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The Stages in Dr. Rolf’s Structural Integration – Mental and Emotional Aspects

What happens emotionally during the series?

There are two aspects to the physical process that are interesting to look at from a mental or emotional point of view.

We describe the order of the series as a process taking place from bottom to top and from outside to inside. Physically this means that the order is not starting from the head and neck, for example, such as is usually done with other methods, such as the Alexander Technique or the Trager Approach, but it actually starts from the basis of support – from the feet and ends the structural process in the neck and head.

However, at one and the same time we deal at first with the outermost layers of the structure and of the fascia so that in each of the first three sessions we mainly meet the outer layer of the entire body whereas in the next four sessions we also meet the innermost layer of the fascia and the center of the structure – the core.

So what happens in this process mentally and emotionally?

The first session
Despite what has been said above, on the first session the main focus is on the initial opening of the thorax – allowing the ribs to move a little more freely. The understanding is that without this ability of the thorax to expand slightly and take in more oxygen to the system, no change to the structure can be made. The ability to open up the thorax reflects greater containment capacity. Change requires containment of the new and without this capacity the change will not “stick”.

In the first session there is a further aspect of the physical work that creates new length in the leg through its outer side and also slightly on the back of the leg. This new length gives a clear sensation that the legs are more firmly grounded, the body’s connection to the supporting ground is starting to be built. This new length in the leg definitely gives a sensation of being taller, while at the same time this is new length which is easy to accept, it does not feel threatening simply because it comes from the outer side so that it increases the bony sensation of the pelvis and hip.


The second session
The main focus in the second session is on opening up the feet. Here too the foot gains new length, but at the same time the foot becomes broader and more flexible. It may be said that the sensation of grounding greatly increases following this session because the foot’s contact with the ground increased, broadened, became more flexible and supportive at one and the same time. Generally we cannot really feel the ground under our feet. Many feet are squashed and tension-ridden and therefore sometimes when starting this process of opening up the feet there is also pain – the pain of opening, not a pain that remains, but it hurts to open up, and it is the client that opens up, he learns what it is to open himself up by a slow and attentive movement performed with pressure that dissolves away the adhesions.

Some people experience this process, and mainly its result, as a highly significant change because many of us are walking around with no clear sensation of the ground under our feet, and also don’t know how to change this. The session is also the start of elongation of the torso as well as the start of learning a new relationship, or maybe more correctly, the start of building a more correct relationship between the feet and the spine. This learning takes place on the chair, with the client learning to send his vertebrae back against pressure on the back. We have made a start to the feeling of grounding, and the start of a new sensation in the back – a back with greater freedom and with more of a connection to the feet. It is clear that on the mental-emotional level we are starting to build the concept of support: I have the ground under my feet, I have a back.


The third session
bisecting planes of the bodyThe third session ends the external envelope of the body and defines the mid-line separating the body into its front and back. Most of us live in the front of our bodies, and in particular the head. Most notably is the fact that the head itself, instead of being on the continuum of the division into front and back is entirely too much in front. However, not only does the head not know its proper place, but also the upper part of the back, for example, is too often too far behind and sometimes too far forward in the pelvis or too far forward in the waist (in the curve of the waist). Our body’s lack of knowledge in correctly managing what and where is forward and what and where is back certainly has repercussions on behaviors in life. Is it right for the head to be forward – the head leads – do we live according to intellect? Or is it correct for the chest to sink back – living with suppressed emotions – life without being wholly happy?

Or a pelvis which tilts forward, should the pelvis and sexuality be the leading factor? And if not, then what or who should be?

So after in the third session we clarify the order – what should be where or what forward and what backward and where is the center, we come to the fourth session, which is planned to start answering the question as to what or who is supposed to lead. The emotional experience following the third session for many people is extremely powerful since it greatly weakens any excess holding, excess muscle activity of the muscles connecting the shoulder blade to the ribs – the place where most unnecessary and excessive activity is exerted. People in the habit of doing so are likely to experience weakness after the session and sometimes this can last up to two or more days.
This is a weakness of release, giving up old habits, but there must certainly now be a substitute.

Many other people also experience a release! Weight falls from the shoulders and back. The back feels lighter. Sometimes it is even possible to feel that an emotional mental burden not my own is on my back and falls from my back during the session, and sometimes it seems that a burden that is not my own that I was carrying on my back (the burden of a grandmother or aunt and sometimes even of a relative I did not know) can indeed fall from me with this help of opening up the adhesions and regaining length and correct organization of the back – bringing back down and to the center the widening and uplifting of the back muscles.


