Everything we hear today about movement culture is based on the myth that only muscles are moving and holding the body. As long as muscles are strong and not disturbed by dysfunction, the human movement is at its optimum and we are healthy, we believe.
Reality shows another picture. The muscle system alone can never fulfill this task of moving the body. However, the fact is that there is little interest in other relevant forces which move and hold the body.
Fortunately, there was Ida Rolf, who postulated at an early time the idea of gravity as something which can support the body. She developed her work with insistence until she discovered the elastic quality of the fascial network. These are the two forces that are always present and indispensable for any movement of the body.
Like so many other things, these thoughts could not be transferred quickly in reality. Personal experiences alone are not sufficient, facts are needed for a serious development and understanding. I will point out shortly the main aspects of Normal Function.
The main principle of Normal Function is that any movement begins with the relaxation of muscles instead of muscle contraction. People will then say that the body will collapse more and more. This would be right, if there were no other forces which act on the body and modify the forces of the musculature so much in evidence. This is not easy to understand, our senses have learned other things all their life.
“The main principle of Normal Function is that any movement begins with the relaxation of muscles instead of muscle contraction.”
I start with the model of the “structural body,” the hydrostatic balloon with liquid inside and the fascial skin surrounding it with the force of gravity acting on it. To this adds the “functional element,” the tonus patterns of the muscles.
The balloon is a self-supported system with gravity pushing down on it producing the supporting normal force of the ground. The wrap of fascia is an elastic, tough skin with tensional properties. The inside pressure of the balloon is higher than the pressure outside the skin. The “structural body” holds up without any need of energy. It is a pure physical phenomenon which is not influenced by ourselves.
The surrounding muscles compress always the structural body; muscles can only contract and for that they need energy. If we reduce the muscle tonus by relaxing the muscles, we need no energy and the structural body behaves like a bedspring; the body will be longer and gain space.
The fascia also lengthen because of muscle relaxation. The weight of the body settles and the balance of the whole system improves immediately without muscles having to compensate with renewed active tension.
According to the principle of economy, we move and hold up our bodies with forces in the following sequence: first we make use of the force of gravity and the normal force. The laws governing these forces are clear and simple. Secondly we work with the elastic force of the fascial net, something we are not used to. Finally, we use muscle force in a differentiated manner. Muscles only support a movement alread in motion. These criteria can be applied to every movement and posture.
I will demonstrate this principle with the example of lifting a case of beer:
From an erect stance, the body starts to sink with gravity first. The belly muscle shave to relax so that the pelvis can glide backwards over the feet, pushing the hip-axis slightly back. Now the shoulder axis, then a little later the knee-axis slide forward, counterbalancing the body. Only then does the center of gravity begin to sink vertically, and all three axes are pushed more in their fascial slings in a nearly horizontal direction. The slings are loaded with elastic energy. Now the “extended” body hangs in its fascial net, the midline of the trunk is clearly convex and long. The beer case is grasped by relaxing the arm and hand extensors. Again, letting go of the whole body-weight, momentarily the elastically tensed fascial slings begin to lift the bdoy, bringing the folds forward in a minimal zigzag line. Muscle force then only continues the movement, which was initiated passively.
Three conditions are indispensable for Normal Function:
1. The hip-axis must be behind the vertical axis through the gravitational center of the body.
2. The midline of the trunk is anterior convex
3. The midline of the body has the form of a zig-zag line.
These principles and criteria can be applied to six elements of movement: Folding, Sitting, Walking, Side bending, Rotation, and movement of the extremities. Every movement in daily life has its foundations in these elements.
Considering the implications of Normal Function I put up the following; these are:
– As a Rolfer committed to the structural viewpoint, my main and primary interest is for the laws of gravity. All other viewpoints concerning human movement and posture should be seen in the light of this law.
– The law of gravity does not depend on our thoughts and ideas or the wishes of clients. Normal Function is a challenge to meet the much bigger force of gravity outside my influence.
– Normal Function is directly practicable. The client has a tool in his hand for his own responsibility. Learning Normal Functions needs time, and is always an individual process.
– Economy of movement and posture means that our body needs the least amount of energy and force to utilize its resources optimally.
More detailed information on Normal Function can be found in Hans Flury’s “Die neue Leichtigkeit des Korpers” and Notes on Structural Integration, both available at the Schweizerischen Gesellschaft fur Strukturelle Integration, Badenerstrasse 21, CH-8004, Zurich, Switzerland.