“Gravity is the river we never step out of.” – Unknown
by Chris Hayden
From the very beginning of our lives, and of life on Earth, gravity has played a powerful role in shaping us. Leaving our aquatic homes for dry land, then making the leap to standing upright, we contended against this unseen current. Having long learned to negotiate it, it is only when we return to the water for a swim that we remember how much power it normally has over us!
For most of us, this fundamental relationship with gravity is an uneasy one beneath the surface. The twists and turns of life, along with our own habits of body and mind, have over time unbalanced our body structures. This means that we use more effort to stand, walk, and sit upright, causing strain and pain in various parts of our bodies. Our imbalances quickly become so much a part of us that we don’t even recognize them as a cause of our suffering.
The patterns of imbalance often show up as constrictions and thickening in our connective tissue, which includes fascia and myofascia and holds our body together. Fascia also provides a barrier against injury and infection, as well as a gateway for cells to receive nutrition, detoxify, and communicate with each other, so when fascia doesn’t flow freely it means that these other functions are impeded.
On an emotional level, when the body is fundamentally unbalanced, we may experience greater tension, ungroundedness, and insecurity, which in turn makes our relationships with others more difficult. Our bodies seem to “lock” tension and emotions within them, inhibiting the free flow of our emotional lives as well as our physical ones.
Considering all this, it’s not surprising that a healing art was created entirely around restoring our balance with gravity. Ida Rolf, a Ph. D. biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute in the 1930s, developed Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) after mainstream medicine failed to help her and her children with their health problems, including scoliosis and spinal arthritis. She embarked on a personal quest, studying healing modalities such as yoga and osteopathy, and learned to view the body holistically. This led her to realize the overwhelming importance of gravity, and to the remarkable discovery that she could align a body with gravity by moving its connective tissue around with her hands and arms. Soon, she began teaching others what she had learned.
Since then, Rolfing SI has evolved into a sophisticated system of bodywork, movement explorations, and awareness exercises, which are all used as tools to create and maintain this alignment. For example, a Certified Rolfer™, as practitioners are called, might release fascial restrictions around the muscles of your spine with his hands, and then help you engage your muscles in a more balanced way, by coaching you through a combination of breathing techniques, visualization, and movement. This way, the fascia around your spine is less likely to become restricted again over time, and less likely to pull your body out of alignment. Another time, your Rolfer might help you gain more awareness and movement in your toes, to help you stand with more support and walk more smoothly. A Rolfer’s job is to see where and how to work to organize your overall structure, so that it can function with greater ease, freedom, and power.
The benefits of an integrated body include reduced pain and discomfort, fewer work-related injuries, enhanced athletic or music performance, improved posture, deepened yoga or martial arts practice, and emotional freedom. Perhaps most importantly, you gain a truer awareness of your own body, which you can take with you in whatever you do.
Chris Hayden, Certified Rolfer, practices at the Helios Center in Menomonie. For more information on Rolfing Structural Integration, visit his website at haydenintegration.com.