Stated most simply, the goal of Rolfing is to enable one to move and balance from the core of the body, from the center line of gravity. This has both physical and experiential (psychological, spiritual) aspects which we can discuss separately.
It deserves attention that Ida Rolf, the originator of Rolfing, was a scientist, a biochemist, who, though she moved far away from her field, never lost her clear attention to physical reality. Both the force of gravity acting upon every body and the fascial tissues she worked to reorganize are real in the scientific sense. At the same time, she understood that the body is the form of our awareness, the lens through which consciousness experiences life, and this “experiential” aspect was never far from her mind.
THE BODY AS A PHYSICAL OBJECT IN GRAVITY
The first principle of Rolfing is that the body must relate continually to the physical force of gravity. The various segments of the body must be more or less aligned one on top of the other, or else the external muscles begin to labor to maintain the upright posture. Pelvis, abdomen, chest and head balance easily when their centers of gravity are in a line, so that the upright balance can come from deep muscles which operate by reflex to relate the body to gravity.
FASCIA SHAPES THE BODY
People are ordinarily not aligned in this way, however. The easy relationship to gravity can be disorganized by many factors, including accidents, misguided habits, and deep attitudes of various kinds. Fascia is the all-pervasive web work of connective tissue which holds the body in its shape. As we struggle to move in a gravity field, the fascial webwork adapts to support our movement, and the shape slowly changes..
FASCIA CAN BE REORGANIZED WITH MOVEMENT
Ida Rolf’s discovery was that fascia can be re-organized with correct movement – movement which is in accord with the geometry of the skeleton – and that this reorganization can be hastened by deep manipulation which holds the fascial tissues in place while the client moves. Her maxim: “Hold tissues where they are supposed to be and induce movement.”
Through years of experience she developed a series of ten sessions which systematically reorganize the whole body, proceeding from the outside layers to the deeper ones and bringing all the major segments into an integrated system of balance. Rolfers generally work within this ten-session framework, though they may use quite different procedures to accomplish the same goals. The overall goal is to find a sense of balance which comes from the core, unobstructed by unbalancing distortions in the myo-fascial system.
THE EXPERIENTIAL CORE
But it is an interesting fact that this core balance which we call “The Line” is closely related to the core feeling of one’s own being. When the outer layers of the body release to permit the inner layers to function, a deeper awareness opens up. “The Line” is not a physical entity, but a sense of inner space. It is no accident that those centers of feeling which Indian yoga calls “chakras” lie along the same central line of gravity. The usual sense we have of ourselves and the world is based on characteristic patterns of tension. When we release these tensions and rely on the expansional balance of the core, The Line, we move the center of our experiencing into the core as well.
Now, in the most radical terms, the effect of the ten sessions could be a major re-experiencing of one’s Being: a dramatic change of consciousness. Thought patterns based upon one’s contracted ego, would release and be replaced by a different viewpoint. Ida Rolf spoke of “turning people out” by which she meant they are brought into the core so that they exist and relate out into the world from there.
The poet William Blake seems to be talking about the same thing in this famous quotation: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” [Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1793]
Blake was criticizing the viewpoint of scientific materialism which takes the external world seriously as independent and “out there”. It causes us to forget that our experience of the external world is created by the mind, or as Blake would have it, the imagination. Your experience of anything is organized by your habits of perception. It is not in itself. It is not objective in the sense we have been trained to believe it is.
To experience from the core is to take responsibility for the extent to which we create this experience. It is to move away from an externalized “over there” kind of perception into a real continued link with our feelings, perceptions, and responses.
If you think what you’re perceiving is “out there”, you are looking out through your senses as if through chinks in the cavern wall of your dualistic perception.. If you move into a continued contact with your core experience, you are cleansing the doors of perception. Blake is talking about returning to core experience. And most mystics and really good poets have talked about the same shift.
Ida Rolf’s approach to this was to organize the fascia in a physical body in a three-dimensional gravity field. But this is not only working on a material body. This is the body as it is experienced: the phenomenological body. This body is real in an entirely different sense. It exists in the mind. If all of reality is created, in the sense of organized, by your Imagination, the imagining faculty of your core being, then the body exists in the imagination. In fact, Blake would say the body exists in the imagination rather than the imagination existing in the body.
RELEASING TRAUMATIC EMOTIONS AND MEMORIES
In the process of moving attention through the outer layers of the body into the core people sometimes re-experience emotions and memories which are stored there. This is a valuable part of the process of becoming more aware, and sometimes people use deep tissue bodywork like Rolfing as part of a process of psychotherapy. The fact that the person is experiencing these emotions in the context of the body means that they are grounded, less confusing and more safe than might otherwise be the case.
Other people do not experience these dramatic moments of recall. Anyway, what is important is the increased awareness and presence in the body. Good sessions are almost like meditations which bring deeper levels of one’s physical being into awareness. The awareness remains, and it is this that helps people be more grounded and centered as a result of Rolfing.
COMBINING THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
Arranging the body so that it balances around the actual physical line of gravity is the key to the opening of the core. The work is neither too ethereal and ungrounded in physical reality, nor so purely physiological that it ignores the experience of the person. It is a meditation of a high degree. When one experiences an open balance of some part of the body in Rolfing, it is often with an interior sense of rightness, of recognition of the body as it was always meant to be. At the same time it has the elegance of a geometry lesson, purified of subjective distortion and confusion. In a sense, Ida Rolf managed what William Blake never did: to combine a scientific understanding with an adequate grasp of soul.