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.

This article was written by
Julia Zatta

Julia is a yoga anatomy teacher and bodyworker based in Barcelona, Spain.

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