CAPA ROLF LINES Vol XXVI nº 01 1998 Winter

Gravity, Motility and Rolfing Theory and Practice

Pages: 20-23
Year: 1998
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol XVI, nº 01 Winter 1998

Volume: 26

Gravity is central to all aspects of Rolfing theory and practice. The principles of Rolfing that have become manifest in the past decade are an attempt to language not only the science of Rolfing but also the experiential phenomena that the givers and receivers of Rolfing have always reported. This combination of including both objective information and subjective experience as part of the known truth is essential to third paradigm therapeutic practices. In third paradigm disciplines, objective and subjective inquiry play off one another alternately prescribing, limiting and catalyzing the other. In the practice of Rolfing both an informed knowledge of the objective scientific understanding of gravitation and a subjective kinesthetic experience of gravitation are necessary for skilled, creative and evolutionary work. It is my hope that the weaving of science and experience in my writings on motility and gravitation can honor this essential characteristic of Rolfing.

In this article I want to continue to present what is hopefully an even more simplified understanding of the objective science and kinesthetic experience of geometric gravity. Further, I want to suggest some ways that the theory and practice of Rolfing can be informed by the science and experience of both gravitation and motility. In previous articles on this subject I have demonstrated a possible scientific link between motility and geometric gravitation. I will not labor to fully describe these two phenomena again. However, I wish to quickly clarify once more geometric gravitation and motility. Then I will move on to discuss how these two factors might fit with Rolfing practice. I have had the opportunity in the past year to continue explaining Einstein’s theory of geometric gravitation and hopefully, I can clear up some confusion by a small retelling of the facts. Given the blessed vitality and intelligence of the Rolfing community, I realize, however, that there is little chance of quelling controversy.


The central confusion about the acceptance of Einstein’s theory of geometric gravitation has seemed to come from believing that it is radically different from Newton’s theory in the phenomena that it predicts. I received an e-mail from a Rolfer who said he could not supplant Newtonian gravity with Einsteins an gravitation because apples are still falling to the ground, not floating off into space. Einstein’s theory of gravitation is accepted by science as more correct than Newton’s precisely because it better explains why apples fall to the ground and do not float out into space. This is how science progresses. When someone has a testable and verifiable theory that better explains experience, then that theory supplants the previous theory. Science marches on to explore the questions that the new theory presents. In this case, Newton’s theory could not explain all of the observable phenomena of how things fall to earth and a few other physical phenomena having to do with light and celestial motion. General science agreed that Einstein’s theory of geometric gravitation better explained these phenomena. And now science is exploring the extent to which Einstein’s theory of gravitation does not fit with all that is observed in quantum phenomena. It seems nothing is ever the whole story.

To move from Newton to Einstein requires a staggering shift in understanding of the fundamentals of space and time. This is not a simple conceptual shift like we are used to making every day. For example, in the prevention of heart attacks, for some time it was thought that decreasing bad cholesterol in the diet would slow arterial occlusion, then it was found out that increasing good cholesterol was equally as important. That is an easy shift for us to make because all of the important fundamentals remain the same. The evidence and our experience bears out the new theory and on we go. With gravitation the conceptual shift is more fundamental and more subtle because measuring the relativity of space and time is not easy and because the everyday experience of space and time is so pervasive it is mostly subconscious. As well, the Newtonian mechanics of observable interactions is still accurate enough mathematically to remain in use. For these reasons, physicists established what came to be called a “special exception.” This is, for the assessment and prediction of physical behaviors associated with gravity, Newton’s mechanical equations still work to a certainty that they can be used to predict everyday physical behavior. However, this seems often to be misrepresented as indicating that Einstein’s theory of geometric gravitation only applies at high speeds and in outer space, while here on earth, Newtonian gravity is the truth. It is simply more mathematically convenient to use Newton’s equations. That is all the special exception is meant to say. It is not meant that the laws of Newtonian gravity are true on earth and the laws of geometric gravity are true out in space.

