Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Archive for the ‘Continuing Education’ Category

Advice From My First 7 Years as a Rolfer®

It’s been a little over 8 years since I graduated the Rolfing® basic training and slightly under 7 since I completed my licensure, got laid off, and made an abrupt transition into “full time” at about 2-3 clients a week at the time. Last year I completed my Advanced training and assisted a Unit 3 training for the first time and it’s had me thinking about how much has changed since I first stepped into a classroom in Boulder. I’ve reached the point where there’s no thought to calling myself a Rolfer anymore and even on the days that it just feels like work I still wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

I’ve had my first Rolfling (client who decided to become a Rolfer) and possibly a few more in the making so I’ve been thinking about some of the advice I can offer that I feel really helped me become the Rolfer I am today. It’s not a comprehensive list, but a number of salient points I’ve found useful along the way.

Worry Less About Fixing and More About Learning

It’s challenging to remember when someone is paying for your help but one of the things I wished I’d realized earlier is that it’s not incumbent on me to be everyone’s savior. In the course of my career I might seem like a total wizard to some people and a charlatan or waste of time to other people. In training it was easy to watch an instructor be magical and think that that was what I was supposed to produce in the next hour. And in hindsight what may have held me back in my first few years was the tendency to try and push harder when that sort of magic wasn’t happening.

Having recently assisted a training for the first time, I think that ideally Rolfing training would be something like a 4-year degree. But for a variety of factors it’s not reasonable to run things that way so what we get is a training that teaches enough enough to be dangerous then sets us up to spend our early years getting our “finishing school” from our clients and continuing education. Even being told “the 10-series is what you do for 5 years or until you know what you’re doing” is easy to lose sight of in that moment when you have hands on a new client who’s coming to you for help and your training didn’t tell you exactly what to do in that moment with that client’s particular issue.

Looking back, and in working with my first Rolfing mentee, I think one of the things that most served the Rolfer I have become at this point was learning to back off, stop trying to fix, and focus more on learning. Making my Rolfing practice into my Rolfing *Practice* as it were. When my job became not to fix in the moment but to be effective enough that people came back (when appropriate for them) that was when I think I started to really become more effective. Pacing things not only to the client’s rate of change but also to a level or touch where I could work but still listen an gain understanding of what was going on. So that has become my primary stock piece of advice to new Rolfers which I also found echoed to some level by my advice to first time dance students.

Your primary job for the first 5 years is not to fix people. It is to be effective enough that people want to come back so you can continue to learn from working with them.

Sweat the Small Talk

I started Rolfing training as an avowed introvert, quiet and shy. When I share with clients that this is where I started from, most having little to no trouble believing this (although that’s starting the change lately, *happy dance*). They are far more likely to have a hard time believing I’ve been a swing dancer for 15 years and taught, competed, and ran my own dance studio for a while. So when I say that I’ve found being chatty with clients is a valuable thing, it’s a pretty big statement from where I started.

I think the early stages of Rolfing training made it easy for me to get focused on the client’s body and issues therein. After all, as Dr. Rolf said, it is the part we work with because it’s what we can get our hands on. People tend to show up in my office because they have big issues that have been affecting their life for a while and it’s easy to hang up on those. But one of the things I’ve realized over time is that if I focus too much on the current issues it becomes hard to see why we’re doing all this work and where it is going for the client. Understanding my client’s strengths and resources and joys has proven every bit as important as their problems and it takes a certain level of trust and familiarity to share any of those.

Making small talk with clients (or bigger talk), chatting about their day, their likes, what they or their kids did this past weekend, etc. has been a major source of insight that I didn’t expect it to be. I find that the more levels I’m willing to work with my clients on the more effective I’ve been able to be. Since it’s impossible to really know a person from an intake form I find myself that I can learn and connect more with my clients in a conversational”rolling intake” way not unlike getting to know another human being in any other situation would. The more I’m willing to roam through subjects with clients, the more I get to see the bigger picture of who they are, how their issues and activities and woes and joys are influencing their lives, and very often in conversation I find words or ideas or other hooks to help empower them in their healing process (and I find plenty to help heal myself as well). Sometimes the conversation itself is an important part of the healing. And let’s be honest, it can be a weird thing to meet someone, get in your underwear, and have them work on you; carrying on a conversation like a normal person often seems to help with the process of normalizing the newness of Rolfing for a lot of clients.

When in Doubt, Ask the Client

Being unsure what to do seems to be a pretty common thread in my first few years and strikes me as likely to continue showing up pretty regularly in my practice for the rest of my life. In theory unless I’m working with another Rolfer, I’m the person in the room most likely to be the expert on Rolfing but that still often means not knowing. I’ve often seen situations where Rolfers seem to think they need to know what the client needs as a default. “How do I know when to do X?” is a common question I’ve heard in classes and I think it speaks to the uncertainty of working with bodies and human health. I’ve found that, for me, the simplest and most powerful solution is to own my uncertainty, say “I’m not sure” and then ask the client for input. After all, the client is the expert on being themselves and have been figuring out and meeting their own needs for a lot longer than I have, so why not use them as a resource?

I usually give the client an out by telling them”You’re paying me to figure it out” if they don’t have a clear preference or sense of which direction to go, but sharing ideas and asking for client input helps make the process collaborative and a team effort for the their health. It invites them into conversation with their body and offers them some practice with better defining their internal landscape. It makes my job a hell of a lot easier than trying to know everything all the time and it gives me more information for my own learning process. It’s humbling and humanizing to say “I don’t know” but I’ve found it’s almost always improved on my results and helped keep my ego from getting in the way of the work.

Get a Mentor

There is a lot to learn in this little niche therapy of ours, and fairly likely still a lot more than I’m aware of at 7/8 years in. My de facto mentors for the first few years were my first Rolfers, Bethany Ward and Larry Koliha. I knew going into my first 10-series that I was interested in being a Rolfer so Bethany gave me a behind-the-scenes view of her processes as we worked together and it was incredibly helpful and something I’ve carried in to working with potential Rolfers. Larry and Bethany are also faculty at the Rolf Institute which meant they were full of helpful thoughts on preparing for the training or reigning in my occasional oversteps in practicing (I got scolded for trying nosework on a friend before I had done any training).

It was a real boon to be able to have someone I could ask when I got stuck with a client or when a session had a detrimental result or even when I just felt like a client’s issue was out of my depth and it was better to refer them out to someone more experienced. At the same time, I had Larry’s advice that often the difficult clients are the ones you learn the most from as a guide to work on staying calm and continuing to hang with the moment when I was having trouble with a client or with my own body. And being able to take classes from Larry and Bethany and receive work from both of them over the years has been a great source of new-to-me ideas and feedback on if I’m getting the right idea or if I missed the point of something they were teaching.

And ultimately having mentors has also provided me a metric for realizing that I can be both different and awesome. One of the things I’ve noticed over time is that the people who excel in various fields often seem to do so in part by being deeply themselves in the process. Being able to compare notes with Bethany and Larry and the occasional shared client helped me realize that I didn’t have to always use their ideas to be effective and on occasion I saw something for a client that they didn’t and vice versa. Knowing and working with them gave me a model for success in this trade and over time also helped me realize that my success didn’t have to look the same way as their success.

Get a Colleague

I think perhaps even more important than finding a mentor is finding a peer with whom you can connect. Someone who you feel on an even playing field with and free to talk about your experiences, exchange work, challenge each other, be a shoulder to cry on, and grow in unison (if not always in the same direction or at the same rate). A good colleague provides a safe space to grow in a different way than a mentor and can also help be a great yardstick for our own progress.

