Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – (Genérico)


I confess: Rolfing® gives me a rationale for teaching movement. It was Ida Rolf’s insights about movement, conveyed in a demonstration in a Brentwood church basement in 1968, that inspired me to take off my dancing shoes and start using my hands. It was clear that this gnarled old woman knew more about what makes dancing graceful than any of my famous dance teachers.

You have to understand that I grew up watching Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse and the others sing and hoof their way across the silver screen every Saturday afternoon. Although I’ve given up aspiring to the musical-comedy version of reality, those matinees left a lasting imprint about the value of physical self-expression in human life.

So thirty years after meeting Ida Rolf, I’m still trying to release the dancer within each of my students and clients. My definition of dance has become very broad – your dance might be your golf game, your relationship with your mother, or your lifestyle.

I recognize that many, if not most Rolfers are more compelled by the structural aspect of Rolfing than by movement. Structural work, however complex, is tangible enough that you can roll up your sleeves and get to work, whereas movement appears and disappears in the flick of an eye.

How do you intervene in something so elusive? Structure was certainly Ida Rolf’s priority. She passed the movement ball to “the women,” to Dorothy Nolte who developed “Structural Awareness” and to Judith Aston who developed “Structural Patterning,” both based on Rolf’s ideas. Thirty years later Rolfing movement work continues to evolve creative strategies for answering that question, and has gained respect for what it contributes to the effectiveness of Rolfing structural intervention.

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I believe each of us who is inspired to teach movement it in a way that evokes in our students what seems beautiful to ourselves. Because we define beauty differently, we may embrace divergent theories about what how movement should look and feel, and adopt different disciplines for inducing it. Alexander teachers, Feldenkrais® teachers, Rolfing Movement teachers, Rolfers, Hanna Somatics practitioners, Aston Patterners, dance teachers, instructors of yoga, martial arts or Pilates, to name only a very few – while our theories and protocols diverge, we all, to some degree, tap into four basic types of interventions to evoke our movement ideals. To list them:

1. witnessing/client self-awareness
2. perceptual shifts
3. functional changes
4. expression/relationship with the world

This paper is not a discussion of movement principles, but only of the categories of interventions employed by somatic practitioners as they attempt to bring their particular principles to life in a client. In discussing each of these categories, however, I will refer to the movement theory with which I have been working for the past several years, that of movement theorist Hubert Godard. For comprehensive discussions of Godard’s theory I refer the reader to the articles by Kevin Frank and Aline Newton in the 1995 issues of Rolf Lines.1,2

For the purpose of my discussion I will simplify Godard’s main concept: that dynamic movement begins with a “pre-movement” which is the release of the largely involuntary postural holding muscles in order to allow freedom of expression in the voluntary muscles. The postural muscles must be able to release in two directions simultaneously (one might think of this as “palintonic impulse”), or in one or the other direction as appropriate to a situation. At times, for example, it is appropriate for one’s body to remain rooted to the ground; at other times it is necessary to fly. Areas of a person’s body as well as the body as a whole tend to be habitually blocked in one direction or the other. So working with this theory consists of finding ways to inhibit the habitual postural inhibitions to dynamic action, to the dynamic activity of “the Line.”

I have found this idea comprehensive with respect to Rolfing principles. And the results of my efforts in basing my teaching on this theory correspond with my ideal of beautiful movement – a combination of efficiency and grace. To share my ideal, picture a cheetah bounding across the African savanna. The spine lengthens in two directions before each powerful contraction. The beast is oriented in space, yet embodied in its relationship to the ground. The symbolic coordinations of pushing and reaching, which Godard correlates to the perceptions of weight and spacial orientation, are fully manifest in the cheetah’s every leap. It adaptively integrates pushing the ground with a reaching action that catapults it through the air.

“A crucial aspect of teaching through perception is for the student to compare the new sensation with the habitual one.”



