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Well, it’s official. I’ve been Rolfed.
Now that’s a phrase that may raise eyebrows, I’m sure. Is this something that requires filing a police report? Who did what to me, and am I OK? Is this a prank akin to getting Rickrolled?
In short, Rolfing® is a bodywork technique that aims to work out the kinks in the body’s fascia (connective tissue) that have accumulated over years of poor posture, compensatory patterns, and injury/overuse.
It’s different from massage, I learned, in that focal point of massage is muscle. Muscles have distinct attachment and insertion points in the bones, whereas fascia is an interconnected web of tissue that sheaths the entire body, “supporting and penetrating all of the muscles, bones, nerves, and organs” (Source).
Therefore, as the old saying goes, everything is connected. For example, a few years of sitting hunched over a laptop will not only affect your neck and spine but also your lungs, diaphragm, sacrum, hips, so on and so forth.
I’ve been getting deep-tissue massages regularly for several years, in addition to occasional chiropractic work that incorporates the Active Release Technique (A.R.T.). Both have served me very well and have aided in easing discomfort in my hips, sacrum, psoas, and scapula.
However, over the past year the relief provided by massage and chiropractic was short-lived. I’d have work done on my shoulders one day, swim laps a few days later, and feel out of alignment all over again.
Years of yoga and conscious dance have made me hyperaware of my body’s misalignments and imbalances, which has been both a blessing and a curse.
Being in tune with my body allows me to listen and respond precisely to what it needs (e.g., what shoes to wear on a bad hip day, what stretches to do in the morning), but being super-sensitive to every little notion of crookedness also makes yoga class an exhausting ordeal, my mind scrolling through a neverending checklist of all the body parts that feel “off” in each asana.
After a few recommendations from friends, I was ready to investigate this bodywork technique that they claimed changed their lives and introduced a whole new way of feeling.
Rolfing sometimes has an intimidating reputation of being torturous and painful, often likened to a deep-tissue massage from hell. Although some therapists take on that aggressive technique, the original form developed by Ida P. Rolf was not intended to be that way, and the therapist I eventually chose reassured me that her work was deep but not breathtakingly intense.
(In fact, my therapist trained directly with Ida Rolf and has been in practice for nearly 40 years, which was a significant selling point for me.)
The other factor I needed to consider before being Rolfed was cost. Rolfing is by nature more pricey than a regular massage session, and first-time Rolfing clients are encouraged to follow the “standardized ‘recipe’ known as the Ten-Series, the goal of which is to systematically balance and optimize both the structure (shape) and function (movement) of the entire body over the course of 10 Rolfing sessions” (Source).
So right off the bat, I knew I’d have to put out at least $1,000 for my treatment, should I go ahead with the full program.
It was a difficult decision, but after my annual contract at a so-so franchise massage spa ended and I was no longer shelling out monthly dues to another bodyworker, I felt confident going ahead with a plan to reclaim my body.
Stay tuned for a detailed recap of my first visit!
Five years ago (or so) on this day, Friday dawns and I am exhausted after only 3.5 hours of sleep. It’s off to 6:30 a.m. yoga–another round robin sadhana–but I feel pretty crappy. I have no energy, and my body shuts down at 7:40; I steadily fall asleep in a fetal position. Sleep is a great way to make the last sadhana ever more bearable, with less tears.
The doors to Shadowbrook are closed at 9, and we congregate outside before the ceremony. It is beautiful, sunny, perfect. People are dressed up again, this time even more glitzier than last night. I have nothing fancy or flowy to wear, so I wear black yoga pants, a maroon shirt, a silk scarf in my hair, and jewelry–Om jewelry–the symbol that dances in my head every time I close my eyes.
After being very secretive, Rudy finally opens the doors to Shadowbrook:
and there lies an aisle of candles, 62 votives lining the floor, an airport runway extending from the entrance to the stage.
Jurian, Helga, Roger, and Lila are there to greet us, with Megha and Rudy at the front, ringing bells. We enter solemnly, pick a spot to stand, and let the crying begin.
Our names are called out individually, first names only, and we go to the start of the runway. Jurian blesses my forehead with water, Roger sprinkles me with rice, Lila places flower petals on my head, and Helga blows bubbles. Then…The Walk. The longest walk of my life, more difficult than walking down the wedding aisle, because there are the EYES, 61 people not just looking at me but SEEING me, the windows of the soul all gazing in my direction.
I try to look in everyone’s eyes, my hands in anjali mudra, my head bowed. Tears flow freely on all sides. Music plays. The YamaMamas give each other the “Nadi Shodhana” gesture we created as our “gang sign.” I tell myself to Remember. Remember the way I stepped on the crushed rice and petals as I began my walk, the way Roger embraced me in a way I never knew he was capable, the way Helga tried unsuccessfully to blow a bubble in my direction. F.’s eyes first. H. B. J. D. J. Feeling so loved, so appreciated. Rudy at the front, his slow, deliberate application of the red sandalwood to my forehead, so thick, so loving.
The hug, embrace. So slow, slow motion, remembering. Megha. Smile. Certificate. Hug. I squeeze her arm.
