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Rolf Is More Than a Four-Letter Word

To heal a suffering, one must experience it to the full Marcel ProustPain is a scriptand as we learn to read it, we grow in self knowledge. M.C. RichardsHere's an account of what it's like being on the receiving end of a series of rolfing sessions. I think what Dan has to say about the importance of the freedom to say "Stop!" is particularly insightful.(K.H.)
Pages: 6-12
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Bulletin of Structural Integration Ida P. Rolf

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To heal a suffering, one must experience it to the full Marcel ProustPain is a scriptand as we learn to read it, we grow in self knowledge. M.C. RichardsHere's an account of what it's like being on the receiving end of a series of rolfing sessions. I think what Dan has to say about the importance of the freedom to say "Stop!" is particularly insightful.(K.H.)

I have read much material on the physiological aspects of rolfing, and also on the area of pain. Yet my desire to enter into rolfing was only vaguely connected to the ideas of Structural Integration as such, and my experiences as a rolfee were much more important from an emotional than from a physiological aspect. I would like to share with you some of the feelings and ideas I bring from my recent processing.

First, something of me: Three years ago I was living in Los Angeles working as a rather successful and promising business administration trainee. Through a series of encounters with Esalen and Esalen oriented people, I became aware that there was more… pretty much the typical rap from here. Dropped out, was restless, wandered around L.A. for several months, and finally ended up as a staff member at Bridge Mountain, an Esalen like growth center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. While I was there, one of the other staff members was being rolfed. Each day when he’d return I’d hear the gory details of the session. I promised myself that this was something I would never submit to, though I was impressed with the changes he reported and even more with the changes T could see.

At the time, I was into bio energetics, and I used to have heated discussions with the rolfing clique. I felt that their approach violated the integrity of the body, raping rather than seducing to effect the desired change. At that time it seemed that the two approaches were diametrically opposed, and since I was pro bio energetics I must of necessity be anti rolfing.

After a time I left the growth center to do some wandering and growing on my own. After a year of travelling around the country, I settled into Boston for the winter. Among others, I met a man who was currently being rolfed, and the many memories of the rolfing raps and the descriptions of pain returned. But I had changed. I sensed that in the past year my head had grown much faster than my body, and I was feeling a vague hunger for something to break up the muscular log jam that I sensed within me. Philosophically too I was ready for rolfing. I had come to believe in a dual system of internal energy origins. Briefly, I felt that all energy / feeling / action that I could experience came ultimately from either a source of lovingness and a desire to share/unite with that outside of me, or from its opposite, fear, which builds walls, armor, and has me closing in, keeping others away.

This polarity is similar to those label led love hate, life death, growth decay, and dynamic static. Whatever the names, I wanted more of my life and actions to be of the love energies, and less much less to be coming from the fear energies.

I have always had an unusually intense fear of and response to pain. I would usually avoid sports, hard work, or anything in which there was a good chance I would get hurt. Yet in the past year I had been changing; courting adventure more openly, doing physical things that really scared me. Always I would find the fear of the possible pain much heavier to bear than any actual pain that might come to me. Yet the fear persisted in me; pain was still a roadblock. I remembered the reports of the rolfing pain experience, and I felt open to the processing now. If I could experience this, search out the hidden daemons within my body, bring them to consciousness and live! Perhaps then that living would be more of the loving that I was seeking.

With all the “reasons” feeling right, I met Kalen whowas the roller in the Boston area. Two months later we began to work together. Of all the aspects of the rolfing experience, by far the most crucial was my relationship with Kalen. Throughout he made it clear in both word and touch that we were doing this together. I had come to rolfing expecting to have a trip “laid” on me, very literally, but I was urged at each step to work with the rolfer’s strokes, to experience as fully as possible what was happening both in my mind and in my body, and to allow it (me) to happen. “Watch the movies,” must be one of Kalen’s favorite expressions, for time and again I was urged to allow rather than articulate. Naturally, coming from a highly verbal background, I constantly tried to translate the experience (what little of it I let myself have) into words. This was most pronounced at the beginning, though, and after about half of the sessions, I was becoming almost non verbal.

