A few weeks ago I handed over three bound copies of my doctoral thesis to an administrator at the University of Sussex. It’s done. (It’s not entirely over, of course: the thesis has yet to be examined, and there will certainly be corrections to be made. There’s a missing comma on page twenty, for starters.)
To all of my clients who patiently put up with me in those final weeks of thesis writing: thank you. I am now back at full strength, offering my full range of appointment times (typically Monday-Saturday in London, and Sundays in Luton), and beginning to make exciting plans for the future of London Rolfing.
In the meantime I am also really delighted to announce that I have been invited to stay at Lumen for the foreseeable future, having moved in last April. Lumen continues to be a wonderful place to try Rolfing: a beautiful, light-filled community space that has only improved since the opening of its new café, run by Black Olive Cooks, who offer coffees, teas, freshly-cooked lunches and a diet-defeating cake trolley from 8am-4pm. Many of my clients have told me how lovely a venue Lumen is, and now that summer is (almost) here I can re-open the beautiful skylight in my room on sunny days.
The weeks and months in which I inched towards the completion of my thesis required me to pause writing for the blog in order to concentrate fully on the task at hand. It also made me think a lot about the way I work, and about the nature of process: of what it means to be in the middle of something, or heading towards the end. For a very long time I was ‘doing’ a PhD (or so I said) – planning it, worrying about it, all the while maintaining fairly epic levels of procrastination – but nowhere near completion. Someone told me once that a PhD is never really ‘completed’, only abandoned at a particular moment of its incompletion. It’s a good joke, and it certainly feels about right. Getting it to hand-in (as a proxy for completion) entailed laying down a desire for perfection while cultivating my commitment: to commit thoughts to paper as best I could, to accept that it would finally be this piece of writing and not another, an imperfect thing subject to someone else’s scrutiny.
One of the things that most attracted me to Rolfing was the way that it foregrounds and values a process as a part of the work. For all that there is a deeply improvisational aspect to Rolfing, it is not intended – in Ida Rolf’s original formulation – to be endlessly open-ended: she articulated the goals and the ‘recipe’ of the individual ten sessions to provide a framework for the work and to delineate a period of time – ten Rolfing ‘hours’ – in which to try to get something done, to move something on. For both client and practitioner, the ten series provides a sequence of opportunities – to get to know each other, to work systematically around the body, to make experiments and observe results – that seems to be enough for most people to say that something changed for the better when they tried Rolfing. Closing at the tenth session makes it possible to bracket and digest the overall experience, even where it leaves things undone, or new questions to be addressed. Some clients find it helpful to keep a journal of their ten series, tracking the frequency and severity of their muscular aches and pains, or noting thoughts and emotional themes that seem to have played out during their Rolfing ten series. Ida Rolf once remarked that she needed to remind herself to factor in a crucial ingredient in the therapeutic process: the ‘compound essence of time’. But she also wrote in places of punctuation – typically after sessions 3, 7 and finally 10 – to provide moments of pause, completion, and ‘integration’.
I’ve recently been reading The Therapeutic Pause in Osteopathy and Manual Therapy, by Louise Tremblay. She describes the ‘somatosensory integration time’ – in other words, a pause – between intervention and effect, in which the body is able to make use of the treatment it has received. In some practices this spacing of the treatment is named (e.g. the ‘stillpoint’ in osteopathy), or formalised in technique (e.g. in Bowen therapy). In yoga, the Sanskrit word ‘kumbhaka’ names the brief pause that the body takes between exhaling and the next inhalation: existentially, one might consider it the moment of faith, in which we just have to trust that there will still be air for us in a moment’s time. In Rolfing, we talk about integration, and indeed, Ida Rolf’s original name for her work was ‘structural integration’, a phrase still used today as an umbrella term for a number of closely related therapies that all sprang from her work. But what does integration mean?
Formally, the last three sessions form the ‘integration series’ that follows on from the two distinct, earlier phases (sessions 1-3 are traditionally the ‘sleeve’ sessions; sessions 4-7 the ‘core’ sessions). In this last phase, we aim to bring what has been done so far to completion, and to get the work to ‘stick’. In the final analysis, Rolfing is about change: we’re not trying to get our clients addicted to a lifelong cycle of weekly or monthly treatments, and I believe that the ten series is one of the ways in which Rolfers demonstrate our professional integrity.
We also ‘integrate’ at the level of the individual session, and this can be done in a variety of ways: by spending a few minutes at the neck, using gentle cranial techniques; or doing a ‘pelvic lift’ (a sustained, gentle hold of the sacrum); sometimes through brief seated back work, a short movement exercise or visualisation. Sometimes all that is needed is to bring the client’s attention to the way their body feels in comparison with how they felt earlier. I always spend a few minutes at the end of my sessions checking in with my client to ensure that they do not go away feeling ungrounded, ‘spacey’, or imbalanced. At the same time, I know that the work of integration – the therapeutic pause in which the body and mind make sense of new experience and information – is not finally measured in minutes but in days, months and years. Bringing the body into better alignment and greater balance (of muscle and nervous tone) is the work that keeps on working: it doesn’t stop when you walk out of your Rolfing ten series, but goes on affecting the way your body responds to daily life, to your workout, run or yoga class.
Three very long-standing and respected U.S. Rolfers – Jeffrey Maitland, Michael Salveson, and Jan Sultan – wrote a paper devising several principles of Rolfing. They include the principle of ‘closure’, suggesting that ‘every session or series of sessions has a beginning, middle, and end’. Jung (whose work I don’t claim to know well) draws a distinction between perfection and completion (using a word that can denote both meanings interchangeably in German), suggesting that we mistakenly look for perfection in a sphere – human life – in which perfectibility is simply the wrong metric. In June I will have my viva, the traditional meeting for examination and ‘defence’ of a thesis. While I know it isn’t perfect, I hope it is nevertheless – more or less – complete.