CAPA_SI_JUNE 2006 _ Vol_nº 02

Rolfing the Room

Pages: 12-15
Year: 2006
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute – June 2006 – Vol 34 – Nº 02

Volume: 34

For most readers, this title will most likely foreshadow a certain energetic flavor, evoking morphing fields emanating from the table as those sensitive enough to perceive said fluctuations reorganize sympathetically in response to the work while those less skilled at riding these gently beckoning waves sit nervously waiting for other more obvious indicators that the work has “taken hold.” Those Rollers who dance in this realm may already feel comforted and validated in their experience, as if the act of writing about the ephemeral substantiates and legitimizes it. Since this is not in fact the case and since trying to describe the energetic usually involves wording that most -including this author -find irritating to the point of disdain, we must explain further our odd choice of a title that we will fail to elucidate as anticipated.

What makes this title even more deceptive is our odd choice of template, not some complex movement or manipulation presentation, but rather an actual anatomy lecture and demonstration. That energetics might be raised in such an environment will strike many as highly unusual. Such a title may further confuse since many assume that anatomy has to do with science while our movement and structural sessions have more to do with art. They incorrectly assume that somehow, these are discrete entities and never the twain shall meet.

When colleagues aver that Rolfing is not a science but an art, I hear the indignation in their voices. When members of the community joke about the holes in their anatomical knowledge, and when this meets with general approval, I wait for the angry response that never comes. Clearly, this scenario reflects perceptual biases and reveals a fundamental lack of unanimity and universal accord. I suggest we must find another way, and wonder if perhaps this alternative lies in our anatomy classes. What makes this such an appealing notion is its wonderfully ironic novelty. “Let us go then, you and I” ‘ on a journey through the world anatomical.

So, where do we start? What about the assessment piece? Let us assume that subsequent to a lecture on anatomy of the seventh hour the students ask for a classical assessment. We will also agree that the numerous anterior lateral, and posterior cervical and cranial structures have been adequately addressed, that some mention has been made with respect to fascial layers and laminations, that some attention has been paid to the relevant mimic muscles,’ that key structures of the neuro- and viscerocranium have been adequately differentiated, and that some of the complexities of the TMJ and other seventh hour of the basic Rolling series “cavity work” have been coherently delivered and assimilated.

We then move on to the descriptive phase of the demonstration. Rather than asking provocative questions, the instructor describes the contours in the skull, face and neck and their relationships. He then broadens his perspective to include asymmetries in the cylinders, the spine, and the girdles. He concludes with brief mention of appendicular vs. axillary adaptations which influence the upper pole, and whose contours by now seem an inevitable elaboration of what we see in the face. In so doing, we begin locally and broaden our perspective. While this may seem a bit ambitious for our purposes, ignoring such factors in a proper review of seventh hour territory should seem equally dissatisfying to purists and revisionists alike, and rightly so.

Then we ask the model move to move. A walking evaluation in an anatomy class? Perish the thought. Yet, this was what the students asked for and it seemed a reasonable request It made sense, as what we do here should create continuity with what preceded (in the previous unit of the training) while anticipating deeper considerations of seeing order and relationship in the final seven weeks of the training and beyond.

At this point, the instructor cannot resist parodying the movement around the holding into the head, exaggerating the compensatory asymmetries and the minor osseous distortions in the face and cranium as the students hoot and holler in disapproval at the perceived mockery and, in their peeved attack on the instructor’s caricature, further coalesce. A deliberate satiric ploy that covertly heals ruptures and strengthens cohesiveness in the group? Is this science or art, or just calculated manipulation (a relevant pun, I think)? An interesting question we pursue below.

A final piece of the prelude to touch not yet mentioned and the most critical component of any such exercise is that private and discreet discussion between the student model and the instructor before the demonstration. In our discussion, we explored pieces of the student’s history and later judiciously shared with the class how the relevant facts would shape and inform our palpation protocol. Moreover without sharing private matters between student and instructor with a wider audience, we acknowledge that boundary issues and the nature of her previous high-level work were discussed in an open and trusting manner. We eventually tied together as many loose ends as possible in the time allowed. Then I paused to make room for the model’s pattern to reconfigure in my system.

Sounds forbiddingly impressive and quite unlike what we anticipate a seventh-hour palpation might be. Yet, since we reasonably expect that any instructor worth his salt would integrate all these elements and much more into a manipulation demo, why should we assume that a different set of criteria should apply to what we do in an anatomy class?

