Rolfing collection and memory

Undated Rolfers’ Notes – Rolfing history and memory


Structural Patterning is a system of educating a person to move efficiently, Teachers of Structural Patterning see the results of the work in terms of increased efficiency; students often describe the results as “improved physical health and appearance, increased energy and emotional well being”.

Most people consider gravity as the force which pulls them down and causes discomfort; when intact, it is the resistance to gravity which can cause fatigue, backaches, etc. In this way, gravity can be destructive to a poorly aligned body; in contrast, it can be supportive to a well-aligned body. Structural Patterning devotes itself to teaching the person to interact harmoniously with gravity.

In Structural Patterning, the human structure is viewed as having an imaginary vertical line through its center and horizontal lines at the body’s hinges. These lines provide a point of reference for the teacher to observe the body’s position in its three dimensions: right to left, front to back, up to down. As the body becomes more centered in these three dimensions, the result is an additional balance: inside to outside.

Ideal alignment occurs when the centers of gravity of each body part (ankle, knee, pelvis, etc.) are balanced one above the other vertically. Most of us deviate from this ideal alignment in some way-a hazard of “growing up”. As one body part moves off the center line, all the other parts must adjust in placement or tension to counterbalance this shift. Therefore, Structural Patterning regards the total body rather than the separate parts of which a person may complain: a stiff neck, an aching back, weak knees, etc. For each part that moves off center, there is a corresponding loss of vertical length. People tend to think of this shortness or “slumping” as part of the irreversible aging process. With appropriate information, however, a person can learn to diminish the effects of physical injuries and psychological stress.

The total pattern of alignment is unique to each individual and, correspondingly, each individual develops a preferred way of moving. With repetition these movement preferences become habitual and automatic. For example, a person wearing a cast on one leg will develop a new way of standing and walking in order to balance the extra weight. After awhile, the balance becomes habitual, so much so, that when the cast is removed, the habit pattern remains. The person walks as if he is still wearing the cast. To learn a new way of moving takes a conscious effort and may temporarily interfere with one’s customary flow or speed, just as in learning any new skill. But once new pat terns are learned, a person can perform automatically and more efficiently.

The teacher of Structural Patterning begins by distinguishing between the student’s optimal alignment and habitual alignment. Next, balanced ways of moving each of the body’s hinges are integrated into an overall pattern of movement and then applied specifically to the student’s needs.

One of the goals of Structural Patterning is educating the body to become more capable of carrying out the mind’s intentions. These intentions may be focused in various ways: in daily activities (lifting, bending, sitting, carrying), in recreation (tennis, jogging, swimming), in work (typing, reading) or in communication.

Most of us take for granted complex movements which we have performed successfully many times. When observing children playing, a child with coordination problems can easily be identified. His lack of coordination may be that his arms move at a different pace than the rest of his body, arriving too late to catch a ball, for example. This child may or may not receive the special instruction that he needs at school, and if he becomes discouraged by his unsuccessful attempts, he may give up wanting to play ball all together.

The particular concerns that bring people to Structural Patterning are varied, but the goal is always that of learning to reflect the mind’s intentions and to move with ease. A pregnant woman can learn to align her body closer to its center and receive more support for her child. A masseur can learn to use his weight and strength without expending unnecessary energy. When a musician learns to play his instrument with more ease, he can develop clearer tone and quality. A secretary can find less fatiguing ways of sitting and typing. Any human performance can be improved through balance. Structural Patterning does not conflict with interests in other movement disciplines. One can learn to do yoga, Tai Chi, Arica Gym, Feldenkrais, exercises, jogging, gymnastics, etc. in a way that nourishes the body’s need to be balanced.

In observing a young baby with his parents, one can see how some habit patterns develop. As the parent holds the baby, he introduces him to gravity and shapes his understanding and preferences. These preferences get reinforced every day in simple ways. For example, the mother might always carry the baby on the same hip, place toys to the baby’s right, or place him in the crib so that he will need to turn right to see the sunlight or activity. The baby usually continues these patterns as he grows. When these preferences are reinforced by later cultural styles of home, school and friends, the child becomes less aware of options and more reliant upon his familiar pattern. Even at a young age these preferences will encourage one body part to be out of symmetrical balance to the other parts. In working with the child, the Structural Patterners encourages him to explore other ways of moving, to discover other choices. Patterners also work with the parents to broaden their movement vocabulary, to avoid imposing a one- sidedness on the child. Visualize a child who has the opportunity to grow “up” his vertical line, rather than around it as a vine.

In summary, Structural Patterning teaches the individual how to evoke three dimensional balance in the field of gravity in order to move with ease in carrying out the mind’s intentions.


After receiving her M.A. in the field of Fine Arts, from the University of California, Judith Aston began teaching at Long Beach Community College. In classes for dancers and actors, she became aware of the body’s inter-relationship with gravity and that it revealed and determined behavior characteristics. Through this understanding, she began to use movement as an integrativetool for the Gestalt process, and later became the Movement Consultant for the San Diego Gestalt Institute.

In 1968, Judith trained in Structural Integration with Dr. Ida Rolf. As she began to do the “Rolf-Work,” she observed the need for additional movement education. Combining her background as a teacher of movement with her ability “to see- movement, Judith developed Structural Patterning, based upon Dr. Rolf’s concepts of alignment.

In evolving the application of Structural Patterning, Judith realized its potential positive effect for all movement. As director of the Structural Patterning Institute, she is now primarily involved with training Patterners to extend this education. Judith Aston is also on the training staff of the Rolf Institute.Structural Patterning

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