For evidence that geometric gravitation is The Gravity right here on earth, one can look at the experience of Einstein’s painter as described in an earlier article or consider this: one of the strange things about falling objects that Newton’s theory could never explain is, given two objects of the same shape and size (to eliminate wind resistance as a factor), that are dropped from an equal height, they will fall at the same velocity regardless of any difference in their weights. That is, a wood ball and a steel ball of the equal size will hit the ground at the same time. All of Newton’s calculations for the explanation of gravity cannot explain this. In fact, his calculations run counter to it. One of the reasons geometric gravitation is so persuasive is that (among many other things) it explains this phenomena. Please note, this is not occurring on a fast moving space ship far out in space but, right here on earth. Using principles of geometric gravitation, the reason that the wood and steel balls fall at the same velocity is that the rate of fall is determined by the rate of natural free float through the matrix created by the interaction of the space time and the earth. The medium the balls are falling through (space time and air) is equal, so their rate of fall is equal. This is the interactive field that is gravitation. Put this with the fact that, for some reason, everything in the universe is in motion unless it is stopped by something else (free float) and you get things of different weights falling at the same rate. They fall at the same rate because the space time matrix is determining their rate of fall, not a force coming from within the earth.


For a Rolfer there are important consequences of their particular understanding of gravity. Above, I spoke of the essential interaction of science and experience in the theory and practice of Rolfing. We all know the risks of this type of discipline. Often our subjective experience or our scientific observations can be deluded by strongly held beliefs. The belief in the Newtonian concept of gravity can be one such. As I have described in previous articles, in the history of Rolfing there are attempts at finding a way around the experiential incredulity of the Newtonian idea of gravitational force. We have adopted more environmental descriptions of fields and wholistic notions of energetics and erroneously considered them to be coherent with an idea of gravity as a force from the center of the earth that pulls the body down-ward. It is my contention that our kinesthetic experiential-knowing has long understood that there is a more varied interaction going on in the body’s relationship with gravity than a simple pulling downward and with our structures pulling back upward. This has resulted in descriptions of alignment and integration that assume some almost metaphysical or spiritual effects on the tissue to explain what are actually scientifically understandable effects of gravitation. Not, however, from the outdated Newtonian view. It is not that in Einsteinian gravitation there is not an earthward tendency of fall. Apples will not go floating off into space. It is that the “cause” of the earthward fall is the curvature of the space time matrix around the mass of the earth. This would (and does) provide a significantly different kinesthetic experience than would a force that pulls us downward. For example, verticality is assisted by the nature of the space time matrix and not exclusively created by a constant effort to apply a greater force upward. As I will discuss later, this can greatly illuminate the nature of structural and functional palintonicity. If you want further evidence, go for a walk and see whether or not your experience agrees with modem day science. Or, contemplate the design of the ankle. If gravity were only a force that pulled our weight downward, the structure and function of the ankle would be radically different than it is.

My experience tells me that in motile behavior there is more evidence of a multidirectional interactive matrix than even present science can agree upon. For instance, recent research would indicate that when the facts of the oriental understanding of chi energy and its function in the body are finally integrated with western physical theory, the nature of the body’s interaction with the space time matrix could be more thoroughly realized. At this time it is up to those of us who experience motility to see ii we can understand this phenomena in the context of established physical theory. Motility is the constant subtle motion that appears to occur without consideration for other physiological events. That is, there seems to be a good deal of motion occurring throughout the body that isn’t produced by the nervous system, the circulatory system, the craniosacral system, etc. Yet, this motion seems to be very involved with the healthy functioning of the entire system. A lack of motility seems to always evidence some disease or dysfunction. My only explanation of this experience of motility is that it is the activity of gravitation. That is, we are experiencing the free float nature of matter as it explores, responds to and orients within the relationship of the spacetime matrix and the earth.


