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.

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Rolfing® SI: A Brief Catechism IV

“What are the benefits?”

Through Rolfing we come to inhabit our bodies with greater skill. Life becomes easier as a consequence. When I learn to relinquish an ancient tension in my shoulder-girdle, I have also freed-up a determinate amount of energy that was previously invested in an activity that was not only pointless, but also pernicious: besides the obvious inconvenience of having to overcome this tension to execute any kind of coordinated motion, such chronic contraction places the shoulder-girdle under chronic stress & foments the conditions for injury. Rolfing® SI intervenes to sever this maleficent circle. The convenient benefit to such a preemptive intervention is that one avoids the inconvenience of an eventual affliction. And for this very reason, the precise benefits of Rolfing® SI escape quantification (we cannot put a price on the benefits because we can never know the future until it is not the future anymore). Conventional Western Medicine tends to adopt a reactive approach to illness & injury; on the coat-tails of catastrophe, it strives to clean up the mess. As a Rolfer™, my aim is to keep the kitchen clean from the beginning & avoid the catastrophe altogether.

Speculation & sloppy metaphors aside, through the release of a chronic tension-pattern, we resolve an energy-vortex. This leaves a body unencumbered & energized.

A penny saved is a penny I can invest towards anything I chose. If pennies were kilojoules, Rolfing would make us gentry, or Herkuli. The hundred-odd dollars for a session at The Way of the Elbow is a small price to pay for gentrification or apotheosis.

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Rolfing® SI: A Brief Catechism III

“What’s the point?”*

Rolfing® SI allows us to live more skillfully in our bodies. To live is, most basically, to sustain a relationship to the world for our approximately four-score years & ten. The finer this relationship, the easier our lives become. Rolfing® SI provides a path to this end—towards more natural integration of the body with its environment. Through the process that Ida Rolf developed, we learn to better inhabit our bodies, & our relationship to the world naturally proceeds in greater ease. Someone said that “all the world’s a stage.” If this is true, Rolfing® SI gives us the tools to play our parts with greater skill. To struggle against the flow of life is to suffer endlessly in a contest that cannot be won. Rolf writes of this hopeless enterprise:

Some individuals may perceive their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body, others as constant fatigue, yet others as an unrelentingly threatening environment. Those over forty may call it old age. And yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem so prominent in their own structure, as well as others, that it has been ignored: they are off balance, they are at war with gravity.

With balance of structure, however, the conditions change:

When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.

When our alignment is true, the body is balanced & gravity supports our condition. When the body’s “blocks” aren’t “stacked,” as it were, verticality is an endless struggle with gravity. Rolfing® SI stacks the blocks & delivers ease!

*(If you’re a nihilist, then don’t bother with this entry.)image

Rolfing® SI: A Brief Catechism II

“Why in the world would you choose such an ominous name as “The Way of the Elbow” to call your business?”

No answer. But I can say I was going to call it the “Tao of the Elbow” but I made a compromise with normalcy…as if this exculpates me. It’s meant to be a little bit funny & to play into the stereotype of Rolfing® SI as deep tissue massage that hurts. Like most stereotypes, this is far from accurate. Nevertheless, it’s fun to entertain.

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Rolfing® SI: A Brief Catechism I

“Rolfing—doesn’t that hurt?”

This is maybe the most proverbial of all questions that I get as a practicing Rolfer. My answer is often something like: “I work for you; it hurts if you want it to.” The truth is that some people actually enjoy a level of discomfort—it feels constructive in some sense. Fundamentally, however, the session has nothing to do with pain but rather progress. If a client holds a pronounced antipathy to bodily discomfort, then an insensitive elbow is in neither one of our interests.
I must reveal, in fact, that I pertain to the former class of person, that might even feel somewhat disappointed were I to receive a Rolfing session & did not feel a little bit sore the next day. In my madness, I interpret this as a measure of success. Feeling sore is like the satisfied inspection of a living-room after re-arranging the furniture. And really, I don’t think that enjoying hurt is as novel as it sounds—think of spicy foods, or saunas. Pain & pleasure co-exist; they mutually fructify one another. They are the crest & trough of a single wave on the phenomenological ocean. How do these esoterical ramblings relate to anything, even Rolfing® SI? My job is to determine how best to serve my clients’ needs. If that includes bone-scrubbing, so be it. If it does not, then I must employ other methods. Progress, not pain, is the final measure.

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Standing With Pain: III, a terça parte

…Or withstanding it?

I would like to suggest that standing with it were a more useful response. This is because the minute we try to avoid the physical discomfort, we have already generated “another nail,” so to speak. Now we have three points of impalement:
The first, the brain’s interpretation of the actual sensory stimulus as the poor unsuspecting foot strikes the nail,
The second, the mental projections & proliferations that ensue as the mind constructs a scaffold of meaning around the event,
And the third the potential dis-ease with the whole affair altogether, the aversion to it and the concomitant desire to escape it.
(1) “Ouch! That’s a nail and this is my foot!”
(2) “I’m probably going to contract tetanus and suffer till I die”
(3) “This is a horrible way to spend the afternoon & I prefer pleasure to suffering. How can I escape this unpleasant experience?”

