An Artist’s View
How one artist experienced the Rolf Structural Integration process.
One might experience anything that is possible to experience. Below are the experiences of an artist and massage therapist as she went through the basic 10 series. This is to give you and example of what was possible for this one person. No one’s experience is the same nor should it be. We all have different pasts and different strategies for dealing with the world that we find ourselves in.
I am a practicing massage therapist and ever since I heard of Rolf Structural Integration in massage school I’ve felt compelled to experience it for myself. Because of scoliosis had surgery on my back when I was thirteen to fuse most of my thoracic vertebrae and implant a steel rod. During my life I have experienced several emotional traumas. Since then my muscles have gotten tighter and more rigid. Often I realized I didn’t have to be this way and hoped that one day I would take steps towards improving my health.
I immediately felt comfortable with Scott. This helped because walking around in front of a stranger in my underwear is a bit awkward. As soon as we started the first session I realized I was already becoming aware of my body in ways I never had.
Scott said we were going to start with my breath. I thought that was perfect because I had been becoming aware of the fact that I could not take very deep breaths. I had felt as if I had an invisible metal armor vest on.
After a little while of Scott pressing, stretching, and pulling my flesh I could feel some change. At the time I could not describe it well. What it felt like was that my right rib cage had expanded and seemed to be resting more lightly on the table than my left.
I began to feel lightheaded and half expected to cry. After a while I began to tingle all over. More precisely it felt like a mild vibration and a strong tingling in my hands. Throughout the session Scott reminded me to breathe into the area he was working. When it was very uncomfortable that helped a lot. While he was working on my chest the tone of my breathing changed. I slowly began to notice I could take more air in than usual. Except it was relatively harder when I breathed through my nose. Even that improved.
After the session I felt lighter and I noticed a definite increase in the volume of air I could take in. I felt baffled. I wanted to understand how it could possibly be that I could improve so much in just one session. I also noticed that, when I buttoned my pants, they felt looser. I asked how that could be. Scott said I may have lengthened a bit from released compression on my torso
The following morning I felt even more improvement in my ability to breath. I was so thrilled I decided to go for a run and try out my new and improved lungs. In the past I had often gotten out of breath easily and when I ran I would usually notice a restriction in my ability to breathe. This time it was not my breathing that held me back it was my thighs and hips. I just simply was more aware of my legs. Later that day I felt a mild level of fear rising in me that I have decided is from recognizing myself changing. Also, I believe on some level I may be a little afraid of further change. It’s as if I’d rather stay the same because it is what I know even though on another level I am not really comfortable in my body.
The session was shorter this time. I also felt more comfortable with Scott now. So much so that I was sleepy and relaxed even though some of the sensations of the work were quite uncomfortable. Scott worked mostly on my feet and lower legs. I walked around the room several times to tune into how I felt. I did notice some slight changes in the pattern that my foot took when it struck the floor. There seem to be more change in my left foot than in my right.
It’s been a week and a half since the first session. In yoga class I noticed, while sustaining a squatting position for several minutes that there seems to be a structural difference between my feet. Just below the second toe on my right foot the bones seem to protrude downward more than the other foot. This made me wonder if this is contributing to my tendency to put more pressure on the outside of that foot. One thing is for sure my body awareness, has increased greatly.
This session was the most intense so far. I experienced more of what some might call pain or physical discomfort. Although the sensations were intense I managed to relax through them quite well with focusing on my breathing. I consider myself to be someone who has a high threshold for pain but this was the first time I was able to -~ relax through so much so easily.
Scott asked me often how I was doing. I replied mostly with “ok”. Then, after a while, I began to feel light headed and trembly inside. While he was working around my ribs, chest, and shoulders I also began to feel fear surfacing in my body. But I didn’t feel afraid of Scott or anything in particular. In the past I would usually analyze this feeling and want to attach it to something. This time I didn’t even feel inclined to do so. It was later that I realized that I just let the feelings come up and go.
I told Scott that I felt kind of scared and fearful, but I also felt brave about it and wanted. to work through it. The best way I could describe what was happening is that it seemed as though there were ghosts of memories leaving my body. I felt totally content to let them go without any judgment. For the rest of the day I felt very peaceful.
Metaphorically speaking, I felt as though I was sloughing off an old skin.
Wow! This day felt even more intense physically but not so much emotionally. That was fine. I thought it was still great. While Scott worked around my hips and buttocks I recalled events when I had been physically and/or sexually abused as a young child and as a teenager. The thoughts were not upsetting at all. It was merely clear in my present awareness. Then I was thinking about giving birth to my two sons. There have been some very difficult assaults to that part of my body in my lifetime. It is no wonder it is the most sensitive area of my body.
