Rolfing is “a physical method for producing better human functioning …” (Rolf, p.29). The formulation suggests at the same time that Structural Integration is in the service of “better function” as well as that it is better function which decides whether a structure is integrated or not, and to what degree. Quality of function is the final indicator for structural integrity. Because “Function is Movement” (Rolf, p. 153), “better movement” is equivalent to “better functioning” or at least designates the base and the core of “better human functioning”. From the structural point of view there is no fundamental difference between movement and posture, which are therefore both contained in “function”.
This definition of Rolfing emphasizes the importance of understanding what constitutes “better function” and what worse. It is sensible to define “better function” as “more economical movement”, or in simple terms: easy movement. From this perspective, Ida Rolf’s extensive definition and description of normal structure then names and elaborates the exact design of the structure which permits most economical function. Her concept of normal structure and its end goal, most economical movement, so fit together neatly. In analogy to structure, this most economical movement of an integrated body can be called “normal function”.
Two reservations must be made, however. One concerns the fact that every body is able to move in many various ways differing vastly as to their economy. To assess the degree of integrity of a given structure reliably, it must be brought to functioning as economically as it possibly can, to approach the way it stands, sits, and moves toward “functionally normal” maximally. “Bad function” or uneconomical movement can always be due to low structural integrity or badly chosen muscular patterns. Exhausting the potential for optimizing the functional side – the tonus pattern – does away with merely functional obstructions and reveals the structural restrictions. This state of affairs accentuates even more sharply the need for knowledge about normal function.
As another reservation it must be kept in mind that the body has access to economical postures which are nevertheless far from normal. “Sleeve-supported stance” – and consequently structures adapted to it – also provides economical function in a certain sense but must be disregarded because it is clearly abnormal for other reasons (Notes on S.I. 88/1, p.10).
Sitting is function. It can be conceived as the given structure of any person on which the functional component of the tonus pattern is superimposed in a highly specific way so as to produce the posture of sitting. For an ideally integrated structure the functional norm for sitting can easily be deduced from its counterpart of standing: such a perfect structure sits perfectly normal if the gravity centers of all the segments from the pelvis on up are aligned on the same vertical – which in the side-view also goes through ear, shoulder and hip joint-, and if in addition no rotation of segments is present (Rolf, p.33). It is implied that the body would be free of tension, that no shortness in the fascial network would have to be overcome by muscles working. Energy consumption can be hypothesized to be zero or close to it.
There are two basic limitations which make this arrangement impossible in reality. First, no body is perfect, which statement also applies to Structural Integration. Real bodies always display some kind and degree of fascial restraints. Secondly, it constitutes a labile balance which would be destroyed immediately and for good by any microscopic disturbance. Its demands would overwhelm the regulating capacities of the nervous system (cf. Notes on S.I. 88/1, p.8). In order to define “normal sitting” in a way which is practicable in reality, the directions in which bodies deviate from the norm become relevant. Their examination discloses that there exist two distinctly different basic ways of sitting which entail completely different mechanical regimes. The “structural norm” stated absolutely above remains the reference point of course, and it marks exactly the dividing line between the two ways of sitting.
In sitting, the pelvis must be considered first and foremost because it provides the foundation on which the upper body rests. To be normal structurally it should be horizontal functionally without any restraints. Besides the highly abstract concept of the pelvic segment, Ida Rolf also used the image of a “bowl” for the pelvis. There exist two kinds of bowls which differ in their mechanics when balance or equilibrium is at issue. Flat bowls are in stable equilibrium, tall bowls are not stable. They only provide the theoretical possibility of labile or “unstable” equilibrium which cannot be realized in practice.
An egg serves nicely for illustrating the difference. When it lies on its side, it is in stable equilibrium. If it is disturbed lengthwise, it will rock forth and back and settle in its original place of stable equilibrium again eventually. The general condition for equilibrium is that the gravity center of the egg and its support point, where the “Normal force” of the earth or the table “pushes the egg up”, lie on one and the same vertical line. For equilibrium to be stable, an additional condition must be met. It is understood easily when the geometrical nature of the egg rocking is regarded. The egg rolls forth and back along a curved surface with which it touches the table. The movement of the rocking egg can be described as a rotation forward and back around a horizontal axis which goes through the geometrical center of the curved surface touching the table. To make matters simple, the curved surface is assumed to be part of a circle, a segment of its circumference. With the egg on its side, the curved surface is flat and the center of the circle is very high, definitively higher than the gravity center of the egg. This situation fulfills the requirement for stable equilibrium which demands that the gravity center be lower than the axis of rotation, the center of the circle to which the curved surface belongs. Any disturbance then results in taking the gravity center higher, and when having passed, gravity takes it back to home again.
In labile equilibrium, gravity center and support point are also on one vertical by definition. But in this case the gravity center is higher than the axis of rotation. This means that with any disturbance the egg will rotate and the gravity center will move to any side but always down, too. When the egg is stood on one of its ends, the curved surface on which it stands has a small radius. The center of the circle, through which the axis of rotation passes, is low, lower than the gravity center. So with any disturbance, the egg stood on its end will roll down all the way to come lying on its side, barring Columbus’ radical “solution”.
The pelvis is a bowl of the labile type. The curved surface around the tuberosities on which it rests has a small radius. The gravity center is higher. It is drawn schematically in Fig.1 as a circle on which the main bulk of the pelvis is superimposed. Whenever this system is out of balance however minimally – it cannot be placed in labile equilibrium exactly in an absolute sense! – gravity will push it down all the way. Gravity imparts a rotational momentum to the system. The force with which gravity turns down the system is symbolized as ô(G)(1). It is proportional to the horizontal distance d between gravity center and the center of rotation as chosen in Fig.1. Representing the law of leverage, the relationship can be expressed as
ô(G) = Gd
G is here for gravity and stands for mg, mass times the constant acceleration in the gravity field. m is for the mass of the pelvis. The mass of the upper body increases the value for m considerably but doesn’t change anything otherwise if it is assumed that the gravity centers of the segments above are aligned exactly vertical on top of the pelvic gravity center.
d increases in the course of the bowl being turned down. It is proportional to the angle of rotation and can be written as
d = h x sinÈ
h stands for the distance between the gravity center above and the rotational center below and is constant for a given pelvis during the rotation. With the pelvis horizontal it is the difference in heights above ground. The value for h depends on the radius of the curve on which the pelvis rests and on how high the gravity center stands. The second expresses the experience that the higher the gravity center is, the more “labile” a system is. If h is large, d increases greatly in rotation, and so does ô(G)
È is the angle of rotation. The more progressed the rotation is, the more marled is the influence of gravity. In labile equilibrium, È is zero; therefore d = 0 and ô(G) = 0
Fig.1 – Model of isolated pelvis in “anatomical tilt” around the center of the surface curve below representing the hip joint. The path of the pelvic gravity center above is shown. G is for gravity, N for the earth’s “Normal force”. The arrows indicate the direction of these two forces and their point of application. d is the horizontal distance between gravity center and the support point of N; it is a measure for the leverage of G. h is the distance between rotational and gravity center. The rotational angle is È.
The situation described so far is symmetrical for anterior and posterior rotation. Two arbitrary definitions are introduced now. First and in accordance with the conventional coordinate system, to d are assigned positive values if it is to the right, negative values if to the left. Secondly, rotation to the right, with d positive, shall express anterior rotation, to the left and with d negative posterior rotation. Because G is always vertical and perpendicular to d, it is always neutral as to sign. So a positive d will result in a positive ô(G), a negative d in a negative ô(G). + ô(G) indicates a force effecting anterior rotation, – ô(G) a posterior one.
The model is now enlarged to a “pelvis-plus-legs” model (Fig.2). Only the tensional properties of the added legs are considered. The compressional resistance from the femur in some forms of anterior rotation is disregarded for now. Passive tension of the connective tissue is at issue and the influence of muscle tonus is neglected. The relevant relationship is that of passive tissue tension of the flexor and extensor sides of the hip joint. It is balanced with the hip joint at around 180°. It is a little less with internals, probably a little more with externals. In sitting, the hip joint is flexed at around 90°. This means that the tissue of the flexor side is relaxed or flaccid, passive tissue tension is zero. The tissue of the extensor side is stretched – it has to go around and behind the tuberosities. Stretched tissue holds elastic energy, and so the stretched tissue of the extensor side exerts a force on the pelvis. It can be thought to be represented by the fasciae of the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus. When stretched, they act in unison to rotate the pelvis posteriorly.
Fig.2 – “Pelvis-plus-legs” model showing the pelvis horizontal. The stretched extensor tissue is drawn fat. The tissue of the flexor side is free of passive tension.
