Seven Important Ideas in the Development of Rolfing

Pages: 31-39
Year: 2009
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 37 – Nº 3

Volume: 37
Editor's Note: This is the transcript of a lecture presented at the Rolf Institute?s 2008 Annual Meeting in Boulder, Colorado.

That was a great opening act, I must say! I want to acknowledge the love in the house right now; it feels really lovely in here. We are all grateful for the work Valerie Berg has done to make this annual meeting a success. Thank you Valerie. I was just in a workshop with Gail Ohlgren on Continuum and Random Motion, it’s still going through me. I don’t know if I can get my lips to work, but I’ll do my best. I would like to take us into an examination of where we have come from and where we are today.


This has to do with memory. It is important and it resides in the elders of the community. I think it’s very, very important, particularly when I run into young people these days and they don’t know what Esalen was. It’s important for us to know where we came from because it gives us a better understanding of where we’re going and it helps us understand how we are changing. We’re in the business of change. We evolve, all of us, we’re still ourselves, we’re just a little bit better than we were ten years ago, and that’s a phenomenal thing because most of the time it goes the other direction, especially when you get into the old guy category. Memory is very important in this process. As practitioners, we are changing, we’re expanding, we’re growing, we’re developing new techniques, and in the process we’re assimilating other technologies. We are developing our knowledge base at a rapid rate. It’s unbelievable to me how curious Rolfers are, how voraciously we devour information. It’s important that as we do that, we keep in mind that we are working within a theoretical framework and that any changes we make to our work need to be consistent with our theory. We need to keep ourselves connected to our fundamental premises and our fundamental purposes. We need a way to talk about our work that is consistent with what we do, what we believe and where we live inside when we work.


The Crisis of Preserving Theoretical and Practical Consistency Amidst the Explosion of New Knowledge and the Proliferation of Techniques and Schools of Thought


This will definitely be a theme this morning. I believe this is a major challenge. The Board [of Directors of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI)] has commissioned the faculty to develop a new committee, the Curriculum Development and Review Committee, for the purpose of establishing institutional guidelines regarding the question: “What is Rolfing?” I want to read to you the actual text of what the Board has asked us to do. In their words:


This committee will be responsible for:


  1. What is or should be included in Rolfing training at all levels.


  1. What is Rolfing vs. not Rolfing.


  1. What can be taught outside of the Rolf Institute by RISI faculty.


  1. The need for consistent and defined student learning outcomes and core competencies at all levels of training.


  1. Ensuring that historic and new developments in Rolfing training are defined and preserved within an articulated curriculum. This process is active via our large and very curious community. Information is always coming in from the edges. There has to be some way we can evaluate and assimilate this information. We have to decide whether it ends up in our training or as something we hold outside the curriculum as interesting and informing for our work. We have to make these distinctions.


  1. Ensure that the Rolf Institute’s curricula are defined in such a way that they can be taught in various formats. The information contained in the curriculum is not to be tied to the format in which it is taught.


  1. Over time, creating a format for the review and approval of continuing education curricula and offerings consistent with protocols and standards.


Well, this committee looks like the Supreme Court to me. This will ultimately become the court of final appeal. It will be the institutional space in which we talk about what is and what is not Rolfing, which is, of course, what we’ve been doing for a long time. But, it’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge because there obviously are lots of interesting ideas, lots of interesting techniques that may have a beneficial effect on the body that may or may not be consistent with the way we practice as Rolfers.


I’d like to start here with a brief statement about the importance of a point of view or a theoretical framework, because it’s not possible to develop our work without a clear point of view. What really is our theoretical framework? I’d like to elaborate this and pull out from Ida’s original teaching what I think is the point of view that she has articulated.


We know from movement studies that the first question for the organism is not, “Who am I?” but “Where am I?” Which, of course, establishes a point of view, and from that point of view all our actions have a reference point, meaning, and a context. A point of view conditions our response to events. It shapes how we respond to the phenomena we encounter in our practice.


You are all aware that when we put our hands on a body we enter a domain that is complex, rich, and full of phenomena that are relevant to us, but that may be more than we can assimilate in a single point of view. We’re constantly in the position of having to look at the body, look at the phenomena that are presented by the body, under our hands, in our experience with it, and decide: “How am I going to respond to this? How am I going to relate to these phenomena?” The history of our work is essentially the process of opening the door to new phenomena, phenomena that were always there, but we couldn’t relate to because we hadn’t mastered the previous information. We’re constantly working with these phenomena; looking at the nervous system, looking at inherent motion, looking at all of these processes that arise in Rolfing, which we need to relate to.


We need a point of view because it creates a context for the application of technique. It also makes it possible for us to assess our outcomes. Because of our point of view, we have goals; those goals then become the outcome that we’re capable of assessing. It’s interesting that the work of Rolfing has progressed, to some extent, by not reinventing the wheel. We have borrowed techniques and theories from associated and affiliated bodies of work, disciplines, organized points of view, and they have enriched our practice. However, it is necessary to constantly bring our exposure to other points of view back to the actual phenomena, as they are presented in the body. What is actually happening? Which attributes of bodily experience have given rise to specific techniques or schools of manual therapy?


