Structural Stretches / Self Exploration and Cultivating the Vertical

Pages: 1-49
Year: 2000




This manual was created and compiled with the help of so many friends over the years, and in so many different places that it has, in fact, become a truly worldwide collaboration of many hearts and minds.

First of all I must acknowledge the profoundly important foundational work of Dr. Ida P. Rolf and some of the people that followed in her footsteps: Vivian Jaye, Jane Harrington, Emmett Hutchins, Peter Melchior, and Jan Sultan. I?m also grateful for the deep and meaningful mentoring I received from Peter Levine and Jose Angelo Gaiarsa. They provided an intellectual and personal foundation which enabled me to develop my approach and present it in its present form. Thank you all.

Thanks also to all the students and clients who, by going through this experience with me, helped me to learn, build and rebuild the sequences, find the right words, review the instructions, and, most of all, distinguish what it was that was trying to emerge. Thanks to all of you for participating in this gradual process of maturation.

Many thanks go to Jose Augusto Menegatti and Aida Cordeiro, the people who posed for the pictures, Ana Figueiredo, Vera Sene, Paulo Marcelo Costa for their early encouragement in documenting these photo sequences and to Jose Roberto Sadek for the actual shots – thanks for the push.

Special thanks to Robert Schleip for the interview that helped shape the physiological reference in this work.

Liz Gaggini, Giovanni Feliccioni and Vivian Jaye helped edit the text. Thank you for your suggestions and fine text.

In a cooperative and open hearted way, Sybille Cavalcanti of the Brazilian Rolfing Association and Klaus Nagel of the European Rolfing Association E.v. repeatedly gave me the necessary office support in the many stages that preceded the edition of this book.

Thanks to Fernanda Sarmento, Lu Vilela de Araujo and Leticia Moura who created the graphic format for the different stages of this edition. Also to Alex Cerveny for his brilliant illustrations.

My deepest gratitude goes to Paula Mattoli for her devoted hard work, for her loving participation and support, and especially for making me believe all of this was possible and necessary.

Once again, thanks to all of you

Pedro Prado


Soon after I graduated in Clinical Psychology, in 1973, I participated in a study group with Dr. Gaiarsa, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There, for the first time, my eyes were opened to the importance of proprioception in one’s self-image and self-esteem, as well as in its use in dealing with transformation.(1)

I was certified in Rolfing in 1981 and became interested in the connection between the physical structure and emotions, and also in the connection between the theories of W. Reich and his followers and Ida P. Rolf and her followers.(2)

As a Rolfing student, I started stretching(3) to look into my own body experience for some of the concepts that I was being taught. Many times the theoretical landmarks and definitions seemed too abstract to me. This was around l984, during my advanced Rolfing training, in Boulder, Colorado, with Emmett Hutchins and Peter Melchior. I ran into Dorothy Hunter, a very good friend, in New York City, and we found that we were both Turing around with stretches in a very similar way. We began meeting in Central Park in the mornings and showing each other our discoveries.

Back in Brazil, I continued this research on my own, putting the exercises together in such a way that they reproduced the effects of the Rolfing protocol, or what Dr. Rolf called “the recipe.” I therefore developed a series of stretches for each session.

I soon realized that this series could be a powerful tool for clients to take home, and like me, explore their own bodies and their connections. I also saw that these stretches could help clients maintain, on their own, the result of each session. Clients could now actively do something for themselves.

More importantly, by challenging and exploring their restrictions through sensations, they could uncover in themselves the self-regulating, self-organizing power of their own body. When given the opportunity to be released from restrictions our body will naturally find its own way to a higher level of function and integration. To be more precise, when these stretches are preformed with awareness, they will access and activate our somas’ inherent orthotropic nature,(4) that is, the inate tendency of the body to correct itself and seek uprightness. As a result, the integration we all desire is not imposed on us from the outside, but discovered from within.

At this point, in l986, I began assisting instructors during Rolfing classes. I then used these exercises to convey a proprioceptive experience of the sessions to my students. And therefore, over the following years, during the many classes I assisted, and afterwards, in the many classes I taught as an Instructor, have used this system as a pedagogical tool.