One of the most valuable resources to me has been my first client-turned-Rolfer, Lisa Barr. While we started in sort of a mentor/mentee relationship at first, we transitioned pretty quickly to trying to be more like colleagues and equals and both of us feel we got far more benefit from that relationship in the long run. Lisa knows me far better than any other Rolfer because we make time to trade sessions, get coffee after the session, and spend time talking about life beyond the table. This close friendship not only means we have a strong supportive colleague but also gives us additional space to grow and often helps us connect the dots and do deeply transformative work with each other. I believe we are often able to evoke change with each other that more experienced practitioners couldn’t or didn’t because of the additional layers of trust and familiarity that we have built with each other.

Get a (Really Good) Therapist

I feel like I got very lucky with the therapist I started working with just after I finished Basic Training. I’d be dumped HARD during my Unit 3 and came home incredibly distraught and finally ended up working with the therapist who a doctor friend had been advising me to try for several years prior. Frank has been my go-to therapist through the growth of my career and someone I still see off and on as my life, body, etc. continue to shift and grow. Working with him has not only improved my life but it has made me a better Rolfer.

While I started from a place of being a pretty good listener, having a therapist to model on has provided so many small and large pieces towards presenting both a more compassionate and more open model of listening for my clients. My early few years working with Frank involved a lot of anger and his willingness to simply sit with it and advice to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” has, I think, made me a far more accessible therapist to my clients. I’ve learned how to sit and simply hear their stories and when appropriate share my own stories or my own thoughts as opposed to jumping to giving advice or trying to fix things for a client.

And in a more general way, I think it’s an important aspect of presenting balance in ourselves with our clients. As I keep my own personal self developing, I keep myself relatively sharp for helping others develop as well; plus having a close relationship with a therapist has been useful when I need to get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a client.. And as a colleague recently said to me “I keep going to a therapist so that I don’t have to”.

You Get To Co-Create the Context

It took me a while to recognize it, but the average client coming into my office doesn’t seem to know what to expect from a Rolfing session. Rolfing can be hard to describe even if you’ve had it and it seems to almost defy the “elevator speech” level of communication. So even if they’ve been referred by another client, many new Rolfees seem to show up not knowing what the experience is going to look like.

While it’s easy to view this as a detriment, I have found this can be spun as a strength of the work as well. With minimal pre-conceived notions, it becomes possible to set the stage for our work in a different way than if someone is going for a spa massage or other therapeutic intervention more oriented to them simply receiving care. I have found this ability to re-contextualize our work together as something collaborative, exploratory, out-of-the-box, and holistic is of great benefit and helps go beyond just “fix my pain” to allow room for the sort of transformative work that drew me to Rolfing in the first place.

I aim to meet my clients on a person-to-person level first and foremost and to work as equals rather than play into certain professional roles and expectations. It works for me and it seems to work for the majority of my clients. I’ve seen other colleagues work it different ways that serve them where my strategy wouldn’t fit. But in essence, you get to set the tone of the relationship you want to create with your clients and the more you take advantage of that, the more your work starts to look like you which I generally seems to make the more powerful both for Rolfer and client.

It’s OK to do Free Work

At times, offering free work has been one of the best tools to create a learning environment for myself and to be effective with clients I might not otherwise have helped. Offering free work significantly cuts down the anxiety around producing results for money which helps me feel space to experiment and take risks I might have talked myself out of. Sometimes a client shows up with an issue so outside of my experience that I have no idea if I can help but I want to try and see both if I can help them and if I can learn something. For instance, when I had a lactation consultant start sending me infants with tongue tie issues I spent the first few months doing free work on babies. This allowed me to create training space for myself and the freedom to experiment helped me to play with tactics that were both new to me and seemingly outside of what other tongue tie workers were doing.

Offering free work has also been a great way to smooth things over with clients on the rare occasion where something goes wrong from a session. This happens occasionally when a client struggles with integrating a session or every once in a while when I make a mistake. I try to first do no harm, so when I feel I’ve done something that adversely affected a client, it helps me stay in integrity with my intentions to either return their money for that session or offer free work until they feel better. Some of this is self soothing but it also goes a long way towards restoring trust with clients and being clear that we are working for their betterment and it gives me a chance to get hands on them again and try to learn where things went sideways. The most memorable case of this working for both me and a client happened when I was working with a first time client and had one of her ribs pop out of alignment. She called me the next day saying she was in pain and would be unable to come back, so I offered to do free work until the issue resolved. I spent 6 weeks doing free sessions for her until it felt better but I learned a lot about ribs and haven’t had that happen since, plus she became one of my best clients for a number of years.

Be Careful With Discount Work

One of the things I’ve learned over time is it’s equally important that my clients are covering my needs as that I am covering theirs. At the base level this means that I need to get enough money and/or emotional return on my time and energy to make doing work sustainable. While offering discounted work is occasionally valuable as a marketing or accessibility tool it can also be fairly destructive to the sustainability and quality of my work and client relationships.

I’ve run Groupons twice in my earlier days and found that those kind of steep discounts invite a lot of clients only looking for more discounts. I’ve gotten a few wonderful folks out of each one, but not at a much higher rate than what was already coming through my door by referral. At the same time Groupon tended to bring in a higher than average level of people just there for cheap work and less engaged in the process in general. Additionally the ones who wanted to stick around but only if I kept offering them a discounted rate tended to be the ones frequently going on fun weekend outings worth several times the discount they were asking for. While I don’t fault anyone for trying to save money, it typically seemed like the issue with these cases was one more of priority than true need for a discount which ended up feeling to me like a de-valuing of my time and effort. Noticing this effect has also made me very mindful of making sure my providers feel fully valued when I go to other therapists/practitioners/artists/etc nowadays.

So my early years pricing advice has been to set a price that feels good, and maybe a little uncomfortably high in the sense that it gives you space to grow into. Start from the market price for Rolfing in your area and adjust up or down to find that sweet spot for yourself. I don’t think money is everything but it is the most easily quantifiable and I do believe it communicates something about how people value my time and effort. What I found running Groupons was that doing a lot of work at a steep discount tended to affect the quality of my work across the board. So at this point I’m very mindful of offering discounts and making sure that I take care of my needs in a sustainable fashion that keeps me doing great work for my clients and myself.

Start with 3s When Strategizing and Pitching Work

I started out doing a lot of one-off sessions at dance events so I didn’t get particularly tied to the Ten-Series sales pitch but over time I’ve learned that it’s not where I prefer to start with clients. And clients coming in for the first time tend to find the idea of committing to 10 sessions upfront for a therapy and a person they have never tried to be rather daunting.

3 sessions is a much more manageable amount to consider for trying something new and I find it is typically enough for most clients to decide if we are making forward progress towards their needs and goals. For the last few years I’ve told new clients to “give it 3 sessions and that should give you a good sense of whether or not we’re making forward progress and/or if we need to change directions.” After a year or two working with that number as a proving ground, I’ve found there’s better client engagement and return, more people helped, and I’ve gotten much better at honing in on my clients’ core needs. Plus I find it typically takes 3-5 sessions to really start establishing a trust and rapport that allows for deeper work so when clients stick around past that point we usually get to dive into even cooler territory. Or if a client and I aren’t making some progress in 3 sessions I’m much better informed by then to be able to suggest someone or something that might be more helpful to their needs.

Strategise/Be Opportunistic About Classes for Advanced Training

My practice is in Raleigh, North Carolina in the USA. In the time I’ve been in practice there have been just a handful of RISI credits offered within even a day’s driving distance. When I finally got around to planning for Advanced Training I found myself scrambling to get the required prerequisites done in time. I actually ended up finishing my prerequisites mid-Advanced by flying to LA for a class on my way down to Brazil for the second half of my Advanced Training.

So generally now I recommend to newer Rolfers that they keep an eye out for the workshops near them, try to spread out the CEUs you need to get through RISI for your Advanced Training. If you live in Boulder or Seattle or the like it’s probably not a particular issue. But if you live a couple hundred miles or more from the nearest place where RISI regularly offers classes then pay attention to when they come up and try to maybe take one class every year or two. This will help you be ahead of the Advanced Training game when it comes time to cash in those prerequisite classes.