Inherent motion is not just cranial technique, it is a natural property of the body. Inherent motion expresses itself in many ways. We borrow techniques, but we have to remain free to interact with the related phenomena that occur in our practice in ways that are not totally confined by existing points of view and existing techniques. This shouldn’t become a battle of schools. We’re all touching the same body. We’re all working on the same body. We encounter these other schools. We learn from them. We are fertilized by them. We are potentized by them. We borrow techniques from them, but we have to be free to refer back to the underlying events, the actual phenomena in the body that are at the root of the techniques we encounter in these other schools. For example, we have to be free to ask ourselves the questions: “How do I relate to inherent motion as a property of the body? How do I relate to these fundamental properties and characteristics in the body?” I understand and I learn from cranial technique, from the huge work that’s been done by the osteopaths, but at the same time, when I touch, I touch as a Rolfer. It’s a slightly different quality of touch.


I think this is important in understanding how we communicate to the larger community. We have to preserve a coherent point of view or it becomes very confusing to people as to exactly what Rolfing is. We can hold a very large point of view. We have a very large theoretical framework, so it’s easy for us to assimilate information. The public doesn’t have the level of contact and experience with the body that we do. They need to be helped to understand what it is that we do. When someone comes in for a Rolfing session and lies down and the practitioner puts his or her hands on them and sits there for quite a while and apparently doesn’t do anything, and then gets up and runs [his] hands across [the client’s] body and says, “Oh yeah, there’s something right here,” and then rubs [his] ankles and does this and that and then says, “Ok, how are you feeling?”, the client is going to have a problem understanding just exactly what it is that we call Rolfing. So, the question is, “is that Rolfing?” What are we going to do? Many of us do that. And there’s a good reason to do that because we’re relating to events in the body that are real and that are important, but we’ve got to be careful here about how we talk about this, how we frame this, how we articulate it and how this information moves out to the public. Yesterday, Jeff Rider, who’s on the Board, tried to call me before the meeting, but I was busy. I didn’t return his call. He wanted to talk about this issue, as it relates to a specific Rolfer somewhere. I get calls like this often: “There’s this guy in my community and all he does is craniosacral work and he calls it Rolfing. What are we going to do?”


We’re working on a Standards of Practice document that we could use to “enforce” consistency in what we do, but probably that’s not the way to bring about the result we want. It will happen as we develop, amongst ourselves, in our conversations, in our curricula, a coherent and consistent point of view with which all of us interact and contribute to. This commonly held point of view in the large community of Rolfers is home. It is the root of our practice. It is the point of view from which we work and communicate to the world.


We have in our community what I call the “problem of fads.” We’re working with the body, and phenomena associated with the body are always relevant to us in one way or another. However, the field of inquiry is huge. How do we narrow the field to make it manageable and still stay in contact with all the things that are relevant to us? That’s the challenge. You can see how our group proceeds, as fads move through the community. We get exposed to a new idea and then we get what I call “the folding business card,” which exhibits the twelve techniques that you practice. That’s one solution, right? List all the techniques one practices. But that’s not the solution that will serve us. We’ve got to do the hard work, we’ve got to actually think about what is it in these techniques that is useful to us. What are the actual phenomena in the body that these techniques are addressing, and how are we going to relate to them? Can we borrow certain parts of these techniques, but not others? It’s possible certain schools will offer techniques that are useful, but talk about their work in ways that are not, in our opinion, accurate or useful. Their theoretical point of view may not work for us, but the actual event that happens on the table may be extremely interesting. We have a lot of work to do here.


There is the problem of being true to the phenomena of the body, and there is the problem of finding the easiest way to accomplish our task. We’re getting better at Rolfing. I’m learning how to work in a better way, a smarter way. I’m learning how to use natural forces, but it’s still hard work. I’m a blue-collar worker. When I go to work, I work. At the end of the day, I’m tired. I’m satisfied. I do not feel like I wasted my time. I’m very happy with what I do, but I’m tired. So, I raise my fees to compensate myself for the quality of results I am capable of producing and the tremendous amount of concentration, knowledge and work involved. But, there is the temptation to find an easier way, to use techniques that do not require as much effort. I’m going to do this over the radio. Just put your hand on the radio and send in a dollar! That’s much easier and I could make more money. We are always looking for easier ways. We really do have to find an easier way to do this, but we cannot sacrifice efficacy. We cannot sacrifice the potency of our work and the potency of the outcome because it happens to be a little easier to do it this other way. This is where it gets tricky. Certain new techniques may produce results that look a lot like Rolfing, but it may not be as profound as what would have happened if you were doing what I have been calling the blue-collar work, the pick-and-shovel work of mobilizing fascial restrictions. Some say, “Well it’s Rolfing, I mean it has to be Rolfing, it’s obviously going in the right direction.” Yes, it is, but that session was worth $50. It wasn’t big enough. We have the idea that Rolfing produces a discernible result. The result has to be significant enough to be Rolfing. There’s a quality of results that makes it Rolfing or not. There are times when yes, something changed and the change moved in the right direction according to our view as Rolfers but it’s not enough . . . that wasn’t enough . . . that was okay, but it wasn’t enough.


So, we have a problem. A new technique may be a fad, it may be an easier way of working or a way to make more money; these are all temptations and we should succumb to them selectively, with great deliberation and a lot of community-wide conversation. We are engaged in this process. We are defining it now. Ida is dead. We can do whatever we want. I know, it sounds sacrilegious, but years ago I realized: “Wow, what I do will soon be called Rolfing.” You are all defining Rolfing in your studios when you work, based on what you do. Rolfers will define what is Rolfing, based on their actions and on their carefully chosen words. That’s both scary and very exciting. We have all these weirdoes out there doing strange things, I know there are some of you in here, and you know that what they are doing in their heart is the right thing. Their intentions are good. However, because the techniques they employ have not been part of our common experience or conversation or because they are working at the edges of our existing, common knowledge, calling what they do Rolfing may be confusing for the public and for Rolfers because their work may not be in accord with our agreed upon understanding of our theoretical point of view.


