(303) 887-6764 (in Colorado) robmcwilliams@mac.com

Strong and Free Shoulders

One of the things I do for me on a weekly basis is work – or ‘work out’, or ‘play’ – in a dance studio in Boulder. I often end up exploring a particular principal of body movement. It’s a habit from teaching dance ( which I hope to be doing again in addition to my Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement® practice, somewhere, soon).
Today I got particularly curious about the upper back and shoulder girdle. Facilitating, coordinating and freeing that area is hugely important for movement, from successful execution of technically complex dance moves to increased ease and comfort in the everyday. It feels like the way the proper tension on the cable rigging on a sailboat helps to control the sails. The difference is of course we have legs that are pushing against the ground or floor (usually), but there is a clarity of angle of body alignment that allows muscles of the spine, hips and legs to fire more optimally in contact with the earth, or when swinging freely.
My theory is that the development of balletic “epaulement”, which is about the use of the shoulders, arms and back, helped to unleash the full power of hips and legs in pointe work, jumping and turning in ballet. In martial arts technique , it seems to me that it is the coordinated use of the legs and arms with the back and hips that gives it power, more than brute strength. Essentially, technique in movement is about increasing the mastery of leverage. I didn’t write ‘mastering leverage’ on purpose, as that sounds impossible unless you are Super(person). There’s always more.
The movement I started with involves bending forward, reaching the elbow up behind me as high as it will go, then fluidly rotating the whole shoulder to lift the arm over my head ( which brings me upright), or open it behind me, and variations on that theme to extend my range of motion and increase supple control. The main muscles engaged in the upper back, ranging from but not limited to teres major/minor, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus to rhomboids, serratus posterior, are some of the main ones that tend to atrophy with age. They help us pull the arm behind in what’s called extension of the shoulder, coordinating with other back muscles to help the upper back to remain vertical.
When these muscles around the rotator cuff muscles in back are toned, and the muscles in the front and sides are opened (pectoralis major and minor, bicep attachments, anterior deltoid, serratus anterior) this counters a natural slouch we all fall into with age. The chest muscle ( pectoralis minor) tends to thicken and pull us forward, and the back muscles tend to atrophy from lack of use. We want to keep working to open that. More balanced muscles around the shoulder also takes strain off of the muscles that move our ribs in breath ( I am thinking mainly of serratus anterior here). More coordinated shoulders help us to breathe easier!
I guess the way I go about this would look kind of “dancey” when I do it. In case this sounds a little frivolous to you, I think it’s also important to understand the kind of power this freedom and coordination at the shoulder can make available. There’s been a popular video floating through Facebook showing a guy spending a long time up in a single arm handstand, slowly moving is perfectly stretched legs and more. Watching this, I noticed the fluidity and ease with which he moved his arms as he transferred from one side of his handstand to the other. That is strength!!
Because his shoulder joint is so free, his point of balance is closer to the center line than someone who had a tighter shoulder joint would be able to accomplish. When movement is accomplished from a fulcra ( think of the center of a teeter totter) closer to the center line, it takes less work, making it more ( seemingly) effortless to the viewer. I also think that is one of the keys to Fred Astaire’s apparent diffident ease in the most difficult dance passages. In that sense he was ‘more centered.’ I also know from accounts from those who worked with him that he was a real task master. Some times it takes a lot of work to make things easier!
So, working to create a freer, more supple and better coordinated shoulder girdle and upper back helps all of us, to walk, run, breathe, dance, sit in a more ‘effortless’ way ( seemingly).

In difficult times, we need support.

In difficult times, we need support.

In these times, we need Support. Not soothing evasion or more unreality… Support-to the unconscious basis of perception, the body- and empowerment, to be able to act with compassion and consciousness in the world. Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement® work are dedicated to the goals of healing, empowerment and integration-not just relaxation.

How Can Rolfing Help With Bad knee? Take heed

Note: I work with knee issues all the time. Often a knee problem can be resolved in 3 sessions! While the article below is a bit over detailed, I hope you get the idea that I enjoy working with the legs and feet!


