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitational motion (formulated in the late I 600’s), was based on a reality described by and limited to three dimensions: front/ back, left/right and up/down. We know these as the three planes, that is, sagital, frontal and transverse. The “block” and “line” descriptive models in Rolfing go quite well with this 3dimensional view. Though time is not a factor in Newton’s laws of motion, both space and time, in Newtonian reality, are absolute, ever present and immutable. All motion that occurs is controlled by forces on a fixed and flat background of space and time.

At the turn of the century, James Clerk Maxwell created field equations to describe electric and magnetic fields. This explained relative variation in electric and magnetic forces. However, these continuous force fields were still seen to operate against a fixed and flat background of space and time. Physical objects are still seen to be operating on one another by the power of direct force.

These are the salient features of the 3dimensional view:


– Reality is static, and can be completely described by only 3 spatial planes, sagittal, frontal, and transverse.

– Gravity is a force which pulls objects toward higher concentrations of mass.

– Motion is explained by force fields acting upon objects which may also have force fields.

– Space and time are still a fixed and unaffected backdrop to the action of forces on objects.

– Motility, is not possible.

Field Theory

– Forces are seen to have continuous fields of varying strengths.

– Motion is explained by force fields acting upon objects which may also have force fields.

– Space and time are still a fixed and unaffected backdrop to the action of forces on objects

– Still, no possibility of motility.

This view of reality profoundly affects the way we view structure and the means and possibility for somatic transformation.


– Line, blocks, stacking.

– Gravity pulling downward, structure pulling upward

– Weight distributed by a system of struts, spans and transverse components.

– Balance and uprightness are a willful struggle

– Time and experience are linear and fixed, therefore trauma is an event of the past stuck in the tissue.

– Similarly, movement patterns are mechanical, habitual and predictable.


Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, with its description of gravitation, reverses the perspective of both Newtonian physics and classical field theory. The backdrop becomes the actor. Gravitation becomes an expression, rather than a force.

Relativity physics adds a fourth dimension of equal status to the frontal, sagital and transverse. It adds the dimension of time. It is denoted as space time, without the hyphen, because there is not space without time and there is not time without space. This means that all static models of objects are incorrect. Time brings the ever presence of motion. Time is how we know that there is motion. We know that something is moving because there is an interval of time between our perception of an object in one place, and then, our perception of that object in another place.

For an experience of the ever-presence of motion try this exercise: Sit still for a moment. Let yourself sense 3-dimensional space by feeling the floor and chair, the space above your head, to your front and back and to your sides. Now, let yourself sense that you are in a universe that is expanding. Keep that feeling and after several seconds, also sense that the earth you are on is moving in orbit of a sun. Holding this feeling as well, also sense that the earth is in rotation on its own axis. After several seconds see if you can experience the intrinsic motility of your own body.

We generally filter out this information. We selectively perceive that our world and our own selves are static and linear. Therefore, static and mechanical notions of balance and movement dominate our understanding of the body.

The fundamental activity of time with space explains Newton’s apple falling from the tree and the planets orbiting the sun, but not by means of an attractive force in mass, but by the geometry of four dimensional space time. This geometry ends up describing not static lines, blocks and cubes, but motion and curvature. To bring these mathematics into experience, Einstein relied upon a chance experience. One day he witnessed a painter fall from the top of a building. Finding the painter healthy enough after the fall, he asked him how it felt to fall. The painter said, that quite remarkably, it didn’t feel like falling at all, but like floating. Einstein was elated because he would have postulated such. Because of the unity of space time, all mass in the universe, if unimpeded, is continually in motion, constantly in a state of free float. The earth impeded the painters free float.

