How Does Advanced Structural Bodywork Compare With Other Styles of BodyWork?

Rolfing®  (Structural Integration)

Rolfing® is the Grandparent of many modern BodyWork therapies, especially those known as “structurally oriented” methods. Like all (or most) grandparents, Rolfing deserves to be, and is, hopefully, respected for its contribution.

Yet any method is also, ideally and of necessity, continually modified and improved upon. That is part of the evolutionary process throughout all of nature, human nature and human history. Otherwise, it risks becoming obsolete.

Our work (Advanced Structural Bodywork), initially developed from the trainings of Daniel Blake (a direct student of Ida P. Rolf). It is, hopefully, a worthy and improved descendant of that method.

Daniel had been trained and certified by Ida Rolf as a Rolfer, but left the Rolf Institute when he disagreed with some of the basic tenets of Rolfing.

In the spirit of refinement and innovation, after a quest to seek further training from other experts in therapeutic bodywork, Daniel developed his own system called Structural Bodywork, of which he taught several programs in the 1980s.

The 10-Session Format

The Rolfing Series is based on a pre-designed, 10 session format or “recipe” in which each Client goes through relatively the same process as all clients; essentially the same moves in the same sequence. Rolfers also say (or did at one time, anyway) the sequence is set up such that you are “taken apart” in the first seven sessions and put back together in the last three sessions.

Although there are a growing number of Rolfers who are diverging somewhat, others significantly, many of them adhere to this original system.

This is an interesting Sales Pitch! If you only get one to seven of the first seven sessions, you will be taken apart, but not be put back together again! … Who would want to be left dismantled?

So there’s a built in incentive to get all ten sessions. And if things are not going so well during the first seven, you can always say it’s because you’ve not yet gotten the last three sessions.

Roots Of The 10 Session Format?
— Does One Size Fit … Anyone? —

Another questionable aspect is I’ve had Rolfer’s tell me the 10 session format was a “spiritually derived” process.

Yet other Rolfers, who were “on the scene” in the early days when the Rolf Institute was first formed, say the 10 sessions were developed because Ida was not good at articulating her experience. Even though she studied a lot of hard science such as chemistry, she was, apparently, more intuitive and could not really explain how and why she chose to work where she did with clients.

With no effective assessment process available to Rolfing students, they needed some process to offer, otherwise it would have been difficult to sell the training program. Creating the 10 Session Format meant students did not have to try to figure out what to do. They only had to execute the standard moves, “the recipe,” as if everyone needed the same basic manipulations.

We, on the other hand, do not engage in “one size fits all” thinking or therapy. In fact, because of structural & musculoskeletal individuality, “one size fits all” is really “one size fits NO one.”

The 10 Session Format is good enough for certain purposes and works well enough — to varying degrees with different people. However, since there are many people whose bodies do the exact opposite of others, the pre-designed format is of necessity for the “statistically probable” human being.

Anterior Versus Posterior Pelvis?
Increased or Decreased Lumbar Lordosis?

For instance, during the 1960s through 90s, many practitioners and systems believed a majority of people had an anterior (forward) tilted pelvis and an excess of lumbar lordosis (excessive forward curve in the lower spine). Many illustrations in many sources showed drawings of the pelvic bowl tipping forward and pouring their contents out and down, producing pot belly, love handles, and forward head posture.

One very well know teacher of neuromuscular therapy had trigger point charts printed up showing how (allegedly) a forward tilted pelvis was the root cause of a forward head and neck posture.

Yet many other practitioners have diverged from that formerly common assessment, now believing even more people suffer from a LOSS of lumbar curve and a posterior (rearward) tilted pelvis, not anterior.

Whether this difference is one of better assessment skills, or changes in the postural habits of the population is a really good question we’ll save for another time.

But if a therapist assumes a standard, prearranged format for structural evaluation and treatment on everyone, in designing the therapeutic process they must select one of those patterns: too much or too little lumbar curve, and forward or rearward tilted pelvis; then base their strategy around that assumption.

Or else treat everyone as if they’re neutral. (Which would actually be safer than risking the well-being of that small percentage of people whom are  out of alignment to the extreme in the direction opposite to what you’re assuming.)

Yet as of this writing, to my knowledge, the standard Rolf® Ten Sessions does not differentiate along these lines.

(Please let me know if you have a more updated perspective on that!)

Statistically Probable People?

If you fit into their preselected, statistically probable pattern, one can get great results.

On the other hand, we know there are government mandated “Nutritional Minimum Daily Requirements” applying to no one particular individual on Earth because of significant biochemical (nutritional) individuality. Such people need their diet and supplemental plans modified for their individual needs.

Likewise, there is indeed structural (musculo-skeletal) individuality, too. For many, compliance to a “standard assumption” about postural imbalance is counterproductive. For a few, potentially dangerous.

(That’s if, in this case, you’ve a severely posterior tilted pelvis and loss of lumbar curve where immense pressure is upon the lumbar vertebrae, discs and facet joints. Doing anything under the assumption of too much lumbar curve would then make them even MORE posterior tilted, with even MORE pressure on their spinal structures. … NOT a good idea!)

