Ida Rolf was fond of the saying that “the map is not the territory”. It is probably meant first as a warning not to mistake the map for the territory. A map cannot even be said to represent the territory but only certain aspects of it. This first feature of a map is well known. The map contains less information than the territory, and usually by many orders of magnitude. The danger of identifying the territory with the map is then obvious. The tendency will be to interpret information not carried by the map in such a way that it fits the map. Because this information is not assessed in its own right but distorted to fit the map, it is misunderstood or false. This sometimes leads to grotesque results. For insiders it is nearly impossible to recognize these often bizarre misconceptions. This is especially so if the map serves its purpose very well and by and by assumes the quality of “common sense”. The mind argues that all the facts derived as information from the territory fit the map, and because this is consistent internally it proves that it represents the territory. Such a system tends to become “hermetic”, and it reminds one vividly of psychotic “reasoning”. A system of delusion in the psychiatric sense is not the prerogative of psychotics. At least its mechanisms abound everywhere. It has even been argued convincingly(!) that without them human functioning in the world would be impossible. Sanity would so rest on and be conditional to a certain solid stock of “insanity”. In other words, the functioning of the human mind might depend on a set of basic maps which must not be questioned except in rare moments and with utmost caution. “Belief system” is another word for such a set.
But as desirable and necessary consistency is for theorizing, it does not prove in any way that a theory, which is a map, is relevant or “true” as far as the territory is concerned. This can only be done from outside, and it is done by scrutinizing critically the premises from which any theory is built up. Only this makes it possible to modify, amend, and sometimes even replace old maps by new and better ones. This is conditional to a certain flexibility of the mind, and if it is actively engaged in this task it is creative. Creativity may be a second and essential characteristic of sanity. It would be laid over and depend on “core insanity” which stubbornly, conservatively, and “on purpose” mistakes the basic set of maps for the territory. These may well be and perhaps must be contradictory. How productive and relevant the results of being creative turn out depends on the richness of the basic set, the explanatory power of its maps, and especially the ability of the mind to keep them apart and employ that one which is appropriate for gaining information with respect to the given question.
A second feature of a map is often forgotten. A map does not represent truthfully the information it does carry but in an exaggerated manner. If the roads were as broad as they are drawn on good road maps the world we live in would look very strange indeed! So “a map is not the territory” in two different ways. It leaves out a lot of the information present in the territory, and that which it does represent is distorted. This double inaccuracy can be deplored. Such an attitude stems from a desire to understand the world “completely”, and as such it constitutes perhaps a derivative of an infantile core of primary “insanity” from which sanity must differentiate. To meet this desire is impossible. All knowledge and understanding is based lastly on perception, whether direct or mediated by some apparatus. And all perception is selective: it suppresses most of the information presented from outside and exaggerates and distorts that which is desired. Perception is structured and biased by the “basic maps” in such a way that it organizes the input automatically and all by itself to be readily “digestible”, to fit into the maps. This process works well below the threshhold of consciousness. Only occasionally it fails in this duty, and the mind recognizes some “fact” presented as “strange”. First it will try to ignore it. Then it will usually attempt to organize this piece of information by more sophisticated means consciously so that it fits after all. Only if this is not successful it might consider modifying its maps.
Much more promising than trying to make a map reproduce the territory completely and faithfully seems to regard the function a map has. It is designed to show and explain a certain aspect of the territory only. For travailing a roadmap is useful, but for prospecting a geological map is preferable. It serves its function best if it leaves out and omits all information not relevant for the aspect chosen and if it exaggerates the points and relationships important to that aspect. So what appears as a drawback and “failure” in a restricted one-dimensional view is exactly the forte of a good map and determines its quality.
Ida Rolf’s repeated warning appears as misplaced at first. For, the more advanced and sophisticated, the greater its explanatory power and the farther its range, the more tempting it should become to take the map for the territory. In the field of Rolfing, these maps(1) are scarce and little developed, so the danger does not seem great. A closer look reveals however that the field is stacked full by such products of “core insanity” – which might be read less offensively as “confusion of logical types”. They sometimes even appear as the cohesive glue which props up the structure of “Rolfing” although Ida Rolf’s basic concepts seem sound and solid enough to be able to carry it without them.
One symptom of such a confusion is presented by Rolfers and the Institute presenting Before and After photographs where the difference in appearance is ascribed without further reflection to structural change(2). The practice appears as so self-evident that a sceptical outsider may well count at best on the condescending patience of the “experts”. His objection: – “he’s just standing there differently” – claims that the difference is functional, not structural. If it is taken serious, it becomes quickly very clear that there exist no solid arguments which could prove the change to be structural. At best and only at times a reasonable observation in combination with the layman’s good-will will support it as being structural. It is a well- established fact that even the most expert Rolfers see structural changes where there aren’t any and overlook them where they exist or should exist (Wolf Wagner in Notes on S.I. 87/1). Depending on one’s emotional disposition, this fact can be experienced very differently: as tragic, funny, shocking, or ridiculous. It originates back in a lack of differentiating clearly between structure and function in the formulation of the structural norm.