I soon realized that this method could be used in a clinical manner, either to prepare for or close a session. Doing it beforehand would create more resilience and openness in the client. Doing it afterwards could become a homework assignment which clients frequently asked for and, in fact, needed. During the sessions the stretches could help achieve a more participatory style for the session, and help the practitioner perceive where the limitations in length and connection were in order to activate the orthotropic effect. This work had in fact been completed many years ago. I had presented it at professional meetings – Boulder in 1990, Germany in 1992 and Brazil in 1998- but somehow it seemed that I could never find time or motivation to make it into a book or into a larger statement.

That?s how things go…

Rolfing was also evolving. The work through movement (Rolfing Movement Integration) was taking king shape through Vivian Jaye and Jane Harrington?s(5) contributions. With the appearance of the Definition(6) and Principles of Intervention,(7) and new ways to look at structures,(8,9,10) these stretches now gained another dimension. The internal experience includes not only the sensorial one, but also whatever layer of human experience that is met as one is stretching through it. In Rolfing we developed a certain ordering of events so that practioners could be more economical and safer in their approach. The use of principles of intervention and new forms of evaluating structure, developed by Jeffrey Maitland and Jan Sultan, brought these stretches into their present form. I also found important inspiration in Peter Levine?s(11) work on shock and trauma, and also in Dr. Gaiarsa’s neo-reichian approach to psychological attitudes. Maitland’s elucidation of the orthotropic nature of the body also allowed me to conceptualize what my Structural Stretches had uncovered.

I was inspired to stretch my whole body after my contact with the Meziere method, and later with RPG, a deviation of the Meziere method that appeared in Brazil brought by Phillipe Souchard.(12) All body postures were designed so that the client could stretch his body beyond his own limitations, thereby producing changes in posture and effects in the whole myofascial net. When I started using these stretches in the context of Dr. Rolf’s(13) profound understanding of structure, they gained in power and effect.

We now have a methodology that applies traditional and other practices (yoga, meditation, Rolfing, Meziere, etc.) in a systematic way that can deal with structure, and therefore achieve long-lasting changes.



Stimulation of the myofascial tissue will trigger the Golgi tendon organs, that will then send information to the spinal cord, which in turn will send information to the muscle fibers, decreasing their tone.

This is called a simple two-synapses reflex arc.

Golgi organs exist throughout the connective tissue and fascial sheets. They are concentrated in tendons, but are also spread throughout the tissue. They are organized in series, chains and lines.

When first stimulated they signal us to stop as a sign of danger, disruption or injury to the tissue. This is probably one of the reasons they exist.

If one moves slowly, however, very slowly, and endures the stretch for a longer period of time, one will stimulate the Golgi tendon organs which, in a chain reaction, will stimulate the subsequent receptors, therefore stimulating muscles to reduce their tonus and to lengthen. If the stretch is done too fast we lose this chain reaction possibility of transmitting information and achieving muscular relaxation. If micro-movements are included, one can reach other organs and chains, broadening the possibilities of relaxation.

The Golgi reflex takes two seconds to happen. However, greater changes in shape are brought by longer processes.


Golgi reflexes act locally by lengthening and relaxing segments of the connective tissue and muscles.

If a stretch is done very slowly and then associated with a sensation of pleasure (deep breathing, relaxing, etc.) the interpretation of the stimuli will not be of danger, but of pleasure, stimulating a complete relaxation. The autonomic nervous system is then stimulated and switches from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity.

Therefore, while carrying out the proposed series, one will be invited into these two states of the nervous system, going from one to the other by holding the position and then allowing the relaxation to flow. This way of stretching should avoid adaptation to the stimulus.

The inclusion of micro-movements and of stimulation of parasympathetic activities generates awareness, keeping the brain switching back and forth between systems and attitudes of arousal and release.

Neurologically we move from spinal cord to brain stem activities. The timing of brain stem activities is slower.