As the inheritors of Dr. Rolf’s vision of how the body balances in gravity and the potential for greater integration both internally and with the gravitational environment, Rolfers have unique information to contribute to the progress of science and the understanding of the nature of human being. As Bruno D’Udine expressed in his presentation at the 1997 Annual Meeting, Rolfers can lead the scientific investigation of human experience of embodiment with the knowledge we already have and have presented. Our understanding of the inextricable relationship between the body and its environment is in pace with the most recent progress of the fields of physics, mathematics, biology, evolution, and cognitive psychology. These disciplines are realizing that all systems are unified in an interactive or relational matrix. Fritof Capra’s most recent book, The Web of Life describes this multi-disciplinary paradigm. This view of systems integration has been the contention of Rolfing since Dr. Rolf’s first public discussions of her work.

This relational matrix has the same properties and functions we attribute to the integration of the body via the connective tissue matrix and the interaction of physiologic systems. In the Rolfing principles of wholism and palintonicity we find Capra’s web of life. Wholism states that change in any part of a system affects all other parts of the system. Palintonicity describes the ongoing interaction of all structures and functions in a dynamic and evolving manner that are enhanced in the integrated body. This wholism and palintonicity includes the body’s interaction with its gravitational environment. With geometric gravitation we have a field of infinite directions of input and output. This field is a matrix of impulses for movement and orientation. Our balance and interaction with the gravitational field are an ever changing multi-dimensional relationship. This relational matrix expresses wholism and palintonicity as does the connective tissue matrix. It is by opening and making available this whole matrix of the body to the gravitational field that Rolfing achieves greater palintonicity and integration. This is why we have struggled to express our vision of the Rolfing Line in terms of presence and availability as well as in terms of horizontal and vertical planes. This is why we have developed movement theories that include the notion of upwardly directed centers of gravity.

Line in the gravitational matrix is not a matter of downward pull and thrust upward. Line is a multidimensional process of dynamic equilibrium. Line can often be seen and f better in motion than in stillness b is no less dynamic when standing still. As we expand our realization the unified field of the body and gravitation we will include more movement analysis and strategies our work. We will also become m, in touch with our own availability multidimensional experience and evolution.



I have understood the experience gravitation and its expression in motility as described by three functions, exploration, orientation and responsiveness. This is how I interpret the activity of motility as I fit in bodies. This is what I look for when assessing the goals of Rolfing For me, these are the fundamental qualities of the Rolfing Line. In physical terms, exploration is the ability to move freely; orientation the ability to center movement an balance in one’s own body in relation to the environment; responsiveness the ability to adapt to further movement and stimulation from within and from the external environment. These are also qualities of being. I this lies the whole being context c Rolfing. The capacity to explore physically is also the capacity for unfettered curiosity and creative choice. Orientation includes self awareness, the discrimination of and other, and the capacity to accurately know what is present, past future. Responsiveness includes the skills of social interaction and resilient life.

Through the assessment of Line and monitoring motile function we can interact with all types of Rolfing intention. This is the essential role of gravity in Rolfing theory and practice, to provide access to the matrix of body, being, life and environment. We can utilize tools and strategies that include segmental, geometric, energetic, psycho-social, and ecological components within our reliance on gravity as a central tenet. With an understanding of the motile functions of exploration, orientation and responsiveness there is the potential for creating a multi-dimensional balance, ease and a greater evolutionary potential. The assessment of these functions creates an understanding of a variety of functional and dysfunctional possibilities. Certain persons may present with a tendency toward over- or under-function in any area. Over-orientation with a lack of exploration capacity may be a rigid structure or person with limited adaptability. A strong proclivity toward exploration with lowered capacity to orient may seem like a random structure and uncentered being. A lack of responsiveness may appear as rigidity or inability to utilize Rolfing interventions. These are but a few of the ways, using these functions, that we might perceive the activity of gravitation in a person’s structure and their process with Rolfing.


With Rolfing techniques we can work to bring about more gravitational balance in the system. We are working simultaneously to aid the self organization of the person as well as to enhance environmental interaction or, as Capra speaks of in The Web of Life, ecological being. This is the potency of experiencing gravitation as a multi-dimensional motion rather than a force acting uni directionally on the body. We are not having to limit our practice and theory to one of linear mechanics somehow fit within a transpersonal therapeutic ethic. There is available the multi-system, multi dimensional understanding of modern scientific thought to assure us of our accuracy. Rolfers may be the most informed sources available today on embodied experience. As Rolfers we have the opportunity and obligation to bring this evidence of the lived experience of the body to the progress of science.


