Rolfing® Structural Integration is an integrating process of hands-on connective tissue manipulation and movement and perceptual education which, over a series of sessions, identifies, frees and re-orients patterns within the human organism that are not in an optimal relationship to each other in gravity. Usually these unhappy patterns will be reported as a lack of motion or flow which is felt as pain, discomfort or disorientation. These may be felt in the structure, the coordination, the perception and the psychological context behind the posture, attitude or gesture of each individual. When we say structure we immediately think of what we would most commonly call the body. The thing we see and touch that is always keeping its shape thanks to its shape-makers the bones, the muscles and the skin.
What we dont normally think about is, what is allowing this shape to flow on so many levels: from the gross obvious movements of walking for example to the more subtle motions of breathing to the deep and quiet but meaningful inner motions of the organs and the fluids.
If we look more carefully, after a series of Rolfing sessions, we might start to understand and experience structure as a system of interrelating webs of tissue and fluids that remember a shape but also allow flow. These range from the most mobile and delicate membranes and vessels; to the elastic and sprinty muscles; the spatial organs and finally the more solid ligaments, tendons and bones amongst all of which are also the fluids that promote space, pressure and sliding and that carry nutrients or waste in the form of chemicals and micro-organisms.
A system of inter-relating webs of tissue and fluids that remembers shape and allows flow means that our structure is at once highly stable and very adaptable. Which is another way of saying that it allows movement without collapsing. And the human person moves all the time in fact even in apparent stillness. When the human organism is integrated we see that it is stable and adaptable. We see that it is quietly ready in its alignment. It is upright with grace, steadiness and ease. It can take off in a burst of movement and then change direction and come to a vibrant halt.
The entire life of the human organism is in fact a self-regulating system that is in constant motion on many levels a dynamic motion that is neither too sleepy nor too charged stable and adaptable ready. When smaller sentences of motion are grouped together we call this coordination.
Coordination works like the axles of a car that allow us to have control over four tyres with one steering wheel. When we play the violin or serve at tennis or simply walk towards someone to shake hands we move through groups of learnt or acquired sentences or axels in our system. These coordinations are a kind of glue that holds together these acquired movement phrases so that we do not have to think about them from scratch. Some of these learnt coordinations are not optimal and so cause strain which is then registered in the tissue of the body as it fights with gravity in order to remain stable and adaptable as a self-regulating system.
What is very interesting about the human being in movement is that only some 5% of nerve activity is devoted to actually moving muscles etc. More than 95% of nerve activity goes towards building a context for the movement and fishing for information about this context. So we see the important role of perception and coordination behind what we might lightly call good posture. We are constantly building the context for movement that is well-oriented and pain free.
This fishing for information to build a context, inside and out, for safe movement is done throught the perceptual system. For example, if I am not sure that the audience likes the way that I play the piano then I will pull back on my spontaneity and freedom of expressivity and this will impact on my breath which might be held in expectation of making a mistake. My spine will not be as free because I might be loosing the ground under my feet and so on until I find hat I have pain in my wrist and neck.
Integrated alignment is therefore not a shape that can be judged as good or bad posture but rather the product of the harmony between the essential orientations of the human system: towards the ground and towards the space; towards the inside and towards the outside; towards the back and towards the front; towards the periphery and towards the focus; towards rest and towards excitation. All of which is a readiness that is stable and adaptable. When the human system is ready and oriented in this way and the connective tissue is free movement that is delicious emerges through our curves and counter curves as a spiralling dynamic between the ground and the sky. As witnessed in the breath-taking grace of the tall Masai women who walk for miles to fetch water or carry their produce to the market on their heads. We see the contralateral swing of opposing leg and arm, shoulder girdle to pelvic girdle and segments of the spine.
Rolfing with its particular way of using touch to bring the inner body or core into a better dialogue with the sleeve of the body looks to move the connective tissue in particular the fascia that makes up such a large part of this inner web of in such a way that the structure is no longer so dis-oriented in gravity giving back to the coordinative and perceptual systems their orientation and freedom to move efficiently and pain free. (For the essence of the ideas expressed above, I must give credit to Hubert Godard with whom I have studied these past 10 years. Any errors of content are my own).
Some of the things Rolfers look to encourage are:
– a more fluid and appropriate relationship between your body as container (sleeve) and your body as content (core) : the way that the inner shape with its deep stabilizing muscles and sliding bags of organs and vessels and its bony compartments and bridges fits with the more bossy sleeve of doing muscles.
– a more harmonious balance between the front and the back a more meaningful understanding of how your two legs provide support, balance and fuel for movement through the spine and out through the arms.
– a deeper sense of ease and delight in the inner movements of the spine from the head (cranium) to the tailbone (sacrum). a place for your head to be happy on top of your neck, throat and shoulders. hands and feet that really touch the world.
– a face that is resilient and free from jaw tension and the strain of getting information from the world around it.