CAPA SI_2007_march

The Assisting Experience: Three Perspectives

Pages: 3-5
Year: 2007
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION: The Journal of the Rolf Institute – March 2007 – Vol 35 -Nº 01

Volume: 35

Having known each other from past trainings, we were excited and pleased when we found ourselves assisting basic Rolfing® training classes during June and July of 2006. One evening, we all ended up sitting in Bethany’s rented condo, comparing notes about our experience. Merlin had assisted several Unit I classes, but Wanda and Bethany were newbies, assisting Units III and II, respectively.

Although the classes were different, we each felt strongly about how much we were getting from the assisting experience. Each had been drawn by the opportunity to immerse herself in Rolfing from a classroom perspective, to work closely with highly talented instructors, to give back to the community, and to give our bodies a rest from the grind of private practice. We also agreed that leaving our practices for six to eight weeks was challenging on many levels.

In the following sections, we each present a bit of our experience, for others considering assistant teaching.


Being a Unit I teaching assistant is exciting and challenging. Assisting allows you to review information you had forgotten and apply your skills as a Rolfer® to a large group of people at once. What you learned in your training is only part of what you need to be a great assistant. As an assistant, it’s your job to help things move smoothly and to provide each instructor with the materials and support he or she needs in order to present information brilliantly. Sometimes you deliver information to the class, and you may do some demos, but mostly you, answer questions, and help with anatomy palpations and Skillful Touch training. Your biggest job is letting others lead the class while you help in any way you can to make their job easier.

Unit I teaching assistant duties require you to be able to coordinate activities with instructors and staff including: maintaining and preparing the classroom for each teacher, copying handout materials, setting up and breaking down audiovisual equipment for lectures and tables for Skillful Touch or anatomy palpation, distributing demo materials such as clay, for constructing anatomical models, and working with the Rolf Institute”‘ of Structural Integration staff to replenish clean sheets and perishable items. Alerting staff to student needs and directing students to the appropriate staff may fall under your responsibilities, also.

Working with Students

The Unit I assistant is the one consistent fixture in the class. You “take the temperature” of the class and report to each teacher “where” the class is and what students’ needs may be. You need to be available to students and approachable without crossing the student/teacher boundary. Students often confide things to you that they won’t tell the instructors – sometimes in the hope that you will relay the information, and sometimes just to vent.

It’s your responsibility to make students aware of classroom and kitchen duties and check that they are performing them. Since multiple classes are using the facilities, class assistants see to it that students clean the room and kitchen before leaving. Working with students is both the best part of your job and the hardest.

Assisting: Challenges & Benefits


.Being present and available for nine hours a day, four or five days a week,
for a six-week period.

.Being away from your practice for six weeks.

.Travel time to and from the Institute (two hours per day for me).

.Lunch hour is often taken up with student concerns.


.Re-experiencing your basic training information without the pressure of testing.

.Sharpening your palpation skills.

.Sharpening your skill at “being present” for your clients.

.Connecting with students and making great friendships with future colleagues.

.A great experience professionally and personally.


A couple of years into my practice, I found myself fantasizing about taking the basic Rolfing training over again. With the experience I’d gained from my practice, I knew I’d see and experience the information with new eyes. I love the idea that mastery comes from returning your attention over and over to the same material and finding new connections and implications. That’s what I was looking for, and I definitely found myself on that path as a teaching assistant.

I was eager to review my old notes (and about five other Ten Series compilations) and see what I’d forgotten or missed the first time through. This did serve me well and I learned a great deal. What surprised me the most was how much I learned just from working closely with the main instructor. Although our styles were different, when I returned to my practice, I was amazed at how much of her touch had rubbed off on me (forgive the pun). We didn’t exchange much work, so it wasn’t due to that. Rather, it seemed that by sheer proximity in a highly energetic environment, my touch entrained with hers. What a gift!

Additionally, communicating the work to students who are not fluent in “Rolferese” and Rolfing dogma requires that you fill in spaces in your knowledge and understanding. It’s not enough to be able to get changes in tissue. You have to be able to explain what you’re doing. I believe this makes you a better Rolfer because the more clearly we hold our intentions, the more efficient we become at achieving them. You also get better at explaining the process to clients, which allows them to participate more actively. Lastly, clearer, more concise communication means you’ll be better equipped to explain Rolfing° to potential clients-making you more effective at marketing.

Unit 2 assistants take a model through a Ten Series. Rolfing a client in the teaching context demands you perform several skills concurrently. In my basic training, teachers told me to check in with myself, check in with my client, then see if I could maintain awareness of both systems at the same time. Just when I started to get a hang of the latter, assisting took me to the next level. Now I was striving to be aware of my client, myself, a classroom of students, and the main instructor. Needless to say, I’ve found I have room for improvement.


