Direct and Indirect Techniques: A Conversation

Pages: 15-16
Year: 2001
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration: The journal of the Rolf Institute – Autumn 2001 – Vol 29 – Nº 04

Volume: 29

Jan Sultan

On the Direct-Indirect question; after all is said and done, you have to make peace with your own understanding of the terms, so you can make consistent observations. If you are talking to friends or colleagues, you have to define your terms. If other professionals are using the terms differently, you have to cut the distinctions between your understanding and their language, so you get the message.

When Michael Salveson and I were working our way through this equation in ’88, while teaching an advanced class together, we decided to align our terminology (and hence Rolfing’s) with the Osteopaths, with respect to the systematic work they had done in the face of this very problem. We did not count on their continuing internal discrepancies of description.

In its simplest form, the Indirect-Direct polarity represents two ends of a spectrum of touch. The Indirect identifies the strain pattern, and supports and amplifies that with the intention of invoking a (motile) corrective response toward “normal.” The Direct touch identifies the strain pattern and pushes or pulls it toward normal.

Implicit in both approaches is the concept of normal. This is where the rubber meets the road. In the osteopathic thinking this is generally defined as the normalization of motion (as motility and mobility), whether it is osseous /articular, ligamentous, membranous, energetic, or whatever. In the Rolfing paradigm, that normal is in service of spatial order and continuity of tonus and movement within that.

I use mobility and motility in service of creating the tonus and space for better organization and function in gravity. In practice I find that my touch often follows strain up to a point, and then engages more “Directly”, moving to establish geometric order. This may not be where the tissue “wants” to go. Where it wants to go is usually where it was before it got stuck.

That gravitationally-based concept of order is indeed driven by an external referent, a whole-body orientation in space, and with respect to a relationship of the parts within the “field” (or context) of its mass. I think this is what makes the wholism of Rolfing unique in the field. We are interested in shape, the “state” of the organism, and the genetic traits that context the nature of the being. Traits are the least plastic of the elements, and our unique approach truly shakes the genetic tree to open plasticity for adaptation. No one else (in the field) really understands or cares about this part.

Making one’s work primarily Direct or Indirect limits the tools you have available for the job. Touch is a language and I use what works to communicate to the being. I often change from Indirect or Direct (as defined) by degrees, and back and forth as I am inspired to do. This is operational whether I am “on” visceral, ligamentous, or osseous structures, or shaking hands with the grandparents. I don’t stop at restoration of function, but am oriented to adaptability, enhancement of function, and activating potentials, through organizing shape in space by balancing tensional forces.

Don Hazen

Thanks for the clarity. One more piece. If my take on Sutherland’s later work -via Shaver and Jealous – is accurate, the question of Direct and Indirect is moot, as physical force is not introduced. While I sometimes find myself introducing “Body English” when I am working that way, the most profound results occur when I am just hovering, just waiting.

When I begin a session I will often mark vertebral fixations with a grease pencil. Then working from the thigh – with a touch as light as a bug on the water (Shaver’s metaphor) – the nastiest trouble spots in the upper thorax will generally resolve. I’ve done it working from the ankle, but it’s easier to feel the pulse in the thigh.

Jeffrey Burch

Barral’s use of the terms “Direct and Indirect” is not just opposite in meaning from Upledger, rather Barral is describing a different set of strategies. Barral uses the term “Indirect” as a synonym for long lever. For him any local technique is named “Direct”. This is quite a different use of the terms than we are used to. What Upledger calls “Indirect” Barral calls “into the barrier”, and what Upledger calls “Direct” Barral calls “away from the barrier”.

Allan Kaplan

Well, this is certainly different than what I’m used to, and to how Didier Prat (Barral’s protege) utilizes the terminology. He subscribes to the into/away-from-the-barrier usage.

Jeffrey Burch

To make it even worse, some instructors in Visceral Manipulation classrooms sometimes slip into using Direct and Indirect in the Upledgerian sense. I have also heard VM instructors’ tongues slip and reverse the “into the barrier” -“away from the barrier” terminology.

Allan Kaplan

There’s no accounting for dyslexia. Glad to hear it’s not just Rolfing instructors that have it.

Are you implying that Indirect technique is only used with a long lever? I use it this way only a small percentage of the time. Usually I work it up close and personal, still taking the tissue into the lesion/ restriction for release.

I just came across this from Barral’s first book that clarifies for me what you were saying. It is interesting to me that Didier appears to use the American D.O. terminology in his classes, i.e., that “Indirect” is a barrier-related term as opposed to a leverrelated term.

“Note that we define Direct and Indirect in terms of the length of the lever being used. Techniques in which the forces are applied locally through a short lever are Direct; those in which the forces are applied at a distance through a long lever arm are Indirect. This is the common usage of these terms in Europe, and is followed throughout this book. In American osteopathic circles, the definitions of Direct and Indirect techniques are different, usually revolving around actions relative to a motion barrier. In that system, Direct techniques carry the lesioned component through the barrier; with Indirect techniques the motion barrier is disengaged.”
Visceral Manipulation, p.22.

Now I wonder what terms he uses for the barrier-related issues?

Jeffrey Burch

The problem may revolve around what is meant by “away from” and “into”. Barral and company use them in this way:

Into the Barrier = in the direction of ease.

Away from the Barrier = in the direction requiring more effort.

Here is a paraphrase of how Barral explained it to me: consider the caecum. It is suspended by several ligaments, including one running laterally toward the iliac fossa, and another running toward the midline of the body. If we mobility-test the caecum, in a transverse plane, and find that it will move easily laterally, and with difficulty medially, that means the lateral ligament is tight. Therapeutically we move the caecum laterally, which is in the direction of ease, but this is also moving the caecum toward the tight ligament which is the barrier, that is why we call it “into the barrier”. This motion toward the tight area introduces slack into that ligament, which allows it to reorganize to a lower tone.

I really like what Jan said about use of these terms.

1. Figure out how the person you are talking with is using the terms, then listen for meaning rather than get into arguments about correctness of terminology.

2. Establish a consistent meaning in your own mind so you can make consistent observations.

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