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. 
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[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.


The Gingham Dog & the Calico Cat, Side by Side at the Table Sat…

The problem is my back hurts.”

Quadratus lumborum strikes again! I was not being facetious when I suggested this was a common complaint. In a recent post, I suggested that a “problem” in the body is never truly a problem of the body. I asserted that such cases are the physical expression of tension or struggle that we are sustaining with some aspect of our experience. These points of contention manifest multidimensionally, echoing up through what I called “Three Kingdoms”—namely physical, perceptual, & conceptual, or alternatively body, mind, & spirit. In this installment, I hope to continue to investigate the idea of “problems” & in so doing so, further deconstruct the dungeon of our own mistaken metaphysics.

“Denmark’s a prison.”

“We think not so, my Lord.”

“Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.”

Hamlet the Dane intuited this much in the Second Act: that an experience becomes a problem when we insist that it must be so. We ourselves engender the problem by naming it as such; we sculpt it out of the undifferentiated lode of our experience. In cleaving our phenomenal unity to distinguish a problem, however, we have concomitantly created a solution of proportional magnitude in the other half. Problem & solution arise together in our conceit, though our attention often favours one or the other moiety.

A painter, in summoning forth a figure with his brush, concurrently & necessarily defines a background. What was first an indifferent void of blank canvas, now encompasses two aspects. Even so, we are all artists of our experience.

Two particles—one of matter & the other of anti-matter—arise together & then mutually annihilate each other in the spirit of ontological fraternity—a similar expression of physical & metaphysical polarity.

It is accounted that the Almighty himself deals in such dualities:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Genesis 1:2
Only this was not real darkness because He hadn’t made light yet. Why? Because the said darkness might as well have been half a million lux (ie five times brighter than sunlight on the Fourth of July). Or more. Or less. In any case, it would make no difference: without their interplay, to speak of “light” & “dark” is to utter stuff & nonsense. The two represent opposing ends of a single continuum. Without this standard of relationship, light is just mathematical values of probability on a theoretical electromagnetic spectrum. But when in the following verse, God says

Let there be light

& proceeds to “divide it from darkness,” in this deed He creates the continuum & establishes a standard of complementarity, thus engendering the terms with significance. Today, light & dark are opposites a mutual coincidence; a secret confederacy in which each provides the backdrop for the other to shine. Our experience is really no different. When we, as we are wont & used to do, fixate on a problem, we are ignoring at least half of our experience.

When, however, we manage to broaden the scope of our attention to include the whole, encompassing the polarity between problem & solution, then remedy reveals itself. Then like the Gingham Dog & the Calico Cat, they gobble each other up. Then what we first cleft asunder we cleave together again like two faces of a Subway sandwich—happy reunion (this yokage is a culinary analogue to yoga.) Plainly stated, things take care of themselves…when we let them.

Our struggles arise because, out of habit, we often do not provide the space for this process to transpire naturally. We often respond to problems with the question of “what do I need to do?” Instead we might as “what do I need to stop doing?” The Chinese name this concept 自然, in pinyin zirán, which translates literally to “that which is of itself so.” Zirán is the self-organising principle behind the flow of tides, the change of seasons, the bloom of cherry-blossom—actually everything that there is. Nobody does these things; they just happen. The crux of it is: we ourselves are not separate from this organic carnival—Man & Nature: perhaps the most insidious apparent opposition of all. When we imagine ourselves to be discreet & autonomous from the procession of Nature, we only intensify generate struggle on two fronts: one by striving to affect processes over which we have no effectual power, and the other by superimposing a delusional dichotomy on top of it…not to mention acidifying the oceans & poking holes in the ozone layer (cats don’t piss on their beds & even dead fish go with the flow).

Evidently, Man is extraordinary. Often when we taste the slightest hint of frustration in a fruitless enterprise, we react by tightening our grip, by trying harder. Confronted with uncertainty, our inclination is to manage our affairs with a heavy hand. But these things can only be held lightly. A bell rings when stricken, unless you grab it—in which case it goes “clunk.” That’s because you’ve fixed it & has no resonance therefore. Impulsively & compulsively, we react to our problems by trying to “fix” them in precisely this way. The world is fundamentally vibrant, vibrational, continually oscillating between apparent opposites in a polarity—physicists call it String Theory & yogis call it spanda; both recognise this undulation to be primary. And yet we so often persist to insist for fixity. It’s a good thing we fail because the cosmos would probably disintegrate or something.

