Discovering The Line with Will Johnson (LBP 051)

Will Johnson is the founder of the Institute for Embodiment Training and the author of several books including The Posture of Meditation and Balance in Body, Balance in Mind. In today’s conversation we dove into what Dr. Rolf’s original concept of “The Line” was, and discuss its implications for both finding delicious support in our bodies and also for its ability to evoke our evolutionary potential.




Conversation highlights

  • What is “The Line” and how did Dr Rolf define it? It's more like a koan than a thing...
  • The evolutionary implications in Dr. Rolf's teachings and intentions which have to a large degree gone by the wayside since her passing. Rolfing was not just to feel better, but was a practice that would liberate a different quality of consciousness.
  • The idea was that playing with upright balance in this way would liberate evolutionary energies that would manifest as a growth in consciousness.
  • When we get in touch with how we are withholding emotional expression this work [Rolfing] is more akin to something like meditation or spirtiual pactices. Dr Rolf would at times implore and beseech students not to view this work as a form of glorified physiotherapy.
  • The parallels between Buddhist teachings and Rolfing felt remarkable. From the earliest moments of Buddhism there was an understanding that if we can bring the upright spine to a condition of ever greater alignment that will allow the practices to begin.
  • The whole thing about creating the upright in sitting posture is it allows you to let go and relax. Relaxation is nothing more complicated that to surrender the weight of body in gravity. If your body is out of alignment, what happens when you let go is you topple over.
  • The Buddhist dharma is to let go. We have to be able to relax and you cannot relax and let go through a body that is not playing with balance.
  • Dr. Rolf's answer to a student question about how a Rolfed [aligned] body breaths, "In a truly balanced and integrated body as we breath in and out breath cause subtle motion to occur at every single joint in the body." It is a condition of really profound upright balancing where things are so relaxed that as you breath in and out breath can move through the body like a wave moves through water.
  • We talk about alignment in many realms and it’s this imagined perfect locked-in position. in reality, it is an exquisite unfolding of finding movement and ability for things to flow through. For relaxation to continue the entire body has to be subtly moving like an amoeba. If this is not occurring you are going into holding and freezing and relaxation goes out the window.
  • The majority of people somehow have gotten this crazy notion that stillness of mind depends on a still and frozen body. That frozen quality just locks people. Buddhist dharma has painted itself into a corner of frozen stillness which ironically also fuels the unbidden thoughts.
  • Yoda “there is no balance, there is just balancing”. Balance is not a condition to attain and then maintain.
  • Letting go is tricky business. We both stop ourselves from allowing these spontaneous flows, and we also come across people who are “acting out”. It’s about finding that place in the middle.
  • There are traditions where people are moving or rocking constantly like Sufi or the Jewish tradition of davening. The magic is in the allowance of these as spontaneous motions. 
  • Is there an anatomical structure that describes The Line? No- we're each different and it's about the play with balance, or the integrating force as we play with balance.
  • Relaxation is nothing more or less complicated that the willingness to surrender to gravity.
  • In most practices the body is viewed as an obstacle. I think that notion is crazy. We’re here, we’re incarnated, the body is literally going to be our vehicle.


The Institute for Embodiment Training

The Posture of Meditation

Balance of Body, Balance of Mind

Retreats with Will Johnson

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful. If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture (LBP 003)

Body nerds who delight in an anthropological viewpoint- or who spend a lot of time pondering stuff in primal or paleo terms- are in for a treat. I am so grateful to have had this wonderful conversation with Esther Gokhale. We get into the two main culprits that are contributing to the epidemic of pain and physical erosion in our culture, and how looking to traditional cultures can get us back on track. We also get into some hotly debated topics like why sitting doesn't have to be bad, whether or not our feet are really supposed to be parallel after all, and why a J-spine is more structurally ideal than the S-spine we've all be told is the norm (and, of course, we define what that even means). Plus- why we should all work to make it fashionable to carry things on our heads.




And while you're there please leave a review if you are so inclined. Your input on what you want and what you're into helps me to make the show better. Thank you muchly!!

Show notes:

Esther tells the story of her severe herniation in her lumbar spine in her mid-twenties and how it did not respond to any of the conventional or alternative treatments she tried including a spinal surgery.

She looked especially at techniques that teach you how to use your own body and that look to functional populations. Other people doing things to her had not worked. (See the therapies she looked to in the resources section)

Immersed herself in Aplomb and then started traveling and taking photos and video clips and interviewing people.

She uses photographs because we have a very developed visual cortex- we are naturally mimics. Images help us to put that to use.

Two main culprits in the pain epidemic and physical erosion epidemic: loss of kinesthetic tradition and the fashion industry.

She doesn’t demonize sitting or even being sedentary (in moderation). It’s not that we sit, it’s how.

The  Buddha sat and all the sages. And there’s a reason they sit- when you sit that’s when your brain can be most focused. It allows for deep thinking. When we were scraping hides and making arrows we were sitting. We still need to intersperse it with movement.

There should be also somewhere in your life where you are pushing your boundaries cardiovascularly, strength-wise, etc.

However, it’s very important to sit well- that is critical.

With walking it depends how you walk as well. Walking poorly is not good for you either. How you do it is hugely important.

Bending technique correlates most closely with back health. It is a technique she does not like to introduce to beginners-especially those with back pain- because you have to first go through all the steps to lengthen and strengthen the spine, and to get the femurs in the correct position.

The feet are not meant to be parallel. It encourages internal rotation at the femur. In village cultures and in little kids their feet turn out a little and they have a characteristic kidney bean shaped foot. With that there is a small external rotation in the whole leg.