The work we did, while having predetermined general contours, was “fleshed out” in the moment, a spontaneously co-created agglutination of linearity and improvisation. As we progressed, certain interpretive elements became suffused in details as the students reacted, pondered, questioned, and expounded. Here was the most interesting challenge, as various components of the session were missed, misinterpreted, or too closely scrutinized. Such is the nature of any similar exercise. As so often happens, folks worked hard to “get it” yet failed to acknowledge the distortions of their filters and widely diverging abilities to see and accurately describe what they observed. The effects of this pattern and so much more were managed with varying success as l worked the room. Unfortunately, these complex issues were not explored at this time, being too emotionally charged, and well beyond the narrow scope of such a presentation. Yet, how we see and verbalize the work are potentially the most important things we discuss in our trainings. Decisions made as two roads diverge; often the instructor chooses the shorter and less arduous path along this integrative superhighway.

A bit more on this, a local modulation, if you will. From the beginning, every student is challenged by the assessment and descriptive piece. They all squirm during the ritual questions of what they see and plan to do, while others listen with a mix of sympathy, critical attention, and even competitive zeal as those being questioned wend their way through the intricacies of their verbal summaries.

Clearly, some do this much better from the beginning, and this ease may predictably be interpreted as a more sophisticated grasp of the work. Such an aptitude, however, might have more to do with a higher verbal facility than some precociously evolved feel for the work. To determine which is at play here, the instructor must listen beyond the sophistication of the student’s words and feel his emotional state as he forms his words. The instructor must “read” the degree to which the student’s words come from his analytical skills and how much comes from embodied state of integrative sensing.

This should be one place where art meets science, where the creative and the analytical integrate, where felt connections resonate through the student’s structure and come out as language that not only sounds right but more importantly feels right, reflecting as completely as possible the states of both the model and student practitioner. This is obviously very hard for a teacher to track and reflect back to the student, yet it is exactly what we must do if we are to teach our students a coherent transformational modality rather than settle for what we often see in the work, a poorly understood abstraction where cleanly delineated fascial territories speak to us of discrimination but are victims of “integrative apraxia,” having no words for speaking of order and no clearly formed sense of what integration even means.

Many express concerns that we lose something important when we too heavily rely on technique without internal understanding of the work. They further fear that technique may supplant rich metaphor and imagery and thus fail to adequately communicate embodiment. Such a point of view seems not merely some curmudgeonly prognostication but rather a current reality one that should give pause and be an important part of any serious discussion of the work.

To return to the session as reconfigured by this observer and participant, the most fundamental piece that is regrettably glossed over is the model’s felt sense of the work. In reality this should be primary in our teaching rather than a periodic token acknowledgment that (oh, by the way) there is a person here to whom we will now dutifully and politely listen before the instructor’s next set of brilliantly rendered insights. Here is where the rubber meets the myofascial road, my friends. Yet, more than anywhere here is where the receiver is given the least attention, where abstract speculations and the student’s gnawing insecurities seem to disorganize the client before our eyes.

This situation might evoke memories of working with children in our practices, where parents flex their “controlling muscles” and thereby so contaminate the room that the child either collapses or braces in response to the parent’s complicating intercalations. We must do all in our power to avoid such transference. If we pride ourselves on our abilities to “Rolf the room,” we must remain painstakingly vigilant to how our teaching and conversing similarly diminishes the interaction with the model and creates shock waves both in the room and in the person whose structure we so carefully try to reshape. When we use the term “Rolf the room,” we are using an energetic metaphor to describe the complex process of observing both the students and the model and subtly modulating what is happening so to help facilitate greater connections between all the participants. In our definition of this term, we also include the pacing and presentation of information in a manner that is both understood intellectually and kinesthetically by all participants. Such awareness requires vigilance and considerable skill.

Here we might pause to ask if our ability to balance and assimilate these issues is indicative of artistic or scientific acumen. Since such skills require both sensitivity and technical training, we can sidestep the matter and concede they both interact here, as they should elsewhere.

So, let’s check in on the model’s progress. How has the work played out in the short term? Better to ask the model than her fellow students or the instructor. What was clear was that the pattern was still there but her body had negotiated a new relationship with it. This was what the model reported and it corresponded nicely with what was visible and palpable to the students. Much to their credit, the students introduced many thoughtful details as they each tried to decode the work beyond the merely technical. These scattered remarks were gladly acknowledged but the attention stayed on the model as much as possible. During this process, she provided wonderful insights about her internal experience. These ideas offered a deeper perspective for the students to process and digest along with their mid-day meal.

