Login

CAPA_SI_ 2005-12-December

Revisioning Rolfing in Light of Biodynamics:

Pages: 12-15
Year: 2005
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural ntegration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute – December 2005 – Vol 33 – Nº 04

Volume: 33

During the last seven years of his life, after nearly fifty years of study, Dr. W. C. Sutherland, the originator of cranial osteopathy, came to an understanding of how the body heals itself, and how a practitioner might perceive and interact with this process. The American Osteopathy Association did not take kindly to Sutherland’s newest discoveries, which were based on a level of palpatory sophistication that is not simply achieved. And more importantly, the implications that were suggested through Sutherland’s palpatory observations ran counter to the prevailing belief systems of modern medicine in the 1950s because these developments were based on the direct palpation of life force. The field of study based on these late-in-life discoveries of Sutherland went underground and was communicated to interested osteopaths orally, as in a secret society, by people such as Rollin Becker, Ruby Day and, currently, Dr. James Jealous. This field of study has come to be known as craniosacral biodynamics. (and is to be distinguished from Craniosacral Therapy or Cranial biomechanics).

For the past decade or so, perhaps three dozen Rolfers have taken on the study of Craniosacral Biodynamics, primarily through three sources:

– the teachings of Dr. Tom Shaver, an osteopath who grew discouraged by the lack of interest in manual manipulation among osteopathic students, and then started working with Rolfers through the organizing efforts of Frank and Eva Jo Wu;

– through the teachings of Franklyn Sills, a polarity therapist who independently developed a course on Biodynamics from clues left by Sutherland and Becker, and understandings reached through his Buddhist meditation practices.

– the third source of study, and the Rolfer who has gone the farthest with the study of Craniosacral Biodynamics is Dr. Michael Shea.

He worked briefly with Jealous as one of his doctoral dissertation advisors in the early 1990s. Additionally, Shea has the benefit of working directly with his brother Dr. Brian Shea, a former Rolfer who became an osteopath and studies directly with Jealous on an ongoing basis. The serious study of Biodynamics requires in-depth knowledge of embryology because the driving force of a Biodynamic intervention is the client’s embryologic unfolding. With this foundation, Shea has, among his many innovations in the teaching of Biodynamics, carved out a specialty of linking embryology with the newly burgeoning field of affective neuroscience. This field examines the physiological structures within the brain, which, over time, develop into our personalities by regulating if and how we respond to incoming emotional input. This combination of understandings leads to the recognition of the possibility that while working with Biodynamics, we, as practitioners, may in fact assist our clients in working with the fundamentals of self-regulation. This is to say we can work with how our clients’ autonomic nervous systems are wired, how they fire, and how the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system (and even the newly discovered social nervous system) relate to each other.

The implications of this direction of study are astounding. For as a Biodynamic intervention holds the possibility of unloading a hyper-sympathetic nervous system, or a parasympathetic nervous system which is perpetually in freeze, it offers a major step forward in allowing the client to choose to be more present on a moment-to-moment basis.

The Biodynamic process is the process through which the body heals itself. As such, it is the basis of other modalities that promote self-healing, such as Somatic Experiencing and EMDR. Further, it explains how miraculous healings can occur trader the auspices of any healing modality from the most sophisticated to the least, from Rolfing to Reiki.

From what I understand, Michael Shea rarely “Rolfs” these days, having created a career for himself doing and teaching Biodynamic Cranial work and specializing in trauma cases. But for the rest of us who have studied Biodynamics with Shaver and/or Sills and/or Shea (the three S’s), and worked in the domain of Biodynamics in our practices, the implicit and insistent questions remain. What is the “right” relationship between Rolfing and Biodynamics? How do the systems fit together? What are the ways that studying Biodynamics can sharpen our skills and perceptions as Rolfers? What are the arenas in which a Biodynamic intervention is preferable to a Rolfing intervention? Are these systems compatible? Can we conceive of the two systems being on a continuum? Is it conceivable that joining these two modalities creates a third modality?