Ida’s Point of View


When I met Ida P. Rolf (I.P.R.), I knew one thing for certain: I had met a very unusual woman, who, when I sat next to her and talked to her, made me smarter. I thought I would be very stupid not to spend time with her. It was a great and obviously life-changing event for me.


I would like to give you my version of what I.P.R. was up to; what I think her point of view was, so to speak. This will be an exercise in eliciting what is fundamental to our work; something we must keep in mind because there’s only a certain amount of theoretical elasticity possible. Knowledge is like a ligament, you try to stretch it too far and it’s going to snap. We need to know where we started in order to understand the nature of the forces currently acting on our point of view.


Ida’s view was system-wide, body-wide, interrelated, and concerned with reordering. And that’s what I think she really meant by “holistic.” Ida was, in my opinion, a unique intellectual. She was what I would call a transitional figure. On the one hand, she was a Victorian, which means that she had one foot in the Enlightenment. She believed in reason. She hadn’t entered the Modern and Post-Modern period, with the skepticism regarding certainty that is entailed by these worldviews. She was a late Victorian, but she was also exposed to the emerging notions of our modern point of view, particularly systems theory. She knew that things were interrelated, that she was not looking at an isolated series of events. She saw that everything was interacting. It was Norbert Weiner and the early theorists of systems theory who set the stage for ecology and for all of the subsequent systems theories. Ida was definitely influenced by them. Her assimilation of their thinking forms a core part of her theoretical point of view. Events are interrelated. The body’s structural elements are all interrelated.


Ida had an interest in human structure, which she thought had been incompletely understood by those who had come before her. She had a structural model based on an optimal relationship to gravity. Doing this, she took a very big step outside all of existing manual therapeutic systems. All the existing schools of thought – osteopathy, chiropractic, manual medicine from the time of Heraclitus – all viewed the body as a self-referential system. Galen wrote a book on manual medicine, which was the standard textbook until the Renaissance. You can see the old drawings with the patient on the rack. He is lying prone. He has leather straps around his wrists and his ankles, which come together at the ends of the device and there are two men, one at each end of the rack. They are putting him into a slight tension by pulling on the straps around his wrists and ankles. The doctor is sitting there adjusting his vertebrae. It makes perfect sense.


Ida said, ‘Well, that’s fine, what you’re doing’ (what all manual therapeutic systems have done: defining the body as a self-referential system; making the body agree with itself – all the parts fit together among themselves in a way that they are supposed to fit together; that was your job, when you did it you were done). [But] Ida [also] said, ‘That’s not enough.’ It not only has to fit together, it has to actually refer to an outside force and organize itself in relationship to that outside force. The body is a relational system. That was unique with her. She was the first one to articulate that. But, as much as gravity is important, as our touchstone, I think Ida was saying something more. She was saying the body’s form and order cannot be understood in isolation. You have to understand that its form and its order and its structure only make sense if it’s in relationship to its environment. For I.P.R. the most important element in the environment was gravity (we now know that it’s not just gravity that shapes us). [It was] the fact that the internal coherence of the system is defined partly by the nature of its relationship to an external system. It’s not just how the body agrees with itself, it’s how it fits into the larger picture, how we orient in the environment. It is this “embeddedness” in our environment that acts to shape our actions and our structure.


The Line


In the early days of Rolfing, if you were to come into a faculty meeting you would see everyone “on his or her ‘Line.’” There was an element of effort, as if the line were imposed on our structures. It got pretty ridiculous. In the beginning, Ida was so enthusiastic about this notion that she actually went overboard and the idea that you needed to accommodate to this external force became more important than internal coherence. If you look at our evolution, once we understood the Line, we had to go back and recapture ease and internal coherence, as if to say: “Oh yeah, the Line is very important, but how you get there makes a difference.” You cannot put it on like a suit of clothes; you cannot lay it on you like a template. It has to be something that expands or grows from the inside, which  emerges from you and is a consequence of greater internal order. We had to do that, we had to go back and put those two ideas back together, because in the beginning accommodation to the Line tended to be an imposition.


We now know that the notion of a vertical line through the center of the body has correlates in other systems. In Vedic theory it is the shushumna; it’s the path of the rising kundalini; it is also the central channel in chi kung in Taoist studies. Many esoteric systems acknowledge the existence of a central line, of a central channel in the body. Ida was extremely cautious when it came to talking about esoteric subjects because she was afraid it would damage her credibility. She was, down the line, a biochemist, a scientist, and she thought like a scientist. However, she also hung out with psychics and was trained in the teachings of Gurdjieff. The reason the Rolf Institute is in Boulder is because of a consultation Ida had with a trance medium, whose name was Bella. Bella would go into trance and channel this guy like this [imitating growly voice]: “You need to go Boulder.”


