Working with a client today with back and rib pain, and a lot of scoliosis. We started ‘the big project’ today of unraveling things from the ground up. For someone with a lot of scoliosis, this means ( for me) working on a particular restricted pathway or joint in the legs, then having them stand up and see what happened.
Sure enough, after doing work on her legs and thighs, the scoliosis asserted itself much more visibly even just in standing still. It’s as if we decompensated her legs, meaning that we worked to release a lot of the compensatory holding in her legs and hips caused by the scoliosis. You could see this as a corkscrewing action into the ground that enables someone whose spine is fairly twisted to face forward. Once the legs are uncoiled, the scoliosis is free to express: one knee way in front of the other, one hips way forward, hips skewed far to the right with the torso way over to the left and so on. Then we worked to release the ‘driver’ of this pattern, in her case ( and everybody is different!) strong restrictions in fascial tissues in the area near where the descending colon becomes the sigmoid, as well as around the kidney, bladder and down into the hip itself. A flattening in the torso above has been straining her ribs, causing them to pop out, and I worked with her to open related fascias. But, again the legs looked a little disconnected. Solution for today? Tracking, i.e. getting the joints to work properly in simple knee bends by guiding them with my hands in standing. For me, this is about finding the counter-rotational movements at tibia and femur, in addition to engaging the client’s nervous system while relating to gravity. The result: hips back over the feet, also an absence of pronation ( which has been a problem) and noticeable increase in space at the waist ( and a more even connection to the floor, all the way to the top of her head.)
That was just our third session, though ( and, in my mind, was a “Session 2′ in Rolf speak, as in “initiating bilateral support.” There was no way I was going to do that “2” without using elements of 4 ( the inseam line), because, simply, the pronation and knee knocking were not at all driven by her lower leg. In a test on the table for me to assess motion at the knee, counter rotation between femur (slightly lateral) and tibia (slightly medial) seemed perfect to me. So…maybe this gives you some idea of all the stuff that goes through a Rolfer™’s mind?
Small epiphany: magic is available to us every day, in the everyday; a lot of this has to do with how available we make ourselves to experience and to others, and to our own bodies. Frans deWaal, in his “The Bonobo and the Atheist” show how what we think of as essentially and solely human qualities such as altruism and fairness are actually deeply rooted in our animal heritage. So, our deeper embodiment, and opening into our ‘animal selves’ could actually help us open up more to our inner kindness and generosity, benefitting all of our relationships and social bonds, making us better human beings. Nice reason to get some body work, huh?
When I was up in Fort Collins recently ( to receive a Rolfing® session from Tim Schafer) I had some time to sit outside in glorious (for mid-winter) sunshine across from a Macy’s in the process of being demolished. It was a great opportunity to contemplate a structure in disarray, still standing, even though all the normal spatial relationships are gone: collapsed and strangely not-supportive foundations; hallways that had conveyed people and stored mass quantities of goods squashed, twisted and useless. Imagine that was your body. Imagine the people and goods were the physiological necessities of blood flow and nerve communications of all of our normal “inhabiting parts” which needed to somehow make their way through these impinged and twisted hallways, and the support structures in our body, the legs and pelvis, needed to still hold us up even though the normal lines of support, with normal “communications support” via blood supply and nerves is battered, twisted and crimped. Imagine too that a vast system of pulleys and struts that allow movement within and though space for this structure to breathe and work are also completely thrown off kilter. Imagine the amount of effort and energy it would take for such an off-balanced and misaligned system to function.
These are aspects of what Rolfers™ look at: lines of weight transmission and distribution of force generated by the legs from the ground; balancing of the ‘pulley system’ of flexors and extensors by working with the fascial connections to realign back into more harmonious push/pull/reach, lengthening and shortening relationships; working with the innate coordination of the body and working to bring that back into normal awareness for the client; helping people to befriend their body again, as they did in infancy and enjoy more sense of peace and energy.
I can’t “Rolf” ( as in perform Rolfing Structural Integration on) a building, because that requires the body’s innate desire for healing and balance (homeostasis). But for us, even as we dissolve into the natural decay of aging, no matter how broken we may feel, there is always hope to ‘reach the next level’ of function, ease, beauty and awareness, of sensing where we are in space and where we’re going, of the space within, and enjoying our sense of weight leaning into the process of getting older.