1 Maitland, Ph.D., Jeffrey, “Rolfing: A Third Paradigm Approach to BodyStructure.” Rolf Lines Vol. 20, No.2, Spring 1992. Third paradigm body work practices are wholistic in nature addressing issues of integration and evolution at every level of being. Third paradigm practices include correction of dysfunctions and promote relaxation which are the respectively the provinces of second and first paradigm disciplines.

2 Gaggini, Liz, “Joint Motility.” Rolf Lines, Vol. 24, No. 3, August 1996. And, “Structure in Free Float,” Rolf Lines, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter 1997.

3 For the most to the point explanation of the local significance of space time curvature and geometric gravitation please see, Wheeler, John Archebald, A Journey into Gravity and Space time. 1990, Scientific American Library, New York.

4 For speculation on the energetic potential of the fascial network see Larson, Dick, Ph.D., “The Role of Connective Tissue as the Physical Medium for the Conduction of Healing Energy in Acupuncture and Rolfing.” American Journal of Acupuncture, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1990. And, Oschman, James L, Ph.D., “What’s in a Handshake.” Rolf Lines, Vol. 25, No.2, Spring 1997. And, with Nora H. Oschman, Physiological and Emotional Effects of Acupuncture Needle Insertion. Self published manuscript available from the Rolf Institute.

5 For exploration of the ecological basis of inquiry in these various disciplines form leading theorists refer to such books as Kaufman, Stuart, At Home in the Universe. Oxford Univ Press, 1995; Goodwin, Brian, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots. Scribner’s, 1994; Penrose, Rodger, Shadows of the Mind. Oxford Univ Press, 1994; Varela, Francisco, et al, The Embodied Mind. MIT Press, 1991; Abram, David, The Spell of the Sensuous. Pantheon, 1996.

6 For a presentation of Rolfing principles please see, Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D. and Jan Sultan, “Constitutive Principle of Rolfing.” Rolf Lines June/July 1991, vol. 19., No. 3; Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D. and Jan Sultan, “Definition and Principles of Rolfing.” Rolf Lines, Vol. 20, No. 2, Spring 1992; and, Maitland, Jeffrey, Ph. D., “The Palintonic Lines of Rolfing.” Rolf Lines, Vol. 19, No. 1, Jan, Feb, 1991.

7 I use the capitalized form, ‘Line’ to indicate the word common in Rolfing lexicon that is indicative of the structure coming into alignment in gravity, as in, “She has come on to her Line.” This is a classic use of the word Line rather than the more fundamentalist definition of line. That is, it refers to a state of palintonic gestalt rather than to a strictly geometric assessment of vertical and horizontal symmetry. I embellish the notion of palintonis with the notion of gestalt to add the quality of presence to the experience of integrative palintonis. Gestalt is the present moment expression of the whole that contains all past experience and future potential. This definition of Line as palintonic gestalt is synergistic of both space and time as is geometric gravitation.

For an excellent discussion of the historical, philosophical and structural concept of Line please read Jeff Maitland’s article, “The Palintonic Lines of Rolfing” as referenced above. This article also contains a discussion of palintonis within the Newtonian concept of gravity as a unidirectional force acting at a distance. To me this discussion is an example of the extreme intellectual acrobatics required to justify the experience of a multidimensional gravitational Line with the (fortunately) mistaken understanding of unidirectional gravity. In his article, Maitland describes the creation of the Rolfing Line as a “palintonic event.” There is in this the allusion to the temporal qualities of Line. Describing line as a palintonic gestalt is a similar yet stronger reference to the unification of space and time (or structure and the present moment) in the creation of Line.

8 I refer here to the functional theories of Rolfing Practitioner Hubert Godard.

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