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.
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.