We know from Rosemary Feitis that Dr. Rolf studied with Sutherland and was fully exposed to what we now know as Biodynamics. It seems probable that her concept of the RoIf Line was inspired by Sutherland’s concept of the midline as an organizing principle for all multicellular living beings. However, beyond the concept of “the line,” it is difficult to see what other Sutherland influences Rolf incorporated into her teachings.

We do know, however, that the recipe did not encompass all of what Dr. Rolf actually did when she gave a session. For example, Dr. Rosalyn Bruyere reported in her interview with Gil Hedley (Rolf Lines, August, 1996), that she witnessed Rolf “sending green light” through her hands and into her client, until she realized that Bruyere was watching. At that point, Rolf stopped sending the green light. We further know from Jim Asher that Rolf said, near the end of her life, that if she had had time to develop a further advanced training, it would be with hands “off the body.”

So clearly, in teaching the recipe, Rolf made a conscious decision to present her work in a form and format that could be taught. She has even been quoted as saying that the recipe made Rolfing sufficiently accessible that even “an intelligent German Shephard” could do it.

The world is a better place because Rolf created the recipe to be passed down to all of us, so that, among other reasons, we as Rolfers /Structural Integrators would “have meaningful work.”

Rolf’s recipe remains the singular achievement in the field of manual manipulation for the body for many reasons. The first reason is that the point of intervention was unprecedented in the western medical body of knowledge. Before Rolf, fascia was never taken seriously by anybody. Nowadays everybody talks about soft tissue, whether or not they have any idea what they are talking about. She virtually discovered it and put it on the map for our contemporary vision of what a body is. This achievement of focusing on the fascia is the foundation of innumerable modalities of bodywork and is the inspiration of startling advances in other disciplines, one specific, as we learn from Dr. Peter Schwind, being visceral manipulation within the field of osteopathy.

Her achievement goes further than introducing the importance of fascia. Secondly, the recipe represents the first comprehensive initiative to consider the body as a whole, but also to dissect its unfoldment sequentially. Many approaches either do not even pretend to treat the body wholistically, or, the concept of treating the body wholistically is reduced to a generality that has no specificity based in anatomy. Wholism with specificity. Moreover, with this achievement, the foundation for a non-medical, non-pathology-based approach to the body becomes possible – obliterating the assumption that health is the absence of debilitating symptoms which is inherent to the western mindset of the body and medical health – and replacing it with the possibility of ever increasing possibilities of greater and greater health. Fifty years after Rolf introduced the recipe there still is nothing like it. And the levels of genius implicit therein will be ferreted out for generations to come.

Nonetheless, given the kind of Rolfing that Rolf was doing, (after watching hours of ancient videos of Rolf at work, I still cannot say that I “know” what she is doing), it may be closer to her intentions to see the recipe as a pedagogical tool, a protocol that teaches perception.

It takes nothing from the power of Rolling to observe that an intervention at the fascial level does not handle every physical problem that a client may present. In fact, as our culture becomes more knowledgeable and aware of the psychological and power dimensions of the practitioner/client relationship, there are several important areas of training that most Rolfing /Structural Integration trainings could improve. For example, in the current Rolfing training, one morning is devoted to the discussion of trauma in the body. So, in effect, we have no trauma skills. Similarly, we have meager psychological skills. We do not deeply understand projection, either from the point of view of what the client might project onto us, or from the point of view of what we might counter-project onto them. This leaves us as practitioners foolishly vulnerable to all kinds of potential emotional havoc, and, perhaps of equal importance, this lack of knowledge limits our effectiveness as practitioners.

The limitations of Rolfing, those clients who present over and over again with the same issues, propel many Rolfers into ongoing continuing education courses. And many course offerings – specializing, for example, in spinal mechanics, or the shoulder or pelvic girdle – are crucial in honing our skills.