Ida’s range of knowledge and experience included the esoteric. She would often ask me to put my hand over someone’s head after a Rolfing session, so I could feel the increased “heat” or “energy” emanating from the top of the head. She took this as a sign of integration and an indication that there was a flow of some sort, an openess through the center of the body. I think it’s important to remember that the Line carries more than one aspect of our experience. We need to keep that in mind, and I believe that was her intention when she emphasized the importance of the Line. I believe she was referring to several things. She was referring to the action of gravity, and I also believe she was referring to the central channel. It wasn’t until the lecture at Hunter College in New York that she talked about energetic issues. If you go through her writing, there are lots of quotations implying that her thinking included energetic metaphors. I’m going to say more about this later, but it is clear that it is an aspect of Ida’s teaching and that we are still formulating it.


The other thing that’s obvious in her point of view, is that she was talking about a way of working that is involved in the release of restrictions in the myofascial and connective-tissue systems. However we want to do that is something we need to talk about. There were two things that were clear about Rolfing in the beginning:  1) we did it with our hands or, occasionally, our elbows, and 2) we were working in the connective-tissue system. That was the doorway. It was the method used to evoke all of the changes that she saw could be achieved. We need to keep this in mind.


The interesting thing about Ida’s view of connective tissue is that, for the first time in manual medicine, someone was truly interested in what happened between the joints. Most of the time, in manual therapy, the interest was on where the bones met, where the joints are. You have all seen the tent-pole imagery in her book. It’s what happens between the joints that gives stability to the joints. From there, she moved into conceptions of the web, the interconnected connective-tissue web. And now, we have just cosponsored the first research congress on connective tissue at Harvard Medical School. There is something about what happens in between the joints that is crucial to what we do. Working with the tissue that lies between the joints and influences their behavior is central to our work.


If you look at the way Ida developed the “Recipe,” it’s very interesting to me that she tied it to structures that are defined by common membranes. The Recipe very much proceeds according to compartments, according to structures that are contained within compartments or tubes, and proceeds to systematically work its way through the body. She didn’t say “follow this chain of muscles and connective tissue that is related to walking or any other motor action.” It wasn’t tied to any pattern of compensation, and it wasn’t tied to any functional pattern. It was primordial. It was tied to anatomical structure and you simply, systematically, worked your way through the anatomical structure. There was logic to the sequence of the Recipe, as it proceeded from surface to deep, and somewhat from the support of the legs to the extension of the spine and the creation of front to back balance. These were considerations inherent in the anatomical structure. It’s very tempting to develop systems that attempt to work their way according to highly elaborate coordinated lines of action in the body. But the body needs to be free, not only to move in the direction of optimal functioning and its pattern. It also needs to be free to fall apart and to compensate for injury, for all the “non-ordered” events that occur in life. It has to have the freedom to do that – it can’t be stuck in an idealized pattern or an overly determined pattern. Its underlying structure will always be generic, allowing for many possible configurations.


In the advanced [Rolfing] class we have learning goals and one of the most important learning goals is the continuing education of our sense of touch. To a large extent, our development as Rolfers occurs as a deepening of our sense of touch. There is a quality in our sense of touch that I believe is unique to Rolfing. I call it a “vectorized touch.”  When a Rolfer touches you, they reach in, they penetrate, and they’re going somewhere. That touch has a vector. It’s not wandering and it’s not totally listening. There are times when we listen, we pay attention, we’re connected to inherent motion, we’re connected to expressiveness in the body, but we still work with a vectorized touch. I think it’s fundamental to our point of view, to our theoretical framework. Rolfers have a vectorized touch. It’s also why Rolfing is painful. We’re always looking for ways to do it without hurting people, but I don’t think we should compromise efficacy or potency in order to get rid of discomfort. People are willing to endure discomfort if, when you take your hand off, they feel much better, very much better, and there is a quality of clarity and orientation in their experience that was not there before.


If you took classes with Ida, you were also given lessons on general semantics. Ida was a student of Korzybski. I believe that she was lecturing us on general semantics because she was trying to show us how to work in a way that allowed us to cultivate understanding and knowledge and still be able to put our hands on someone and go to a place where we were available to immediate perception, an immediate sense of what is occurring. That is what she called the “silent level”; actually, that’s what Korzybski called it, the silent level.


The problem with thinking is that thinking uses metaphors, it uses elaborate systems of ideas and there is a danger that your particular – at the moment – idea or model doesn’t fit the territory. Or, you impose it on your perceptions because it’s your idea, it’s what you think. You put it there and everything looks great, goes right according to your model. Meanwhile all sorts of things are going on that you don’t notice. None of us can afford to do that. We have to know, we have to have very developed knowledge, but, when we put our hands on, we have to be able to go to a place that is not constrained by our knowledge. We have to have the knowledge, it has to inform our touch, but, when we’re touching, we have to be able to go somewhere that is spacious, that is not constrained by what we think we know. What’s going on in the body is always going to be bigger than what we know. You don’t always have certainty. Like Ida said, “If you’re after certainty, you’re in the wrong place.” You don’t have to always know exactly what is happening or why it is happening. All you have to know is that it is happening. And you have to be capable of allowing it to happen while you’re engaged in your task. You still have a vectorized touch. You’re still doing what you need to do to get to the goals of that session. But there is a quality in your touch that allows for the expressiveness in the body.


Seven Important Ideas in the Development of Rolfing after I.P.R.


Now, I would like to talk about seven important ideas in the development of Rolfing after I.P.R. These ideas are in an approximation of historical order. It’s hard to be certain about it all, but I’m attempting to provide you with a historical narrative. That’s what old guys are good for.