Titration and Pacing

One of the first pieces of advice I got from Bethany when I did a mentored session with her was to slow down and find the first layer of resistance rather than diving straight to as deep as I could do. I started out with a “Get in there and FIX IT” mentality that, in hindsight, was partly driven by a desire to speed through my own discomfort with my client’s expectations of relief (ESPECIALLY in the cases where I got a client who’d been to a much more experienced Rolfer elsewhere). It took a number of years and a fair amount of confidence and self loving growth to reach a point where I could just hang out at a client’s pace of change and feel (for the most part) comfortable with the discomfort of “they’re not feeling better yet and I’m not sure if they will”. The more I became comfortable with not having to ‘fix’ a client and just helping them evoke change at a pace that worked for them the more effective my work became. And curiously enough, the less I rushed things, the more rapidly they seemed become available to shift.

Pacing for myself as a human and practitioner is important as well. When I first started, two of the local Rolfers were closing their offices and I expected to be flooded with clients. In hindsight I’m glad I ended up getting very few of their people coming to me because it gave me time for my body to adjust and strengthen with this work. It made for some tough financial years in the middle but I believe that taking 5 years to reach a relatively full practice helped me be a better kind of strong and stable for this work.

Learning to pace and spread out my learning has been of great help. The desire to know ALL THE THINGS is certainly there for me at times and occasionally it’s worth cramming a few classes together. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes our clients integrate the most when we take our hands off of them. And similarly, we as practitioners and people integrate similarly when we just settle in and do the work where we are and with what we have at that moment.

Go Beyond Fascia/Try Things/Make It Your Own

I didn’t plan it this way, but looking back at the last 4 or 5 years of Continuing Ed for myself, I did as much learning about tissues other than fascia, as I did taking more traditionally Rolfing/fascial work classes. Nerve work, scar tissue, visceral, and deeper cranial rhythms all helped me refine my touch, expand my range, and take my fascial work deeper as well. Plus watching the various instructors for these courses helped gain a broader idea of how many directions this work can go and how much you can personalize it to your own knowledge base, body type, and way of being.

I started to define Rolfing, at least for myself, as something more of a philosophy than a technique. Most of the experienced Rolfers I know seem to have borrowed pieces of other work that isn’t strictly from the original Rolfing tradition and most of them do work that is in some way distinctly reflective of who they are as a person. As I observed this, I began to think of Rolfing less as a tool and more of an organizing principle for how I arrange my toolbox and how I go about using those tools to help someone (ordering of interventions, seeing beyond the surface, etc.). Thus, to to me, Rolfing becomes not a specific product or service that I offer but rather a context for offering my best therapeutic self to help people, which is part of how my work began to reflect me as a person.

Get Some Work for Yourself

Simple enough but so easy to get away from the habit. Believe in your own product and get Rolfing (and any other work that calls you) not just when you need it but before you need it. Having gone through phases of both I can say I think my clients’ results are markedly better in the periods where I’m spending or even overspending on self care compared to the periods where I wasn’t getting any work for 6 months or so.

Make Room for the Work to Change You

When I started down the path of this work, I oriented to it strongly as “I want this so I can do good things for others” What I failed to predict in those early stages was how much the work would also become a tool for letting the world do for and change me. At nearly 10 years since my first Rolfing sessions, I’m suddenly encountering the idea from multiple sources that the spiritual/personal growth work that we do is not just for ourselves but for all of our relationships and our clients as well. And after spending most of my life orienting as a giver, I find myself learning some really powerful lessons about how much I’m capable of receiving as well.

When I started training as a Rolfer I was on antidepressants, living in a construction zone of a house , and unconvinced that I had much value in the world. I was rather painfully shy, afraid of judgement, and felt stuck going down some family paths that I didn’t even realize I was on. Last year one of my colleagues told me when she had first met me seven years ago she was sure I was going to be a pain in her ass because I was dreadfully unhappy and couldn’t see it for myself.

Yesterday the same colleague told me she’s looking forward to the day when her children reach the point of change that I’ve gotten to lately. I’ve also had comments from pretty much every Rolfer I’ve worked with long-term about how much my body and way of being have changed over time. I still have the rest of my life to grow but I’m significantly happier, healthier, and more fulfilled than I was before I entered this process.

As I changed, my work changed and grew. The more my energy and way of being improved, the better my clients’ results got. In a grand sense, I don’t think of this work as fixing or creating a change in someone, it’s helping them (and ourselves) remove or work through the roadblocks to being our best, happiest, lightest selves. The more we allow ourselves to soften into our hard spaces, the more we learn how to offer similar space to our clients, our friends, and ourselves. So regardless of where you start from, probably my biggest advice to new Rolfers is to be open to the work changing you, challenging you, and bringing you to places in yourself that you may not have been able to imagine when you walked into your Unit 1 training.

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 7

The final week is done of my first Rolfing® training assist. It ended up being a big push to the end getting in as much as I outside of class while mostly wrapping up in the classroom. We wrapped up a day ago and I’m finding myself deeply grateful for the experience having learned a lot and set up a decent base for assisting again (in fact I’ve already got one loose offer to assist another instructor sometime in future). I’m also very grateful to friends, old and new, in the swing scene here who’ve helped me feel at home, and kept my nights busy with delicious food and equally delicious dancing.

Day 43 – September 26

uc516_day_43_kakes_dawn_tributeMonday came on fairly bright and early. The legendary Dawn Hampton had passed the night before and I was on and off Facebook through the morning checking out the tributes, stories, and videos of this incredible human.

In class we spent the morning reflecting on our 10 series clients and what sort of results we had gotten with them. Watching the reflective process for the students was great particularly since I see the 10-series as being a strong self-teaching tool for Rolfers early on and throughout our careers. Session 9 with the 13-series clients followed with a little bit of a bittersweet feel moving towards the end of closure.

After class I caught a ride from Neal over to Heather Starsong‘s studio where I got a personal movement session. We worked a lot on spinal mechanics and getting my axial diaphgramatic structures relaxing and working together. It was a beautiful session and is probably going to be processing for a few months to come but I then got to have a 2 mile walk down to Kakes Studios for the Boulder Swing dance as a way to integrate. Had some great dances again with a nice tribute to Dawn then a couple of friends invited me over for Sazeracs and some chat time before taking me home probably later than was best for me to be out.

Day 44 – September 27

UC516_Day_44_Dancing_at_Baurs.jpgTuesday came on bright and early with a trip down to Snooze for breakfast then more 10-series presentations and my second demo session with my post-10 client. The afternoon rolled into mostly students trading sessions with each other which provided a nice break from holding space for outside clients and generally feels like we got a more relaxed energy and got to see the students interacting a bit more openly as practitioners.

Dancing this night took the form of a drive (or being driven) down to Denver for Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles at a restaurant called Baur’s. The band was really damn good and it makes me wish we had the sort of infrastructure in Raleigh/Durham to support larger bands having weekly gigs like this. I got to meet and dance with a few new dancers I hadn’t run into yet and we headed home tired but satisfied.

Day 45 – September 28

uc516_day_45_skeye_brewingWednesday night saw me up early for the last session of my 3-series trading with Neal. The session with Heather had given me a few ideas of spots to work on and Neal incorporated that info nicely into a nice wrap-up session for our work together.

We spent the morning in class trading tips and tricks that we’d picked up along the way and watching Neal’s final session 10 demo. The student’s 10th sessions in the afternoon were again sort of bittersweet thought mostly sweet as the students closed out with these clients. I’m not sure if it was because they’d done movement as well or because it was closer to close or just luck of the draw but this round of closure felt more open and warm with gifts and cards exchanged and the like.

