Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Posts tagged ‘Rolfing’

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.

Stepping Away from The Lindy Lab

About a month and a half ago I ended my tenure running a dance studio and one week ago I finished cleaning out the office at The Lindy Lab. It was a dream I’d had for about 10 years and 3 years ago got the chance to try making it a reality. The greater reality turned out to be, not so much a nightmare, but more one of those weird confusing WTF dreams that just leave you questioning your own brain and feeling like you may not get back to sleep that night. So I’m moving on to other pursuits and wanted to put together a post to share my experience so I can close out with friends and community on why I’m doing this and hopefully express something that may be useful to future folks walking a similar path.

TL;DR version: I took a moonshot on setting up a studio to try and spark transformation in my scene and found I couldn’t create or gather enough support or buy-in to make the idea sustainable for myself. After watching my own energy flag for close to two years, I chose to get out before I soured on dance and did my best to leave the scene with a great space to create in.

What This Post Is and Isn’t

This will be, to the best of my ability, an honest telling of why I chose to move on. It was, in many ways, a difficult tenure and a difficult decision to leave and I don’t want to candy coat that. I also want to be clear that in trying to speak truthfully about my experiences, I am, for the most part, at peace with the past on this or actively working to making peace with it. There were a lot of frustrations and results that I will likely never fully understand the “why’s” but I have plenty of responsibility in that as well. I’m grateful that I got to take the chance I did and humbled by what I learned from it and will try to cleanly communicate both the positives and negatives that lead to this course of action.

Backstory

I’ve been dancing in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill swing scene since 2002. I grew up in this scene, took lessons from just about anybody and everybody who was teaching and grew immensely as a person through dance. I found a love of body mechanics in dancing that lead me into my career in Rolfing which, in turn, deeply affected my teaching. I had a longer term vision of buying an old church to forge a mixed-use space to house both my Rolfing practice and some sort of dance/movement space. The Lindy Lab at Triangle Dance Studios was a way to test the concept in a rental situation before I considered buying a space. It was also intended to be a space for growth, creativity, and exploration in dancing which I felt had never been strongly offered in this area since I started dancing.

Creating a Space to Support the Dance

I’ve written before about the difficulties I had with the studio build. But suffice to say in the course of about 2 months I spent probably $10k and 400 or so hours of my own time plus a lot of friend’s man hours building a space to raise the level of ambiance for our scene. It has significantly raised the bar for the studio that owns the space and nudged the owner to take some steps to improve all the other studio spaces there. I hear from the studio owner that people rave about the studio but really nobody seeks me out to say thank you and there seems to be a general lack of care from other renters and dance scene for trying to care for the space. People tend to break things or move things out of sight and make no effort to replace or even note that they have broken things. It has helped me understand why the studio owners tend not to go all out on their spaces and the past year I’ve had the refrain of “this is why we can’t have nice things” in my head more times than I expected to. While I’m happy for the improved spaces for the scene and proud of what we built, it ultimately seemed like people responded to a different space a bit, but not enough to affect their behavior towards taking greater care of the space.

Teaching From a Radically Different Head Space

To put it succinctly, I have taken a fundamentally different approach to teaching dance than any other instructor I have seen on the swing dance world stage. I took my training as a Rolfer and developed a way to help people find dance in their existing movements, using what they already know and treating dance as inherent rather than something that must be taught. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of faults as a teacher and I believe that pretty much every teacher out there does something better than I do. But I built my teaching to provide a base that would allow people to travel and learn readily, giving them a “first principles” base of knowledge to be able to fill in the gaps from things other teacher don’t say (or don’t know to say). I tended to receive comments from students who traveled that they rarely encountered an international teacher saying something about mechanics that they hadn’t heard from me already and I’d taught it more succinctly and accessibly.

Lack of Return Students

The response to classes was a somewhat baffling combination of intense appreciation coupled with lack of attendance. While I consistently received praise for the style of teaching and was told it made the dance far more accessible or made people comfortable in a way that nobody else had, such statements also frequently came from people showing up once and never returning. I also encountered a number of people choosing to take from an instructor who was closer even if they felt they got less from that instructor. I’ve been over this many times with friends and fellow dancers and we’ve never really been able to determine if people couldn’t tell the difference in the quality of material or simply had other priorities or goals. But frankly it was disheartening to find myself teaching someone how to do another instructor’s material without it hurting them or their partner (when prior instructors had just shrugged at or been completely oblivious to the pain) and then have those students just head back to previous instructors. I had some really great engaged students 2-3 years ago, but somewhere in the past year and a half that seemed to disappear and a sustained lack of excited students eventually wore down my excitement for teaching.