  1. A theory of types and nonformulistic Rolfing


  1. Taking the work deeper – working in the ligamentous bed


  1. Inside the skull, thorax and abdomen, working with membranes (connective

tissue, but definitely different than what we started working with)


  1. The embodied presence and the practitioner’s inner state


  1. Inherent motion (this probably started earlier, but this is where I put it)


  1. Developing functional aspects of the work (this has been part of the work of Rolfing from the beginning, but it has been strengthened lately by the work of Hubert Godard)


7.Energetic metaphors and templates


A Theory of Types and Non-Formulistic Rolfing


Variations in Spinal Patterns


“Head up, waistline back” – that was Ida’s mantra. If you look, her postural models are tied to a late Victorian sensibility, and this is something that we need to pay attention to. As we know, bodies evolve based on cultural conditions. We are shaped by our cultural milieu, by the activities that are imposed on us. Ida grew up in a culture that had postural schools, and the postural schools always were moving toward a straighter spine, a longer spine, with mitigated spinal curves. You look at the old posture books and you always see the guy with the high-amplitude spinal curves and the big anterior tilt in his pelvis. Well, I told Jan that if he left early, which he did, that I was going to talk about him, so I am. Jan Sultan does not have high-amplitude curves, and when Ida Rolf told him “head up, waistline back,” he was on the floor with his fifth lumbar out. I’ve been in a lot of classes with Jan listening from the floor.


So what is going on here? Why doesn’t “head up, waistline back work?” Well, it only works sometimes, because there are a lot of people whose spine is already relatively straight. For a straight spine, evolution towards optimum may actually involve increasing the spinal curves. “Head up, waistline back” is the wrong thing to tell someone like that. Understanding this was the birth of the Theory of Types. To make sense of this we started looking at x-rays. Ida drew the position of the sacrum in her book almost vertical. There are, however, a lot of people who have a sacrum that will never look like that, no matter how hard you mash on them. The configuration of an entire spine with high-amplitude curves is such that the actual articular surfaces of the sacrum on the ilium are different than those of a spine with diminished spinal curves. So we said, “Okay, we have to treat these people differently from those with a spinal pattern of high-amplitude curves. We have to actually modify the Recipe.”


Internal Type


The birth of the internal/external types originated from our understanding of the whole-body pattern of flexion and extension that occurs with the craniosacral pulse. Anyone who’s taken a cranial class knows that in cranial flexion the accompanying whole-body pattern is one of external rotation, and in cranial extension the whole-body pattern is internal rotation. All we’re saying is that some people tend to be stuck over at one end of the spectrum of whole-body flexion/extension and other people tend to be stuck at the other end. Jan Sultan modified the Recipe to take this into account, and that gave birth to the lines of transmission published in his article. This was the beginning . . . we were starting to take the Recipe apart.


Four Flury Types


Hans Flury took the next step. We know that these structural types have pelvic inclinations that are habitual, which tells us something about where we need to work. Thanks to Hans, we are able to identify pelvic inclination in terms of a tilt around the transverse axis and as a shift along the transverse plane. This is not the bible, this is simply an early model that we developed, but it’s evidence of the fact that we were starting to think about the Recipe outside of a generic sequence of manipulations.


We also talk about two centers of gravity and their relationship. And so, we start to look at how the shoulder girdle and the pelvis relate to each other, how these two centers of gravity interact, and what’s the implication of an upper center of gravity that goes posterior. For example, in my case, my legs are going to externally rotate. This is just an extension of our ability to think about structure, which elaborated on our original theory of types.


Taking the Work Deeper – Working in the Ligamentous Bed


When you think about repositioning the pelvic segment, it doesn’t take long to discover that you often can’t get the pelvic segment completely repositioned if there are intra-segmental problems within the pelvis. There may be a problem in the way the ilia relate to the sacrum and the fifth lumbar and to each other. Releasing tight quadriceps will often ease an anteriorly tilted pelvis but sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it is necessary to look at the relationships among the components of the bony pelvis – the pelvis cannot respond as a segment because it has intra-segmental problems. When we realized this, it opened the box! At that point, it became apparent that our biomechanical knowledge was inadequate. The whole biomechanical approach and the idea of intra-segmental mechanics came to the fore at this time, and that was the beginning of an examination of what I now call the ligamentous bed. We realized that ultimately, in order to get a structure to go where it needs to go, we have to not only loosen the web, we have to be able to notice when the loosening in the web is stopped at the joints. We have to be able to identify why it doesn’t go through, and  it may be that it doesn’t go through because there is an articular restriction. There’s a bone in there that can’t release, that can’t let go because the ligaments are holding it and we have to actually go in there and jiggle it loose. Doing this allows the fascial sheets to open up and the movement to go through. It was just in service to our task of integration that we discovered that we needed to also get the joints to open.


John McMennell


I was most influenced in my appreciation of the significance of ligamentous restrictions at the joints by Dr. John McMennell. There was a senior McMennell and a junior, both orthopedists, who said, “We need to start studying manipulation.” These are orthopedic surgeons saying, “Look, a lot of the problems we’re trying to correct surgically really are problems that could be corrected manually.” Basically what they are saying is that the large movements of voluntary motion across joints, like flexing the knee, are possible only to the extent that the joint itself can be moved passively in every way, according to the structure of the articular surfaces and the ligaments controlling the joint. They called this “joint play.” So, here in the knee, for example, you can take the knee and you can slide the femur on the stabilized tibia transversely. This is a non-physiological movement in the sense that it is not a possible voluntary movement. You cannot make your femur slide laterally on your tibia. The ligaments should, however, have enough elasticity to allow this movement. If they do not, the joint is restricted and all voluntary movement of the joint will be affected. “Joint play movements are all very small but precise in range; it is upon their integrity that the easy, painless performance of movements in the voluntary range depends” (from Mc Mennell). In order to make my knee move like this [demonstrates bicycle pedaling motion], within a voluntary range, the configuration of the joint and all the ligaments around it must be such that the bones have freedom relative to each other. If not, it’s going to interfere with my ability to make this movement. Simple.


