A recent client posted to her blog about sessions with me. It does a really good job of the tricky task of putting something experiential into words.
A couple of 10 series clients have recently reported feeling bigger after sessions, while another felt smaller. This isn’t a measurable change in height, just a feeling that their size has changed and that they feel more comfortable with this changed sense of their size. I feel really heartened when a client reports these sorts of feelings. To me it’s a sign that we are working on the rich, deep somatic level that’s really Rolfing at its best.
What I think is going on, is that at times we all either shrink away or pump ourselves up to handle a situation that we don’t like.
Say the thought of public speaking makes you uncomfortable. Imagine all the physical things that you might do to prepare: take a deep breath, stick your chest out, shoulders back, stiffen the back and upper lip. Effectively what you’re doing is making yourself bigger to steel yourself to do something.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the shrinking away. An encounter with a bullying boss, overbearing partner or parent, or a social situation where you’re uncomfortable. Maybe social niceties prevent you responding with the loud “Fuck off” that you’d like to. So you find yourself “wishing the ground would just swallow you up”. How can one’s body manifest that desire to disappear? A sense of sinking in the front of the body, head and gaze coming forward and down, shoulders coming forward, breath becoming shallow. You can probably think of more examples.
We all do this; the body manifests what we are feeling emotionally, and at times we will deploy the first strategy, at others the second, but each option changes our size from the size we are when we feel happy, comfortable and safe. This oscillation around our comfortable, happy, safe size is great as long as we come back the that size when the situation allows. Unfortunately it’s possible for one of these strategies to be overused or become habitual. As a Rolfer I’m not so interested in how or why this physical strategy became habitual, rather, I’m looking to help the client to find a strategy that better reflects them when they are happy and safe and help them return easily to this happy place.
Through the Rolfing 10 series I would do this by giving lots of hands on bodywork to the areas that hold the client in their shape. For the person who shrinks away I’d help the front line of the body to lengthen. I’d work on the tissue at the front of the shoulder that’s holding them forward. I’d want to help this client to feel a sense of length up the front of the spine, and for them to feel the weight of the shoulder blades and let them rest down the back. Homework and awareness exercises would be to feel physically lighthearted, to let the heart float up and let the shoulders rest down. For the person who pumps up, I’d want to help them release tension in the lower back and the back of the hips, and gain an ability to let this area rest. There’d be a lot of work on the legs and feet for both these groups so that the changes we’re looking to make can be supported from below.
Our emotional state caused us to adopt one of the two physical strategies, now a change in our physical shape can bring us back to that peaceful emotional state: the happy middle ground between these two ways of being. If after a 10 series a client can recognise that they’ve moved away from the happy middle ground and find their way back to feeling the right size, then they’ll be more comfortable and adaptable when they find themselves in an situation they find stressful.
My thoughts on this aspect of Rolfing have been influenced by a book by Thomas Hanna called Somatics which I highly recommend.
I often help clients with sitting, especially giving more support to the upper back through the hands and arms. Here's a jolly article that hammers home why it's so important. More and more evidence is coming out that sitting is really bad for the body, yet it's something we all have to do. Hopefully awareness can encourage you to escape your desk shape a little more.
The Health Hazards of Sitting
I’m a little late in posting this I think we did the session back in April. Kate & I have had summers that have made scheduling a session tricky. In part due to rehearsals for the sell out show Rise, that we were both in. We should pick the sessions up again shortly. The first three sessions are pretty standalone, they work to free up the surface layers of the body, in sessions 4-7 we work with deeper postural muscles. So doing the first 3 sessions & taking a break is no bad thing.
However, Kate arrived for session 3 in some discomfort & I decided it wasn’t appropriate to do the official session 3 with Kate. From what Kate described & how she moved, I was curious about her low back, my hands confirmed my curiosity. I worked with a tight focus on the area above Kate’s left hip (she describes it below) then I worked with a broader focus above & below the area in difficulty with the intention of reducing tension in the general area. I then did the same on the right hand side to balance left & right.
I sometimes think of these sessions as firefighting sessions, something has happened that needs immediate attention. I’m looking forward to continuing the ten series shortly. The next session will be called session 3 & continue the progress through the 10 Rolfing sessions.