The fourth session
Building the central axis to receive support from the ground. Building the central axis starts from familiarity with the plane of our body that we call the central plane. In contrast to the front and the back planes that we dealt with in the previous sessions, we now identify the place in the body which is the center. However, the central plane takes place in two directions, one direction is the plane splitting the body into two: half front and half back. And the other direction is the plane splitting the body into two: the right half and the left half. Because of functionality we choose the legs in the bottom half of the body, dealing first with the plane splitting the body into right and left.

If we stand with legs together, the meeting point of both legs (with a straight leg properly organized) is the continuation of the same plane that crosses the body right to left.

This is the central plane which is most accessible because in the leg it is the inner side of the leg and not really in the center. This is a place that can be touched and it is therefore possible to create new length if it has become shorter.

When this area is elongated during the fourth session, the body gains (maybe for the first time) support from its center. The inner arch of the foot (which in many people collapses into flat foot) is felt more and begins to experience the possibility of gaining support through it! This is support with flexibility and bounce, as well as more inbuilt strength!

Many clients following this treatment feel an energetic release – suddenly there is greater energy. Energy that was trapped inside the legs is released and the client feels energized. It is also clear that the connection to trapped sexual energy may also be part of this energetic release. But no less important is the connection we continue to cultivate between the leg and the spine, this time more specifically, clarifying the connection through the structure of the pelvis in a manner also helping the pelvis itself gain greater freedom of movement and better transferring the support of the foot to the vertebrae. The connection between the feet and the vertebrae is further developed in movement on the chair – an extremely small movement of the entire torso directly forward and back to the middle with the feet receiving the weight on the inner side (or more correctly to say in cooperation with the inner side) and then pushing the structure back to be centered. This is merely one stage in building a direct connection between the feet to the front of the spine which takes place in the fifth session.


The fifth session
The first meeting with the internal plane – the front of the spine. For many clients this treatment is extremely dramatic. The meeting with the center of my body certainly means an encounter with my center as a person – an encounter with the essence of who I am.

Not everyone has easy and gentle access to this center. The more unhandled emotional baggage we have, the greater the desire to protect oneself against this encounter with the center of the self.

However, the physical treatment begins in the deep layer of the front – this is an opportunity to deepen the opening of the thorax – increasing free movement of the ribs and also reference that has not yet been made to the front side of the thighs – by softening and reducing excess activity. Only later on do we begin to accompany the exercise of the pelvic roll with modified pressure enabling the client to identify the movement from the front side – meaning what happens in the pelvis from the front side during the pelvic roll. Naturally what is supposed to happen is that the pelvis rolls so that our first contact point in the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) drops in the direction of the table with the roll. In a client that is not yet ready, this point does not drop down and we must extend the touch to the full line of the inner boundary of the pelvis and its continuation up as a whole line in which the movement is happening. Contraction of the stomach muscles obviously disturbs the movement and even if these muscles are too short this will disturb the movement, therefore we make certain that they are released and long even before this, as part of the work on the front side. And then the successful rolling of the pelvis brings the relatively delicate pressure (of the therapist) into direct contact with the center – with the layer of the front of the spine only a distance from it to the sides. The more the client is willing and able, we encounter further parts of this plane on the front of the spine and we may also know how to make him directly encounter the psoas muscle, as well as the iliacus.

When a person meets the structures of the center of the body in this manner – the front of his spine, it is as if he is exposed to his own skeleton – here I am, this is how I am built and this is the movement I have there.

When a client is not fully ready, he may be willing to encounter, but this will cause him muscle spasms: either of the stomach muscles or the psoas itself. This is a reaction that may be significant, but tolerable – and if the entire process was correct, then there will be containment capacity of temporary pain and any accompanying emotions.

And what are trapped emotions in our stomach?
I do not like to define schemes of where in the body we feel what because they are almost irrelevant to an individual person experiencing something. Everyone has their own patterns, including what is trapped in their stomach; however, to give a direction to the possibilities, we need to think of what is in the stomach. The intestines - most of the stomach is composed of the intestines, which are a significant part of the digestive system. Do we have hard thoughts / feelings on digestion? The stomach also contains many other internal organs, such as the liver, the spleen and the reproductive organs. The source of the pain may indicate the problem both physically and mentally-emotionally, but the beauty is that the physical process in many cases provides the possibility of a cure, even without going into details or content.

The touch accompanying the movement of the body (pelvic roll, and after, maybe a slight bending of the knee while activating the psoas) allows the body better physical organization, organization to eliminate the pain, either passing through it and becoming not so bad, or by simply finding a way to perform the movement better so that it does not hurt.

