Introduction To The Rolfing Ten Session Series

The Rolfing Series can influence improvement in musculoskeletal alignment and function, emotional balance and the depth of relationship to our energetic or spiritual self. What is written in each links below offers an ontological viewing of Rolfing and does not offer a complete view of all possibilities. The Rolf series that I practice is based on is a progressive system that builds synergistically as sessions are received.  With each session your body unfolds, becomes freer and more aligned.  With the unfolding of the body there is also the unfolding of the “SELF”.

What is this “SELF” to be unfolded? It is your life history, which includes stress and strains of physical, emotional and spiritual stumbling.  An excellent book to examine the relationship between stress, our development and our body shape is “Emotional Anatomy” by Stanley Keleman.  Also, see the following Ted talk at: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html

Regarding Keleman’s book, he offers a viewing of the body being changed by our emotional reactions to life’s stressors. As a Rolf practitioner, I have seen many of Keleman’s descriptions to be true in others and in myself. However, I am less interested in “beating out a neurosis” or being a “mechanic” of the physical body, as some body-workers may try to do. Instead, my first interest is in the reduction of our past guards and physical compensations. Secondly, I look to stimulate the true self, the “resource” which lies beneath our past protective adaptations. When this happens our “Great Alignment” lasts beyond our postural alignment. Posture will always bend some, especially by our final years of life, but our “Great Alignment,” that you see in the Dali Lama or other great teachers, will only increase in magnitude once we awaken to it.  Below I will explain this series of ten Rolfing sessions as well as offer insight into my personal experiences both as a practitioner and client.

Note: I speak of the transformational aspect of Rolfing, however no one has experienced every session to be transformational, nor do I believe this to be the goal; as transformation places some strain on the nervous system and under constant strain an individual can regress or disassociate.  It is best to see Rolfing as a physical system, that at times may offer you deeper understanding of the self but with no attachment to creating that.

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Session One: Breath, Vitality & “Horizontalizing” the Pelvis

Our primary reaction to stress and strain is in our breath.  An infant can control its breath the easiest out of all other bodily functions. As adults we use this primal function to help us relate to others; inhaling to be seen, exhaling to hide. Additionally, we often hold our breath in one area of our body and thus diminish it in another.  This creates a cycle of imbalanced adaptation and can negatively affect our whole body.

So from this point of view, I look to explore the client’s breath and adaptations to the breath. I will seek to create a “vital adaptability” while reducing “survival and segmental” adaptations. This can take you into any area of the body. I will look directly at the ribcage, abdominals, spine, pelvis, hamstrings, neck and shoulders to attempt to locate the adaptations. Sometimes, I find myself working as far away from the breath as the cranium and feet. It is wild to imagine that softening a jaw or a foot can allow for release of the chest but it has happened. Of course there are nerves, meridians and other things one can tie together to make a rational explanation, but being one that enjoys the Art of Rolfing, it is finding the nuances and not the exact explanation that brings me joy.

Commonly, in the first session, I have the client focus on the breath: “Breath in . . . breath out” and repeat. Hopefully, the client will begin to recognize how far the breath can create a displacement in the body. Perhaps, the client will recognize that through the breath, fluid pressure not only increases in the chest, but also in the head and feet.  If one cannot feel that displacement then this person is holding restrictions that do not allow for that displacement of pressure and thus has lost vitality and freedom in movement.

Additionally, in the first session, the pelvis is studied. The pelvis is the base of support for the rib cage and thus is critical for the improvements in the breath to be sustained.  In Rolfing the phrase “Horizontalize that pelvis” is used often, even though “horizontalize” is not a word, its meaning is direct. To keep any improvements in the chest one must create a level and supportive base.Many structures can be worked to balance the pelvis but the most common site to start the balancing in the first session is at the hamstrings (equally tender as relaxing).  In sum, the creation of a level and supportive base plus a new breathing dynamic, allows this session to be the base of all other sessions.  The better this session is, the better all other sessions will be.