After class, Neal gave me a ride up to Skeye Brewing on his way home and stopped off to grab a beer with me before heading on. When we arrived, the beginner lesson for the dance that night was still going on and we got to talk a little bit of my philosophy for teaching dance. The crowd for the dance was on the smaller side but also nicely intimate and a lot of good dances (and a few brews) were had. I caught a ride home with one of the local teachers and had a really nice conversation about dance pedagogy before being dropped off at home and promptly crashing.

Day 46 – September 29

uc516_day_46_waterloo_group_photoBy this point in the week it was beginning to feel like a rather intense, though worthwhile, haul through a lack of sleep. It wasn’t really intentional, just between the work with Heather and Neal I think we’d reached a sort of critical mass where some of the body shifts were interrupting my sleep for a bit.

Undeterred though we kept rolling on with class which was all about the final post-10 sessions today. My final session with my post-10 client came together really well and kind of made me wish I were closer. She asked if I had a card and I had to confess that I lived half a country away but would do my best to help put her in touch with someone who might be useful to her locally. Following class about half of us went over to Asher Brewing for a couple of beers and some conversation. Several of the students have family or significant others coming into town at this point so we got to talk a bit more about those folks and life beyond the classroom.

And reprising the start of my dancing during this course, some of the local decided to take another trip to Waterloo in Louisville for some Balboa dancing. The picture above is missing a good number of the new and old dance friends I’ve made here but I think it tells the spirit of this group well and I’m deeply grateful for the welcoming arms of the swing scene here.

Day 47 – September 30

uc516_day_47_class_photoGraduation Day!

This was another early morning for myself and Neal as we had individual student evaluation interviews to do. Everyone passed with plenty of room and we got to talk with each student about their strengths, their challenges, and what we might recommend they pursue next in their development. Energies were higher overall than they had been in a while which I think is a testament to how much work goes into training as a Rolfer and how much of a relief it is to cross the finish line. The closing ceremony and graduation went great and then I crashed hard and just went to lie down on the floor a bit.

Following a reception at RISI, the class and families went out to Element Bistro for a drink. Neal and I hung around for an hour or so then headed to J&L Distilling for a final drink and debrief ourselves. When I had first booked my flights, Neal and I had planned this time thinking we’d need lots of time to talk out what had happened in the class but because we’d kept open lines of communication and feedback the whole time there really wasn’t much left unsaid and we spent the time instead talking about my heading to Boston and Neal’s upcoming trip to Peru.

Final night’s dancing in Colorado came courtesy of a gypsy jazz band called La Pompe playing at Brik on York which was a fancy pizza place in downtown Denver. A local dancer gave me a ride down and instead of pizza I ended up ordering a charcuterie plate that took most of the night to finish off. Had some great dances, especially in the second set when patrons started clearing out and we were able to move some tables and dance at the foot of the stage. One thing I’ve been noting a lot lately is how much of a difference it can make to dance with an audience around. At a standard swing dance everyone is kind of just doing their own thing, but at a restaurant or bar, dancing kind of makes us part of the entertainment and it’s been interesting to note how much that adds to the experience for me and kind of eggs on experimentation and play.

I got back home around midnight and tried to get to sleep fairly quickly for my flight the next morning.

Day 48 – October 1

uc516_day_48_denver_airportThe last day in Boulder dawned a bit earlier than I would have liked, but with a 1pm flight to catch, an hour+ bus ride to get there, and the unpredictability of the lines at DEN, I decided it would be best to be up at out early. I had hoped to take my host to Snooze and to get myself a flight of fancy pancakes (still a brilliant idea) but by the time we arrived at 8:30 the wait was nearly an hour and would have been pushing it on my comfort zone with the time.

So instead I just hopped the bus to DEN, barely made weight on my bags stuffed with goodies from Colorado breweries and distilleries, and settled in to wing my way to Boston for Tinkerbal and seeing some dance and Rolfing friends I haven’t seen in quite some time. Today’s photo is from a little space in DEN above the trains in Terminal C that I’d just never noticed before, keeping a bit with this whole trip’s theme of noticing details and continuing to learn.

I landed in Boston around 9pm, caught an Uber to the dance that night and surprised the hell out of a few old and dear dance friends by being there. It was a lovely reception back and I wish I had gotten photos of the silly lobster dance contest, but I decided to just enjoy it rather than being a shutterbug. Staying the night with an old dance student of mine who lives near the venues and I slept in on Sunday longer than I have in a while.

Conclusion

It was a really wild ride getting to this point, having just completed my Advanced Training and getting asked to assist, working out how to make it fit with my current homeless state, and getting better insight both into how much I do actually know and how much there still is to learn in this work. I’m grateful to Neal for taking a chance with me and to all the students for their patience with both of our learning curves and for their presence and energy in class. And probably most importantly, a huge congratulations to AJ, Chris, Drew, Haley, Katie, Kyle, Monica, and Tiffani on making it all the way to being Certified Rolfers!!!

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 6

Week 6 down. Almost done with my assisting a Unit 3 Rolfing® training for the first time. Getting deeper into closure territory, final touches, parties, and getting in as much hiking and dancing as I can. It’s also the final week I have a car rented meaning I’m enjoying that freedom as much as I can before I go back to hoofing it, busing it, or bumming a ride for the final week.

Day 36 – September 19

uc516_day_36_movement_3Monday came bright and early with a promise of the final movement session for the 13 series clients. This puts us firmly into the territory where both clients are past the core sessions and moving into integration and closure. As a big proponent of movement it’s been nice watching the students shift from sort of loose understanding of how to build a movement session to a much more confident assessment and directing of the sessions with their clients. This was also Ray McCall’s last day in class assessing Neal who passed the test just fine.

I went for my own movement at the end of the day with a trip to Kakes Studios for dancing. Definitely a more tired day than it has been at times, but good to be out all the same and a little bittersweet knowing I’ve only got a few weeks left to get out dancing and connecting with the Boulder Swing folks.

 

Day 37 – September 20

uc516_day_37_element_bistroToday was my final session with my demo client for the 10 series. It finished up in lovely fashion and I’m really happy with the work I did. That said, it’s also a little bittersweet finishing up with someone who’s been really fun to work with and a great reciprocal learning relationship for my first assist. It’s also going to be curious as I will be starting Thursday with a new post-10 client who I’ll see for 3 sessions. Having watched how it can be really challenging to have someone visit a student towards the end of a training I figure it will be curious to be trying to integrate a new relationship on the tail end of a long series of learning already.

After class Neal and I went out for drinks (and me for dinner since I’d skipped lunch) at Element Bistro near the Rolf Institute. We sat out on the rooftop bar overlooking the start of the mountains and it’s really good to have someone like Neal to work with and be able to check in throughout the course making sure we’re both on track and holding it together.

 

Day 38 – September 21

Photo taking broke down today. I’m actually a bit surprised that I made it this far without a miss but today happened to be the day for it. Today actually turned out to be a bit of a wiped day for me. A good one for the students as they took their 13-series clients into session 8. I actually don’t have a good recollection of this day other than remembering that I had really intended to go to a dance at the Arvada Tavern but ended up just crashing out early instead.

 

Day 39 – September 22

uc516_day_39_barefoot_jazzToday I met my post-10 series client for the first time. I was still dragging pretty badly from the day before and feeling like I wasn’t going to do very well working with her in the morning. By the time she came in and we got to work though I had found my groove again inside of about 15 minutes. It was particularly nice to feel less constrained to the 10-series and a bit more free to work as needed. I do of course still love the 10-series for what it is, but in the teaching context there’s a certain feeling of pressure to do work in a specific context. Getting back to working with an already Rolfed body was a nice change and I think the session came together really well. For their post-10 series work, most of the students are working on each other which also adds a nice looser vibe to the room at the end of the day.