Did Not Play Well With Other Instructors

I had high hopes going in but found it pretty much untenable to work with any other local instructors. Where I had expected collaboration I more often ran into passive-aggressive silence and where I tried to show respect to former teachers I mostly saw them reference me as someone they taught, oblivious to the fact that I spent the middle 5 years of my dancing career unlearning habits from them in order to be the dancer I am today. Suffice to say I’d seen some of the drama and instructor bullshit coming up in this scene and had hoped to change the conversation. In the course of several years, I feel like was wholely unsuccessful and ended up being just as bad. Some of the standard instructor power trips in the dance world are hot button issues for me and I hoped to set an example or talk to other instructors in a way that would help, but when I didn’t get far I got frustrated and started getting on my own little petty tyrant power trip.

I’m quite sure I was as much of a pain in the ass to other instructors as they were to me and I just generally found that it was more effort than benefit to work with anyone who I hadn’t trained. I would have liked to have things turn out differently but I’ll echo a sentiment I heard time after time the last few years that the instructors (and I include myself in this) are some of the most off-putting people in the scene and one of the primary reasons that more people don’t step up to help. I was fortunate enough to have some friends willing to kick my ass about it when I was making things ugly and I already find my interactions with people being lighter as I’ve basically removed myself from any need to be in contact with that energy.

Timing Suuuuucked

In general, I think there was also a strong element of timing to all of this. Attendance rose and fell but seemed to be in an overall decline in general for the last 4 years or so, even before I started Lindy Lab. Options like Groupon and Living Social seem to have run their course in this area so options that used to provide quick boosts to prior studios didn’t amount to much. In general, it seems like this area is in a bit of a dip in terms of advanced dancers getting more into jobs or marriages or whatever as well so while that core hasn’t disappeared it has become less consistent week to week than it was a few years ago. It does seem to be starting to uptick as I’m handing things off, so I’m heartened, but generally I felt like I spent so much keeping things going through a trough in the cycle that I stopped having much interest in sticking around to push things back uphill once the cycle picked up again. And, on a personal level, add in things like a multi-year house renovation and a 5 year career overhaul and by this past spring I felt pretty certain I wasn’t going to have anything left to give if I kept going.

Deciding to Quit

All these factors came together earlier this year to culminate in a decision to quit. I say I’m quitting because I’m trying to take ownership of that word. It’s a word I haven’t been comfortable with as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time to redefine it for myself. I’ve spent many years in my life holding onto situations, activities, and relationships where I was not getting back the energy I put in and I’ve slowly come to understand that that just doesn’t serve me long term. So, having given it a good 3 years, trying as many angles and tactics as I could without completely tanking myself, I’ve decided to quit with as much integrity as I can and move on to other pursuits.

Space to Grow

Ultimately I am quitting both to create space for myself and to create space for The Lindy Lab. If I had continued to head the studio, I believe it would have taken me an awfully long time to rebound even if it had been possible. Stepping back and turning it over to a committee of committed and excited dancers creates much more space for LL to grow again. It also frees me up to focus on aspects that I did enjoy, namely teaching and special events. And frankly, I find I’m greatly happier having my evenings free to spend with friends, fix up my house, cook, read, etc. The person I’ve been trying to be for several years now has arrived much more readily by creating space than it did by pursuing achievement. The Lindy Lab was an amazing vehicle for me to grow and learn and, for a time, to spread some Lindy Love to some wonderful people and I look forward to seeing it grow and change under new leadership.

The Hopeful Aftermath

I spent a lot of my past year wondering if I was just in the way. And while I don’t think it will just completely rebound, it does seem that attendance has already started to pick up as we’ve worked through handing things off over the past two months. There is definitely space for someone excited and motivated to jump in and start teaching Lindy in the area and the workload is already being spread better than I ever managed to do it.

I just had a former dance student who travels and lectures on education tell me he presents some of my teaching tactics all over the country to great success. A Rolfer in Portland who I was talking to about teaching asked me excitedly if I would be willing to share a workshop on how I teach dance. So it seems that whether I decide to teach again or not, some of the key tenants that I wanted to get out to the world are getting out.

And perhaps simply put, I think I’ve finally managed to swap out “Try to change the world and hopefully that will make me happy” for “Let myself by happy and see how the world shifts”.