In mechanics, elastic force is usually explained by the example of a metal spring. Different weights suspended by such a spring show that the elastic force it exerts on the weight is linearly proportional to the increase in length above an initial value. It is furthermore related to a constant which expresses the elastic property of a given spring. In analogy, the stretched tissue of the extensor side of the hip can be thought to exert a rotational force on the pelvis which can be written as
ô(E) = – ∆Lñ
ô(E) names the force with which the tissue turns the pelvis posteriorly. It is always negative with the definitions chosen earlier. This is accounted for on the right side of the equation. ∆L stands for the increase in length of the tissue. Its reference point is a length which could be called L(0). It denotes that point where the fasciae begin to be “stretched”, i.e. when they begin to store elastic energy in the course of being pulled long, starting out from complete relaxation. The point Lo is very different with different persons. With sorry people it is close to the hip at 180°; the connective tissue will begin to resist right after the pelvis has started to flex in the hip joint. With others Lo will be some way into flexion. Probably with everybody the extensor tissue will be stretched to some degree when the hip joint is flexed 90°. This is the case in sitting with a horizontal pelvis and assuming the thighs to be horizontal.
ñ names the elastic properties of the fasciae of an individual. It symbolizes “rigidity”. A high value for p would mean that the fasciae are rigid, not “giving”. Soft and resilient tissue would result in a low value for p. The reciprocal value for ñ would be a measure for “resilience”.
Gravity and the elastic force of the stretched connective tissue of the extensor side combine to impart a rotational momentum on the pelvis. The forces acting can be written as
ô = ô(G) + ô(E)
Filling in the terms, we get
ô = Gd – ∆Lñ
This equation means for one that although with the horizontal pelvis Gd = 0 there remains the term -pulp. So for nearly every structure the horizontal pelvis is not in equilibrium but will be turned down in back by passive tissue tension. When this happens, – ∆Lñ decreases, but at the same time -Gd appears and increases in the course of posterior rotation. With the pelvis horizontal or rotated posteriorly, equilibrium does not exist. This is possible on the anterior rotation side, however. If the numerical values of +Gd and – ∆Lñ are exactly the same, ô = 0 and the bowl is in equilibrium. This would mean that there is no passive net force from gravitational and elastic sources which has to be balanced by active muscle tension. The economical principle of Rolfing would be satisfied.
As for the movement of the rotating pelvic bowl, three kinds are shown in Fig.3. The real movement may be anywhere between them. The first shows the bowl rolling. Seen from the pelvis, the gravity center on top describes a circle around the center of the surface circle touching the bench with the radius h. With regard to space, its course is very elongated and flattened however because the center of the circle and the support point below also travel in the same direction, although a little slower. d increases slowly. A large part of the gravitational energy is used for accelerating the bowl translationally forward, and only a part is available for rotating it.
Fig.3 – Three kinds of rotation. Left is rolling. A large portion of the movement is translational. On the right is segmental tilting around a transverse axis through the gravity center. This only moves down a little but not forward or back. At the center is an intermediate form with the pelvis rotating around a transverse axis through the center of the circle. It can be thought to represent anatomical tilting around a transverse axis through the hip joints.
At the other end of the spectrum is the third kind of rotation shown. The pelvis rotates around a transverse axis through its gravity center. It can be called segmental tilt. The translational component is small, the gravity center drops straight down some. The pelvis goes into rotation much quicker. The segmental tilt in sitting presupposes that the tuberosities are able to slide back freely on the bench. Of course this does not imply that one should slide around on the bench. But some potential for sliding is inherent in the system anatomically. It is provided by the soft connective tissue between skin and superficial layer of the deep fascia, and perhaps between this and the periostium of the sitting bones. Rolfing tendentially raises this potential because it implies more differentiation.
The difference between rolling and segmental tilt is illustrated by a person falling. On solid ground, the legs generally push against it trying to keep the body up, and the gravity center will come down to the ground far away from the feet. One topples over. On thin ice, the upper body drops straight down, and the legs seem to be pulled away from under it and fly in the air.
The second kind of rotation, which is also shown in Fig.1, is in the middle. The pelvis rotates around a transverse axis through the center of the surface curve. It implies some sliding, but less than with the segmental tilt. The gravity center also shifts forward some, but less than with rolling. Although there is no logically forcing connection, it can be thought to represent the anatomical tilt around a transverse axis through the hip joints.
These different kinds of rotation vary in the proportion with which the gravitational force is distribute between effecting translational and rotational acceleration. So ô(G) is quantitatively different for them, but the relationship between ô(G) and d, and therefore È, stays the same. The different effect on ô(E) remains to be considered.
The rolling pelvis does not affect the value of ô(E). The model can be compared to a spool which is rolled on and off a thread. This will be wound up or down without tension appearing. The result is neater when some tension is introduced initially. One hand holds down the end of the thread to the table, the other pulls the spool away from it some. If the spool is now rolled forward and back on the table, the thread is wound up or down with the initial tension remaining constant. Sliding must naturally be prevented.
For the case of the pelvis rolling down in back, it is assumed to begin with it horizontal and some elastic force in the extensor tissue present. This will pull it back down with a constant force, on top of which gravity will add to it with increasing force. If the movement were pure rolling, ô(E) would eventually be matched by an opposing pull of the flexor side when one lies on the back. In practice, pure posterior rolling is never the case. Almost always the movement will change soon in the direction of segmental tilting. One slides forward on the bench with the sitting bones. This causes ô(E) to disappear, but ô(G) is increasingly active, of course. Posterior segmental tilting cannot be called normal for another reason. The hip joint goes with the tuberosities sliding forward, compressing the femur. The midline of the body, which passes through knee and hip joint, becomes shorter. For movement to be normal, the midline should lengthen. Theoretically this would be the case in rolling posteriorly because the hip joint also goes back besides down, going away from the knee joint. For rotation in the posterior direction, rolling would be the most normal kind of movement.
The situation is very different with anterior rolling. ô(E) is constant, and when ô(G) which increases in the course of rolling matches it numerically, an equilibrium is reached. This is not stable however. When the rolling is continued, Gd increases further and overtakes ô(E), pushing down the pelvis more in front. Another phenomenon intervenes, however, which actually helps to produce a sort of stable equilibrium. Resistance of the femur which is compressed makes itself felt. It acts in the same direction as TE and blocks the anterior rolling. Equilibrium is with the pelvis stuck on the femora, which is of course not normal. The more formal reason is that the anterior rolling brings the hip joint forward, shortening the midline.
Normal movement on the anterior tilt side is segmental tilting (Fig.3). In it the hip joint is pushed back, it detaches from the knee, and therefore the midline lengthens. If favorable conditions are chosen at the outset, if the tuberosities are left to slide back freely, and if gravity is allowed to do the job by muscles relaxing, it can be felt very clearly that the hip joint “opens”. Furthermore, one senses that the system arrives at an equilibrium which is stable and maintained by gravity acting on a net of passive tension. The situation looks like this when starting with the horizontal pelvis: a certain ô(E) is present which pulls the pelvis back. It increases with the pelvis tilting anteriorly. This increase is slow at first with a resilient body. The effect of gravity, acting in the opposite direction, increases slowly at first, then more steeply, following a sinus curve. At a certain point it reaches exactly the value of ô(E). This would form a point of labile equilibrium. Because the gravitational force rises more steeply than the elastic one, it overtakes it. There results a positive ô which tilts the pelvis down in front.
Experimentation shows however that there exists a stable equilibrium beyond that point. This is only possible if the earlier assumption of ô(E) increasing linearly is modified. When the tissue is stretched more strongly, going closer in the direction of its breaking or tearing point, its resistance begins to rise much more steeply, overtaking TG again. The situation is shown in Fig.4.
Fig.4 – Forces effecting rotation in a normal structure in sitting. Forces above the abscissa tilt anteriorly (+T), below it posteriorly (-a). Gravity’s rotating effect increases in the form of a sinus curve and is positive on the anterior tilt side, negative on the posterior tilt side. Elastic force is always negative. In the normal structure and beginning on the left, it appears late, relatively close to the pelvis horizontal, increases slowly, and becomes very steep when the tissue is stretched considerably. The summation curve drawn fat, the resultant of both forces, is negative on the posterior tilt side and still so at horizontal. A little bit into the anterior tilt side it crosses the abscissa. This point where ô is zero is the point of labile equilibrium. If the pelvis tilts back a little, it is pulled back all the way because of -ô. If it tilts forward a little, it is pushed forward more by +ô. The second crossing of the abscissa indicates the point of stable equilibrium. If the pelvis is tilted forward more, the -ô, takes it back again. The elastic force is here larger than the gravitational one. If it tilts back a little, the +ô, of gravity larger than the elastic force takes it forward again to the point of equilibrium. The range in which equilibrium is stable and self-regulated extends from the point of labile equilibrium to the right without bounds. A “random” structure does not possess the possibility of equilibrium because the elastic force begins to act early on when coming from left and rises steeply. The summation curve never reaches the abscissa and therefore ô never becomes positive.
In reality, the majority of people are not able to reach this stable equilibrium. Their extensor tissue begins to resist early and increases quickly so that gravity never gets a chance to overtake ô(E). on the anterior rotation side. Some are not even able to go over the hill to this side. The model suggests two ways for optimizing the situation. First, ∆L can be kept small. This is the case if the pelvis is placed forward maximally, close to the knees, and if the movement is more like rolling instead of segmental tilting. It also helps to keep the knees apart. Then the hamstrings and especially the gluteus maximus can take a short-cut, they are stretched less. All this cannot be considered normal for several reasons, mainly because the midline of the body shortens.