In such way, the work frequently replaces the way we search for the emotional-mental nature of the pain to release it through understanding that it is no longer necessary (the intention here is to proof of the emotional patterns that were constructed in the past due to a real need that disappeared over time – a remapping of the emotional-mental reality).

Many clients come to the fifth session with a greater willingness and ability to use the accompanying touch to meet their innermost structure of the front of the spine. These clients are then also open to the physical / mental effect of the treatment which is the initiation of the psoas muscle to activate correctly at the beginning of any movement (see the Rolf Movement Model).

The mental-emotional aspects of this new functioning are the presence of my own center at the start of activity!

This is a dramatic change for most of us, a change that is expressed, for example, in the way we react to daily life, to things that other people say or do to us. Generally we react automatically from our outer layers. If someone insults me, I automatically want to insult them back. Only an informed process will alter this and cause me to choose a response from another level. When someone expresses his love for me this opens up my defenses (muscle contractions in the area of the chest and the rest of the body) and therefore allows me to soften and respond in a loving way too.

The fifth session attempts to stimulate our center – the essence, so that it acts and is activated against any reality, not only against a loving and open reality, and I am thereby able to improve my situation because to respond from a defensive and closed position, to respond aggressively or from any position not expressing my essence, are responses that maintain the status quo and the suffering inside me.


The sixth session
As the fourth and fifth session are one type of session in two stages, so the sixth and seventh sessions are one of two, with the seventh closing the four sessions that provide the correct alternative to receive support: instead of via the exterior of the structure – via the center of the structure, and ending the process of building from the bottom to the head. With the sixth session we focus on the back side of the body and mainly the legs and pelvis, but this time we do this with reference to the center plane that has already been initiated and activated in the fifth session.

As with the series of articles: Why does my back hurt? I expand on the incursion of the backside of our body into the front in a manner causing us to lose the true sensation of center. Therefore, when we work on the backside at this stage we certainly do not create a push forward, despite the fact that the working position is likely to give such an interpretation. To the contrary, we raise layers to allow the structure to exist more freely on the backside! Thus, along the legs and the lower back we highly encourage the pelvic roll also in this position, with most of the session being conducted lying on the stomach. Essentially the degree of success of the session may be gauged by the amount of spontaneous movement in the pelvic roll upon inhalation!

When this roll does indeed take place spontaneously upon inhalation when lying on the stomach (this is quite different to lying on the back or standing!) this means that there is sufficient length in the hamstrings not to stop the movement, there is sufficient freedom in the pelvis itself, and there is sufficient freedom and length in the psoas so that it does not stop the movement of the vertebrae.

We also have another significant movement task in this session which is the capacity to turn the thigh in and out without arching the waist, but to the contrary, with the correct organization of this area, meaning that the waist vertebrae separate slightly from each other and therefore also slightly straighten the waist curve. This is the same initial movement of rolling the pelvis (slightly) while turning the thigh inwards and outwards. Not only is this for many people a new and strange form of organization, but we check by pressure on the deep muscles around the thigh that the act is being carried out with the minimum force necessary, and this requirement alone is a significant change in conduct for many people, not to mention the combination of eliminating the waist arch in contrast to the common habit of holding the arch while carrying out the act of turning the thigh outward.

Therefore a client undergoing this process reaches a new organization in automatic daily activities. We can say he undergoes a softening of the deep muscles in the buttocks and he now acts with the correct cooperation with the psoas (the front of the spine extends back at the beginning of the movement).

What does this mean at the emotional-mental level?
This means that loads that were possibly stored in the buttocks muscles are not held to the same ordinary intensity. This is likely to occur after the sixth session when there will be cases of a strong emotional outburst instead of as in the past, where restraint was customary. Simply due to the weakening of excess muscle activity around the thigh and buttocks muscles a person may have one or two outbursts until he learns to recalibrate himself to his new muscle condition.

From this aspect the effect of the seventh session will be similar and complementary, if in the sixth session the restraint does not occur in the buttocks or the entire leg, then following the seventh session the restraint that did not occur is likely to be in the jaw, and therefore by speech or voice. I tend to tell clients that if there is such an outburst in the week after the treatment, to notify the person at whom the outburst is directed that they are in a process of treatment and it is because of this that it happened to them and not to take it personally (unless they choose otherwise).


The seventh session
After treating the entire body in depth, except for the neck and head area, it is now their turn in the seventh session, with the thinking that now everything is open and ready and “it will be possible to place the head in the right place” – up above – above everything, not too far forward and not too far back, right in the middle above the rest. From this it is clear to what extent the success of the treatment depends on what we have built up to now as the basis for support of the head.