Another “famous” confusion has its root in the implicit and unconscious premise behind the recipe which ascribes to every “random body” an anterior pelvic tilt or “too anterior lumbers”, which two notions are often confused additionally. As a consequence, and in the name of “horizontalizing the pelvis”, that of externals was usually driven more into its aberration, and so a large number of clients were disintegrated in this respect. The attitude of the Notes vis-à-vis these and other confusions is of course that they are potentially productive. If they are cleared up it can be expected that the understanding of structure as well as the quality of its integration should rise. The case of the pelvic tilt shows that this depends on three factors:
1. The concept of anterior and posterior pelvic tilt must be understood structurally, which means mostly in its mechanical consequences.
2. One must possess reliable means of diagnosis and acquire the aptitude for applying them.
3. Rational means for normalizing each of the two kinds must be developed.
Another more general fallacy which is not specific to the field consists of the illusion that one can “see” reality if one keeps intention at bay. One sees nothing without looking, and even when looking one rarely sees anything worthwhile unless one knows what one is looking for. Of course contemplation and meditation may be creative and are necessary and indicated at times, but nothing recommends them as a systematic method to be applied as the governing principle in the everyday work. The relationship is such that an idea for a new map or an important change in one already existing happens largely by an unconscious process which functions according to non-rational rules. Once such an idea has sprung up it must be developed rationally and in a logically consistent manner to yield the benefits contained in the idea as a potential. If this does not happen the idea proliferates anyway but not consciously so. It constitutes what has been called “autistic thinking”, and the idea grows wildly along the usually bizzare paths provided by the unconscious mind. Its results cannot be checked – and certainly not falsified! – and so it remains largely meaningless as far as the territory is concerned and cannot even be communicated. It is a pity for the idea if it had been a good one!
Looking at reality “free from intention” does not lead to “objective perception”. What happens is that the unconscious part of the mind runs through its stock of “autistic” maps selecting one out, if one is lucky, which fits the information more or less. The “method” is certainly not efficient nor effective and even becomes potentially dangerous if it is remembered that not only “the map is not the territory” is true but also its opposite. “The map is the territory” in the sense that it determines or at least influences the choice of what will be done and so shapes the territory actively. If the map is a good one, the territory, namely the structure of a client, will be integrated. If it was a wrong one, it will often be disintegrated. The really devastating aspect of the unconscious autistic maps is that failure and disintegration will usually not even be noticed. The map doesn’t provide the concrete guidelines to judge the result. Many clients and probably every Rolfer has had sessions where at least some dull feeling from inside gave notice that he had been disintegrated instead of integrated. The important thing about this would be to find out why disintegration happened, how which map had been the wrong one. Learning to understand the reasons would not only help to avoid such failures or at least reduce their number but would at the same time increase the degree of integration, the quality of Rolfing, which in a dispassionate view is generally highly unsatisfactory and does not do justice to Ida Rolf’s great idea, the idea which she began to develop and which needs so much more conscious and rational developement.
Models are maps of a sort. The basic model of the field is the block or segmental model. It explains nicely the effect of gravity on the physical body with respect to its geometrical configuration. It does nothing for explaining the fascial net which is covered partly by the “shopping bag model”.
The One-Joint-Model consists of two sticks or bars, representing the lower and the upper body, joined together by the hip joint. It ties in with the block model if the bars are taken as representing two blocks. The dividing line between them runs through the middle of the pelvic segment though, and so its two blocks are not a simple addition of some blocks of the basic model. Furthermore, emphasis is on the joint, on the way the two bars move with respect to each other and to the gravity field. In the human body, the hip joint is lower than the gravity center. Correspondingly, in the model the lower bar is shorter than the upper one. This makes the system more “labile”, more subject to disturbance. The advantage lies in more mobility. The system moves easier than one with the joint higher than the gravity center.
The normal arrangement of the model would be with the gravity centers of both bars and the hip joint on one vertical line. Then the gravity center of the whole system and the point of support by definition would also lie on this vertical. In any kind of arrangement the gravity center of the model has to be exactly vertical above the point of support which is given by the point-like lower end of the lower bar for the system to be in equilibrium. In any arrangement other than normal this equilibrium depends on muscle force being employed. Otherwise the model would tilt down and fall irretrievably. An “anterior hip” means that the joint is anterior to support point and gravity center of the system. By necessity the gravity center of the lower bar is then also anterior, that of the upper bar posterior to the Line. The gravity line through the system would be anterior convex, the gravity center of the system is outside its material components, back in the concavity. In a “posterior hip” arrangement all directions would be symmetrically reversed.
Fig.1 – “Normal” one-joint model in “normal stance”. Passive tissue tension is equal on both sides (1). In e.g. “anterior hip stance” gravity pushes the hip farther anterior. It is in part compensated by higher passive tissue tension of the convex side, the remainder being supplied by active muscle tension in the same convex side (2). “Anterior hip structure” in the same stance showing primary and secondary shortness (3). The same structure in “normal stance”. Strong active muscle tension is necessary in the convex side to overcome primary shortness (4).
