Come join me April 10 aGreen Festivalnd 11 at the San Francisco Green Festival. Three of my colleagues and I will be offering Rolfing mini-sessions. Get a structural evaluation, sample what Rolfing feels like, and learn all kinds of cool stuff about your body too. Education is an important part of the Rolfing process.

Continue the education theme by attending a few presentations by some of the 200 speakers on subjects as varied as Urban Green Action, Green Design, and Green Careers & Education. The likes of Alice Walker, Amy Goodman and Daniel Pinchbeck will be there. Before or after getting your body straightened out at the Rolfing booth browse more than 350 ec0-friendly businesses. Green Festival San Francisco, founded in 2002, is the nation’s premier sustainability event offering solutions to help make our lives healthier—socially, economically and environmentally.

Here are the logistics:

April 10-11, 2010
Saturday – 10am – 7pm
Sunday – 11am – 6pm

SF Concourse Exhibition Center
635 8th St (at Brannan St)
San Francisco, CA 94103

Hope to see you there!

© Carole LaRochelle, 2010.

2009 Was Divine: Wish You’d Been There?

Rolf Institute 2009 Membership Conference ProgramThe official theme for the newly renamed 2009 Rolf Institute® Membership Conference was “The Shifting Sands of Rolfing®: Body Maps, Perception, Gravity.” The event was formerly known as the annual meeting, but “membership conference” seems a more fitting name given the emphasis on presentations and the sharing of information, as well as the social and community building aspects of the event. Headlining the “Body Maps” category was Sandra Blakeslee, award-winning science writer for The New York Times. She presented the opening keynote Friday evening on her newest book, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. Blakeslee received the Rolfing® Ten Series for a knee injury she sustained that left her unable to fully flex or extend her knee. She believes that one of the explanations for why Rolfing structural integration works is that when we as practitioners touch people, we are helping to alter their body maps. The concept of body maps originated in the 1930s with neuroscientist Wilder Penfield. He created the first-ever maps of a human being’s somato-sensory and motor cortexes, creating what we know today as the homunculi. In addition to the origins of the body maps concept Blakeslee’s book also includes cutting-edge research on out-of-body experiences, mirror neurons, and phantom limb phenomena. Kudos to Sandra Blakeslee for inspiring us in the structural integration community and providing us with such valuable and timely information.

Under the category of “Perception,” Hubert Godard presented the Saturday morning keynote (with Blakeslee in attendance), “From Biomechanics to Body Image: How Perception Shapes The Body.” It had been twenty years since Godard presented at an annual conference, and understandably there was much excitement about his presentation. He started by explaining the difference between body image and body schema. He defines body schema as a physiological construct that is mostly unconscious. Body image, on the other hand, is the more conscious perception of the body. It is about one’s emotional response to how one experiences one’s body; how one feels about one’s physical traits, and how one believes others view oneself. (Blakeslee goes into quite a bit of detail about this in “Dueling Body Maps,” Chapter 3 of her book.)

Godard sees the body schema as a space of action. People can have part of their “space” missing, which can have profound implications for things like scoliosis. One of the ways Godard works with this is by playing with focal and peripheral vision. For Godard, focal vision is a way of perceiving where vision goes to and seeks out the object, whereas peripheral vision allows the space or object to come into our vision. Losing peripheral vision on one side apparently affects the vestibular system on the same side, setting up a cascade of concentric contraction doHubert Godardwn the muscular chain starting with the scalenes. Godard seeks to disrupt this pattern by hiding the focal vision on the affected side using a sticker applied to the central part of the lens of a pair of eyeglasses. In so doing, he seeks to enhance the vestibular function on the affected side, by emphasizing its peripheral vision use, and achieving a functional improvement in that side. Many of those in attendance had our own “perception” challenge with Godard’s lovely French accent. For myself, I heard Godard speak about “a stick” that he put in “a glass.” How relieved I was when we received the sticker and eyeglasses clarification. I had literally imagined a water glass held up to the eye with a pencil inside it!

On the social side of things I found myself a bit nervous about Friday evening’s meet and greet event. Would anyone I know be there? Would people be friendly and want to talk with me? Would I feel included? It turned out I had nothing to worry about. I hadn’t actually realized until this event how many colleagues and friends I’ve come to know over the fifteen years I’ve been practicing Rolfing structural integration. I could barely make it to the food tables without running into someone I knew who I hadn’t seen in a long time and who I really wanted to catch up with.