Unfortunately the most important cohering piece did not occur at this time but later, after the lunch break, and during a private interaction between model and instructor. Since the model Iooked much different than when she went to lunch, some discussion of what she had done during the intervening ninety minutes or so seemed warranted. This short dialogue revealed some further information we will not share out of respect for this sensitive student. What we can say is that a somewhat more expansive “level of availability” was evident and openly discussed. The discussion’s relation to previous work and its unexpected resonance were processed and acknowledged by both participants in this significant dialogue. We both agreed our work showed promise for further internal exploration and that it had perhaps provided more than initially anticipated. Finally this interaction facilitated a greater emotional intimacy between instructor and student, and offered a rather personal way of working, one that may influence how she will later think in her practice. We were unfortunately unable to explore this piece with the students. The class must go on.

Some might at this point be bothered by this article’s level of abstraction. They might further object to not only our style but even to our entire direction. If that is the case, please allow me to reground what I am saying. Where we started in this piece was in the anatomy classroom. As we suggested previously, if any subset of our curriculum would seem to live in the world of science, it would certainly be in an anatomy class. This material lends itself to orderly classification, linear thinking, and technical diagnostic protocols. Without doubt, those who teach anatomy approach it with intellectual rigor and logical precision. They use palpation as a tool for improving accuracy and discrimination yet should also extend their discussions of this matter to include broader concepts.

A higher lever of abstraction must be addressed, since to narrowly restrict ourselves to the details reinforces a well-recognized bias against anatomical thinking, and ignores the overriding metaprinciple that Rolfers think layers, not structures.3 Of course, those of us who teach know how incredibly challenging it is to articulate what it means to stay on a single layer for an entire hour. Some members of our community, (I currently include myself in this group) even argue that such precision is, if not impossible, so abstract as to be of limited practical usefulness. However, because such discussions are difficult and we have incompatible models of fascial organization does not mean we should not discuss the problems of layers.4 Quite the contrary.

A few more grounding thoughts before summarizing. Although this will seem a bit late in our progress, we might wish to consider a rather obvious terminology problem. In our discussion above, we have often used the terms art and science without defining them. It might be more precise to say that what we are describing here is not a distinction between art and science, since what we have written is not some precisely defined application of scientific principles to the work, but rather a distinction between technical and energetic descriptive language. So, if we agree that anatomy is science, when we use anatomical terminology we are employing a science-based construct for articulating what we feel as a means of orienting ourselves. Our use of these terms here might be described as some sort of differentiation between right- and left-brain preferences, to use a popular construct. However, we know that brain function is highly complex. We also know that the traditional view that creative thought occurs exclusively in the right hemisphere – and more particularly in the right temporal lobe – is simply not true. Therefore, any such model should be questioned despite its popular appeal.5

It would seem we are in trouble if we follow either path. Yet, since this is neither a paper on the neurobiology of creativity nor one seeking to advance some definitive model of fascial differentiation, we need not become fixated on terminological and conceptual problems. Rather we need only present a clear notion of our current application of these issues. Furthermore, since our goal here is to explore the problems of fragmentary thinking when teaching the precepts of the Rolfing, we should openly acknowledge these definition problems without making ourselves a prisoner of some suspect scientific model.

I have long known that we learn such a burden of detail, both conceptual and affective, that I would for some considerable time neither understand nor internalize most of it. This realization did not deter me from my journey, rather, it motivated me to incessantly study and test my limits as both a teacher and practitioner. Where I soon ran into real problems, however, was during the assessment piece. Often, while playing the exasperating game of seeing, I noticed that reading structure through the eyes of a more experienced teacher was not always possible, and, in some cases, actually inadvisable. What I am suggesting here is that capitulation to an instructor’s paradigm and the suppression of my own “knowing’ often led to unreliable conclusions that failed to match my felt sense of the work, something I have learned to trust increasingly even in the face of contradictory input. At the same time, however, I knew I must remain adaptable in my thinking, carefully considering each new piece of information and each new perspective on the nature of the work. I therefore regularly revisit my favorite constructs and remain willing to revise my thinking, as excruciating as letting go of some long-held construct might prove. I also now more fully trust that the most important verification of my seeing and sensing is not my internal experience but what the client feels and shares without prompting or guidance.6

What I also now believe about seeing is that while it is for many an elaborate intellectual exercise, like finding our way through some fantastic labyrinth or emulating the “scientific method” of Poe’s cerebral detective, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, it seems to me actually much more an ever-deepening kinesthetic internalization that translates the analytical into the grounded and embodied. You might describe this as a variation on a familiar “melody” of Dr. Rolf’s that goes like this: “If you ‘t feel his pattern in your body you can’t really understand your client’s pain.”