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. 🙂

Making Better Use of Your Lats

It’s another one of those often used, but tough to execute, pieces of advice, “use your lats.” I hear it a lot in the swing dance world and in the fitness world and while it seems to be a simple idea, many people struggle with it. Often, the issue is not that the lats aren’t active, but that other muscles are preventing the lats from fully activating. So here’s a quick run-down on how you can gain better access to this muscle.

lat-extensionWhat are Lats?

Just a quick definition for those of you unfamiliar with them, your lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the main power muscle involved in retracting the arm from an extended postion.  So if you are is out in front or above you (flexion) and you want to pull it into back towards a neutral position by your side (extension), that’s the job of the lats. The lats are also used for a few other movements but pulling in (extending from flexion) is a primary issue in dance and athletics.

Extending to Activate

When attempting to engage their lats, most people (and most of their instructors, coaches, trainers, etc.) try to go at it directly. “Find your lats and squeeze them” can work, but most people struggle with this version. I have found that taking a more 3-dimensional, indirect approach helps many people to more effectively engage their lats, allowing them to get greater power and range of motion out of the muscle.

The basic idea is to think about expanding the muscles of the anterior (front) chest and sides (pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior). Instead of focusing on your back and trying to squeeze from there, put your attention on the front of the body and allow the chest muscles to expand as you pull. Rather than initiating from the back, imagine the force starting from the chest and wrapping around and under the armpit and through to the low back. As you do this, be aware of the head and neck which have a tendency to push forward in response; keeping the head upright will help the chest to expand, enhancing the engagement of the lats.

wide-lapels-bow-tieIt also helps to work on keeping the space around the clavicles (collar bones) spacious and wide.  Imagine wearing a jacket with extra wide lapels that extend into the space of the shoulders.  The more the shoulders settle wide and back, the more it will help you to engage the lats when using your arms.

Why Extension Helps

The rigors of modern life (computers, driving, etc.) frequently put us in an arms forward position for extended periods of time. This means that their chest muscles are often stuck in a contracted position. As a result, many people become habituated to a posture that involves some level of collapsing in at the chest.  So when they attempt something like a lat pull or retracting in from extension, the anterior chest muscles tend to stay contracted.

metal-pulleyThis contraction of the front muscles causes an inhibitory effect in the lats. This response, known as reciprocal inhibition, causes muscles with opposing actions to be prevented from contracting at the same time. Similar to how you can only move a pulley rope by pulling on one end at a time and allowing the other end to move, a joint only moves effectively when muscles on one side expand, giving the opposing muscles room to contract. By focusing on expanding the chest, you allow room for the lats to contract and prevent the reciprocal inhibitory effect.

Beyond Just Lats

This expansion tactic can be used to aid in movements throughout the body. By lengthening the antagonist muscle to a movement, you can provide more space for the acting muscle to contract, adding to both potential for power and mobility. The more you work with activating your body in a 3-dimensional fashion this way, rather than isolated muscles, the more freely you will be able to move across all your joints. So the next time you are having trouble executing a motion, try finding the opposing muscles and allowing them to expand, using space over effort to move.

When “Relax” Doesn’t Work (and 3 simple things that do)

tight stone fist

“relax”

“Relax”

“RELAX”

I cringed a little watching this exchange between a massage therapist and a client. The massage therapist was trying to get her client to release tension in her arm. The woman on the table was having trouble relaxing and the massage therapist was becoming frustrated by the client’s lack of response. The client, not too surprisingly, seemed less and less relaxed as the therapist became louder and more insistent.

I have seen similar situations play out in dance classes where well-meaning instructors have created traumatic situations for students by pushing them to relax. I have talked to students who were reduced to tears after a private lesson where they were just told over and over to relax. And I recently had a student who really needed to relax thank me for finding more active release-oriented ways to cue her because a previous ballroom teacher had essentially beaten her over the head with the word “relax” to the point where she hated/feared hearing it.

“Relax” can be an extremely difficult instruction to execute. It seems a great many instructors, students, and people in general don’t have alternative strategies to try when “relax” isn’t effective. So when “relax” doesn’t work, they don’t have a backup wording and just keep saying the same thing that didn’t work the first time. Then they go on repeating “relax” like a mantra until they give up or manage or contort themselves into something that looks close enough that they can move on.

What makes “relax” so hard?

For starters, context. People typically get told to relax in situations where they are already tense, meaning they are under some sort of stress or sense of danger. Telling someone to relax in such a situation is essentially asking them to turn off a defense mechanism when they feel threatened. Frequently, people who are tense because of some fear of judgement end up tensing even more when told to relax because they fear being unable to comply and being judged further.

