Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – SPRING 1999 – Vol 27 – Nº 02

Volume: 27

Bill Harvey: You are into Core Energetics?

Steve Hancoff: Yeah, at this point I’m on the faculty of the Core Energetics Institute in New York, and I’m assisting one of the senior teachers in the new school in Atlanta. In February 1999 I’ll have workshops in Israel.

BH: How does one get to be on the faculty of the Core Energetics Institute?

SH: It’s a 4-year training course for certification and then a year of post graduate training during which time you are expected to develop a Core Energetics practice. It’s my impression that body-centered psychotherapists tend to not necessarily know much or be all that comfortable about working with bodies. I had a natural niche, not to mention an attitude, because of all my years doing Rolfing®. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Rolfing is body-centered psychotherapy.

BH: But you have been a psychologist for decades, right?

SH: I have an MSW and an LCSW license. Should I go back to the beginning?

BH: Sure.

SH: I went to a extraordinary college called St. John’s College where there are no textbooks, no tests, no lectures, just the real sources of Western thought and knowledge. The notionis that knowledge is not divisible, there are no compartments, and therefore no departments. You start off first year reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, and lots of Plato, Aristotle, and mathematics – Euclid – and in science the beginnings of physics – Archimedes, Ptolemy, etc. For four years one is immersed. To learn calculus you read Newton. You are basically reading the canon of western civilization. There are eight or ten people in a class, a tutor and everything is conversation. The idea is that the geniuses who wrote the books are the teachers, and the tutors enable.

I’m very happy that I went through that; it was and remains very important to me, but the point is that, like most people that age, I was very unhappy and emotionally troubled in a place where reason was worshipped and emotions – “the passions” as the Greeks called them – were thought to be inferior. When I graduated I went to Vancouver, B.C., where one of my close friends had a job as a counselor in a home for emotionally disturbed kids. The home’s director was working with Fritz Perls. They were having Gestalt groups at work, and he would come home and run Gestalt groups at the house with all of us, not knowing what the hell he was doing. Naturally, the notion of trying to find feelings and speak the truth from a non-reasonable place, to try to find the irrational, was very appealing and liberating to somebody who’d just spent four years immersed in the prejudice of reason-is better-than feeling. I decided I wanted to learn psychotherapy and eventually went to graduate school to do that.

BH: So you were a psychotherapist long before you were a Rolfer?

SH: I graduated from graduate school in 1975. It took about two days in graduate school to realize that’s not where you learn how to do psychotherapy. I didn’t know where you learn it, but I was always very intense as well as emotionally sort of labile. So after I graduated, I looked elsewhere. I went to do what was then called the 40-day Arica training. That is really what started to open the doors. Pretty intense experience with about 100 people alternately screaming and crying together for 40 days. Revealing their deepest secrets, and having a grand time in the evenings. It was the 70’s in northern California. In Vancouver my friend who was running the house groups, came home one day and announced that he had received Rolfing. And he said it hurt like hell, and that what Rolfing was was they tear the muscles off of your bones and then when they heal you are better. That was what he said. I don’t know if the person who worked on him was actually a Rolfer or not, there weren’t that many back then, but believe it or not that sounded good to me.

BH: A measure of your dysfunction I guess.

SH: That’s right, but an overly polite way of putting it, I’d say. I decided then I wanted to do it, but somehow I put it off. But when I got to the Arica training, we were living in a dormitory at Humbolt State University. And there was this guy who every evening had different women literally lined up outside his door to spend the night with him. And I was jealous and so I said to him, “How do you do that?” And he said, “Well, I smoke a lot of pot and I get Rolfing once a week.” So that was it. I decided when I finished my Arica training, I would find a Rolfer and start getting some Rolfing sessions. That was actually the impetus that finally got me to do it. I guess it shows the level of my development back then!

My experience of Rolfing was I didn’t know that it was structural work. What I felt it to be was the deepest psychotherapy I had ever had. And in both my 5th and 6th sessions there was an extraordinary wash of the intense feelings I had been seeking, deep insights, real changes. And then in my 7th session, I passed out; and when I came to I said to my Rolfer, “Did you know that was going to happen?” And she said, “Yes.”

BH: She did?

