CAPA 2001-04-Autumn

Somatic Mapping

"The body is the map of the mind"J.D.Landis, Solitude
Pages: 22-24
Year: 2001
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

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

Volume: 29

Some clients, despite having received Rolfing and exhausted standard medical treatments, have found little sustained relief from their physical problems. Absent an underlying pathology, practitioners sometimes postulate an emotional, psychological or energetic component based on one or more systems of correlation among experiences in the physical and other realms – i.e., on “somatic maps”. This raises at least three questions: What is somatic mapping? Is it sound? Is there a better way to infer meaning for the client’s experience?

I believe that somatic maps generally fail to withstand scrutiny. In any event, for the client who needs meaning, it seems more effective to focus on the client’s own perceptions and deductions. The obvious advantage of having the client create the “map” is that it originates in internal experience, and thus must be congruent for the client in the here-and-now. A client-generated map also avoids the risks and pitfalls inherent in ascribing meaning by proffering a canned, pseudo-scientific correlation, the “truth” of which cannot be verified. In my view, dispensing with such models is a more honest, direct manner of engaging those clients who require explanations for their conditions.

In formulating their strategies, therapies Rolfers typically review medical histories and discuss physical symptoms. We also “read” the client’s body for signs of how pain expresses itself in structural and functional patterns. We consider – in addition to this “reading” – the client’s reports and feedback. But we might be tempted to go beyond this relatively objective “reading”, and to employ other models to provide meaning for the client’s experience. One common feature of such models is a set of assumed correspondences – perhaps between specific “organ systems” and emotions (e.g., Chinese medicine), or between anatomical geography and emotional issues (e.g., Huna Kane).’ Sometimes, practitioners seek a root cause or source of an errant emotion deep within the client’s repressed psyche or at a specific body landmark. The development and use of such correspondences is called somatic mapping. The underlying premise of all somatic maps is the existence of one-to-one correspondences among body parts and emotional states. This postulated cause-and-effect relationship can dictate treatment protocol. Often, client feedback is less important than what the somatic map dictates.2

Among Rolfers, knowledge of somatic maps is common. We find them in recent texts such as: Alexander Loweri s The Language of the Body; Caroline Mays’ Anatomy of the Spirit; and Stanley Kelemari s Emotional Anatomy. Rolfers evaluate connective tissue patterns to infer structural causes for our clients’ specific experience, as well as more global compensatory patterns. But many of us go further, and offer “emotional” explanations for somatic patterns based on particular somatic schemas. Dr. Rolf herself made maps. For example: “People go into flexion for emotional security. They curl up for protection. Moshe Feldenkrais wrote a classic (Body and Mature Behavior) stating that immature behavior [and] negative emotions demand flexion and are expressed by flexion.”3

Many Rolfers are familiar with Stanley Keleman’s notion of “assaults to form” and his body morphology schema.’ Keleman defines four somatic types – rigid, dense, swollen and collapsed – and provides a detailed correspondence between somatic and emotional patterning. Keleman elaborates what he calls a “body plan” to explain relationships between extrinsic patterns and internal systems. The internal systems are based on three layers of tubes corresponding to the embryonic layers: endoderm (digestive system), mesoderm (muscular system) and ectoderm (nervous system).’ He views changes in these systems as responses to external stimuli, and describes negative stimuli with the memorable term, “insults to form”.

While Keleman does consider more complex “mixed” types, his descriptive emphasis is on the broad types. Keleman considers each of his types in great detail, identifying physical layering and emotional characteristics. Because the broad types are easy to spot and to identify with common somatic patterns, Keleman’s model might seem attractive as a guide for ascribing somatic “meaning”. But the risks inherent in applying the Keleman map ought to be obvious. For example, the list of emotions associated with the “swollen” type includes: “grandiose, dissatisfied, self-absorbed, narcissistic, seductive, superior, inferior, inflamed.6″‘

Rolfers themselves have developed somatic models – though rarely as elaborate as Kelemari s. For example, most of us have used Jan Sultan’s “Internal/External” model and Hans Flury’s structural typology. But these models are less about meaning than tissue strain patterns, and therefore have the advantage of not imposing meaning on the client. Robert Schleip has developed a more genetically-based model .7 Like Keleman, Schleip seeks an embryonic explanation for form and somatic preferences. He describes flexor- and extensor-dominant patterns, and links them to autonomic responses. He suggests a connection between flexor patterns and the socalled “startle reflex” – a reflexive contraction of the flexors in response to fear (here he, like Rolf, uses Feldenkrais as his source for this relationship). As a model for the extensor-dominant pattern, he offers the “Landau reflex” – the involuntary arching of the head and extension of the spine ob-served in infants when lifted by their hips in a prone position.