In an exactly normal arrangement, which cannot be realized concretely, gravity would act straight down. In the ideal case, the system would stand all by itself. With any even microscopic deviation of the hip joint from the Line gravity would break down the system. Its force increases as a function of the distance between hip joint and Line. In other words, the farther away from the Line the hip joint is, the greater the force is needed to cancel the destructive effect of gravity. It is evident that the main interest is for the direction of the initial microscopic disturbance. This decides on the side on which the model will collapse “macroscopically”.
The system so far has nothing to do with structure. Its “structure” is constant and assumed to permit the ideally normal arrangement. It can be brought into any “anterior” or “posterior hip” arrangement. The differences would be “functional”. Gravity doesn’t “care” if a deviation from normal is structural or functional. It only “regards” the spatial distribution of the mass of the parts, represented by the gravity centers of the segments and the placement of the hip joint with regard to the Line. Concerning the quantity of force with which gravity breaks down the system, it is also “blind” as to direction. This is different from the point of view of the system. In order to describe what is going to happen to it or where how much force is needed to cancel out gravity, two pieces of information are needed. Qualitatively, the direction in which the hip joint deviates from the Line is important. Then the quantity expressed as the numerical value of its distance to the Line becomes relevant. Usually one wants to have the qualitative information first.
Fascia is introduced by spanning two rubber bands in front and in back of the hip joint from upper to lower bar. The condition for equilibrium must now be expanded by the additional statement that the tension of the rubber bands – “passive tissue tension” – must be equal in front and in back in the normal arrangement. In real bodies it should also be low, and ideally it should be zero, “strain-free”. This cannot be inferred from the model because the rubber bands are symmetrical geometrically. Fascia is not for reasons of anatomy, and so quantitative equality of tension in front and in back is not sufficient because qualitative or geometrical differences in the course fascia takes in space, at least if minimal disturbances are considered, play an important role.
Balanced passive tissue tension by itself would keep the system in its normal arrangement and so provide a stable equilibrium theoretically. This is evident if the model is laid down on a frictionless table or is suspended under water. Any deviation of the hip joint from normal would raise passive tissue tension on the convex side, diminish it on the concave side. When released, the imbalance in passive tissue tension would bring back the system exactly to normal where the front and back sides would be tensed exactly the same again.
In the vertical arrangement – “erect stance” – the effects of gravity and passive tissue tension combine and must be added. With a normal structure, which is defined by passive tissue tension balanced in the normal arrangement, anterior or posterior deviation of the hip is partly balanced by the increase of tension in the fascia on the convex side and the decrease on the concave side. In the body this is asymmetrical for anatomical reasons. The front side tenses more and faster with the hip going forward than the back side with the posterior hip.
But passive tissue tension does not suffice by far to counteract gravity’s effect. Muscles must aid fascia. Muscles in the structural view don’t move bones; they tense fascia. They do so permanently more or less in proportion to what their tonus is. The specific point of
view of the field emphasizes that gravity is not “checked by muscles”. It is first compensated in part by the imbalance in passive tissue tension, elastic resistance of the fascial net, resulting from an anterior or posterior hip arrangement. Only the remainder must be supplied by muscles tensing actively. They do so by modifying fascial tension appropriately.
The condition for equilibrium or functional balance resulting in posture as “absence of movement” is that all the forces acting on the body cancel out. In the “structurally” normal model in the normal arrangement the situation looks the following. Gravity acts straight down and is compensated fully by the Normal force of the earth. Passive tissue tension is balanced in front and in back by the condition of the “structure” being normal. Therefore active muscle tension is also the same in front and in back. It is preferably low if maintenance of this balance becomes a consideration.
For an arrangement which is not normal functionally – but still with normal structure -, the set of forces look the following for a posterior hip joint stance:
Disturbing forces: Gravity acts to push back out the hip joint more. Residual passive tissue tension in front, on the concave side, acts in the same direction. It decreases fast, approaching zero, with the distance of the hip to the Line increasing. Active muscle tension of the same front side adds to it.
Compensating forces: Passive tissue tension on the posterior convex side tends to refrain the hip joint from being pushed out more. It increases some because fascia is stretched. But it needs to be supported be additional active muscle tension, a higher tonus, o: the muscles in back.
So the passive tension of the fascia in back, which is higher than in the normal arrangement, plus the tonus of the muscles in back check the effect of gravity, the remaining passive tension in front, and the tonus of the musculature in front. Such a posture is maintained most economically if the tonus of the musculature in front is minimal.
