Pro Levitatem: An Appeal to Rolfers to Re-introduce the Concept of Levity to our Paradigm

Below is a short article written for a readership of Rolfers but which members of the general public may also find of interest.


Practitioners of Structural Integration do not feel ourselves to be therapists.  The gravitational field is the therapist.

—Ida Rolf

Take the very top and centre of scientific interpretation by the greatest of its masters: Newton explained to you—or at least was once supposed to explain, why an apple fell; but he never thought of explaining the exact correlative but infinitely more difficult question, how the apple got up there.

John Ruskin, The Storm-Cloud of the Ninteenth Century


In the mid-seventeenth century, a group of natural philosophers from the Florentine Accademia del Cimento published a treatise called “Contra Levitatem.” In this short work, they argued that there was no reason to appeal to any force other than Gravity to explain the motion of physical objects. Dante had affirmed in the Divine Comedy some four odd centuries prior that the Earth and all the nested planetary spheres are turned in perfect harmony by  “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle). In a similar manner, the Florentine thinkers set forth Gravity in contrast to Love as the real primum mobile. Newton’s publication of Principia Mathematica near the end of the century appeared to ratify the Florentines and serve to establish the contra levitatem doctrine as incontrovertible fact. As a result, it became the tacit paradigm to explain celestial and terrestrial motion and, for just that reason, it has hardly been noted since. Indeed, the notion of “Levity” as a quality of buoyancy polar to the centripetal pull of Gravity, if it is mentioned at all, is usually being employed as an analogy to describe a psychological disposition and never uttered in a univocal scientific sense. 

If science were the same thing as truth, then the rejection of Levity by the Florentine academicians would be grounds for the dismissal by everyone to follow. But, obviously, the relationship between science and truth is more complicated than simple identity. In fact, dialectical refutation of erstwhile theories is the engine as scientific progress as such. For this reason, the affirmation that science is the same thing as truth would be tantamount to the simultaneous rejection of science as we know it. All of this by way of preface to justify the proposition that Levity be reintegrated into our paradigm of physics. 

Many objections may immediately be raised to this prospect. I will address a few of them and I hope this will be sufficient to show that Levity deserves real consideration in our community. Among the first objection that is likely to occur to Rolfers is that Dr. Rolf never mentioned “Levity.” To my knowledge, this is true as far as it goes. Nevertheless, Dr. Rolf betrayed an intuition of this quality on many occasions without invoking it by this name. Most commonly, the unspoken notion of Levity appears when she attempted to articulate the fundamental manner in which structure and anatomy is to be conceived. The view of anatomy that affirms the primacy of fascia and that interprets the function of the bones not as support structures, but as spanners for the fascia is a quintessential description of Levity on terms other than its own. More specifically, it is an example of how the conditions of Levity may be described in the language of Gravity. 

Why do we need the notion of Levity, then, if whatever it is can be described just fine with familiar engineering terms? In answer, consider the analogy of warmth. It is not assumed that because temperature can be reduced to energy or motion that the concept of heat can be done away with. Quite on the contrary, it is only the immediate perception of heat as a macroscopic qualitative reality that its microscopic underpinnings can be coherently understood and conceptualized as such. In a similar manner, I believe that Dr. Rolf could never have articulated her theory of tensegrity in terms of Gravity [1] were it not for an immediate perception of the body’s lift, which can only be perceived in the mode of Levity. Moreover, to grant such primordial recognition to the force of Gravity without simultaneously recognizing a force that is polar to it both flouts the principle of Polarity [2] and remains conceptually incomplete because it fails to account for phenomena that do not uniformly follow the gravitational gradient. 

I hope this brief discussion and treatment of objections has served to establish a legitimate foundation for the contra levitatem maxim to be reappraised and perhaps rejected. Before I conclude this article, I wish to offer a brief characterisation of Levity from a philosophical standpoint. I hope this will also suggest why its acceptance may benefit the Rolfing community. 


