BY ALINE WACHSMUTH
Self-care is usually prescribed to relax, calm down and escape the hard work we endure (or impose upon ourselves) on a daily basis. A lot of the time, we utilize other people or practitioners to do this healing for us. We schedule to get a massage and leave without wondering how our bodies are a mirror for the emotions that build over the course of a workweek or even a lifetime.
One morning when I was in sixth grade, I woke up to the home I grew up in with my mother to see it burning down. For the following year, my mom sent me to all kinds of healers with the hope of undoing some of the trauma from the experience. I was lucky enough to receive craniosacral therapy, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic in conjunction with my dance training. Maybe this is when I began my personal journey of questioning how bodies are the containers that store emotional histories.
Years later, I was introduced to a form of bodywork that I had never heard of before: Rolfing® Structural Integration. The founder of this work, Dr. Ida P Rolf, applied her extensive knowledge of biochemistry with other wellness approaches including osteopathy, yoga, chiropractic, Alexandertechnique and Alfred H.S. Korzybski’s study of consciousness. She discovered that by manipulating the fascia, or connective tissue, not only would a person’s physical structure change, but there were concurrent shifts in the emotional and spiritual bodies as well.
When I initially experienced my first 10 session series of Rolfing (the traditional protocol), it felt like a strange unpeeling of the masks I had collected and used to avoid the more vulnerable parts of myself. Through accessing deep untouched parts of my physical body, I was forced to feel and confront in myself much pain, angst, sorrow and anger. But because I had an amazing practitioner guiding me and supporting me through these “unwanted” feelings, I felt safe enough to head into them and see how they informed the way I carried myself. I still struggle with old patterns, but I like to think that I have more access to dropping into my own truth. I’m not afraid of engaging with the more challenging parts of myself because I know it will only lead to deeper personal growth, or maybe a broader perspective and more subtle understanding of our collective experience.
After my first sessions, I knew this was what I needed to study and practice. I wanted everyone I knew to feel the same remarkable sensations I had, especially dancers. To think we all have tremendous vaults of experience to draw from when making movement choices! How could this impact dance education, shifting it from imitation or shape-making into a more personal, creative and ultimately healing process?
How does Rolfing essentially work? What Rolfing is known for is the consideration of the entire structure of the body being out of balance with gravity, bringing on certain symptoms that can become chronic if not addressed. For instance, a man comes in with the main goal of addressing his chronic sciatica. I try to see the client as a “whole.” Upon first glance, where are the most obvious imbalances structurally? What language is he using relative to his physical experience? I look for the physical misalignments and their energetic/emotional correlations to find the meaning that holds them together.
What makes the work most successful is if the client is as equally engaged as I am in the exploration and conversation during and after the sessions. Most of the time, people are disconnected from their bodies and just feel and identify with “having sciatica” without realizing that they are clenching their jaws or pushing their pelvises forward of their feet. These subtler, underlying postural sensations become solidified as normal when a habit is held long enough, making it difficult to bring the clients’ awareness back.
By working to soften and reorganize the connective tissue, or fascia, we are literally dealing with the person’s physical armor, layers upon layers of “keeping it together” muscularly and emotionally. These barriers, though temporarily effective, mask the core issues that fester and can cause long-term manifestations of “dis-ease”. Consider the extra effort that is required to resist pain. It throws off the whole body’s sense of balance, complicating multiple levels of efficiency in the body.
Rolfing challenges old habits, ultimately threatening the pins that have held them together. Often this part of the work is perceived as painful. I think the pain is part of the holding, or maybe the remaining trauma from whatever injury or incident initially triggered the nervous system. It’s a dance between the practitioner and client to find the appropriate level of communication to help clear the blockage. I like to invite my clients to meet me with their breath, or expand through the pain, inhabiting that part of themselves. It takes courage to be present with vulnerability and discomfort, but the only way to expel it is to live in it and through it. When it’s done well, Rolfing can go beyond the manual therapy that we traditionally know as deep bodywork, and move more toward an unraveling of the unabashed truths that are stored within each person’s body.
Aline Wachsmuth is a Certified Rolfer™ and business owner of True Balance Rolfing® in Marin County, CA. She trained at the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado. She also dances professionally with Alex Ketley’s company, The Foundry. She recently became a new mom, and looks forward to learning more about bodywork for babies. For more information about Aline’s private practice, visit her website: www.truebalancerolfing.com.