Therefore, in my practice I now constantly readapt myself to each client’s immediate experience. And, similarly in the classroom, I find that I constantly monitor not only where my students are as they work and how they respond to the ideas I present, but more importantly where we all stand in relation to each other and the room. What I am more and more mindful of as I gain experience with modulating this flow, is the unfailing correlation between how fully engaged I am at all levels with everyone’s processes (mine, the client’s, the students’, the room’s) and the ease with which I track and participate in these simultaneous activations.

As I interact with the palpable stress of the room, it helps me to recall once saying to a patient teacher who chided me for being too analytical and overly objectifying my client: “Oh please don’t take that away from me. It is all I have and if you ask me to come out of my head, I will be totally lost.” Reminding myself of that self-accepting moment of clarity as I struggled with the fundamentals creates instant empathy for and understanding of my students’ internal struggles.

My journey has been unexpected and often difficult. Those challenges I have faced not only “create room” for an empathic connection, but also allow me to experience more fully both my students and clients as they live with and struggle with their process. I am ever mindful that each person s integrative journey is unpredictable and largely unknowable, and that it is not merely some recycled permutation of my process. I also know that their place along the neo-cortex and hypothalamic continuum is highly variable. Therefore, I try as best I can to see where each of them sits on this imaginary energetic flow chart and track their movements as closely as my variable attention will allow.

This more organic mode of perception reshapes my work and my clients’. It acknowledges the richness of the structures whose tissue and patterns I explore almost daily. But, most importantly, it bridges gaps between their minds and spirits and mine, as the room Rolfs us more than we collaboratively Rolf it. Art as creative manipulation and science as logic, both are interesting similes, ones that fragment, split, and recombine in many interesting ways. Hence, these elements are simultaneously linked and autonomous, recombining and fragmenting in a myriad of configurations, and yet for all this complexity, represent only a miniscule portion of what we actually affect as we work. Now this idea is something worth pondering.


1.A brief quote from the opening of my favorite poem, T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

2.The word “mimic” is an obsolete term that refers to the muscles of expression. In her book, Dr. Rolf states that these structures are strap muscles and points out that they are not involved in the complex balancing of flexors and extensors of the head and neck.

3.In my review for a presentation on the seventh hour, I came across this wonderful yet nebulous quote from Emmett Hutchins, Rolfer Emeritus, “There is no session in the recipe that requires greater discrimination of touch than seven. You really need to stay on, and think, layers. You really cannot allow yourself to think of things or go after them.” A Searcher’s Handbook, Compiled and edited by Clinton Kramer, p. 155. In a more personal note, I have come to seriously question many of my long-held views on the nature of fascia, particularly after conversations with Louis Schultz and more recently seeing Gil Hedley’s remarkable fascia videos. His fascia man and fascia woman cadaver presentations were a profound revelation to me. For an elucidating consideration of this matter see: Hedley, Gil, The Integral Anatomy Series. Vol. 2. Deep Fascia and Muscle, DVD (Westwood, NJ: Integral Anatomy Productions, 2005).

4.One very well articulated model of the layers comes from the writings of Tom Myers and is nicely illustrated in his Myofascial Meridians video and elsewhere in his writings.

5.For an interesting examination of the problems with this simplistic right, and left-brain model, see: Alice W. Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), pp. 92-94ff. What Flaherty looks at is the creative brain neuroanatomy problem, but we might just as easily transpose its argument to any similar brain model that localizes the brain’s analytical or logical processes.

6.A bit of clarification on this point. Many clients will not have the words to articulate their experience and usually miss most of the nuances of a session. While this may seem to somewhat weaken my argument, it does raise a number of important ancillary questions regarding how we meet the client, when and how we may shape or facilitate our wording to enhance our client’s experience of the work, and how this potential leading of the client profoundly shifts the rules of the game on a number of levels. In my view this discussion warrants further consideration. However, even after admitting this problem, I still believe that over-reliance on our sensing to the detriment of the client is arrogant and often leads to confusion and distorted conclusions. If you remain unconvinced, test it for yourself. I believe you will agree

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