We can’t fix the world, but indeed this doesn’t stop any of us from trying. Here I am, trying to carve symbols in running water, as it were—writing is an insuperable crusade against transience; it’s unavoidable. To fix what is fleeting like trying to catch the the first rays of sun at dawn in a container made of words, or with letters, to pin a butterfly as it flits off from a Himalayan poppy: this is the tragic enterprise of anyone who writes—why all poets die. You either get with the transience & suffer, or live in denial of it & suffer twice—once for being born & another time for sustaining the delusion that it be otherwise. Life & death are happy confederates no less than any other apparent opposites. Nevertheless, cheer up, it’s no, reason to despair:

Nothing in the cry of cicadas suggests they are about to die.


In fact, it’s wonderful.

It is told of a man who once came to the Buddha asking for a fix to his struggles. “I can’ the help you,” The Enlightened One serenely responded.

But the man was insistent: “How is it that they call you Buddha when you can’t even solve my problems?” the man demanded, waxing indignant.

Gotama turned back to him and answered “You will always have 83 problems in your life. Some will go, others will come to replace them. I cannot help you with those.”

“Then what do you do?”

“I can help you with the 84th problem. That’s the worst one of all—it’s what drove you here today.”

“What problem is that?”

“It’s that you think you need to get rid of the other eighty-three.”

Suppose we could come to experience problems & solutions as two faces of the same thing. Suppose we felt pain & pleasure as two qualities of being alive. We could appreciate tension because only through it can we know ease.


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Ye Five Elements Vertical

In this post’s antecedent, I presented an elemental pentad as another paradigm of integration. In this model I employed the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Ether as symbols for various qualities of the human being & human experience. One might imagine such model to represent a horizontal dimension to this vital interplay. In such a conception, our task was to ensure a balanced proportion & inter-relation between all the several elements.

But we might also conceive of a vertical dimension to the five-fold elements. Rather than proportion, the vertical scheme emphasizes fluid transition. In this conception, our task is to facilitate smooth movement between the sundry elements:
& Ether

To visualise the vertical model, one might picture a perpendicular spectrum from Earth to Ether, spanning from form at the bottom to potential at the apex. Ascending the y-axis in this conceit, we follow a trend of evolution—”turning out.” In this process, form is unbound from the fetters of definite earthy existence. Freed from boundary, it unwinds, spinning outwards and dispersing into the void of possibility.

Conversely, the descendent direction, we might call the current of manifestation. In this direction, the infinite potential of pure emptiness converges into (de)finite form. This is involution—”spinning in.” An analogous event might be the collapse of an unbounded electromagnetic wave into a definite particle (i. e. a photon). Similarly, for example, a thought arises in the mind, coalescing out of the silvery stuff of dreams. First entirely diaphanous, the said figment firms into an intention, stirs the will, & ultimately precipitates into an action with observable consequences in the physical universe. In this process we have descended our magical metaphysical elevator of sorts & exemplified the involutive process.

Allow me to illustrate the processes of involution & evolution with this hypothetical example: suppose I’m a monkey caught in a monkey-trap constituted of a ball-jar & a red banana, which, upon observing the fruit I approached & inserted my monkey paw into the mouth, grasped the prize in my monkey fist & then attempted to abscond withal. Only the trap was insidiously calibrated in such proportion that a monkey paw fits in but a monkey fist clasped about a banana does not fit out. Only if I were to relax my fist & relinquish my prize might I save myself from the clutches of a band of Indonesian poachers who intend to make a purse out of my hide, or even worse: sell me to a pet shop. Consider in this case that I have become involved in the particular enterprise & thereby jeopardized my welfare. If I value my self-preservation over a piece of fresh fruit, my only option is to relinquish my prospect, divest myself of the banana, & evolve from the whole affair. If I manage this, I will have traced the ascendant course of evolution upwards through the elements, from determine form (i.e. fixation on fresh fruit with my fist in a ball-jar, etc…) to the freedom of emptiness, whence I once again acquire the potential to become involved again, if I so chose. If, however, I am a philosophically minded primate, I may which to purse still further the course of evolution & seek enlightenment as an ascetic, meditating in the wilderness for forty years on the side of a mountain & eating tree-bark, incrementally divesting myself of all material involvement until my body withers away altogether. Conversely, I could go all the way into it & involve myself in a venture-capitalist enterprise, found a gigantic fruit franchise, & instate banana republics across an entire sub-continent by overthrowing local governments.