The second possibility is that of reducing p. The connective tissue is made more resilient and so resists less. This is of course exactly in line with the intentions of Rolfing.
For structures which are able to go into stable equilibrium on the anterior tilt side sitting becomes very easy. Not only do they need zero effort at the point of equilibrium, but there is neither any effort needed to regulate the system – within certain bounds. This has the additional advantage that because muscles are not involved the nervous system does not have to work either. It is at rest concerning the pelvis as the foundation of the sitting body. Especially at the beginning of sitting normal consciously and for a considerable time later on when getting used to it, another kind of mental activity is very much in evidence though. Muscles have to be kept relaxed consciously and voluntarily all the time. It regularly takes only a few seconds of distraction, of not inhibiting intentionally muscle contraction, to throw the pelvis out of balance and into a posterior tilt. The culprit is always the abdominal wall which by habit, demands from the self-image, shared cultural values, and an obsolete physical need of the organism always contracts. By doing so it pulls up the front of the pelvis which results in a posterior tilt.
The mechanically stable equilibrium looks the following when coming from the posterior rotation side. The pelvis must be actively heaved up and forward. The sitting bones go back as much as possible. Soon after horizontal has been passed, the weight of the pelvis and the upper body rests clearly on the front of the pelvis, pushing the pubes down some if all the muscles are kept maximally relaxed. The system comes to rest at the point of stable equilibrium. If the weight increases momentarily – because of a movement or the Rolfer pushing down a little -, the pelvis tilts down in front a little more. When released, it goes back to its initial place by virtue of the elastic energy stored in the extensor tissue of the hip. When the weight is diminished for a moment because of a movement or the Rolfer lifting up the body some -, the pelvis goes a little more in the direction of horizontal. When released, gravity takes it forward down again to home.
For various reasons I prefer to do the first sessions with most clients quietly and without asking for their activity except for breathing sometimes. At the end of the second session I work with them sitting on the bench. I don’t call this “backwork” anymore although a small portion may be that. The main intention of working with the client on the bench is integrating the structure in the gravity field. The focus is on organizing the whole body from the pelvis on up, and the back is only a part of the whole. Another reason is that backwork on the bench is difficult and complicated even and especially if one is aware that sitting must be normal. The “traditional” way of doing backwork has proven to be rather unsatisfactory. It regularly results in a posterior tilt of the pelvis, which is not “normal sitting”. If the client relaxes, his front is extremely collapsed, and the back is only bent but not long. The result is then more mashing than lengthening. If he pushes back up against the downward thrust the situation easily assumes an aspect of fighting desperately against being crushed. The result is not much more convincing, and the method does not seem attractive at all.
I teach the clients normal sitting first, which takes at most a few minutes. First, I demonstrate to them that with the feet behind the knees their body is not stable on the bench. It is when the feet are out in front. For the majority normal sitting is not possible in an easy manner. Since at this point only the general idea is important and the subtleties of normal sitting must be saved for later, I liberally employ tricks. So the pelvis may be rolled forward instead of tilted, the knees can be apart, and pushing down directively from above often helps producing normal sitting in a rough outline. The restrictions quickly turn out to be structural anyway, so a lot of structural work is needed to further improve sitting.
Generally I tell clients that I’m going to talk a lot now but that they should not listen too closely. For them the important thing is to sense the different mechanics. I explain that the pelvis is like a bowl or hemisphere, which can only be in labile balance, and that it will roll down in front or in back when the weight of the upper body descends vertically on it. I often use the egg stood on its tip as an image. Sometimes another picture helps. If one steps on a ball accidentally, it will jut out either right or left- unless one stumbles over it.
I then ask the client to release the weight of the upper body continuously and vertically down on the “bowl” and simply observe whether it rolls down in front or in back. Sometimes nothing happens. The muscles holding the posture are not perceived consciously, and subjectively the client feels relaxed. It helps then to ask him to sit a little straighter voluntarily and begin relaxing from there. Pushing and shifting must be recognized and ruled out. Almost invariably the pelvis rolls down in back. This incidentally proves to the client that he was holding on to the posture actively before because with relaxation the pelvis started to roll down.
It is very rare that a client sits with the pelvis tilted anteriorly spontaneously. This is an “advanced start” of course, but sitting is not normal. The pelvis is always rolled forward instead of tilted, and the gravity center of the thorax is behind that of the pelvis which results in partial collapse.
Then I ask the client to try to let the bowl roll down the other way, in front. For this he needs to tilt the pelvis anteriorly first. Most clients attempt to do this by bringing the thorax forward, raising the chest, and even contracting their shoulder girdle in back. They push forward everything on top, hoping that in this way the pelvis will be pulled along some. The typical sign for this manoeuvre, which is of course not normal, is that the area of the LDH leads the forward movement. However, only the pelvis should turn, with everything on top just easily balanced. The feature of this normal movement is that L5/S 1 leads the forward movement. It is simple to convey a sense of the lumbosacral junction by touching it with the fingers and asking the client to let exactly this place come back against them. The opposite movement of L5/ S1 – forward – is then easier.
It is probably more correct and avoids frequent misunderstandings if emphasis is on the iliac crests. They should hang and sink down forward primarily. They take along the sacrum which is then as steep as it can be, at the posterior end of its range of functional rotation. The force should come from inside the pelvis. If a “working muscle” had to be named it would be the iliacus. Frequently it is helpful to encourage the client to let the upper body hang back, and sometimes it is necessary to inhibit its almost compulsive forward movement with one hand on the chest.
This often produces the desired posture. Some clients still don’t succeed however, and the reason is usually that they shift or push the pelvis forward instead of tilting or rolling. I then explain that the pelvis should turn like a wheel. Then the pubes go down instead of forward, and the tuberosities go back. Because most people don’t possess a sense of their pubes, it helps to push them gently down and back with the fingers of one hand while the other guides L5/S1 forward. But even then, sometimes active help from behind is needed. It is preferable to push the ilia below the crest forward with the hand in back because L5/S1 is a delicate place to “push” on with many bodies for structural reasons.
At this point it regularly becomes obvious that the abdominal wall refrains anterior tilting. It must be relaxed as completely as possible to allow the pubes to sink and the pelvis to get “over the hill” to the anterior tilt side. As soon as this has happened I quickly go with one hand to the chest and the other to the upper back. I push down from above and slightly behind to down on the pubes a little out front, in effect adding to the force of gravity. Some clients are only in this arrangement able to experience the posture because their weight alone is not sufficient to counteract the elastic force of the extensor tissue. But the manoeuvre serves mainly to anticipate the permanent tendency of the extensor muscles and especially the abdominals to contract and so prevents them from throwing the pelvis into the posterior tilt. The system can now be monitored easily with the pressure from above. One senses clearly that pressure passes down in front of the hip joints and that it keeps the pubes and the frontal hip bones (anterior superior iliac spines) down. If structure permits it, one can also feel that with increasing pressure the tuberosities slide back. For the sensory side, the situation should be thought similar to that of a blind man with his stick. His nervous system registers a certain pattern of excitation of pressure receptors and proprioceptors of hand and arm. But his mind reads this as the layout of the ground at the other end of the stick. Still in this position I focus the client’s attention on three properties of normal sitting:
1. He can feel that the more he relaxes the more stable the system becomes, “stability through relaxation”. If he tries to hold up against gravity and my hands he only gets into misery. He works a lot and balance is worse. Alternating between more and less pressure, Rolfer and client can sense the passive self-regulating tensional regime in stable equilibrium. This is better the more relaxed the musculature is. It is impossible to destroy the system and bring it down by vertical force, even if a huge load is added, as long as the muscles stay relaxed.
2. I ask the client to imagine his ribs in front and the sternum hanging down, to visualize them as heavy. Equally he should relax his upper back completely. He should feel as if he let me strip off chest and upper back. Nothing happens except more ease because chest and upper back are balanced. It takes some experience for the Rolfer to find the right place for the thorax. Generally it is too much forward and not tilted back enough. It is preferable to start with the thorax shifted and tilted back too much. With relaxation it will go toward optimal balance, a little more forward and more erect, all by itself, which tendency is simply followed by the Rolfer’s hands.
Now the client should feel his breath descending vertically along the midline – along the anterior side of the back wall – all the way to the bench. He will feel that the body widens everywhere evenly and symmetrically. There is only horizontal movement- outwards.
3. The client senses the position of his head with respect to the thorax. If he turns it right and left he will feel that it is centered on top, that the movement is not inhibited, and that it doesn’t disturb the balance of the system below. He can “forget” the rest of his body in its self-regulated stable equilibrium, especially because I maintain its functional integrity with my hands.