SH: I said, “What happened?” and she said, “Well, I took your head off and then I put it back on.” So I had the experience of Rolfing as being the deepest psychological work that I had ever had and didn’t really notice that much in my body because that was my nature at the time. In fact, when I went to my first training with Michael (Salveson) in 1978, I think, I kept waiting for him to teach the “good stuff” – the psychology – and he kept on not doing it. He kept on talking about fascia and muscles and structure instead. Anyway, that is how I came to Rolfing.

BH: So you continued being a psychotherapist once you became a Rolfer?

SH: Well, Michael flunked me the first time I audited. I went into a lot of emotional turmoil, and I came back East, and started seriously working with John (Pierrakas, founder of Core Energetics). That’s when I found out that what they call psychotherapy was basically bullshit, and that John seemed to know stuff about the inner movement and motives of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, that I didn’t really know about and had never considered or seen. This was in 1978 or ’79.

Yeah, I kept on trying to work as a psychotherapist and I had a few patients here, a few clients there, you know. But the culture is such that psychotherapy is so negative. It’s usually sitting around talking about your complaints. Or making deals or contracts with your partner. And usually it tries to solve “problems” b) means of reason or insight or behavioral changes. Traditional psychotherapy sees people as a conglomerate of problems or issues seeking resolution or solving. It does not recognize people as individuals who from a higher-self place, if you will, are seeking to evolve by addressing their ignorance and distortions. Furthermore, it does not see human beings as the psycho-somatic unity they are. That means, it does not take the body or often even the feelings into account, not to mention a person’s will or spirit.

You know, Dr. Rolf pointed out that i the body didn’t change, you didn’t change. That is my experience, and hence my belief. In fact, John has stopped calling it Core Energetics psychotherapy and calls it Core Energetics Evolution just to disengage it from traditional psychotherapy. I remember Dr. Rolf saying something about how Rolfing was the first attempt by people to consciously move their evolution along. Same with Core Energetics. To me, this means we engage the body in the process, and this is where the changes take place.

Of course, by the time I became a Rolfer I realized that it was structural work, addressing structure was how all that emotional release came to happen. In other words, Sharon had not been focusing on my emotions. She was focusing on the relationships between the different segments of the body and its relationship to gravity. And that’s what my Rolfing looks like. But the way I work is I don’t separate the two out. I don’t conceptually or perceptually separate the distorted structural relationships from the emotional source of the distortion in the first place.

My personal experience when receiving Rolfing is that when I get down to the end of the session, there is some hidden or masked feeling underneath. Say I sprained an ankle yesterday, and get work on it and in the process of fixing that ankle I remember way back that my brother grabbed me by the ankles and swung me around the room but with a masked intention to hurt me. Hence, there’s a weakness in the ankle just waiting for gravity and my own imbalances to exploit it. I think it stayed weak on account of being too intimidated to try to kill that brother. And moreover, being so devoted to my own self-image of being good, I was reluctant to acknowledge how I provoked him in the first place. It seems to me that the injuries of the present day are reflections of, or are made sort of inevitable, by the weaknesses that are created from early experiences. Of course, this is just one example out of many, many experiences.

Another thing that I do besides Rolfing and therapy and music is I’m an aspiring white water river guide. When you watch the Colorado roll through the Grand Canyon, sometimes the flow of the river bashes up against the canyon walls that it has created. But much more often, the water tends to go down river througr its natural channel because that’s the path of least resistance. And, likewise, when a trauma happens in a person’s body, the force of it will tend to disperse and move through the connective tissue according to the path of least resistance in the body. And that path of least resistance has to do with what’s damaged, and what’s not. So present day experiences and injuries tend to travel through the same distorted patterns that have been established earliest in a person’s life, the determinants of what Dr. Rolf called “posture,” where one has placed oneself.

Those patterns tend to become established as what in Core Energetics or in Bioenergetics are called defenses, defensive postures. I should mention, for those who don’t know, that John Pierrakos and Alexander Lowen are the ones who created Bioenergetics. John and Lowen split from one another after John found Eva Bruch, who became Eva Pierrakos, and who in the 50’s and ’60’s was channeling the spiritual lectures that have come to be called the Pathwork of Self-Transformation.

BH: I’ve only been exposed to one lecture. It was completely profound.