For the movement from the normal arrangement into a posterior hip posture an imbalance in the forces is needed. In the flexion mode (Notes on S.I. 86/1, p.4), the muscles in front contract more, pushing back the hip join in this way. They are helped increasingly by gravity. The movement is slowed down by passive and active tension in the back. In the extension mode the imbalance is generated by a voluntary tonus reduction of the muscle in back. Tensional imbalance results, and the muscles is front now push back the hip joint without actually raisin their tonus, without “working”. Gravity immediate steps in and continues and augments the movement. Gravity is the acting force in the extension mode, at lea initially, and the ground is prepared for it to “work” by muscles relaxing selectively and voluntarily. In the Flea ion mode overall muscle tension and therefore entry consumption is higher than before, in the extension mode lower, during the movement.
“Random Structure” and Shortness
Fascia which is habitually overstretched and under too much tension rigidities. Fascia which is chronically tensed too little also becomes rigid. The observation reflects the nature of the connective tissue which is constantly shrinking and hardening. It is very obvious when one has to have a cast for some reason. After removal the limb is stiff. It is the connective tissue which has shrunk, not the muscle tissue proper. Similarly, when one gets up in the morning, the body is a little stiff and not as flexible as during the day. Part of this may be due to the muscles “which are cold”, but the connective tissue has also begun to shrink. For, even after circulation in the muscles has been restored and when the muscle tissue is back to its usual viscosity one can still detect small deviations in movement.
The difference between the slight stiffness in the morning and that after a cast removal is probably not only quantitative. It is more likely that different mechanisms on the molecular level combine and are added sequentially. They all serve the purpose of shrinking the connective tissue. This can be interpreted as necessitating a constant life-long fight against the shrinking tendency of the connective tissue. The attitude is perhaps correct ideologically, but it would also be highly unbiological. The tendency makes sense with injuries, for without it distortions and fractures would never heal properly. But also from considerations of everyday life it is meaningful. It assures that the neurologically established movement patterns are safeguarded in the flesh. The movements after getting up in the morning still find their way through the established channels or “aisles”, following the path of least resistance, opening them up exactly to the degree which is demanded for the habitual functioning of the organism. The disadvantage when this mechanism is absent or weak can be seen in some persons with genetically too soft or flaccid connective tissue.
When physical forces come into the picture, it can be seen that these paths wear out with time just like the tracks in a dirt road. Where it curves they do so in the direction of aberration. But unlike the road with its tracks the body reacts to this. It hardens and builds up the tissue on the outer convex side which is chronically overstretched. And the underused tissue on the inner concave side adapts by shortening also.
Every body as represented by the One-Joint-Model has either a structurally anterior or posterior hip. This does not mean that some bodies cannot stand in an exactly vertical arrangement, which is function. But for this to constitute normal structure Ida Rolf also demands that it be “strain-free” (Rolf, p.33). This is never the case absolutely, for which two reasons can be given. First, bodies never come out of a factory like cars, new and perfect, only to degenerate over time. We begin our lives as highly “aberrant” structures. Secondly, such a perfectly normal structure would place much too high a demand on the nervous system with little gain from it. Absolute symmetry is not a reality and not a goal for biological systems. They choose a preference close to but distinctly differing from symmetry as a structural bias from which they are able to operate much more easily and securely.
A structurally anterior hip joint in the model would mean that it stands in and moves from an anterior hip stance predominantly because easiest. The overstretched tissue of the convex front side would rigidify. It would actually be a little longer than in normal stance because the distance between its two ends around the hip joint would be longer. The tissue on the posterior concave side would be tensed too little all the time and so also rigidity. The distance between its two fixation points would be shorter than in normal stance. This can be called primary shortness. The tissue is not only rigid but also shorter in a geometrical sense.
The tissue on the convex front side could be said to be in secondary or compensating shortness. It is secondary to the geometrical aberration, and it has a function because it helps to compensate for gravity’s effect of pushing the hip forward more. The tissue in back in primary shortness does not have a function in this sense. It has simply adapted to the situation. The picture would be symmetrically reversed with a structurally posterior hip joint.
“Shortness” as used in Rolfing simply means “rigid” at first. The choice of the term doesn’t seem to make much sense with regard to secondary shortness. However, such fascia is usually not really or not much longer than it would be in normal stance. Due to anatomy the geometrical aberration generally offers a short-cut which the tissue takes regularly. So the erector tissue in a kyphotic back goes wide and in this way avoids being really longer.
But the term also makes sense in another respect. It directs attention to function, and with this in mind it is found that tissue in either type of shortness has lost its capacity for lengthening functionally on demand. It is “too short to lengthen”. This shows consistently in sitting, where internals with their hamstrings and gluteals in secondary shortness as well as externals where these fasciae are in primary shortness both have difficulties to tilt their pelvis anterior enough. Both types must regain this ability to lengthen, to which end the extensor tissue of the hip must be made more resilient. Furthermore, the aspect of a shorter or longer distance between points is already covered by analysis of the spatial relationships of the parts of the body and doesn’t need a further indication.
