Back in the mid-1960s, Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, was living and working at Esalen Institute, located in Big Sur, California. It was one of the largest growth centers for human transformation. Fritz had heard about Ida Rolf’s structural integration work and its benefits and was intrigued about her work and the results she was getting with her clients. He reached out to her and asked her to come to Big Sur to perform structural integration on him. She agreed.
After a short period of time, word spread of the results Perls received, and interest grew in Ida’s work. Not only did people request that she work on them, but many people also wanted to get trained as practitioners.
This was something new for Ida, for up until this time she had been teaching her work mostly to Chiropractors and Osteopaths, who wanted to take pieces of her system without understanding her vision of a completely structurally integrated individual finally at peace with gravity. As with most new practices, people start to form opinions, and rumors spread that structural integration was only about the body and did not support spirituality in human beings.
Finally, after having heard enough of those rumors, Rolf stormed into one of her classes and angrily shouted, “There is a rumor going around Esalen that Ida Rolf doesn’t believe in the soul and the spirit – that’s poppycock! It’s just that right now, the body is the only thing I can get my hands on.” The truth was that Ida was indeed very conversant with spirituality and various metaphysical paths. She was a long-time student of Tantra Yoga and various other spiritual disciplines. She understood there was a connection between her work on her clients and their spiritual journey.
As I see it, there are multiple connections between Rolfing and mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a human being. Especially when people have been traumatized in life, they have a tendency to disassociate from their bodies. From firsthand experience I have had working on my clients, I have come to learn that the more a person has experienced personal trauma, the more they disassociate from living in their physical body.
For many people, Rolfing can be a huge entrance way for them to get back into their body, mentally and emotionally. This helps them feel that being in their body is a safe place to hang out. The reason why people leave their body is because of emotional trauma, pain and fragmentation that they have experienced.
People do adopt bodily postural patterns based on their unconscious belief systems. If someone feels beaten down by life it is likely that their posture will be collapsed and their “survival posture” will anchor their beliefs and attitudes. Not only do they have to work on this emotional baggage, but they must work on the body’s physical structure that has adapted to these unconscious belief systems. Someone who has hyperextended knees can be easily pushed over and will probably have difficulty standing in their own authority. Another person might have a tight band of soft tissue (fascia) armor around their heart chakra and physical heart that will limit the level of intimacy they can experience.
What Rolfing can do structurally for the body can enhance a person’s spiritual path of their soul evolution. It is important to have a balance between being grounded in the body but not trapped in it. Just as you are grounded to the planet earth, you also need to experience your vertical force or Line, lifting both your body and consciousness toward the heavens.
Many spiritual and energy cultivation practices such as tai chi and chi gong, connect-up heaven, and earth through special postures, movement patterns, and breath work. Rolfing has been proven to enhance spiritual practice by creating a grounding effect that brings our spiritual practice back to earth.
As Ida Rolf once said, “In the east, they are interested in the “sitting master”. I am looking for the “walking master.” In other words, she was looking for someone whose body could structurally and energetically span heaven and earth while embodying spiritual principles, not just in a cave but in daily life.