Occasionally, when I’m travelling, I hear an announcement asking whether there is a nurse or doctor among the passengers, able to help someone in medical distress. Cue my partner, elbowing me in the side, suggesting facetiously that I boldly step up to offer some ‘Emergency Rolfing’.

Oh, very funny.

In idle moments I like to imagine what Emergency Rolfing might look like: ordering onlookers to ‘stand back!’ while I administer a pelvic lift or radial decompression to someone at perilous risk of losing their line: ‘Doctor! The patient has lost their front-to-back balance! Give him a session 3, stat!’

No. This is not what Rolfing is for.

Rolfing works best with long-term, ‘chronic’ conditions – issues that, as the word suggests, are marked by their relationship to Chronos, or Old Father Time. While individual Rolfers may combine their skills with other therapies better suited to acute conditions, Rolfing itself is most useful with the conditions and complaints that are the result of longer-term postural patterns and ways of doing things – walking, breathing, moving – whose only relation to emergency is their emergence, at a given moment in time, into our conscious awareness. The ‘provisional’ pattern of twenty or thirty years – say, a tendency to rounded shoulders or a tucked pelvis (frequently hiding boobs, bums and tums) – may only emerge into awareness as we notice how uncomfortable it is making us feel.

For the most part I see people who come with problems they have had for years, and for some reason they’ve decided that now is the time to change. That they’ve ‘had enough’ of their lower back pain (as if any level of back pain isn’t more than sufficient), or that their body ‘doesn’t feel as good as it used to, and now it’s time to do something about it’; that they used to be able to run a sub-4-hour marathon, or (conversely) that they wish they could: in every case, there is a relationship both to time (past injury or glory days; a future feared or hoped-for) and to change. Age and ageing is often a part of our initial conversation: I feel too young to feeling this way; or: I guess this is just a part of ageing. With women, we even call a normal aspect of the ageing process (menopause) simply: The Change, as if we weren’t changing every single moment of our lives, as if puberty and maturity and parenthood and the transition into and out of different kinds of work and seasons and relationships weren’t also change, the dotted line of continuity that takes us into a future that we do not yet know.

Change is always on the agenda at this time of the year. As ever, there’ll be a rash of ‘new year, new you’ articles on the newsstands to accompany the arbitrary demarcation of the new calendar year, with promises of weight loss, muscle gain, glossier hair, a promotion at work and probably more and better sex into the bargain. We decide to have another go at trying to become the people we’ve intended to be, or are told we ought to be, or have been in the past, or plan to be in the future. There is value in some of this (glossier hair is never a bad thing), but it is also underpinned by the idea that change is something that we can plan and manage with predictable results, that we can ‘know’ something that has not yet come into being. That the field of ‘change management’ is a settled part of the lexicon attests to the ubiquity of the cultural fantasy.

In my own (undoubtedly limited!) experience, the periods of my life that I can say, with hindsight, were characterised by change felt pretty discombobulating all the while that I was going through them. Because I was changing, I felt unmoored from a reliable sense of my identity, deeply uncertain about my future prospects, and often times frankly resistant to any experience that nudged me from my capacious and carefully tended comfort zone. I include the period of my Rolfing training firmly in this latter category (though you’ve another think coming if you imagine I am any more enthusiastic about walking around in front of my colleagues in my underwear than I ever was).

A tadpole in transition, already half-frog.

‘The tadpole would like someone to explain what is going on.’

My point here is simply that our experience of change is frequently not what we expect. Love does not always feel like love (which is to say: it often feels like very hard work indeed), and so it is with change. However positive and necessary in the longer term, change often feels very uncomfortable at the time. I am reminded of a line by the British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, that speaks precisely to the way that even normal change can seem utterly bewildering. In a memorable analogy, he writes: ‘It is as if a tadpole became very upset because it was turning into a frog. There is nothing abnormal about it; it is not an illness but a change, and the tadpole would like someone to explain what is going on’ (1). One of my Rolfing teachers opened our first day of training with the words, ‘Rolfers accompany their clients through a process of change; we do not change them.’ Ida Rolf said something similar, saying that ‘gravity’ was the therapist, not the Rolfer: it is an attempt to bring people more into contact with their own resources and possibilities, to see potential in movement and personality that might be nudged into fuller expression.

So: no Emergency Rolfing (and thank goodness: nobody wants that), but the Rolfing of Emergence, of things which come to light now, whose time it is to emerge, of new (and old) possibilities, of growth: that mysterious activity of the body and mind which tends to the emergence of something new.

London Rolfing wishes everyone a happy and restful Christmas break and a joyful 2016.

(1) Bion, W. R., 1990. Brazilian Lectures: 1973 São Paulo, 1974 Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo; London: Karnac.

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