Relax is also a fairly complex concept, when you think about it. Not only does it involve a change in physical state, but also a mental/emotional shift. And for relaxing to make sense to your nervous system, you need to view your current surroundings as non-threatening. If any of these tensions are habitual, it can even be difficult to tell that you are tense in the first place. With all these factors involved, relax becomes more a state of being than a simple action.

Many people seem to conceptualize relax as the absence of doing something. In the US, the tendency to fill our lives with doing things can make the idea of relaxing seem to equal doing nothing or even being viewed as a negative. Rather than viewing relaxation as a lack of doing, it can be far more productive to approach it as an active releasing of tension. The following few ways can help you to physically and mentally achieve relaxation more effectively than just thinking “relax.”

Breathe

breathelungsOne of my first cues anytime I find myself tense is to extend my breathing. Taking a longer breath, and particularly a longer exhale, activates the relaxation response. Under the sort of duress that causes tension, most of us will shorten or even hold our breath, reinforcing the tension. Deep, slow breathing helps to settle the nervous system and bring it back to a state of ease, leading the muscles to relax without direct, conscious effort.

You can also direct breath towards particular areas that need help relaxing. Shoulder tense? Try focusing on the area in your chest near that shoulder and imagine directing your breath to it. The expansion of the lungs is a great way to passively expand muscle groups and give them more space to settle into more comfortable and relaxed positions.

Think Down

The body responds much better to simple directional ideas than it does to complex concepts like “relax.” The end goal of relaxing can often be achieved by thinking about letting the arms (or whatever body part) sink down.

melting_womanIn many dance contexts I’ve seen teachers repeatedly asking students to relax their arms, often with minimal to moderate success. Often, this arm tension is based on the idea that someone needs to hold their own arms up. So a great deal of tension is a result of fighting gravity to keep the arms at some specific height. By thinking about allowing the arms to sink down, the body can surrender to the effects of gravity and work with it, rather than constantly fighting it. I often use the idea of melting like candle wax to enhance this effect in relaxing. Because a relaxed arm will more effectively transfer motion, this sort of release is integral to creating natural connection in dancing.

ghostbusters-floating-danaI see the same effect on my Rolfing® table where many people’s bodies tense away from the table almost as if they could levitate themselves by sheer force of will. When I prompt them to recognize that the table can support their weight and to let themselves sink into that support, their bodies relax and their mental state follows suit shortly after. In standing, a similar effect is achievable by becoming aware of the bones in your body and allowing weight to carry through bones rather than be held up by muscle.

Tense & Release

One of the more counter-intuitive moves for relaxation is to tense up first. Most of us, when told to relax, will aim to go directly towards some sort of relaxing attempt. stress ballHowever, it can end up more effective to tense muscles first, hold that tension for a few seconds, and then allow them to relax. In essence, taking yourself into greater tension allows for a better release.

Because many of us carry constant tensions, it can be easy for the brain to begin filtering out these sensations. I often hear people remark that they had no idea they were tense in so many places. By creating a conscious tension in the muscle first, the difference between tense and relaxed can become more apparent, which helps you feel yourself relax. This technique is also used by some physical therapists, terming it Progressive Muscle Relaxation, to treat general anxiety issues.

The 3 ideas above are just starter ideas, feel free to modify them or come up with your own. The more tools you have, the more you can help someone else relax or have options to try when someone tells you to relax.

In any case, keep in mind that attempting to produce a relaxed state involves physical, mental, and emotional aspects. Shifting any one aspect can help to shift the whole.  So when you are having trouble relaxing, focus on a simpler version of it, releasing a part of the body, slowing your breathing, calming your thoughts, instead of trying to do everything at once. And just like working out a muscle, the more you work with these ideas, the stronger they become and the more readily they will help you to achieve relaxation.

Rolfing® as an Alternative to Corticosteroid Injections

There has been a lot in the news recently about the outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to contaminated steroid injections.  With the increasing industrialization of our health care system, we as patients and our doctors as providers are becoming more removed from direct knowledge of the drugs we take to manage pain.  I am often surprised at the willingness Americans have to pop a synthetic pill or go under the surgical knife as a first treatment rather than a last resort to dealing with pain.  There are many options that exist today which can treat the actual causes of physical pain and provide a number of other health benefits as well.  Rolfing® can help provide long-term relief from issues like back pain by addressing not just the symptom but the underlying structural causes and it does so without the use of drugs.

