Bodywork as Meditation Part 4 of 4

Final installment of the article by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

Another dimension of this subtle and global sensing is a phenomenon called entrainment.¹?  Entrainment is the tendency of objects in close proximity to become interlocked and move in synchronicity. One reason that this occurs is that “nature seeks the most efficient energy state, and it takes less energy to pulse in cooperation than in opposition.”¹?   A frequently cited example of entrainment as it occurs in nature is the tendency of adjacent pendula, if released or activated at different times, to adjust their speed and amplitude so that they are soon moving in synchronicity.

An interesting connection here exists between this description and the writings of Dr. Rolf on the advantages of an ordered body. It also suggests one common view of why Rolfing works. The reasoning is that since bodies prefer the most economical and efficient manner of movement and since one of Rolfing’s primary goals is to create economy of movement, then, once the body learns this more efficient pattern (in other words, once these patterns are entrained), the body will “choose” this more efficient mode of movement and will tend to return to it automatically.

A useful analogy for entrainment among and between individuals comes from the world of jazz. When a group of skilled jazz musicians, particularly those who have played together for some time, are improvising on a familiar tune, there occur intervals when the interaction of the players intensifies and when a higher level of creative consciousness emerges, and said state effects their (collective) playing. This higher level of creative interaction has many terms in the jazz world. Think of the implications of the hopelessly anachronistic word groovy that originates in this milieu. Consider, for instance, this term’s obvious connection with entrainment; that one way that patterns are entrained in the body is through creation of regular preferred patterns or grooves in the fascial and nervous system.

Therefore, our sense of this palpable intensification that may seem to come from some source outside the players, but that actually has its origins from within, is that of another type of entrainment. Here, as in the Rolfing model, the melodies, and “grammatical” formulae are there and anyone with the necessary facility and understanding of the rules can improvise competently. But, one of the things that distinguishes great improvisers is their ability to tap into this creative symbiotic energy and use it to explore new realms implicit in the common “grammar” of familiar melodic and harmonic patterns. Innovative players like Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis come to mind in this regard.

To return to this concept of bodywork, it may be said that the Rolfer entrains with the client in order to facilitate change. This is usually done in a series of adjustments on the part of the practitioner as he engages the rhythms of his client’s respiration, external cues and internal movements (although it may emerge spontaneously at any moment, as well.) Gradually the practitioner will adjust his pacing to the client’s and then begin to play with and synchronize the client’s rhythms with his own. This then allows the practitioner to more fully interact with the client and brings about a calming of the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) and activation of the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) in both the client and the practitioner. This slowing of both participants’ systems will inevitably result in a corresponding slowing of psychological time and an evocation of an altered state of consciousness, one that can be felt simultaneously by both, although the client may have a hard time tracking and articulating this shift in state. What is most intriguing about this process is that it works best when there is no conscious volition on the part of the practitioner to elicit it. Rather, by simply focusing attention on the tissue and tracking the subtle shifts in the client’s state as they occur, we allow the meditative to be effortlessly evoked.

This is the route to the meditative state, at once simple and ineluctable. Anatomy recedes. Technique mutes as tissue movements crescendo from below and often into conscious awareness. Details and session goals move in and out of your awareness just as thoughts float before the screen of your consciousness during meditation.¹ ?  Openness to a different type of listening and following are essential for the meditative to emerge. Forcing and willing the tissue into some pattern is a laudable goal but must miss the meditative mark as widely as willing yourself to focus on mantra in search of satori.

All of this may sound either wonderfully liberating or exasperatingly vague and laden with uncertainties. You may well object that this esoteric exercise moves us too far afield from the clear goals and fascial territories of the basic series. You may further object that seeking to evoke the meditative in your client or yourself acts as a distraction, leading you to trance dancing and away from the structural objectives of your work. Yet, while raising your rational protestations, you miss that the goal here is to focus and sharpen your work in the moment by redirecting your listening and proprioceptive skills. With practice, you will become increasingly skilled in sensing new patterns as they manifest in the tissue and ripple through the fascial net, passively watching as they first create local modifications. You will also more fully sense global relationships and simultaneously profit from an enhanced ability to sense and create change, a more fully engaged type of change, a highly conscious entrained transmutation of another.

This meditative approach to structural integration should be seen as one very useful pathway to a deep understanding of integrative fascial work, an understanding that supercedes symptom work and rote series work. Some might argue that technique without this contextual richness may well fix local problems, perhaps even more successfully than a pan-technology such as Rolfing. Yet, what they lose in an over-reliance on technique while ignoring broad fascial layers and significant structural relationships is hardly imperspicuous.

If you accept the argument presented herein, you will soon view this multifarious fascial terrain as one too fecund to ignore.  The richness of the experience described above is in this writer’s view so inexhaustibly complex, particularly when grounded in solid technique, that fear of wading into its frequently caliginous waters (out of some predictable paradigm-shifting phobia) diminishes the transformational potential of the work and ensures the unremitting propagation of many variously skilled craftsmen and few artists.


15. This discussion of entrainment comes mostly from my earlier article: “Improvisation, Jazz and Rolfing: Myofascial Metaphors on the 12-Bar Blues,” Rolf Lines, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Fall 1999): 36-39. The entrainment issue is raised on p. 38.

16. Ortiz, John M., The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology, Using Music to Change Your Life (York Beach, ME: Weisner, 1997), p.317. See also; Bunt, Leslie, Music Therapy: An Art Beyond Words (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 62, for her discussion of “rhythmic entrainment.”

17. Emphasis is mine, blog owner Carole LaRochelle, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

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