I’ve placed this at the beginning of the list because becoming aware precedes choice about changing. However this step may also be frequently interspersed between other interventions throughout a lesson. In this type of intervention the teacher provides a context in which the student can observe himself. In Rolfing Movement Integration this could be a walk across the room with the teacher asking questions about how the student senses weight through his feet, or where in the body he locates the impulse to move. Similarly, in an Alexander lesson, the student might be asked to study how he moves from sitting to standing. In Aikido, the student sits with focused awareness in the abdominal gravity center while the teacher nudges his chest or shoulder to test his balance and concentration.

The work of being a witness to the student is trickier than it might seem. On the one hand, the student is there to receive the teacher’s critical assessment. On the other hand, the subtlest judgment can send some students into hiding from the teacher, and hence from themselves, defeating the whole purpose of the witnessing process. Seeing another, igniting a spark of self-awareness in them, is a powerful intervention in and of itself. It requires open-minded, compassionate presence on the part of the teacher.3


Because afferent and efferent nerve pathways conjoin in producing movement, teachers instinctively access perception to evoke movement. “Perception is an action,” Godard is fond of saying, using the example of a dog pricking up its ears. So when a teacher sees that movement is blocked somewhere in the body, she knows that perception is blocked there also. When she facilitates a perceptual shift, she facilitates movement.

With perceptual intervention the focus is on having the client identify new sensations in his body. This may come about as a result of learning a new coordination or making a biomechanical correction (intervention types 2 and 3 are interchangeable in sequence and are often combined). For example, in yoga the teacher may press her own weight into the student’s body to assist the palintonicity of the asana. The student takes in the sensation of the extra stretch and attempts to duplicate it in the next pose. In Rolfing structural work, our clients have regular perceptual epiphanies during and following our biomechanical interventions – we hear astounded exclamations daily: “My chest is so open”, “My feet feel like velvet,” etc.

The moment when sensation acquires meaning for the client is the “teachable moment,” a crucial step in the perceptual integration of structural work. It’s important to give this step plenty of time. A client’s ability to articulate the hinges of the feet in walking may actually lie less in a structural deficiency in the feet, but rather in his inability to sense weight through them. Or the fault may lie in an inability to perceive forward momentum in the heart area, the area Godard designates as a second “gravity center.”4 In such a case, perceptual as well as functional intervention may be necessary to give the thorax enough lift for the feet to have room to articulate.

Perceptual shifts can also come about through the use of props. Having the student stand on the Sanchez tuning board or a labile board will clarify the student’s sense of weight and downward direction in the body, evoking perception of gravitational support. Perception of fluid adaptability can be addressed by use of the tuning board or with physic, balls.

Shifts in proprioception can also be accessed through visual or auditory senses – asking the student to become aware of their peripheral vision, or peripheral hearing (the sounds beyond the immediate environment) will lengthen the spine in the skyward direction, giving the student the sensation of lift or float. Perception is also accessed through ideokinesis – imagining you are at the bottom of the ocean, your feet anchored in soft sand, with the water caressing your skin (it’s a tropical ocean), buoying you up, etc.

A crucial aspect of teaching through perception is for the student to compare the new sensation with the habitual one. One way is to have the student consciously abandon the newly acquired sensation, noticing what he feels as the old postural or movement habit is resumed. Then he re-accesses the new feeling, appreciating the gradations of sensation between the two poles. Several repeats of this process are beneficial to provide a map for accessing the new place when the old habit reasserts itself under the duress of life outside the treatment room or studio.

A new way of feeling in the body results in a new position from which to view the world. Having the student take note of differences in outside perception is powerful way to resource the new habit.5 Again a comparison process is useful: to have the student notice how objects in the room appear when viewed from alternative perceptual positions, or how the teacher appears. This line of inquiry can lead to explorations of the correlation between perception and interpersonal relationship.

It may be appropriate to facilitate release of a biomechanical block in order to aid the student in discovering the perception that the teacher hopes they will make – structural work at the AO joint to facilitate the perception of head float, for example. Or it may be appropriate to move directly into application of the new proprioception to the performance of some daily task. So perceptual shift may incorporate witnessing, and can be linked with both functional change and practical application.