When I get up in the morning in Oklahoma City ( I am working there now through December 7) I need to unlock a side door that is not hooked in to the building alarm system, walk around the outside of the building and come in the front door, so that I may walk directly to the alarm control box and disarm it before the buzzer ( very, very loud) goes off ( and calls the police…happened more than twice before I figured out this side-door route). I realized last night that this is a really good metaphor for how pain gets us to change our movement patterns. After an injury, we will try a movement that goes through the affected area and the alarm bells of pain will go off, and with it a chain reaction of stress throughout our whole body mind like what happens to me when that darn industrial strength burglar alarm goes off. We learn, then, a route that accomplishes more or less the same goals as the previous movement, but that travels a detour that will avoid setting off those alarm bells. In the body, the situation gets more complex, and the plot “thickens”, in the sense that our bodies literally lay on connective tissue to bolster this roundabout movement path, through a thickening in fascia, tendon, ligament/joint capsule. Then, making matters worse, the muscles and coordinative patterns in the brain get weaker through disuse through the affected area. Often, too, a tightness and overuse pattern will develop as a result of this ‘side-route’, which we could call a compensation pattern. The side route problem is often the source of symptoms that clients come in to have treated. My job: figure out if that’s the case, and if so, how to treat those ‘side symptoms’, free up the primary problem and make sure that the client understands how to re-mobilize that area. It is also to figure out what even-more primary issue caused them to injure ( and constantly re-injure) that area in the first place, if possible: structurally; coordinately; psychobiologically. So…we all do our best, and often, magic happens!
Sitting in meditation again today, on a piano stool that is padded and about an inch and half higher than my knees, allowing my hip joints to breathe and stay relaxed. Breathing through the soles of my feet, backs of knees, pelvic floor, respiratory diaphragm, that/thoracic outlet, floor of mouth, roof of brain ( in my imagination), and allowing the gentle openings and closings at my jaw ( lips closed) and armpits/arms/wrists/palms. I don’t do nay fancy imagery most of the time. Just stay in awareness of my body. Thoughts come ( and boy, do they ever) and eventually I recover and come back to body awareness again. Until the next stream of thoughts. It’s not perfect, and can be frustrating at times. Lately though, a warmth has come in though my belly/low back, chest/heart, lips and near my nose, lil a gentle tingling sensation. I have a nice story about this: I believe, for now, that as I get stronger in my mediation practice, the tonus in my ventral vagus which mediates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest, digest, contentment, satisfaction aspect of our autonomic or involuntary nervous system. The ventral vagus nerve is also associated with our ability to resonant with others in social situations, and is very strongly associated with our sense of expression though the voice, and the muscles and awareness of the face and forehead regions. It is one way that we project our feelings to the world and read those of others. I’m sure many of you have heard that we experience a lot of our emotions through the muscles/tissues of the face, and that freezing them through botox can also make us feel more ‘flat’ emotionally. In like fashion, we sense emotion through “introspection” or inner sensing into the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines and all the rest. I could dig up a link on this research, but I know it’s out there. Anyway, these organs are also modulated by the vagus nerve, especially the heart. So, this is one reason, I believe, that meditation helps keep me emotionally more stable and happy ( and makes me wish now that I’d never stopped – and started again, and stopped again, etc).
Or, it could all just be male menopause. Looking that up now ( something about an “androflash” I think.)
What of the above describes your sense of “normal?” The Germans and French use this word very often as a way to discuss what one can expect in conventional manners, ethical behavior, government, restaurant fare and more. It has to do with social expectations; basic requirements fulfilled. For Americans, it relates more to psychology and non-abberant personal attitudes and behaviors, and in recent times is generally under question, as in “what is a normal, any more?” For Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the word, as it relates to human structure and function, took on a different sense, more related to the sense of the normative and optimal. So, reading the paragraph above, where many of us might lean towards “average”, “so, so”, “boring”, “bland,” “blunted sensation,” (and perhaps even angry, sad or weak), she taught a whole new vision of normal that could include optimal, and perhaps even fantastic, strong, spacious and open. And why not also “finely tuned awareness?” That is part of our given equipment. An animal in nature has definitely trained its senses and responses through use, not just instinct alone (hence “finely tuned”).
So, in this sense, most of us rarely meet the criteria of “normal” as envisioned by Dr. Rolf, rather staying stuck in an ‘average’ state of mild to moderate dysfunction (and much worse than that and we’re a basket case). But when we work together, client and practitioner can sense the increase in the natural grace, ease and support that is our birthright as human beings.