September 2009

I went to a Sweat Your Prayers: Silent Practice last Sunday hosted by The Moving Center School. I had not been to a Sweat Your Prayers in quite some time and the practice got me back in touch with a profound quality of being I have been wanting to write about for many months now. The original spark for this piece came from a video of classical Chinese dancer Liu Yan. Upon first watching this video I immediately resonated with the great quantity of energy this beautiful woman channels yet also contains in her body. Judge for yourself, the video is below.

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My understanding of classical Chinese dance is that it has been influenced by martial arts, tai chi and Beijing opera. Indeed, there is definitely a tai chi like quality to Yan’s movement.

About now you may be wondering to yourself, “So why the interest in this quality of movement?” The answer is simply, “Presence.” As a somatic practitioner, just shy of her eighteenth year of practice, I have learned a little bit about what our culture likes to call the mind-body connection. (Problematic words in themselves best explored in another article.) You could say my bias is that getting the mind into the present moment happens through the body; through attention to body movement and sensation.

In another post I wrote titled “Sullenberger’s ‘Highest Duty’ To Maintain Ego Capacity in High Intensity Emergency Landing” I refer to an article in the anthology Body, Breath & Consciousness titled “The Therapeutic Power of Peak Experiences: Embodying Maslow’s Old Concept.” In this article authors Erik Jarlnaes & Josette van Luytelaar, two Bodynamic practitioners, discuss “peak experience” as developed by Abraham Maslow and compare it to the concept of “flow” as posited by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

As background for this exploration Maslow defines a peak experience as:

. . . an episode or sudden wave, in which all potentials of a person are flowing together in a particularly goal-oriented and intense gratifying way, in which he is more integrated and less split, is more open to experience, in which he is more coming forward with his own specific nature or disposition, is more spontaneous and expressive, more fully functioning, more creative, humoristic, ego-transcendent, less dependent on his lower instincts, etc. In these periods he becomes more really himself, more powerful in actualizing his capacities, more close to the essence of his Being, more fully human . . .

On the other hand, Csikszentmihalyi defines peak experience as a process, a flow, an ecstatic state of consciousness as well as a peak moment.

An optimal experience is the feeling that the required technical ability and the challenges are in balance with each other, in a goal-oriented rule-oriented action system that makes clear how one is performing. The concentration is so intense that one has no attention anymore for matters of lower importance or worries about problematic questions. The self-consciousness disappears and the time frame distorts.

Jarlnaes & van Luytelaar conclude that getting into “flow” is a precondition for peak experience. One cannot make a peak experience happen; only set-up the conditions where it is likely to occur. Preparation for the “peak moment” involves getting into a “flow” state, a process of coming into a state of high energy and intense present moment awareness that is contained within the physical body, primarily by the muscular system. The muscular system can be likened to the insulation around an electrical wire that keeps the energy from shorting out and speedily moving in its proper channel so it can be directed to where it needs to go. Csikszentmihalyi writes of the important role of the body in “flow” and sees many similarities between “flow” and eastern body-training methods like yoga and martial arts. (Watch Liu Yan again. Her movement is an exquisite example of flow.)

Bodynamic has developed their own training method, called “slow flow,” to teach  people how to build and maintain a high level of energy in their systems. It is not as codified as yoga or tai chi, therefore easier to learn and practice regularly. Slow flow basically involves slow motion movements performed in a continuous rhythmic fashion usually accompanied by music. Stimulating sensory experiences is a common way to enter the “flow” state. Sensory experiences vary widely from looking at art or beautiful scenery in nature, to writing an article or painting a picture, listening to or performing music, playing sports, making love, or dancing (one of my personal favorites.)

Which leads me right back to last Sunday night’s Sweat Your Prayers. I will attempt to describe what happens inside me during moving meditation. Paying attention to my movement impulses and body sensations quickly gets me into a “flow” state. I feel profoundly present and at peace undistracted by thoughts. My breath and heartbeat are rhythmic pulsations that enhance and feed my movement. I drop deeply into myself and my felt sense yet at the same time am fully aware of my environment and those around me. For me this is an intensely creative state of being that provides access and resonance to the greater flow of life in the world around me. To build more energy into my system I will often slow down even more when the music and others in the room become chaotic. I feel the contained energy building in my system until my own impulse moves me to release the energy through wild, abandoned, explosive movement. Eventually all returns to stillness and regular day to day consciousness. I do not, however, return as the same person. I have somehow been changed, transformed by the alchemical process of the experience I participated in.

For more on “flow” states as investigated by Csikszentmihalyi please watch this TED video.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

It turns out there is more to this story about Ida Rolf, William Garner Sutherland and Emanuel Swedenborg. Since the publication of the first piece I have run across two transcripts of Rolf speaking about Sutherland and Swedenborg. One from 1970 and the other from 1973. The 1973 transcript is from the Advanced Training in Big Sur, CA. This transcript is also the basis for Rosemary Feitis’ book Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing and Physical Reality.

physicalrealityFeitis quotes Rolf in the book saying she took one of her sons to visit Sutherland as a demonstration model in New York around 1943-44.¹ Sutherland passed away in 1954 so likely in that time frame, between 1943 and 1954, Rolf managed to get into one of Sutherland’s cranial classes, which by that time were only open to osteopaths. In Rolf’s own words:

. . . they would not admit me to a class because I wasn’t an osteopath. Well, you all know me. I rented myself out as a secretary, so I got my first observation and information about what goes on in the head through that trip.²

Apparently Rolf was “resourceful” and found herself a sympathetic doctor who enrolled in the class and brought Rolf along as secretary.