In working together, some very beautiful co ordinations evolved. For instance, whenever the pain of a particular stroke was becoming so great that I thought I could not stand it any longer, it would be that Kalen had reached the peak of tension and was already beginning the down hill motion. And always he would have a sense of how much endurance I had remaining at a given moment; when I could handle it, he would press on. But when the tears were budding, or when a nascent emotion was in need of a space to grow, the space would be there.

At any point in a stroke that I found the pain intolerable, I needed only say stop, and the pressure was immediately released. This aspect of the experience was tremendously important to me for two reasons. First, it removed some of the fear of “what if it gets to be too much?” I’m sure I experienced whatever too much might have been many times in the processing. But T was freed from the fear of it.

The other reason is much more subtle, yet to me it was one of the major parts of the experience. I have a tendency to try to slough off responsibility for my life onto any convenient object, like say a rolfer. What 1 found in my head in a thousand different ways, “I am responsible for being here in this processing, for being here today, and for enduring this pain right now, this instant. If I choose to stop the pain in this instant, I may do so. Since I have this choice always in the now, always pertinent to the feeling of the moment then I am responsible now.” I’m not sure I can convey how important it was for me to be able to say and feel that in myself. I am sure, though, that were that decision not mine to make in each instant, I would have attached at least some fear/hate/pain to the rolfer and hence reduced the amount of freedom we had in a sharing/ working relationship with each other.

At Bridge Mountain I had a good deal of experience in deep breathing and screaming, so these were initially the vehicles that I used to let the pain out of my body. Crying too came quite often. In over half of the sessions, somewhere about twenty minutes into the work, T would really break down, release my facade of “I’m a big boy I can take it!” and sob deeply for maybe five minutes. At the beginning, it seemed all I could do was scream, cry, or cut myself off if the pain got too heavy. After two or three sessions, though, I sensed that there were now more places in me to temporarily store the emerging pain. In the third session I had a beautifully clear image of my mind acting like a control tower in an airport, with hundreds of planes/pains in the air/me wanting to know where and when they could land. And my brain, instead of being a distraction to my emotions, was working with them, directing one to a free muscle to he tensed here, another to a vocal cord to he screamed through there, still another to an entire thigh to be twisted or wiggled. It was really grand, and I was filled with a wonderful feeling that I could take whatever I had to; Dan working all together was a pretty powerful organism!

Since I was pretty familiar with rolfing rap, I was open to the idea of experiencing childhood traumas stored in my muscles. In a way I was a bit disappointed, for the vast majority of my experiences were of energy flows and current states of being. I did , however, have two pretty distinct memory full experiences. One involves a high school friend who was and still is very close to me. We were always, though, somehow in an unspoken agreement to limit any physical contact between us. In recent years this has seemed strange to me, as my life style is one in which it is as natural to hug a male friend as a female. When Kalen was working on the major cords of my hack, at one point I broke down sobbing and had a very distinct picture of my friend in my mind. After I let the experience happen and felt it fully, I related all of this to Kalen who commented, “Sounds like the fear of really experiencing all your feelings for your friend was so great that you had to ‘put them behind your hack’.” Yep! Oh yes, a few months later I saw my friend again and was able to share with him what had happened. For the first time we were able to talk of our fears of homosexuality and being physically close to other men. And we did hug.

My other imagery experience occurred during the work on the thighs. In the deep strokes, the skin under Kalen’s fingers became so sensitive that I could feel a touch starting some three inches before contact was made. I became terrified and felt very much as if I were being raped. Yes, I was conscious of what was happening, but I had an overwhelming set of rape sensations. “No, no!” I was yelling over and over in my head. “Not again!” Yet my pursuer thrust into my flesh still more, violating, rupturing, killing. So I did feel. And believe me, for a man, this is a pretty wierd experience. I am open to the idea of past life memories, to the idea of archetypal experiences, to the idea of long harbored and repressed fantasies finally being released. Whatever the intellectual explanation, I feel much closer to the idea and the experience of rape than I did before.