For dancing that night I met a couple of Balboa folks at Waterloo in Louisville. Jeremy Mohney was playing again, we had some great conversations about dance and teaching, and I made plans to go hiking in the morning with one of the dancers. Towards the end I noticed that Jeremy was playing barefoot and being a proponent of minimalist footwear, I figured that would make a good picture for the day.

 

Day 40 – September 23

uc516_day_40_ribs_n_brisketI woke up this morning to a text from my intended hiking buddy saying she hadn’t been able to get to bed until after 3am and would be in no shape to go hiking that morning. Not to be deterred, I set out for breakfast followed by a short but satisfying hike up and down the Dakota Ridge trail at Sanitas Valley.

Following the hike I headed over to a Texas BBQ joint I had been meaning to check out called Wayne’s Smoke Shack. Because they are only open for lunch 5 days a week until they sell out, it had been a bit challenging to find time to get there, but it was well worth it. Easily the best brisket and ribs I’ve had here and some of the best crust I’ve had on barbecue in most places.

After Wayne’s I took a trip out to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory for a tour and to pick up some Nutcracker Suite tea for a client and for the office. Being a seasonal holiday tea it’s hard to find other times and seemed to be the office favorite, so that and about a half dozen other teas are coming home with me. In addition I’d say the mint room, while delicious smelling, was also rather burny just to stand around and the tea-dusted cement floor seemed like one of he slickest potential dance surfaces I’ve been on my whole trip.

I followed up the tea tour with a trip to visit Redstone Meadery in Boulder where I just happened to luck into arriving shortly before their factory tour started as well. It’s an operation that looked fairly small but delivered big on flavor and a lot of nice varieties of mead. I finished the tour and tasting and snagged a few bottles to take home, then headed home for a bit of a nap before heading over to a dancer friend’s house to practice Balboa and talk about our pets.

Day 41 – September 24

uc516_day_41_partySaturday morning I had intended on hiking up Lion’s Lair trail on the west side of Mount Sanitas with some friends, but due to a miscommunication it didn’t work out, so we decided to punt and go Sunday instead. Not to be put off getting some outdoor time in, I took another spin around Sanitas Valley and Dakota Ridge solo then headed over for round 2 lunch at Wayne’s Smoke Shack this time going for chicken, sausage, and peach cobbler. Then I grabbed a couple pounds of brisket to go and headed up to Neal’s for a class party.

Neal turns out to be quite a gardener so we spent an hour or so harvesting, cleaning, chopping, and roasting veggies, grilling steaks, and drinking beer with the class. The “Happy Rolfing” cake pictured above was also delicious and accompanied by grilled peaches for dessert. Three of the students plus myself had signed up for a movement session with Heather Starsong at 7 so the party wound up in the early afternoon and we headed back down to Boulder.

The session with Heather was wonderful and again I was struck by what it’s like observing someone who’s been doing something for something like 40 years now. I hung back a bit and let Heather focus mostly on the students, who need to have done a certain number of movement sessions to graduate the Rolfing training, but still got a lot out of watching her work. There were also some emotional moments towards the end which made me glad to see the students getting some exposure to the power of the Rolf Movement work.

Following this I headed over to Caffe Sole for the tail end of a jazz group and some dancing. I only caught the last 40 minutes or so, but got a few really nice dances in and the followed a couple of close dance friends over to Oak at fourteenth on the Pearl Street Mall for a few cocktails. The drinks were absolutely delicious and sitting at the bar for an hour or so just talking sailing, teaching, and cocktail lore with the bartender was a great way to cap off the night with someone passionate and still driven about what they do.

 

Day 42 – September 25

uc516_day_42_rattlesnake_gulch

Sunday dawned a little brighter and a little earlier than I would have liked as I got up early to talk with a friend back East who had thought we set things up for an hour later. By the time she called I was on my way to Dushanbe Teahouse to meet my 10-series client and debrief on the series plus talk about her plans to train to be a Rolfer. We had a great talk, lots of good conversation about various topics relating to her session, plans, and how to help set up her life to support her training which is the sort of thing I think will serve her really well when she does get into the program.

After tea I headed out to meet the friends for a hike up Lion’s Lair but since it was around noon by the time we got going, we decided to shift and head to Eldorado Park and hike the Rattlesnake Gulch trail instead since it was a more gradual trail and tends to be more shady during the day. It was a beautiful hike up and I thought I had taken this great photo sphere shot from the Continental Divide overlook point but it turned out to only save about half the sphere, so, sigh, but pictured above is still a pretty good straight ahead shot of the Divide.

Following some trail time I headed over to Vapor Distillery to meet one of my cousins for a few drinks the from there to The Post Brewing Co. for dinner with some friends. Some delicious upscale Southern type food and drinks ensued and I finally headed home around 9pm to clean out and return the rental car before a bit of Netflix time and then bed.

 

Structural Visceral Integration class review

In early April I attended Bruce Schonfeld‘s Structural Visceral Integration for the Low Back, Pelvis, and Abdomen class in LA on my way down to Advanced Training in Brazil. Admittedly, it was a class that I signed up for first and foremost because I needed the credits. I had been given a pass on my prerequisites for Advanced Training in Brazil and was one RISI Manipulation Credit shy of fulfilling those requirements and being able to graduate. So I’d been on the lookout for anything I could do to complete that credit between Modules 1 and 2 and Bruce’s class in LA the weekend on my way down to Brazil was a great option.

I’ve taken several of Jon Martine’s Neural Manipulation classes in the past 6 years and gotten a rudimentary feel for working with viscera from his Neural 2 class so Bruce’s class felt like a good way to further that knowledge. And around the time I signed up for the class it seemed like I started seeing a number of low back pain classes that seemed to involve a visceral component. So with that lead-up in mind I arrived in class ready to soak up any tips I could.

*Except* for the the fact that I also arrived in LA Friday morning sans my US Passport very much needed for my flight to Brazil Sunday evening…

As I had gone through TSA at the airport I realized I had forgot to put my passport in my carry-on. Thinking I had left it in my checked luggage from packing, I mostly let the thought linger calmly through my flight out to LA. Upon arrival to LA, I got my checked back, found the zipper partially open, and with no passport to be found. So, “shitshitshitshitshit”, I go ahead and get to my airbnb and spend several frantic hours calling every airport along my way, TSA, the State Department, and the Brazillian Embassy in LA all to no avail.

I remember putting my passport with my bag but not taking it back out but on the off chance I’d left it at my house which is currently totally packed up and listed for sale. After realizing nobody with a key to my house is in town I call a friend who just happens to be on the road 10 minutes away from my house. Because the house is up for sale, there’s a lockbox on the door and it turns out I’d taken the passport out and put it in a dresser drawer. With an hour or two to spare my friend is able to get the passport to FedEx and overnight it to me.

All this to say that I came in to the training pretty wound up and Bruce was cool, calm, and helpful with my flitting in and out at first making calls. And the staff at Yo San University was great and helping me make sure FedEx could make the delivery and what directions to give them. And much as it wasn’t exactly my plan to show up feeling crazy and freaked that I might not be able to make it to Brazil, I think it speaks well to a class when the instructors can roll with that, help you settle, and move along into the material.

Day 1 – Friday Evening – Assements and Feet

Day 1 started in the evening with about 4 hours of class time from 5-9. We talked a bit about what we’d be working with, introduced ourselves, etc. The class was about 1/3 Structural Integrators and 2/3 folks coming more from a craniosacral or Barral type background.

Our first work was in the vein of doing structural assessments. Something I’m pretty familiar with from the Rolfing world of standing up in front of a room full of people in one’s underwear and having them comment on what they see structurally and functionally. It’s curious to me how quickly a group assessment of a single model tends to move into “negative” territory and it can definitely be challenging and deflating to stand there while a whole group of your peers just points out everything they see off in your structure. That said, I think Bruce actually did a nice job of influencing the assessments to stay more balanced, looking for both strengths and areas for improvement.