Now, why did the painter’s supposed free float head toward the earth and not out into space? Maybe Newton was right! No, Newton is still incorrect. Mass and space time have a dynamic interaction. Space time has mass moving, the universe expanding, the planets in orbit, and apples falling. But, mass has space time curving. That is, when this vast, ever expanding space time encounters mass, it curves around it. This is expressed in the figure of the space time web shown here. Whatever is front/back, up/down, left/ right, and past/present is relative to any particular mass. That is why the painter floated to the earth and not out into space. He was caught in the curvature of spacetime.

Relative to our comparatively stable position on the earth, we might say that the painter was in free fall, not float, but, the speed is relative to the amount of mass that is curving the local space time. If the painter had fallen off a building on the moon, his dissent would have been slower. Because the moon is smaller, it prescribes less severe curvature in the space time continuum. Time, which is the way we measure speed, is being curvaceously affected.


The mass of the painter also curves space time around his body, as our bodies are curving space time around us right now. Each planet, and each of us, has not just our own place, we also have our own time. We, the planets, and all things each have our own world lines. When we are working with bodies we are working with world lines.

This notion of world lines is drawn from the full conception of the unity of space and time in relativity physics. Each and every event that we experience is expressed at just one instant. This instant, this event, can be located in space time. These individual moments are known as event points. When they are strung together, they form what the physicists call world lines. All of the small moments of nowness that make up the existence of anything a thought, a sensation, a particle, a person, anything all of these moments of nowness, when strung together, create the existential world line of that thing.

The word, “world,” expresses the full and complete nature of the line. It is its own world, in that, it has its own space and time, its own event points, continuity and momentum. Interestingly, it is a factor of space time curvature that the momentum of these world lines is conserved. That is, it cannot be destroyed, only transformed.

(For those of us curious about the spiritually transformative power of our work, these descriptions of world lines sound to me very much like explanations of the nature of karma.)


There is another quality of curved spacetime that is relevant here. Spacetime tends to bend matter into egg shaped contractions. The mathematics and laws of this are beyond my ability to explain. The bottom line, however, is that spacetime contracts in its curvature greatest along the axis tangential, (i.e., out to the sides,) of a mass. Space time contracts less along the perpendicular axis (i.e., up and down). Verticality is, therefore, a given of the geometry of spacetime in relationship with matter.

In the movement work, Vivian Jaye and Jane Harrington have been working with what they call dynamic equilibrium. This is functionality as an exploration of spherical movement in spirals and helixes. These are also the shapes of the diagrams that the physicists use to explain the contractile and non contractile activity of spacetime curvature. The motility patterns in joints are also spherical in their exploration of the available ranges of motion.

By way of review, here are the essential points of this discussion combined with statements from several relativity physicists about 4-dimensional gravitation.


Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces.

“In spite of all the excitement it created, Newton’s law of gravitation is incorrect. It was modified by Einstein to take into account the theory of relativity.

– Space and time are not an absolute and unchanging background but part of an ever relative continuum of spacetime. Gravity is not a force.

John Archibald Wheeler, Gravity and Spacetime

“Einsteins’s battle-tested general theory of relativity tells us that gravity is not a foreign and physical force transmitted through space. It is instead a manifestation of the curvature of that four dimensional union of space and time that we call spacetime. “The moving orders do not come from some mysterious gravity acting in some mysterious way from the center of the Earth or the center of the Sun. Instead, the moving orders come from the geometry of space and time right where we are located … We only have to remove the soil to be left in a condition of free float.”

– Gravity is the manifestation of spacetime curvature as the condition of free float.

– Motion is explained as the evidence of the interaction of spacetime with mass.

– Inclusion of time in the basic fabric of space makes motion a part of every event.

John Archibald Wheeler, Gravityand Spacetime

“Mass grips spacetime, telling it how to curve. Spacetime grips mass, telling it how to move.”

– Spontaneous motion motility, is not only possible, it is an essential quality of spacetime reality.

Einstein, when asked what he knew for sure, responded, “Something is moving.”

– Gravity is not a force but, as gravitation, is the evidence that spacetime and matter are interacting.

Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind

“Gravitation’s precise effects have a completely unique character, and there is no way that it can be regarded as an emergent or secondary phenomenon, residual to other much more prominent physical processes. It is described by the very structure of the spacetime that had previously been seen as the fixed background arena for all other physical activity. Yet despite the fact that gravity is different from other physical forces, there is a profound harmony integrating gravity with all of the rest of physics.”

– Shape and verticality is also explained in this geometric theory of gravity as the result of contractile and non-contractile axis.

– Mass bends any free float world lines, that are outside of that mass, into egg shaped contractions. All tangential axis are contractile. The perpendicular axis are less so. Gravitation assists verticality.

This 4-dimensional view, as with the 3dimensional, profoundly affects the way we view structure and the means and possibilities for somatic transformation.


– We are not working with a static structure.

– We are not working to achieve symmetry and straight lines but, for optimum function along each person’s 4-dimensional world line.

– Gravity is not a force pulling objects downward but a relationship between mass and spacetime that is expressed as curves and motion.

– Balance is an allowing relationship.

– The principles of adaptability, support and integration become more relevant than line, struts and span.

– Plasticity takes on phenomenal implications.

– Intrinsic motion, i.e., motility, is a clinically important expression of the body’s relationship with gravity.

– Balance is not a symmetry around static axis but, the structure’s availability to curvaceous motion.

– Trauma and habitual patterns are actively maintained interactions of the whole person’s world line.

– Gravity is not straight downward anymore than the earth is flat. Balance is no more static than the earth or the universe is still.

– Rolfing is still primarily a study of the body’s relationship with gravity.

Anngwyn St. Just & Darrell Sanchez, Rolf Forum, March, 1996

“If we conceive of mobility as finite movement, motility can be thought of as non finite and continuous motion. The idea of embodying non finite motion also implies embodying infinite motion, and the potential for experiencing ourselves within a continuum of unending motion which is as vast as the universe itself.”


One way we can evaluate the models and concepts that shape our work is by looking at what somatic condition, in any particular view, is considered optimum. Further, we can evaluate the interventions being prescribed by the approach. In the static 3-dimensional view, optimum somatic function in gravity is defined as a verticality that results from symmetrical order. This symmetrical order -allows the soma to win in its struggle for uprightness against the downward pulling force of gravity. Our intervention is to release restrictions that are causing imbalance and allowing the inevitable downward compression. Our work is, in many ways, still trapped in this view.

In a 4-dimensional experience, the optimum somatic condition is defined by the soma’s capacity to explore, orient in and respond to the available spatial and temporal dimensions. This is the somatic expression of the activity of gravitation and the behavior of motility. Restriction in the soma would be any limitation of this, exploratory, orienting and responsive activity. Our interventions would be to clear any obstacles to and create opportunities for motility. To fully access motility, any treatment plans or recipes would need to surrender to and ride with the constantly relative and evolving present moments. These are the event points. Strung together in a Rofing session, they are the simultaneous creation and discovery of world line Rolfing.

With an understanding of 4-dimensional spacetime, there is the possibility that we can experience the co-arisal and intertwining of spacetime and matter as the only expression of gravity. In our lived body this activity is motility.


.Bergman, Peter C., The Riddle of Gravitation; 1968, Scribner’s, New York.

.Capra, Fritof, The Tao of Physics; 1975. Shambhala, Boston.

.Davies, Paul, About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution; 1995, Touchstone, New York.

.Davies, P.C.W, Space and Time in the Modern Universe; 1977, Cambridge University, Cambridge, U.K.

.Feynman, Richard P., Six Easy Pieces; 1994, Addison-Welsley, Reading, Massachusetts.

.Penrose, Rodger, Shadows of the Mind; 1994, Oxford University, Oxford, U.K. Rolf, Ida P, Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures; 1977, Harper & Rowe, N.Y.

.Wheeler, John Archibald, A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime; 1990, Scientific American Library, New York.

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