Ligamentous Loading


Okay, this is a slide of trunk flexion, just to bring home the significance of ligaments. As the range of trunk flexion increases, the loading in the spine moves from the muscles to the ligaments. You’ll see this in practice. People very often get injured at the extreme range of motion, when the muscles are no longer protecting the joint. A lot of the good advice regarding body mechanics is to not allow loading of the spine at the extreme range of motion. Always move in a way that the joint is protected by the muscles. Obviously, this doesn’t always happen. As soon as you get beyond a certain point, the muscles can’t support the loading, the strain moves to the ligaments, and their elastic ability is challenged and injury happens.


Greenman: Barriers to Motion


When you deal with the ligamentous bed, you have to know what it feels like when you move the joint. When you take a joint and you move it passively to the end of its range of motion, there will be a quality to the feeling that occurs at the end of the range of motion. We call that “end feel.” That’s an important word for us. End feel is not “feeling at a distance” . . .  these words get confused. Feeling at a distance we do all the time. End feel is what happens in a joint when you get to the end of its range of motion. What does it feel like? Is it elastic or is it hard? If it’s elastic it’s normal; if it’s hard there’s a problem with the ligament. The notion of end feel allows us to make palpatory distinctions regarding barriers to motion in different tissue types. Using ideas borrowed from Philip Greenman, an osteopath, we are able to determine the position of “neutral” for any joint or tissue type. This is important because it is only in the neutral position that we are able to capture the full advantages available to us when we work in concert with inherent motion.


Inside the Skull, Thorax, and Abdomen, Working with Membranes


How do you get a flat thoracic spine to come back into a normal kyphosis? I would say that we struggle with this. It may be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the process of integration and is often incompletely resolved. You can’t get the spine to go into its normal pattern by only adjusting the vertebrae. It will help, but it won’t get you there because the configuration is imbedded in a web that includes the muscular wall of the thorax and the way those muscles and their associated fascias, including the lining of the thoracic cavity on the inside, relate to each other. You cannot get the spine to reconfigure until you get the strain out of the wall of the thorax. You have to organize the ribs and get the strain out of the wall of the thorax and begin reshaping it. You’re literally reshaping the shape of the volume that is inside the thorax. That involves working with membranes. As soon as you start to do that you’re going to feel that there is something inside the thorax that is influencing the shape of the thoracic space and the thoracic wall. It may be the pericardium or the pleural membrane of the lungs.


The big issue here is the diaphragm. The thoracic spine is heavily influenced by the diaphragm, which is influenced by the visceral pulls coming from the visceral compartment in the neck down into the thorax and abdomen. All of the fascias that are attached to the organs are affecting the pulls influencing the shape of the thoracic spine, and they have a huge influence on the diaphragm. Working with the diaphragm requires having a sense of membranes. I’m not talking about traditional visceral work, although we need to know how the organs are supported and the anatomy of the membranes. But membranes are an inherent aspect of the body, and we need to have access to them because we need to move these structures in order to accomplish our purpose. These anterior pulls are interfering. Much of the visceral strain in the thorax is focused at the diaphragm. The liver, the stomach and the downward pull of the peritoneum have effects on the diaphragm. We can’t help if our knowledge and skill are not up to this level.


The other important membrane attachments are the dural attachments within the cranium. All cranial work involves work with membranes. We realized, “What are we going to do? We’ve got this guy whose skull is so twisted, there’s no way I can get his neck organized because his sphenoid is in Dallas.” All of you realize how influential the upper pole is. We all have to learn cranial work sooner or later. You have to learn cranial work if you’re going to push this work to its true potency. You need to understand it.


The Embodied Presence and the Practitioner’s Inner State


Here’s another problem we’re facing. I think it has been the cause of some tension in the community, because we haven’t articulated it properly. We are dealing with the body both as an object and as the context of experience, a subjective presence. We go back and forth between these two when we work. There are times when it’s very appropriate to treat the body as an object: you are moving it, you’re moving it sensitively, with the recognition of its embodiment, but your are manipulating it. It has material properties. We navigate between the objective and subjective world when we work, and we just need to be aware that we’re moving between these domains of experience and let’s not fight about it. It’s natural. Inherent presence, embodiment, is crucial.


The key here, of course, is the embodied presence of the practitioner. What happens in you informs your touch. The recognition of the influence of the practitioner’s inner state has been an important development in our work, and this is hard to teach in class. How do you potentize a student’s presence when they’re working? We are actually developing a technology to do this. It’s amazing, it’s fascinating, and it is somewhat unique among the official healing professions. We’re very aware that our presence, where we are, our embodied presence, is crucial to our sense of touch. We also now know that we lead our clients by our presence. When we work our embodiment guides them in the direction we need to go. We are also discovering that our embodiment helps us to see. We see through our own embodied presence. We understand this more and more. Ida did it, no question. In her last years she was, for all practical purposes, blind. She was seeing things she couldn’t have seen. She was simply feeling into the space with her presence.