I’ve been working lately with a string of people with really bad knee issues, ranging from recent injuries to chronic issues starting as early as at five years old. It’s amazing what hands-on work ranging from but not limited to normalizing motion of feet, ankles, leg including shin and calf muscle fascia, interosseous movement between tibia and fibula, circulation behind the knee at the soleal line, unkinking the popliteal muscle, balancing and mobilizing the IT band attachment at Gerdy’s tubercle relative to the pes anserinus attachments of sartorius, gracilis and semitenidinosis fascias, frictioning ligaments all around the knee, deep adductor/quad or hamstring differentiation, balancing the hamstrings (in eccentric, i.e. lengthening with load, function) normalizing the quads in function, deep work on quad attachments at the line aspera, releasing and lengthening the articularis genu in relation to the joint capsule and whatever else my hands remember that my post-writing brain forgets ( or wants to spare you from). After this work, my clients report feeling incredibly better ( especially since I always do back work, neck work and some type of sacrum listening like a good Rolfer™ should). They suddenly have more confidence to put weight through that foot, and that allows a sense of calm and ease through the body that had been lacking, unbeknownst often.
I also always figure out self care coordination and awareness homework as well as exercises, and these last will probably involve strengthening the muscles around the hip. These will probably be focused on muscles that have lost mass, tone and coordination because of their knee instability and pain, or were even perhaps the cause of your injury or condition. These are as important as anything we do that day for long-term improvement in that knee. They have a better chance of helping a more balanced leg and hip, attained by my hands-on work. The two together are definitely better than just the hands-on alone, or just physical therapy-like exercises alone, in my opinion. Do your exercises! Save you knee for the activities you love, like walking, hiking, playing tennis for a longer and happier life!



‎’Embodiment’ goes beyond physical skill to sensing, presence, enjoyment, connection with self, other, environment and body wisdom.

I remember stepping onstage once at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and having a moment to take a breath, feeling my feet relax into the ground and my head release skyward. Afterwards, I was praised for my “stage presence” during that performance. Some times you do not have to gyrate and jolt your body to be a powerful dancer. You have to allow more of the “being’ sense to come through. Alwin Nikolais talked a lot about this. It is a way of being available in the moment, not overinflated, or working hard, not floppy and unresponsive either.

Embodiment, to me, also means sensing what is going on, in the body, when something feels ‘not quite right’; it means giving that vague sense a bit of time to clarify itself, rather than seeking a quick removal of the irritation through a ‘quick fix’, via a chiropractic adjustment or a pain pill. “What is this telling me about how I am in my body right now?”

Being clearer in our own body/mind ‘felt sense’ gives us a clearer sense of where we begin and other, environment or outside irritant, end. So, in my opinion, deeper embodiment helps us clarify personal boundaries, making us better able, then, to connect with and respond appropriately to others, and our environment.

Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement work help to relieve pain and optimize performance, but there is a deeper gain to be had-the warm inner glow of increased awareness and …embodiment.

Sustainability and Rolfing® Structural Integration

Sustainability and Rolfing® Structural Integration

The world faces an energy crisis: an exploding world population; increasing demand for electricity and automobiles, and dwindling, noxious fossil fuel resources. Aside from developing renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, energy savings through conservation and efficiency measures could be a key part of the solution. Systems can be analyzed, streamlined and improved. This is the goal of the Rolfer™: to improve your human movement system through analysis of gait, breath, posture, muscle tone; to “streamline” it by easing restrictions in the fascia to allow ‘glide’ between parts; to help you better ‘differentiate’ and articulate your joints, in motion, to gain improved leverage and spread the work of a movement through your entire body. A system that moves more efficiently uses less energy to accomplish the same tasks. Conserving energy also preserves the health of the organism-in addition to bringing an evident sense of ease and calm to a person.

Would it not be great if scientists could use Rolfing Structural Integration as a ‘systems theory’ model for increasing energy efficiency-by enhancing glide; improving structural expansive balance and “span”; seeing ‘support’ as a dynamic, responsive, aware, yielding principle, or finding ways to increase an articulated ‘variability’ of subsystem response to movement and stress ( also a hallmark of the body-like a healthy heart, for instance.) In this and other ways, the human body, and the way that a sensitive, educated Rolfer, and Rolf Movement® therapist interacts and works with it, could have a lot to offer scientists looking for a fresh point of view on energy conservation, in my opinion.