Here is the final part of my 3 part series on www.SoulsCode.com. In Part 3 I discover my love for dance, receive my first taste of hands-on manual therapy for a dance injury, and discover my life’s work Rolfing® SI.

My soul death is averted by Rolfing® Structural Integration | Soul’s Code.

Rolfing® treatment of the hamstrings

Or, Are You Ready For Me San Francisco?

Pilates reformerI am pleased to announce I have a new Rolfing office in San Francisco. On Mondays, beginning May 3, I started working at A Body of Work a highly respected San Francisco Pilates Studio and Gyrotonic® Center. I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my skills to a wider audience and the location is beautiful! A Body of Work is located in the Presidio at 569 Ruger Street just inside the Lombard Street gate. We’re literally across the street from the Presidio Social Club and just up the hill from Lucasfilm’s Letterman Digital Art Center.

For me, this is a personal homecoming of sorts. Being of the relatively rare species known as San Francisco Native I feel like I have come full circle from my arrival in 1967 at Kaiser Foundation Hospital on Geary. Here’s a bit more for you to read about my personal journey and how I ultimately became a Rolfing practitioner.

I hope you will check out the excellent trainers at A Body of Work as well as come and receive some Rolfing at my new office. Since this is a new venue for me I would appreciate you spreading the word to your family and friends.

© 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.

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.

I have been involved with Pilates more or less since the late 1980s. I was first introduced to Pilates principles while studying dance with Mercy Sidbury at Sonoma State University. My curiosity piqued, I went to the SSU Library and checked out The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning by Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen. This was a hardcover book, originally published in 1980, and the first of its kind to bring Pilates out of private studios and present it to the general public. I studied the book and began practicing on my own both at home and before ballet class to strengthen my awareness of and build my ability to move from and stabilize my core.

The Art of Dance MedicineIn the spring of 1989 I attended The Art of Dance Medicine presented in San Francisco at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Dancemedicine Center. Alan Herdman presented “Floorbarre for the Dancer” which for me, at the time, was synonymous with Pilates mat work.  A couple of years later, after I injured my left hamstring dancing, I ended up rehabbing at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Dancemedicine Center where I was exposed to Pilates in more depth. At that time, Pilates was not readily available in Sonoma County, and traveling to San Francisco for one hour of therapy was a bit of a burden to me. I decided to treat my hamstring injury with hands-on manual therapy, rather than through corrective exercise. That choice led me down the path to become a Rolfing® practitioner which I have written about previously.

I drifted away from Pilates after I moved to Washington state in 1992. I was busy preparing to train as a Rolfer and it was difficult to be present with ballet and Rolfing and Pilates all at the same time. I had to focus on one or two things. Through dance, however, I continued to do some mat exercises, in particular with Marcia Quigley at the Maple Valley School of Ballet.

Many of my colleagues in the Rolfing community are quite drawn to the Gyrotonic Expansion System® and that type of non-linear, undulating movement began to appeal to me. By early 2000 I had experienced a couple of unpleasant episodes doing Pilates mat work classes at the local gym. One in particular stands out in my mind. The instructor had us stand at the wall and attempt to flatten our backs against the wall, trying to “imprint” the lumbar spine. That had the effect of putting my sacrum “out” and lead to several days if not weeks of an intense low back pain episode. I began to become a fan of what is known as the “neutral spine” in Pilates and decided to check out Gyrotonic as soon as I had the chance.

When I moved back to California in 2002 I contacted local Master Gyrotonic Instructor Manisha Holzwarth, and I did months of private work with her. Also, percolating through the Rolfing community, primarily through the World Congress on Low Back & Pelvic Pain, came much discussion about low back pain and spinal stability. The Rolfing community was talking about physical therapist Diane Lee and Australian researchers Carolyn Richardson, Paul Hodges and Julie Hides. Their research has shown that anticipatory recruitment of the transversus abdominis and multifidus is absent or delayed in patients with low back pain or a history of low back pain episodes. Why is this important? Because these muscles stabilize the spine so that other muscles can move the trunk without compromising the integrity of the spinal joints. I started researching co-contraction, the simultaneous activation of the transversus abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. I found out that physical therapy had, so to speak, incorporated Pilates into their own body of knowledge.

