This year is the 59th anniversary year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in England. I happened to hear some of her Golden jubilee address on television, and I was struck by one thing she said: that the English are a practical race, not given to theory. W.H. Auden called Britain the Empiric Isles, and there certainly has been a lot of practical invention in that nation’s history. But I think her Majesty has it half wrong. She has failed to recognize the interdependence of theory and practice, in the process slighting Newton, Hooke, Faraday, Crick and Watson, and many others.
In fact, while it is useful to distinguish the two, one cannot exist without the other. Theory is not opposed to practice; even if you don’t know what your theory is, you have one all the same – but if you don’t know what it is, you can’t use it to improve your practice.
A theory is a story that explains how something happens (in this sense, it is like a myth). That’s why you need theories; if you have a goal (for instance, a better organized human body), then you either have or haven’t got an explanation of how you can get there. If you have one, that’s your theory.
A theory is not speculation; I think the Queen’s notion is that it is, that it is just thinking divorced from facts. If it is a legitimate theory, furthermore, it is falsifiable. This means that a theory makes a prediction, and if the prediction is wrong, the theory is falsified. But if there is no conceivable outcome that could turn out contrary to prediction, then the theory is not falsifiable and is therefore illegitimate (this is a more serious criticism of the natural selection theory of evolution than those of the Creationists).
Rolfers are a practical race (her Majesty would approve of us). We also have a body of theory, including quite a lot contributed by Dr. Rolf herself. What we are not doing enough, I assert, is developing our theories – including hers – by testing them. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that we don t recognize the practical value of theories; worse, we misidentify our theories as something less valuable, as models for instance.
Not surprisingly, we are fond of visual models, visual perception being as important as it is for our -work (seeing is sometimes spoken of, almost mystically, as Seeing). But models don’t measure up to theories (if they are legitimate, falsifiable ones) in terms of practical value.
There are a number of examples, large and small, of our confusion, and of our failure to find the real consequences of the theories that we already have. A case in point is the internal / External theory, originally formulated by Jan Sultan and subsequently taken up by Dr. Hans Flury. The two men have not always been in perfect harmony on the subject of the theory, but such is often the case when knowledge is being advanced, and shouldn’t prejudice our judgment.
Unfortunately, little has been published on the theory; this is unfortunate because Internal/External holds such promise for understanding how the body works in gravity.
It would be a mistake to assume that Internal/External is only a model for seeing, already complete and with its explanatory power fully available; the advances made in the theory have been few, but they are enough to demonstrate its rich possibilities and to hold out the promise of more profound understanding. We need good practitioners to develop and detail consistent methods of assessment for body type, and for progress before and after. If the recipe should be modified for different body types, as seems reasonable, how should it be modified?
Here is a brief history of the theory. First published in 1986, Sultan’s original formulation of it distinguished two types of bodies, an Internal and an External, named for the propensity of each type for limb rotation, particularly of the femurs. (“Towards a Structural Logic”; Notes on Structural Integration, May 1986) Remarkably, he also identified each of the types with the bias of the craniosacral rhythm (Internals are biased to the extension phase, Externals to the flexion phase). He identified other characteristics as well, including psychological ones. The range of implications was and remains wide. The approach was empirical, without statistics; the method of assessment was not fully developed. Yet Sultan described characteristics that were not difficult to observe in many bodies. The speculation was appropriate, suggesting various avenues for further exploration.
The importance for Rolfing is that each type seems to have a characteristic pattern of tonus (Sultan refers to “lines of transmission”). This means that gravity works differently on each type, exaggerating different areas of shortness as the body ages. Consequently, effective intervention must also take different forms for the two types.
In 1989 Flury published his first article on Internal/External (“Theoretical Aspects and Implications of the Internal/ExternalSystem”; Notes on Structural Integration,November 1989), in which he restates the theory as an issue of pelvic orientation rather than limb rotation (Sultan had already pointed out that anterior tilt was characteristic of Internals, posterior tilt for Externals); in Flury’s version, the pelvis is the key element. He justified this in part by reference to tradition: Dr. Rolf’s emphasis on the pelvis and on “horizontalizing” it. However, he retained the term “Internal / External”. In addition, Flury added the sagittal shift of the pelvis as a second parameter.
A consideration of pelvic shift seems also to go back originally to Sultan, though he did not mention it in the 1986 article.
Thus Flury’s version of Internal/External has four body types, which correspond to the four combinations of anterior or posterior tilt and shift. An anterior tilt/ posterior shift he calls a “Regular Internal”; an anterior/anterior is a “Locked-Knee Internal”, identifying a key characteristic; a posterior/ anterior is a “Regular External’, and a posterior/posterior is called a “Symmetrical External”.
It is sometimes said that there are mixed types, viz.: “Internal below, External above.” If this is so, it means that the theory is in trouble or needs to be restated. But considering shift as well as tilt seems to resolve these apparent contradictions; Locked-Knee Internals usually don’t have a lot of tilt, while the shift characteristics can make them look like Regular Externals with a lot of amplitude in their spinal curves. Of course, tilt and shift also have to be accurately evaluated. Flury has suggested a couple of means of assessment (typically of him, perhaps, they are functional); while Liz Gaggini describes a structural means of assessment in her “Tilt and Shift” workshop.
The following year, 1990, Flury published “Shortness”, a sequel to his first article(Notes on Structural Integration, August1990). This article is an important addition because it details the areas of the body in each type that influence either tilt or shift, as well as those areas where compensatory “shortness” can be expected. It is a map to more effectively respond to Dr. Rolf’s injunction to horizontalize the pelvis and center the body around a vertical line. Each of the four types demands a different strategy of intervention because each has a distinct pattern of shortness.
Of course, Flury’s assertion that, for instance, shortness in the anterior leg of Locked-Knee Internals relates to pelvic shift, is testable and documentable. This is a specific falsifiable prediction; if you are able to free the dorsiflexors from the interosseous membrane, you should see not only a better hinge at the knee, but also the pelvic segment shifted back.
We have a number of theories for which we haven’t got much evidence. Thixotropy and Tensegrity are a couple of old ones that go back to Dr. Rolf, for instance. But it is difficult to think of one that has as much practical potential as Internal/External, nor one that can be so readily tested and documented in the course of an ordinary Rolfing practice. And after all, it is unlikely that Sultan or Flury were right about everything. Perhaps not even Dr. Rolf herself.
Notes on Structural Integration are availablefrom Hans Flury.