In the model, and assuming a structurally anterior hip, the situation looks the following for “easy stance”. Gravity pushes the hip forward more. To this add (low) passive tissue tension and active muscle tension on the posterior concave side. These forces are counteracted by passive tissue tension in front, from secondary shortness, and the front muscles which must participate in this. If a stance with a more anterior hip is chosen by the same structure, the already low passive and active tension in back diminishes further, but gravity’s effect is more marked. The tissue in front is stretched a little more and so cancels out part of the additional load by its elastic resistance. But still the muscles of the front side must work more to compensate for this, augmenting the tension in front so it matches exactly the disturbing forces. If a stance is chosen with the hip joint closer to the Line, passive tissue tension in back, from primary shortness, increases quickly. Marked resistance by this rigid tissue must be overcome somehow. So although gravity’s effect is a little smaller, the overall amount of the forces pushing the hip forward is higher and must be overcome by an also increased effort by the front muscles.
Any “anterior hip joint” or “posterior hip joint” structure stands easiest with the hip anterior or posterior respectively. The degree as expressed by the horizontal distance of the hip from the Line varies according to the geometrical and tensional properties of the fascial net of the body in question. Easiest stance corresponds to the structural point on the postural curve. A stronger deviation as well as a posture closer to normal both necessitate more muscle tension employed, the first because of gravity pushing down more strongly, the second due to increased resistance from the tissue in primary shortness.
If the exactly vertical stance is chosen, the marked passive tension in back must be checked by an equally marked active tension in front. This makes it possible to design a simple test for deciding whether the hip is anterior or posterior structurally. The system is brought exactly into the vertical alignment. Then the muscle tonus in front and in back is reduced proportionally. This creates an imbalance in the total tension on both sides which drives the hip out in the direction of its aberration. Only then gravity becomes an active factor and reinforces that movement. The test can be criticized by the argument that “exactly vertical stance” is not possible in reality and that the hip joint was already at the beginning a little to the side in which it was to move after tonus reduction. Gravity alone would produce the movement. The objection can and should be accommodated in two ways. First, the test is repeated with the hip in the starting position a little more to the opposite side, where one gets a feeling that it could go to this other side. It should still go in the same direction as before! Secondly, movement to the two sides can be compared, objectively by observation as well as subjectively. The hip is brought to oscillate at a very slow rhythm from a little posterior to slightly anterior and back. One will sense an area or small range where it is uncertain on which side of the Line the hip is. In the cyclic movement it will be felt to go “over the hill” there. It can be seen and felt that the movement down from the crest is easier, smoother, and goes farther on the aberration side. It is less easy, less fluent, and carries less far on the other side.
The test permits to diagnose two structural types, an “anterior hip” type and a “posterior hip” type. They correspond to the anterior or posterior sagittal shift of the pelvis although they are not exactly identical. With the first, generally the tissue in front will be in secondary shortness, that in back in primary shortness. With the second the relationship is symmetrically reversed.
The “Pelvis-plus-legs” Model
In its most simple version this model consists of two rigid and fixed bars representing the legs with the pelvis as a bowl on top of them and linked to them by the hip joints. The model explains some aspects of the anatomical tilt of the pelvis. It can be enlarged by introducing the ankle and knee joints and the upper body on top of the pelt is (Notes on S.I. 87/1, p.21). With the pelvis horizontal and the “joints” on one vertical line the system is in labile equilibrium. This is the structural norm. Deviations are always present, and their kind determines in part the different distribution of primary and secondary shortness.
The “pelvis-plus-legs” model with its “tilt considerations” and the “one-joint-model” with its “sagittal shift considerations” can be combined. Shortness is described according to the four types resulting from this. They are ordered from the tensional to the compressional pole of the tension/compression spectrum(3). Generally, with tension-dominated systems tilt considerations are more important. They are less so with compression-dominated systems where shift considerations are more prominent.
Primary and Secondary Shortness in Four Types
With the anterior tilt the tissue of the abductors, the tensor/rectus/sartorius group, and of the iliacus is constantly shorter than normal. It is tensed passively tot little; tension would not have a function here. It adapt and goes into primary shortness. Its degree is relative ant depends on other factors besides the tilt, too. The kin and degree of rotation and abduction/adduction of the legs, the intrasegmental shape of the pelvis, and the sagittal shift influence the picture.
The tissue of the hip extensors checks the downward thrust of the weight in front of the hip joint down on the pubes by a downward pull on the back of the pelvis. Especially that of the gluteus maximus and the ham strings is permanently overstretched, longer than it would be with the pelvis horizontal. It rigidifies and is in secondary shortness, cancelling out by its resistance pal of gravity’s anterior tilting effect. The muscles accompanying these fasciae must help of course and provide the remainder of the tension necessary to keep the anterior tilt system stable.
