Rolfing from the teacher’s perspective: an interview with Aline Newton

Aline Newton Rolfer CertificadaWhen I discovered that Aline Newton was visiting Barcelona, I was elated! Aline is a well-known Rolfer in our professional community. She taught Foundations of Bodywork at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and has published a number of articles for Rolfers and clients. It turns out that the husband of a colleague from Centre Cos is friends with Aline’s husband. (What are the chances?) Anyways, our mutual connection organized a meeting and this is the result of that serendipitous encounter.

In the following conversation, Aline tells us what defines and determines posture. She also explains how posture is linked to our search for security and tells us how we can change it by paying attention to our sensations. Finally, Aline reveals what still fascinates her about being a Rolfer after 30 years of practice. 

I’d like to start off with something you said in a recent article in Rolf Lines. You say that posture is something “everyone thinks of as seen from the outside and then tries to change it from there.” Can you explain that further?

For most people, the word ‘posture’ conjures up images of soldiers standing at attention, or children marching around a room balancing a book on their heads. Maybe it is due to the great number of images we are exposed to, we tend to experience ourselves as if in a picture -a body-image- instead of our actual sensations, perceptions, the feelings that are happening right now. Unfortunately if we start from a body image, a way we are imagining ourselves to be, and then try to change that, we have little hope of finding an easier way of being. Instead, we are likely to just impose another set of stresses on the stresses that are already there. That’s what Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the originator of Rolfing, called “ a balance of stresses.”

What is what is posture?

If we set aside the images and try to get back to the experience, posture becomes much more interesting.

For a lay person, we think of posture as the way we hold ourselves. We slouch, we try to look good etc. And it’s true that there is an important expressive dimension to posture. But Dr. Rolf pointed out to us that what we call posture is also the way we meet gravity each moment.

A lot of it has to do with how subconsciously we keep ourselves from falling down, literally. Each of us has to find a way to stay in balance in gravity while also walking, talking, living. In this sense posture is a reflection of our our favorite or most familiar strategies to accomplish this important task. By strategies I mean the way we hold tensions in certain muscles. Not falling down is also a kind of metaphor for what lets us feel safe, for our strategy of self-protection. Each of us has our most familiar ways of doing this.

Therefore our habitual tension is our way of feeling safe in gravity?

Yes, we find safety in the familiar way we do things—though there are often unintended consequences. That’s what usually brings people in to see us: the habit begins to get uncomfortable, with tension or pain in shoulder, necks, knees etc.

We also call these habitual tensions ‘pre-movement’ in that they are how we prepare for a movement. In other words, they happen before you actually do the movement. Hubert Godard has a nice way of putting it: there is the prémovement du matin, in the sense that it is the set of tensions you put on just getting up in the morning, the tensions you call ‘myself.” Those stay with you throughout the day. In this sense, posture is an “attitude,” a mood, a feeling, what we normally think of as a state of mind. But it is a state of body-in-gravity, too. There is also premovement we would call ‘dynamic’ which is the strategy you use before you get into motion, start walking etc.–the way you keep your balance in gravity.

You can really understand this process in yoga: before tree pose, let’s say, you have to make sure you don’t fall over, or that your head stays upright, etc. Your feet are taking in the ground a certain way, you shift your weight by releasing something and tightening something else etc. But of course, your brain does this for you based on previous experience. And this is where you can best use your sensory/perceptual skills to make a change—right there under your feet, or in the way your eyes receive the light, or the way you put your attention on the space behind you.

How will shifting my attention to my sensations change my posture?

Usually we think of good posture as something we DO-holding our shoulders back, or pushing out our chest. This is what we have been taught: trying to be good means to use effort. Though well intended, trying to hold an idea of good posture through muscular effort just leads to more contraction; it means getting in the way of easy movement instead of supporting it. So we have to find a different way. Really good posture comes through a different path. It happens when we tune into our perception and sensation: how the ground feels to me right now, sensing where we are putting the weight through our feet (more in front, more in back, more on one foot or the other, more on the inside edge or the outside edge of the foot—there is so much going on moment to moment with this all important contact!). As we feel what is actually happening at this moment, the sensations also change. That change in sensations is the consequence of releasing certain muscles, but indirectly. Our focus stays on paying attention to our places of contact with the ground, while the very smart brain figures out the ‘doing’ part.

Instead of trying to dominate the body with the will, this approach leads to living in partnership with ourselves as organisms and with our environment. Personally, this is the quality I want to cultivate; this is the attitude I want to be “practicing.”

How did you discover Rolfing?

I was lucky to be introduced to Rolfing as a child, through having family friends who were Ida Rolf’s grandchildren. I didn’t actually get Rolfed until I was in college studying psychology. I was amazed by my own experience of Rolfing, the kind of change in behavior and feelings that happened without doing it through talking and my usual notion of ‘mind.’

One of the major influences in your work is Hubert Godard. How has he changed your understanding of Rolfing?