Still keeping the upper body aligned with my hands, I ask the client to slowly tilt back the pelvis under it. L5/ S1 should lead the movement again. Not infrequently there are structural obstructions in the form of the lower lumbars and the sacrum being a rigid block. The movement forward and back is then led higher up, between L3 and L4 e.g. This area is generally hypermobile and warns me not to “free” it further. This situation is most common with externals whose base of the sacrum is pushed back on the ilia and whose lower lumbars are posterior.
Clients are able to sense when their pelvis goes “over the top” and back down clearly. I again call attention to the three points:
1. The client now feels that permanent effort is needed to compensate for gravity and downward pressure of my hands. This effort rises in proportion to increased vertical pressure by my hands.
2. The upper body has collapsed in front and must also be kept up by permanent effort. The thoracic segment is not supported from below anymore and so no balance is possible for it. When the client lets his sternum and ribs hang down again, the weight bends his thoracic spine. Also, there is no way for him now to breathe without having to lift the chest up. The purely horizontal movement of normal sitting is impossible.
3. The head has sunken forward and down and tilts back if the eyes are to look out straight ahead. The neck muscles must now work permanently to keep the head from dropping down toward the thighs. The movement of the head is so restricted. Literally speaking, the client now looks up at the world from in front and low instead of down on it from high and back. The difference in freedom of head movement impresses clearly on clients with neck problems that nothing definitive can be gained by working on the neck but that first the pelvis must be able to support it.
In normal sitting I do some work then as direct integration in the gravity field. I always tell clients at the end that they should not try to sit “correctly” now. They will invariably use their musculature which defeats the purpose and may well result in pain. All they may do which I declare as the basic exercise – is to experiment with the two modes of sitting by alternating between anterior and posterior tilt, but not for more than one minute at a time. The objective is to sense as clearly as possible the difference with doing as little as possible.
The theory of normal sitting presented here regularly violates several dogmata most clients have accepted and never questioned. Some seem to be genuinely shocked. Not surprisingly Rolfers seem to be especially prone to shock, sometimes to such a degree that they choose to block their ability for sensing the situation subjectively because experiencing the difference clearly unequivocally tells which mode is “right”. The main dogma is that of the “straight back”, for which cause one must never allow the lower back to be hollow (“Hohlkreuz”). The fact is that almost all clients even with serious lower back problems – neurological symptoms from nerve root compression or constant pain – sense relief when going into the normal sitting position. Severe acute cases are excluded whose protective muscle spasms don’t allow for any freedom. The case can be demonstrated easily. With the client in normal sitting, I push down at the thorax and upper back and rotate the body left and right so the rotation spreads down to the sitting bones. Provided that he is able to relax completely, he feels that his lumbar spine is still a tensional system, and although the degree of tension may be considerable, it is also well distributed The lumbars are not jammed and free to rotate along. It feels safe. In the posterior tilt with a “straight back”, he feels especially the vertebral bodies of the lumbars jammed and immobile, permitting no sense of ease and freedom.
A second dogma done away with quickly is the idea that strong belly muscles provide stability and protection. Because of their immense leverage they very effectively squash and shorten the midline. Whether the lumbar spine is deeply concave or convex, they drive both types deeper into their aberration. By now it appears that the abdominal muscles are the key for easy posture and movement because they must always be relaxed consciously. Some clients even frustrate themselves badly – once they’ve got it- because they find themselves always contracting the belly. They are consoled when told that noticing it is the first and most important step toward change, and that this takes years anyway.
Another idea esteemed highly by large sectors of Western civilization is that the chest must be held up and out. It has a clear factual base however. With structural imbalance prevailing in most bodies, releasing the chest almost always draws the back into a marked bend.
Many signs and incidents show that Ida Rolf was not free of these deep-rooted societal prejudices instilled in nearly every body, even today. Despite her revolutionary discovery of structure and the now obvious consequences it implies she was not clearly conscious of the functional aspects overlying it and held on to postural prejudices. Sometimes clear contradictions between a concrete practical application and her basic principles turn up. In such a case the more general principle takes precedence. The logo shows e.g. a doubtlessly well integrated structure, but the boy depicted also pulls in his belly a bit, holds his chest, and keeps the “head on top”. It doesn’t convey the ease the structure would permit, and so the Before picture strangely sends out more charm than the After picture which rather gives the impression of a “brave little soldier”.
The following takes up some more and other aspects of normal sitting which need further development.
Fig.5 – Schematic drawings showing various postures mentioned in the text. 1: Structural norm, the pelvis is horizontal, the segmental gravity centers are on one vertical line. 2: Functional norm with anterior convex “line”. The hip joints and the tuberosities have slid back because of segmental tilting. The front contour is considerably longer than in 1, the back contour not shorter or not much so. Therefore the midline is longer. This minimizes the loss in height because of the anterior convexity. 3: Posterior convex “line” close to normal, posterior pelvic tilt. The posture must be held permanently by muscular effort. The front contour has collapsed considerably, the back is bent but not longer, and therefore the midline is distinctly shorter than in 1 or 2. 4: The “absolute slump” needs no effort but a high price is paid for it.
In analogy to standing, the centers of the hip, knee, and ankle joints of the two legs should be in two parallel sagittal planes. The angles of the hip through the groin, in back of the knees, and in front of the ankles should all be “open”: greater than 90°. It is easy to show why this should be normal. If the angle in the groin is below 90°, the knees are higher than the hip joints and the pelvis is thrown into a posterior tilt easily. It at least makes it much more difficult to sit normally without a compensatory gain to be seen.
For the angle in back of the knees to be open, the feet should be somewhat out in front with respect to the knees. If they are behind them, any slight forward push on the back will lead to massive reactions. The forward thrust cannot be guided into the ground because the thighs shear off the lower legs. In order to stay sitting on the bench the body contracts. It has to depend entirely on friction resisting the forward force vector. With the knee angle open, it is easily distributed to the ground. I ask the client to not sense my hand pushing the back forward but feel exclusively how his feet are pressed against the floor. Naturally he should not resist the force but allow his feet to be as soft as possible, imagining them as sucking caps being spread on the floor by my pressure. With this arrangement, the client easily and naturally lengthens in response to the forward force vector always present in “backwork”, but also in moving around of the upper body. With the feet behind the knees, contraction is unavoidable.
The feet parallel in front of the knees is easy physically but very demanding neurologically. It is a highly artificial arrangement which should not be attempted in everyday life. The feet at the same height impose a left/ right symmetry on the body which is hard to maintain for the nervous system. Its job is much simpler when a rotational bias with primary left/right discrimination is set. It allows unambiguous and easy maintenance. I suggest to clients to have one foot out in front, the other a little more back or even under the chair. Left/right orientation is so guaranteed. The danger of possible reinforcement of the structural rotation is in the long run negligible in comparison with the fact that this arrangement procures easy and reliable lengthening in movement which moreover can be automatized easily. Furthermore, it permits to sit normally on high chairs as well as low and even soft seats. Here one foot is way out in front, the other back and perhaps even out. Practicing this lets the client experience the high degree of autonomy normal sitting provides: he is able to sit normally at any height if he wishes. It also does away with the rather fruitless preoccupation of finding the right height of the chair. The integrated body is after all not characterized by depending on the “right environment” but by its ability to move normally and maintain normal posture easily in whatever circumstances.
Seen from above, looking down on a horizontal plane, a particular feature of the legs in sitting can be noted: the legs as a system include the ilio-ischial complex as an integral part. With the knees apart or together- the thighs abducted or adducted – the leg is rotated around a vertical axis through the hip joint. When the knee goes out, the ischial tuberosity goes medial, and vice versa. This means that with the knees wide apart the tuberosities are close together and so the base on which the trunk sits is impaired. The phenomenon has specific mechanical relevance. For one, the pelvic floor loses its tone so that it is justified to name the occurrence the “medial collapse of the tuberosities”. Tone of the pelvic floor depends on wide tuberosities. It is produced by the weight of the body settling down between the ilia and pushing the tuberosities out and back.
The situation also illuminates a technical aspect of Rolfing and serves to demonstrate to the client structure as opposed to function. “Knees apart” makes it easier for the pelvis to go into the anterior tilt- or more exactly: the anterior roll. This is primary and essential for normal sitting, and so it is legitimate and necessary to keep the knees wide if this primary condition cannot be met otherwise. It is then up to the Rolfer to advance structural integrity in a way which makes the “knees apart” unnecessary.
“Knees apart” helps the anterior tilt for two reasons the client is able to sense. One is the fact that the fasciae of hamstrings, gluteals, and rotators which inhibit anterior tilting need to lengthen less. The other is presented by the very frequent constriction below the pubes. The adductors are bunched there and prevent the pubes from sinking down toward the bench and back. They form a “compressional restriction”. The client can now choose between one of the two drawbacks. He can spread his knees, enabling the pelvis to tilt anteriorly, but also causing the tuberosities to collapse medially and his base to deteriorate. Or he can keep his knees closer together, spanning the tuberosities and the pelvic floor, but making it harder for him to tilt the pelvis anteriorly. He cannot have both sides of the coin at the same time. A structurally integrated and functionally competent body is able to spread the knees without collapse of the tuberosities ensuing.
