Introduction to Rolfing and Structural Integration

Introduction to Rolfing and Structural Integration

from The Structural Metaphor
Edward Maupin, Ph.D.

In 1967, while a resident at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, I met Dr. Ida Rolf. At that time she was coming to Esalen during the summer and practicing her method of body work, called "Structural Integration," in a massage room in the baths. I no longer remember what prompted me, but I made an appointment with her and began the process of "Rolfing." She had come originally to work with Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy. He had been helped so significantly that he became her ardent supporter, almost child-like in his admiration of her. When I arrived, she informed me that I must commit myself to ten sessions. I agreed to her terms, though I'm not sure whether I even understood that the work was intended to improve my balance and posture.

I had begun meditating several years before, using a Zen Buddhist technique of observing, following my breath. In the innocence of my youth, the meditation had pitched me into a very high state which I would now characterize as a beginner's enlightenment. I was able to observe my consciousness from a very detached, aware perspective, without fear or distraction. It formed the fundamental direction of my later career. Among other things during those wonderful three months, I discovered my body. As an intellectual I knew, of course, that I had a body, but I wasn't particularly conversant with it. Now I became aware of my body as an on-going response process, quite intelligently participating in here-and-now reality. This body response was holistic, organic, and very Real when compared with my usual mental processes. I discovered (1) that my thoughts are themselves derived from an anterior feeling process which I could now observe in my body, (2) that my body is always responding appropriately to the world it thinks it lives in, and (3) that the quality of my conscious process is conditioned upon the location within my body in which I am centered at the time. I also knew, although I could not explain how I knew, that this observer, remaining in the here-and-now, is eternal - whatever that meant. It was a remarkable vacation from fear.

In the subsequent nine years I finished graduate school, worked at UCLA as a psychologist, and moved to Esalen as a Residential Fellow. I wanted to recapture my enlightenment experience, and I was particularly interested in body approaches, which seemed to me to be the key. After I got to Esalen I worked with a variety of methods, including the movement improvisation work of Mary Whitehouse, sensory awareness classes with Charlotte Selver, breathing work with Magda Proskauer, Bioenergetics with Alexander Lowen and Stanley Keleman, and so on. For some reason, Ida Rolf's work was especially striking to me. Somewhere around my fourth session with her I felt that the work was in touch with my body in ways which were similar to the original meditation experience. I asked her to train me. Several months later when I had forgotten all about my request, she wrote me a letter saying I could participate in a class she was going to teach, provided I read certain things and wrote a paper showing I had mastered certain information. She added at the end of her letter, "This work will change your life." I can honestly say that she was right.

I completed that training in mid-1968, the seventh person to be trained in her classes (she had taught several apprentices before she began the classes), and began practicing immediately. My first ten clients were the members of Esalen's Third Residential Program, of which I was the director. These brave and unwary students had never heard of Rolfing. Certainly my work was very painful in those first, uncertain days. I am grateful that they kept coming for sessions and, in fact, asked for more.

As of this writing, I have practiced this method of body therapy for twenty years. I have adhered rather closely to the structural principles Ida Rolf taught. In fact, I have always considered myself to be a rather orthodox Rolfer. This book is an attempt to formulate my present understanding of the basic principles of structural body work which were originally passed to me.

In one respect, however, I feel I have developed something slightly different from my teacher. This is in the understanding of movement. I do not mean to disparage her model of movement. She speaks of lift and lightness in the integrated body, and she understood that gravity gives energy to the well-organized body. But she was not a dancer. In practice she applied a rather static conception in which the body is seen as a stack of blocky segments, their centers of gravity to be lined up one on top of the other. It is an adequate model for most people we encounter, and I applied it in my own work for about eight years. Then I met a remarkable dancer/teacher named Oscar Aguado (now Michael Nebedon), who thoroughly refreshed my sense of movement and balance. He gave me a new view of what I was attempting to bring about in my clients. An adaptation of his model, which he called expansional balance, is presented here.

Expansional balance works with various internal extensions in such a way that the body is felt as expanding in all directions rather than resting, one segment upon another. As the legs extend down, the proper alignment of the sacrum allows the spine to extend up - a bipolar expansion we call the vertical polarity. The arms are also extending to the sides in a polarized internal expansion, the horizontal polarity, which removes the load of the shoulder girdle from the neck and allows the head to float upwards.