For further analysis, it helps to develop the typical front-to-back arrangement of the regular internal from the “pelvis-plus-legs” model. In its simplest form, the pelvic gravity center sinks forward down in tilting be cause the legs and therefore the hip joints are fixed in space, vertical. With the ankles introduced the picture changes. Now gravity pushes the pelvic gravity center straight down. The hip joint is pushed out backwards and a “posterior hip” results. The pelvis tilts anterior segmentally. This also moves back the gravity center of the whole lower girdle which would lose balance and collapse down in back. If the upper body is added and tilts forward as a whole, advancing its gravity center anteriorly, this would compensate for the lower girdle going back and permit to keep the gravity center of the whole body centered over the ankles. Of course the system would “jack-knife” at once with the hip joint and the pelvis sliding back rapidly if not prevented by forceful muscular effort. The “posture” is typically seen with babies not old enough to attempt standing alone when they stand on their feet held up by the hands or arms out in front (Notes on S.I. 89/1, p.26).
This posterior hip stance in the “one-joint-model” demands a great effort from the hip extensors and the erector trunci to prevent backward collapse. Shift considerations show that it is eased when the knees which are introduced now flex. Part of the force driving the pelvis back is now neutralized by the knees being pushed forward by gravity. They are held back by other muscles, the vasti, which relieves the hip extensors greatly.
The upper body also helps by an adaptive mechanism which eases the load concerning tilt as well as shift considerations. The thorax tilts back. This takes back the weight of the upper body on the pubes, closer to the hip joints, and diminishes the anterior tilting effect and consequently the load on the hip extensors which must balance it. It furthermore provides an additional compensation. The abdominal wall, especially the rectus, is now overstretched because the pubes are low and back, the thorax is back and up. It goes into secondary shortness, and supported by active muscle tension it refrains the pubes from sinking more by holding them up. Of course by its tension it also pulls down the chest, flattening it, which calls for other adjustements throughout the body. This compensating mechanism from above which necessitates fixing the thorax tilted back is more destructive than the hip extensor compensation. Nevertheless many internals use it, and they show a tight and taut overstretched abdominal wall.
It has like the hip extensors a double function in compensating. It not only pulls the pubes up but also forward, limiting further the posterior shift tendency as demonstrated by the “one-joint-model”. This pull from in front together with the reduced range of the posterior convexity of the midline minimizes posterior pelvic shift. This appears to make sense. For, unlike its anterior counterpart the posterior pelvis does not possess the possibility of going into easily manageable sleeve-support in back for anatomical reasons. It must be checked from behind almost exclusively by constant muscular effort.
The knee and thorax adaptations reduce the posterior convex midline of internals. It reaches only from the knees to about the height of the LDH. The weak posterior push on the hip joint is in back also contained by the hip extensors which already compensate for the anterior pelvic tilt. The tissue in secondary shortness extends a little farther up, however, into the lumbar lordosis and the lumbodorsal fascia.
The thorax adaptation produces shortness in the upper body. The chest by its weight falls back on the spine. Pull from the abdominal wall, active and passive tension, augments this and adds a forward down component. It is in primary shortness. The upper back is bent by the weight of the chest hanging off it in front and the additional abdominal drag on it. It must be checked by the tissue of the back along the erector trunci. The posterior convexity of the back produced this way extends sometimes over the whole thoracic range but is more often especially marked in the upper back. It goes into secondary shortness.
If the intrasegmental configuration of the thorax tilted back were normal, the head would adapt by going forward, taking the neck into a posterior convex curve. But because of the intrasegmental deformation described, exactly the opposite is the case. With internals the upper thoracic aperture regularly sags in front, its plane which should be horizontal facing forward, and the neck must turn back to produce a semblance of the “head on top”.
Tendentially primary shortness will be found on the flexion side, in the concavities of front and back contour. Anatomy makes the situation more complicated however, especially in the neck and the lower parts of the legs. At the ankles, the crural extensor compartment in front and across the joint is flexed but not really primary short. The weight coming down through the lower legs which are slanted forward tends to shift them back on the feet, keeping the ankle more open in front than would be expected. Similarly, the popliteal space in back of the flexed knees is not typical for primary shortness. The main bulk of the tissue making it up are fasciae in secondary shortness: the hamstrings and the gastrocnemius which assists the soleus in containing flexion in the ankle induced by the weight of the body. The groin is certainly in primary shortness, and so are the back of the lordotic lumbar segment and the flat chest.
In the simple “pelvis-plus-legs” model with only the ankles added the situation with the pelvis is symmetrically opposed to that of regular internals. The pelvic gravity center sinks straight down pushing the hip joint forward. The pelvis tilts posterior segmentally. Knee flexion brings the pelvis more back because the gravity center of the lower legs is in front of the Line but that of the thighs behind it. So the pelvic gravity center is posterior to the Line. In contrast to regular internals it is also farther back than the hip joint. The load effecting posterior tilting is large. Locally one has sometimes the impression that the segmental gravity center from behind pushes the hip joint forward. This creates an ambiguous situation concerning sagittal shift. Sometimes symmetrical externals stand indeed with the pelvis anterior. The knees are extended then. And now and then they even go into sleeve-supported stance with the knees maximally extended. The difference to the sleeve-supported stance of regular externals is that the pelvis is back down and behind the thighs, as if being pushed forward against them, instead of on top of them.