5: Anterior tilt dissociation. The pelvis is rolled anteriorly instead of tilted, the thorax is shifted back and not supported from below. 6: Anteriorly shifted thorax which is almost compulsive with many clients. It is not supported from below and the chest must be held up constantly. If left relaxed, the back bends. 7: Chest lifted and thorax tilted back. The LDH is pulled forward. Most clients will in the beginning try to tilt their pelvis forward this way. In relaxation, the body almost always goes into 3, in rare cases if the anterior pelvic tilt holds, 5 will result. 8: Iliosacral dissociation. The ilia are pushed down in back, the base of the sacrum in front.
The essential feature of normal breathing from the point of view of Structural Integration is that the direction of the movement is down along the midline of the body. Mechanically it is characterized by voluntary relaxation of the main bulk of the musculature, especially the extrinsics and of these those in front. This permits gravity to effect movement, and those muscles keeping their tonus also initiate movement without actually “working” (Notes on S.I. 88/1).
Subjectively breathing is experienced as passive. The breath or air is imagined to flow into the body all by itself and trickle down along the front side of the back wall. To this corresponds the physical reality of a movement travailing through the body. It gains volume and smoothness when all the tissue it passes through gives maximally. With the model of the trunk as a tube, a circular wave of relaxation, with the walls of the tube hanging out in all four directions, can be felt from top to bottom. In sitting the effect is sensed most clearly by the flanks moving out symmetrically. Right afterwards, the wave deviates forward slightly- it could be imagined to be deflected by the promontorium – and arrives down at the bench behind the pubes. The tuberosities are spread out and back, the pelvic floor widens in all directions, acquires tone, and is being pressed broadly against the bench. An image would be a longish balloon which primarily becomes longer when air fills it. Held against the bench, its end spreads first flat against it.
In this “relaxation phase” the pelvis tilts anteriorly a little more. Due to the nature of the extension mode, the movement is pure tilting with no rolling effect present. It is part of the lower circular rim of the trunk being flattened against the bench and widening. Gravity has a hand in it. The large outer muscles are wrapped around the trunk and compress it. With tonus decreasing, the content spreads out and is settled down more on the bench because of its weight.
During the downward movement of the “respiratory wave” the widening can be best felt in the flanks and the lower bony ring of the pelvis on the bench. But all parts of the wall of the tube can be felt to hang down more. Concomitantly, support through the center up from the bench is sensed more clearly for a moment, as if the body were held up by a central mast.
When the capacity of the pelvis for widening laterally and sagittally- as well as of tilting anteriorly passively has been exhausted, the respiratory wave is reflected on the bench and travels up vertically. This circular wave is very forceful and can be felt very clearly if the musculature of the wall of the tube is kept relaxed actively and the mind only observes. The pelvis which was tilted down more in front now reverts direction and goes in the direction of horizontal. The spinal curves are extended and align more vertically as if shoved out from below. When the wave arrives at the upper thorax, the LDH and the upper back is first felt to recede, followed by the chest rising. This should in no way be helped by muscles working consciously but should be experienced as passive. The connection felt between the bench and the upper body must not be lost. The movement is felt more clearly and happens with greater precision if the hands of the Rolfer push down from the upper back and the chest. The stimulus seems to sharpen perception and makes specific muscle relaxation easier. When the client is able to produce the movement well, he senses clearly that the wave reflected on the bench forces the Rolfer’s hands apart, even if considerable pressure is applied, without him doing anything apparently. The more he trusts the resistance of the bench doing the job, which depends on his ability to relax, the more forcefully his upper thorax forces the hands apart.
9: Lumbar dissociation. 10: Initiation of standard movement. Voluntary additional relaxation of the hip extensors and the abdominals results in gravity augmenting the segmental tilt of the pelvis. 11: Standard movement farther forward. The spine extends instead of bending, the tuberosities are far back, the belly is completely relaxed. This is rarely seen, even in Rolfed bodies. Usually very soon the movement of the pelvis stops because of structural limitations, and the upper body proceeding forward bends the lower back. Sacrum and lumbar spine form a posterior convex curve instead of “hanging through”. 12: Initiation of movement back. The pubes stay “hanging down” while the thorax moves back horizontally, propelled by extension against the floor. The chest must not be raised, the tuberosities should be felt to recede farther initially.
Some clients with experience in respective fields recognize that this corresponds to the “power of breathing” or “inner strength”. It is interesting that from the Rolfing perspective the accent is on the field outside. One must give up to gravity completely in order to make use of the support from below. That the system is not destroyed instead of lifted depends entirely on normal sitting with its passive balance which is self-regulated.
This positive effect of normal breathing is not confined to sitting on the bench only. Part of it can still be utilized when sitting with legs crossed and leaning back e.g. Then the pelvis is tilted posteriorly, the weight of the upper body is on the sacrum pushing it back out and down. The principle applies that for a circular movement to be normal it should be toward normal and back again and not away from normal and back. In this posture the breath can be felt to travel down along the anterior side of the curved back wall. It comes straight down on the sacral base. It tends to push L5/S1 back out more, bending the back further. With awareness only, the wave can be diverted forward to be felt pushing down the pubes a little. The pelvis now tilts slightly down in front, the tuberosities recede. This means that the front contour of the body lengthens while the posterior one stays unchanged. So the midline of the body lengthens instead of shortening and straightens instead of bending more. Similarly, the wave is now felt to be reflected from the seat and while travailing up straightens the body still a little more.
This “normal” version of breathing in an “abnormal” posture takes no additional effort physically because it depends only on selective muscle relaxation. All it takes is awareness – and a good knowledge of what constitutes normal function.
Tilting the pelvis forward and back is a useful exercise for the many clients who lead a rather sedentary lifestyle. It must not be confused with rocking the pelvis, though. Rocking is a movement which consists of rolling forward and back alternatingly. The gravity center of the pelvis like that of a rocking chair swings forward and back. The cyclic movement meant here consists of an anterior tilt and a posterior roll. In the first, the gravity center descends vertically or as nearly so as possible. Hip joints and tuberosities are below and move back. In the posterior roll the tuberosities don’t move forward ideally, and so the hip joints and the gravity center above move back over them. If taken literally, this means that with every anterior tilt the midline from knee to hip to pelvic gravity center lengthens. In posterior rolling it does not shorten. So with every cycle the tuberosities, the hip joints, and the gravity center move back a little more. The movement could be called “soft stretching through awareness” with gravity as the force which stretches. It depends on a high degree of order and resilience in the body. Unless this prerequisite is met it is not possible. Usually clients who are in the beginning of the Rolfing series are only able to rock.
For the forward and back movement of the whole trunk a primary distinction must be made. Movement in which the back – and therefore the midline – bends must be kept separate from such in which it doesn’t. In the second, movement is in the hip joints. Where possible it is always preferable to the first kind. The reason for this preference is not very clear theoretically. Experimentally one will find two elementary advantages. First, movement in the hips is easier; it takes less energy. Secondly, the midline lengthens clearly while this is difficult in bending. Even keeping the midline from shortening in bending is a difficult task.
This forward and back movement out of the hips is something like the “standard movement” in sitting. It appears constantly, when writing, eating, working at a desk, or talking with others. It corresponds closely to Folding which is the standard movement in standing. Like this it follows the three closely related principles of maximal economy, optimal balance, and lengthening of the “line”. It is also by far the most useful movement when working with a client sitting on the bench. It enables the Rolfer to integrate a large area of structure directly by organizing nearly any part of the body between knees and the height of the LDH.
The forward movement is initiated by an additional voluntary tonus reduction of hip extensors and abdominals. This results in a slight further anterior tilting of the pelvis. The tuberosities slide back maximally, and this is supported and augmented by extension against the floor through the feet. Now the lumbar segment tends to slide off forward on top of the pelvis. This is allowed to happen, and then the thorax follows the example of the lumbar segment. At this point the feeling should not be one of going forward so much but of the pelvis as the base of the upper body being pulled back away from under it. The sense of the tuberosities going far back should never be lost.
The movement is typical for the extension mode. Voluntary muscle relaxation saves energy and at the same time creates a tensional imbalance. Balance is “disturbed”, and this allows and causes gravity to effect movement. The whole thing resembles a stack of boxes which tumble down forward when the lowest one is permitted to slide back. Another image is that of a fisherman casting out the hook: everything that’s below goes first and what’s above follows.
Most clients soon bend their back anyway. This is often functional, and so the movement can still be performed better until structural restrictions enforce bending. Besides the hip extensors the greatest degree of resiliency is demanded in front. The front contour must be capable of lengthening considerably in both directions: the pubes going back and the clavicles forward.
The movement can be stopped somewhere between 30° and 45°, and with the posture held the relevant points of reference can be checked quickly. The pubes should be felt far back and down to the bench. They are of course “the other side” of the tuberosities. They should not have lifted off the bench. This assures maximal relaxation of the abdominals. The arms should hang freely, and the shoulder blades can be felt to be drawn lateral and
down. The back should be experienced as relaxed. No “working muscles” should be sensed except for those the legs extending against the floor. The lumbars should be felt to hang down into the lordosis. Bending there because of structural limitations should be kept minimal. One way of preventing bending is to ask the client to sense his sternum not as hanging down but forward. This entails the danger of him holding the chest forward and up passively up actively which is often a subtle thing to detect.