These are patently charicatured examples. Nevertheless, they are universal in principle. Of course, each of us is a natural joyrider on this lift, journeying up & down continually (like kids playing elevator-tag as we chase our dreams & follow our obligations). If we evolve too much, we spin outwards into everything & become nothing therefore. Conversely, it’s a tragically unfulfilled condition to be involved in an interminable eddy of mental & material proliferation; we could hardly desire to be so materially manifest as a rock. To phrase it figuratively, there’s no joy being stuck in broken elevator. Our task of integration, therefore, Structural & otherwise, is maintenance—to keep the lift in working order. Free from fettered & fixated fascia, our joyride transpires with ease. In the final post of this series, I will specifically examine how the five elements can inform our enterprise of Rolfing® Structural Integration.

Actuality & potential dance together in a tarantella of inverse proportion—the interplay of genesis & annihilation.

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Ye Three Kingdoms of Integration

The problem is that my back hurts…

Not an altogether uncommon complaint from a client striding through the door at The Way of the Elbow headquarters. My response is typically to do everything I reasonably can to alleviate his or her discomfort. Often a substantial aspect of this Structural (re)Integration will be to placate bellicose connective tissue by means of a gentle elbow, or two. Rolfing® SI, even in caricature, often really works: to (judiciously) apply this sort of pressure is a capital form of communication,* in the right circumstances. But there are other subtler channels for the exchange of information besides.

One particularly fruitful method of transmission is to verbally & tactily introduce a change in perception. Consider this example: if, over the course of my affairs, I have forgotten about the space above the crown of my head, this perceptual orientation will have physical consequences….I will be liable to amble around with my the head bowed like a cave-dweller in Plato’s parable. Recognising my misperception, my trusty Rolfer™ will likely remind me through words & touch, that

…there is more [between] Heaven & Earth than is dreamt of in [my perception].

As I begin to explore & inhabit this new supercranial expanse, my posture (and by extension my appearence, attitude, & worldview) will benefit. A subtle shift in my perception, therefore, was all it took to put my head on straight, as it were.

Another invaluable subject of information-exchange is our relationship to our bodies—to change one’s perception is to change the way one sees the world; to change one’s conception is to change that world itself. In order to illustrate the benefits of such a shift, I shall once again take up the thread that I began this post withal: “the problem is that my back hurts.”

I would suggest that the body is never the problem. Rather, it is a repository for unresolved struggles that one sustains against one’s experience. The body is not a problem because it lacks the sort of moral agency that such a role would require. The body is always managing the best in can, given the circumstances that we provide it withal. If the body is a problem, that can only be because we imputed this title to it—more opportunistically modified Shakespeare:

the fault, dear Brutus, lies not within our [spines] but in ourselves.

In such a case, the true problem is (1) that the client I have hypothesised exposed his body to conditions that the latter couldn’t manage, & (2) that the former is unwilling to receive the experience his present situation. To frame the story in this conception suggests further courses of recourse than merely chasing rogue aches & errant symptoms. These so-called “problems” that the body is expressing represent inconsistencies between the world itself & our conception of it. The remedy therefore is to reconcile this rift. Perceptual rectification might bridge the gulf between the two.

This is a characteristically convoluted encapsulation of the subject from The Way of the Elbow pressroom (but it’s hard work fitting human experience into verbal boxes.) Hearken! I shall attempt to recapitulate!

These are the Three Kingdoms of Integration.

Everything happens everywhere at once.

*I hold that any effectual interaction (e. g. practitioner-client) fundamentally consists in the exchange of information. To put it another way, change in alignment or posture is the visible expression of the nervous system’s integration of new information. The latter is a precondition for outward change. Naturally, the process of transaction occurs in many forms (e. g. verbal, tactile, kinesthetic, imaginative, etc…).