In principle, whereas Gravity is understood to be the force that accounts for the weight of object, Levity can be conceived as the inverse of this. Levity, therefore, is the principle of lift in spite of the tendency of matter to follow the gravitational gradient. Observation of nature will reveal that these counter-gravitational influences bear a relation to warmth and light. The fact that the sunlight draws a crocus from the dark earth in spring is a quintessential expression of Levity in action. If we do not perceive it as such, I believe it is because we have no suitable concept at hand that can disclose it in this way. Newton’s apple, to which Ruskin alluded in the epigraph to this article, is another example: that it could fall in the first place implies that it had risen and this is a fact that gravitational physics may offer at most an oblique and circuitous description, as by appeal to osmotic pressure. In a general sense, life itself bears an essential relation to the Levity. At the same time, inert matter is bound to the influence of Gravity. Gravity relates to inertia and Levity to “alertia,” to coin a term off the cuff. 

That living sap rises against the gradient of Gravity in the spring is a very expressive demonstration of Levity in action. Inversely, in autumn, the erstwhile living sap falls in the form of withered leaves. This is the consequence of the leavening, counter-gravitational principle of life having withdrawn and relinquished the leaf Gravity and its hunger for what lies below. When it is said that “only dead fish go with the flow,” the same relations are being indicated. In essence, therefore, Gravitation is a contractile and centripetal force while Levity is the inverse. This is to say, Levity is buoyant, suctional, and expansive. It may even be affirmed that Levity is the principle that accounts for that the cosmos does not collapse on itself. Readers are encouraged neither to accept nor reject these propositions, but rather to try them out for size, as it were, to discover if they fit the keyhole of experience and unlock new dimensions of vision.  Naturally, I believe that experience will ratify them else I would not have written this piece.

More than anything, however, I have written this apologia of Levity because of my excitement at what it may offer to our work. Specifically, the notion of Levity can assist the conceptual coherence of Rolfing. Some may cast aspersions on the importance of such coherence and affirm instead that it is preferable to go by feel. [4] But I believe this is akin to attempting to circumnavigate the globe but at the same time refusing to consult a map. Granted that the map cannot substitute for the territory. And yet, neither can the territory be a map of itself. [5] If it could, no map need ever have been drawn in the first place. If we affirm the utility of a map, then we must at the same time affirm the benefit of improving it. For instance, we have all been educated to consider the various taxonomies by which our work may be evaluated that Jeff Maitland developed. Obviously all of the taxonomies concern the same object (i.e. the human subject) and are motivated by the same concern (i.e. regard for the principle of Holism). And yet the actual relation amongst them is not always clear. How does the structural taxonomy relate to the sociobiological one, for instance? The question is isomorphic with the perennial question of philosophy: how does the body relate to the soul? The ordinary conceptions of physics have little to offer by way of a satisfying response and must merely content themselves with identifying correspondences between measurable phenomena and reported internal experiences.

But the notion of Levity serves to bridge the apparent cleft between the outer and the inner. Note that both warmth and light, besides being physical phenomena, are also immediately available to perception in a way that earth, water, and air are not. Our perception of these phenomenological elements is mediated through touch and sight and, to a lesser degree, other senses. Touch, however, is actually the experience of repulsion between two solid bodies, which cannot occupy the same space according to the definition of the term “solid body.” And sight is an inwardisation of light and not of the objects that reflect that light. In contrast to earth, water, and wind, however, warmth is immediately present to experience and so is light. The fact that our dreams are not dark like the space in which our sleeping bodies lie is a testament to the interiority of light. I believe that the notion of Levity can shed new light on this question and establish a coherence that may otherwise be only intimated. This article is not the place to present an in depth study of any of these particular questions, much less to dispute any point of view about an answer to them. I hope only to have succeeded in presenting the notion of Levity and suggesting several ways in which it may benefit our work. 
14958258 - sunflower sprout on vivid green bokeh background  horizontal

[1] Gravity itself has, since Newton’s first mathematical formulations of its effects some three hundred years ago, now been reinterpreted as an emergent phenomenon that is the result of warped spacetime in the vicinity of massive bodies following Einstein’s theories. 

[2] As articulated by Jeff Maitland, Jan Sultan, and Michael Salveson.

[3] I hesitate to describe it as a force because this seems already to begin a conceptualization of Levity in terms of gravitational physics that are, in some manner, contrary to it.

