CAPA ROLF LINES Vol XXVI nº 01 1998 Winter

Welcome Back, Newton!

"Every triumph of knowledge contains one hundred declared beliefs of ignorance."Isaac Newton (Stoerig, Kleine Weltgeschichte derPhilosophie)"As well as it was an error formerly to consider the old method to be the only correct one, as well one-sided it would be now, to consider it, which has achieved so much, to be dismissed completely and not to cultivate it beside the new one."Ludwig Boltzmann (Boltzmann, Populare Schriften)
Pages: 24-28
Year: 1998
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol XVI, nº 01 Winter 1998

Volume: 26
"Every triumph of knowledge contains one hundred declared beliefs of ignorance."Isaac Newton (Stoerig, Kleine Weltgeschichte derPhilosophie)"As well as it was an error formerly to consider the old method to be the only correct one, as well one-sided it would be now, to consider it, which has achieved so much, to be dismissed completely and not to cultivate it beside the new one."Ludwig Boltzmann (Boltzmann, Populare Schriften)


The concept of gravity, as explained by Isaac Newton, is a basic tenet in the theory and practice of Rolfing. Ida Rolf never explained exactly in terms of physics her observation that gravity can play a constructive role if the structure of a body is balanced optimally. Unfortunately, until ten years ago there was no clear understanding of the physical fundamentals within the field of structural integration. The work of Hans Flury and Willi Harder, based on the Newtonian model, has partly changed this situation. Until lately there have been no attempts to discuss gravitation using the relativity theories of Albert Einstein which supersede Newton’s point of view. Isn’t it strange, that we as Rolfers follow more or less consciously, a physics model which has been considered obsolete for decades? Even more strange it seems that this theory nevertheless enables us to practice successful Rolfing, even though the theory seems to be false. I would like to re-evaluate Newton’s model in the light of its usefulness to us as Rolfers and show how Einstein’s model may be better at helping us understand complex topics like the work with motility and energetic processes.


Liz Gaggini wrote two essays (Gaggini, “Joint Motility,” “Structure in Free Float”) as an attempt to go beyond Newton by comparing his theories with those of Einstein. Unfortunately she revealed a basic ignorance concerning Newton’s laws. Her description of Dr. Rolf’s teachings is a case in point (emphasis by me): “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.” (Gaggini, “Structure in Free Float”)

I don’t think it is surprising that Dr. Rolf speaks about gravity in an ambivalent way. Let us remember that we are talking about a living body in contact with the earth. (We are not talking about the exceptional condition when a body is floating in the air.) According to Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction): When the earth and a living body are in contact, there is an immediate upward pressure by supporting force or normal force (Harder, “Seven Elements of Touch”). If the inner line of a standing body (consisting of the gravity centers of all body segments) coincides with the vertical vector of gravity, the earth provides the vertical vectoral lift by its supporting force. Therefore a mutual conditionality of weight/gravity and supporting force exists, and while the supporting force can straighten bodies up, it exists only because gravity exists. Under these circumstances our understanding of gravity actually becomes ambivalent. We see it as destructive or supportive, depending on how reasonably a structure is aligned over its feet.

In light of this Liz Gaggini’s description of Rolfing in terms of Newtonian physics, “Gravity pulling downward, structure pulling upward,” (Gaggini, “Structure in Free Float”) is incorrect. It is the supporting force that pushes a body up. I also think it is a doubtful interpretation of Ida Rolf’s point of view to say that she thought that it is the therapist that lifts us up. Dr. Rolf states: “Gravity, man’s name for the energy of the earth, is the never sleeping therapist and teacher. All we as Rolfers can do is to prepare the body of the individual to receive and respond positively to the effects of the gravitational field. This is our sole contribution … It is not we who have created this well-being, it is gravity” (Rolf, “Structure – a New Factor in Understanding the Human Condition”).