By repeating the experience and activating the perception of the sensations, rather than going through the series mechanically, a change in one?s self-image may occur. Where in the body is there recognition and perception and where is there not? New sensations are always perceived and registered.

This process of perceiving and recognizing will play a role in the interaction of the existing image with the new image one has of one?s psychobiological being. Our new body scheme therefore serves as an embodiment goal.

The “blind spots” and previously unperceived relationships are now recognized and integrated into our body scheme. This perception transforms the “map” we have of ourselves as a whole.

This level is also cortical, it deals with relations, connections, associations and directions within and beyond the structure, as well as connections and directions within the context in which we are embeded. This changes the internal landscape and the ” comfort zone” in which we operate with our body image. If the experience is pleasurable, it allows a fuller body response and therefore makes for a more effective change.

Again, embodying these experiences gradually is important so that the person doesn’t “shrink” afterwards. If the person feels contracted, it is because he/she has gone beyond his/her limits.

Therefore, resting between sequences is also very important. Consolidating new body images requires a period of time during which there are no new challenges. One can also explore the space between not trying and trying too hard.

Beginning with the development of this perspective, one can investigate and correlate the effects that the neurological systems and their integrated functions have on self-image, self-esteem, and the development and evolution of the personality. However, this is enough for the moment.


The structural stretches are actually a combination of structure and function, form and movement.

For best results, maintain a perfect awareness while taking these positions. Carry out the suggested pósitron until you reach your own personal limit, which will give you a physical sensation of limitation.

By challenging the limits of form through micro-movements or through focused breathing, one may come in contact with the nature of the restriction. Allowing the elongation to occur, the resulting changes accommodate themselves throughout the whole structure and then gradually move on to the next limit, thus continuing the exploration.

The nature of holding patterns in our physical body has connections that go beyond the physical, often touching emotional, cognitive or spiritual dimensions. As a holographic system, these dimensions are all inter-connected and resonate within each other.

Provoking these holding patterns and allowing restrictions to change can affect the whole structure/person. New levels of order and function can be reached.

They therefore need to be thought of and practiced as whole body postures. Concerns with the rest of the structure/person and its integration are imperative. If one wants to stretch (increase the distance between two points, at least) a segment of the body, there is a need to integrate with the whole.

Above all, the practice of Structural Stretches requires not treating yourself as an object to be stretched, but in learning how to live your form and open up to the new form that wants to emerge as a result of exploring your limitations with awareness.

First you must become active by going into the posture, holding it, and fully experiencing your limitations at a sensorial level. Then you can gradually enter into what wants to emerge by easing or intensifying your sensations. Breathe with awareness, allow and become the inner movements that begin to emerge, as old patterns uncouple. Allow space for discharges of the Autonomic Nervous System (for example, goose bumps, yawning, changes in temperature, slight trembling, etc.) and changes in physiology so that you can accept the form you were, embrace the form you are, and become the form that wants to emerge.

Contacting your limitations with your full awareness, gradually letting yourself go by means of these stretches will allow you to gracefully find higher levels of integration and function. Structural Stretches is not a matter of imposing any preconceived form on yourself or willfully stretching beyond your limitations, rather a personal investigation into how to activate the inherent orthotropic nature of your body.

It takes the combining of doing and relaxing, keeping elongation while motility and inner movement are elicited, combining holding the posture with micro-movements. This is the key to the entire practice. Postures need to be symmetrical, so shorter segments always dictate the form of the posture. These are the first segments that should be released. Once they’re dealt with one can move on, reaching deeper layers.

The principles of Rolfing intervention have to be respected:

– Adaptability as preparation is a condition of deeper exploration. It is recommended to always take care with initial positioning, revisiting areas previously worked before going into deeper stretching.

– Support for taking the positions. Each part that you are working on has to find support on the other part of your structure. This will help stabilize the changes.

– Continuity is a necessary condition for order. Make sure to find a flow that includes the whole body, therefore, connecting all parts, systems and layers, both sensorially and energetically.