The crucial point to note about this sequence is that the first step is the only one that has any connection to an actual event. Everything that follows abides exclusively within the mind; mere figments, possessing no more (meta)physical substance than puffs of smoke issuing from an attendant’s cigarette—kaleidoscopic villainies wrought of a single sensory stimulus.

Practical implications?

We can practice not making a mountain out of a mole-hill simply by repeatedly returning our attention to the original sensory stimulus, resisting the mental torrents that pull us into the vortex of suffering. By appreciating that our own consciousness is largely responsible for generating it’s own experience of pain, we can thereby lessen it. After all, isn’t one nail enough? Especially if it’s rusty.

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Standing Under Pain: II, a segunda parte

After we appreciate that pain is fundamentally a message from the body (often including very pertinent contents!) to the conscious mind, we can move on to recognising another essential aspect of pain: that it is at least as metaphysically nebulous as the term “metaphysically nebulous” itself. What I mean with this unnecessarily ambiguous description is that pain as such can not be measured Or touched
Or seen
Or smelled
Or tasted.
It cannot even be felt except within a single person’s subjective experience. This points to the fact that pain is not inherent in any object or experience. Instead it is a post hoc designation; a label that the mind marks a given stimulus withal.
Take a rusty nail: this implement is can implicate itself in a painful relationship, but the nail itself is not painful. In a hypothetical sequence of events, first the nail meets an unsuspecting foot. Then the sayd foot sends a stimulus up the afferent neuron to the spine (where hopefully the reflex-arc quickly responds to unweight the afflicted foot). Eventually this information reaches the brain. Here the brain evaluates the essentially indifferent stimulus. If the brain perceives a threat, pain arises—not before! Finally, if we know anything about rusty nails, we figuratively “impale” ourselves upon a second nail simply with the anxiety that likely follows hard upon the actual event (i.e. the cogitative fallout that likely ensues from the imagined prospect of tetanus—uncontrollable muscle-spasms, lock-jaw, mortality, etc…). Hence, one essentially painless nail compounds manyfold into several painful ones in our subjective experience.

The better we can understand that pain is not a solid object but rather the brain’s interpretation of a given nervous stimulus, the better able we will be to stand with it, obliging it but, not obliged by it, ser autores de nuestras mismas obras.

I don’t know yet what I’ll write for the final installment in this series but I’ll try to think of something. In the mean time, the Traveling Rolfer is back in business. Get in touch to schedule a session & I’ll show up at your front door with the massage-table in the old Burley bike-trailer (provided the weather is reasonable). You don’t even have to get out of your pajamas!

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Understanding Pain: I, a primeira parte

I suspect that everyone is familiar with unpleasant bodily experience. Sometimes a fellow doesn’t even need to get out of bed in the morning to begin to study pain in its natural habitat—pain is endemic to living in a body. But despite our preconceptions, pain is not (necessarily) bad. We might even say that it is useful under many circumstances. Pain is integral to our organism’s method of self-preservation—it serves as the instantaneous impetus to remove one’s hand from a hot stove, lest the infernal appliance consume one’s entire appendage in its fiery rampage. This is ridiciculous, obviousy, but it’s ridiculous precisely because we know that pain will always intrude & heroically deliver us from the demonic kitchen-burner. We ought truly to be thankful that we’re suffering cause otherwise we’d probably be dead.

Appreciating this fact & embracing the slight shift in perspective that it offers is extremely useful as an initial step towards understanding how to interact with pain and ultimately develop the most useful orientation towards it. A healthy relationship with pain supports a flourishing life.

To reiterate, pain is usually useful. It is perhaps the body’s most potent channel of communication with Ahab up in the attic (brains are also useful, and they can tend towards downright tyranny). So to conclude this first piece of a three-part series, some advice, since that’s what everyone wants to hear 😉 …every time throughout the day that you feel discomfort in your body, appreciate its utility. Rather than viewing it as a problem, turn towards the sensation and say, “thank you for the information.” And then if you must, go ahead and keep doing whatever crazy thing that got you into pain in the first place. But make sure to be proactive & schedule a session at The Way of the Elbow first since that attitude keeps Rolfers & co. in business.

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Rolfing® SI is…

The body knows how to move & do it well–that is what it was made for. Conditions only conspire at inopportune times to obstruct this capacity that is innate in each of us. My job is to reawaken the capacity for movement that is balanced, fluid, & free. I believe that Rolfing® Structural Integration is successful to the degree that the Rolfer™ can encourage and evoke the primordial capacities for balanced, free, and fluid movement. Often we find this native grace to be obscured; buried by prior trauma, stress, or even over-intellectualising the “right” way to do something.

The Rolfer’s™ task is therefore manifest: we must “re-arrange the furniture” so the client can negotiate the clutter to reach the doorway of somatic liberation. Or if your inclination is to geologic metaphors: we seek a treasure buried beneath the sands and sediment that life’s vicissitudes deposit. We dig with diligence through the descending strata and finally having found the prize, we dust away the baser matter till the jewel of unmitigated movement glitters, luminous in the rising sun.

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