Hubert’s point of view includes movement and perception and a sense of being part of the environment instead of just a bag of skin or fascia. Fascia gets in trouble when it is constantly being loaded in a particular way. Along with accidents and genetic factors, the major influence here is our habitual pre-movements. For instance, our tense shoulders are doing a job all day long, trying to hold us up, or fighting for every breath. If they are working hard all day, the fascial and muscular tissue is not getting the release it needs to stay healthy. The beautiful biped has evolved to move in such a way that we have the possibility of alternatingly contracting and releasing, varying the pressures through the tissue all day long. That’s what well-organized breathing and walking help with. And our practices, yoga, tai chi etc. give us ways to re-tune ourselves, like a guitar. We all have natural preferences that lead to going out of tune when ‘played,’ and these different practices are ways of counter-acting the results of our preferences. But for us as humans, it is to keep our plasticity, our capacity to start from a new place instead of the same old place.

How would you define Rolfing in terms of benefits?

Besides healing aches and pains and making us more efficient movers etc, Rolfing and movement work have the potential to help us find our wholeness and our capacity to feel safe in an ever-changing world.

What do you most like about this work?

This November 2014 marks 30 years since I was certified as a Rolfer. What I like most about this work is that it is always new, with each person I meet in my practice. Recently I was invited to a symposium at MIT that was comparing musical composition with improvisation. Improvisers certainly have to practice, but their art is in bringing that skill to a meeting with the moment to create something fresh. That is my experience working with people as a Rolfer, and it is a great joy.

***Check out Alines’ blog, her published articles and her courses***

Aline Newton is an Advanced Certified Rolfer, in practice for 30 years. She holds her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MA in Education from the University of Toronto. She served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the International Rolf Institute from 1994-1999. She has also been on the faculty of the Foundations Program of the Rolf Institute. Since 1990 she has studied extensively with Hubert Godard, and became a Rolf Movement Practitioner in 1996. She practices, teaches and lectures in Cambridge, MA.

Rolfing from a Practitioner’s Perspective: an interview with my teacher

portrait of Liz Stewart, structural integration practitioner

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my clients’ Rolfing experience over the last few weeks and that their stories have given you some insights on this style of bodywork. 

This week I’m presenting Rolfing / Structural Integration from a practitioner’s perspective. For that purpose I’ve interviewed one of my very first teachers, Liz Stewart. Liz is amazing! She is authentic, creative, down to earth and has a great sense of humor. We first met in 2006 when I was training to be a practitioner and have since stayed in touch. Over the years, she has been very supportive of my work and I consider her my mentor.

Liz teaches and practices in Boulder, Colorado. She also conducts and online tutorial for Rolfers / Structral Integration practitioners which I’m enjoying very much. 

Liz, Can you give us a little background about yourself and how you came to Rolfing / Structural Integration?

I was working at IBM before I discovered Structural Integration. I had just moved to Boulder, CO and was extremely stressed in my job. I was struggling with chronic neck and shoulder pain and cluster headaches. One of my neighbors suggested I try Rolfing to see if that might help me. I was pretty fortunate to be in Boulder where the work was so well known, in fact, my health insurance covered the cost of my 10 series. I knew after three sessions that I wanted to switch careers and within six months I was in Basic Training at the Guild for Structural Integration. I graduated in March of 1992.

How would you define Structural Integration in terms of benefits?

I have found that this work is terrific for chronic problems as well as acute ones. The obvious benefits are improvement in posture, balance, pain, stress, and basic adaptability to one’s environment. The less talked about changes are fascinating and really interesting. When a client has less pain, or is less focused on physical ailments, then they relate better, they feel more confident, they experience their world from a more open place and they begin to interact differently in their environment.

I’ve heard you define your approach to SI as an art form rather than a set of techniques. Can you explain?

Techniques can be learned, practiced and duplicated. It’s a great place to start. What happened to me was that over time I began realizing that I was responding to what I touched. There was something key to listening with all of me and letting myself relate to the form, uncovering versus fixing and allowing the wholeness of the client to emerge. This was the beginning of understanding that there are layers upon layers in the body and if I can listen, see, feel, touch, and just allow my senses to connect to these layers then the work takes on a form of it’s own.

What do you like the most about this work?

There is a great book written by Dr. Ida Rolf called Rolfing an Physical Reality. At a certain point she talks about the wisdom of insecurity and that we work on unstable ground. The one constant we have as practitioners is that we don’t have the answers, but we have many questions. For me this has provided great freedom in working with others, so that I have an ongoing inquiry as I look for what is needed for each person at that particular moment in time. This is very exciting because it takes me into a very creative place to work from.

You were a long time student and friend of Peter Melchior, a legend within the SI community. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from him in regards to Rolfing?

Peter was a man that expressed this work through his touch and his gentle way of relating to others. He mainly was a minimalist and I learned to get out of the way, out of my way! I learned to trust myself and this work. 

I read this Ida Rolf quote recently: “Healing is the intuitive art of wooing nature.” What do these words mean to you?

My initial take when I read this quote is that we are calling out what is already present. Someone has been impacted from their life experience and their life habit. Can we see the beauty in this person’s structure by accepting what is there and building from it, rather than tearing it down to rebuild from an ideal? I think about a tree that has lived a life up in the mountains and is affected by strong weather, it twists and gets shaped by its environment. Is it my place to change it? Can I  relate to it in a way that it can stand freely in its environment? What is healing but beauty unfolding? It exists in relationship with others.