Another great reason to see a Rolfer™-after many surgeries, there will be residual scarring. These scars become a veritable drag in the fascial network of your whole body: appendix scars reach down and adhere to many deeper structures; scarring around knee surgeries can later exert a drag that pulls your back, causing stiffness and pain, and more.
Curiously, one of the problems with scar tissue, in relation to neighboring skin, muscle and fascia is that it is too uniform. Normal tissue has a glorious chaos to it, one that is incredibly flexible and adaptable, yet weaves here, there, and everywhere, where scarring tends to be too linear in fiber direction-nature’s way of buttressing the area. As with other things, like inflammation, that can occur when nature is allowed to just take its course, this is too much of a good thing. More fluidity is what is needed, in this case. By probing, oscillating, rocking, cross-fiber shearing and stretching, a Rolfer is also soothing, hydrating, and re-educating the scarred and stiffened area. We seek to bring it back to the normal chaos of human structure, to allow for the normal functional adaptability, all-dimensional flex/extension and support required in our bodies.
I will be putting my money on this approach myself soon. I have to get foot surgery December of this year, and am setting up appointments with Rolfers to work and re-work the mass of scar tissue this will create. While the thought of getting fairly radical foot surgery is terrifying for an old dancer ( and yes, it is because I am an old dancer that I need to get it done), the thought of having the support from these gifted bodyworkers really helps me, emotionally.
How have I made the transition from dancer to healer? I am finding more and more that I utilize the skills and sensitivity developed over decades of work as a professional performing artist. Dance is not just dexterity and strength combined-it can hone our perceptions and how to act on them. Good dancers develop not just a sense of movement mechanics, line, musicality or spatial sense; they also employ a general knowledge of aesthetics, art history, situational intelligence and much more. We train ourselves to explore general principles in movement, in modern dance for instance, while honing them into very specific techniques and maneuvers. We learn how to manage the shapes that we are trying achieve, in relation to others, and in relation to the overall stage image that the choreographer is creating-or at least our understanding of it! All of this is a way to enhance perception of self and other in space, time and gravity.
One of the things you will often hear a Rolfer™ ask you or talk about in a structural integration (SI) session is the way one part of the body feels in relation to another part. This is partly because we are trained to perceive the body in terms of relationships-how does the thorax relate to the pelvis, how does the pelvis relate to this or that leg, and to the spine, and on and on. Another part of this is the notion of “end feel”, where we try to sense how the distant part is in relation to the point of contact. “How do you feel in the lower back on the left side” we’ll ask, for example, while sensing a fixation in the atlanto-occipital joint-this is where the head meets the top of the spine. It is hard, exactly, to quantify end feel, and I believe that different Rolfers go about this differently. I personally utilize all of my senses for this, including, but not limited to: rhythm, sub-cortical movement sense, aesthetic/visual sense, spatial brain, sense of weight and balance, analytical brain, and tactile sense.
In general, though, this involves the ability to touch in one place and “feel through” the structure to another area. You can liken this to being able to feel the position of a ball, ten feet away, when you contact it with a ten-foot pole. A lot of subtleties can come through this touch, regarding fluid pressure, springiness, stiffness and the like. Rolfing® SI, then, demands a lot of sensitivity, along with sufficient knowledge to distinguish different structures and understand the roles they can play in normal, or abnormal function. There is one sort of end feel when weight, length, movement, breath, heartbeat, or cranial-sacral rhythms are able to move freely through, and another when they cannot. Identifying where this flow is interrupted is part of what we try to do using end feel. This is very helpful for knowing where to work to get the maximum benefit for clients. It is often not ‘where it hurts’. It is often in a place that relieves strain on painful areas.
A little more ‘about me’ here: working in this way demands a lot of sensitivity-thank God! Finally I have another excellent place to make use of these kinds of perceptions! They worked for me, before, as a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher, and come in very handy as a Rolfer. I liken it, too, to the ability to sense where someone a dancing partner is in space, how they are moving, where they have their weight, what kind of attack or sustain-pattern they are using-and on and on! I spent over twenty-six years performing dancing professionally, and developing this ability to respond to the movements of another dancer. For me now, Rolfing is very much a unique dance with each client.
Feeling through, as we work, and trying to understand what layer (or layers) is adhered to what other layer(s) is akin to the princess trying to figure out how many mattresses down the pea is. Ok, hopefully you have heard the story of the princess and the pea! I will mention here that there at least seven different layers of fascia in the neck alone. Knowing which one is problematic can be a key for how to work the entire body. It is a lot more than ‘rub where it hurts’ folks!
There are many skill sets that a good Rolfer needs to be able to draw from. End feel, sensitivity to layers, functional and anatomical knowledge are necessary to couple with knowledge of techniques to release fixations, in the appropriate sequence, and then integrate. But then, the notion of “the proper sequence” and “then integrate” can be the subjects of future posts!
One of the most surprising things for clients on the table: “this feels amazing!” When your body opens up, you feel pleasure! This rush of pleasure is like a reward to the nervous system, and is a big part of what makes the work ‘sustainable’. Why? I am not %100 sure, but I have ideas on that. The body is aware of very subtle gradations, of movement, position, temperature, degree of stretch, load. etc.. When a joint is in a more normal position and has more normal range of motion, suddenly we realize what we’ve been missing! Ahhh! That’s how my shoulder should feel!
A lot of our senses are geared to the fundamental question: ‘where am I?’ Improved body awareness also gives us a sense of security about this. Feeling more secure, suddenly-that sounds pleasurable to me! We literally can have a better ‘feel’ in movement and stillness for where we are, in space. Blood flow to the previously-restricted area, which had been slightly impeded like a kinked garden hose, is also suddenly increased, and the blood flow ‘hoses’ are un-kinked! The trick is knowing how to do this releasing, at what layer, in what sequence – that’s structural work – and knowing what can best be freed through movement/spatial awareness – that’s the functional part – and integrated back into the whole – that the ‘integration’ that helps make Rolfing Structural Integration more sustainable.
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 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.
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.