The differences are subtle, perhaps not even very important with many of our clients. But in the case of highly-evolved bodies, such as first-rate dancers or very effective athletes, the differences are profound. For example, Ida Rolf could never accept the turn-out of the legs used by ballet dancers. She felt turn-out was simply a distortion-producing error. She saw the undeniable damage caused by excessive use of turn-out. However, turn-out is necessary to achieve the leaps, the high aerial capacity which dance requires. Expansional balance, with its understanding of pelvic extension, reconciles the two positions. Dancers can turn out and leap without incurring this Rolfer's disapproval, so long as they can return to the parallel organization of the legs.

This manual, then, is an attempt to clarify the principles of body work specifically aimed at the reorganization of physical structure. In the course of years of practice, I became aware that body work could accomplish a variety of goals:

  1. Structural Organization
  2. Emotional Release
  3. Clarification of Consciousness
  4. Sensory Awareness
  5. Physical Healing
  6. Organization of Energy
  7. Therapeutic Intimacy

All of these results came about, sometimes, with some people, as effects of my structural work. In fact, any of these goals might be appropriate to pursue with certain clients. And the same touch I was using to accomplish structural change might produce any of these results. (The converse is also true, that any one of these goals, including structural organization, can be approached with a variety of different types of touch.) This wealth of possibilites can be confusing. If one touch, intended to change structure, can produce many different results, and if many different types of touch can produce the same result, then what are the specific principles of structural work?

These principles are the ones which Ida Rolf emphasized in my training. They are discussed more fully in Chapter I.

  1. The Primacy of Gravity
  2. Geometry: the Relationship of the Skeleton to Space
  3. The Role of Fascia in Shaping the Body
  4. The Use of Movement to Reorganize Fascia

These same principles are today being used by the many methods of structural organization which are off-shoots of Ida Rolf's method. They may be expected to be primary in Heller Work, Aston Patterning, and the generic brand of structural organization we teach at the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing (IPSB) in San Diego.

When I consult my own sense of what is most central to this work I come up with the skeleton, the geometry of its movement, and the fascial network which creates the entire form. These are the three most persistent images in this book. Once they are clear, the body worker will use many different strokes or even types of touch to bring about structural change. Although I have described my procedures in many instances, this is not a stroke-book. Readers who are looking for a step-by-step how-to-do-it manual will be disappointed. However, if the bodyworker has a clear concept of the skeleton - how it underlies the very flesh he is touching - and can superimpose a geometric concept of how it is supposed to move, he will be able to bring about structural improvement using the principle of reorganization by movement.

This book is, of course, no substitute for Ida Rolf's own book, Rolfing: the Integration of Human Structurees, (Santa Monica, CA: Dennis Landman, Publishers, 1977). That great lady put down more than 40 years of accumulated wisdom about the body there. Many of her specific insights about particular balances, structures, and muscles are not reproduced here. On the other hand, a reader would be hard put to know, from her book, just what to do. She even concealed the order of work in her ten sessions. The reasons for her secrecy are perhaps no longer relevant, since the information has long been available elsewhere. It is my hope that I can assist in making this marvelous information available to a world of clients which surely needs it.

The founders of the present-day schools of body work were often extremely exclusive and possessive about their methods. It was as if, having dedicated tremendous energy to the realization of a personal insight, each felt that he or she was in possession of the only true approach. They often disparaged each other's work and mostly refused to acknowledge common elements between them.

But a later generation of us who learned from these originals has usually taken a different position. It seems apparent that the body can be approached in a variety of ways, and each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. We have tended to be more eclectic, to include more. The human body is infinite, a key to the vast dimensions of human consciousness. Now, in the l980's, we have been exposed to ancient techniques and mystery schools which see the body as a matrix for evolution of consciousness. And most people being trained as body workers today have had prior experience with more than one technique.

Eclecticism, the ability to draw on a broad range of viewpoints and methods, is appropriate and desirable. But diversity can also mean confusion. An organizational scheme for comparing methods is needed so that a body worker can move easily from one to another and still specify what he or she is doing. In teaching at the lnternational Professional School of Bodywork I have found it is useful to describe any method of body work in terms of three dimensions: Touch, Movement, and Imagery.

Touch may refer to anything from no touch at all (e.g. stroking the aura), through light stroking, to the deepest possible pressure. Movement varies from immobility, through rubbing, jiggling or pressing, to structural work in which the client is asked to do the moving along geometric lines. But the most important of these dimensions is Image, for it contains the entire reason for doing what you are doing. Image determines how you are going to approach the body, what you expect to perceive there, and what you think you are doing to it. With this scheme, then, it is possible to specify the major images which distinguish a particular method of body work. It is also a useful device for remaining receptive as one works. I have included an extension of this system, the "5 by 5 System" in the chapter on touch.