It has been twenty years since I began my practice in Rolf Movement Integration (RMI). Over the years the work has grown and matured, as has our understanding of Ida’s vision, which involved seeing the individual as a whole person. As Vivian Jaye says, “The way a person walks across a room is the way they walk through life.” In our Principle work we refer to this as the Principle of Wholism or the ontology of the being.
Rolfing, in all of its aspects, is a living work; and the real evolution of the work happens in our individual studios, offices and classrooms. So many of you have enriched my understanding and development of Rolfing as you explore and weave new ideas connecting different aspects of other modalities. Still, as I view the progression over time, I see many signposts which have guided the RMI work; in particular directions of development beginning with Judith Aston and now with our current work, which is Principle based and has become a more defined conceptual matrix.
My understanding is that Dr. Rolf worked with Dorothy Nolte to develop her classic movement sequences. “Ida’s yoga” was the primary focus of the movement work until Judith Aston trained in the mid sixties. According to the oral history, Judith was the first one to evaluate her clients with movement. How does a client move? Do we see the same holdings and restrictions when they move as we see when the client is standing?
Within the Rolling series Ida gave us ways to work with movement, using positional strategies while calling for movement within the session to assist the structural changes. The early movement work often used “cues” at the end of a session as a part of the session’s closure to integrate the structural work into gravity. When done well, this movement awareness at the end of a session can be integrative. However, the danger occurs when a Rolfer tries to impose an ideal on the body rather than working with the client’s proprioceptive awareness.
The first major influence in the development of RMI occurred before I trained. There was a year of symposiums, which occurred around the country. Judith Aston had trained a number of movement practitioners before she left the RI in 1977. After Judith left, a number of the movement practitioners wanted to develop the work within the RI, working closely with Ida’s vision of movement. These practitioners gathered, talked and shared work to see how the RMI training could be structured within the RI to integrate with Ida’s philosophy of organized structure and function.
It was out of these symposiums that the first RMI training happened with Heather (Wing) Star song and Megan James as our instructors in the fall 1979, the same year Ida Rolf died. We spent the mornings in a Rolfing class with Peter Melchoir observing his lectures and session demonstrations. This was important because it gave us the freedom to survey the overall conceptual matrix of Rolfing. In the afternoons we explored the session’s concepts and goals using functional intervention techniques. Peter’s broad style of Rolfing placed an emphasis on indirect techniques, which was crucial to our ability to translate the work into function. The indirect and broad techniques allowed the client and practitioner to experience the pattern fully, in order that new options might emerge.
At the time of the first training, the RMI work was centered around Ida’s re-patterning sequences, or “Ida’s yoga.” These sequences include the arm rotations, leg rotations and pelvic rolls, patterns which have become classics, and which we still use today in a more expanded way than they were used in the early days of RMI.
The first training was an exciting time as we watched the work develop during class. Each day our instructors would give their often-differing views of RMI. We were encouraged to take what we could and explore our own style using a non-formulistic approach to each session. This was empowering and required us tocontinually evaluate our own views and each client’s needs. All of us who trained in the first class were FM practitioners, not structural Rolfers. For several years my practice was movement education. Because I come from a dance background and first trained in movement, I often view the structural work as support for function, rather than the other way around.
What was perceived as integrated function when we first trained was often based on the Rolf view of the body that held the perception of line and core as a viewing matrix. The famous Rolf plumb line was, and is, a geometric abstraction of the central vertical axis that passes through the body. The core is the related internal, intrinsic space where we may find a sense of self through introspection. In RMI, we look at how the flow of movement affects the core and its relationships to more extrinsic structures, often referred to as the sleeve. Earlier discussions were about the holding or relaxing of the core to move, so the spine and girdles were often rigidly held. What I now find much more exciting is a responsive spine that acknowledges the arcs and curves of our body. This means that the spine and girdles must show undulating, contralateral response. It means that the spine bends and curves as we change levels in gravity. There are no straight lines in the body and this reality affects how we move our body. In the early days we were taught to sit straight to support our line and core. The blue chairs at the institute were made for the first movement class and they reflect the philosophy of the time. We worked with length and span, but the curves between them were often lost. As Emile Conrad-Da’oud says, “The body is not a machine.”
We are not made of pulleys and levers. We have a structure which is put together with the same parts as our neighbor’s structure, and yet because the relationships between the parts are different and our rotations, life, perceptions and sensations are unique, our structure demands that each of us use our body differently. We may lift or drop into the earth to move. Or perhaps we don’t trust the safety of the earth and must pull up rather than settle.
The first major innovation in the RMI work after I trained was the exploration of combined formats. Gael Ohlgren did much of the design for the combined format with the first training being cotaught in 1990 by Gael and myself. In this format the first part of the training had a strong emphasis on movement as the students did a full ten series of Rolfing and a full series of movement work with each other. This training was an attempt to ground the structural work with function. There was less RMI in the second phases of the training where the primary focus was on gaining structural skills. At the end of the two phases, the student was a certified Rolfer, but not a certified RMI practitioner. Further work was required to receive the movement certification.