The Advanced Structural Bodywork Viewpoint

Postural Assessments & Assumptions

It is, therefore, our objective to perform sessions, or train new clinical massage therapists / structural bodyworkers, to analyze Clients on a person-by-person, posture-by-posture, session-by-session basis, so each therapeutic move, each muscle release, is tailor-made for that particular person and their particular structure at that moment in time.

And we have a very specific method of postural assessment to accomplish that objective.

And we prefer to have each session be independent of all the others. Take them apart and put them back together again, as much as possible, in the same session, even if it’s their only one.

Consequently, a thorough Advanced Structural Bodywork session often takes about two or even three or more hours to complete. … especially in a severe case of injury or trauma in the near or distant past.

YES, very old injuries can still be having an immense effect on the body, even after all this time. It is not true that the human body always repairs such things with no outside intervention.

Physicians and therapists who write off a patients’ old injuries as not having any possible effect on their patient’s current condition is a tragic oversight, in our view.

More Time Spent

Yet results are usually quite favorable and substantial. When specifically tailored to the Client’s current condition, we might find more can be achieved with a Client’s immediate needs in one or two longer sessions than in ten, 1-hour long sessions.

(And if they feel they must sign up for ten, they might not do any.)

Frankly, many of the best sessions we’ve done were with people willing to commit to a three or four hour session. Many Clients have received two or more sessions per week for the first two to four weeks, and, a handful with somewhat extreme situations have received as much as six hours per day for up to ten days.

A well constructed 3 to 4 hour session usually gets more done than 5 or 6 (or more) one hour sessions.

One reason for that is their body is exposed to their usual stresses, strains and postural habits in between sessions. Their body then has more opportunity to return to their old habits. Moving them dramatically forward in one longer session opens more doors of self awareness and balance, and can make it less likely to return to old habits so quickly.

BTW, many of our clients have had many different bodywork sessions, some of them in many places all around the world. Yet they said our approach was unique among all the work they had from many different practitioners.

NO Pain = MORE Gain

Another significant difference between Advanced Structural Bodywork and traditional Rolfing is in general, many Rolfers do not usually work too consistently or directly with the Clients’ Edges of pain, fear & resistance. Although many Rolfers have become far more sensitive to this issue, reports are that even modern Rolfing often hurts either a little or a lot, depending on the Rolfer.

We don’t think tolerating any negative sensations is necessary, or advisable, to achieve results.

The Exception is sometimes a client already has so much pain they can barely be touched without triggering more pain. This often require some finesse and more time waiting for the client to respond. And yes, there is sometimes some discomfort.

But when the client realizes it is not the therapy causing the pain, but only their own response to the input, they are usually okay with it.

HOWEVER, we always back off as far as possible to get the client to a sensation level they like or are neutral about.

This has occasionally required, literally, the therapist to hold their hands several inches OFF the client’s body while the client relaxed and got used to what they were feeling and what their fears were. (Sometimes fear triggers physical sensations and even pain.)

We find the best results come when the Client is well within their Edges of Intensity without slipping over the Edge into pain. This requires close communication between Client and Therapist; to the point the Client feels in total control of the pressure of their therapists fingers, hands, elbows, or whatever.

We want Clients to INVITE the sensations, not FIGHT the sensations. … But they need to be telling the truth about it, too.

Participatory versus Spectator Health Care

When this Client / Therapist Communication is accomplished, the end of session feedback is often something like “I feel  this was something I participated in, rather than something that was done to me.”

This ideal result shows up when the practice of BodyWork approximates the practice of Yoga in both the physical and mental as well as interpersonal modes.

In fact, Advanced Structural Bodywork was originally developed as an externally applied form of physical, mental & relational yoga*. The “external” part is the hands of the therapist are the “inputs” or mechanism of change rather than a Client performing their own stretch, exercise or other technique.

Yet when it comes to the function of the nervous system, many affects on nerves from muscles are similar or the same. And this is important, as the primary objective of the therapist contacting the muscles is NOT to “fix” the muscles or even stretch them.

The contact or stretching is done primarily to stimulate certain nerve endings in the muscles and surrounding soft tissues. The nerve endings then “talk to” the central nervous systems and brain, spontaneously producing the desired results … that being a deep, sustained relaxation & resulting lengthening of the soft tissues.

* “Yoga” is defined in our system as the Quality of Attention we pay to whatever we’re doing, or whatever is happening, in that moment. …

We see yoga as inherent in the Essence of Being Human, not some thing from somewhere else, let alone another country. Yet it usually operates quality at an unconscious level of most people. Both Conscious Stretching and Hands-On Bodywork are ways to make this essence more conscious and therefore more useful and effective as a tool of being human.

We therefore do not utilize any of the cultural, philosophical nor religious aspects of the East Indian approach to yoga.

Fascia versus Muscle as Primary Source of Postural Distortion

Another aspect of Rolfing is their strong focus on fascial restrictions as the source of postural and structural imbalance. This is the main area where Daniel Blake disagreed with Ida. Since the fascia as prime trouble maker idea is shared by other systems, we’ll address that topic in the next article on Myofascial Release.

Myofascial Release