Gaggini claims that the application of Newton’s physics to the field of structural integration gives us a static understanding of structure and symmetry. Arguing for a relativity perspective she says: “Balance is not a symmetry around static axis but, the structure’s availability to curvaceous motion” (Gaggini, “Structure in Free Float”). It is a misunderstanding of Newton’s model to imply that it only sees symmetry as balance around a static axis. Economical balance is given when the body is able to move or to rest with as little effort as possible. This means that a person is able to deal efficiently with several stimuli (gravity, tension in the myofascial net, hydrostatic pressure, sensory orientation, etc.), which are “disturbing” the body’s equilibrium.

Naturally, optimal balance in a moving body expresses itself in a more complex way than in standing. In Newtonian thinking the axes of direction (not static axes) are understood as abstractions of real curves of movement. Actually the Newtonian law of action-reaction, which manifests itself in the gravity/supporting force polarity and in the “Spannung” between two directions, is not only applicable to the analysis of stationary bodies (standing, sitting) but also during dynamic sequences of motion and gesture. A good example of such an application is Flury and Harder’s method of “normal function,” which I like to combine with Hubert Godard’s ideas of tonic function and the sensory structure in a nondogmatic and creative manner.

“…Newton had some ideas about transformation which are in accordance with modern biophysics.”

Movement always occurs in curves. Even in the case of unfavorably balanced body structures, movements are curvaceous. Therefore, the capacity for curvaceous motion cannot be a criteria for an optimal quality of body structure, unless one defines the manner of these curves in great detail.

Gaggini says about her 4-dimensional model based on Einstein, in contrast to the 3-dimensional Newtonian model: “The principles of adaptability, support and integration become more relevant than line, struts and span” (Gaggini, “Structure in Free Float”). Of course these principles are more important than taxonomies using lines, blocks and cylinders to understand structure. The implication that in the 3-dimensional model line, struts and span would be more important than adaptability, support and integration is simply false to facts.

Newtonian mechanics is not able to answer all of our questions and many of us use models from other fields such as body psychotherapy, Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing, Hubert Godard’s concepts of sensory structure, yoga, dance, body theater, etc. Gaggini’s assessment of Newtonian physics as deficient in explaining holistic relationships and trauma is true but I feel that she brings contrasts into existence where there are none. About the 3-dimensional (Newtonian) Rolfing concept she says: “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” (Gaggini, “Joint Motility”). She describes the 4 dimensional concept as: “Trauma and habitual patterns areactively maintained interactions of the whole person’s world line”(Gaggini, “Structure in Free Float”). I see both statements as correct, they only examine various polar aspects of our experience. Although, according to modern physics there is no such thing as linear time we usually experience everything in this way. An example from daily life: The content of a book is always present in its totality. There is no past, no future, there is only the present. But we can grasp this content only by reading one sequence after another. The same applies to trauma and habitual patterns. Although they are always maintained in the present by a person, we as practitioners and the person herself are sometimes caught in a linear experience of time flow (experiencing trauma and habitual patterns as a result of past events), and sometimes we are not (experiencing the maintaining interactions as an event here and now). Therefore the above statements are both as equally right as false, depending on the standpoint one takes.

Another point I’d like to make clear is that Newton’s concepts do include the possibility of somatic transformation. Gaggini’s inference that the static aspect of Newton’s laws preclude somatic transformation is incorrect. Isaac Newton dealt with alchemy and chemistry all his life and regarded the possibility of transmutation of bodies by structural change as a fact: “Every body can be trans mutated into another one, whatever nature he is, all qualities occuring in between can be induced into him” (Gebelein, Alchemie). Newton’s point of view has a thoroughly dynamic aspect which includes the ability to transform structure.

Beyond that, it might be interesting to know that Newton had some ideas about transformation which are in accordance with modern biophysics. Modern research suggests that the small, autonomous and involuntary motions of the human organism (motility) take place within the energetic limits between rough substance/coarse-material energy and fine material energy. Photons (light particles) are assumed to be the mediators between particles/oscillations and an immeasurable but fine material energy (Bishof, Biophotenen). Let me quote one question of Newton’s: “Isn’t it possible to transform dense bodies and light into each other mutually and do not bodies receive much of their effectiveness from light particles entering into their composition?… The transformation of body-matter into light and reverse is quite adequate for nature and for reason” (Gebelein, Alchemie). Indeed, according to Einstein’s famous formula E = mc2 energy and matter are convertible into each other. Also relating to the second assumption, modern physics admit that Newton was right: All working forces between particles, such as photons and their electromagnetic fields, are reduced by the exchange of immeasurable photons today.