Brazil still uses a variation of this format. A key difference is that the Brazilian format certifies the student in both Rolfing and Rolf Movement at the end of the training so there is extensive movement woven into both phases of the training. The second phase ends with the RMI certification class. Brazil is a country where all of the Rolfers are trained and certified in both structure and function. When I watch Brazilian Rolfers work, I see a blending of the structure and function that is so complete that it is often hard to see a break in the seams as the Rolfer moves from one to the other. It is beautiful to see function supporting structure and also to see structure supporting function. RMI is about how we move, sense ourselves and live with gravity. Each gesture and each movement has meaning for us, speaking the language of our culture, personal history, values, goals and desires. When teaching, the students and I will often notice that the client will present one set of holdings when standing and a different set of shortnesses or relationship to gravity when moving.
Unit II gives the students an understanding of function as it is used in the support of structure. For example, the fourth session of Rolfing focuses on the pelvic floor and related support and connections. When we bring functional seeing into areas of structural intervention we ask questions such as: how and what does the client perceive related to their pelvis? Where are the patterns of connection and disconnection for this client? Are the patterns of response completing themselves, or is the motion interrupted and held in the body? Do the bones move and how does this motion relate to the legs, respiratory diaphragm, the shoulder girdle and cranium? This is a broad view of the types of questions that might be explored functionally with the fourth session of Rolfing.
In Unit III, previously known as Practitioning, the inclusion of one to three movement sessions is up to the instructor’s discretion.
Conceptually and in terms of teaching, the biggest shift in Rolfing and RMI occurred with the introduction of the Principles of Intervention. Before the Principles, RMI used seven basic concepts to evaluate and design strategies for our work. These concepts were: core, dynamic balance, support, responsiveness, lengthening, integrity of movement, and harmony with gravity. As you look at the concepts of movement, it is apparent that the principles of intervention were embedded there and complemented and clarified the earlier concepts of RMI.
The Principles took all of Rolfing out of technique and recipe and into intervention choices based on the client’s needs, allowing further development of non-formulistic strategies and sessions. This was key for RMI because we could begin to look at the appropriate Principle that was next for a client’s evolution, before looking at techniques of structure or function, allowing the two aspects of Rolling to rest together and complement each other more easily.
I first began working with the integration of the Principles into RMI when I co-taught a certification class with Jeff Maitland in 1993. The Principles are: Wholism, Support, Palintonicity, Adaptablity, and Closure, with the Principle of Continuity recently being added. All of the principles are under the umbrella of Wholism, the meta-principle. This means that every intervention affects the whole person, not just one area or aspect of the client. If you are working with the foot, you are also working with how the client views themselves in the world and how much trust and support they have in their structure and their larger environment. Over the last 15 years, more and more indirect touch has come into Rolfing. I was first introduced to indirect techniques in my RMI training in 1979. Megan James showed us how to work with diaphragms by following the tissue’s pattern towards completion as the client’s proprioceptive sense is engaged. This softer, inclusive touch is an important aspect of RMI as we know it today. The movement touch is usually inclusive, using the whole hand, while working through the communication between the two hands.
Hubert Godard and his work have been an important influence over the last several years. His many years of dance and study of various movement forms are demonstrated in his wonderful work in gravity. I was first introduced to work in gravity by Heather Starsong in our first class, when she taught us to work with application and education with our clients. Heather was, and is, a master of application of the concepts of Rolfing into daily life – how you ride a bike, sit at a computer or walk your dog so that you keep as much ease and balance as possible in that moment.
When Jeff Maitland asked Hubert what attracted him to Rolfing, he said it is the only system which understands both the up and down of function in gravity, which talks to the Principle of Palintonicity. This becomes clearer when we look at two of the well-known movement systems. In Alexander work the primary initiation of movement is up, with a reaching into space, while Feldenkrais® works more with the down, or push into gravity. As Hubert suggested to Jeff, both aspects are essential for ease of function in the field of gravity.
Heather and Megan gave a frame and structure to the work and created the first curriculum for the training. Gale Ohigren was involved with RMI from the beginning and I remember working with her in the early symposiums in San Francisco and again with the planning and execution of the combined studies format. Gale was also my mentor during the first six months of my practice, and I continue to be grateful for her support and knowledge. Janie French and Annie Duggin taught for several years and added a strong awareness of the psychological aspect of the person, which we now include under the Principle of Wholism.
Another major innovation in the direction of the work occurred in 1987 when the faculty gave Vivian Jaye and myself permission to teach a pilot project which would train and certify Rolfers in RMI. We developed this curriculum with the idea that Rolfers would already have the conceptual understanding of RMI and it would only be necessary to teach them the touch, techniques and seeing of movement. We first taught this in a series of six-day classes, and in 1989 we began our first group which led to certification. We found much of our challenge was in the shifting of the lens from structure to function, so we were always translating as we integrated concepts and aspects of the work. Over the years we added more language as we expanded the exploration of the meaning of patterns. Each pattern of motion is an expression of current or past reality, and effective, honest expression is when the pattern of movement is also in current time and appropriate to the situation. This requires work with the meaning of a pattern, the naming of that pattern, and working to complete gestures that are restricted.
The RMI faculty continues to develop and expand the work in the USA, Brazil and Europe. This work is a living, breathing and growing thing. As Rollers, we may use it in support of our structural work, or as separate sessions of functional intervention. Either way, movement is at the core of life; we cannot separate it from structure without creating an artificial schism.