Just as there are clients that find it extremely difficult to be touched on their stomach, so there are clients who find any entry into the mouth, not to mention the nose, to be an incursion they do not want to allow. One way of getting over this is to teach them to do this part of the treatment for themselves and if this still does not allow them to do this part of the treatment – what does this mean?

There are times during the treatment when we get to extremely intimate places. Even in the first session we reach the armpits and pectoralis minor in the upper area of the chest. Both women and men sometimes experience a sense of intrusion and difficulty with such a degree of intimacy in the first session. (This is indeed a consideration as to whether to have a preliminary treatment). Later on in the series in session 4 we reach the sit bones and then the inner side of the bone along the tail which we return to in a slightly different way in the sixth session. The more we know how to give anatomic explanations for reason we are doing this – which muscles connect there that we want the client to elongate – the more this helps him to agree to this process, The greater results the process has already brought, the easier it is for the client to agree to what was perceived by him to be too intimate at the outset. Why is the nose too much for one person and not another? And why to one person one place is too much, and it could be anywhere in the body, it is all related to the client’s personal history with this place.

So after a successful seventh session there may be an uncontrolled verbal outburst due to new freedom in the jaw area, and release of the mouth and it may take several days until the system recalibrates in this area.

But what is the deeper meaning of a successful seventh session? What does it mean to put the head in place?
There is of course the physical meaning when looking at the profile. The ear will be above the shoulder and not much more forward, with the chin parallel to the floor so that the crown of the head is the highest point on the entire body. Moving the head right to left will be carried out easily by the internal muscles connecting between the vertebrae (maybe with the help of the more minor muscles such as the scalene muscles) and not by the sternocleidomastoid. The entire structure of the head is carried on top and is not shortened during walking, That means that walking will always begin with an extension of the waist vertebrae and the psoas will be more correctly active when bringing the knee forward while the exterior muscles like the quadriceps will work minimally – walking that expresses length, this gives a sense of nobility and beauty! The chest remains open, soft and flowing movement throughout the entire structure – the foot is seen to make a full uninterrupted step in the center thereby expressing the spring-like properties of the ankle, which propels the knee forward in cooperation with the psoas so that the front of the spine always remains in the center and does not protrude forward.

The seventh session allows all this because of the openness we made along the entire structure and all the teaching that was taught throughout the process and the accompanying exercises. However, this is still not enough to check and make the “final adjustments” that the body does indeed act in this way. For this reason the final three sessions remain, where emphasis is placed on the correct use of the structure after we have opened it up and created the opportunity for its realization.

So apart from the outbursts that are likely to follow session seven, there is a good chance of seeing a happier person after this session! A person with length – a taller person, a straighter person. His head is already not too far forward and this also means the decisions of this person not only his head manages, but there is a complete axis of existence throughout this person with all functions manifested at various points of this axis (here we may refer to the functions of the seven energy centers but also any other model of understanding various functions according to organs or regions of the body will be relevant to some extent). Stated briefly, this is close to a whole person model, although it is still not fully certain, strong or stable – further repairs, fine-tuning and maintenance are needed before it can be said such person is ready.


To conclude
It is important for me to mention that the changes in the structural integration process are likely to be extremely powerful and significant. As we can see from a review of the treatment process, there is order to the process, it is structured and built so that dramatic change can be included with relative ease, although the degree of ease or dramatic effect in the process is dependent both on previous processes the client has undergone and on his personal structure. The structural change becomes relatively easy when the emotional-mental stuff is not only already familiar to the client but he has already undergone emotional verbal processing, so that all that remains is to remove the attachments from the body itself – open up the adhesions in order to realize what the mind already understands.

However, occasionally when clients have already undergone processing even with years of some type of psychotherapy, it is possible to see that matters that were considered to have been put behind them are still present in the body and appear during the process. It is worth reassuring these clients with the understanding that what has not been let go in the body cannot be released, and this is the final stage of the process they underwent previously. But there are also encounters with subjects that have not yet been raised in verbal sessions or in more creative therapeutic approaches, simply because only the direct touching of the body raises them, so that almost every client during the series encounters stuff that has not yet undergone verbal processing. I previously mentioned that the beauty of the series is in the fact that it is frequently possible to make progress without verbal processing, although it is not unavoidable that during the sessions a person will experience strong overwhelming emotions that will only subside at the end of the process. Sometimes extremely difficult stuff arises that may also require verbal processing with a professional therapist.  

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The Stages in Dr. Rolf’s Structural Integration – Mental and Emotional Aspects


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