It’s the age-old conundrum—which came first, the chicken or the egg? Similarly, as a student of Rolfing forty-odd years ago, we debated the question, “does structure determine function or does function determine structure?” Just as you can’t separate the body from the mind and vice versa, it is difficult to resolve the function/structure debate. I have had many years of experiencing clients prove both sides during my time as a Rolfer.
Which Comes First?
Several years ago, a client thought his teenage son would benefit from what he was learning and experiencing in his own Rolfing series. I soon got started with the son’s sessions and found the fourteen-year-old to be quiet, shy, and initially somewhat uninterested in what we were doing. A few sessions into the ten-session series, though, there was a noticeable change in the child’s behavior at home, at school, and in his interactions with me. He was more open, more talkative, doing better in school, and, to his parents, he seemed happier. The constant slumping at his desk, fists under chin to hold his head up, causing back problems and pain, had shifted.
As he sat more comfortably upright he was more awake, more alert, and more attentive in school. He was happy when he came to our sessions and had more confidence in his budding personality and social life. Was his structure determining his function, or was his function determining
The same question applies to a current Rolfing client of mine. I am currently working with a woman who has a great deal of physical and emotional trauma from her past and is working through deep personal loss. She is in all-encompassing pain and has a difficult time being grounded and centered in her life. She was very athletic in her early life, trained as a gymnast and taught that competing at a high level means you don’t acknowledge your pain, you move past it. She is therefore now dealing with old injuries, old neglect and abuse, and current heartache; her body is rigid and stuck in imbalance. Over our sessions, I can see her emerging. She is sleeping better, more grounded, in less pain; her body is softer, less resistant, and more responsive to our hands-on work together.
Peel Back Your Layers
Another current client has been dealing with issues of a recent divorce and years of dealing with an emotionally abusive, manipulative mother. My client—a smart, successful woman—had heard that Rolfing can bridge that gap between psychological wellness and integrating those changes into physical wellness. After years of bracing herself against the onslaught of emotional confusion and terror, she was ready for change.
Our first session was very difficult. The entire left side of her body was much tighter than the right side; it was as she was split in two. The hands-on work was very hard for her to let in, which created more resistance and presented as pain. I was happy to see her for session two and was pleasantly surprised when, in session three, she was loose and open and even laughing through the session. This time her right side was more stuck, which signified that the layers of the body were releasing and we were getting to the next layer.
To a Rolfer, the body is seen as analogous to an onion, with many layers. There is a plan for each session within the framework of the ten sessions I hold with a client. We start on the superficial layers over the first three sessions, then move to the deeper core layers over the middle four sessions. The last three sessions work with integrating all the body layers so that the client moves easily and with fluidity, not like a loose bag of bones. I am constantly in awe as I watch my clients peel back their layers and rid themselves of the past, the unwanted patterns and stuck body parts that come from injury, abuse, surgery, and years of misuse.
Change Is Possible
To sit comfortably without physical pain is a dream that truly can be achieved. I’ll watch a client “get it” in the second session when we do the structural bodywork and then the instruction on how to sit in a way that has them feel supported by their own body. No stress sitting! No back pain! No shoulders holding that position!
We are not born with owners’ manuals. When you buy a new car, you can look up all the bells and whistles and know what every knob or button does. As children, we mimic our parents and have a conditioned response. If a parent walks like a duck, with feet splayed out, so do we! We learn by observing. In many cases, my clients make conscious choices to let go of that history of learned behavior and create their own physical reality.
Although we may not be able to separate the function vs. structure question, we do know that change is possible!
Sharon Sklar is in her 41st year of private practice as a Certified Advanced Rolfer. State licensed and the only Rolfer in Central CT, Sharon works with direct manipulation of the soft tissue of the body and movement re-education over a ten-session series to help her clients feel freer, get more balanced, and reduce chronic pain. Great for athletes, children, and adults recovering from the stress, injuries, or traumas of life. Inquiries are encouraged! Call 860.561.4337 for more info or to schedule a consultation.