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Session Two: Feet and Support

Many of my clients have babies and it is amazing how big and developed human heads are compared to our feet and legs in infancy. We are fortunate that we do not need to run or walk after birth, as do so many species. Instead we gestate with the goal of making a big brain.  The only problem with this is that the legs and feet when given less space in utero stay compressed.  It is as if we were in economy class seating for nine months but really needing first class seats. So what can we expect when get off the flight? Our legs are all cramped up and we feel like falling over. Other animals get right up in a few hours and walk, they had first class seating!

Many people never get to unwind those cramped up legs and hence do not experience the support that strong legs and feet offer. With no supportive structure the body above will compensate; often by lifting up the shoulders compromising their spinal balance. “Support” is the key in this session, which unlocks the physical and emotional sense of stability, confidence and freedom to take on life.

Personally, when I received this session my thighs and shoulders relaxed because my feet were actually supporting me. Within a week my neck was less sore. Many clients try to stop me from working on their feet, saying “Well the pain is in my neck, why work on the feet?” Neck work is always done every session, but twice as much neck work will not be effective if the problem has spread to the whole body. Once the feet and lower legs are worked, I do look to integrate the lower changes into the upper body. At this point the pelvis, especially the spine, shoulder girdle, neck and head always get attention.

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Session Three: Side Body, Side Line and Armor

We all have been tickled at some point of our life. Generally, the most ticklish areas of the body is the side-line or side body.  This includes the armpit, rib cage, side neck, side hip, and muscle down the side band of ones leg. To prevent being tickled, one cranks every muscle down to brace, to guard, and stop the vulnerable areas from being invaded.

In our childhood development every individual goes through awkward times and wants to be safe from assault. To guard from assault is something we build in excess only to tear it down later. In speaking face to face with another we tighten our side body the most.  In general conversation we shift to weight one hip and shorten our lumbar muscles on that side.  This “contropposto” posture, is seen in the statue of Michelangelo’s “David” and in todays department store maniacs.  The “contropposto” posture conveys a relaxed position but allows for upright and an alert and engaging posture.

However, in irritating conversation we end the “contropposto” by tightening the left and right side body, so as to create opposition.  Simply we widen our stance and tighten our armpit line. At times we even cross our arms to create even more firmness in our side body and conversational point of view.  We do this rather than contracting our front or back bodies, which would then stick our groin or butt out into space.  Doing such would end our opposition in the conversation and in some instances would create unwanted propositions.

The side body tensions, which coincidently can be seen in military uniforms, serve both parties to create security and an illusion of power.  Have you ever seen an angry person pull their legs together to yell? No, of course not! Instead, their legs will turn out using side body muscles to create a stable base for their verbal assault. Often times, they will pull even harder on the arms against the side body to assert themselves more. Some will argue, “I don’t think I every braced for power reasons.  I’m not involved in that.”

Rather than arguing the point, the side body will tighten in our physical development.  Everyone learns to stand and furthermore everyone learns to walk.  Bracing through the side body is required initially for us to develop that ability. Without receiving session 1 & 2, we suffer with restricted breath and poor support in the feet.  We are then left to pull ourselves along by using big muscles that wrap around the outside of our body. These are the same side body muscles we used for guarding our physical safety when being tickled or feeling a general breach in our boundaries.

So basically the third session is an unwrapping of these big side muscles, which resemble packing tape around a gift box. We never thought that our childhood experiences, or our imbalanced breathing and slowly developing legs, could cause so much tension in our upper legs, lateral ribs, spine, arms, neck and head. With tape wrapped around our gift box, no one will be able to identify that anything beneath that tape may be a gift at all!  This is how some individuals describe the over-bound bodybuilder. All tape and no gift or present inside! Hence the third session works all these muscles and tissues that run along the flank of your body, thus producing freedom of movement and releasing one from old and antiquated defensive strategies.

For some this will be a scary session, being that it helps one drop their defensive armoring tactics.  Some clients, with the release of defensives, have a temporary feeling of anxiety related to removing their safe guards.   Being that no attack came, these clients cooled down and did not re-armor; instead, just stayed relaxed and learned to be free from their past.