For give-aways at registration this year, instead of t-shirts, we were given stainless steel water bottles with The Rolf Institute logo on them. How cool is that? My co-attendee commented to me that she’d been intending to purchase exactly such a bottle and now she wouldn’t need to. Another highly coveted give-away were the temporary tattoos of “the little boy logo.” We were limited to one upon registration but I wanted more! By Saturday morning’s presentations I spotted many fellow attendees sporting tattoos on various body parts.

Saturday morning’s breakout sessions were with Tessy Brungardt, Lael Keen, and Robert Schleip. I attended Brungardt’s presentation, “Another View of Neck Work – Techniques for the Visceral Compartment of the Neck.” She began with a nice review of the anatomy startMuscles of Necking with the superficial layer, dropping into the mid-cervical fascial layer, the visceral compartment of the neck itself, and finally the deep cervical layer. Brungardt said she views the hyoid bone as the key to the entire visceral compartment of the neck. She tends to stabilize the hyoid and motion test/feel to assess what the strain pattern she’s working with is organized around. I discovered and made a mental note that I need to review the pharyngeal muscles. Happening at the same time as Brungardt’s lecture were Lael Keen’s “Re-mapping the Feet” and Robert Schleip’s “Fascia as Sensory Organ.” Saturday afternoon’s breakout sessions were with Steve Evanko, William Smythe, and Don Hazen. I split my time between Evanko’s “Extracellular Matrix and the Manipulation of Cells and Tissues” and Smythe’s “Working on the Edge.” Hazen offered us “Neurology of Posture – A Synopsis.”

Saturday evening was the famous Rolf Institute dance party, a typical and not-so-typical barefoot affair. Brett Linder and Alexi Boshart saw fit to come in costume and entertain us all. Have you ever seen a dancing Rolfer in a bunny suit?

Sunday morning was back to business with a Q & A session for the the advanced faculty panel. Morning breakouts were Hubert Godard’s “Endogenous and Exogenous Origins of Spinal Dysfunction,” where I was fortunate enough to see him demonstrate a little bit of how he works with an eager volunteer from the audience. Liz Gaggini presented “Natural Alignment: How to Recognize and Facilitate Different Fundamental Alignment Patterns” and Nicholas French shared some “Rolfing Odds and Ends.” Sunday afternoon was the actual membership meeting. To entice attendees to stay, a raffle was held with some cool prizes donated by local businesses and Rolfers alike. Proceeds were to benefit The Rolf Institute student library. Sunday afternoon’s closing ceremony was officiated by Barbara Dilley, former soloist with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, who has taught dance and embodiment at Naropa University since 1974. She led us through a simple yet elegant movement ritual to close the conference.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2010.

Sitting back workThere seems to be a lot of confusion in the public’s awareness of the difference between Rolfing Structural Integration and deep tissue massage therapy. Instead of writing one more article explaining Rolfing SI and how it can benefit you, I have decided to take a different approach. I recently had a new client come into my practice who is the perfect example of why Rolfing SI can be so powerful a method for resolving postural/structural issues and musculoskeletal pain patterns. I have John’s permission to share his story with you.

John is a healthy, active male in his late 40s. He came to see me with the stated goal of alleviating structural imbalances in his right hip and thereby hopefully avoid hip replacement surgery in the future. (One doctor had suggested to him it might be necessary at some point.) He had also been experiencing a significant amount of pain and stiffness on the right side of his pelvis and low back and was hoping I could give him relief from it.

John had originally sought medical attention because he had been experiencing right knee pain. An x-ray of his knee could find no source for the cause of his pain so the orthopedist suggested exploratory surgery to see if anything could be found. John chose to opt out of that offer. He continued to pursue a probable cause for his knee pain and another doctor suggested a leg length difference might be the culprit. An x-ray was eventually performed in a supine (lying down) position at the local medical facility and it was determined John’s right leg was shorter than his left. That information was passed on to John’s podiatrist who made orthotics with the appropriate amount of lift for the right leg based on the x-ray results.

In my office I examined John standing in his shoes and orthotics. I found his right iliac crest and greater trochanter to be higher than his left. That would be an initial indication his left leg was short, not his right. I had him take his shoes and orthotics off and looked at him again. I found his iliac crests now even as well as the greater trochanters.