An added benefit to working with perception is that sometimes a structural imbalance will right itself without being addressed directly, or a new, more desirable coordination will be automatized.

Working with perception is also an opportunity to help clients build resource through sensations of pleasure in their bodies. Our culture’s attention on “what’s wrong” with the body is deeply ingrained, even in people who have espoused a somatic orientation. Directing a student’s attention to what feels good will often automatically re-set the move¬ment in the direction of ease and efficiency.


I’m defining function as the marriage of structure and coordination. The functional goals you have for your student depend on your theory – what you designate as appropriate structure and movement; what prevents good function; what supports it. Different movement disciplines regard structure and coordination from the perspectives of their goals. In yoga, the purpose of the practice is a state of mind and body unification; the asanas contain this end but are also the biomechanical means for achieving the goal. So the structural ideals are defined by the performance of specific postures. This would seem to be true in martial arts and dance training as well – what is judged to be appropriate structure and movement is that which allows the best performance of the art. In the somatic disciplines, certainly in Rolfing, we attempt to generalize about the biomechanical and coordi¬native features of “best performance.”

Using Godard’s movement theory, my approach is to assess what needs to be free in order for the release of postural inhibition to occur. The hallmark of this postural lengthening is a fluid coordination between the cervical and lumbar lordoses and the bending of the knees, i.e., between the secondary curves of the body. When I see this happening in forward folding, for example, for me that’s the best performance of that action.

What blocks the lengthening of the secondary curves are the horizontal diaphragms which are sandwiched between them: the jaw/throat “diaphragm” and respiratory diaphragm control the freedom of the cervical curve; the respiratory diaphragm and pelvic floor control the freedom of the lumbars; and the pelvic floor and feet control the knees. Other influential horizontal structures are the thoracic outlet, the hands and the interosseous membranes in forearms and legs. Restraint in any of these diaphragms may trigger other diaphragms to tighten.

Functional correction consists of using various means to enable the student to perform a new coordination. In the example of forward folding, the goal would be to inhibit diaphragmatic restraints to a smoothly sequenced lengthening of the secondary curves. Here the functional intervention melds with the perceptual – the student must identify the sensation of the alternative coordination, compare it with the habitual, find personal meaning in the difference and apply the new coordination to practical action. These several steps need not, often cannot, all occur in one session.

My usual approach is to work with generic movement patterns in specific areas of the body – hinging, folding, unfolding, rotating, sidebending – and with more complex whole-body coordinations like sitting, rising, bending over, lifting, running and walking. I choose some simple action and assist the student to study alternative ways of performing it. The techniques for functional interven¬tion, like those for perceptual intervention are limited only by the teacher’s experience and inventiveness. The basic tools are hands and words.

One way movement teachers use their hands to correct mechanics is by “mirroring” the tension pattern, an indirect approach in which the teacher takes over the student’s habitual pattern. For example, if the student’s habitual tension is to hold himself up in standing, the teacher could support him in that direction, thus assisting him to release the tension and to sense his body’s weight, and enabling him to perceive the downward direction.

The teacher may also use her hands to resist the student’s habit, for example in rising from a seated fold, the teacher might inhibit the student’s normal movement path in a way that directs the student to coordinate lengthening of the cervical and lumbar curves.

While contraindicated for those with perfection issues, teacher demonstration of the habitual and new patterns can make all the difference for students who are visual and kinesthetic learners. In a teacher/student relationship where the boundaries of both parties are clear, it can also be effective to have the student palpate the teacher’s body while the teacher performs an action in alternative ways – the information goes directly to the student’s body via tactile perception.

It is sometimes helpful to use skeletal models or anatomical pictures to elucidate a concept. For many clients it’s a surprise to learn that the ribs go all the way around to the spine – seeing this makes the option of breathing through the back more of a reality for them.


My first Rolfing movement teacher, Judith Aston, was emphatic about designing movement lessons so that the student goes away with a single clear message, something that would be easy to integrate into daily life.