Rolf, in her wisdom, gave us her work in a form that we could understand, the recipe, and provided us with a foundation to build upon. Since her death, within the American branch of the Rolf Institute, Jan Sultan, Dr. Jeffrey Maitland, Michael Salveson, Jim Asher and Liz Gaggini furthered our manipulative sophistication greatly; with, respectively the internal/external model, non-thrust-oriented spinal mechanics, ligamentous-bed interventions; Asher-blended Rolfing and osteopathic biomechanics, and the refinement of the tilt/shift model and non-pathology based visceral manipulation. These improvements to our understanding of working with human structure all fall within the framework that Rolf handed to us.

The basic dominance of fascia as an organizing principle for our work was challenged most lucidly by Hubert Godard. In defining the purview of Rolf Movement Integration, he elucidated for us three types of structural holding for which fascial interventions are ineffective. They are:

– worldview-holding patterns based on belief systems

– antalgia-holding or movement patterns which avoid activating a pain pattern, including hypertonicity in the musculature due to nerve irritability, and

– coordination-holding patterns based on how we are taught or learn to move.

Many Rolfers choose to not take on these aspects of structural change. They require a different communication skill-set and different perceptual tools. Taking them on, however is immensely satisfying work.

The study of Biodynamics, likewise, expands our understanding of factors that affect human structural integrity. But in the course of learning Biodynamics, long before there is a context for understanding what Biodynamics has to offer us in this regard, there are numerous benefits to this pursuit.

The initial benefits that the study of Biodynamics offers to Rolfers are: 1) infinitely improved awareness of oneself while working, and, through that awareness, how we can perceive more and thereby become more effective practitioners, and 2) an understanding of how a body ultimately heals itself. The second point has within it four additional points:

– An understanding of how it is that what we do can facilitate but not cause the body’s healing. This clarification of what it is we are doing allows us to concentrate not on being more and more masterful, and thereby building up our own egos, but rather on how we can support the organism in its own self-regulation and thereby benefit from the radiance that attends the organism’s self-healing.

– A methodology for not only contacting the self-healing mechanism within the body but also attaining palpatory assurance that the work that the client and practitioner do together is something that the organism of the client actively chooses and needs to do.

– A framework for what we are working on, i.e., what is this body that is in front of us and how can we see it as something that is whole and not something that needs to be fixed? This helps us to see how we can escape from the habit of seeing the client’s body as broken, something that is needing to be fixed, and needing to be fixed by us.

– The next levels of what is in fact below the fascia. Fascia as an organizing principle, as Rolf discovered and developed, is far more profound than just about every other kind of manual intervention. However, there are many holding patterns in the body that cannot be touched meaningfully by fascia] work. Among these are tonus established by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Rolf Movement does try to work with tonus, but as is true with yoga and Pilates, the interventions tend to be quite limited as far as time is concerned. In other words, by invoking two directions or by working with core musculature we can reduce the amount of tonus being held by a given body part. In a short amount of time, however, say three or four hours, the status quo ante is reestablished. The reason is that tonus is ultimately determined by the ANS. There are many ways to intervene upon the ANS, such as bioenergetics and core energetics. But these approaches have a tendency to re-traumatize the body through their emphasis on artificially-induced catharsis.

Biodynamics by its very nature works with forces that are pre-CNS development. This offers a means of working with the ANS without re-traumatizing it.

Of course, this is just the beginning. A biodynamic perspective offers many levels of clarity and elucidation to our work, which fundamentally change what we are doing. Further benefits include an understanding and a methodology that can get at those body issues that Rolfing and Rolf Movement Integration are, for the most part, either powerless to affect, or if we do affect them, it is a blessing. Among those issues, we can include: atlas/ occipital issues, chronic pain issues, nerve pain issues, chronic sacral issues, birth trauma issues, and skills to meaningfully intervene in the aftermath of trauma. Beyond that, Biodynamics offers a hands-on understanding and means of interacting with autonomic nervous system dysfunction and dysregulation.

