Bodywork as Meditation Part 3 of 4

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

The ideas of Tolle have a strong resonance with a much earlier esoteric philosopher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff who integrated Eastern tenets with his uniquely confrontational approach to enlightenment. In his hagiographic study of Gurdjieff and his philosphy, John Shirley frequently affirms this mystic’s belief that we must go through the body to attain enlightenment.

For Gurdjieff, to be sure, the human body is the crucible of transmutation. An active work with turning attention to the sensations of the body – combined with taking conscious ‘impressions’ of one’s inner and outer state – is the beginning of the transmutation that creates a lasting soul.¹¹

Jennifer Hecht, the author of an ambitious consideration of the history of doubt in religious thought, offers another perspective on this somatic path to enlightenment in her discussion of renunciation as taught in the Hindu faith. She says, in part:

The Hindu notion of meditation is essentially that when we can manage silence and stillness, we get a glimpse of our real self. . . . To be at peace we must clear away everything that is not the true inner self. This ‘everything’ includes one’s own body in particular, because this is the source of so much useless, distracting, and redundant desire.¹²

Whether the body acts as the source of distraction as the Hindus believed, the means through which we attain “no-self”, or, whether it is the wounded raging ego gnawing on the bones of problems projected into the future or recycling from its past, as Tolle argues, any discipline that takes us deeper into present moment awareness should be considered a valuable resource for all wishing to experience themselves more fully. From somatic awareness spiritual awareness may soon emerge. So, any modality that evokes and teaches awareness has the potential of being in and of itself a means of approaching the meditative state. We can therefore reasonably assume that embodied SI work done in a fully engaged and cooperative manner can evoke this state not only in the client but also in the practitioner.

Above, it was suggested that performing integrative bodywork with the goal of attaining the meditative is a selfish act and yet what we have described so far seems quite selfless and more about evoking something in the client rather than using touch therapy as a meditative technique primarily for the enrichment of the therapist. Yet, when we look at the other medium through which we may attain a meditative state, the myofascial network,¹³ the selfishness argument emerges more clearly.

The experience of the mutability of the fascial net (and all the structures to which it connects) and the ease with which it can reconfigure is truly one of the most awe-inspiring and magical experiences a Rolfer will encounter. Again, to those focused on muscle attachments or tendonous trigger points, this notion will seem not only alien, but simply incomprehensible. To those not fully engaged in the work, this entraining experience will have all the appeal of “watching grass dry” and may be as obviously perceptible as a “charmed quark” flickering in some nano-reality.

Something this nebulous must be shrouded in recondite mystery, an esoteric language decodable only by those privy to the sanctum sanctorum. Stuff and nonsense. Feeling fascia transmute often occurs the first time a Rolfing student contacts it. The richness of this sensation will become clearer as our neophyte becomes increasingly quiet and learns to pay attention to movements along specific broad fascial sheets. Then he will begin to understand that there is more to this fascial game than raking the hamstrings and cleaning off tissue from stodgy rami.

A nice way to begin this self-education was once suggested by a former student of Dr. Rolf, Jim Asher, and may even come from the grande dame herself. Asher called this exercise rather euphemistically “Rolfing on a trampoline.” When we encounter a restriction in the connective tissue matrix, according to Asher, we have three ways to respond to it. We can apply more force and dig in, we can stay exactly where we are and wait, or, we can back off. If we choose the latter course and back off, the tissue will rebound into our hands.  We will feel this rebounding not only locally but also distally, as it creates palpable rippling waves through the net. These reverberations are not abrupt jerky waves but radiating undulations that gently roll in slow motion. Soon, with a little practice, we can learn to ride these fascial waves. This experience to some feels rather like they are “fascia-surfing” on Quaaludes. Later, we will learn to not only sense this shifting of liquid tectonic fascial sheets by backing out, but also through static pressure, noting those interspersed irregular lacunae, working in a way that informs rather than overrides the nervous system.¹?  Yet, while this can be an ecstatic ride, the practitioner must remain ever vigilent so as to avoid getting lost in the tissue’s ebb and flow, rather, striving at all times to remain connected, responsive and present. As suggested previously, we must also never forget the myofascial structures embedded in the fascial layers, ever mindful of relationships local and distal, constantly shifting our perspective in a precipitously mesmerizing and complex dance.

This is not to say that the client may not profit from these slowly evolving peregrinations through the myofascial net. Certainly, proper application of this approach, reinforced with embodying cues will, for some clients, enhance the experiential and transformational dimensions of their sessions. However, since such subtle sensing is not necessary for the client to experience significant long-term improvement in alignment or generalized symptom relief, and since this sort of sensing is, in our view, essential for the practitioner to enter into the meditative state, we can with confidence assign its primary significance to the practitioner rather than the client.


11. Shirley, John, Gurdjieff: An Introduction to his Life and Ideas (New York: Penguin, 2004), p. 120.

12. Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History, p. 91 Italics included in the quote are Ray Bishop’s.

13. For more information of the nature of the myofascial network, see: Schleip, Robert, Talking to the Fascia, Changing the Brain: A Collection of Articles on Rolfing and the Neuro-Myofascial Net; and Oschman, James, Ph.D., “The Connective Tissue and Myofascial Systems,” and “Structure and Properties of Ground Substance,” from his collection of articles: Readings on the Scientific Basis of Bodywork (Dover, NH: Natures Own Research Association, 1993).

14. This notion of working in a manner that informs rather than overwhelms the nervous system comes from my teacher, Jan Sultan, whose influence on my thought process and understanding of the work I acknowledge with gratitude.

Continue to Part 4

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