Bodywork as Meditation Part 2 of 4

Continuation of the article written by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

Meditation and Rolfing SIIf we focus too much on muscular structures, we miss the larger fascial planes that morph and alter the dynamic relationships between these structures. Conversely, swimming in the fascia without a constant eye to the mutating coastline, the rocky shoals and obdurate projectiles where the fascia binds and adheres may feel wonderful, but, in doing so, we will widely miss the mark if our primary goal is improving fascial connections in relation to what Dr. Rolf and her students call “the line” (an organizational construct that runs through the central vertical axis of the body).?

This fascial sensing may seem rather abstract, but it proves to be the primary way through which we not only create and sense order but also access the meditative. But before we address the meditative state, a bit more about the nature of Rolfing. Another general perception is that what we do is mechanistic and goal oriented. Many bodyworkers read and learn that Rolfing is a protocol, a pattern of sessions, logically sequenced with a series of clearly defined goals and rigidly delineated fascial territories. They also learn that there are specific techniques associated with each session and pay considerable amounts of money for one of the numerous programs and accompanying manuals out there that detail highly specific protocols for these basic sessions. They also learn that there are movement cues as well as awareness and muscular retraining exercises that accompany each hour and carefully graft these to their sessions.?  Furthermore, interested students of SI will find that some styles have a more psychological orientation and  include emotional work and homework questions to be filled out by the client between sessions to deepen the emotional nature of their experience of the series.

Based on this reading of SI, they infer that the work is simply a series of techniques and that the performance of said techniques is both necessary and sufficient to integrate a body. Unfortunately, rote reproductions of said techniques fail in both regards. The problem here is that it takes more than the ten series to create order, it takes a profound understanding and felt sense of how this work evokes transformation, an internal intuitive and intellectual recognition of this sense of order and an ability to articulate this embodied sense to others.? It is only from an internalized understanding of order that we can co-create this new relationship to gravity with another. Rolfing is not a technique; it is an understanding of how it feels to live in an integrated body and the subsequent application of the methodology and principles of Rolfing through your own transformed system to another human being. Structural integration is, additionally, a method of thinking, a process of asking questions about order and using a variety of techniques to move a random body to a higher level of organization according to a set criteria that inform and shape all SI sessions. The prevalent view is that Rolfing is an agglutination of techniques employed in sequenced sessions, a linear memorizable abstraction, technique qua technique, but we insist that this is truly the “core error.”

So, how does this lead us to the meditative? Two means suggested above will prove very useful pathways to this state. The first is through the process of embodiment.? A useful definition of embodiment is having a coherent internal felt-sense and being able to clearly articulate that sense in words of one’s own formulation. The fundamental thing to remember here is that this process must first occur in the practitioner in order for him to have any hope of articulating this experience of the work to another. The implications of this profound somatic transformation first emerge when we experience the work. The critical part of each session in which transformation occurs is not when actively receiving the work but in the spaces within and between the interventions. When we first begin to understand the importance of “listening to the silence,” we may then get our first glimpse of those meditative caesuras in a process we erroneously expect to be about pain and cathartic emotional release. Any practitioner who has not played with introspective pacing and exploration, or who has not been transformed by this experience during a single or number of structural (or movement) sessions cannot hope to communicate this experience to another. So, implicitly, any practitioner who focuses exclusively on recipe as technique and sees the ten-series as Ida’s ten commandments, who sees the work as nothing more than detailed outlines and therapeutic questionnaires, will predictably fail to experience this embodiment and hence miss the meditative experience.

The connection between emobodiment and meditative technique has recently been described in the writings and lecturs of Eckhart Tolle whose The Power of Now and subsequent books have rekindled an interest in somatically based meditative practices some of which date back over a thousand years.?   When questioned on the way to quiet the mind and bring it into a state of stillness, which he calls presence, Tolle responds that the key to this state lies in going through the body. He repudiates those practices that eschew the body and reject the flesh, advocating a focus on physical state, the quiet watching and identifying of physical processes through regular meditation. He argues that even though the Buddha fasted and lived a life of mortification of the flesh for six years as part of his quest for enlightenment, only after he abandoned this practice did he finally see that there is no self (which he called Anatman)¹?  and subsequently attain enlightenment. Well, if this path is good enough for the Buddha it should certainly be good enough for us.


5. For an excellent discussion of “the line,” see the unpublished manuscript familiar to Guild Practitioners, A Searcher’s Handbook, Compiled and edited by Clinton L. Kramer, “A Monologue on the Line,” pp. 12-19. A nice quote from this discussion comes from Peter Melchior, “Man is an event on the line.”

6. For examples of these exercises, see Mary Bond’s Balancing Your Body: A Self-Help Approach to Rolfing Movement (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1996); Ed Maupin’s book, cited above, as well as discussions of asanas for each Rolfing session in Rosie Spiegel’s: Bodies, Health and Consciousness: A Guide to Living Successfully in Your Body Through Rolfing and Yoga (San Carlos, CA: SRG, 1994).

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

8. Bishop, Raymond, Ph.D. “What is integration?” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® Vol. 30, No. 4 (December 2002): 9-12.

9. Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. CD version. Specific citations are not given, as listing CD and track numbers seem a bit fussy.

10.Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History. The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates to Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2003), pp. 100-102.

Continue to Part 3


  1. Carol,
    Thanks for posting this article. As a bodyworker, I have always appreciated that my best work is achieved in a meditative state. It is fantastic for me to see this kind of work and research being published. I would love to know where this article was originally published and where I might find other articles by Ray.

    Be well,

  2. Hey Carole – love that article – it embodies the individuality of the people we work with. There is a certain harmony that is created from the laying on of hands with another person, something that sometimes cannot be understood until the music is heard.

    Great post

    Fitness Insights by Jamie Atlas

    • Hello Jamie,

      Thank you for stopping by, reading and leaving a supportive comment. I’m sure my friend Ray Bishop, who wrote the article, would have appreciated your encouragement. There is actually more to the article; it’s rather long. I have one or two more parts yet to post. So please, stop by again and finish reading Ray’s article.

  3. “The problem here is that it takes more than the ten series to create order, it takes a profound understanding and felt sense of how this work evokes transformation, an internal intuitive and intellectual recognition of this sense of order and an ability to articulate this embodied sense to others.”?

    I agree with you that the methodology without meaningful embodiment is a hollow thing- but would that then mean Rolfing® clients who were genuinely embodied as a result of their Rolfing experience could then integrate others?

    • Hello Colin,

      Thank you for stopping by and writing in. The article you read is by my friend Ray Bishop so I can’t comment or speak for him on what he wrote. However, I will respond to your question from my point of view. For me, embodiment is the starting place from which I work. It is not the training, knowledge, or understanding of how to work. So, I do not “anoint” my clients so they can go out and integrate others. 🙂 They would still need to learn anatomy and how to do the work. That being said, I receive work from a very experienced practitioner and have found his work comes out through my hands. Embodiment, or just a deep understanding from years of receiving work from him and practicing myself? Probably both.

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