As a Rolfing® practitioner I see many clients with low back pain. I believe it is not enough to correct motion restrictions and structural imbalances in people’s spines and pelvises without educating and re-training them in the correct use of their bodies as well. The research has shown this essential. And so I find myself in 2009 having come full circle from 20 years ago. I just became a Certified Mat Trainer in ITT Pilates. My desire is to become a better teacher and resource to my clients who suffer with back pain and stability issues. I also would like to bring all my knowledge to bear in teaching groups and in general improve the quality of what’s out there and available to the general public. Having worked one on one with people for so many years now I feel the impulse to share my knowledge in a bigger way.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this 4 Part series.

After graduating from university I tried to force myself into a career as an accountant. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working in the business world, but was unhappy sitting at a desk all day long. Upon taking my first full-time job my gloom about my profession started to grow. Each day at work felt like a slow soul death and most of my nights were spent being sick to my stomach. At some point in the future I knew my inner spark would be completely snuffed out. I was living a double life. During the day I did my best to be a business professional, but after work, most every night, I headed to ballet class. I loved ballet.

I had started taking formal dance lessons at the age of 15, first in jazz and then moved on to tap dancing. I noticed some dancers had much better technique than others. I found out they had studied ballet. Given my leg issue history and not fond memories of ballet from pre-school age I had steered clear of those classes. However, the tap dance studio was in the same building as the ballet school. I would watch the students come and go, and hear the classical music drifting out from behind closed doors. Doesn’t every little girl dream of becoming a ballerina?

Don Quixote Peninsula Dance TheatreI decided to take a beginning class, just to improve my technique. It was hard, and I wasn’t built for it, but I loved it. I gave up tap dancing just to focus on ballet. I had the good fortune to have a teacher, Antonio Mendes, who noticed how committed and hard working I was, and he encouraged me. I continued dancing while in college, both at the ballet school and at the university. I knew I wasn’t capable of having a professional career as a dancer and would have to give it up at some point, but I just couldn’t stop. Dancing felt wonderful, and freeing. I felt beautiful when I moved.

At around the same time I graduated from university I also managed to injure myself dancing. I damaged my left hamstring to the point I couldn’t balance on that leg and when walking would have to kind of pull it along behind me. I sought out physical therapy and was eventually referred to Dr. Garrick at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sports Medicine. I’d never been to a clinic like this. It was everything under one roof, orthopedics, podiatry, physical medicine, sports medicine, physical therapy and unique to Saint Francis, Dance Medicine. I worked with the Pilates trainers there, and ran into one of my dance teachers from Sonoma State University, Mercy Sidbury. She had been the first person to introduce me to Pilates principles back in the late 80s.

One particular dance medicine specialist inquired if I’d had any manipulation done on my leg. My response, “No, they do that?” Up to that point all the treatment I had received focused on exercise and stretching. No therapist had actually touched me. The specialist referred me to a chiropractor who referred me to a massage therapist, and thus I received my first taste of hands-on manual therapy. It was transformative! My intelligent bodymind knew it was exactly what I needed: hands-on work to break up the scar tissue in my hamstring.

But, what was I going to do about my career? I felt strongly I needed to do something more fundamental and grounded then work in the abstract world of numbers. I liked the clinic at Saint Francis and began to ponder how I could get the skills to work at such a place. Also, for me, there was something magic and powerful about touch. I decided to quit my full-time job and enroll in massage school.

While in massage school, I continued dancing and exploring movement. I took Feldenkrais classes, modern dance classes, yoga. I kept learning more and more about body structure and how bodies work in motion. The woman who ran the massage school brought in the local Rolfing practitioner to speak with us about his work. From somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind I remembered Rolfing. Rolfing changes structure. . . I have structural issues. . . being able to change structure is a good thing. . .

I volunteered to be the model for the Rolfing demo. The first thing the Rolfer did was have me stand so he could look at my structure. He described to me what he saw, and what he described made perfect sense to me. I felt it in my body standing there, and had felt it previously when at the barre in ballet. He told me he could help me change my structure, and that the changes would last a long time. (Something that resonated for me. I’d been getting a massage a week on my hamstring and felt strongly I needed something that would have a longer lasting impact.)

I eagerly laid down on the table and he started to touch me, touch like I’d never felt before. His touch had an intelligence to it, a listening quality. It was like he was having a conversation with my flesh. His touch had no quality of the rather mindless pushing, pressing or kneading that can often be likened to one’s body being a lump of clay that the other person is trying to mold or soften into some shape. No, he was asking my body to open here, let go there, and listening for the response from my system. This conversation was highly conscious non-verbal communication between our two dynamic, biological living systems.

I was smitten, not by him, but by the work. It was on that day in 1992 that I knew I had found my calling. I would combine my curiosity and interest in body structure with my love for touch and train to become a Rolfing® practitioner.


© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.