When Albert Einstein developed his special and general relativity theories, he produced a new theory about motion which proved that Newton’s attempt to explain special phenomena was false in general. There is no energy called “gravity” attracting bodies to each other. Experiences of heaviness, lift, etc., are due to the bend of spacetime in the surroundings of solid masses. J.A. Wheeler says: “Gravity is an illusion. The only thing which prevents us from floating is the force of the ground under our feet” (Wheeler, Gravitation and Raumzeit). But the ground is there. Therefore the impression Gaggini gives, as if the 4-dimensional model of structural integration actually allows free float unfortunately is misleading. (I say “unfortunately” because floating freely before opening a parachute was a deep and cheering experience for me.)

As Einstein himself pointed out, his theory of spacetime includes Newton’s theory as a special case. That means, although Newton’s idea of an attractive force was false, for special case of life on the ground which is the rule for us exactly – such physical phenomena as weight an lift arise as if an attractive force we exist. This is the reason why Newton’s theory largely works or ground despite its theoretical deficiencies and limitations.

As far as structure in the macro range is concerned (meaning inter- and intra segmental structural relationships, and the relationship of the whole to gravity) Newton’s mode remains valuable because it has proven itself in practice. In addition it offers a generally intelligible manner to speak about our practice especially since conversion of the relativity model into a useful theory for structural analysis has only just begun. Because earthly phenomena such as heaviness and lightness, which Newton tried to explain, are embedded in the general cosmic orders of Einstein’s spacetime it would be desirable for us to make use of Einstein’s gravitational model. Application of the relativity theory the field of structural integration demands a complete reinterpretation of what is already known. Goals, taxonomies and work strategies h to be formulated all over again. T communication with our clients a other professionals has to be put completely new basis. This will bi immense and long effort.

An excellent example of such an effort is found in the essay of Gael Ohlgren and David Clark, “Natural Walking”: “The concept of helical actions” (which corresponds to Einstein’s theory) “may appear to be a paradox for Rolfers who have defined efficiency structurally and statically through the medium of vertical and horizontal lines of transmission an action. We have observed that the more balanced and efficient a human body becomes, the closer the movement pattern demonstrates clear horizontal hinge action and vertical integrity. This language of horizontal: and verticals, however, does not den) helical structure and action…. Once one stops automatically isolating one muscle group from another while observing human anatomy, what emerges for observation is a helical fiber weaving from head to toe…. At every level one finds that the fibers of the body are laid down in crossing diagonal helices, like a woven basket. This design answers our seeming paradox. When one sees clearly woven, balanced, diagonal fibers, verticals and horizontals become apparent without being anatomically present. The verticals and horizontals Rolfers see and talk about in bodies are the result of the angle of intersection of counter-rotating helices created by the fiber winding of the body tissues. The degree of horizontality and verticality is dictated by the relative balance in the helices” (Olgren and Clark, “Natural Walking”).

This is an example of extended knowledge of today (diagonal helices) connected with a traditional model of perception (horizontals and verticals) in a productive way.

The relativity perspective is more useful for explanations of motility discussed by Gaggini as well as for cellular and sub cellular levels of body structure. I agree with Gaggini when she identifies the viscera and joints as the areas where we have the most material for free float. It would be interesting to look in more detail at the lung’s vacuum, the brain almost weightlessly swimming and the fetus in amniotic fluid from the perspective of Einstein’s physics. But we should keep in mind that true free float can be found only in the weightlessness of space or in artificially produced weightless spaces. Some other aspects she addresses (contractile and non contractile axes, world line) are interesting starting points too. However, we are still far away from a sufficiently workable theory.