SH: I confess that I tend to think of the New Age movement, into which Rolfing is often casually put along with crystal readers, all kinds of channelers, etc., as somewhat flaky or schizoid. But these lectures, of which there are about 230 or so, which I’m told represent about 10 % of what she channeled, are astonishing. They are devoted to describing the psychic structure of the mind and how one relates to reality. The Pathwork lectures constituted the spiritual component that he felt was missing from Bioenergetics. So Core Energetics is sort of the bringing together of the theology or cosmology, you might say, of Eva’s lectures plus the techniques and notions from Bioenergetics. And I think as John has gotten older – he’s 78 now – he has become more spiritually directed.

My thought is that the injuries or what we see when people come in and they say that their back hurts or there’s carpal tunnel or something, and we think that we know the carpal tunnel is the result of sitting at a computer all day, under all that stuff is defense. And what defense means is an intent by an uninformed child or infant to protect himself and/or protest interference with the natural functioning and development of that child or infant. Development is what children and infants, not to mention adults, are doing. This is what is natural.

For example, in a very young baby, life is experienced through the sensations of the mouth and skin, by suckling, having a lot of skin contact, and good feelings between the mother and the baby. When that is interfered with, the child feels pain. And people, as all Rolfers know, tend to try to not feel pain. In fact, trying to not feel pain, seems to be a significant factor in locking in posture both because people learn to immobilize themselves, because movement hurts where there’s trouble and because we come to identify with the shape and sensations of our bodies. It’s all to not to feel what we imagine we don’t want to feel. So, the layers of the fascial body take on a holding pattern against the insult and interference to that development. Reich called it “armoring.”

When I’m Rolfing I’m thinking about addressing the relationships between this piece and that piece and integrating the whole thing, probably like all us Rolfers. I’m not thinking about the emotions or the defense. But I am aware that if there’s a sunken chest, say, that I’m working on, then it’s likely to have as its underlying cause that the breath wave isn’t coming through there to naturally unsink it and to fill it up. How come? Well, in normal development the breath pattern becomes established as the baby is sucking.

So, the proximal cause of that sunken chest may have to do with some event that we find, maybe a steering wheel slammed into the chest or something like that. But it has become my experience that the work isn’t done until the feelings of whatever the defense is come through. In other words, the flow of unfettered energy moves through a previously under- or overcharged area. So that is how I use Core Energetics in my practice. I think of myself as basically a Rolfer who knows about Core Energetics, and the Core Energetics is really fulfilling, even necessary, for my own process. And the more I do of it the better Rolfer I seem to become. Because the more I can step into knowing what the source is the better I can reach in deeper touch people more and more deeply without pushing harder.

BH: Do you put psychotherapy and Rolfing together in a single session?

SH: Not really. I mean like anybody else, I bring whatever I can to each session. When you let go of deeply held and old patterns it strikes me as reasonable that there would be emotion that’s evoked because people don’t hold on for nothing.

BH: Right.

SH: And the things that people hold tightest about are the things that matter most to them. To let go of the patterns is felt to be way too dangerous. So, acknowledging or experiencing or ultimately letting go of, say, raw hatred, might feel impossible to do if in your family situation expression of that hatred means that those who take care of you and on whom you may depend are going to punish you instead. Or the sense of being a hater may fly in the face of some idealized self-image you may have created. So that might become a psycho-somatic pattern of holding onto hatred. In the body, in order to hold on and not expose the feeling which is like a very powerful and irresistible energy, you have to use muscular energy. So a person creates a split between inner reality and facade. You know, you keep that up and eventually the anger might explode. If you let that happen, or facilitate it happening, with a will toward change and a will toward bringing the original intent from unconsciousness to consciousness, and with an intent toward healing, it’ll change the shape of the body. In the process, if there’s been stomach trouble or neck pain or whatever that’s been created by that holding, then that may start to heal too. So that’s an example of a kind of psychoor really a psycho-emotiono-somatic pattern that a person might have embodied.

So the creation of these defenses has to do with interference with normal basks A development. Those developmental processes probably begin during the last month or two of pregnancy and around the time of birth itself, and have to do with being received, welcomed into the world and surviving. This is first. And by the way, when you are being nourished through the umbilicus, this brings the mother’s biochemistry to you. So if she is having feelings of, “Should I have had an abortion?,” or “How will we ever afford to feed this baby?,” and the like, you are getting that through the biochemistry of her blood.