Inherent Motion


We have developed a very strong appreciation for inherent motion. This came originally from craniosacral work. But, inherent motion in the body goes far beyond the craniosacral pulse. Inherent motion, I believe, is a great treasure for us. It can also be a great seduction because you can sit there and float on inherent motion having a great time but not accomplish the goals of your session. Connecting to inherent motion is essential to the way I practice. However, in my opinion, if the vectorized touch is not in there with it, you are not Rolfing. With inherent motion you can evoke changes in internal states and you can go to places, which are crucial to a successful outcome. We cannot do our work without an acknowledgment of the role of inherent motion. It is a major way in which we potentize our own presence; by feeling it in ourselves, connecting to it in ourselves. The thing about inherent motion, what’s so powerful about it, is that it is a physical expression of the unconscious. It’s right there. It’s not something we have to speculate about. A good psychoanalyst elicits the sense of the unconscious. It is present by inference and by what is left out of the conversation and all kinds of material interpreted in the therapeutic session. Inherent motion is similar. While it is true that it can be consciously experienced by the skilled practitioner, it is outside of most people’s awareness. It is also not totally under our control. When I teach about inherent motion in advanced classes, I always say: “Look, it’s like surfing. You can do all kinds of fancy stuff on the wave but you cannot make the wave. If you’re going to go surfing, the first thing you need is a wave. Then you need a surfboard and you can do fancy things. You can’t make the wave.” When you’re working and you’re looking for inherent motion, remember it is not your construct, it’s not under your control, and it’s not under your client’s control. It’s wild! There it is, this very fundamental, inherent movement in us is crucial to us. It’s a gift. It’s the consequence of our connectedness to a larger field. And it’s right there in us and we can feel it. It’s amazing that we can feel it!


I’m very appreciative of inherent motion. I believe we have potency in our work that is unsurpassed because we are learning how to capture, in our touch, the combination of a vectorized touch and a listening and opening to presence. This is setting the stage for a quality of potency in our work that will feed us for many years. Here is a quote from a lecture I gave in my last advanced class:


All of our learning occurs in the quality of touch. That’s what we do, we work by touching. It’s all happening in your touch. There is a very large field of inquiry here. What does it mean to touch? Why are there some people who are capable of putting their hands on people and it looks like magic and others are over there in the corner sweating? What’s the difference? There is something tangible here. This is something we can inquire about. All of the learning occurs in this field, all of the real learning occurs in the growth and the potency of your touch. In your touch there should be a quality that leaves nothing out and it is not aimless, it is not passive. It is active in the field in which it is not the main actor. If it’s not a vectorized touch, it’s not Rolfing. We have intention, we’re trained, and we know what we’re looking for. There is a vector in our touch, but if that vector is divorced from inherent motion, then it’s disconnected from the source. And then, in my opinion, you are, on a deep level, lost. Things will happen, people will get better, but to some extent, the job of reconnection isn’t really getting done. It’s the reconnection that connects you to the forces that are going to truly integrate the person under your hands. At that point you aren’t just fixing the knee. You are fixing the knee, but you are reweaving the carpet. You are actually integrating [the client] and it’s going to show up as shifts in the spirit, ultimately. It’s going to reverberate through the self. That’s why it’s not just physical therapy. We’re not just poking the flesh, we’re not just moving a bone, and it’s not just biomechanics. We’re learning biomechanics so we’re not stupid when we put our hands on people. We’re not oblivious to what we’re touching. We’re just simply paying homage to the body underneath our hands. We’re saying, “I’m so devoted to you that I’m going to learn all the ways in which you are constructed, so that I don’t work with an image that is too small.”


And even then, no matter how much you study, how much you conceptualize, you are not capable of forming an image that is big enough to contain what you have under your hands. Ultimately, you have to let go. You have to find some way to be in contact with something that expresses itself from the organism with which you can align. Because only then do you have a big enough space for space to emerge. Otherwise, everything is an imposition. You don’t know what’s really supposed to happen. Yes, I know the knee is supposed to go there, I know the talus is displaced. What the hell? The talus may be like that because something happened.


Who knows what? Who knows when or for what reason? But, unless the talus is allowed to be connected to who knows what – who knows when – for what reasons; there’s no reweaving going on here, you’re just moving bones. What’s so incredible is that there’s a palpatory, sensory-based phenomenon that connects us to these large events. This is not prayer, or wishing, or incantation, or feather-dusting. It’s an actual sensation, repeatable; everyone can feel it. It’s mind-boggling to me that it’s accessible to us. And I’m saying also, to some extent, that you catalyze it with your own connection inside yourself to the same event, to your own domain of experience, your own inherent motion. Your touch is basically an expression of your fundamental embodied nature. That is why it’s so interesting.


Developing Functional Aspects of the Work


I am somewhat incompetent to even begin to present to you the complexity and the progress that is going on with the functional side of this work. Obviously Hubert Godard has made a huge contribution. The continuing work of the movement faculty has always fought through Rolfing’s shadow, representing this side of the work. I want to say just a couple of things. What we’re discovering is that we do not organize movement according to anatomical or biomechanical constructs. We do not organize movement by saying, “Okay, now I want you to move your foot forward. Now I want you to sit, get out of the chair, lean forward, do this, do that, do this . . . .” It doesn’t work that way, and yet a lot of people are taught this; that you’re supposed to do your movement in a deliberate way. Actually, the problem is quite the opposite. The problem is over-control most of the time. People are using structures for support that should be free for voluntary motion; these structures are enlisted for the purpose of gravitational support because the gravitational support is incompetent. It’s a huge insight, and in my opinion, I believe we are finally articulating what Ida meant by “intrinsic motion”; motion that is unrestrained by the over-involvement of unnecessary structures. This insight comes because we’re beginning to understand how the body creates a platform for gravitational support, which then frees the voluntary musculature. The voluntary musculature is no longer involved in gravitational support. It is free to do the job of expression, which, of course, is what it’s designed to do.