From tilt considerations the hip extensors are in primary shortness. The flexors, mainly the adductors and the rectus femoris, are in secondary shortness. Their job is much harder than that of the extensors with internals because of less favorable leverage.
Just as with internals the upper body tries to ease the load which tilts down in back. It goes forward in this case, bringing its gravity center closer to the hip. Because the front of the trunk is not supported by bones as spacers the upper thorax hangs down forward. The whole back contour tends to assume the shape of a C-curve and is in secondary shortness. With the thorax low and the pubes far out and up, the whole front contour of the trunk is in primary shortness(4).
Shift considerations are least important with symmetrical externals. The long curved back in secondary shortness is perhaps its clearest expression. The relationship between primary and secondary shortness is relatively simple. In the trunk, the back contour is secondary short, the front primary. Below the iliac crests and the pubes down to the knees, the backside is primary short, the front in secondary shortness.
Fig.2 – Regular internal, symmetrical external, locked-knee internal, and regular external with areas of primary shortness. That resulting from tilt considerations is drawn dotted.
With internal locked-knee types primary shortness – and compression – is present most strongly in the lower lumbar area. They seem also the most susceptible to weight pushing down forward the base of the sacrum although the anterior tilt of the pelvis is less marked than in regular internals(5). The chest is flat and clearly in primary shortness, the middle back in secondary shortness when the upper body is collapsed. Some manage to raise their upper body in the manner of regular externals though, making use of some compressional potential. The hip flexors are in secondary shortness, and the abdominal wall is often prominently so. In contrast to regular internals this is not from compensating the anterior tilt so much; it rather has the function of containing the anterior shift as shown by the “one-joint-model”.
The knees are sleeve-supported by definition and usually hyperextended, the lower legs often shifted back under the thighs. So the most prominent area of primary shortness besides the lower back is often the front of the knee, the distal rectus femoris and of course the vasti. Locked-knee internals usually stand with the gravity center of the body far forward of the ankles. The lower legs are pulled forward on the feet, in contrast to regular internals. So the whole group of the tibialis anterior is strongly primary short, and the tissue appears as literally glued down on the interosseus membrane.
With regular externals shift considerations are much more relevant than those concerning tilt. The midline is anterior convex from ankles to cervico-thoracic junction. The whole front contour along it is generally in secondary, the concave back contour in primary shortness. Secondary shortness is least marked with regular externals because they dispose over compressional means for maintaining the integrity of the system and depend less on tensional mechanisms. Primary shortness is also milder because it is not so much fascia which is collapsed and compressed but “bone-on-bone”.
The posterior tilt modifies the picture a little. Primary shortness of the hamstrings, the gluteals, and because of the external rotation of the legs also of the rotators is more marked, that of the back of the trunk less. Similarly, in front the secondary shortness of the tissue below the anterior superior iliac spines is expressed a little stronger. Above, secondary shortness is less. The degree of these modifications depends largely on the degree of the posterior pelvic tilt which is often weak in regular externals.
Sometimes there seems to exist a more important variation which is perhaps even a constant characteristic. Parts of the abdominal wall often appear to be in primary shortness. This is certainly the case when the posterior tilt is marked and the chest sags in conflict. Then the rectus abdominis, especially in its lower part, is clearly shorter than it would be in the normal arrangement. But also with congruent externals the lower part of the rectus where it attaches to the pubes often gives the impression of being primary short while the tissue to the sides and across the groin appears secondary short. The first is explained by tilt considerations, the second by shift considerations.
The tissue of the middle back is also in distinct primary shortness with the too straight and compressed thoracic spine with sometimes even a concave dent in it. It is special though and different from usual primary shortness which is caused by gravitational collapse producing a shorter range for the fasciae in a geometrical sense and with loss of tension and adaptive rigidity ensuing. In the middle back it is the muscles, especially the erector trunci, which by chronic contraction straighten and shorten the back and the thoracic spine. Primary shortness of their fasciae has a function here and is not purely adaptive. The fasciae relieve the muscles from part of their job by their own passive tension. It is a muscularly induced shortening which becomes fixed in structure.
Similarly, the external chest is not really in secondary shortness from this point of view the way the middle back is with internals. The tissue in front of the chest must not contain an at most weak forward thrust from the back. Where it shows an aspect of secondary shortness this is due to functioning as part of the front contour holding back the anterior convex midline, which is a gravitational effect, not a muscular one.
Fig.3 – Same types with areas of secondary shortness represented. The dotted lines indicate secondary shortness compensating for the pelvic tilt.
This suggests that primary shortness as an adaptation by rigidifying is of two types. One is “passive”, a collapse caused by gravity. The other is “active”, a chronic geometrical shortening by permanent muscle contraction. The second has in contrast to the first a function in that it reduces muscular effort by anchoring its effect in structure. Besides the back of externals it is most often found in the rotators and perhaps gluteals. They seem to be the most frequently chronically contracted muscles, which contraction is moreover least often perceived consciously. This also seems to play a role with many internals whose legs are rotated externally extremely(6). The space in back between trochanter and sacrum is narrow with them, filled by extremely bunched and “iron-hard” muscles, i.e. tissue. With externals it appears that both types of primary shortness exist in the rotators. The collapse type shows hanging, flat, and toneless buttocks because of underuse, the contraction type is muscular and even hypertrophic for “overuse”.
