Beatles and MaharishiLong before Michael Murphy and George Leonard coined the term “human potential movement’ in 1965¹ and The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in August 1967 Ida Rolf, Ph.D. was interested in the development of human potential. In addition to osteopathy and homeopathy one of the biggest influences on Rolf’s understanding of the human body was yoga. Throughout the 1920s she participated in a group that practiced yoga asanas and held meetings and lectures in Nyack, New York with American yogi, Pierre Bernard. Rolf has this to say in her 1978 book Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing® and Physical Reality.

His father had been a tantric and he was brought up as a tantric. He had spent most of his childhood in India. In tantric families, boys of seven years of age are taken from their families, put into another home of the same culture grade, and are brought up with the other family. In Hindu tantric families, through the centuries, the basis of the boys’ education was the Tantras—the five Indian sacred books. These they had to learn by rote, which is something like the mental equivalent of doing five hundred cartwheels.²

I believe Rolf is referring to Sylvais Hamati here, a Syrian-Indian, who Bernard met at the age of thirteen in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hamati was an accomplished Tantric yogi and he and Bernard traveled together from the late 1880s into the early 1900s. Bernard made his first dynamic splash into public view on the front-page of the New York Times on January 29, 1898. “He had given a public demonstration of his Kali-mudra or ‘death trance’ to a group of physicians in San Francisco, during which he seems to have successfully slowed his vital functions sufficiently to mimic death.³”

American Yogi Pierre BernardBernard capitalized on this publicity becoming known as “The Hypnotist Dr. Bernard” and quite a famous personality in the San Francisco Bay Region before he left the area around the time of the 1906 earthquake. He published what is likely the first Tantric publication in the United States, the International Journal of the Tantrik Order.

By 1909 Bernard was in New York City and had emerged as a successful teacher of yoga. With the help of New York’s elite, including Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, in 1919 Bernard moved to a 73 acre estate in Upper Nyack, New York. It was here where Rolf met and trained with Bernard in the 1920s.

Robert Love has just published a biography of Bernard titled The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, a name modeled after “Omnipotent Oom” given to Bernard by the local press after reported accusations of such things as “wild Oriental music and women’s cries, but not those of distress.⁴” I refer you to Love’s lively biography for more details about Bernard’s life.

What Bernard offered Rolf through his teachings was unique at the time and is, I feel, still relatively rare today: physical experience as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment, or the evolution of consciousness if you will. Yoga aims to develop the whole person through the practices of breath awareness, meditation and movement. Rosemary Feitis writes of Rolf:

In those years of practicing yoga and discussing its principles, she was establishing the basis of all her future work: that bodies need to lengthen and be balanced, and that a balanced body will give rise to a better human being.⁵

How fascinating to me, as a Rolfing® practitioner for 15 years now, to see the early origins of Rolf’s work. From the turn of the 20th century popular interest in hypnotism, Theosophy, and the self-proclaimed mystics such as G.I. Gurdjieff, to the Jazz Age roots of yoga in America, it seems the interest in the “human potential movement” has been with us quite a long time indeed.

Notes

1. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 207.

2. Ida Rolf, Rolfing® and Physical Reality, ed. Rosemary Feitis (Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1990) p. 7.

3. Kripal, p. 236.

4. Kripal, p. 237.

5. Rolf, p. 8.

© 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.

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.

Final installment of the article by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

Another dimension of this subtle and global sensing is a phenomenon called entrainment.¹⁵  Entrainment is the tendency of objects in close proximity to become interlocked and move in synchronicity. One reason that this occurs is that “nature seeks the most efficient energy state, and it takes less energy to pulse in cooperation than in opposition.”¹⁶   A frequently cited example of entrainment as it occurs in nature is the tendency of adjacent pendula, if released or activated at different times, to adjust their speed and amplitude so that they are soon moving in synchronicity.

An interesting connection here exists between this description and the writings of Dr. Rolf on the advantages of an ordered body. It also suggests one common view of why Rolfing works. The reasoning is that since bodies prefer the most economical and efficient manner of movement and since one of Rolfing’s primary goals is to create economy of movement, then, once the body learns this more efficient pattern (in other words, once these patterns are entrained), the body will “choose” this more efficient mode of movement and will tend to return to it automatically.
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Continuation of the article by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

The ideas of Tolle have a strong resonance with a much earlier esoteric philosopher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff who integrated Eastern tenets with his uniquely confrontational approach to enlightenment. In his hagiographic study of Gurdjieff and his philosphy, John Shirley frequently affirms this mystic’s belief that we must go through the body to attain enlightenment.

