When it's Better Than Just, "I Feel Better."

Woman Forming Heart Shape with HandsI am writing to you on the plane home from Munich, where I just spent the weekend presenting at the European Rolfing® Association’s annual conference* and, while I normally talk here very specifically about how people can feel better in their bodies, a weekend of being surrounded by Rolfers in Munich has brought back to the fore for me just how valuable that is beyond the straightforward, “my knee feels better”, or “my headaches are gone”, so I thought I’d jot down some of those thoughts here. The mission here at the FFF is to liberate bodies from chronic pain, mobility issues, and subpar performance. Which (and I think those of you who have come out from under pain, mobility, or performance issues will back me up here) is pretty dang fantastic. So fantastic in fact, that we normally end the story with, “I feel better! Hoorah!”

But I would argue that an additional, and pretty interesting, story starts to unfold both during and after the “Hoorah!” That, once your body has been positively impacted in this way (once you have, as we say in the Rolfing and SI fields*, more structural integrity), you are changed. Not just your knee, and not just your headaches. You.

I have the great pleasure of watching it occur on a regular basis with my clients. As they go through a Rolfing 10 series with me their anxiety attacks cease, or they decide to change careers or leave a relationship that isn’t serving them. All kinds of stuff unrelated to their bodies gets stirred up. It seems that, even though it isn’t a psychotherapeutic process at all, for many people working in their tissues in this framework of a larger organizing process (i.e. Structural Integration) does change people’s “life stuff” and not just their “body stuff”. In fact, Dr. Rolf once described Rolfing as “an approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body.” Whoa.

Considering that our goal, at least in Rolfing and SI, is to better align a person in gravity- to make them more upright, more at ease, and less at war with this whole gravitational field that we live in- its implications are pretty profound. In fact, at one of the talks I attended this weekend given by Pedro Padro, he said that Rolfers are, “consciously doing work to change the evolution of the species.” Wooowee! If you read this and it sounds creepy, like we’re fancying ourselves puppet masters of humanity, please instead just turn your attention to how your body feels while you read this, or while you stand in line at the grocery store, or while you take a long drive in your car, and you should start to better understand what I mean. We’re just trying to be helpers to uprightness. Gravity is so ubiquitous that we forget about it and the thousands of micro-wars (like standing uncomfortably in the grocery store line) that we have with it every day.

But what if we didn’t have to be at war? What if we instead felt buoyantly lifted and supported in it? Well if we can say that one of our biggest goals of evolution has been getting upright (and I think we can pretty easily say that), then to stop struggling against gravity and be yet more upright is a piece of our evolution. We’re not “finished” evolving, it’s an ongoing process, and one glance at any teenager texting on their phone should tell you how easy it can be to lose what we’ve collectively worked so hard to achieve. (But I’ll leave the question of whether our uprightness is guaranteed, including a rant on staring at screens, which I am doing right now on an airplane, complete with downward gaze onto my fold out tray table, for another post.)

Sitting at the conference this weekend and ruminating on what it meant to be better organized physically in gravity brought back a memory that I honestly don’t think I’ve considered since it happened. It was on the day of my 10th session (the last session in my initial Rolfing series, though I’ve had boatloads of Rolfing sessions in the 17 years since then) and my Rolfer, Joe Wheatley, had a journal available to people in the waiting room in case they wanted to jot down anything. I remembered how reading through the brief impressions of all the “Rolfees” who had come before me on the day of my first session had soothed my nerves, and so decided to contribute to the journal. For posterity’s sake I guess.

But of course there is always something about the power of writing a thing down that allows surprising stuff to spring forth and grab your attention. After all these years I doubt I’ll quote myself precisely, but I wrote something along the lines of, “I didn’t even know what a gift this work had to give me! I have a body! And now I get to enjoy it for the rest of my life! You’ve given me back to me.” After writing it I thought it was a little corny and amusing, so I wondered what I meant by “I have a body!” or “giving me back to me”? I mean, duh, yes we all have bodies, and obviously I belong to myself. But as someone who grew up with chronic pain, mobility issues, and a seizure disorder, I had gone to great pains to forget that I was stuck inside of this very inconvenient and often unpleasant thing called my body. I had split away from myself without realizing it.

After (and during) Rolfing I was not just pain free, but suddenly self sufficient, capable, and even giddy in ways I hadn’t ever touched into before. Pain and physical limitation, it turns out, are kind of like the metaphoric frog who gets put into the stovetop water at room temperature, which is then turned up so slowly that he never notices he’s being cooked until it is too late.

But I had gotten out of the boiling water! “I have a body! What can it do!?” Was the simple but gleeful thought that bounded through my being. It was like a grand adventure- that of having a body- had been right under my nose and (for me) I needed Rolfing to unlock it. I was free! And I was changed far, far more than as a physical being. Being given a sense of yourself as capable, self-sufficient, and transformational will do that to you. And here I am 17 years later, with that grand adventure still unfolding.

(Shout out to all the amazing European, American, and Brazilian Rolfers who made up this weekend’s conference! Thanks for the inspiration!)

*Footnote1: Had I presented on body nerd goodies I would have included that here, but alas I presented on practice building, which, while still valuable, probably doesn’t quite get people excited here at the FFF.

*Footnote 2: Rolfing is the original form of Structural Integration and so those who call themselves Rolfers have studied at The Rolf Institute, which was the school Dr. Rolf founded (that is definitely the sentence with the most “Rolf’s” in it that I’ve ever written…) but there are other schools of Structural Integration, such as The Guild, KMI, or The New School of Structural Integration, and the graduates of those schools go by the name “Structural Integrators”.

Photo by Patricia Mellin