This “one something” can be chosen by the student – whatever perception or experience made the most impression on him during the session – and becomes a homework assignment. If I’ve been skillful in assessing what was needed, the piece he chooses will be what I intended for him to learn. If not, my own learning from the interaction is all the greater and his learning, none the less.

I’ve learned the hard way to avoid overloading my clients with too many new perceptions – it’s a temptation when I begin to see my movement ideals coming to fruition for someone. I’ve been apt to try “one more thing” and plunge us both into overwhelm.

Recent research at MIT indicates that our brains need four to six hours for motor learning to consolidate in the brain as retrievable motor memory, scientific anchoring for Aston’s caveat.6


Movement disciplines intend their training to refine and emancipate physical expression. They succeed to the degree that they rehearse practical activities at a pace and in a context that simulates real time, and to the degree they recognize that expression is a matter of relationship.

I define physical expression in a broad way – it is every move I make: it includes my most expansive full-body gesture as well as the tiniest hidden impulse of my cells. It is the power of my tennis serve, the sweetness of my performance in the ‘corps de ballet’, my comfort as I sit communing with my computer, and my centeredness as I open the door to a blind date. The freedom of my expression is limited on the one hand by my biomechanics, and on the other by my self-perception in relationship to the world of other people.

The interventions we have been examining take place along the road between Relationship and Structure, with sensation, perception (the interpretation of sensation) impulse, gesture (expressive movement), and action (movement that has a tangible outcome) occurring in between. To frame this personally: the sensations in my body when we are together color the way I perceive you. And vice versa. This is relationship. My perception of this relationship impels my gestures and actions. And as I take action on a daily basis, as I express myself physically, I create my body’s structure. The other way round, the limitations of my structure confine me to certain sensations, perceptions, and actions, curtailing my relationship with you.

In martial arts, the student disciplines himself on the mat to adapt to situations on tournament floor or street. His practice shapes his body, shapes the way he perceives the world, shapes his relationships.

Through the ritual of the ballet barre. the dancer strives for biomechanical and coordinative changes that will support her chosen expression. Rehearsal in the studio shapes her expression in performance, the dancer’s ultimate relationship.

In the somatically-oriented disciplines, simple daily activities are rehearsed per se. In Rolfing, Alexander work, Aston Patterning and the like, we assist clients to apply their functional and perceptual gains to practical actions. We teach our students to sit, rise, bend, lift, walk, climb stairs, open car doors, etc. Challenging the learnings with simulated stress deepens the learning. For example, articulating the joints of my feet is an abstract experience until I can perceive the weight of my body through my feet. The functional and perceptual shifts together enable me to push the ground behind me as I walk. But unless I rehearse this, sense it, and make meaning out of how it feels to move through the world this way, I will revert to my habitual gait. Further, I need to practice pushing the ground as I rise to meet an accusing boss, or rush after an escaping dog.

“In Rolfing, Alexander work, Aston Patterning and the like, we assist clients to apply their functional and perceptual gains to practical actions.”


The simulation of real-time situations in one-on-one work with clients, while useful, remains several steps removed from the challenge of real life. Teacher/student roles modulate the testing of movement behavior with respect to relationship. This is where the benefit of movement work in groups becomes evident. When the student is invited to “chase the dog” or “confront the boss” in a room full of other people, the challenge comes closer to reality.

Group movement work can consist of the same types of self-awareness, perceptual and functional interventions as individual work, with the addition of interactive sketches and games that represent situations of being in the world. An example might be to develop the actions of pushing the floor with the feet and reaching outward with the arms, working with the group en masse using perceptual and functional interventions to release postural inhibitions to these actions. Group members benefit by observing as the teacher helps individual students solve problems of support, adaptation and palintony.

This pushing/reaching coordination, could evolve into a simple ball tossing game, with students helping one another notice blocks to dynamic action. A further evolution could be the tossing of words across the room to a partner, noticing inhibitions to the action of communication and inventing ways to provide one another with support. Because students receive feed-back from people other than the teacher, group work, though still safely removed from reality, is a step closer than is the private studio.