Second thing: perception influences function. How you see the world is actually an action. You choose. As soon as you make a perceptual orientation, that is the beginning of action. There is a chain of consequences that come from that. In the advanced class we are starting to include teaching from the functional work, as it helps us understand what “normal” is. Understanding what is normal is central to analysis, which is central to non-formulistic Rolfing. We have always worked from a conception of normal based on static posture. We used Ida’s stacking of the blocks model. The functional work is allowing us to see normal in motion and to see how normal motion emerges as a touchstone of integration. This makes it much easier to teach analysis and non-formulistic Rolfing in the advanced class. And that is one of the hardest things we do, one of the most difficult things we teach. How do we make decisions about where we are going to work? Knowing what is normal really helps. The same applies to biomechanics. All you need to know is normal joint motion. Once you know normal motion and you have accurate palpation, you can invent the techniques to mobilize whatever structure you find restricted.


Knowing more about what normal motion is from a functional point of view makes it possible to make distinctions between what we call “functional inhibitions” and “structural restrictions.” This has historically been a source of tension in the Institute. What can be corrected with functional education and what is actually a true structural restriction? We are slowly beginning to get the language, the models and the perceptual skills to make this distinction. We are just getting started. I would love to come back in fifty years and see what’s going on. We are just beginning on this journey. There is an explosion of knowledge in the field right now. We are truly learning something about how to heal ourselves and not be dependent on drugs and knives and authority. I mean, this is a gigantic step forward in the liberation of the self and the claiming of autonomy, which seems to be part of the human mission.


Energetic Metaphors and Templates


The most problematic domain in which we work is the energetic domain. I believe that it is here where we have the least-developed theoretical systems. We have the most ambiguity, and we have the greatest contamination from misapplied, misunderstood and inflated notions that come to us from esoteric schools. I don’t know if you’re following what’s going on out there, but there are huge numbers of people doing “energetic healing,” and we’re entering a domain here that requires a tremendous commitment to personal integrity. It is important not to fool yourself.


Here’s the problem: all of the domains of power have this problem, but it is very important in this one in particular. In the psychoanalytic world it’s called “inflation.” And it means that you take for yourself, as a property of yourself, powers and talents that are really not yours but to which you may have access at the moment. Every instructor in the Institute has felt this. When you go home, after being the magician in class, and you meet your wife or husband who tells you to do the dishes, you realize you’re not magic anymore. “Why isn’t she applauding?” It’s a function of the circumstances. In the beginning, I would get high from the energy of the class. I would do demos in class that I could never do in my office. In the beginning I thought, “Wow, I’m very cool!” Well, [makes a cross with his index fingers] watch out because if you buy into inflation, guess what happens when they pull the plug. I would crash after the class. This is ultimately a problem of boundaries. I believe that the movement faculty is beginning to articulate certain very important psychological properties expressed as vectors of movement that illuminate the nature of personal boundaries. Two-directional movement is an expression of the fundamental relationship between self and other. Our orientation to the space and objects around us is an accurate expression of our psychological attitude toward containment.


Concerning energetic metaphors, I want to say a couple of things. First of all, there’s no question that Ida talked about energy fields. She definitely talked about energy fields in many ways and we don’t know for certain what she meant. Many have walked these paths before us. We are exposed to an unprecedented amount of esoteric information, energetic schools, and techniques. We can look at what’s around us, borrow from other schools, and assimilate techniques and whatever is useful. We can study the models and systems used to describe energetic events. But, let’s make sure that what we assimilate is useful and consistent with what we believe and helps us accomplish our purposes. And, let’s make sure that we are attending to the underlying phenomena in the body in a rigorous way. Let’s always bring it back to the phenomena in the body. We can start to build a database. We can start to talk about our experiences. We can begin to build constructs.


For me, there are two basic notions. One is flow. Something seems to be moving around in there and in here. I can feel it. I feel it in myself. I feel it in my clients. There is a circulation. I can connect to it. I can sometimes use it. The other phenomenon is radiance or presence. When I was learning to see, the job was to see integration or to see what it looks like when a session is well done, that’s what I was trying to see. I was seeing many different phenomena. “They’re shiny, they’re, you know, they’re brighter! There is an emanation or a fullness.” I believe there may be something going on here, there may be some energetic event here. We may be seeing order coming into an energetic field and coherence happening. Who knows what’s going on here! There’s a lot of talk going on in this field. Meanwhile, they cannot find in the acupuncture research any evidence that there is some “energy” in the connective tissue. So, we have to be very careful about what we’re talking about. Is energy flowing really a substance that flows or is it just a bunch of lights lighting up one after the other? (It looks like something is flowing, but nothing is moving at all. It’s just a sequence of activation.) We don’t know. We don’t know about this stuff. But I do believe this will come more and more into the field and that it was there from the beginning. We are going to continue to look at it. It will be part of our work in the future, and we need to be very, very careful here.

Thank you very much.

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