After this last session I have this new awareness of my physical and emotional self. I’ve been working for quite some time to heal from past hurts and have been successful only to a point. It’s as if a layer of my emotional armor has come off but there is this layer of deeper armor that doesn’t want to budge. Intuitively I feel as if I can’t massage it away or think it away or even cry it away. I simply have to let it go. I’m not quite sure I know what that means or how to do it. Maybe silent meditation or prayer. Sometimes it feels like little chunks might be falling away to beginning to reveal some truth to me. Like a flower coated in concrete.
I thought I was getting used to this Rolfing stuff. I’ve been getting more in touch with my body and have been able to relax more through discomfort but this session was challenging.
I am glad I feel safe with Scott because I might have otherwise felt more vulnerable. He said we were going to work on the core today. O.K, that sounded fine, although I had some suspicion that it may be more intense than last time. Well sure enough it was. Scott started out working on and around my abdomen and ribs. Now I see why it is referred to as the core. I often think of that area of the body as the center of emotions.
I started out feeling o.k. I was breathing very well. Then, as the session progressed, I found it harder to relax through the work. The sensations I was experiencing around my ribs especially felt somewhat like what I identify as being tickled. I really don’t like being tickled. As I have gotten older, I dislike it even more. When I was a young, child people would tickle me sometimes until I wet my pants. They would think it was funny but my feelings were hurt and I trusted them less.
I began to feel very trembly and started having involuntary twitching and contracting in some parts of my body. Sometimes breathing was difficult and I felt like crying. I wanted to curl up in a fetal position and guard my guts. When I was an adolescent I was often alone at night and felt scared and sad. I remember sitting in the hallway, pulling my knees to my chin and rocking back and forth crying and feeling scared.
Scott often asked me how I was doing. I usually answered, “O.K.”. I would also tell him what it was that I was feeling when I could describe it, i.e.. euphoric, scared or fearful. At one point in this session Scott was working on my pubic bone. I began to feel fear and insecurity welling up inside of me. Though I was ready to experience those feelings. They did get me in touch with some sexual abuse memories. I had some sharp stabbing pains in the left side of my vagina and through my lower abdomen. Even as I type these words I am having a difficult time hitting the right keys.
I feel more in touch with how I’ve protected myself all these years. One way is by keeping fat around my abdomen most of my life. I tend to reach most of my goals soon after I set them, but controlling my weight has been very difficult for me. Some time ago I discovered that on a deep level I didn’t want to give up that my abdominal fat. In a strange way I think it insulates and protects me. My feelings are in there in my guts. Yet I’ve been embarrassed by it. To this day I don’t like to look at my body in the mirror nor do I like to be touched on my “belly” by my husband or past lovers.
In spite of these emotions I felt something shift in my sacrum while Scott was working on my pubic bone. Since this session, was over and I went home I have been feeling more at ease.
This session was very mild compared to the last one. The one thing that stands out for me is that I was very talkative. I wonder if it was an attempt to avoid experiencing the feelings that might have been released. I generally feel brave about confronting my fears but it seemed as though I needed a break. A lot of release in a short amount of time can feel overwhelming. Maybe I do have a higher threshold for discomfort than most but nevertheless I still have one.
I have a greater sense of resolve about past issues around fear and anger. Lately I’ve been feeling emotionally calm and patient. This is not my usual state. However there is still a low-grade feeling of anxiety. Generally I seek comfort in eating, but lately I don’t feel like eating. When I do eat I feel worse. So I am being patient. I feel as though I am better able to relax even when I begin to feel anxious. I associate this feeling with the experience of breathing and relaxing through contractions during childbirth.
I generally have a lot of attachments to how things are in my environment and often feel as though everything is my responsibility. On top of that I want to do everything perfectly and don’t want anyone to be disappointed in me. What often motivates me is my strong sense of obligation. I often feel over-stressed.
There’s hope. I am beginning to lower my standards and trying to reset my priorities. It feels selfish but my first priority is myself. For example I feel more motivated to eat healthier, and get adequate rest, and I’m working up to getting more physical exercise. I still need to spend more time alone. I believe that if I take care of myself I can take better care of my family and they will enjoy me more.
Just a week before this session, I had a brief but intense anxiety attack after seeing a movie about a couple of teenagers getting raped and murdered. For years I’d been suppressing memories of being raped myself as a child and of a friend being raped and murdered. I felt as if a lot of the fear and horror had surfaced without my permission. A mild feeling of anxiety persisted for a while.