Next I had John lay down on my table so I could check his supine legPelvic Torsion length. Indeed, his right leg was now shorter than his left. That meant something was going on in his back and pelvis that was causing his leg length to go off when non-weightbearing. I had him stand again and checked his pelvis and found a pelvic torsion. His right innominate was anteriorly rotated and his left posterior in relation to the coronal plane. I also examined his spine and noticed he has a mild curvature causing a right side bend and left rotation in his lumbar area. I inquired of John if anyone else in his family had a scoliosis and he affirmed that was indeed the case.

I set to work manipulating the soft tissues around John’s pelvis and back in a way that would resolve the structural imbalance in his pelvis, and hopefully ease off some of the curvature in his spine. The details of how I accomplished that are beyond the scope of this article. After completing the soft tissue manipulation I checked John’s leg length again with him lying supine. His legs were now the same length and the pelvic torsion was resolved. I had him stand barefoot and the iliac crests of his pelvis were still even.

I asked John to spend a little time walking barefoot to feel this new change for himself, and then suggested he put his shoes and orthotics back on. His response upon first standing in the shoes and orthotics was telling. It appeared to me like he had just stepped in something disgusting with his right foot, and the look on his face told the story that the lift felt wrong. I checked his iliac crest and greater trochanter height again and now the right side was higher than the left. I suggested to him to stop wearing the orthotics; they were throwing his structure off. He would need to get them altered.

I have completed three sessions with John and he is amazed at how much more balanced his pelvis feels and indeed his whole body. He reports much more mobility in his pelvis and back and significantly reduced hip pain. In John’s own words:

There is no question that the high level of comfort that I feel today is directly attributable to the three sessions of work you’ve done with me. I feel a freedom of motion in my hips that I have not felt in at least ten years.

My theory on what happened with John is that no one practitioner was looking at his entire body. One doctor was only looking at John’s knee. The knee hurt so the problem must be in the knee. Considering that the knee pain could be coming from a leg length discrepancy was a good idea. However, measuring leg length with the client supine is not considered a very accurate method, precisely for the reason I found with John. He had a pelvic torsion which created a functional leg length difference when lying supine, not a true bony leg length difference when standing.

Measuring leg length difference

Best way to x-ray leg length differences

Radiographic evidence that measures the actual height of the femoral heads when standing is considered the best way to measure true bony leg length differences. And finally, because the measurement of John’s leg length difference was not accurate he was fitted for an orthotic lift that he didn’t actually need. It precipitated and aggravated his right hip problem. I was the first practitioner John saw who actually looked at his entire body to see how he was structurally organized in gravity. I was the first practitioner to notice what was happening in his lumbar spine that could be throwing his pelvis off.

Rolfing® practitioners are the structural experts on the human body. For John, deep tissue massage therapy around his right hip would not have been enough to give him the relief he was seeking. He needed someone with a structural evaluation skill set as well as soft tissue manipulation skills to figure out the cause of his problem and implement the appropriate treatment.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

Capt. Chesley "Sully" SullenbergerJust as US Airways Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III skillfully landed his jet in the Hudson River on January 15th, 2009, there is an art to landing from peak experiences. Everyone on board the jet that day survived, so everyone is OK, right? Well, maybe. Everyone on board the jet that day experienced a high intensity situation and how they will be impacted by that event depends a lot on each unique individual’s ego capacity.

Bodynamic Analysis, a form of body-oriented psychotherapy developed in Denmark since the late 1960s, proposes that high intensity traumatic events like the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 have a lot in common with peak experiences. Both types of experiences seem to involve a kind of energy raising and altered state of consciousness. The senses become sharpened, perception of time can be experienced as changed or distorted, extrasensory perceptions may be involved, and there can be a colossal feeling of bliss or mastery. For some people there can even be an inner sense of having received a message, or guidance for moving in a particular direction in their life.

Erik Jarlnaes and Josette van Luytelaar in their article, “The Therapeutic Power of Peak Experiences: Embodying Maslow’s Old Concept suggest using peak experiences to help resolve shock.

An important aspect of peak (and of shock) is the state of high-level energy experienced, both psychologically and bodily (in the muscles.) The Bioenergetic concept of “charge” is related to this and refers to the body energy that can be charged or dis-charged.

