Rolfing: Which body are we working on?

I knew I was in in trouble when Russ said, “That’s some deep work we’re doing.”

The fourth of 10 Rolfing sessions came and went, I wish I could say in the blink of an eye. But there was plenty more sensation as the focus turned toward my core — from my knees to my pelvic floor.

If you’ve heard that Rolfing is excruciating, as I had, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. But it is intense, and I could see where, with the wrong attitude, you might just pack things in. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, even very strong massage. (It also seems as though Rolfing has been refined since the earlier days, which has reduced the pain levels.)

Sacred fire? More or less.

At the same time it is intense, though, Rolfing strikes me as very subtle. And my guess — about half way through the process — is that this subtly is what keeps Rolfing out of the mainstream and as an “alternative” health practice.

Throughout our work together, Russ has said that my yoga practice “has you prepared for” what we’re doing. During Thursday night’s session, as the focus turned toward the bandhas, I could see how this is the case. Russ didn’t have to explain which muscles he wanted me to activate. “The bandhas” was all the explaining needed.

But today — as I’m again dealing with the toxins let loose by the word and am sore in places you just don’t ever think will hurt — I’m realizing that the preparation is maybe something more.

I doubt that four, three, maybe even two years ago, that I would have been able to process much of anything that Russ is doing or telling me. On one level, this is for very physical reasons: the bandhas, as I said, as well as the overall awareness and engagement with the body that Ashtanga fosters. I’m able to respond to the intensity of the Rolfing.

That will play a big role in its eventual “success,” I’m sure. But it may just be a small piece to the whole puzzle.

Because there’s the subtly, the slight adjustments and refinements that are the result of the intense work on the connective tissue. My feeling lousy last Friday (and a bit again today, but not as bad) is surely one example. But there are others: a comfortable, more confident feeling to the body; an expansion, perhaps, of the senses as the body works more in tune with itself.

And right there, I know, I’ve fallen off the mainstream cliff. “An expansion … of the senses”? Did I just write that?

Yes. And it may not be exactly what I mean, but it seems to be the closest I can get to describing it. (If you want it described better, click here. A little taste: “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, / Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”)

Why the trouble describing this? Because, I’m coming to understand, we’re working past the physical body, the Annamaya. Maybe we’re only getting to the Pranamaya kosha or the Manomaya kosha, but the work is happening somewhere …

Somewhere I wouldn’t have had any access to or even conception of before getting taken through the sacred fire of Ashtanga.

Oh, but enough of that, right? You want some of the straight-forward physicality of the Rolfing? OK:

  • There are two “arches” that you can use to support yourself. One is the outside of your legs and up around the “top” of your pelvis. (Think about a skelton.) The other is the inner legs and the “bottom” of your pelvis. I’m supposed to be trying to access the latter; it’s a lot more stable, heavy, secure.
  • Probably my big breakthrough during the past week: pushing off as I walk instead of reaching forward with my feet. Combined with bullet point No. 1 and that’s a major change in attitude.
  • Next week, I’m supposed to come with an empty stomach; that’s where we’ll be working. I am, yes, anxious.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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