The client should feel that still part of the weight pushes the sitting bones back on the bench. The position can be optimized by touching them and asking him to bring them back a little more by extension against the floor, without changing anything above.
It is now easy to visualize and sense the spine. It is elongated, the curves are diminished. The dorsal processes are not closer together or even a little more apart, and the spaces between the vertebral bodies in front are very wide. This is because the convex front contour from the clavicles, which are forward, to the pubes, which are back, is extremely long. The clavicles, the ribs, and the belly can be imagined to hang freely down from the long spine as in a quadruped, a horse e.g.
If successful, the client should be able to feel that he could stay in this arrangement for a surprisingly long time without physical effort. It takes concentration, though. The pose must be monitored by checking systematically the relevant points mentioned above. One will find that muscle contractions, however slight, are springing up spontaneously everywhere all the time and need to released again consciously. Another phenomenon impresses itself clearly: as soon as one tries to hold the posture actively by using musculature, it immediately turns into a tough task which cannot be done for long. The breath is felt best to flow down along the inside of the front wall of the trunk, taking back the pubes toward the end of each inhalation.
A sophisticated movement in this position reveals some additional relationships. The client is asked to turn up his head. The axis of rotation should be transverse through the ears, and this axis should also go a little more forward to have hinge function. This means that the back of the neck, the nape, does not shorten and only the front lengthens. The chin goes forward, and the sense should be of it being left to go forward but not pulling forward. But almost always the clavicles will be pulled forward. They should be left to hang freely in the sleeve of the front. Slight tension may be felt there, however. On close observation one will nearly always find that the pubes have been drawn cranially, too. They must be released and left to go back again in order to get the maximum of length in the front contour.
Getting back to sitting looks the following. As always, it is intiated by additional voluntary muscle relaxation. The abdominals, the extensors of the hip, and the pelvic floor relax more, the tuberosities go back maximally. They should not or as little as possible be allowed to come forward during the movement. Next, the focus is to the ground against which the feet extend. Since the floor resists and doesn’t go forward down, the body as a reaction must go back up somewhere. The best point to feel it going back is that between the upper margin of the scapulae. The spine is imagined to come back there between the shoulder blades which continue to hang down passively. Everything below this point down to the bench is completely relaxed. Now the thorax shifts and tilts back. The pubes still hang down and are not drawn up until the completely relaxed abdominal wall cannot lengthen more. The upper body is heaved on top of the anteriorly tilted pelvis.
The movement should be felt as being purely horizontal, back but not up. I sometimes use the image of children’s sled being pulled on the boardwalk. The pull is horizontal, the boardwalk converts it to vertical. The special features can best be shown by following a “hierarchy of wrong ways” to do it. The first tendency usually to contract the belly and bring the pelvis back first. This invariably results in contraction and a marked posterior tilt. Preventing this can be helped by holding down the pelvis from behind. Vertical pressure down on the iliac crests fixes the pelvis down to the bench and also “squashes” the tuberosities back out more. The client can now safely leave his whole pelvic area soft and concentrate on letting the upper body come back over the Rolfer’s hands without pushing against them in anyway. The experience of coming back above by extension against the floor with the whole middle section of the body soft “like foam-rubber” is often strange at first.
Next in line is an attempt to draw the shoulders together in back and heave the body up. This is usually helped by asking the client to let the spine come back between the shoulder blades with the arms left hanging down forward. Last is the method of lifting up the chest, drawing forward the LDH. Here the client should imagine that his sternum doesn’t go up but only travels straight back passively. When the movement is completely normal, there is a feeling that by extending against the floor only the upper body tilts back on top of the pelvis as if all by itself. Head and neck should of course never be used to “work”.
A curious pecularity is the fact that for the movement. I find no explanation in terms of traditional biomechanics. But this is almost always the case for normal movement where any sense of individual muscles working disappears. Bending the back is a much more difficult proposition. It requires a high degree of order structurally and some sophistication functionally, a familiarity with the extension mode. The head bending forward is essentially a sinking of the face and a rising up of the top of the head in back, led by the occipital bones. It helps to pull in the chin slightly. With bending progressively from top to bottom, the front of the body can be imagined to have to go over a high fence first, but the front wall of the trunk must naturally not be pulled up but hang down. When the bending proceeds a little bit down in the upper back it becomes already difficult to keep the belly completely relaxed and the pelvis tilted anteriorly. When working this way one is on the safe side if the support from below is felt clearly by the hands. This is the case if the forward vector of the force exerted on the back is sensed to be distributed easily into the floor, and if the vector pointing down vertically is felt clearly to shove the tuberosities back. Soon it becomes necessary to go forward with the upper body by movement in the hip joints, adding in effect part of the standard movement. The key to not losing support and length and changing to collapse of the body is to sense clearly that the downward push passes in front of the hip joints and therefore effects a posterior push on the tuberosities.
The Upper Body
The situation is more variable and less clear when the rest of the body on top of the pelvis comes into the picture. From the basic concept of the “line”, a very general statement can be made. The structurally absolute norm of the midline of the body as vertical leaves a choice to real bodies. They can approach the ideal either from an anterior convex or a posterior convex midline. The first has been argued as functionally normal in this paper essentially from analyzing the base: the pelvis. In the larger view it is supported by another factor. If the model of the trunk as a tube is accepted, in such a bent tube there is inevitably some compression on the concave side. With the anterior convex “line” it is in the back. This is well suited to withstand the stress because it is fortified by the bony system of the spine. In the posture with a posterior convex “line” compression is in the front wall of the tube which is not capable of resisting the compressing effect of weight because it doesn’t possess the necessary reinforcement of bones.
The argument is welcome but not sufficient. Structural Integration emphasizes the tensional components in the mechanics of the body, and any theory needs to analyze these. Stated extremely simply, the anterior convex “line” is stabilized by longitudinal tension in front, the posterior convex “line” by tension in back. In the second case this is the connective tissue of the back and the muscles belonging to it. The front wall of the trunk, which forms the sinew to the posterior convex back wall, offers no compressional support but collapses freely. From the point of view of tensegrity, the tensional elements of the back guaranteeing integrity are not complemented by compressionally stable and rigid elements in front which are also essential for making balance possible. The “struts” are missing. With the anterior convex “line”, these stable elements resisting compression passively are present in the sinew of the back in form of the vertebrae.
As for the tensional side in front it has been emphasized abundantly that the parts compensating the bending through of the midline should not be the front wall of the trunk, the belly and the chest. The thesis originates solely in experimenting and experiencing practically. Theoretically this can only mean that deeper prevertebral structures should be responsible for containing the forward thrust of the anterior convex “line”. Deep and perhaps more locally the ligamentum longitudinale anterius should have a part in this. More generally, the mediastinum, the crura of the diaphragm, and the fascial tissue of the psoas are the candidates for this function. This has not even begun to be understood concretely yet, however. Practical experimentation has shown that balance is impaired seriously though whenever the front wall of the trunk starts to assume in a noticeable manner the job of tensionally refraining the forward bending of the midline. This is not so strange if it is remembered that the tremendous leverage of the front wall may easily contain forward bending but always entails considerable jamming, too. In practice the effect of the front wall is nearly always “overdoing” it: the midline is bent backward and the opposite, not normal type of sitting results.
The situation exemplifies a phenomenon which seems to creep up every time when a structural norm is analyzed concretely. The norm is usually absolute and calls for an ideal arrangement of maximal balance and length, and therefore ease, which is however in the form of labile equilibrium. This is probably for good reasons, and it can be suspected that it is inherent in structural theory and inevitable given the nature of the basic set of premises. Deviations from this norm which are always present in real bodies are not symmetrical though but always appear as qualitatively different. The direction of deviation becomes decisive. This is because the anatomical design of the body is basically asymmetrical as far as the front-to-back dimension is concerned. Examination of the different mechanics leads to conclude that often one direction of deviation is functionally normal, the other or others not.
This does not invalidate the structural norm in any way but only states that it must be complemented by concrete analysis of the directions of aberrations. When the functional norm has been determined, the structural one becomes relevant practically again. In the case of sitting it demands that the midline be bent as little as possible, or in other words: that the arrangement be close to the structural norm. Taken together, the two kinds of norms ask for the body to be on the functionally normal side first and to approach the structural norm closely from there. But it must also be mentioned that only the existence of the well defined structural norm permits to define equally well although in a different manner the functional norm. If the primary structural reference is lacking, a clear and succinct functional norm cannot be defined. At least as far as I know there doesn’t exist a similar and clear-cut theory of normal function anywhere concerning the mechanics of the physical body. But also if the structural norm is taken in isolation, only confusion results. It also leads at best to such statements as that one should “sit straight”, “on the sitting bones”, and “on top of the tuberosities”. This always produces a posterior till or posterior convex “line” posture which may be close to the structural norm – for a short while – but is on the wrong side of it.