Then it was onto working on feet, testing mobility in the myriad number of joints in the feet and simple ways to help mobilize them. I’ve had similar ideas taught in basic Rolfing training classes, but taught for beginners in a fairly protocol-oriented fashion. So it was fun and interesting to see Bruce’s take, some of the ways he made testing more efficient, more interactive, etc. Day 1 ended, I sauntered quietly home, put myself to bed, and set an overly early alarm to make sure I could eat and be back at Yo San early in case FedEx arrived before the staff did.

Day 2 – Saturday – Legs into Viscera

Day 2 began bright and early for me with an air of cautious optimism and trepidation about my passport. It arrived at the first break and I would spend pretty much the next two days repeatedly double checking that it was in my pocket or backpack. Each time, it was. In hindsight it was a good lesson about how the stories we build in moments of panic can stick with us long after the initial upset.

The work of the first half of day 2 took us into the legs, hips, and pelvic floor. One of the things Bruce often repeated through the class was “I’d rather underwhelm someone and lose them as a client than to overwhelm them and cause them harm.” Given the range of skill levels and experience from freshly minted Rolfers to 30 year veteran bodyworkers I found this to be a valuable thought as we dove into sensitive areas and heavily used muscles.

After lunch (I decided to get my obligatory In-N-Out Burger for the trip), we delved deeper into the outer layers of the visceral compartment. Bruce had a good number of videos at this point taking us through dissected territory of the structures and viscera we’d be working with. A few groans could be heard from those with more sensitive constitutions to the imagery but for me it was fascinating and great for getting a starter image of where we would be working.

For me, one of the more valuable factors for this class was the way Bruce allowed the practice time to evolve. Shorter 2 and 3 day CE classes have a tendency to be a very show-and-copy based model of education, what I call “Here’s the thing, do the thing, here’s the next thing, do the next thing, etc.” This class encouraged experimentation and treating more like we would in practice, following the tissue and working with our intuition or inspiration moreso than following a protocol. It made for a nice mix of experiences too going from trading with highly experienced practitioners to some very new bodyworkers and being able to adjust what we were doing and how we were learning accordingly.

Day 3 – Deeper into the Viscera

The final day was all visceral material in terms of new territory. More videos, more work into the abdominal space, talking about organs and their general placement and exploring ways to test and move them.

Click the Omentum Tree to see more about the anatomical Greater Omentum

Click the Omentum Tree to see more about the anatomical Greater Omentum

The anatomy portions lead to one of my revelatory moments in the class which was the existence of two anatomical structures called the greater and lesser omentums. They are a sort of pair of fatty curtains hanging off of the greater and lesser curves of the stomach that act as a part of the body’s immune system among other things. It was one of those ah-ha sort of moments realizing that this piece existed in the body helped to create an ability to feel them when working on someone. And while it could be all in my head, it did seem that two weeks later in my advanced training course I ran into an adhesion in a client that felt exactly like what I imagined to be the greater omentum and wouldn’t seem to fit with any other visceral structures that I was aware of.

Sunday seemed to be a closed for lunch day for a number of the local restaurants so I ended up at In-N-Out again, this time with a classmate which ended up being a really great conversation. I spent the afternoon noticing how some practitioners would dive into visceral space faster or slower or more or less aggressively than each other and feeling out my own preferences for these factors. At the same time, I was playing with how to receive and benefit from a range of touch instead of fighting the fact that someone I was trading with might bring a different default touch than my own.

My flight to Brazil left at 9 on Sunday, about 3 hours after the class was due to end. As we eased into the afternoon of the class, I did find myself wondering for a bit if receiving loads of visceral work before an 11 hour international flight was the best idea given the occasional tendency for visceral work to “get things moving” in the digestive and beyond departments. I had a nice integrative session at the end of the day though and then Bruce offered to give me a ride to the airport as he was picking someone up shortly after class which afforded a nice chance to talk through a few more things and put a nice sort of personal closure on the workshop for me.

Aftermath – Anatomy as my Growing Edge

I picked up a decent number of little tricks or ideas from this workshop, but my biggest take away seemed to be that anatomy knowledge is a big part of my growing edge. As I’ve added understanding both of the existence of structures, but also the wide variability of human anatomy, it seems to be a major factor in my work improving lately. As such, this class lead me pretty quickly into the idea that I wanted to take on a cadaver dissection lab next.

I’d heard about them for years since the early stages of Rolfing training and Gil Hedley was always referred to as being a great source for anatomy workshops. Bruce had referenced his dissection labs several times over as well so the next week after finishing this training, I was looking up workshops with Gil and booking a trip to St. Andrews, Scotland to study with him. In some ways, I think it might be one of the most telling things about the usefulness of Bruce’s workshop that almost everyone in class was already planning a next training to build off of the class by the end of it.

Advanced Training in Brazil: Round 1 – Welcoming the Other Side

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

As I begin writing this, I am lying awake on my last night in Brazil after three and a half weeks of work and play deepening my relationship with my work as a Rolfer® and myself as a human being. It has been an intensely beautiful experience being here with a great many more twists and turns than I expected. Nonetheless I still find myself reverting back to the descriptor I’ve used the past 5 months when clients would ask what I was going to learn which is “It’s basically Rolfing Camp”.

And in many ways, it’s true. I just found this article by one of my classmates on the idea of Basics vs. Fundamentals (TL;DR – basics are easy and something you “get” and then are done learning them, fundamentals are primary ideas and skills that you can practice for the rest of your life). And in many senses of the word, I saw this Advanced Training course as a fundamentals class both for the students and the teachers. While the class for me was not tons of new information, it was a really good review and deepening of existing knowledge, getting to see it presented through the view of 30-year-veteran Rolfers which is something that never fails to leave me with new angles or ideas to think about.

The Basics of the Advanced

  • The training was held in the island city of Florianópolis, Brazil.
  • This was the first of two rounds of 3 week apiece, 4 days of class, 3 days off per week.
  • Class was taught by Lael Keen  with Karen Lackritz assisting.

    Our classroom for the training

    Our classroom for the training

  • Lael and Karen taught primarily in English with a translator, Dieter, translating to Portuguese with assistance from the class, the majority of whom were at least bilingual in English and Portuguese.
  • There were 8 other students, 2 Americans and 6 Brazillians, all female. It made for a curious book-ending of this year with the Scarwork class I took in January and this class in November being cases of me in a class of all women.
  • The general format of class was covering material (feet, spine, anatomy, functional movement, practicing techniques, etc.) for the first 3 days each week, then watching both Lael and Karen do a demo of a full session on an outside client (two other Advanced Rolfers from the local area), then Thursday afternoon each week we traded a session with a classmate for a series of 3 sessions.

    MONKEYS

    ERMAGHERD, MONKEEES!!!

  • In my experience, Brazil has also been particularly amazing at feeding classes, so we had coffee/tea breaks in the morning and afternoon and for the class days we had hired a local chef, Tito, to prepare lunch as well.
  • There were monkeys at my house that would come begging for bananas. They only want bananas and will give you funny looks if you try to give them mango instead.

Structure and Function and Function and Structure

One of the first things I recall seeming important to Lael’s class plan, and one of the things that drew me back to Brazil, was a strong emphasis on the inter-connectedness of structure and function. Or perhaps more accurately, a clarifying that structure and function exist in a co-dependent fashion and one cannot affect one independent of the other. While all the Rolfing training I have received has worked with form and function together, the trainings I have been to in Brazil somehow seem to take it a little deeper or make that relationship a bit more of a primary focus than some of the trainings in the US. And the primacy of it in this course helped me gain some better insights into when it might be more effective to start approaching an issue with a structural intervention vs a functional one.