Rolfing is a therapy based on hands-on manipulation of fascia, the connective tissue that forms ligaments and tendons in the body.  In contrast to steroid injections which work by limiting the immune system response and dampening inflammation, Rolfing works by creating space in the body allowing for better movement and circulation and allowing inflammation to clear on it’s own.  Rolfing has also grown over the years to encompass elements of addressing the nervous system and movement patterns that reinforce painful posturing or movements.  Rolfing also involves no injections or pharmaceuticals so there is no need to worry about current issues like life-threatening infections from contaminated steroid injections.  Beyond not being linked to infections, there are a numbers of reasons that Rolfing is a much more effective therapy to consider.

Rolfing provides additional health benefits

Steroid injections and a great many other standard medical treatments are designed with insurance in mind to directly treat a singular issues and only that issues.  Rolfing, rather than being simply a quick fix is based around the idea of fostering health rather.  A Rolfed body stands taller and moves more fluidly.  Clients often report feeling more like themselves and most note improvements in sleeping and energy levels through a course of Rolfing sessions.  Rolfing also frequently helps the body to strengthen it’s own structural support leading to a reduction in in frequency or severity of future injuries.

Rolfing does not come with a list of side effects

A quick check of WebMD for methylprednisolone acetate (the injection linked to cases of contamination) reveals a list of rather nasty side effects including vomiting, dizziness, trouble sleeping, appetite changes and pain/redness/swelling at the injection site.  While I think it is fair to say that many of these side effects are probably preferable to months of chronic pain, there are also treatments available such as Rolfing that don’t come with a list of side effects.

Rolfing involves the personal touch of a local provider

With the increasing industrialization of pharmaceuticals, we are much less likely to have a personal relationship with our prescription provider than we did 20 years ago.  With the myriad drug interactions out there, it becomes much easier to miss something if your provider is a large remote company.  A Rolfer will work with you one-on-one and typically spends an hour or more with you on each treatment.  And a Rolfer will treat you as an individual whole person and adjust treatments on the fly according to your needs.

None of this is to say that corticosteroids are inherently bad.  I have known people who had great results with them, and I have also helped a lot of clients who didn’t respond to steroid injections.  Any treatment has advantages and drawbacks and I think it is important for people concerned about their own health to consider the alternatives and weigh the benefits of allopathic treatments versus the benefits of other modalities.

For more information on Rolfing therapies in the Raleigh/Durham area, you can visit RaleighRolfing.com.  To learn more about Rolfing in general or find a Rolfer in your area, you can visit the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration website at Rolf.org.

Neural Mobilization Unit 2

 

At the beginning of December, I had the pleasure of taking another neural mobilization workshop with Jon Martine. This workshop dealt primarily with neural mobilization around the hips, shoulders, and spine as well as some visceral manipulation.

I was once again very surprised and pleased with how effective the work could be with a lot of patience but very little force. Particularly in working with the visceral components it often felt more like listening to the body take on a life of its own rather than making something happen. While I can tell there is still a long way to go with developing my skills around it, it does seem to be a great way to practice listening and following in the way I work.

I had some strong experiences in my own body related to the work as well. In particular, after having work around the collar bones and shoulders, I felt width in my shoulders on a level that I don’t think I have experienced before. It made me strongly aware of how often I hold postures that compress my shoulders or attempt to take up less space with my body than it actually occupies. While I’m fairly aware of having broad shoulders, it was the first time I can recall feeling them truly relax into their full width.

I also got lucky enough to be the demo body for the work on liver, lungs, stomach, and transversus thoracis. Because I have a mild-moderate pectus excavatum, the area of the middle and upper chest has always felt like a particularly problematic area for me to open up. Jon had me test with side bending before and after the work and the difference was pretty amazing. Before, I felt my ribs could side bend pretty readily, but something in the middle was hanging me up; but after freeing up the internal structures, it was like I could bend another 20 degrees further to each side!

I’ve since had an opportunity to play with this style of work with a few clients and I’m really happy with the results. I really like the effect it is having on my ability to listen better in fascial work too.

Neural Mobilization Unit 1

This post is imported from my original blog at RaleighRolfing.com

This past Thursday to Sunday I had my hands full… of nerves.  Inside Out Body Therapies of Durham hosted a workshop by Jon Martine on Neural Mobilization strategies.