The completely relaxed posterior tilt sitting looks a something like the “absolute slump”. The upper thorax and the head hang down in front, “balancing” precariously the marked posterior pelvic tilt. Gravity bends the “line” more, pushing the lower back out. The thrust is countered passively by the connective tissue of the bad which is “stretched”. The price for this posture which requires minimal effort is that the front of the body is completely collapsed and so compressed that even breathing a little there is hard work. It is easier in back, and so breathing bends the back more. The midline can be brought closer to normal but always requires active muscle tension to be held there, mainly of the back musculature. If very close to normal, the tonus necessary to compensate for gravity is not so high, but usually the effort is still considerable because musculature must now also overcome fascial restrictions.
On the anterior tilt side too much forward bending of the midline is rarely an issue. This is obvious when it is realized that the majority of clients are not even able to get into it. But when a strongly curved anterior convex midline is present – with very flexible or extensively Rolfed bodies-, the situation is remedied easily. It suffices to shift the anteriorly tilted pelvis farther back. Then the whole body rises and the midline approaches vertical purely for reasons of passive tension.
Fig.6 – This sitting posture is also based on an anteriorly rotated pelvis. In contrast to the structural norm proposed it shows the feet under the knees; the pelvis is rolled anterior instead of tilted; the knees are apart which narrows the base of the tuberosities except in very well integrated bodies; the most anterior part of the back is much too high instead of at L5/S1; the thoracic segment is shifted anterior considerably and too “steep” which means that the chest must be held up permanently- in relaxation it would collapse immediately and bend the back; the shoulders are slightly held back supporting the holding of the chest; the head is held forward “unnecessarily” which results in an unfavorable kyphotic cervical spine. It must be realized however that this posture is designed for the random body which also needs constant effort to maintain a posterior tilt posture, and probably not much less. So it is helpful for many people, but it illustrates that to really make progress and produce the entirely different regime of structurally normal sitting structural work is necessary. The posture cannot be improved and certainly not become normal by functional means however great and competent such teaching might be. (From: Krankengymnastik, 39. Jg. (1987), S. 226-242: “Die Funktionskrankheiten des Bewegungsapparates nach Dr.med. Alois Brugger”, by an authors’ collective)
The “line” is defined as the line going through the gravitational centers of all the segments. The center of the lumbar segment is so a little in front of that of the pelvis. That of the thorax is on top of it or a little behind. Neck and head don’t participate actively in the mechanical system but float freely on top. The thorax and therefore the long axis of the thoracic segment are tilted back a little.
Because of the permanent tendency of keeping the thorax forward too much it is advantageous to approach stable equilibrium with it too far back and tilted back too much. The client is asked to feel that it would sink down in back if left to do so instead of in front. When muscles relax in this exaggerated normal posture, the lower chest drops a little, and the thorax “untilts”, it goes closer to vertical all by itself. There it stops in its place of stable equilibrium.
The situation seems similar to that at the pelvis. It is also preferable to start with an exaggerated anterior pelvic tilt. With muscles relaxing, the pubes come up a little and the pelvis slides into its stable pocket of balance. I11.4 shows that the range of stable equilibrium is not limited on the anterior tilt side. No matter how forcefully the pubes are held down and back, after releasing the posture the pelvis goes into stable equilibrium. On the other side, the range of stable equilibrium is very small, and it is a very delicate thing to place the pelvis in it. If it is only slightly on the posterior tilt side of the point of labile equilibrium, the pelvis will tilt down in back instead of forward to reach its place of balance.
The spine needs to- be addressed still. This is tricky because one gets stuck very easily on it, examining it along the conventional lines of biomechanics. This means that one is outside the field of Structural Integration already. So the spine is meant here as “the spinal system” including not only the bones but also the ligaments and actually the whole connective tissue of the back. If it is granted that the spinal system bears some weight or is at least subject to some compression, normal sitting as described here leads to the legitimate question of the load on the lumbars and especially at L5/S1. It can be argued that L5/S1 is pushed forward by the weight above and so presents the danger of driving the sacral base forward down away from the ilia in back. This looks even graver because the theory states that L5/S1 should lead the forward movement in anterior tilting and be the most anterior part of the back in normal sitting. The argument is very legitimate because the clear majority of people show a sacrum which is slanted down forward too much or which is not “steep” enough within the bony pelvic ring.
A look at reality shows first that this normal situation is actually not very often present when people try to sit normal, even with Rolfed bodies. The most anterior point of the back wall is farther up, sometimes way up in the thoracic area. This means of course that structure is not integrated enough to really permit normal sitting easily. But the observation is also in clear contrast to the statement that the sacrum is often too flat. Apparently sitting influences the intrasegmental configuration of the pelvis which is different from standing.
In sitting it turns out that the bones which are representative for the pelvis are the ilia and not the sacrum. The ilia are firmly related to the sitting bones. They must be observed to determine whether the pelvic tilt is anterior or posterior. This is not so simple because the focus in most fields is so strongly on the sacrum which is thought to determine the orientation of the ilia and not vice versa. But it is not so hard either if it is remembered that structurally the mechanics are relevant. The behaviour of the pelvis under weight – whether tilting anteriorly or posteriorly- decides the question, and it is most reliably indicated by the direction in which the ilia move. Not so seldom a pelvis clearly appears to be tilted anterior when in fact it is the opposite, which is revealed by testing with the weight of the upper body.
But this only serves to aggravate the argument against normal sitting. It leads to the statement that often the pelvis should be tilted anteriorly even more than it already appears to the untrained eye. Another asymmetry between anterior and posterior convex midlines must be regarded. In the first, the back and with it the spine is more erect and longer than in the second; one sits “tall”. This means that the front contour which is even longer must be able to lengthen extremely. For the sacrum this means that it tends to be slanted back with the pelvis in posterior convex sitting to which doesn’t correspond a similar forward slant in normal sitting. In it, the spine is lengthened internally which also tends to verticalize the sacrum like all parts of the spine. Because the thorax is very high and slightly tilted back, the base of the sacrum in addition is pulled up and back by the extended upper body leaning back, and it will go with this to the extent to which the fascial net permits the coccyx to go forward. So normal sitting induces a functional intrasegmental change which manifests in the bony pelvis ring as a steeper or more vertical placement of the sacrum with respect to the ilia. This may be minimal due to structural restrictions. But within the range permitted the sacrum is as near to vertical as it can be, more so than in standing.
To this corresponds a clinical impression. Even if the sacrum appears as too flat and the lumbar lordosis too deep, pelvis and lower back with the spine inside still form a tensional system where the parts are free to move and do so “in line”. In posterior convex sitting the base of the sacrum is very often pushed back out, the lumbar curve is too straight or even convex, and the lumbar vertebral bodies are compressed on each other and the sacrum. The whole complex is solid and immobile. Comparing the two modes of sitting in one’s own body and that of many clients has shown uniformly that in normal sitting sacrum and lumbar spine are longer, freer, aligned better, and provide safer support however flat the sacrum and deep the lumbar curve may appear to the eye.
In part related to this is another issue of more severe consequences. It concerns cases where the assumption of the midline from pelvic floor to cervico-thoracic junction being either anterior or posterior convex does not prove correct. The “line” has an S-form then. The lower part o the trunk with the pelvis is tilted down by the weigh anteriorly or posteriorly, the parts of the body above in the opposite direction. This could be called “dissociation” and the consequences are serious functionally, but also structurally. Dissociation means that at a certain level between bottom and top the parts shear off each other in opposite directions in the sagittal dimension.
A very rare type is that with an anteriorly tilted pelvic and the thorax pushing down backward. L5/S1 is deeply forward, but above the back contour veers off very much to the back. The area of the LDH tends to hang down in back, and this is augmented by the lower ribcage which is collapsed pushing back on the LDH. The pelvis is vex much in front of the thorax. It is also rolled forward extremely, and so the situation can be improved functionally quite well by getting the tuberosities back maximally – if fascia permits it. This must be aided by appropriate and necessary structural work of course.
Much more frequent and difficult is the opposite type. Here the pelvis is tilted posteriorly and the thora is very much out front. My impression is that this type a dissociation and its structural accommodations are the result of a strong will to “sit straight”. This doesn?t succeed with the pelvis, which is tilted posteriorly, so least the thorax at the level of the diaphragm is held forward.
There appear to exist several types of this kind dissociation. In what could be called “ilio-sacral dissociation” the conflict is intrasegmental to the pelvis. The ilia and therefore the pelvis are in a posterior tilt, but the sacrum is very flat and it can be seen that L5/S 1 is pushy forward by the weight above. This arrangement seems be favored by external structures with a wide collapse pelvis and a collapsed upper body. It is easy to mistake] this type as “anterior pelvic tilt” because of habitually focusing on the sacrum and the impressive lumbar lordosis. If the ilia are examined instead and their behaviour under load, the correct diagnosis is easily ma however. It should also be evident that this situation I nothing to do with the problems concerning the sacrum and the spine discussed before. There the premise that ilia and pelvis were tilted anteriorly while here they are the opposite. A consequence of iliosacral dissociation may seem paradoxical a- first. Because segments have priority in the structural view, Rolfing has the primary goal of enabling the pelvis to be tilted anteriorly in sitting. This should seemingly make the situation worse for the already flat sacrum and the deep lumbars. It doesn’t do that however. Although the impression may be marked, the sacrum and the lumbars are actually as erect as they can be, being pulled away from horizontal and toward vertical by the upper body. And the clients feel this, too. Of course normalization of the pelvis will be followed and is sensibly accompanied from the beginning by creating length in front of the pelvis and lumbar spine, of which a tremendous amount is needed anyway in these cases.