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

The deeper focus on relationship to the world as an influence on movement is another of the big reasons I chose to come back to Brazil for my Advanced Training. In 2008, I had chosen Unit 3 training in Brazil in part because I expected the Movement Training to help me be a better dancer. It ended up leading me to entirely rethink my ways of teaching dance and create an approach that was radically different from how I’d learned to dance originally. And that energy of relationship was borne out in this class as well, with the techniques we practiced in the body leading to a broader question of “How does what we are doing help our clients or ourselves relate to the world?”

Lots of Review, Tidbits of New

In general I found the material to be more review and deepening of information I’d encountered before. Some of that may be that I took unit 3 from Jan Sultan who is one of Lael’s primary influences as a Rolfing instructor. Nonetheless, the training was a great chance to review, dive into material through a different instructor’s perspective, and pick up details I missed in prior trainings. In general I felt like I deepened my understanding of some fundamentals and picked up some good bits of information:

  • Ida Rolf used to carry a question for students of “Where would you work if you could only work on one spot in the body?” and her answer for herself was the 12th rib.
  • The lateral arches of the feet support the medial arches, Lael had some great anatomical slides and illustrations for this which I had not seen before.
  • A general review of spinal mechanics gave me some points about the vertebral facets to think about which I had lost track of somewhere in the last few years.
  • Time spent digging into the concept of hapticity (or the more-fun-to-say hapticidade in Portuguese), a sort of combination of sensing and moving at the same time and letting the two influence each other. One of those fundamental skills that I expect to be developing and deepening for the rest of my life.
  • Some new-to-me ideas from Lael about using interpersonal relational tactics to help clients integrate movement options into their interactions with the world.
  • We got a fairly high-level introduction to Ron Murray‘s  work with Lemniscate  movement which I haven’t explored much with clients, but am interested in exploring deeper at some point.

Third Week Openings

There is a curious energy that arises with these sort of longer-form trainings. I’ve only experienced it as a student so far, not as a teacher, so I don’t have a complete picture but there seems to be a quickening of transformation that occurs. I have often said that one of the things I loved about competing in dance was that involving the energy of a support crowd clapping and cheering can spur dancers on to a level they rarely or never achieve on their own. And I find something similar happens with Rolfing trainings as though the combined group’s energy supports us changing or growing in ways we might not have on our own.

This energy seemed to be in full swing by the third week of training. Lots of us were having some very deep and meaningful shifts in our ways of being. Some blossomed, some struggled, I experienced an incredibly vulnerable heart opening moment in front of the class where I’d pulled away from a similar moment in my Unit 2 training 7 years ago. One of the instructor demo sessions involved a client reliving the birth of her child via C-section and I cried as my own pelvis mimiced the release patterns of the woman on the table. Even the class format itself shifted mid-week to accomodate a need for more integration time amongst the bodies in the classroom.

Outro Lado – Welcoming The Other Side

In the final week of class I was thinking about how to identify a theme to the whole module and the words that came to mind were “outro lado”, Portuguese for “other side”. Those words stuck as a good descriptor for the shifts I had watched occur in myself, classmates, and even translators and teachers over the prior two weeks. Each of us delving into some other side of our personalities or our work that diverged from our normal preferences but brought us into a greater potential for balance and adaptability. And it came with a gentleness and acceptance that I could only put together as “Welcoming the Other Side”.

Living_room_mural

The house I rented during the traing happened to be owned by a local artist who had decorated the house with carvings, murals, and various canvases. The great feature mural of the house was one of the living room walls which boasted an entire wall painted with the mural above, reinforcing that idea of the other side for my experience of Brazil. On my last day in Brazil as we had breakfast and chatted about the house he mentioned that he had completed the mural in a day and had always wanted to go back and finish it. I shared the idea I had heard that a painting is never completed, you simply stop working on it (apparently the quote is typically translated “Art is Never Finished, Only Abandoned” – Leonardo DaVinci).

WatercolorWe diverged into discussing the course and how Rolfing is like watercolor in the sense that you take a stroke, then leave it alone for a while allowing the colors to bleed out into the person’s life, then repeating the process session by session. My host thought for a moment, then disappeared into his workshop as we were leaving, returning with this beautiful watercolor as a gift to mark our discussion. Being unprepared to transport paintings and having no suitably large books, I managed to get the painting safely home, tucked between the keyboard and screen of my laptop.

As I’m finishing this post it’s the beginning of January, just over a month since I boarded a plane home from Brazil. It seems at once very recent and yet long ago and far away that I was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my classmates on the last day of class (yes, we graduated Round 1 on what would be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.). Brazil took me deeper than I expected in directions I had not anticipated, but it has definitely left it’s mark in ways that continue to improve my work with clients and my relationship with my own body. I’m looking forward to further explorations, new inquiries, and super grateful to be returning for Round 2 in April!

Finishing the Training with Turkey

Finishing the Training with Turkey

Working with the Space Between Spaces: Explorations in Wholeness Class Review

One of the keystones of my growth as a Rolfer so far has been getting a sense of more tissues in addition to fascia and working with how they relate to each other. As I’ve grown more competent and comfortable with the variety in the body, I find my sense of the space between them growing deeper and more refined. So when I saw the listing for Thomas Walker and Gale Loveitt’s Explorations in Wholeness class it read like a class totally up my alley and a great way to deepen my use of those “spaces between the spaces”.

I did my Unit 2 basic Rolfing training with Thomas and he was a strong influence in developing the lighter side of my Rolfing touch and listening skills. The basic training in Rolfing was an excellent grounding in finding what this class might call “the hard stuff” muscles, bones and the like. Explorations in Wholeness added a depth for me of finding and feeling into “the soft stuff”, helping me find a way to contact softer parts of the tissue or anatomy more prone to hiding and finding ways to influence the body to connect more or to rediscover connections that past experience had disrupted in some fashion.

The essence of this class lay in working with various craniosacral rhythms. It’s not an area I particularly understand well nor am I sure the technical details would be helpful for everyone so I’ll relate it to my image of choice for the class which was ocean tides and waves. There are individual waves in the ocean breaking nearly every second on the shore, there is the cycle of high and low tide twice daily and in between these there is that middle cycle where the individual waves are washing higher or lower than the previous waves upon the beach every minute or two.

The work is… challenging to describe and honestly, my initial reaction was to resist naming it or calling it anything particular lest I narrow the potential of the work into some set box. That said, I also like to be able to communicate thing with more than just shrugging and saying “it seems to work” so I’ve tried to break out some ideas of how I describe this work to clients and how I might describe it to other practitioners.

For Clients

Every so often, as I grow as a practitioner, I encounter the idea that the ultimate goal is not for me to fix anyone, but for them to help engage their own healing mechanisms. Those are the kind of results I generally saw and felt with this work. Clients who I had worked with for several years seemed to notice me suddenly finding things at a deeper level, I honed in faster on where to put my hands with newer clients, and for my first week or two back almost everyone drifted to sleep at some point during their session.

I’ve also tried this work a few times with some very long-term clients and found it helps them access a level of strength and organization that they weren’t able to previously. I recently felt drawn to try a full session of this work with a client who I felt didn’t believe in her own inherent wholeness. The result was a deeply challenging session that stirred a lot of old feelings and hurts but several days later her whole sense of being had softened, she seemed more settled in her body, and some of her more kinetic energies had found a way to chill out.

From the client side, I think this work helps tap into a depth of calm in the nervous system that’s often hard to achieve in today’s world without going deep into the woods or far out to sea. It’s essentially providing a safe and supportive space for the brain to cool down and get out of the way and a sort of deep relaxation to come into play and help reorganize patterns of movement which in turn can build into lasting changes in how we hold and present ourselves and how we relate to our own stress.

