The Science of Rolfing
There is no magic in this world; anything that occurs is subject to physical and biological laws. Rolfing follows such laws, as it must. Rolfing utilizes neurologic function, connective tissue physiology and the physics involved in human posture to effect enduring beneficial physical change and positive psychological evolution. Rolfing changes are typically very different than expected to the newcomer and quite welcome once experienced and assimilated.
Our posture depends upon physical structure, muscles and neurologic coordination, sensory awareness of our surroundings and to our relationship to the plumb line of gravity. Standing on 2 feet is more complex than standing on all fours. Rolfing clearly improves posture and coordination and self-awareness. The pathways processing sensory information become more conscious. Once Rolfed, a person is better able to track their coordination and posture. It becomes easier to correct small deviations early. More efficient coordination patterns are rapidly assimilated.
Connective tissue is a very interesting structure, but mainly long ignored by mainstream medicine. It includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, fat cells, blood cells, the fibrous packing around organs and something called ground substance which is the environment between cells. Connective tissue is unique in that it surrounds and is in direct contact with every cell in your body. It even penetrates cell walls and creates an internal structure within the cell. It is another type of skeleton.
There is a basic molecule called collagen that is a big part of all of these different connective tissue structures. Different proportions and arrangements of collagen and different levels of mineralization create the specific types of connective tissue.
Collagen has a tensile strength greater than that of steel, formidably resisting being stretched. Collagen organizes and creates sheets of fascia. Bones resist being compressed. Together, fascia and bone create our shape. The bones act like spacers, the tensile influence of fascia pulls things into shape. By manipulating fascia, shape can be changed, and shape routinely is changed with Rolfing.
Collagen also has a piezoelectric effect. Acupuncture points are located in the superficial fascia. There is clearly an energetic transfer when such points are manipulated in an acupuncture treatment. This frequently happens with Rolfing manipulation also. It is unmistakable to the Rolf client when it occurs. Not necessarily perceived in each Rolf session, but the client begins to take it for granted with growing Rolfing experience.
Collagen follows Wolf's law which states all connective tissue remodels according to the chronic pressures placed upon it. Collagen responds very quickly to slow tractioning pressures. Think of taffy being pulled. If a body mass held by chronic tension is released, its center of mass relative to the rest of the body's center of mass changes immediately. This forces a change in the entire fascia in the rest of the body. Any shift of mass relative to the plumb line of gravity forces a change to the entirety of the system. We balance over a relatively small base (our feet) and the arrangement of all our physical parts has to sum up to a stable balance in each moment or we topple. This constant balancing act is accomplished through the interaction of our brain, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. Rolfers train extensively to identify which areas, if shifted, will cause the most beneficial systemic postural effects.
Energy Medicine by James Oschman, PhD is an excellent resource for further in-depth reading regarding the science of connective tissue pertinent to bodywork. This book contains rigorous scientific studies and references.
Muscles as a Sense Organ
Most people think of muscle as an organ of movement, which it clearly is. However, it does more. It is also a sensory organ in that muscular movement triggers embedded neurologic receptors that give us a sense of effort, space, and time. It is the organ that helps us to express will. Whatever one chooses to do, whichever action, must be done through a muscular event. When people have limitations through injury, they feel frustrated. This frustration can be enormous and such limitation can ravage self-image.
Sensory Awareness and Neurological Retraining
Rolfed persons can feel their relationship to gravity more clearly than before they were Rolfed. Accordingly, it becomes more apparent to them when they begin to slump. Such slumping is usually due to fatigue, or perhaps an accident. Our muscles, ligaments and tendons send an enormous flow of sensory feedback to our movement brain. This is designed to be processed unconsciously but one can learn to bring their awareness to this function. Rolfing intervenes in this sensory flow and chronically held muscular tension patterns resolve. This sensory flow to the brain becomes more consciously accessible. It then becomes easier to find and resolve other patterns. Once Rolfed, it becomes easier to identify and correct such slumping by oneself.
Muscle as an Organ of Communication
We have all heard that body language conveys more information than verbal interaction. Facial muscles are mostly dedicated to such communication. However, all muscles participate in conveying information to other people. A slouching spine or threatening hand gestures are obvious examples.
Shakespeare wrote "Oh, the arrogance in a young man's hamstrings".
In The Will to Power Nietzsche wrote “Our most sacred convictions, the unchanging elements of our supreme values, are the judgments of our muscles".
Marcel Proust in The Remembrance of Things Past wrote “The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent. Nature, like the destruction of Pompeii, like the metamorphosis of a nymph into a tree, has arrested us in an accustomed movement”.
“The brain recalls just what the muscles grope for: no more, no less”. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
“For every thought supported by feeling, there is a muscle change. Primary muscle patterns being the biological heritage of man, man’s whole body records his emotional thinking”. Mabel Ellsworth Todd, The Thinking Body
“She is composed of those fleeting attitudes, of those Ninth-Symphony-like facial expressions, which, reflecting the architectonic contours of a perfect soul, become crystallized… in which, having been classified, clarified by the most delicate breezes of the sentiments, harden, are organized, and become architecture in flesh and bone. Salvador Dali, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali
Considering these concepts, it is clear that muscles express our psychology, not just voice and movement. As Rolfing so profoundly affects muscle coordination patterns, it necessarily affects the psychological drivers of such patterns.
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