Toward the end of his discussion, Schleip cautiously speculates on links between a client’s history and the preference for one of these patterns over the other: “It is tempting to speculate about the reasons why one person’s structure seems to be dominantly shaped by one of those reflex patterns… It could be that this is based on particular circumstances in the person’s history that triggered one of those reflex patterns more strongly.” To his credit, Schleip abandons this line of speculation and returns to a consideration of how best to work with each structural type.

My point here is not to question the existence of relationship among different aspects of the client’s experience. The literature supporting the link between physical and emotional trauma is abundant. In his recent book on trauma, Barral states: “In our high stress society, many people undergo significant psychological problems. Being a victim or witness of a major accident, assault, homicide or other violent episode sometimes engenders intense reactions which are manifested physically as well as psychologically. We want to emphasize the fact that any emotion can have physical consequences.”‘ Few Rolfers would disagree with Barral’s assertion that emotional trauma affects physical function and is stored in the physical body. We also generally accept the notion of somatic memory, although we differ greatly on the best ways to access and release these traumatic effects lodged in the soma.9′

But why should we seek to establish causation – the link between a specific event and a physical symptom? Because when the client’s pain involves emotional trauma, the client might need it; and because “understanding” can in fact help relieve the client’s pain. However, helping clients understand the emotional connections to their experiences can be accomplished without resort to elaborate and rigid somatic maps that make improbable links among “causes” and “effects” based on theories that resemble myth more than science.

For example, one method some Rolfers use to access and discharge emotional trauma is William Redpath’s. Redpath employs guided imagery and metaphorical language to help the client shape meaning for trauma based pain. According to accounts by former students and from what I infer from his challenging book,7’ Redpath’s methods are, for the most part, deliberately indirect and client-based. However, an important dimension of his technique is based on a detailed interpretive lexicon of shapes and colors clients experience during the sessions. Here is a typical passage: “Sometimes a harbinger of health, pink appears to report a change which the client often welcomes. Again, in some configurations, there even seems to be some personality attachment to the color pink, and I have been intrigued by the ways in which the client will attempt to make the color, or shape, anatomically right.”” The color and shape mappings of Red path and others seem highly speculative, at best; and, as I have argued elsewhere, color mapping models are frustratingly inconsistent and vague.12″

Most Rolf Movement Practitioners, including the author, use a less directive trauma technique. Movement technique encourages the client to create his own meaning for internal experiences that arise during movement awareness exercises. Many of us use NLP-like language and movement cues, as well as simple compare-and-contrast.” For instance, one way to language about the client’s somatic experiences is to determine first whether the client’s word choice is predominantly visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Someone of the kinesthetic type, for example, would tend to use such phrases as: “I feel that…”, “I was really touched when he shared that”, “I resonated with that notion”, etc. The practitioner then accommodates his own language to reflect the client’s preferred linguistic style. This supposedly builds instant rapport between client and practitioner.

Bandler (one of the originators of NLP) and his colleagues use many techniques to “read” their clients. One relies on eye movement preferences, which allegedly indicate the “brain region” – be it visual, auditory or kinesthetic – from which the client is accessing information. For example, moving the eyes to the upper right indicates a preference for visually constructed images.” Eye position maps for language style preferences seem as suspect as “color mapping” or Kelemari s somatic types. This is supported by Bandler and Grindler’s humorous and seemingly self-deprecatory view that everything they teach is a lie: “NLP differs [from other psychological models] only in that we deliberately make up lies in order to try to understand the subjective experience of a human being.”15

Bandler’s “confession” drives home a key point: the speculative – if not downright inventive – quality of any somatic map does not necessarily detract from the efficacy of the techniques it indicates. Ida Rolf herself made observations with the same implications. While reviewing Ida Rolf Talks, I found this passage: “Rolfers don’t need feedback. As you observe more, all kinds of things come to you.”” As I read this, it suggests that the “story” – told through specific somatic linkings, imposed either from without or inferred by the client – is secondary to what we see and the changes we initiate. In other words, “bad” science does not imply “bad” technique; and there is no correlation between the “unprovability” of somatic maps and the efficacy of any school of touch therapy that employs them – or with the ability of practitioners who use the maps to evoke positive change.