For Practitioners

As I listened to the stories of Rolfers in this class I would say I found a theme of searching for something. A number of the newer Rolfers in the group talked about struggling to know what to do with clients where a number of those trained further back talked about looking for something softer, less “hammer and tongs” in our work. How to be effective when “mashing fascia” isn’t your bag or what to do when you don’t know what to do.

My impression going into the class was that this work would be a way to help bridge between layers, to work on the spaces between the spaces. And to be sure, there is a great deal of that in the work and it’s helped me find some ways into things, both structural stuckness and functional inhibitions that I didn’t have a tool for before when I was thinking of more specific tissues. In a fairly exacting sense, the work is about contacting fluid more than tissue, allowing not just for working into specific areas but also working with the uninterrupted wholeness of the body. It also involves a sort of stillness and patience that I find greatly aids in asking questions of the tissue and letting the body lead me into helping rather than feeling like I have to go in knowing where things need to move.

Fish-to-manIn a sense the work remains mysterious to me, albeit effective. I’ve struggled for several months to find an elegant way to say what I think I’m doing with this work currently but I finally hit on it in my first Advanced Training Module. I found myself wanting to do a full session of this work on a model client and since neither of the instructors were familiar with the work I was scrambling a little to describe just what in the hell I was after. The lead instructor, Lael Keen, had made several statements earlier in classes about working with ligamentous beds as “speaking to the dinosaur intelligence of the body”. Standing in front of the class trying to give an idea of the session I intended to do I finally came up with “I want to speak to the fish that existed long before the dinosaur”.

And Space to Grow…

Where many of the classes I have taken in my career have been fairly easy to describe, this work continues to almost defy my desire to describe it. It seems that I almost feel more effective in the work when I allow it to remain mysterious and exploratory rather than fixing a description or expectation to it. The essence of it seems to be in attention and allowing, skills that are at once inherent in all of us and yet can also be honed to greater depths or wider scopes. Thomas made mention several times of how after 20 years it still amazes him how a shift in himself can result in a deep change in a client.

While I do like to be able to understand what I am doing when I put hands on a client and why it works, I sometimes find myself eschewing understanding and paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technique is indistinguishable from magic. I don’t think this work is magic per se, but my short experience with it is that allowing it to seem magical made it more effective. The mystery allows space, the space allows exploration, and the exploration allow growth of skill to occur.

And in much the same way that the class focused on ease and allowing, the growth and integration into my work seemed to happen similarly. I’ve made pretty minimal effort to directly practice the work in the past few months but the last time I worked on one of my office-mates her immediate response was “You’re doing something really different. Your approach to the body has changed, like you’ve gotten out of your own way.” I suspect there is a great deal deeper I can go with this work but one of the things I really value about it is how it seems to blend across lines of different techniques and both deepen my current practice while also offering new avenues to explore and tools to continue exploring.

Scar Tissue Workshop with Sharon Wheeler review

In the past years, I’ve noticed the strongest trend in my Rolfing continuing ed and the one I’ve benefited most from is adding tissues to my repertoire. So about a month ago when a space opened up at a nearby (or at least within driving distance) workshop with Sharon Wheeler on working with scar tissue, I jumped at the chance. And boy am I glad I did because adding Sharon’s Scar Work to my skillset has already helped a lot of clients in the intervening two weeks and given me some new insights into how the body heals.

About the Workshop

Curiously, I wound up being the only male in a class of 15 women (including the instructors and assistants). I don’t gather this is the norm, but it was a curious experience given that most of my basic trainings in Rolfing were heavy on masculine energy. That said, the workshop was in many ways, exceptionally well suited to my kinesthetic learning style, a half day or so of demonstration, followed by 3 rounds of working on each other and then in a team fashion working on model clients, giving us the ability to rotate at will between clients, observe and attempt working on different scars, and stand back to watch when we felt moved to. If you learn well from a relatively unstructured environment, like getting your hands dirty in class, and want to work with your classmates as peers, I’d highly recommend Sharon’s teaching style.

About the Work

The work, I found kind of fascinating. Without going into too much detail, I describe it as very very light sweepy and scrubby type of work. In my head, I refer to it more as “noodling around” than “work”. I’m sure there are at least a couple layers of sophistication I still have to develop with it, but so far it’s been surprising how immediately it is possible to be effective with this work. Scars soften, mobility is improved, areas begin to feel integrated, and often sensation returns to areas that many clients have referred to as feeling not a part of them or dormant. And all of this with no pain and a very oppositional approach to the “you have to break it up” approach that I typically hear in regards to scar tissue.

Why I Think it Works

Sharon made it clear that while she has found this style to work for 40+ years, she’s not entirely sure why it works although they are starting to do research on it now. Because I tend to be a non-linear thinker and like to draw connections, I let my mind wander on the “why does it work” question throughout the workshop and came up with the following ideas. Note that this is just my working theory, nothing proven and subject to change as I go deeper into this sort of work.

My first impression was that it seemed like unlocking or restarting time in the body. The work seems to be similarly effective with recent scars as well as very old scars and in most cases the scars seem to soften and begin to blend in with the surrounding skin and, in a number of cases, nerve function seemed to return almost immediately. It’s almost as if the tissue reaches 80% or 90% healed and then somehow had gotten stuck, almost like it were cryogenically frozen mid-healing and the scar work thaws it back out and allows it to complete.

The working theory that I’ve developed around it is that the work seems to simulate licking wounds (albeit without the saliva). Most mammals seem to do this and while it’s typically explored as a method of cleaning, it seems possible to me that in the course of evolution, tissues have evolved to respond to licking by healing further and integrating better with the “original” tissues around them. While I don’t have evidence to support that theory, it does seem to make a certain level of intuitive sense to me and to most of the clients I’ve shared this theory with.

What I’ve Done With the Work

In the 3 weeks since the workshop I’ve played with a lot of different ideas and seen some great results with some general trends. Here are a few of the things I’ve been able to create with the tools from the workshop.

  • Worked on several C-section/hysterectomy/etc. scars. Saw hips find more neutral tilt and spinal/sacral tension on the opposite side tend to relax more or easier.
  • 2 appendectomy scars, both of which softened significantly and were able to twist through the torso more readily along with releases in back and hip tension.
  • Worked on my own circumcision scar. Found that the tissue softened a good amount, there were numerous signs of nervous system release in my body (stomach gurgling, shaking, etc.) and since then the tissue has been both softer, more sensitive, and I have experienced a distinct ease and better functioning in my pelvic floor.
  • Started recovering a divot in a client’s breast left over from a lumpectomy 8 years prior. The client had also been unable to feel her armpit by the breast since her cancer treatment and left with sensation restored to the area.
  • Worked with a 3x operated on ACL replacement for a soccer player who had been having trouble with it since the first surgery. After 2 sessions, reports that the knee is much more mobile and feels stronger than the leg that has not been operated on.
  • Starting to reassemble cartilage in my own right ear which was shattered in high school when I got cauliflower ear in wrestling. I’ve felt several pieces of cartilage “pop” back into place kind of like I’m shifting tectonic plates back into an alignment and my hearing in that ear has improved after a week or so of the ear going through a phase of feeling plugged up. Still some work to do there, but it seems to be making progress.

I’ve worked on a variety of other small scars in the meantime as well and in almost all cases I noticed that clients seemed to settle in on a deeper level after the scar work than I had typically seen them settle in past.

All in all, this has been a great style of work to add to my toolbox. It’s allowed me to help clients further resolve, heal, and integrate a variety of scars on both a physical and, in some cases, emotional level. Integrating the scars seems to make them more mobile, even out the color with surrounding skin, and allow for better structural work in and around the areas. I think it’s an excellent addition to helping people heal old wounds, fully resolve surgical interventions, and in some cases, recover nerve function that they were told might never return.

Many thanks to Sharon for sharing this work and being a gracious teacher. 🙂

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