In some ways the experiences after the sessions were as important as the sessions themselves. There was a cycle of five or six days after each session in which, for the first few days, I would be feeling quite raw. On a physical level, I would often feel on the next morning as if I had been in a train wreck the night before. I should have been black and blue, it seemed, though I rarely had anything visual to show for my suffering. But on an emotional level, I would be feeling so open, so undefended and vulnerable, so pried apart, that I had a great deal of difficulty dealing with the people around me. I would be assuming that everyone around me could see/feel the pain that consumed me, for I felt as if my psyche were made out of glass. Yet I was very afraid of being touched in any way, for my experience of pain had been so inflamed that this was all I could imagine receiving. It would take almost a week before I was ready to face another session, and most of this time my friends were getting the perplexing double message from me to “please help” and “stay away you’ll only hurt me more”. During the break between the seventh and eighth sessions, I took a month off and went to California for a visit. It really amazed me after the second week how different and just plain good I felt being out of the whole session recovery cycle for the first time in nearly two months.

If the preceding sounds as if I suffered a lot, that’s right. But it would be unfair not to say more at this point. I have often envisioned my internal state as one of civil war, with the forces of love, growth, and beauty battling for supremacy over the forces of fear, slough, and the imagined evility in my core. 1, the overall Dan, received a great sense of exhilaration out of having these battles finally brought out into the open; out of their “depressed” staging area into the light of direct physical and emotional experience. Also, I wanted to be able to choose to feel pain if I so desired, and T wanted to be able to really feel the sensuous and joyous in me. Being pretty blocked up, even having the intense pain poke its head into the realm of direct consciousness was a very welcome start. And often, during a session when I d be crying. I’d feel the itch of a giggle or a laugh somewhere in my spirit and I’d give it energy and soon be laughing and sobbing simulateneously. The point to me seems not so much whether I’m feeling good or feeling had, but whether I’m feeling a little or feeling a lot. And during the several months I was being rolfed, I was feeling a lot!

Now that the rolfing is of my past, I am still quite unclear as to just what changes the experience has made in my life. An analogy that feels good is that after an earthquake, after the one or two major tremors, there is a long period of minor tremors during which the newly relocated earth tests the new relationships, senses the new tensions, and shifts and wiggles accordingly.
I sense that my body and mind are doing something of this now, and it will be a while, I suspect, before I can see clearly the complete nature of the changes.

On another level, I am experiencing a lot of energy that is loose inside of me. Again, by metaphor: it’s as if in the rolfing all the encaved daemons were rousted, their homes destroyed, and a good number of them eliminated from my system. Yet some remain, and they are trying to regain the foothold that they once had. I am stronger now; much of the enemies’ power has defected, and I am not about to allow the re implantation of knots and chronic muscle spasms if I can help it! Hence the battle still goes on and I try the best I can to keep it on a conscious level.

Some changes are very apparent, though. When I was in California, I hiked a path I have walked many times before. Always I have had to stop several times for breath and to rest my achey legs. This time, not only was I able to walk the entire grade without feeling ache or having to rest, but I was able to do it at a constant brisk pace. In general I have been feeling a greatly increased capacity to withstand both physical and emotional frustration. And the prospect of pain now seems much less threatening. I have confronted the most painful experience I had been able to imagine and came through the experience alive, well, and stronger than when I started. My life is far from heaven, and there’s a lot of digesting of the experience left still to do. Yet I am every day seeing new parts of me, having new awarenesses, and sensing greater freedoms. All in all, I feel this has definitely been one of my most positive and grow the full experiences.

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