Here’s what Kate had to say
In my last write-up of Rolfing Session #2, I said it was my favorite session. I take it back! This one has blown Session 2 out of the water!
Perhaps it is due to a more familiar relationship between practitioner and client, i.e. James has a deeper understanding about how my body works and what might be helpful, but this session was incredible. I am so glad this is a series of treatments rather than just one; I would have missed out on this experience and the deeper understanding it gave me about how I am supporting my body (or rather, how I am not).
To preface this post a bit: I developed a painful and tense muscle ache on the left side of my lower back, just above the iliac crest of the pelvis (I did my research). It had been getting worse over the course of a few days and was impacting the way I moved. I am an aerialist (hobby, not profession) so I expect a certain amount of tiredness and ache in my muscles, but this was unusual and I had a hunch, as did James, that it was crucial to the way my body moved.
I am a fairly flexible person and have toned muscles from aerial and cycling and general activity, but feel limited in how my pelvis moves. Freedom of movement, as well as control of the pelvis is somewhat essential for aerial, as there is a great deal of inversion inherent in aerial silks and trapeze. I find it difficult to bring my hips up due to the tightness in the muscles around my pelvis, which is what we worked on a lot in this session.
James did some pretty deep work on my quadratus lumborum (more research) and along the sides of my body. I can only describe this session as being on the “sensory precipice”; it felt amazing, and exactly what my body needed, but it was incredibly intense and almost difficult to take! I was aware that my body was steeling itself against yielding to the direction James was trying to get it to go in, but the longer he worked on me, the more I could release. I read something really interesting in “Balancing Your Body” that resonated with me after this session: we fight gravity for emotional reasons as well as for purely physical ones…[we] protect our feelings by tightening our bodies.
After some time, James had me stand up and walk around. We repeated this 3 times, but the second time I stood up it was as if this point in my hips that had been giving me so much pain had let go, and I had the sensation of almost falling flat on my face when I was walking around. It was as if my pelvis and hips had been acting as a hinge that had seized; they weren’t actually supporting my upper body, but holding it prisoner. James commented that I support myself with my surface layers rather than the deep After this session, the way I ordinarily have the weight further back in my feet with my hips jutting forward (possibly a result of carrying a baby and now small child for 4 years..!) changed. Obviously I have to balance this out, but it made me optimistic that there are other possibilities for the way my body moves rather than the way I have been moving.
I look forward to the next session!
The second Rolfing session focuses on the legs below the knees, the ankles and the feet. Session 2 is one of my favourites as a Rolfer; I like the focus on a small area, and the clearer sense of grounding that clients experience when they stand up at the end of the session. The goal of the Second Session is to begin to develop strong adaptable feet and ankles. Rolfers treat to the feet early on in the Ten Sessions so that they will be able to support the changes that will happen later at the client’s hips, shoulders, head etc. As the sessions progress, the client begins to understand that this session is an investment for future sessions.
I like to encourage the client to make precise foot, ankle and toe movements as I make contact with the muscles in the foot or calf; this means both of us are stretching the muscle, and it reminds the client’s “movement brain” that this muscle exists, and that it moves the joint. Movement like this is really helpful because it takes the process beyond just manipulating muscles, and makes the process a collaborative effort between between Rolfer & Client. I’m working on the theory that Kate’s ankle joint needs to open up a little (the angle between shin & top of the foot needs to be less accute). You can see in the side view photos that Kate’s hips are forward, and over the mid/front of her feet. If the toes can reach into the ground the ankle will be able to open up, thus allowing the shins to move back towards perpendicular, and the hips (in future sessions) should be able to move back.
Kate describes carrying her weight in her heels. The obvious way to remedy this would be to lean into the toes, but for Kate that’s just going to exaggerate her hips’ forward pattern. The less obvious thing is to send toes into the ground so the ankle opens up. To help Kate do this I touched muscles on the front of the shin while Kate pointed her foot down; I also made contact with the tendons that run over the front of the ankle. I worked with the muscles on the back of the calf that contract to point the toes down; here I’m working not to lengthen tissue but to remind muscles that they have a job to do. This was the thing that was quite specific to Kate, in any session 2 I’m looking to make the foot more adaptable, looking at the arches to see that they are both adaptable & supportive (neither hard & high or too flat & soft).