Rolf is said to have said that “Rolfing would not and could not make you a better person, it could however make you more of who you are. Thus if the client is a jerk before being ‘golfed,’ he would be a bigger jerk after having been ‘Rolfed’.”

At the risk of being completely audacious, allow me to cone up with a definition of a jerk. A jerk is someone whose agenda is so singular that he is unable to notice or care if that agenda is hurtful, harmful or disrespectful of others. In other words, a jerk is someone who is not able live in the present moment because he is unable to recognize or have any space for any perspective other than his own.

In the parlance of the burgeoning field of study called Affective Neuroscience, it could be said that a jerk is someone who had an insecure attachment with his primary caregiver during the first nine months of his life, and was unable to learn from the positive aspects of shame that he felt during the next nine months of his life. In other words, anti-social behavior is the result of less than optimal parenting.

All dyadic relationships, certainly including the Rolfer/client relationship, are recapitulations of the basic parental dyad to the psyche of the client Thus, we as practitioners are perfectly situated to assist the client in moving toward greater self-regulation. Biodynamics offers the means.

Thus far I have been arguing the case that autonomic regulation is a major fundamental causal factor in human structure and as such is a major limiting factor to our efficacy as Rolfers/Structural Integrators and Rolf Movement Practitioners in facilitating positive structural change for our clients. Further study of Biodynamics offers at least three additional categories of causality with structural implications that maybe fruitfully addressed through Biodynamics far more powerfully than is possible with conventional Rolfing/Structural Integration and Rolf Movement Integration. These may be stated simply as:

– Negative embryological imprinting

– Birth trauma

– Major trauma

Negative imprinting, starting with conception shock, can be characterized as any noxious substance or thought which interacts with the fetus, thereby affecting the course of the fetus’ development. This can have many manifestations. The imprint of nicotine, for example, binds to the genetic structure of sperm. And the shock that pregnant women sometimes feel after finding out that they are in fact pregnant, because it usually happens during the third week of pregnancy can negatively affect the formation of the front of the diaphragm, resulting in a structure that we may call collapsed. These affects can be discovered throughout the body, and can include impediments to clients finding new patterns of coordination because of compromised embryological development.

Birth trauma often includes the powerful forces of birth causing intraosseous strains within the matrix of the occiput, even in the most routine of births. This intraosseous strain can only be addressed with the biodynamic process of contacting primary respiration and hoping that the self-healing forces within the body will choose to work on this issue.

One of the major contributions that Sutherland offered to our understanding of the human body is the realization that “fluids can lesion.” A full explanation of what this means is beyond the scope of this article, in that it requires a foundation of palpatory experience to establish a context. For now let us posit that the life force that Sutherland was able to palpate generated a force field. This field, which is called the aura in esoteric systems, and is called the fluid body by Jealous, is the “place” where a great deal of Biodynamics occurs. And it is the site where a trauma in the physical body has a corresponding compression or lesion. This fluid body is more primary to physical structure than physical structure is. In other words, one of the reasons some of our fascial interventions do not hold is because the compression in the fluid body has not been addressed.

Two points follow from what we have presented thus far:

– Biodynamics suggests ways that we can improve our understanding of what we accomplish as we “Ro1F’ our clients.

– Biodynamics suggests ways that we can accomplish our goals more effectively when fascial work is ineffective.

The first difference that exposure to Bodynamics will elicit in the practitioner will be, even before beginning to work, attaining both what Sills might call “the practitioner neutral,” and, hopefully after our clients have attained what Jealous would call “the patient neutral.” In the process of attaining these states of being, we might ask questions such as:

– Am I able to maintain my contact with primary respiration while in contact with my client?

– Is the client able to surrender to primary respiration?

Thereafter certain questions filter into our minds and hands, as we learn Biodynamics, which gradually change our focus as we “Rolf.” The questions that inevitably occur are:

– Does this client exhibit a coherent midline?