[4] Of course, they are correct insofar as feeling is a sine qua non for effective work. But if they mean to discount the significance of achieving conceptual clarity as to the principles and aims of our work, then they cannot really assert this position without affirming in practice what they are ostensibly denying. In other words, the position that conceptual clarity over the nature of our work is unnecessary is a position that must be articulated conceptually or not at all.

[5] Cf. “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges (from Collected Fictions) for a philosophical exploration of this relation in the form of a short story.


Differentia of Rolfing: Moonlight & Screwdrivers

Another answer I give to the question of “How is Rolfing® SI any different from massage?” is that as a Rolfer™, I strive to serve my client to the highest degree that I can, and massage is a tool that I sometimes use. But it does no one any service if I decide to meet every situation I encounter with a single tool. To use suboptimal tool for a given job is an activity that we can all imagine: consider building a log-cabin with a screw-driver….

My responsibility is to possess, polish, & employ as many tools as possible to serve my clients best. It’s no good with no selection, it’s no good if they are rusty, & it’s no good if I’m not willing to wield them.

Massage is a tool; an instrument towards a given end. But it is not the end itself. The pointing finger is not the Moon. My charge is to wield the tools for what they’re worth; no more, no less. The particular end through Rolfing SI® is to evoke a condition of uniform brilliance in the client’s being. If bone-scrubbing with an elbow is the best means thitherto, then so be it. But usually there are better ways. Contact, imitation, words, movement, imagery, etc…at The Way of the Elbow headquarters, we strive to keep the tool-chest stocked.


Differentia of Rolfing: Magic Snorkels & Registered Trademarks

How is Rolfing® Structural Integration different from deep-tissue massage?

I try to come up with a different answer every time someone asks me this. But I’m a conservationalist as well as a conversationalist so occasionally this latter impulse gets the better of me & I find myself recycling responses. One obvious difference between these two modalities is that Rolfing® SI gets to flaunt the little “®” ornament under the protection of legal mercenaries & the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, both parties whom receive remuneration by our annual membership dues.

But another response that has gotten its fair share of service from my lips is this one:

For a massage, you pay for an hour. Then, when you walk out the door, you’re done. When you walk out of the door after a Rolfing® session, that’s when it starts…

Hvordan da? What does this mean?

In a Rolfing® session, we persuade the body to relinquish habits of tension & inhibitions to fluid movement. After a session, the body is primed to integrate this somatic freedom; one finds the possibility to perform old activities in a new way. This is a challenging enterprise, especially given that, when the client leaves the studio, she is re-immersing herself in the very environment that very likely forged those habitual tensions in the first place! But all hope is not lost—she is not doomed to drown anew in this endless ocean of stressful causes: the conditions have changed; the Rolfing intervention has altered a fundamental variable. The somatic awareness that the Rolfing session endowed her withal is like a magic snorkel (to stretch this poor metaphor like string of sticky fascia.) Now she can go free-diving with ease even amidst the tumultuous seas of daily affairs. Her only task is remembering to breathe….


Endpoints of the Yellow Brick Road: Consciousness

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!” If you don’t know it, don’t do anything because you can’t…

Or, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld memorably presented this epistemological quandry:

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Take taking a breath: if I raise my shoulders with every inspiration all the way to my earlobes, so that they interminably gobble-up & regurgitate my neck with every breath-cycle, this takes a lot of effort. It also doesn’t give me much benefit. Maybe I’m a resilient fellow who is also oblivious, so I breathe this way during a whole day without obviously suffering any debilitating consequences. Nevertheless, over the days & weeks, such a habit becomes expensive. It is a continual investment with negative returns; a pocket with a hole in it. So I ought to give it up, yes? I ought to cease & desist before my trapezius solidifies under chronic duress and cements my shoulder-blades as earings for ever after. And desist I most certainly will, provided that I know what I am doing. But if this utterly exhausting habit be subconscious—one of Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”—then I have no say in the matter.

Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives & we will call it ‘fate,’

wrote Carl Jung. Or we won’t call it anything at all & instead just persist in insensible breathing, like bedlamites.