Sometimes the dissociation is between S1 and L5, which could be called “sacro-lumbar dissociation”. The sacrum is slanted down in back in sitting together with the posteriorly tilted pelvis, and L5 and the lumbars on top are forward. There may even be a deeply hollow lumbar lordosis. One can see and palpate a ledge on the base of the sacrum where L5 has slid forward. Again and perhaps a little paradoxically the pelvis, represented by the ilia and the sacrum here, must be brought to become able of tilting anteriorly. This brings the sacrum more in line with the lumbars, whereafter the task of lengthening the front to diminish the lumbar curve can be undertaken.
More frequent is what could be called “lumbar dissociation”. Here the break is between two lumbars. Those below go posterior with the sacrum and the pelvis, those above are pushed down forward.
Occasionally one sees even a “lumbo-thoracic” or “thoracic dissociation”. Here the lumbar spine perhaps even with some lower thoracics is too straight and goes with the posteriorly tilted pelvis while the thorax above pushes down forward.
In all these cases the primary goal is to establish a homogenously anterior convex midline which then can be made longer, approaching vertical more. This depends on the pelvis being capable of sitting normally. If this is not achieved first, all the work above may easily lead to more collapse. There is very little sense in harmonizing the spine if the pelvis cannot but sit in the posterior tilt. For, who would want to render perfect the “absolute slump”?
The premise taken initially of the lower circumference of the pelvic bowl representing a segment of a circle needs to be reexamined and modified. Looking at the bony pelvis from the side, the ramus ossis ischii and the ramus inferior ossis pubis together form something like such a segment, but of a circle with a very large radius. Behind at the tuberosity, the inferior contour of the bone turns sharply upward. The tuberosity appears as a pointed peak which one feels when going “over the hill” from either side. The roll down in back is more like a fall, steep and bottomless, while that down in front is sensed as only on a very slightly slanted slope. Sitting in front of the tuberosities, one feels the bones clearly, but when turning back down this sense is lost quickly, obscured by the thick layers of soft tissue.
Taking the bony pelvis in isolation, sitting in front of the tuberosities resembles more an egg lying on its side where stable balance is possible. In highly resilient bodies where the restrictions of the extensor fascia are absent or do not make themselves felt strongly, the system can be experienced as such an egg rolling forth and back. Another image is that of a rocking chair which also provides stable equilibrium(3). However, with the whole body resting on the ischia, its gravity center is also high so that the range of the stable equilibrium is not very wide. A rocking chair where one sits on a bar-stool mounted on the seat would illustrate the situation. Differentiation between pelvic and lumbar segment as indicated by L5/ S1 leading the movement greatly enhances the functional competence of the system.
Another striking similarity can be sensed subjectively. Some of the old-fashioned rocking chairs had a “snail”, a “negative spiral”, or simply a knob pointing downward at the back end of their rockers. They safeguarded against toppling over backwards. In mechanical terms, they converted rocking, which is partly translational, partly rotational movement, into a purely translational one beyond a certain point. In other words, when one rocked the chair too hard and the knobs hit the floor, one slid straight back with the chair. And also similar to the rocking chair which slid forward on a polished wooden floor when rocking forward a lot, the pelvis tends to do the same. This must be prevented functionally, by the foot or the feet on the floor extending, so that the direction of sliding is reversed to backward. A kind of segmental tilt results then. But in rocking backward moving the upper body back-, the tuberosities can be felt as “knobs”, giving in instantly and so sliding back under the upper body, helped by the feet on the floor.
This alternative model depends on a high degree of resiliency. It presupposes that passive tension of the extensor tissue does not come into play on the posterior tilt side, and that on the anterior tilt side it is negligible or at least distinctly less than gravity.
With emphasis away from the rockers, one can also get a feeling of the body as a vertical construction being tensionally suspended over a horizontal trapeze or triangle and anchored to its corners. They are formed by the feet or the foot in front and the two sitting bones. The suspended base of the construction above is the hip joint. The weight and any additional load, from movement or experimental pushing, bears on the hip joint which goes lower. Because the feet don’t slide forward and the legs don’t bend, any force downwards pushes back and apart the tuberosities, which come back forward again afterwards elastically. As long as the force vector points down to bench and floor inside the surface covered by the trapeze this mechanism works. It is supported best by giving in to the force.
A premise which was implied in the description needs to be addressed still. It tacitly presupposed that it was clear what the horizontal pelvis is in sitting. It assumed that it could be diagnosed visually, but this kind of “vision” is often enough erroneous in the field. All that can be said with some assurance is that the pelvis is – or was – tilted anteriorly if after releasing the weight of the upper body onto the pubes and anterior superior iliac spines it tilts anteriorly more. If it rotated in the posterior direction, the pelvis could have been tilted posteriorly, horizontal, or even tilted anteriorly before depending on the degree and range of the elastic force of the extensor tissue.
Ida Rolf proposes the line between the tip of the pubic bone and the tip of the coccyx as the indicator for pelvic tilt. If this line (p-c line) is horizontal, there is no tilt and the pelvis is horizontal. Palpation results in a strange finding. Certainly in what has been called posterior tilt sitting, but also in mechanically unambiguous anterior tilt sitting, the p-c line is slanted down in back. This would mean that everybody all the time sits in the posterior tilt position, even if mechanics shows the opposite, except for voluntarily exaggerated normal sitting of very able structures.
This is contradicted by the reasonable argument that the division between anterior and posterior tilt – horizontal – is given by where the pelvis “goes over the hill”. The horizontal pelvis provides the best base for the upper body to be high, which means that the gravity center of the trunk is at its highest possible place – if muscular contraction is disallowed -, which in turn means that the potential energy of the system reaches its maximal value. And indeed one senses clearly that the gravity center sinks on both sides of “horizontal”, of “sitting on the tuberosities”: rapidly and steeply in back, gently in front.
The discrepancy is perhaps resolved by an argument raised earlier which held that the sacrum is maximally erect, at the “flexion” end of its range of motion, within the bony pelvic ring. Ida Rolf’s indicator, the p-c line, is clearly for standing. If in normal sitting the sacrum really rises up to its limit of posterior rotation, for which all the experiential data seem to speak, the p-c line is shifted in the direction of the posterior tilt. This means that with the pelvis horizontal in sitting it would be slanted down in back.
The argument saves the theory presented here – at least for the moment. But it leaves one with the problem that for sitting no clear-cut criterion, even a tentative one, exists which would indicate the horizontal pelvis objectively. But on the other hand this opens up the question to what is really decisive in the field: the mechanics of the body in the field of gravity. The behaviour of the system of the “sitting body” with respect to gravity is what is important according to the basic principles of Rolfing. And the examination of this aspect shows that definitively anterior tilt sitting must be called normal function posterior tilt sitting defined as the pelvis rotating posteriorly in relaxation as “random function”. And it should not be without some irony that objective geometrical signs are missing but the mechanics can be experienced subjectively very accurately.
This theory of normal sitting has another implication which could prove highly productive in the future. It seems to promise for the first time, as far as I know, a rational base for the claim that Rolfed bodies can improve on their structural order after Rolfing. It is evident that a body which was not able to sit normally before but is capable of doing so after a series of Rolfing has not only a quantitative lead but has taken a qualitative step. If sitting, an activity which most people indulge in or are forced to spend a large amount of time in, is normal, it forms as a practice a positive feed-back cycle. It actually constitutes a “stretching exercise”(4). In normal sitting, the weight of the body constantly extends and lengthens exactly the connective tissue which must be long u permit it. Opposed to this, posterior tilt sitting may be “better” after Rolfing, but gravity will push the structure slowly back down again. This posture is not self reenforcing. So it is not surprising that Rolfers who have understood sitting work all the time toward making normal sitting possible, and if this goal has been reached, they focus structurally on securing this achievement by making it even more easy and comfortable. Showing the difference in the mechanics to clients is essential of course, and understanding the mechanics theoretically and experientially is an irrevocable prerequisite for it.
1. ô for ”torque”, but the description is “non-rigorous” mathematically and physically.
2. The increase of YE is proportional to AL. The value for this, if beginning with the horizontal pelvis, is d + archÈ.
3. Keeping in mind that it rocks back but tilts forward
4. The word “stretching” is highly unfortunate. By its sound it suggests a completely false picture of what is +actually the case. “Soft lengthening by relaxation” would be much more appropriate. The German “Dehnung” also transmits well by its sound what’s meant.