A couple of days later the low grade feeling of anxiety began to subside. After that I felt ready to change my diet to a completely vegan one and stop eating wheat. I have been feeling for a long time this would be important in my process of healing. Now it doesn’t feel like a hardship.
Even though I feel good about these sessions I realized upon arriving at this session that I felt apprehensive. A part of me felt resistant to any further release or getting in touch with any more fear. Surprisingly, I instead felt more relaxed even through some intense sensation.
Wow! I have been wanting more time between sessions and I thought I was so tough. I usually think that I can endure intensity. Although, on an intuitive level I feel that lasting progress must be made slowly for me. One thing is becoming crystal clear I feel better sooner and longer if I make time for myself to be alone and quiet. Quiet meditation feels like what may be most beneficial. But other ways are good also. For instance morning walks are excellent. I have been walking more and that time is very good for me mentally, spiritually and physically.
I measured myself recently because I felt taller. I was wondering if it was my imagination. I was surprised to see that I in fact had gained a half an inch. But I felt as though I was even taller than that. I believe I am actually more comfortable standing more erect. I have also been losing weight but the weight doesn’t matter to me as much as feeling good. I trust that if I feel good I’ll be more inspired to take care of myself and in turn I’ll feel even better. It’s as if I have finally gotten unstuck again. I hope I stay on track.
The feeling I had mostly after this session was not of any great noticeable physical change. It was more an emotional shift. For over a year now, I have been playing with the ideas of defenselessness, detachment, and nonjudgment. I feel closer to experiencing these qualities of emotion more fully. I feel as though I can be more objective and trusting and able to let go of expectations easier. I am enjoying my two boys a whole lot more. I have been more affectionate with my husband and he is happier for it. He’s been very patient with me and has had faith in me and my ability to get healthier even when I didn’t.
I still haven’t been spending a lot more time alone but I am slowly working up to it. I am starting to schedule it into my life. But strangely I don’t feel as desperate for it as I did several months ago, though I know it is still very important.
I have been feeling lighter. As a matter of fact I’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight although I haven’t weighed myself for several months. The feeling of lightness also applies to my emotional state in general. I didn’t feel as easily stressed about day to day hassles as I did a year ago.
I still feel a sense of impatience with myself from time to time although I am learning to have patience with that aspect of myself. I believe that my theme for the year has been patience and tolerance, both with myself and others. I find myself wanting to have perfect health and clarity of thinking right now. Then I bring my focus back to acceptance. I am O.K. right now. I have come a long way.
Recently I have been eating more chocolate again. I could choose to be disappointed in myself, but at least I am not eating milk chocolate. So I say to myself there is progress. Chocolate is my first addiction. It was the thing I turned to when I was lonely as a child. As an adolescent I ate it to soothe my sadness, anger, grief, uncertainty, ambivalence, etc. Other food addictions, that came later, I don’t have anymore. So, I think it’s like an onion. I have been peeling layers away and now I’ve got this one to still let go of.
It has been a month now since the last session and I continue to be introspective. I’ve been noticing my lack of desire to receive or give a massage. I am starting to have some insight about what may be going on within me. The Structural Integration has definitely served many purposes for me. One has been to release some of my ancient locked up fear.
I have been wanting a break from the intense release and acknowledgment of difficult hidden feelings. On some level I’ve been avoiding physical touch due to a desire to slow down the pace of what feels like a transformation of myself. It’s almost as if I’ve been debilitated on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Now I have to relearn how to use some of my natural, innate abilities again.
So I have more clarity and comfort with myself. Now what do I do? Use it! Push through the difficult issues, bravely and assertively yet gently and patiently. I am the pilot. I am in the driver’s seat. I don’t have to let fear or insecurity control my decisions or actions.
I think I am almost ready to give up eating chocolate and sugar in general for the most part anyway. And I think will start doing massage again soon.
My process through the ten sessions took eight months. It was an experience that I would recommend to anyone who wants to make some long lasting changes in their lives for the better. Some changes I’ve felt are subtle and I only notice them occasionally. While others I notice on a daily basis like the fact that my breathing has improved considerably.
Some changes that I’ve been experiencing have been occurring slowly for several years. Rolfing has facilitated further movement in the direction that I want my life to go. The most profound feeling I have now is being more relaxed and more confident in my body.
A few months after the tenth session I started a new massage business in Louisa county. I have been very pleased with the enthusiasm the community has greeted me with.