For Gurdjieff, to be sure, the human body is the crucible of transmutation. An active work with turning attention to the sensations of the body – combined with taking conscious ‘impressions’ of one’s inner and outer state – is the beginning of the transmutation that creates a lasting soul.¹¹

Jennifer Hecht, the author of an ambitious consideration of the history of doubt in religious thought, offers another perspective on this somatic path to enlightenment in her discussion of renunciation as taught in the Hindu faith. She says, in part:

The Hindu notion of meditation is essentially that when we can manage silence and stillness, we get a glimpse of our real self. . . . To be at peace we must clear away everything that is not the true inner self. This ‘everything’ includes one’s own body in particular, because this is the source of so much useless, distracting, and redundant desire.¹²

Whether the body acts as the source of distraction as the Hindus believed, the means through which we attain “no-self”, or, whether it is the wounded raging ego gnawing on the bones of problems projected into the future or recycling from its past, as Tolle argues, any discipline that takes us deeper into present moment awareness should be considered a valuable resource for all wishing to experience themselves more fully. From somatic awareness spiritual awareness may soon emerge. So, any modality that evokes and teaches awareness has the potential of being in and of itself a means of approaching the meditative state. We can therefore reasonably assume that embodied SI work done in a fully engaged and cooperative manner can evoke this state not only in the client but also in the practitioner.
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Continuation of the article written by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

If we focus too much on muscular structures, we miss the larger fascial planes that morph and alter the dynamic relationships between these structures. Conversely, swimming in the fascia without a constant eye to the mutating coastline, the rocky shoals and obdurate projectiles where the fascia binds and adheres may feel wonderful, but, in doing so, we will widely miss the mark if our primary goal is improving fascial connections in relation to what Dr. Rolf and her students call “the line” (an organizational construct that runs through the central vertical axis of the body).⁵

This fascial sensing may seem rather abstract, but it proves to be the primary way through which we not only create and sense order but also access the meditative. But before we address the meditative state, a bit more about the nature of Rolfing. Another general perception is that what we do is mechanistic and goal oriented. Many bodyworkers read and learn that Rolfing is a protocol, a pattern of sessions, logically sequenced with a series of clearly defined goals and rigidly delineated fascial territories. They also learn that there are specific techniques associated with each session and pay considerable amounts of money for one of the numerous programs and accompanying manuals out there that detail highly specific protocols for these basic sessions. They also learn that there are movement cues as well as awareness and muscular retraining exercises that accompany each hour and carefully graft these to their sessions.⁶  Furthermore, interested students of SI will find that some styles have a more psychological orientation and  include emotional work and homework questions to be filled out by the client between sessions to deepen the emotional nature of their experience of the series.
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Ray Bishop, PhD

Ray Bishop, PhD

The following is the text of an article written by my dear friend Raymond J. Bishop. Ray did his basic Rolfing® training and his RolfMovement training at the Rolf Institute for Structural Integration in 1995. He did his advanced Rolfing® training with Jan Sultan and Sally Klemm in Seattle in 2000. Ray has a Ph.D. in musicology from UNC-Chapel Hill and has published numerous articles on bodywork and music, somatic metaphor, anatomy, and structural integration history and theory. Ray passed away in December 2008 and I reprint this article here with the permission of his life partner, Carlton.

The notion of the practice of bodywork as a meditative discipline may at first seem rather peculiar. Certainly, many seasoned bodyworkers meditate, rightly believing that regular practice of any of a wealth of meditative modalities will promote an increased sense of mental clarity and calmness, and may potentially enhance the experience of everyday life as well as the quality and depth of their work. However, accepting the idea that the act of doing integrative bodywork can be both the source of meditative insight and an ideal milieu through which we move towards higher levels of consciousness will for most require a shift in paradigm of a fairly high order. This perceptual difficulty will be further magnified when applied to those therapists engaged in disciplines that are thought of as intense and whose work is generally described as deep tissue manipulation, work such as the style of structural integration called Rolfing®. That such a modality offers a gateway to “the meditative” will at first seem contradictory in the extreme owing to a number of fundamental misapprehensions about the nature and intent of this and related integrative modalities. Furthermore, the idea that those who do bodywork may choose to do so in part as a selfish desire to attain an altered mental state may seem curiously at odds with the altruism which we associate with those drawn to healing touch modalities. Yet, we will argue for the virtues of this type of selfishness (Ayn Rand, notwithstanding).

Any effort to advance arguments such as those addressed here must suffer from the proliferating misperceptions of integrative bodywork as well as from the ever-present fear that such an argument will lapse into a New Age double-speak, a nebulous metaphysical languaging, which, once introduced, would inevitably weaken our argument’s credibility among those more technically minded. Despite all these potential pitfalls, this is precisely what we will attempt. Our approach is two-fold. The first prong of this sharply taloned yet gentle beast is to clarify the nature of the work through which we hope to attain this meditative state (the medium being much more than the massage) and the second is to suggest some reasons why such a relationship is not only possible but virtually inevitable once we approach the work with the proper mindset.
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