That having been said, I believe that the less directive “client-based” approach has several advantages over the use of external somatic maps – for reasons unrelated to the lack of “truth” or “provability” of the map. First, it avoids the pitfalls of relying on rote one-to-one correspondences among physical symptoms and emotional states – or among emotional states (effects) and theoretical physiological “causes”. Second, it seems to work better than somatic maps at making pain that has a psychological component more “comprehensible”. This is because the client makes his own map without the influence of any pretense on the part of the practitioner as to the cause-and-effect relationship between past emotional trauma, on the one hand, and current psychological and physiological states and perceived pain, on the other hand. Map-making becomes no more than a tool for the relief of pain – and most likely a more effective and appropriate one, in that it allows the client to construct and resolve his physical and emotional experiences from within, rather than rely on some externally imposed representational schema.17″


1. For a summary of the “five element” theory of Chinese medicine, see: Chia, Mantak & Maneewan, Chi Nei Tsang: Internal Organ Massage, rev. ed. (Huntington, NY: Healing Tao Books, 1991), pp. 45-54. Representative of how this theory “maps” is the following: “The negative aspects ofthe Wood’s phase emotion are anger, violence and making plans without knowing what one is doing… The idea that anger can affect the liver is reflected in the word ‘liverish”‘ (p. 48). The Huna Kane reference is based on an introductory class I took in this method taught by Joseph Mina, a Huna Kane practitioner and teacher, in Atlanta in 1996.

2. I wish to acknowledge the research of Dr. Les Kertay, Certified Advanced Rolfer, who first discussed his ideas on somatic psychological models several years ago. The interested reader is referred to Kertay’s dissertation: “Temperament, Personality, and the Mind: Exploring the Embodied Personality,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Clinical Psychology (Georgia State University), 1995. For his evaluation of recent somatic models, see: “Appendix A: A Review of the Literature,” pp. 59-78. Specific models cited in Kertay’s dissertation were not considered here. Rather, I drew my examples from models I hoped would be more familiar to Rolfers.

3. Rolf, Dr. Ida, Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing and Physical Reality. Edited and with an Introduction by Rosemary Feitis (Boulder, CO: The Rolf Institute, 1978), p. 98.

4. This model figured prominently in evaluations of the Rolfing entrance examination’s now-abandoned psychological case study question.

5. Keleman, Stanley, Emotional Anatomy: the Structure of Experience (Berkeley: Center Press), 1985. For a detailed discussion of the tubes, see Chapter 2, “The Body Plan,” pp. 2760.

6. Ibid, p. 135. For a detailed discussion of characteristics associated with each type, see Chapter 4, “Patterns of Somatic Distress,” pp. 103-48.

7. Schleip, Robert, “Primary Reflexes and Structural Typologies, “Rolf Lines (October 1993), Reprinted in the Collection: Talking to the Fascia, Changing the Brain: A Collection of Articles on Rolfing and the NeuroMyofascial Net (Boulder, CO: The Rolf Institute, 1994).

8. Barral, Jean-Pierre and Croibier, Alain, Trauma: An Osteopathic Approach, (Seattle: Eastland, 1999), p. 37

9. See, e.g., Oschman, James, Ph.D. “Somatic Recall I & II.” Readings on the Scientific Basis of Bodywork. Vol. II (Dover, NH: N.O.R.A, 1995).

10. Redpath, William, Trauma Energetics: A Study of Held-Energy Systems (Lexington, MA: Barberry Press, 1995). I wish to thank Advanced Rolfers Deborah Stucker and Misha Noonan, who provided information about how Redpath teaches and structures his sessions.

11. Ibid, at 115. For shape and texture interpretive data, see 117-127.

12. For more on problems of “colormapping” see my unpublished article “Colored Rolfing”, reproduced on my website.

13. The presentation of NLP techniques comes from lectures and demonstrations in my Combined Studies Training with Gael Ohlgren (Sept 1994-March 1995) and my movement certification training with Vivian Jaye and Jane Harrington (March 1995). I am particularly grateful to Gael, and to my friend Gerry Allard, who first introduced me to NLP in 1993.

14. Bandler, Richard & Grindler, John, Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming, edited by Steve Andreas (Moab, Utah: Real People Press, 1979), see Chart on p. 25, “Visual accessing cues for a “normally organized right-handed person.”

15. Bandler, Richard, Using Your Brain for A Change (Moab, Utah: Real People Press, 1996), p. 19.

16. Rolf, Dr. Ida, Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing and Physical Reality. Edited and with an Introduction by Rosemary Feitis (Boulder, CO: The Rolf Institute, 1978), p. 96.

17. I wish to acknowledge the editorial assistance of my friend Harry Blazer, who helped me tighten my arguments and pointed out numerous logical and philosophical errors in earlier drafts of this article.

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