To help Kate integrate this session into her body, I asked her to stand up and tell me what she experienced when she consciously reached her toes into the ground. The purpose of this exercise was to allow Kate to feel how a reaching movement in the toes brings the weight forwards, without leaning. Addressing this movement together should help Kate find her way back to this place by herself more easily. To end the session we discussed different focuses for walking, such as rolling from the inside to outside of the foot. Working with how clients walk is a big part of my Rolfing sessions, and one that I’ll come back to discuss in more detail in subsequent posts.
Here’s what Kate had to say about the session.
Rolfing Session 2: Meet the Feet
Session 2 with James was all about the feet. I know a thing or two about pressure points in the feet and how they correlate with different parts of the body, but hadn’t ever had my feet Rolfed! Although I have only had 2 sessions so far, without a doubt Session 2 has been my favourite.
It felt as if there were all sorts of connections going on I hadn’t considered. For example, my ankles have been feeling “stuck”, with limited movement. James worked on them for ages, until finally James (in conversation with my ankle) said, “There it goes!” Indeed, something released, and James was able to move my ankles more freely.
With improved movement in my ankles, my mind almost immediately drifted to thinking about my hips and how the sensation of being “stuck” in my ankles mirrored what I have been experiencing in my hips, more specifically my pelvis, for months. I hadn’t considered how those 2 planes of the body were related, like levels stacked one above the other. Imagine my excitement when James informed me that the next session is all about hips!
In the same way the sensation in my ankles mirror the sensation in my hips, I have a suspicion that other parts of my body have similar relationships to each other. Here’s my new theory: the curve in my lower back (which seems to be there no matter if I am standing against the wall or lying on the ground) correlates to the arch in my feet, and possibly the shape my upper back makes to compensate for my curved lower back. I explained how the arch in my feet makes me feel (and how it relates to my back) like this: my feet are constantly pulling up off the ground, like a cartoon cat running across the floor on the tips of its claws, its back arched way up to the ceiling. I can’t put the weight down flat in my feet, or flat in my back on the floor. These realizations sound so basic, and they are, but also like I am learning them for the first time within my body, rather than intellectually. With this in mind, James taught me to walk by focusing on specific parts of my feet as I put them onto the ground, and then made suggestions how I might integrate this awareness into my regular movement.
This 10 session Rolfing journey is off to a fascinating start and I feel so fortunate to have found James as a practioner! I feel entirely comfortable and confident in what we are working on, and credit James’ skill level and attention. Hips next!
A major goal of the first Rolfing session is to give the spine more adaptability. In the photo you can see that Kate holds her hips forward and the spine & shoulders end up working hard to catch up. “She’s behind her line”, in Rolfer speak. To address this, I worked on back of the hips because it’s an area that’s holding & pushing the hips forward.
To integrate the changes we talked about the feet; Kate’s weight travels down through the heels mainly. If she could use the toes more it would give the pelvis the support it needs to rest further back.
Leaning forward is the obvious way of bringing more weight into the toes, but this doesn’t help. I asked Kate to try and send her toes down into the floor, so that the support form the toes matched the heel. This opens the angle of the foot & shin slightly so the hips can move back. We looked at a lot of other thing in this session but this feels like the main theme. I’m interested to see what Kate has to say.
Here’s what Kate had to say
James and I began our course of 10 rolfing sessions today! I always look forward to Rolfing sessions with James as I get such an enormous amount from them. Today I felt impatient about my ongoing hamstring injury (a 10 year old+ injury) and found myself waiting to work on “the bit that hurts”. When I have sore shoulders, tired legs, or stiffness in my back, I want that particular part to be addressed directly and with great force (ie. with deep massage, pressure, etc), but often it makes the injured or sore area inflamed and more painful. James quoted Ida Rolf to me as he was working on my hip: “where the pain is, it isn’t”. How true… I was surprised to find that other places in my body spoke more to my hamstring, ie. “the bit that hurts”. Oh James, such wisdom.