The nerve fibers running through your body are not only surrounded by fascia, but also internally wrapped together by fascia as well.  Each nerve fiber is wrapped and then bundles of fibers are wrapped together eventually forming the full nerve.  Ideally, these layers of wrapping work together to allow the nerves to glide and stretch through the body the same way your muscles must stretch as you move.  This motion is beautifully illustrated in the video Strolling Under The Skin (Note that this video contains images of living tissue).

If the wrapping around the nerves becomes impinged or stuck, the nerves will signal muscles to contract in order to prevent the nerves from stretching too far or being damaged.  So sometimes what we may read as a tight muscle is actually a tight nerve using the muscle to protect itself.  By releasing the nerve and allowing it to glide, the muscles may be allowed to release their tone and move more freely.

Going into the workshop, I was not sure what to expect from this style of work but came out really thrilled with some of the results.  The workshop focused on arms and legs (Jon plans to be back in December for an axial nerves class) and I felt some incredible unwindings both in mine and other particpants bodies.

For me one of the strongest effects was felt in my forearms.  Having been in computer programming for 8 years, my forearms have taken on the inward roll of a keyboardist.  So when my arms would hand at my side, my thumbs would end up pointing at my legs rather than foreward.  This has contributed to other issues like rolled shoulders, a hunched posture, etc.  But with very little pressure, one of my classmates was able to unwind that twist by almost 90 degrees just by opening up the nerves in my arm.

I have since tried this with a few clients who had had limited response with fascial work and have been very pleased with the results.  For several clients who’s bodies were inflamed or wound up, neural mobilization seems to have been very helpful in allowing their bodies to relax, recharge, and hurt less.  It is really incredible to watch how someone’s body and entire system can settle with this work.

I’m very excited about adding this dimension to my work and grateful to Jon and IOBT for putting together this workshop.

The “Does Rolfing Hurt” Question

Nine times out of ten if I mention Rolfing to someone and they happen to have heard of it but not tried it, the first thing out of their mouth is “I hear that hurts a lot.”  My short answer to this is “It can, but it doesn’t have to,” a response which, while good for passing conversation, is incomplete.  This post is intended to provide a more balanced view of Rolfing and pain.

The image that Rolfing is just a brutal style of work that pins people to the table and makes them yell uncle is one that mostly persists from the early days of Rolfing.  When Dr. Rolf’s work was first being taught at the Esalen institute, part of the therapeutic context of the time was to delve deep and push for abreaction.  Rolfing at the time carried a similar sensibility and while it could produce some amazing results, it also traumatized some patients.  But just as psychiatric and psychoanalytic care has evolved beyond Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Rolfing has evolved beyond the “If they’re not screaming, it’s not Rolfing” image of the past.

Yes, Rolfing can hurt.  Any therapy with the power to heal also has power to do harm and most Rolfers I know take steps to maintain awareness of this double-edged sword.  That said, Rolfing is so much more than just “it might hurt”, so here are a few things to consider.

You are in control

Rolfing is not a therapy that is just being done to you.  It is requires active participation on the part of the client and part of that is working with the Rolfer to find your edge and the most effective pressures to work at.  It is always at your discretion to go deeper or direct your Rolfer to ease off.  Through the course of a series, many clients will find themselves going deeper and more capably than they may have thought possible at the outset.  And that deepening of ability to work into discomfort/pain areas can enhance your ability to grow in other ways as well.

Growth requires discomfort

Almost any growth or healing requires some variety of discomfort.  Exercise makes muscles sore, stretching is it’s own form of discomfort, even simple acts like meeting someone new provoke a certain level of anxiety.  In much the same way, Rolfing benefits most from a willingness to step into uncomfortable places.  By playing our edge, we can learn to differentiate between pain that leads to injuries and pain/discomfort that leads to healing.  This awareness can extend into other areas of life as well, knowing what discomforts will do us good and which may harm us.

A wide range

Rolfing today teaches a very broad spectrum of touch.  A good Rolfer can work very deep when needed, but they can also affect change via feather-light pressured touch.  Just as you wouldn’t only use a hammer to build a house, Rolfers don’t only use full on pressure and elbow drops off the top rope (a la Pro Wrestling). Additionally, constant high intensity work is not any better for the Rolfer’s body than it is for the client.  Rolfers who want a long career are going to use the minimum amount of pressure they need to get the job done.

Rolfing can at times be described as pleasurable, relaxing, intense, and yes, even painful.  And just as with exercise, stretching or personal growth pushing into those temporary sensations can yield many great growth benefits.

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