So recognising a pattern brings with it the possibility to change it. Until then, I have no prospects. Consciousness is a necessary condition for change. The fun part is that it’s often a sufficient condition as well—it’s often all it takes. As experiments in quantum mechanic demonstrate, the observer changes the system.

Becoming cognisant of a given habit is always the first step towards changing it. And it is often also the last—a point which conveniently corroborates our conception that the Yellow Brick Road is really a circle. So my job as a Rolfer™ is to help people take this all-important step. 

Paso, pasito, PASÓN! 

If I had a good Rolfer, she would point out to me that I were respirating like a maniac. Then, if I were reasonable, I would try something different. I might even clap cause I was happy.

Endpoints of the Yellow Brick Road: Deliciousness

Don’t go for perfection; go rather for deliciousness.

This is the counsel of Monica Caspari, whom I have the privilage of having called my instructor for four months during my Movement & Unit III trainings in São Paulo, Brazil. In her foundational article “The Functional Rationale of the Recipe” published in Rolf Lines in 2005, she declares that “deliciousness, joy, and happiness are more important than perfection” (5) for our clients.

One reason this is the case is because, as it relates to the human body, perfection is an ideal; a “top-down” imposition on the person. This appeals to our rational minds—the Euclidian drive that sleeps but softly within us all, needing but the smallest spark to errupt in all the flames of idealistic fury. There’s no such thing as a perfect circle, perfect symmetry, or even a perfect cigarette. Perfection is an idea(l); it precludes real instantiation. It is the conceptual currency of the cortical mind & not the physical universe.

But the lizard brain deals not in conception but in perception; not in though but in sensation. And crucially, despite all its illustrious accomplishments, the cortex cannot manage graceful movement. Lost in thought as the thinking brain is, it’s too busy to orchestrate other functions. We must evoke the lizard to orient us within our mental mists if any action is to be skillful. But “deliciousness”—that’s more than an idea…it’s an experience, with enough substance to interest a reptile.

What happens when we abandon our crusade for perfect movement & follow flavour instead? The shoulders relax, tension eases, our gait becomes fluid as we saunter down the halls of the Lizard King….

Gecko lizard
Gecko lizard (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Endpoints of the Yellow Brick Road: Autonomy

Autonomy is a wonderfully appealing concept. Who wants King George dictating whence we import our Breakfast Tea? In the context of Rolfing® Structural Integration, autonomy is not-too-shabby an objective either. By this I mean to suggest that we seek a condition in which each part of our being contributes to the whole according to its design—not more, not less. Take a pointer-finger: autonomy of the phalanges is when I don’t have to contort my entire body to lift a finger. Unfortunately, customs of habitual tension determine that many of us move more like blocks of wood than living organisms, with all the subtle diferentiation of a two-by-four. But I met a fellow once who moved with autonomy, gracefully. He must have been a dancer. In any case, I bore witness that it’s possible.

Just as we seek diferentiation of the mechanicals, we also seek autonomy in the psyche. This is to say that cortical tyranny does not strive to dictate the tasks of the lower brain. The brainstem won’t throw a tea-party, but the entire organism will suffer when meddling from conscious thought makes a morbid muddle of autonomic processes.

Try this: stand on one foot, close your eyes, & really try hard to balance. Really hard. Until you start to tremble & perspire with discomfort at the effort. 
Observe the precarious consequences of the whole affair.
Then, in a sense, give up.
Surrender authority to the reptilian brain.
Relinquish agency.
Become a spectator.
And watch as the body eases.
Balance arises.
The lizard emerges from the subliminal mire.
King George can well preside, but a monarch’s no hand at the smithy. It takes a real reptile to work the bellows.

Endpoints of the Yellow Brick Road: Situs

That means “place,” I think, in Latin. Or “site.”

In a way, the process of Rolfing® SI is a journey to the situs of this very moment; present time, present space. The road hither can be long & winding, since countless factors—from unhappy childhood experiences, to acute injuries, to traumatic encounters with great cats, to apprehensions about one’s financial prospects—conspire to alienate us from our experience. These factors aggregate to such an extent that the situs of the here & now becomes unfamiliar to us; concealed behind a veil of unhappy circumstances. The present is for most of us no more than a nostalgic flavor in our sensory memories, like popsicles in July when we were seven. Since that time we have perpetually been fleeing from the situs, “trying to make something happen” at the expense of embodying ourselves in our present experience.

