Thursday, 1 December 2016

Having a conversation with my deep tissue

Over the last few months I've been going to a guy called Giovanni Felicioni to be Rolfed. Rolfing Structural Integration originates from an American Woman called Ida Rolf who died in 1979, and is all about integrating human structure and function in the field of gravity. This is done through working on the level of connective tissue (fascia) with touch and manipulation and through educating the person in their body use and sensory perceptiveness. It's fantastic!

Although the touch can often be very strong (elbow deep into the side of my thigh, for example), the work is surprisingly subtle. His fingers are doing something on my back, but it's not massage... Massage is about relaxing muscles and that I can understand. But with Rolfing, my mind is often filled with the question "what is he doing?" He also asks me questions, and they also often leave my thinking-mind reeling. Like a Zen koan, they can't be answered by thinking about it, but only through feeling. While my rational mind is dazed and confused (and a bit put out that it's so useless), my intuitive mind is right on it. I often cannot put an answer into words so I say "I don't know" and Giovanni replies saying "don't know is a great place to be! It's a place of potential, of exploration."

I've come to see Giovanni's touch more like communication than massage. He's having a conversation with my body (through the fascia and tissues). What my rational mind can't work out is the language of the conversation – that's why it feels so put out! Besides the more direct work on releasing the unblocking the fascia in certain parts of my body, he's also helping my system to make new connections and relationships. Part of the conversation he's having with my body (I think) is about saying things like "hey, what about making friends with this part over here?"

I said to Giovanni at our last session that I understood our work to be on the level of connecting body and mind. He thought that was too simplistic! He thought it better to think of the work on four dimensions not two:

Physical tissues

This would be the muscles, fascia and bones that make up your body. The physical stuff.

Mind that makes sense of things

This is the part of the mind that likes to make sense of things, make storylines, and interpret what's going on. For example, "my pelvis has an anterior tilt (bum sticks out) because my hip flexors are tight and my sacrum isn't free to move easily", or "I round my shoulders forwards because I feel timid", etc.

Coordinative function

So we've got the physical stuff of our body, but when we bring that into movement that's a whole different story. How we coordinate our movements and actions are a function of things like who we learnt from, our environment, our habits, past injuries or traumas, etc.


This would be on the level of the way you perceive yourself, or how you'd like to be perceived in the world. For example "I'm a hurt person", "I'm a big tough guy", "I want to stand up straighter", "I want to be more confident", etc. These are the intentions or resolutions that we make that influence how we coordinate the physical tissues and how we make sense of all that.

I feel like I'm just starting on this Rolfing journey. It's a whole different wisdom which isn't yoga, but is. Ida Rolf studied yoga in her early life and yoga was a major factor in her understanding of the human system. Giovanni also teaches yoga based in the Scaravelli method.

I am a member of the Zenways sangha led by Zen master Daizan Skinner Roshi, and I teach meditation, mindfulness and yoga at the ZenYoga studio in Camberwell, London. See my website for further details.

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