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Session Four: Inside Line Legs and Self-Acceptance

The territory of the fourth session is from the inside line of your foot to your groin. It is the first session of the next four sessions, which affects the core and the spine (some say the core sessions come to completion after the sixth hour, however I choose to include the seventh hour as part of the core). This core session first produces a balancing of downward energies.  In doing so, the base of support for the body has energetically increase and thus the secondary outcome, is the gentle lift to body above the pelvis.

Additionally, the fourth session is commonly seen as impacting our primal self at the level of the first and second chakra. To fully explain this, let’s take a step back. Have you ever noticed that in our society there are many messages around what is right or wrong about our sexual energy, how to be sexual, how to be our self, how we express the gender that we are and even how we should be approaching fellow human beings in the first few minutes of meeting?  I assume it is a yes!  Well, imagine a child growing; he or she would be overwhelmed, at best, dealing with all of these messages.  To be overwhelmed is to shut down.  Shutting down in the legs is common and to open and release the tension offers a deep sense of ease, patience, peace, acceptance, and security of self.  One male client, after the fourth session, stated they had a sense of easy “machismo;” allowing himself to have his male feelings without shame, feeling capable with more people, less urgent in his life’s activities, and having more confidence with less cockiness.

Unfortunately, I have had clients that did not only get messages from society. Some got messages from their family and some messages were also physical in nature. For these individuals this session has been amazing. They have let out their demons, reclaimed their body, accepted their sexuality, reduced their fixations, reduced negative gender related feelings and have awakened deeper energies in their system. But even if nothing of the emotional nature happens at least you gain deep leg balance and alignment, which releases spinal tension and lastly your flexibility may increase in yoga if you are willing to practice regularly without overworking.

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Session Five: Opening the Front, Rectus & Psoas Balance, Upper Chakras

The territory of the fifth session is from the shins to the front of the throat. Additionally, I examine the second through the fifth chakras, the visceral thoracic and the visceral component of the abdominals. Numerous physical and emotional changes are possible. This session can be long because it can have numerous foci and possible outcomes. I often return to this session in post ten series work for its effectiveness. Here are some examples of the outcomes in session five:

From corrections in the front legs, groin and general release of tension of the front body, a new level of alignment in the legs and pelvis occur. Clients, when feeling this correction often say, “Wow! I do feel as if my chest is floating off my legs. I really feel lifted, I’m standing more on my heels and I feel that I am leaning back.”

Athletes will need more back work for balancing this backward motion. For they have shortened and strengthened their abdominals and thus their lumbar muscles have shortened to match the front. Additionally, work is often needed in their exhalation, which when improved allows for them to release their held-up, superman-like posture. Simply, improving their exhale brings improvements to their front-back balance.

As the 5th hour continues the work deepens.  Some visceral work tends to offer emotional clearing, an improvement in organ function, digestion and elimination. Traveling even deeper into the abdominal cavity, we come upon a muscle called the psoas which runs from many segments of the lower spine, through the pelvis to a bony attachment on your upper inside leg. Although work on the psoas is touched upon in earlier sessions, this session rebalances and integrates this “key stone” of the body, with the pelvis, spine and diaphragm. After rebalancing the psoas a reduction in low back, pelvic, knee, and even neck pain is common.

Also near the psoas muscle are energetic pathways that when opened can offer new energies upward. Commonly, more heat is felt in the chest. This is also where I have seen changes in emotional states; forgiveness can arise and unconditional love and compassion can be felt when this energetic pathways open. The fifth session opens you to new experiences and allows you to further express yourself in the world. Some clients feel larger, some exposed, some anxious from the vertical lift of their body.

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Session Six: Back Line, Spinal Core, Transmission & Grounding Consciousness

I love session six because I enjoy working both structurally and energetically.  Energetic work isn’t something “woo-woo” with crystals but rather working with the nervous system on “transmission of tone.” For example, when a decrease in tension within the foot is created there is a “transmission of tone” through out that side of the body, often seen by the reduction in upper shoulder tension.