Summary and Concluding Remarks
“Shortness” and “short” are terms used regularly by Rolfers but without concrete and specific meaning so far. This paper has attempted to clarify the concept which appears as central to structural theory. It first defines “shortness” simply as “rigidity” of fasciae. It is the exact opposite of “resiliency” which is lost when fasciae are “short”. Short fasciae have lost (or never gained) their “normal” ability to lengthen, to be “stretched” passively, when the extension mode of normal function demands it.
In “normal stance” gravity induces no strain in the fascial net (Rolf, p.32). But only in an ideally integrated structure there is really “no strain” – or a little more realistically: passive tissue tension is balanced and low. In real bodies there is always more strain than in easy stance. It results from “shortness”, “rigidity”, of fasciae resisting being stretched.
If a normal structure is imagined to stand and move permanently in an aberrant arrangement, fascia will adapt. It will shorten on both the concave and convex side. On the concave side it will be shorter in a geometrical sense and is called “primary short”. It is purely adaptive and results from the lack of being stretched functionally. This is found where the structure has collapsed asymmetrically. There is a “contraction type” of primary shortness which does not result from collapse but from permanent geometrical shortening from chronic muscle contraction.
On the convex side fascia will also rigidify. It is called “secondary” or “compensating shortness”. It results from chronic overstretching and has, contrary to primary shortness, a mechanical function. It helps to compensate for gravity’s destructive effect on an imbalanced structure. It is also called “shortness”, in preference over “long rigid”, because the convex side is usually only bent but not longer. Often it is perhaps even also a little shorter geometrically than in a normal structure.
Lengthening primary shortness is called “specific work” because it has a geometrical intention. The structure should align itself better for it. Work on secondary shortness is “unspecific” because one doesn’t want to make it longer. It would only serve to increase the asymmetry of convex and concave sides and therefore be disintegrating. Unspecific work means “making resilient”, and it is only justified in combination with a lot of specific work. Secondary shortness is part of the support system of the body, and it must only be taken away if a definite increase in structural integrity is offered instead which renders its function “obsolete”, unnecessary.
The problem is that after such unspecific work clients do not collapse but feel just great! Generally they have pain or feel restricted and locked in most by the tissue in secondary shortness. The accompanying muscles must work constantly to save the structure from collapse but are hindered, compressed, and glued together by the rigid connective tissue. Blood supply, of which they need more, and circulation in general is hampered! After the “softening up” of unspecific work the muscles are suddenly free, circulation functions “again”. The clients feel relieved, movement is free at the cost of only negligible and unnoticed more effort, pain and stiffness are gone for a while! The situation becomes alarming with a typical incident every Rolfer is acquainted with. The client comes back and says: “You did great work last time and I felt marvelous for a week. But it has gone back a little again. Please do exactly the same you did last time!” Naturally one wants to comply, and the result will again be good although perhaps a little less dramatically so. One so easily enters a kind of vicious circle where the client still feels better after the sessions but is in effect disintegrated more and more.
This not so fictitious example underlines a fundamental aspect of structure. Anybody’s structure – whatever its degree of integrity! – constitutes an extremely complex and interdependent system where everything fits everything else neatly and subtly. Any intervention threatens and endangers the existing order and harmony at first. Work must be based on a thorough understanding of this system, of which we possess at most a marginal beginning. What we generally call aberrations or imbalances is always also meaningful in the context of the whole structure, and very often it has an essential function of support for the body which must be respected.
1. “Map”, “model”, “concept”, “pattern” are interchangeable in this context. They are the result of a mental activity which organizes information about a certain set of facts in a certain manner. Opposed are “territory”, “world”, “reality”, and even “structure” although this is more a concept. “Body” or “movement/posture” would reflect a more primary reality
2. The author, although always a little doubtful is of course included. But doubt is not a virtue in itself it only becomes productive when an effort is made to understand what causes it.
3. The terms are perhaps a little unfortunate. Not overall tension meant but only that actively maintaining balance in free stance. The internal locked-knee type is often more tensed than the symmetrical external type, but tension is more passive, resulting from gravity pushing the body into the sleeve. This is more a sort of stable equilibrium. Also, locked-knee internals have access to compressional mechanism in part, especially if the pelvis is relatively close to the Line. Regular externals are compression-dominated in free stance.
4. The frequent cases where a lordotic lumbar curve with a small radius is interspersed complicates the situation and needs special consideration.
5. It is when they are brought into free (internal) stance!
6. They have an almost “frog-like” aspect, with knees and feet pointing strongly lateral, the pelvis and waist very narrow. It almost seems ridiculous at first to say that they are internals, which they are of course.