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.


Posture & Morality: Part I

“The seventh circle of Hell is reserved for those who…slouch?”

It is so natural to moralise about posture that we often do it without even noticing. We often apply such terms as “bad” or “good” or “lousy” to our alignment & physiognomy without even pausing to consider the moral judgement implicit in such labels. I believe it is useful to recognise this tendency, and to appreciate that posture in itself is neither good nor evil, rather “’tis thinking makes it so”.

More helpful perhaps than moralising about alignment, we might simply appreciate that posture has consequences. If my head is not balanced above the spine, then I must employ a great deal of muscular effort to keep it from falling off—not evil, but exhausting. Furthermore, the physiognomy of such a gesture may communicate unintentional sentiments to those around me: I might look lackadaisical, desperate, or aggressive all without intending so. If, on the other hand, I strit about with my chest perpetually puffed-out like Popeye, then I communicate another message: “the lady doth protest too much, methinks,” people might begin to say. Carl Jung expressed it thus:

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Our job through Rolfing® intervention is to make these choices conscious rather than habitual so that if my head falls off, it’s because I wanted it to.