– Is the client able to exhibit longitudinal fluctuation through the upper midline, in the sacrum, and throughout the spine?

– Are hyper-aroused sympathetics or parasympathetics compromising the effectiveness of our work together?

– Is the client’s fluid body compressed? (A variant of the Rolf Movement question: is the client’s kinesphere even and full?)

Continuing study of Biodynamics reveals that for each of the goals of the Rolling recipe, there is a protocol within Biodynamics that both approximates the Rolfing goals and restates the goal with reference to deeper phenomena within the body. Let us briefly survey the recipe and note the restatement of goals that Biodynamics offers.

First-hour goals: freeing the breathing capabilities of the ribcage

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, focus on the embryological seam from which the diaphragm arises, and the seam from which the clavicles and arm buds arise.

Commentary: Fascial work certainly creates more space in the ribcage. The benefits of this cannot be overstated. A biodynamic intervention can add to this by freeing the diaphragm of the consequences of holding patterns based on physical and emotional traumas.

Second-hour goals: bring the feet and legs under the torso

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, focus on the interosseus membrane to unload parasympathetic charge; focus on the cuboid/navicular relationship (an octave of the sphenoid/ occipital relationship).

Commentary: ANS holding within the legs limits our capability to truly get the legs under the torso and to get resiliency in the lower legs. Biodynamics is able to get to those layers and is also able to address intercellular holding within the matrix of the long bones that results from trauma.

Third-hour goals: create a lateral line between the head of the femur and the head of the humerus.

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, focus on the embryological seams within the acetabulum; reestablish relationship between the clavicle and the scapula; focus on the interosseus membrane of the arms to unload sympathetic charge.

Commentary: Our hip work is frequently hampered by a negative embryological imprint within the innominate. We are also limited in our efficacy by “dry” sacrums and coccyces which are recalcitrant in revitalizing because of repeated physical trauma.

Fourth-hour goals: create or uncover the medial line of the inner leg; free the pelvic floor.

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, focus on the mesodermal layer through the fibula; reestablish the midline of the femur, reestablish right relationship between head of the femur and coccyx.

Commentary: Again negative embryological imprints, residue from accidents and emotional holding patterns often limit our work as Rolfers. Biodynamics can facilitate progress through these types of issues without reactivation.

Fifth-hour goals: free the front of the torso; lengthen the psoas.

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, synchronize primary and thoracic respiration.

Commentary: The combination of the resuscitation of the midline throughout the spine and the decompression of the fluid body can deepen what we can accomplish as Rolfers.

Sixth-hour goals: organize the back of the legs, free the sacrum, free the MDH.

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, invoke longitudinal fluctuation within the sacrum, address the embryological seams at L5/S1 and at the back of the diaphragm.

Commentary: The hallmark of longitudinal fluctuation in the sacrum provides us with a new clear measure of whether or not the client is beginning to have greater access to his/her own self-healing capabilities.

Seventh-hour goals: put the head on, free the TMJ, open nasal passages.

Biodynamic equivalent: within the context of primary respiration, open the calvarian seam, reestablish right relationship between the neurocranium and viscerocranium. Consider ligamentous work in and around the TMJ.

Commentary: The added dimension of being able to access and interact with birth trauma offers the possibility of finally getting lasting relief from chronic occipital/atlas compression as well as offering relief from head trauma.

In sum, Biodynamics can offer a deepening in our ability to facilitate and / or be present for changes that go far beyond the fascia. In fact, Biodynamics has the capability of actualizing change far beyond what is presented herein. The question arises, however: is it useful to add the Biodynamic dimension to Rolf’s recipe? As with Rolfing, the recipe is a protocol to train our perceptions. For in truth, only the client’s inner intelligence knows what needs to happen next. For us to think that we know what the client needs is sheer hubris.

To have full access to the content of this article you need to be registered on the site. Sign up or Register. 

Log In