The challenge of leading groups includes the ability to assess and intervene in the “group body,” to generalize about what perceptual, functional or expressive experiences the group members need. The leader must also be able to pace the class so that it adds up to a cohesive learning experience rather than a jumble of motor impressions. It helps to alternate between slow, focused awareness work and faster, broader, playful activities which allow the neuromuscular system to negotiate integration. It’s helpful to alternate between individual experimentation, partner interactions, and interactions that involve small groups or the group as a whole.

Playfulness has been found to be an important way for children to develop praxia, the capacity to carry out a sequence of skillful actions without thinking about each one.7 An atmosphere of playful exploration facilitates subcortical motor learning for adults as well.

In classes longer than two hours it’s useful to allot time for rest, a period of at least ten minutes when nothing is asked of the students. I like to invite everyone to settle down with pillows and blankets. This “nap time” serves the important purpose of letting the nervous system be its own boss. The period after the rest can be devoted to integration of the group’s “one something” as discussed above.

Leaving time for verbal articulation and sharing of experiences also adds variety to the pace. More importantly, it empowers the students to learn from one another. Discoveries made in this way can make deeper impressions than anything the teacher could do or say.


Choosing an intervention boils down to your intuition about what your student needs first, next and last. Simple witnessing may not be necessary for a client who can easily access and describe sensation in his body. For others, who have known their bodies only through what they’ve been told by others or have seen in the mirror, learning to sense themselves can be the substance of many sessions.

For functional and perceptual interventions the questions are “Is the structure so blocked that the person can’t feel?” or, “Is the perception so blocked that the person can’t coordinate the structural freedom they do have?” Missing perception is missing movement and vice versa.

For moving into practical application and relationship, that too is a judgment call based on your assessment of your student’s readiness. Some people need time to let new sensations percolate before approaching practical application. Others learn best if the information is immediately practical.


Deborah Stucker has pointed out that our culture views the body as “something one has, rather than something one is doing.”8 The idea that one could learn to “do” one’s body differently does not occur to most people. Hence there has been a very small market for transformational movement education. Perhaps the increasingly sedentary nature of western culture must reach some critical mass before this trend changes. Perhaps those of us in the somatic disciplines can halt the seemingly inexorable march to that point, client by client, intervention by intervention. Or perhaps our purpose is simply to be prepared with our ideals and strategies for the moment when the culture has no choice but to sustain consciousness in the body.

1 . Frank, Kevin. “Tonic Function: A Gravity Response Model for Rolfing Structural and Movement Integration.” Rolf Lines. 1995 Vol. XXIII, No.1 pp.12-19.

2 . Newton, Aline C. “Basic Concepts in the Theory of Hubert Godard.” Rolf Lines. 1995 Vol XXIII No.2 pp. 32-43.

3 . I am indebted to Marianne Bentzen of the Bodynamics Institute for articulating the idea that “seeing is already an intervention.”

4 . Godard designates the upper gravity center G’. This is the body’s center of gravity when sitting on the floor, hence our first gravity center as young children. He points out that it requires two points to define a line. So bi-directionality of the body’s central line results from a dynamic relationship between the two gravity centers.

5 . Godard calls this “ex-proprioception.”

6 . Nature, 1996 July 18; 382(6588):252-255 and Science, 1997 Aug.8, pp. 821-825. Thanks to Robert Schleip for sharing this data on the Rolfers’ listserve.

7 . Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Magic Child: Rediscovering Nature’s Plan for Our Children. New York. Dutton, 1977. Quoted by Jeff Robbins in “Vestibular Integration: Man’s Connection to the Earth,” Somatics, Autumn, 1977.

8 . Stucker, Deborah. “Of Contracts and Contact the Ethical Ground of Rolfing,” lecture at Rolfing Annual Meeting, August, 1995.[:de]I confess: Rolfing® gives me a rationale for teaching movement. It was Ida Rolf’s insights about movement, conveyed in a demonstration in a Brentwood church basement in 1968, that inspired me to take off my dancing shoes and start using my hands. It was clear that this gnarled old woman knew more about what makes dancing graceful than any of my famous dance teachers.

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