You don’t want to bend forward with any rounding at the lower back. Many people think they aren’t but at the very low back they are actually rounding some there. She recommends working with a qualified teacher.

The S-shaped spine vs. the J-shaped spine: Just because everyone believes our spines are supposed to be S-shaped doesn’t make it true. It gives rise to a lot of pathology. In a J-spine your bottom is behind you, but above that it’s pretty straight. And this comes from a time when they did not have these back problems. If you look at the fine structures within the spines the J-spine better respects the disc structure.

Head carrying is something we are not doing at all in our culture. We are really missing out from not doing this. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback and you have to straighten out.

Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to line things up. It is a very primal experience. All the stabilizers in your neck and spine say, “We know this!” and gear into action. How she is using her head cushion while she returns emails.

In village Africa they are very still in their heads, they use their eyes more.

How to build the proprioception about where your head should be in space.

Taking breaks for movement and how to create habits for new patterns.

What Esther’s working on right now in her own movement practice and work: How not to have a backslide when you are trying to create new movement patterns- especially when you go back out into the world and you get poor input either just by what you see (slumped posture, etc), or poor instruction (in fitness classes, etc.) How to get the whole community on board and change culture.

Home play!

With a light weight can you play with head carrying? Try it while sitting in meditation, while returning emails, or while walking and see if you notice a change in your neck. Please note that it should be directly on the top of you head so that your eyes are looking straight ahead and are not looking slightly up or slightly down.


Some of Esther Gokhale’s pictures of people moving in traditional cultures

Alexander Technique




Weston Price

Esther Gokhale's Ancestral Health Symposium talk

Gokhale head pillow

Wendy Powell: Let's Stop Spot-Treating Postpartum Issues (LBP002)

If you are a mama or plan to be a mama this episode is for you. But hey! Wait up! Also if you have a practice where you might come across working with a pregnant or postpartum woman, or if you are interested in a thoughtful discussion about how to address issues holistically rather than via the Band-Aid approach (through the lens of common postpartum issues like diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction)- you've come to the right place. You can listen to episode 2 where I interview Wendy Powell of MuTu System below or...



And I would of course be super grateful if you subscribed or left a review while you're there- thanks!

Show notes:

Wendy talks about her early days working as a personal trainer with hundreds of postpartum women and always hearing the same questions come up. There didn't seem to be any answers out there in the traditional personal trainer education and also in general for these women. So her work began with wanting to find answers to these things for these women.

How she was initially guilty of being "one of those" trainers who- pre-children- felt that if you just do the right work then it will all go fine.

Her "eventful" births with her two children (there is an air lift via medical helicopter, just a heads up...) and how she realized that doing all the right work and being prepared sometimes isn't everything!

Dealing with her own feelings of it not being fair that she did everything right and yet Mother Nature throws at us whatever she throws at us. Then getting to thinking, "However that baby comes out- we did great. "

Defining diastisis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction. Wendy also points out that they are often defined in isolation and they shouldn't be.

What taking a holistic alignment-based approach looks like vs. a work harder/ suffer through it approach.

So often moms jump ahead without building the foundations of a core that basically works because of huge cultural and media pressure to get back in shape as soon as possible. And they then also don't see the reward for all their efforts- the parts they are wanting to change are not changing.

Reconnecting the mind to muscle is the first step.

Often an emotional cutoff is often why our brain isn't talking to the muscles.

There is no worse time in your life than when you are a new mom to grind ourselves down to the nub and burn ourselves out. Yet we wind up doing battle with ourselves, "Damn you body! You leak when I run but I'm going to do it anyway!"

Diastasis programs that utilize splinting or binding: if you take a tube of toothpaste with the lid on and squeeze it hard in the middle you haven't really taken anything away, you just shifted the pressure and organs, etc and shunted it up and down. And if the lid to that toothpaste isn't on tight, then something is going to go and then that's when we wind up with prolapse or hernia issues.

Using a splinting method tends to have the effect of making that woman feel that the binder is doing the job, so instead of doing the reconnecting work there's this feeling of support that comes from something external. It's an Elastoplast (Love those Brit terms- Band-Aid for the Americans...) solution, not a holistic solution.

It also causes us to feel like diastisis recti is the problem and if you put back these two bits of muscle that you're done. But they aren't the problem, they are  a symptom of a core that doesn't function well.

Walking more, sitting less, getting out of heels, un-tucking the pelvis- all of these things put us back into a position that allows for a healthy core and pelvic floor. It decreases the pressure that we're applying.

Walking often gets ignored because it's not sexy or new. Walking is the non-negotiable thing in MuTu Systems. From a physiological point of view is that unless we're regularly out walking the practice of alignment doesn't happen.

Also just getting outside and breathing real air is so good for our minds at a really stressful time as well.

My own story of making the robotic decision many years ago to walk on a treadmill in a gym when I gained some weight (instead of out in the California sunshine- yikes!).

Wendy has recently taken up rowing and she loves it but is coming to terms with how to do it without it going against everything she knows. It's been interesting to apply what she knows about alignment to herself and the other women in her rowing crew.

Find something you love- and then the getting fit part is the result, rather than the whole point. Find what you like that moves your body and find a way to make it work well for your body. It's about taking responsibility for your own body.

Home play!

How much walking do you actually do? Do you do whole body walking or are your hands in your pockets or on your phone or carrying other things? See if you can walk, full body, unburdened, more frequently this week and see what you notice.


MuTu System

MuTuVation US Tour

Why Walking is the Best Postpartum Exercise