After birth, probably during the first three years, you are needing the nourishment that you get from breast feeding and skin contact and being ooh’ed and Wed over and all the things that you wish you had from your mother but don’t want to admit it. I am speaking of real need as opposed to the whiny neediness that a lot of us men tend to do you know, in our relationships as adults.

Also early on there’s a need to have the feeling of some control of your environment, the capacity to feel effective in reaching for what you want. Dr. Rolf talked about random spinal development as a result of how the baby pulls himself up in the crib. The reason the baby pulls himself up in the crib is that he wants to. So that wanting to is what I would say drives a child’s capacity to begin to be effective.

And then events like bowel control and bladder control in our culture who hasn’t been intruded on with that. Just picture, if you are too young and told that you have to use the potty, and being “good” or being “bad” depends on it but it is really for your mother’s convenience, rather than because you have an interest in doing that or even the ability to do it, what that does to a pelvic floor. So years later you are getting Rolfing, and you have a fourth session and somebody gets their hands on the pelvic floor. You may or may not become conscious that that’s what the holding started out as being. But to me it makes sense that it has got to be there, if that’s what happened in your life.

Then ultimately, there’s sexual development which has to do with the genitalizing of feelings. There’s enormous interference with people’s sexual development in Western culture, often starting with circumcision. In our families, what tends to happen most often is that when the little boy develops sexual feelings, feelings of pleasure in his pelvis, he tends to move according to the energy he feels. He generates movement towards his mother. And similarly, with little girls and their fathers. In our less than healthy world, parents tend to freak out when that happens. Little girls are going from being daddy’s sweet little girl to “a slut,” when she starts having genital feelings towards her father. So people get rejected and hurt, and they go on to build their defenses to not feel, and hence their postures around these kinds of experiences. I once had the grand opportunity to spend a week with hunter gatherer aboriginal people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The males among these people did not carry the abdominal-belly split you almost always see here. I was jealous.

BH: You’ve been contemplating teaching a course on defense character structures?

SH: Yeah, I’d love to. I’ve thought about that for a couple of years actually. I’ve been noticing on the Rolf forum lately that Les Kertay has been writing about psychotherapeutic issues, and very well indeed. There seems to be a lot of interest out there. People seem to feel like they need to know more about it. It seems like there’s a lot of fear. What happens if people have this or that issue should I not Rolf this person, if they have these issues? Stuff like that. One thing about knowing something about the character defense structures is it gives you a basic handle on what it is you’re seeing and what your hands are in.

BH: What about the analogies of body problems and emotional problems.

SH: They don’t make sense to me. It’s not out of the question that they could happen, but each of us is a unique entity. Everybody is trying to work out stuff that pertains to who they are and where they are and what they are doing and what’s going on. The body reflects that more palpably certainly, than any other aspect of what it means to be human. By no means can you do a one-to-one kind of this-means-that relationship. It stands to reason that certain looks seem to reflect back to certain kinds of interference and certain stages of development.

BH: Certain looks meaning certain structural…

SH: Yeah, like great big chest, little tiny legs looks like it means that somebody is holding energy, feelings, displaced upward. Its like it’s stuck in an inhale in a way and doesn’t have much support underneath. You might generalize and trace that back to what Reich called psychopathy. We could trace it back to the dilemmas of trust and betrayal, for instance. Or abandoning love for the sake of power. Or the feeling that it is imperative to be always right and never wrong. Or you might trace that back to being put in situations where you have to make difficult choices between a mother and a father. You might be able to generalize it to that degree. But to say that heart disease is a byproduct of this emotion and that experience strikes me as going way, way too far in a simplistic direction.

BH: So, what are the general categories that you are thinking of using in your course?

SH: Well, there are two things that I have in mind. First, the character defense structures. Related to this is the matter of how come we hold against pain or are averse to going through the pain. This, I think, should be of great interest to Rolfers because that’s the big rap on us is that we hurt too much.