After being treated today i felt as if my feet were almost buoyant; like they were being sprung back up off the floor without the usual weight of my legs and body pressing them down. There was some pretty intense leg work, enough to render me fairly speechless, but it felt necessary and important. Without trying to sound hyperbolic, I felt like a changed person after the session. My awareness shifted so dramatically, and all of a sudden i was thinking about the inward rotation of my ankle and the gentle outward rotation of my leg. I said to James after he had asked me to imagine this rotation, “that’s fine and all, but how am I supposed to integrate that into my life?” and nonchalantly he responded, “well, you just have.” He is right, of course; by imagining my body moving in a certain way, I am already creating an awareness of it. I am already starting to do what I need to do.
Rolfing is magic. I feel like I am doing something important for myself. It makes me feel courageous to look at my own body and BE in it, honestly and truthfully, rather than hiding behind excuses for why I may not be flexible enough, strong enough, able to stand up straight and let my feet feel the ground. Bring on session 2!
Ten Series with Kate: IntroductionPosted on 07/04/2013
My friend Kate & I have worked out an exchange. Hopefully it will generate some great content and feedback about the experience and benefits of Rolfing for readers of my website.
The plan is this:
I am going to give Kate a complete series of 10 Rolfing sessions, and after each session we will each comment on the session and I will publish our commentary to the website.
I will discuss each session in a general way but also give a sense of how each Rolfing session is tailored to the individual. I will also be photographing Kate at the beginning of each session; hopefully as the sessions progress the photographs will show changes in Kate’s body as she gains more awareness of her posture and body position.
Kate will also write about the session from a client’s perspective, and share her experiences of Rolfing. I’m really excited about this Rolfer/Client journey as it will hopefully allow readers to get a sense of what I do that goes far beyond client testimonials.
The 10 SessionsPosted on 06/01/2012
Many peoples first contact with a Rolfer is to work through the 10 sessions. These 10 sessions are all about helping your body find balance and support in gravity. Starting with the feet, we move upwards till we reach the head & neck. I’m looking to help your body parts to work at their full potential & for them to all work together as a whole with ease. It isn’t necessary to commit to all 10 sessions I prefer people to come try one or two to see how my work might help them. If you have something specific that you want help with, then sometimes it’s best to work with it through the 10 sessions, sometime we might do a few “fix it” sessions & then maybe start the 10.
So often when Rolfing, I’m looking to help the client connect with the things that support their posture. During 2nd of the 10 series we look at the feet. Ensuring they are adaptable & flexible, but in the bigger sense we are looking for the feet to connect with the ground. So often we ignore our feet phrases like “my feet are killing me” say a lot about how we think about our feet. During the 2nd session I’ll encourage you to pay attention to what your feet can feel. By paying attention you will feed the movement areas of your brain beautiful info that it will relish, & use to coordinate your balance & movements. We are developing proprioception the sense of where our body parts are in space.
“The griping of the toes is the gripping of the mind” B.K.S Iyengar
When I teach Yoga people often try & grip with their feet, toes claw down with white knuckles & the whole foot is hard. Spending effort trying to grip something as large as the earth with something as small as your feet is a bit daft. So in class & when Rolfing I’ll encourage soft feet that spread on the ground. Often metaphors are helpful like “imagine your toes growing long like fingers” or “feel the whole of the sole, like you’re stood on soft sand”. A soft spreading foot feeding rich info to the brain gives a strong sense of the ground. A hard/gripping foot can’t do this & leaves us ungrounded. So in a session 2 I’ll be manipulating feet & lower legs to soften the feet & I’ll be encouraging you to take that softness & feel with it, amongst other things.
I first went to James for a series of 10 sessions a couple of years ago, fantastic. I have had several treatments from him since. His knowledge, focus, attention and passion for his work shines through.
Thank you James for fixing my body! I'm looking forward to a pain free back in the mornings (no pressure) I don't know how I end up looking like Frodo Baggins! But you always make me perfect again. Rolfing rawkz! Sheena Curran