People can have difficulty containing this high-level energy (or charged state) in their peak (or their shock). This often results in losing the peak or “freezing” in shock, which can cause psychological or psychosomatic problems.

So what is an airline crash survivor or an artist caught in the peak of their creative process to do?

Well, fortunately, Bodynamic Analysis has developed a model of 11 Ego-functions that cut across child development phases and have the potential to continue to be developed throughout life. Three of the most important Ego-functions in physically containing the high energy states of traumatic situations (like one’s airplane crashing) are grounding, centering and boundaries. These are concrete body skills that can be taught and trained. The better one’s skills are at grounding, centering and boundaries the longer one can stay functioning in their ego’s capacity in high intensity situations without shock-related brain stem control and physiology taking charge of their systems. And for the artist or performer seeking to sustain their peak, having good grounding, centering and boundaries can support the strong physical container necessary to maintain high level intensity for an extended period of time.

fearless_ver11Being in high intensity can be such a compelling state that some people may not want to land. You may know people who are “addicted” to participating in high risk activities for the adrenaline rush they get. In Peter Weir’s 1993 film, Fearless, Jeff Bridges plays an airline crash survivor who gets stuck in the “high” of having survived.

Other people have a difficult time being in high intensity and may be frightened by it. They might collapse in their body so the high intensity cannot be maintained. These people miss out on the opportunity to be present and ready to act when it really counts and are at risk of not getting the contact and connection they need to land successfully.

So how does one land gracefully from high intensity situations? For me, gracefully means not getting stuck in the peak or conversely collapsing too quickly and too soon back into normal day to day consciousness. Here are some concrete ways to navigate the transition back to everyday life again.

  • Land in the physical body. Get in touch with concrete body sensing and be present in the muscles again.
    • Work with grounding: feel the physical weight of your body, the pressure of your feet on the ground if standing and the weight of your sit bones on a chair if sitting.
    • Work with centering: Sense your spine. Sense the depth of your spine and bring your awareness to the front of it. Can you feel how deeply it penetrates your body? Feel your physical balance point somewhere deep in your lower abdomen.
    • Work with boundaries: Sense your skin, your body surface. Can you feel where you end and the surrounding world begins? A great way to do this is in physical contact with another person. Have them tap gently all over your body in a way that feels good to you while maintaining contact with your own center and ground.
  • Land in the emotional body. Notice any emotions that appear, accept them and allow them to flow through the body and hopefully while in connection with another person.
  • Land in the mental body. Find a language and a way of thinking that can describe the experience and aide you in understanding what happened. Sharing that story with a trusted friend is encouraged. 🙂

I am indebted to Merete Holm Brantbjerg for much of this valuable information I’ve shared with you. Her resource-oriented perspective in working with shock trauma has been immensely transformative for me. For more information about her and her work please visit her website

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

A guide for all you 21st century internet savvy, Facebooking, Blogging, Twittering Peeps out there

Ida_with_Client_lgLong, long ago in a century far, far away lived a woman named Ida Pauline Rolf. She observed that the structure of the human body affects its optimum function, and set out to do something about it. Receiving her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Columbia University in 1920, she worked as a Research Associate at Rockefeller Institute from 1919 to 1927 during which time she published fifteen research articles. In addition to biochemistry, Rolf’s thinking was influenced by her practice of yoga and treatments and training from pioneer osteopaths.

Rolf started working hands-on with people in New York during World War II. By the 1950s she was traveling the country teaching structural integration to chiropractors and osteopaths. It was in the 1960s Rolf ended up working with Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy. That was when structural integration become known as Rolfing and got caught up in the human potential movement.

Rolfing structural integration is somatic education the main purpose of which is to improve the structure and alignment of the body. It is not a form of massage therapy. Rather, Rolfing practitioners are the structural experts of the human body. They use skillful hands-on techniques as well as movement education to empower clients to take charge of their own physical and emotional health. Rolfing also has the potential to support personal evolution through enhancing the vertical alignment of the body, facilitating the upward movement of energy through our systems and the subsequent evolution of consciousness.

And now a visual guide . . .


This IS Rolfing


This is NOT Rolfing


This is NOT Rolfing

Any questions?

© Carole LaRochelle, 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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.