Let’s step-back a moment and imagine someone laying face down (prone).  Generally you will see three types of prone postures: 1) “The Plains,” buttock pulled under and tissues of surrounding area laying flat; 2) “The Mountains,” buttock raised with the spine and legs pulling into the pelvis, with some spinal muscles bunching up and or bulging on each side of the spine, often there is a deep lumbar grove; and 3) a mixture of the first two.

In either case the center of the pattern is the buttock or pelvis. In “The Plains” the tissues of the legs are flattened and the tension draws the pelvis under.  Often the leg bones or femurs are externally held in rotation via shortened rotators muscles of the hip.  In “The Mountains” often the tensions are so strong that the general motion of the leg is not opposite of “The Plains” (although it can be) but rather creates a compacting of the joints and thus bulging of the tissues.  In both cases what suffers is the pelvic position; the sacral position and tone, and the balanced transmission of energy, gravity, and or other forces from the legs through the pelvis and sacrum up to the spine.

Simply, if the leg bones and pelvis are not in a neutral position how can the spine be neutrally aligned?  Furthermore, how can the spine receive detailed and specific tones from the lower body through the nervous system and or other systems if the base of the spine is compromised in position or bound with tension?  When the work is finished within the legs and pelvis, the balance will generate a release of tension upward similar to the relaxation that is felt after having a glass of wine. This feeling is the “transmission of tone,” which in our reductionist Western terms, specifically is seen within nervous system: a decrease of sympathetic tones and an increase in parasympathetic tones.  In any case, with this decrease in tone the back is no longer gripping and detailed back work can be easy done.

The spinal work in session six is not merely getting your back rubbed, instead it involves intricate work designed to align the spinal column. Many times I have people rotate, twist, and side bend to target imbalances in the spine. Although spinal work is done often throughout the series, in session six it is fastidious. Session six needs to be fastidious being that it is the end of a two-part session. Session five is the first part.  It balanced the front body or visceral core of the body.  Session six balances the back body or spinal core of the body. However, session six also must create balance between the front and back bodywork.  This is why spinal work can be fastidious.  It is important to look at the spine being created by shapes and movements that are throughout the trunk rather then from a still and prone position on the table.

Within the energetic lens, session six creates a deepened connection to the earth.  Some clients become more aware of their Qi. Often the moving of Qi into the heels, feet and hands are felt.  Becoming aware of the Qi moving offers the client the ability to feel more reserved, peaceful and at times smaller, which results in a grounded sense of consciousness.  Reawakening to his Qi, one client reported a reduction of anxiety, a greater connection to the earth and an improved kinesthetic sense to the room; one that he had not experienced since childhood.

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Session Seven: The Intrinsic, Balanced, and Unmasked Upper Pole

The spine can be seen as a “pole” and the head and the sacrum the two ends of the pole. In session six, the pelvic/sacral work creates a downward balancing of that pole to the earth. In session seven, the head/neck is worked to balance the “Upper Pole.” To balance the Upper Pole several things must be completed or maintained:

  1. The shoulder girdle needs to maintain its freedom and alignment from previous sessions
  2. The neck must be placed in the line of transmission that was developed in sessions 4-6.
  3. The neck, within its function, must improve its intrinsic versus extrinsic ability to move.
  4. The cranium must be made “horizontal” as was the pelvis in the first and later sessions.

The first goal is easy to understand but goal two through four require some clarification. So lets take a step back and examine our postures in our daily habits. Generally, in today’s society, work involves a focused eye gaze which draws the head forward in space, shortening the back of the neck and at some point shortening the front of the neck. This ultimately creates compression of the vertebra. Additionally, if the head is left falling forward and thus pulling on the upper pole maladaptation will occur in the structures below as the body attempts to keep the pole in balance.