Rolf goes on to say:

Cranio-osteopathy was a very great insight. It was so great an insight that there is a well-founded belief, started by people whose integrity I completely respect, that it wasn’t the insight of Dr. Sutherland at all, it was the insight of Swedenborg. What Dr. Sutherland was teaching, and what seemingly did come from the great mystic and scientist Swedenborg, was not merely that there were reflex points on the head, but that the head was part of the respiratory system. He taught that respiration was not a movement of the lungs, except secondarily; it was a movement of the head, which by this movement pumped spinal fluid through the spinal column. This seemed unbelievable to scientists at the time. Swedenborg wrote a book called The Brain, which seemed to imply some of the premises later gathered together in cranial osteopathy.³

. . . you know me. We have two copies.⁴

In the transcript from the 1970 class Rolf goes into more detail about Swedenborg.

swedenborgSwedenborg is a man whose followers, as of right now, consider him literally on a par with Jesus Christ. He was a Swede who lived in the 18th century. To a great extent he was a very practical man. He was a much more practical man than you expect in mystics. If I remember, he held government jobs in mining.

All of a sudden the guy got a notion that he wanted to know more about human bodies, and he went from Sweden down into [Paris], and he says, spent something like 2 years in [Paris], just doing anatomy and dissection. . . .  I think it was after that he had this tremendous psychic experience of entering into another world, which he could largely handle at will. And in being in the other world, as he felt it and expressed it, he brought through a very great deal of, presumably, data about what is the soul and how does it act.

And by this time, of course, everybody said, well Swedenborg is crazy, and even today if you are quoting Swedenborg, you will meet up with people who will say, “Oh, well that insane individual, why consider him?” But there is a very sizable community on the face of the earth today, the Swedenborgians, and in every major city there is at least one Swedenborgian church.

In reading the transcript I ran across another interesting synchronicity. Apparently Rudolf Tafel, (the brother of Adolph J. Tafel of Boericke and Tafel homeopathic pharmacy fame) did the original translation of Swedenborg’s The Brain from Latin to English. It was published in two volumes in 1882 and 1887.

In checking the dates and sources for the previously mentioned transcripts I was referred to a series of articles by Isabell Biddle, DO. I was stunned to find in Volume 1 Issue #1 (the very first Bulletin of Structural Integration ever published) an article by Biddle titled “Swedenborg’s Interpretation of the Human Body in The Light of Recent Research.” In fact, between January 1969 and December 1971 five of Biddle’s articles were published in The Bulletin. In a tribute to Biddle written by Rolf herself and published in The Bulletin in April 1975,⁶  she writes extensively about Biddle’s

. . . reverence and loyalty to Swedenborg and his teachings . . .

[How Biddle] . . . studied the Swedenborg books dealing with anatomy and physiology, comparing the various editions and texts.

[And how] The extent to which [Biddle] absorbed and identified with the Swedenborg material is evident in her writing.


Ida Rolf, PhD

Rolf also speaks about how Biddle was a proponent of Structural Integration and indeed honors her as “one of the pioneer thinkers in Structural Integration.”⁷  These two women were obviously close friends who shared ideas and had mutual respect for each other’s work.

I could not find out much about Isabell Biddle. The Cranial Academy does have a transcript of a lecture she gave to the College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons in Los Angeles in 1951.⁸  The topic was, “The Application and Uses of Cranial Technique.” Interestingly enough William Garner Sutherland moved to California in 1951, where he lived until his death in 1954.⁹  It is also known Biddle corresponded with Reverend Alfred Acton, Ph.D. who was a minister in the New Church during Sutherland’s time. The New Church is founded on Swedenborg’s theological works and explanation of Christianity. Acton was also widely recognized as an expert in understanding, translating and teaching Swedenborg’s scientific works.¹⁰  Biddle wrote in a letter to Acton in 1957:

I am making a study of Swedenborg’s philosophical and scientific works as I am especially interested in The Brain. I have your edition and also Tafel’s.

I have studied cranial osteopathy and understand you saw Dr. Sutherland about its relation to Swedenborg’s theory and they seemed to differ: however, I believe they are very similar and that is what I am working out now. The results from treatment indicate Swedenborg’s theory is correct.¹¹

I believe it was likely Biddle’s influence that got Rolf interested in studying Swedenborg’s writings and probably why Rolf was speaking about Swedenborg to her classes in the 1970s. I wonder how many years these two women had known each other and even if maybe it was Biddle who got Rolf into Sutherland’s class those many years before. Up to now, I had thought cranial work was something introduced much later to structural integration. I have come to find out it has been there from the very beginning.


1. Ida Rolf, Rolfing and Physical Reality, ed. Rosemary Feitis (Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1990) p. 168.

2. Ed Toal, “Ida Rolf on Sutherland and Swedenborg,” Structural Integration: The Journal of The Rolf Institute®, Vol. 30, No.1 (Winter 2002), 24.

3. Rolf, p. 168.

4. Toal, p.24

5. Audiofiles and Transcripts of the Classroom Lectures of Dr. Ida P. Rolf. Mp3 files and transcripts of original tape recordings.

6. Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D., “An appreciation for Isabell Biddle, D.O.,” Bulletin of Structural Integration, Vol. 4, No. 4 (April 1975), 7-9.

7. Ibid., p. 9.

8. David B. Fuller, “Swedenborg’s Brain and Sutherland’s Cranial Concept” Annual Address delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Swedenborg Scientific Association on April 26, 2008. p. 646.

9. Ibid., p.647.

10. Ibid., p.644-645.

11. Ibid., p. 646.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.