Besides character defenses, there’s another framework in which to organize this stuff. And that is that all of these defenses reside in a part of our personality that we ourselves have created. In other words, if you are looking at how a person holds his posture, and again I use the word the way that Dr. Rolf differentiated between posture and structure, you’ve got to realize that he literally created that way of embodying himself and continues to create it. “Literally” means that one thing a body is an entity that metabolizes its environment and thence makes the cells of which it is comprised. But that means that there is somebody who exists, some creative part, before the distortions of the personality were created. That means that there is a deeper, more profound core-self at work than the personality.

So the expression or acting-out of these defenses is what John calls an “idealized self image” or a mask, you might call it. But you don’t identify with this mask; after all, you created it. Now, one of the primary mask functions is to keep you from exposing a primal lower self, the seat of one’s negative intentionality. As you defend against this exposure, you naturally come more and more to misidentify yourself with this lower self. And its attributes need to be clarified and delineated and made distinct and defined in all its characteristics in order for liberating change to occur. One example of the lower self inaction that touches every Rolfing session is, “I will not change.” And we all have that. We are all doing that. It’s like a great big NO that each of us brings to life. It’s my experience that resolution of structural problems, or rather achieving structural evolution, coincides with the heartfelt expression of the lower self energy and motive. And just as a function of the mask is to hide the lower self, so a function of the lower self is to protect the core. It’s as though in the ultimate moment of change, the lower self energy bursts through its layer of unconsciousness. Usually there’s either a profound wound to the core or some great joy there at bottom or deep feelings of remorse about not loving, or one way or another the feelings that pertain to discovering how I have held back the feelings and expression of the higher self. So when I Rolf, I think of the core as that mid-line around which we organize ourselves, the center. From he standpoint of psychotherapy, the core is the higher self.

BH: What you old-time Rolfers call a core.

SH: Oh, we don’t use that anymore?

BH: No!

SH: Really?

BH: Well no, it means something different. It’s now being defined as visceral space.

SH: As visceral space.

BH: Yeah. I must admit I have problems with that idea.

SH: Well visceral space does not bother me. I like how Rosemary [Feitis] once defined the Core: Whatever you can’t do without.

BH: My own idea extrapolates from Sutherland’s notion of potency within the cerebral spinal fluid.

SH: That’s what my admission paper was about.

BH: Oh, is that right? You argued that core was within the cerebral spinal fluid?

SH: Not the core exactly – that the cerebral spinal fluid bathes the brain and that’s how the feeling of soul and memory is in the body. It’s through the flow of the CSF. I think Louis Schultz read the paper, and if we had been at a university, he would have given me a C or a C plus.

So the core has to do with our deepest experience of ourselves. I looks to me like it is inherent in humans to feel optimism and enthusiasm about life in general and one’s own life in particular – to fulfill oneself, to have pleasure in life, meaning that you have the capacity to live according to the energetic impulses i.e., inner pulsations of this entity that you are. And it is the secret identification with the lower self and defending against or masking that that keeps one from doing that.

The character defense structures really have no meaning without the framework that says what you are. And how come it is so hard for people to express that which they actually are. I’m not saying that we are fragmented into these parts, I’m just laying this out as a handy way to think of it. This framework gives me a way to make sense of something that’s so vast. A workshop on character, has to seek to evoke the experience of what it was like to have the wound that impelled a person to create the defense in the first place and then the negative intent that that invokes. Shall I give you an example?

BH: Yes!

SH: Well, I have a 2 1/2 year old, Jacob. People call them the “Terrible ‘Twos” because they start saying “No” to you. What that means is, he is awakening recognition of himself as being an autonomous, independent creature, as opposed to being connected at the nipple, an energetic unity with his mother. He has come to realize that he is himself. And the need of that child is to begin to assert his independence from us. It happens a lot in families that for many reasons for example, parents wanting to make people think that they are good parents parents start to come down on that child to make them behave, make them do things the way the mother or father wants them to do them or be the way they think he should be. So, say they assert a kind of over-control. Physically what’s going on at that time for a lot of children is getting control over body functions. For example, in the first year of life Jacob basically ate whatever we gave him. And mostly he liked to nurse. He still likes to nurse, but at this point he wants to pick his own food. But if I had the intent to say he better eat his vegetables, to over-control his eating so he doesn’t have choice, then he doesn’t get the impression that he can be independent and it’s OK for him to start to make those basic sort of choices in his life. Naturally he will have emotional reactions to this.