Thus, session seven must work on allowing the transmission of force to travel through the neck and out of the head by aligning the neck/head over the body. Additionally the function of the neck must compliment the alignment of the neck. Intrinsic versus extrinsic movements of the neck must improve. Extrinsic movement of the neck is when we turn to look to our side and the skin on the side of our neck cresses or rolls up. Intrinsic movement of the neck uses only deep muscle nearest the spine and does not require assistance from more superficial muscles. When the head and neck is truly free & balanced, then rotation of the neck does not create pulls within the skin and intrinsic movement has been well established.

Thus the work on the neck has both structural and functional goals. This is why the neck work covers all sides of the neck and then continues into the head to work structures the can disturb the neck work. A simple example of “downward effect” upon the range of motion in the neck can be seen after one stretches their tongue. To do tongue stretching you will need a washcloth. It only takes two minutes. Take the washcloth in hand, stick your tongue out, hold it with the washcloth and pull it gently out and down, while stretching open of the jaw. Hold this for two minutes while tensions builds and releases. Then recheck the rotation of your head. Generally, it should demonstrate more freedom and range of motion.

The balancing of the head/neck will offer you more then just alignment and an improvement in function. Specifically, the headwork creates a greater sense of kinesthetic awareness and thus can influence your personal relationship to others. This effect is associated to the movement from a forward head position to a neutral head position. As the head moves to neutrality, peripheral vision increases and allows for a contemplative or meditative mind. This mind is looking to see what is occurring; gathering information rather then the mind of the head forward posture (predator posture), which proceeds after an agenda or prey. Furthermore, the neutral head position allows for the scanning of information and a broader level of sensory awareness, while reducing the immediacy to react. This mindset, if enjoyed and nurtured, will lead to personal development, a higher consciousness, and a greater understanding of the interrelatedness of all things.

Lastly, the headwork removes your “facial mask.” The facial mask is the unconscious muscular patterns that are drawn from our past and limit our freedoms to express. When you let go of the “mask” your true self radiates to the surface. This self is the present self, untainted by past tensions.

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Session Eight, Nine, &Ten: Closing the Rolfing Series and Integration

Upon the conclusion of session seven the body has achieved its greatest vertical lift and general structural balance.  Sessions eight, nine, and ten do not look to offer any new or gross structure advances.  Instead these sessions bring the series into integration and closure for physical bodywork. Additionally, movement cues and or exercises can be used to advance the goals of maintaining structural integration.

More specifically, sessions eight and nine, as a pair, look to balance the girdles and limbs (shoulder girdle, pelvic girdle, arms and legs); removing imbalances in large muscle that tend to decrease both verticality of the spine and structural balance. Additionally, working the girdles and limbs in sessions eight and nine offers the client new possibilities in movement (new motor pathways). Without balancing the girdles, the use of old motor pathways would return one to his or her past structural alignment.

The purpose of session ten is to recheck the horizontal balance or stacking of each joint.  Additionally, session ten educates the client on the felt reference to maintain horizontal stacking within the body.  This felt reference is the culmination of the ten sessions and may be the most difficult to recreate independently because it is the most sophisticated. Generally, one’s practice to recreate the body reference of session ten must be staged by reviewing the less refine references of earlier sessions. So in session ten, I will review your homework assignments for all the references achieved with in each session of the Rolfing series.

Sessions eight, nine and ten also share ontological results. As the general structural balance of the first seven session moves to an efficient structural integration by the 10th session, the client experiences an increase in connection to the earth. The connection to the earth, as some clients report, creates a “manifesting presence:” an increase in awareness of the connection to the world, to the simplicity of life, with a peaceful and neutral mind. Other clients, who have established a greater since of being rooted to the earth in earlier sessions, generally have an increase in awareness in upper body nonverbal communication posture and tone (A.K.A  “relationship presence”). Often these clients had more imbalances or restrictions in their upper body versus those with imbalances in their pelvis and legs. In sum, “presence” is the outcome of these last three sessions. “Presence” should not be undervalued. For the feeling of being present to our relationships and or life not only leaves one more relaxed but also governs our ability to ideally respond within our life and to our loved ones.

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