– Palintonicity (this concept comes from the greek word “Palintonos” which means “stretched back and forth,” or more generally, “unity of oppositions”) is always addressed as the spatial and 3-dimentional real ity, reflecting the results of abandonment of any pattern. Therefore, it is necessary to be concerned with breathing, and with the dimensionality of the structures that are being addressed.

– Closure. All practices include integration and closure within the structure itself. Pay attention to the completion of the work, don?t force yourself beyond it, don?t overdo it. Make sure to gradually contact the environment and the world as you come out of these positions.

The goals of each session are mainly described in structural terminology but all sessions aim to explore sensations connected to these structural goals.

This is therefore an experiential “guided tour” through the Rolfing process. One may use parts of it or a specific sequence for exploration, but be aware of the context of the whole person – you are never working just with parts. Take responsibility for this.

If one suffers from back, knee or neck pains, or has a history of structural disorders that produce painful episodes, then twisting positions may put one off-balance temporarily. Also, if these positions are not carefully and properly executed, they may disorganize the structure. I do not recommend the practice of these stretches in these cases.

The pictures are indicators. The description can supply images and angles that are not in the pictures. They also indicate the movement component that still photographs cannot show.

A few abbreviations are used:

LDH- lumbo dorsal hinge
AOJ- atlanto occipital joint
ANS- autonomic nervous system
EOF- eye of the foot

I also use the terms “sleeve” and “core” in the way Rolfers use these terms to represent the more superficial fascial wrappings (sleeve) and the deeper tissues, related to the visceral space (core).


Please don’t overstretch or jump into a stretch abruptly. It is always better to go slowly, progressing gradual step by step, rather then going too fast and running the risk of injury. Consider the whole body, prepare yourself for the position, find support, and then execute it. Allow time for the autonomic nervous system to discharge. Allow time for the orthotropic effect to take over. And, once again, please take your time to integrate the changes…

This is about living an experience to its full.

For the exercises, see PDF copy.


1- Gaiarsa JA.Reich 1980. Sao Paulo,Brazil:Agora;1982.

2- Prado P. Contribuições sobre o pensamentoobra de Ida P. Rolf para o trabalho com postura em psicologia.Master dissertation presented at Instituto de Psicologia da Universidade de SaoPaulo,Brazil;1982.

3- Lederman E. Fundamentals of Manual Therapy – Physiology, Neurology an Psychology. New York: Churchill Livingstone;1997.

4- Maitland J. Lecture notes and private conversations. Sao Paulo,Brazil;2000.

5- Harrrington J, Jaye V. Lecture notes and private conversations. São Paulo, Brazil and Boulder, CO; from 1994 to 2000.

6- Maitland J, Sultan J. ?Definition and Principles of Rolfing?. Rolf Lines. 1992; 20(2)16-18.Rolf Institute.205 Canyon Blvd,Boulder,CO.80302.

7- Cottingham JT, Maitland J. ?Integrating manual and movement therapy with philosophical counseling for treatment of a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a case study that explores the principles of holistic intervention?. Alternative Therapies. March 2000;vol6(2)119-127.

8- Sultan J. ?Towards a structural logic?. Notes on Structural Integration. 1986; (1)1216.HansFlury,Badenerstr, 21CH-8004,Zurich,Switzerland.

9- Schleip R. ?Primary reflexes and structural typology?. Rolf Lines.1993;21(4)37-47.Rolf Institute.205 Canyon Blvd,Boulder,CO.80302.

10- Flury H. Notes on Structural Integration.1986 to present. Hans Flury, Badenerstr, 21CH-8004,Zurich,Switzerland.

11- Levine PA. Waking the Tiger-Healing Trauma. Berckley, CA:North Atlantic Books;1997.

12- Souchard P. Auto-postures. St Mont, France:Universite de Therapie Manuelle; 1988.

13- Rolf IP. Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures. Santa Monica, CA:Dennis Landman Publications;1977.

14- Roth HD. Original Tao: inward training (nei-yeh) and the foundations of Taoist mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press;1999.

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When your body is not aligned,
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within,
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power,
Then it will gradually come on its own.(14)


See PDF copy for exercices

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