In Unit II, the main duties include demos, assisting students as they take each other through the Ten Series plus three movement sessions, and helping students as they work through practicums. Depending on which instructor you work with, you may have opportunities to lecture. I have a business degree, so I offered to discuss practice building and procedure. Students jumped at the topic and we had a lively discussion. If you think you have something valuable to contribute to the class, don’t hesitate to discuss this with the lead instructor. Class time is packed, so there may not be time for additions to the curriculum, but if you offer your ideas early in the process, it may turn out to be a useful addition and add a fresh perspective when the class needs a break.


In addition to learning to stay connected with yourself, your client, and the class, Unit II requires you to:

·Discuss your client’s structure and patterns with the class, and share your strategy, while maintaining language and connection that support the client.

·Respond to questions from the class as well as the client, as they come up.

.Understand the traditional Ten Series and create demo sessions that are effective, relevant, and concise.

One skill that can be challenging for new assistants is remembering to talk to the class while you work with your model. This gets easier with practice, but is often a skill that has to be developed.

Another thing new assistants worry about is making their demos appear smooth and polished. I got some great advice from Certified Advanced Rolfer° Larry Koliha, a Skillful Touch instructor. Larry told me, “Don’t be afraid to change your mind or direction in front of the class. It lets them see what Rolfing is really like.” He related a story from his first assisting experience: “In the middle of a demo, I went over and put some cream on my hands. I told the class, ‘I’m doing this because I have no idea what I’m going to do next.’ It’s important that students see us stop and think. There is no grand plan that we stick to when clients aren’t responding the way we think they should. You have the ‘recipe’, and you have your strategy, but sessions still go minute-by-minute. We talk to students about adaptability, now you need to show them what it looks like.”


I still remember my Unit III. It was a very intense training with eighteen students. Robert Schleip was the lead instructor, and Mario Finato from Italy was our teaching assistant. I still remember all that I learned from them, and I witness it in my work with my clients and in my life.

At the end of the training, Mario said something that has stuck with me: “Love your job. Don’t be afraid. Keep the fire of your clients safe.” I keep these words in my mind, in my heart, and in my office.

Ten years after learning from the very kind, present, and skillful assistant Mario, I found myself assisting a Unit III with sixteen students. I can now describe Unit III from the other side, being the assistant.

Assisting the Class

I realized how important it is to review the classical Ten Series in order to talk about it, to think about it, and remember the reasons for doing it. After many years of practice, attending all kind of workshops, and experiencing work from a wide range of practitioners, we end up including others’ knowledge, magical moves, and so on in our work, which is why it’s so good to review the basics and have to explain how powerful Dr. Rolf’s Ten Series is. In Unit III, we are once again able to observe classroom clients and refresh our ability to see structural changes. We pay attention to things that we might miss in our practices, because we get rushed or a bit lazy. When you have to explain to beginners, you must return to beginner’s mind-and eyes-and remember how Rolfers see, and what we look for.

When we teach, the effects of our actions are very different than as a student. We need to think and say exactly what we know and what we have experienced, because we need to able explain how and why. The words we choose need to be intentional for the purpose of teaching, rather than performing. In this position, we also learn so much.

Assisting requires you to spend hours reviewing and preparing yourself for the lectures and demos. The best surprise is that we know things we didn’t realize we knew. The work we have been doing for years becomes obvious in our understanding and our ability to communicate that understanding. As an assistant, we increase our comprehension of the Ten Series. We remember each step and its beginnings and the reasons behind them. Like Peter Melchior said, “The ten-session series is the base on which you build all the later work, whatever you are going to do.”

When I came back to my office, I felt the value of teaching show up in my practice. I felt renewed and excited. I found myself observing this great process with fresh eyes and a deeper understanding. Also, taking two months off from your regular practice is a good break for your body.

Family & Practice

As for families, two months away assisting is a long time. Upon my return, I could certainly tell that my teenager had felt my absence. But clients are another story. Although they will miss you, when they hear you are leaving to be a teaching assistant, most clients view it positively. It boosts your credibility. Many clients realize that you will return with more skills, so even the extended absence from your practice is not really a negative aspect.


Like anything worth doing, you make sacrifices when you assist. Planning can ease some of the challenges. If you’re leaving clients for two months, it helps to give them appropriate notice and work with them to try to leave them at the best place possible in their process. You may want to provide contact information for other area Rolfers, or match certain Rolfers with clients if you think they’d be a good fit. Clients appreciate this extra effort, are less likely to feel abandoned, and usually come back when you return. Again, most clients are impressed that you’re going to be working at the Rolf Institute’ of Structural Integration.

Although some assistants report a lull in their practices right after they come back from an extended leave, this is not inevitable. It may depend on how busy your practice is in general. If things are a little slow, an extended absence may cause you to lose momentum. But if your practice is busy, you may very well be able to schedule ahead, and return to business as usual when you get back.

Assistant pay, per diem, and travel reimbursement have increased significantly from years past. The Institute has done a good job with this. This said, if you have a full practice, you’ll probably take a pay cut for a couple of months if you decide to assist. But you are getting paid to learn, you are getting to work with amazing Rolfing practitioners, you’re getting to proliferate the work, and you are getting to give back to the community. Not surprisingly, we’re all deeply grateful for the opportunity and eager to assist again.

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