Indeed, such distracting factors manifest in the body. Every body is a vast archive; Libraries of Alexandria, on legs! Our structures recount whole histories. This has consequences—the body relating to a fairytale rather then the freight-train when crossing the railroad tracks demonstrates this unhappy truth. We are not to blame—who could fault a fellow for losing himself in these interminable labyrinth of past stories & future prospects? The goal of Rolfing® SI is not to burn down the library. Rather simply to discover the door. Then we read when we want. And live for the the rest of it. In the journey to where we are now, we practice the possibility of interacting with the environment as it really is, & not simply our fantasies about it. Our stories divorce us from our experience, Rolfing SI brings us closer in communion.

Does this one look distracted? Go ahead, be a cobra & slither out the nearest exit…



Waypoints of the Yellow Brick Road: Possibility

Whenever we come upon an intersection along this circular journey, we have a choice: do we go left or right? Always go with your guts. But if this profound voice of wisdom perchance remain silent in this crucial moment, I feel it were an useful exercise to frame the decision according to a question: Does turning left increase or decrease my possibilities?
And turning right?
Often one road is the more familiar. Often the other offers more potential. To cite Robert Frost’s well-known poetic expression of this experience:

Two roads diverged in a wood, & I
I took the one less-traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

Allow me to elucidate this experience with the following hypothetical: if—whether it be by stamp of Nature, sheer coincidence, social conditioning, or for a reason beyond my apprehension-—I should stomp about like a Neanderthal with indigestion anytime I should intend to cross the living-room on two legs, then this violence against domestic tranquility represents my ordinary gait. This is the first road; the familiar one. I might ask myself, however, if there should exist other possibilities for movement? A relevant waypoint for me along this process might be walking to the freezer to hunt & gather some ice-cream. At this waypoint, I might chose to persist in my habitual pattern. But I also find the choice of diverging from my familiar path and “take the one less-traveled,” thereby discovering more nuanced movement (i.e. balanced participation of every joint along each contra-lateral chain). Then I begin to recall Frost’s poem to myself:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And long I stood…”

If my life is a tragedy, I forget the rest of it, shrug, & continue onwards down my path of habit. If my life is a comedy, I turn left & take the road less-traveled and make all the DIFFERENCE. I can always go back to stomping if I need to.

Endpoints of the Yellow Brick Road

It often strikes me as I am explaining the process of Rolfing® Structural Integration that each of the sayd explanations is different. Though the goal might be the same, it seems that there are innumerable ways to describe it. Like many different fingers pointing at a single moon, there is an ineffable confluence at which all these descriptions meet. This can only be known by direct experience. It transcends words, no matter how literal or figurative they might be. In some posts that follow, I plan to present several different perspectives of the process of Rolfing SI. I hope that through these sundry explanations, the reader will find some understanding of their referrent; after many little fingers, triangulate the moon.


Posture & Morality: Part II

In Part I of this bit, I tried to show how posture and morality come apart. That dismemberment, I feel, must be the first step. The second step is to yoke them back together.

We communicate with words through speech and text. We also communicate through images and touch. In short, there are a myriad channels through which we sustain a constant communication with those around us. Posture is one of the most crucial—sometimes it even supersedes verbal language: if I say “fine” with my arms crossed & my chin down, “fine” isn’t really what I mean. In fact our verbal language recognises the eminence of this physiognomy with the term “body-language.” Postural communication transpires both above and below the threshold of our consciousness.

Take a fellow’s belly-yawn: we may notice consciously, but the impulse to indulge wells up from somewhere deeper. Posture is exactly the same, likewise, analogous, lo mismo. We are perpetually broadcasting information through these many channels of communication—even when we are completely silent.

How does this relate posture & morality? Each of us is responsible to ensure that we do the best we can to embody ease & balance so that our broadcast to those around us contributes towards the flourishing & co-existence of all.