Adventures in Rolfing

Time to man up.  Today is the day. Two hours from now I’ll be in Michael Murphy’s Los Altos office for my date with destiny. I based my thoughts on Rolfing in the post Healing Trauma on reports I’d read and anecdotal evidence.  Is that any way to write an informed blog?  Until today the closest I’ve come to being Rolfed has been watching this man play this instrument on television.

Kidding aside, I don’t know what to expect, and I’m more than a little nervous.

Twelve Hours Later

Here’s what I now know about Rolfing.

  • Each therapist is different.  Some keep the traditional “you must have ten treatments to be fully integrated” and some, like Michael, take the “two visits or ten, it’s done when it’s done” organic approach.  Veering from tradition does not concern me.  The Reiki technique I use no longer follows the traditional hand positions of my Usui lineage.  And my yoga teaching has certainly moved away from the strict alignment model I once adhered to.
  • It is not painful unless you want it to be.  We focused today’s treatment on two issues – the discomfort in my arms due to compressed nerves in my neck and a recent knee injury.  Sure, sometimes Michael manipulated areas with a firm pressure that was less than pleasant, but neither was it painful.  Strong, sharp or tender?  Maybe.  But not painful.
  • Rolfing may not be for the modest.  The session began with a postural assessment.  This involved a visual analysis of my spine and pelvis while I stood in my underwear. But Rolfers see plenty of bodies – I felt completely comfortable – this was no big deal.  It was made clear that I was the boss.  Besides, an experienced practitioner can make an assessment quickly.  In the future, though, I may try to get away with a sports bra and shorts.

What Does Rolfing Feel Like?

Michael did not use oils or creams.   There are no long, sweeping strokes.  Rolfing is more an intense and precise manipulation of the connective tissue.  There was pressing, squeezing, pushing and pulling, but no effleurage or petrissage.

How Did I Feel After the Treatment?

Alive.  I was surprised to feel a post-massage glow that is typical of more mellow treatments.  Rolfing is meant to structurally integrate the body and the spirit.  I’ll be the first to confess there is a gaping disconnect between my spiritual self and the Mimm I present to the world.  I’m guessing my spiritual side was happy to be out in the sunshine for a few hours.

How Do I Feel Now?

Tired.  Maybe a little achy.  It’s early on a Saturday night – not even half past nine – and yet I’ll be in bed as soon as this is posted.

Will I Do it Again?

Yes.  Absolutely.  Rolfing has a remarkable effect on the body.  And maybe – just maybe – it will have a remarkable effect on my spirit, too.  I’m off to bed – it’s been a big day.  A new day.

Dealing with Trauma

Last night I had dinner with friends.  One was recovering from a bad motorbike accident a few days earlier that left him bruised, with several broken bones. My friend was particularly agitated because he had only just begun a new fitness regimen – and now all that hard word would be lost.  He was in pain, frustrated, impatient and determined to heal.

We discussed his options.  He understands muscle ‘memory’ and is concerned that ‘memories’ of the accident will make it difficult to regain the strength and flexibility he had prior to the accident.  My friend isn’t certain what sort of physical therapy he’ll have – he’s still waiting to find out if he’s going to have to undergo surgery – but he’s anxious to do whatever he can to encourage healing.  He wondered if body therapy in the form of Rolfing might be of benefit.

I had two bits of contrary advice:

Rest. Give the body time to process. The physical trauma is recent – only days old – and the body is still trying to figure out what happened.  That’s true on an emotional level as well.  When trauma occurs we need time – at least seventy-two hours, longer depending on the injury – for our physical body and our spirit to process what has happened and how our life might change.

Keep moving. The longer he stays still, the more time his connective tissue has to tighten.  So move.  Even a little.  And as silly as it sounds, the more you move, the more you’ll move.  (If you want to know more about connective tissue and why we must include a flexibility practice in our fitness regime watch The Fuzz Speech.)

My third bit of advice falls between the first two:

Multi-task. I told my friend that as soon as he can climb on a table, to book a massage appointment.  A soothing massage will rest the nervous system and manipulate the muscle fibers – it will increase circulation and help break up forming adhesions and scar tissue.

And Rolfing?

Funny enough, when I woke up this morning I saw an article posted on Facebook by my friend and Rolfer Michael Murphy.  You can read the article here.  And you can meet Michael here.

One paragraph stood out:

In that regard, he said he viewed the treatment as an extension of practices like yoga, which also offers relief without drugs. “Yoga is in many ways analogous to Rolfing because it takes tendons and it stretches them into a position of discomfort,” Dr. Oz said. “They’re just doing it for you without your doing it yourself.”

So true!  Especially considering practices that include a Yin or Assisted Yin element. Assisted Yin combines yoga with massage.  Think slow motion Thai Massage.  The practitioner supports the client in Yin derived positions for up to five minutes.  The effect is a profound stretching of the connective tissue that breaks up scar tissue, dissolves adhesions and deeply soothes the nervous system.  The work can be challenging but is not painful.

Disclaimer:  I’ve never been Rolfed.  I don’t have an informed opinion.  My ideas regarding Rolfing are based on anecdotal evidence. I have, however, experienced the trauma of being thrown twenty feet off my bicycle by a moving vehicle.  Would I want to be Rolfed after that?  No thank you. Still, Rolfing appears to be an intensely powerful experience – one that I think I’d like to try.  But as far as my friend is concerned, my advice is for him to wait until his bones have healed and the bruising is gone.  The best thing he can do right now is practice gentle, mindful patience.