Gaggini’s explanations regarding contractive and non contractive axes show just this. Her statement that “Verticality is a given of the geometry of spacetime in relationship with matter,” (Gaggini, “Joint Motility”) sounds like: Since we are on the surface of the earth we are always in non-contractile space. But this is only half the truth. In meeting the earth a human body contacts the place in which the non-contractile axes (above the earth) turn into contractile axes (which are inside the earth). What decides whether and with what consequences the body structure contracts or not? The polarity between positive spacetime bend within the mass of the earth (contracting bodies) and negative bend outside of it (expanding bodies) in Einstein’s model may correspond to the polarity of gravity and supporting force in Newton’s model. This is an area where there is still much to be explored and explained.


There is a fundamental polarity between expansion and contraction which characterizes space and the life processes. While the power of heaviness (contraction) is seen in the centric physical forces and solids (gravitation), the power of lift/ levitation (expansion) leads to the permanent transformation of living organisms towards a higher order of coherence and complexity. According to manuscripts decoded in 1981, Newton also presented the idea that the cosmos is governed by contraction and expansion (Gebelein, Alchemie).

Recent biophysics research suggests that from the macro to the micro level in humans pulsations are also found. These are seen as a switching back and forth between expansion and contraction. The different forms of autonomous, involuntary motions (motility) belong in this context, acting as an interface between rough substance/coarse-material energy (kinetic, heat, electromagnetic, etc.) and the fine material energy (“life energy,” “morphogenetic fields” etc.).

Fritz-Albert Popp’s biophoton research, and studies on the living matrix of connective tissue (Oschman, “Matter, Energy and the Living Matrix”; Oschman, “Continuum in Natural Systems”; Pischinger, “Das System der Grunregulation”) show that electromagnetic fields are responsible for structuring atoms, molecules, cells, organs, organisms and even groups of organisms. They also produce communication fields, and regulate the growth of organisms both individually and evolutionarily (Bishof, Biophotenen; Pischinger, Das Systemder Grundregulation).

T.E. Bearden, J.A. Wheeler and Burkhard Heim understand electromagnetic fields as a manifestation of gravity waves. Gravitational fields actually structure information fields for electromagnetism (Bishof,Biophotenen).

Alexander Dubrow has shown that biological structures at the micro-level are formed by a type of gravitation that he terms “biogravitation.” It is created by living cells, transforms to other types of energy and penetrates every shielding. It is responsible for the spacetime organization of matter in life forms and always occurs after the formation of highly structured (coherent) states. Living beings have the ability to influence their structure and course of time (Bishof,Biophotenen).

David Bohm defines an “explicit” and an “implicit” order. The explicit order is the world of our sensory perception and physical measurements. Gravitational fields are part of this explicit order. The implicit order behind the gravitational fields is a holograph in which the explicit order (spacetime and objects) is embedded. The theories of Bohm and other physicists propose one or more basic levels “behind” the levels of particles and waves/fields. Thus world models, in the tradition of alchemy and other esoteric traditions, become modern. Both see transition steps between the coarse-material level as manifestations of the spirit and the level of the spirit or consciousness itself. They are closely joined (Bishof, Biophotenen).


Dr. Rolf did not leave us with any definite theoretical model explaining her understanding of gravity. Even though she was familiar with Einstein’s work and the newer physics, her structural analyses seem to be based more on a Newtonian perspective. What is important for us today is to understand these vague parts of Dr. Rolf’s theory not as a defect but as an opportunity to handle various models without dogmatic fixation. As Paul Feyerabend stated: “Cognition in this sense is not a sequence of theories being consistent in themselves which are converging against an ideal theory; it is not a progressive approach towards a ‘truth’. It is a permanently growing sea of incompatible (and perhaps even incomparable) alternatives; every single theory forces the other to clearer unfolding and all of them contribute to the development of our consciousness by their competition. Nothing is decided ever, no opinion can be left out from an extensive representation.” (Feyerabend, Wider den Methodenzwang)

I have tried to show that a direct and practical application of Einstein’s model has not yet been accomplished, while Newton’s model as a special case of relativity explains many phenomena of structure in a simple and plausible way. Nevertheless, for explanations of motility we need theoretical models which go beyond Newton. Einstein’s relativity theory is one, but not the only, modern theory we have available to us to explore the theory and practice of Rolfing. I suggest we not tie ourselves down to one single model. Various theories can be equally illuminating and give us various ways to explain our perceptions.

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