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November 2010

Space for What?

I enjoyed the chance to preview an article about creativity that Darrell Sanchez wrote for the International Association of Structural Integrators, and I passed it along to my daughter who received the ten-series last year. "I get what he's saying about 'lived space' relating to symbolic images." she told me. "After the session where my upper chest was worked on, I kept thinking for a week that the new opened-up place I was feeling inside myself was 'sacred space.'"

What is it inside of us that Structural Integration is making room for anyway? What does "sacred space" hold? The Divine? Our own spirit and life? The intersection of the two?

An image that has stayed present with me this summer and fall is the leaf-hands of the maple tree with their fingers reaching outward, each tree like God with ten thousand open hands bestowing gifts. "We don't have enough room inside us to receive it all," I think as my footsteps crunch over crumbly heaps of unraked, unused, unappreciated maple leaves on our lawn.

Maybe what Structural Integration gives us is more room in our bodies to receive what life has to offer: room to breathe in, appreciate and use a few more of the Ten Thousand Gifts than we otherwise might. Maybe the "sacred" spaces it makes in us are channels where life, and creativity, can flow a river.


July 2010

Encounter with Gravity: Reflections on Rolfing SI and Aging from Chautauqua, New York

Chautauqua, New York is in 2010 just as William James, the father of psychology, described it in 1899; "sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness, pervade the air." It is an idyllic little town on the edge of a lovely lake, blossoming with hydrangeas, lilies and good will, and enjoying irreproachable weather (at least during the summer week I've spent here). Cars are mostly banished to out-of-town lots, leaving the garden-lined streets for people, bicycles and the occasional golf cart or scooter. The sweet sense of quiet and calm is broken only by the ringing of a biker's bell, or by waves of uplifting live music - soaring instrumentals rising from the amphitheater or harmonious chorus strains wafting through the open windows of "church" houses.

The four themes of Chautauqua are art, music, knowledge and religion, and with the exception of the many small groups of children playing in the parks or weaving through the streets on their bikes, most people here are happily engaged in pursuing one or the other of these through attending lectures, classes, concerts, or services of every possible flavor. Creativity is valued; performances often include a premiere of an original composition or newly choreographed dance.

James lamented the lack of problems in Chautauqua, those problems which call forth the human heroism that gives life zest and meaning. The town has been populated for over a century by successive generations of temperate, broad-minded, peace-loving ministers who have followed their own good advice so well that the little world they have created is a haven of tranquility and wisdom. Nonetheless, this week has brought me face to face with a basic human problem which I am fully confronting for the first time, and which results in unsung heroism playing out here before my eyes, contrary to James' observations.

The problem is gravity.

I'm here with a group of about 30 older adults, "road scholars" from all over the country, as my mother's guest. Our program is a smorgasbord of live ballet, symphony, opera and other music, along with lectures on all of the above as well as on photography and philosophy. We are staying at the Atheneum, a grand old hotel overlooking the lake. The hotel was built in 1881 and has housed 10 U.S. Presidents over the years, from Grant to Clinton. Its spaces are generous and comfortable, with high ceilings and beautiful views from the many large windows. Our room overlooks the amphitheater; in the afternoons we are serenaded by music from the rehearsal for the evening's performance. The décor is in line with Chautauqua's themes and heritage, wholesome and tasteful. The food is wonderful and the staff solicitous.

But the Atheneum has an issue with gravity.

For nearly 130 years gravity has been slowly and steadily at work on the old hotel and the ground beneath it, until a definite, quite noticeable tilt has been firmly established. Many of the chests and desks against the walls in the hallways are consequently ungrounded, leaning back on only 2 feet. The square of the doors has been so affected that the rooms have long triangles of open space at the top or bottom of the door, depending on which side of the tilt they are hung on. And when heading to the bathroom at night in the dark, I only have to sense the slope to make it to my destination.


The Atheneum's issue is minor, however, compared to our group of aging road scholars, most of whom also demonstrate the impingements of gravity. What an eye-opener to see, all at once in a single group, the long-term outcome of the relatively minor structural compensations I have been focusing on as a student at RISI*. Unaddressed and given enough time, I see now that these minor issues are inexorably heading toward distortion, joint deterioration and eventually deformity with the attendant fatigue and suffering.

At the same time, here is the heroism James missed in Chautauqua. Instead of the whining and complaint one might anticipate from such disorganized silhouettes, the "essential transformational necessity" is largely in evidence in their undaunted curiosity, thirst for learning, enjoyment of the arts and interest in others. Some necks and heads are bent so far forward that it is an effort to look up, and yet when they do, eyes are shining with mental vigor. I hope that at their age I will have a mind as sharp, be as interested in life, with as large a capacity for enjoyment. Once again I find myself objecting to Ida Rolf's condescension toward crooked people as less evolved!

But I wouldn't wish for a body like most of these and realize more clearly in seeing them what a gift Rolfing structural integration has been. Whatever my structure may be like at 80 or 90, it will be dramatically more comfortable to live in than it would have been had I never encountered Rolfing SI. Which brings up a question which is haunting me here:

Why don't these people know about Rolfing SI??!!

In Boulder, at least, most people have heard of it, even if many in ignorance refer to it as "that excruciatingly painful kind of massage." Here, I have yet to meet someone who has even heard of it. Everyone in our group could easily afford the ten-series - they've spent more than that for their week here at Chautauqua - and surely it would change their lives. Or would it? Can Rolfing SI really help them, or is it too late? Is it possible to become so crooked and distorted that instead of untangling and organizing their structures the Rolfing SI might only make things worse? What special precautions must be taken with the delicate, fragile frames of the elderly?

In the amphitheater a "space photo-journalist" is showing us breathtaking images of distant reaches of space, where we can see billions of years back in time to when galaxies were forming. She describes the beginning of the universe, a few hundred thousand years after the big bang. There is a disorganized soup of primordial matter, but there is also a force which is slowly and gently interacting with it, a force that we still do not understand. Over millions of years it patiently assembles atoms into molecules, pulls molecules into swirling dust, into stars and planets. It is gravity, she tells us, that created the universe, gravity that is responsible for the organization of matter.

Ida Rolf said that "Gravity is the therapist." Does this same gravity that created the universe then also attend to the reorganization of the human body in structural integration, pulling people down only to lift them back up again? What is gravity anyway, this continuing mystery that bends us as surely as it bends time and space? And if it is the key to this art which I am trying to learn, shouldn't we have a "gravity day" at RISI to at least round out our vague notions?

Creator, destroyer, friend, enemy.... the final question following me home from Chautauqua is this: Over the course of a lifetime, does gravity eventually pull us all down? Or through structural integration, might one's structure stay comfortably in tune with gravity through one's seventies, eighties and beyond, until other destructive forces take us from the earth? And if this is even partially true, then why don't these people know about Rolfing SI??!!

*Written while a student at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration®

Certified Rolfer Vivian Gettliffe's practice is located in Boulder, Colorado, in a sunlit studio at 2970 Washington Street.
Boulder is a world center for Rolfing S.I. and the home of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration®.

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