The more I enforce my authority over him, the more he will be torn between rebellion against the authority and submission to it. Everybody wants to do what he wants to do. And initially, everybody dislikes authority. But he’s not big enough and probably not strong enough to sustain a rebellion against me, especially depending on the lengths to which I am prepared to go to maintain my authority. So, on the outside, the chances are he will tend at a young age to do what I can make him do, he will submit. But on the inside there will be a conflict which is, “I’m never going to do what you want me to do.” And so that creates an energetic conflict between the outer and the inner. What this might tend to look like in a body is energy building up inside that can’t be expressed, and maybe a look of compliance, a “good boy,” on the outside. One thing that we can imagine is that there’d be a lot of frustration and a lot of blame and holding himself back.

Also he’d be stuck, so to speak, in the pre-genital phase as this hypothetically would have happened at 2 years old, before has genitalized his feelings. His identity, his inner experience of himself, would be more in line with this inner conflict than it would be with, say, sexual longings. So it might eventually express itself as all kinds of sexual distortions. The outward sign might be a polite, pleasant sort of guy, but inside there’s going to be somebody who’s saying, “I’m going to destroy you,” or even more to the point, “I’ll hurt myself just to make you feel bad.” In other words, we’ve together created a component of spite in this personality. And you can see how he would then have to start to mask that because of how threatening it might be to let the world know about it. So there is going to be a lot of hostility coming at people. But it might be subtle because he’s hiding that he feels that way.

BH: How would you give us an experience of that in your workshop?

SH: First of all, a workshop is jazz that is, it’s improvised. Let’s imagine that in a workshop what you are trying to do is to evoke that rage by exaggeratedly over-managing or over-controlling. I remember this one guy we role played a little bit with. Two women surrounded him and together acted the part of the guy’s mother force feeding him and invading his boundaries, coming way too close, smothering him at these basic levels. They’d run him to the toilet, sit him down and even tell him when to push. I then went over and stuffed a banana in his face and said, “How’s that banana?” I kept stuffing it into his mouth without giving him a chance to answer. He’d just had lunch and he was full, but he was still compliant enough to make himself say, “Oh, it’s really good.” And then finally I said, “Well, how do you feel?” and he just exploded. His fury went to all the women in the group.

He faced the women, and he started bellowing like an animal. He started sounding like an animal in a trap. Growling, coming from his guts, coming from the viscera that we now call the core. Because that’s what had been suppressed. What he needed to say was, “Get out of my face, leave me alone, I want to do it myself, and I hate you.” It was very powerful. Because if you have the inner experience of your own, it’s much more profound than being lectured to and told what happened.

So, in a workshop I will give a lecture overview about how these things come to be. But the main thing is the experience and going through how you yourself created that defense and what it meant to your body. I would think that Rolfers would have an incredible experience because they are usually really very good at going in and feeling what’s going on in their own bodies. So they would probably do very well at feeling the entire pattern in their bodies from toe to head.

BH: Well this is fascinating.

SH: In Rosemary’s wonderful book, she quotes Ida Rolf saying, “There’s no such thing as psychology, only physiology.” Well, Sharon was at that class when she said it. She tells me the next day a client went through a significant catharsis. Dr. Rolf laughed and said, “Well, I guess there is no such thing as physiology, only psychology.” I think the reason this kind of information didn’t get into our teaching or description of Rolfing in the first place has to do with the sort of predisposition or mind-set of the original teachers of Rolfing. And not only that, there’s only so much you can do in a six-week class. I guess first you need to learn the structural stuff, and in a way it’s much easier to teach muscles qua muscles rather than what is the…

BH: Is this character defense structure going on here?

SH: Exactly. What is it you are touching when your hands are in a body? What exactly is human tissue made of? Is it the best we can do to define what human tissue is down to the level of, say, molecular structure as opposed to some kind of energetic content? This is the stuff of inner reality. Human beings exist on the levels of physical, emotional, mental. We create wills and I will leave to each person whether he or she believes we are spiritual selves too. But it looks to me as though the tissue partakes of, contains, all these components. I believe it is our destiny and privilege as Rolfers that we address all this.

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