Marten Gabriel has been a Rolfer for 28 years; for 25 of those years he ha been building therapy tables. To date he ha, built more than 1,200 tables for Rolfers massage therapists, and other practitioners He has been a steady innovator in the field and his portable lift table is still the only one of its kind in the world. Following is brief interview with Marten where he discusses his history as a Rolfer and table builder, his lift tables, and what the future holds.
When did you receive your Rolfing® training, and who were your instructors?
I trained in 1976 at the time Ida was handing over the “shop” to Peter Melchior and Emmett Hutchins. I would not have missec the time with Ida for all the tea in China but I did not learn Rolfing from her. It what from Peter and Emmett. And funn3 enough, the man that really empowered m< to “go for it” was Lorrin Berry, not a Rolfer!
Can you talk a little about the early years of your practice?
My early days in Rolfing were not a suc cess and led to me to a fateful visit with Ide in Philadelphia, looking for the “secret key,’ I guess. She gave me the key but I only found out eight or so years ago that I was, using it on the wrong door. However, at this, point I am not feeling confident to elaborate since it questions a whole pile of oui cherished assumptions.
How did you come to start building therapy tables?
Besides not feeling all that successful in my practice, I had terrible problems with my shoulders. I would literally have to fly from Toronto to Denver to see Jason Mixter tc “get fixed” on a regular basis. Around that time, my wife Laara was in training with Judith Aston and it was her input that led me to figure out I needed to develop a lift table. So I built one and it made a world of a difference. Funny thing is, I was not able to sell Judith a lift table! I went from doing four sessions a day to six sessions. It was around 1982 when I felt I needed a portable lift table to continue my practice in Toronto while living in Vancouver. The airline would only take a maximum of 74 pounds, so I went to work on a design using mainly aircraft hydraulics. It worked, but it was messy and only operated with a foot pump. We tinkered around with it and motorized it. Soon it looked like it would be a product I could manufacture and sell on the side.
At the time I was working on a 3-D foot reader that would allow the production of orthotics. Actually I was following up an observation I made while working with about eight youngsters that came to see me because of scoliosis. All of them had a problem with a foot. This might just have been a fluke, but I surmised that since their condition did not improve until I remedied the foot problem that analyzing feet in children might provide an early warning system for scoliosis. I was not able to eliminate the scoliosis perfectly, but I can say that none of my clients needed any form of medical or orthopedic intervention. As it turned out I was ahead of my time as far as computers are concerned and had to abandon the project or lose my woman or go broke or both.
At the time it looked like a good idea to have the two fellows that worked for me on the foot reader project make lift tables. For years I supported that enterprise with my Rolfing work. As it turned out it was not working and the next “solution” was to have the tables made by a client/friend in Toronto. We tried that for the better partof ten years with mixed success. Quality control was an ongoing problem. In the midnineties I got a call from the son of Milly Schaub in Switzerland. Milly Schaub was a renegade health practitioner who developed a very effective dietary approach for arthritic problems. I had taken some workshops with her. The young entrepreneur had just losthis main customer who had died of an aneurysm at age 42. He was agreeable to help prototype design changes I wanted and produce tables that I felt would advance the state of the art. The problem was I had to commit to an order of 120 tables, a full shipping container. There went my retirement fund. The tables finally arrived and it turned out that they were very difficult to sell on the phone; the design was so radically different. But what nearly bankrupted me was the paint problem the tables had. Not my friend’s fault, probably a paint production mistake. Many of the tables needed to be disassembled and repainted. At this point the retirement fund was gone. When I finally reached the point where I could breathe a little easier, news came that my friend’s company in Toronto might be heading for bankruptcy. At the time they had $50,000 worth of my machines and about 30 unassembled tables. I went to Toronto, loaded up my stuff and had it shipped to Vancouver. After enlarging the shop we started to manufacture the tables in Vancouver. The “Attitude” line of tables was born and that brings us to the present.
This long rant is not to elicit sympathy, but to show that being an innovator is not an easy path. Ida knew that.
Let’s talk specifically about your tables. What is your basic philosophy of what a treatment table should provide for Rolfers?
From the very beginning I wanted to create a treatment support system that would allow me to lower my clients to where I can put my upper body weight into my hands. You would be surprised to see how low such a table has to go! My first tables only went down to 16″. Much better then 20″, but for my height I needed a lower table yet. Only by 1990 was I finally able to engineer a lift mechanism that would lower as far as mechanically possible. In fact it went so low that I was able to use an extra 1.5 inches to provide tracks for the side, foot, and head expansions. The current FS3 “Attitude” table has a lift range from 12″ to 38″.
Any lift table that is not going low enough for you to comfortably place your upper body weight into your hands is not offering you much of a advantage. Deep tissue work can be hard work and there are few ways that afford you any kind of advantage. Adequate lift range for your body build and height can bring you an enormous advantage. Look at the financial consequences. Based on the feedback I have received over the last two decades, you can do at least one more session per day without expending any more energy. Multiply this by 100 days and you earn an extra $10,000 a year. In 20 years that would be a nice chunk of change, yours simply by using a tool that lets you use better biomechanics.
Also important is that you can stand close to your work. My latest designs give you the possibility to expand and shrink your treatment support to fit the client. You can also remove the extensions to make the top even narrower. However, creating closer access also demanded that we remove the traditional bottom frame on our base. Now we can access the table from the side even while sitting on a chair.
Buy the lift range; all other things do not contribute nearly as much to your well-being.
What type of foam system do you use on your tables?
Judith Aston influenced me into looking for a treatment surface that would elicit a relaxing response from the autonomic nervous system. Combining the softest foam of the highest quality we can get with a 1″ layer of firm latex foam on top has given us the best results. It gives the client a sense of floating on the table. It’s expensive, but we have used it now for 12 years and have never replaced foam in a top during reupholster. Therapists that use lots of oil and especially aromatic oil have to figure on a reupholster job every four to six years.
Are there any other innovations you’re currently working on?
In the works is a top designed to accommodate pregnant clients in a comfortable prone position. We also intend to bring out a double articulated face rest mechanism and a long bar switch like we had on the FS2 tables. A bit further down the road will be a top that lifts in the middle, electrically powered (lumbar stretch).
How do you spend your time these days? Are you still Rolfing or do you spend all of your time with the therapy table operation?
I do very few sessions these days. At the moment all my time goes into prototyping, research and development, and also getting ready to move to a new location. After 25 years of living on a houseboat fighting the river I have decided enough is enough. We have sold and are moving to Vancouver Island. On a small acreage overlooking the water, I will build a new shop and we will produce the best tables yet.
I expect to have new options one to two years from now; I miss the hands-on work with clients. However, at this moment I feel I am more useful to the advancement of deep tissue therapies as a maker of truly helpful treatment support systems that give the therapist a bit of an advantage. Knowing that thousands of clients every day receive a bit better treatment because of my willingness to build a better tool for our work makes me get up in the morning with some joy in my heart.
4337 River Road West
Delta, B.C., V4K-IR9
www.alift4me.comMarten Gabriel’s Lift Tables