The ceremony is long but never dull. Each person brings a new set of eyes. D. is overly dramatic and God Blesses us all. R. does her energy-grabbing mudras down the aisle, S. dances, A. cries, A. looks into each of our souls, J. takes everyone’s hands, J. crawls. Until I look at my certificate, I forget what this ceremony is all about. I simply felt loved.
With our eyes and foreheads red, we gather outside to take in the warmth. We chant Om three times, the sun emerging from behind the clouds only during our chorus. Inside, we dance. We do the Shiva dance, the eye contact/giving-your-heart dance to Om Namah Shivaya. A. leads a Universal Peace dance. The Garden of Grace, to which we all moan. We know this will make us cry yet again, and it does. Where am I needed? How can I support? During my upward dog pose, three people come to my support. I break down.
We gather in a circle, a group huddle. Tight, swaying, warm, close, hand on hand, hand on shoulder.
What qualities did you learn here?, they ask us. We call out our answers: Surrender. Peace. Community. Freedom. Love. Release. Joy. Happiness. Consciousness. Respect. The chorus of words swells. You can only have that which you give away, we are reminded. Love. Compassion. Respect. Devotion. R. is next to me, and his deep voice calls out “Freedom” over and over again. We know this is the end. There’s no pep talk about the Real World, just a very deep understanding that what we learned this month needs to reach beyond these walls. We are yoga teachers; it is our responsibility to extend out and above and beyond. Our circle slowly breaks apart, first dropping arms, then taking small steps backward. Separating. Expanding. Going away to our own place, to spread that love all around.
I am utterly, completely, madly exhausted by the time the ceremony ends at 11:30, but I still muster up the energy to get upstairs to DansKinetics with Megha. I feel depleted on so many levels. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to move. My eyes are swollen.
But then Megha enters, and I instantly feel a jolt of power. She is a conduit of energy and somehow gets me moving. A few times I have to just stand there in awe, looking at the people around me, looking at Megha, who’s probably more exhausted than me, vigorously leading all kinds of crazy dance steps. So f***ing tired but so wanting to move. (Later, I tell Megha that I had no energy, felt drained, to which she replied, “Well, if that was you dancing with no energy I can’t imagine what you’re like with full energy!”)
We end with a dance prayer to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” I got so into my movement that I forgot where I was. I felt all alone, like I was in the Main Hall by myself. I cried afterward, of course, ending the class in tears. Now I was really drained, on so many levels.
I go up to Healing Arts for my deep tissue massage at 2, during which I cry extensively. It is the first time in a while that I was permitted space to just relax and get professionally pampered. My therapist, Elizabeth, puts on the “Mother Divine” CD that is played in all our classes, and that just opens the dam. I just lie there and cry, tears rolling down my cheeks as she massages my scalp and rubs my neck. I feel like she is releasing all the memories I’ve stored from the past month, because all sorts of visions dance through my mind: everyone’s faces, those snapshot images I had earlier this month but now so vivid, REAL faces of the real people I met and fell in love with. I hear Megha’s voice, Rudy’s voice, the harmonium, chanting. I cry, I drift into yoga nidra, I fall into a different kind of Stage 3. Physically, I’ve had better deep tissue massages, but emotionally, this was the best I’ve ever had. Elizabeth knew I was fragile and not to get too deep. It could have gotten a lot worse!
I am so dazed and confused after those 90 minutes that I get lost on the way back to my room–lost!–after a full month of living here. Dorm 129. New people. New women surrounding me, strangers. The safe place that gave me such comfort now feels violated. Reverse culture shock. After a month of such a strict schedule and routine, I have no clue what to do or where to go. Where am I? I have a new nametag now, I’m Jennifer, here at Kripalu for an R+R. The badge doesn’t even say KYTA. I feel unspecial suddenly. I am just an average woman here for rest and relaxation. My last month of being an overworked, drained, spiritually fulfilled YTT student is now gone and forgotten. I walk outside, call Bryan, sob.
I head to to whirlpool next, which is desperately needed. I am alone, no “Roman bath” this time. The minute my naked body sinks into that nurturing, warm water, I break down again. I feel safe in the bubbly water, my womb, but terrified to step out again. It feels so very good, but I cry. Someone steps in briefly and turns off all the lights, and so I chant the student-teacher mantra in the dark, the yoga sutras chants. I swear I hear other voices with me. The water is so loud, but I feel like I can hear the harmonies, 61 other voices joining my one lonesome voice. I smile.
I see J. in the hall, nearly smiling my head off. Seeing a familiar face is so refreshing. We share sob stories. K. is still in 129, and I smile again. The last remaining sisters, the final crew of Kickasana geese. Their presence here alone is gratifying.
I overeat at dinner, because I am empty otherwise. I keep hearing voices in the dining hall that sound like my classmates’. At one point, I swear D. is sitting somewhere. But I look around and see only strangers.
Writing, gift shop, bed. I make a fort out of my bunk bed like K. did when she first arrived,
cry a little, plug earplugs into my ears, and fall asleep very, very easily, 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Five years ago on this day, I stare at a flickering votive candle during meditation, my mind becoming absorbed in this tiny flame’s uncontrolled, wild, uninhibited dance. I mourn for the flame–boundless, quick, graceful, chaotic, yet attached to its umbilical wick, a prisoner. I know this is its natural state, that a flame cannot exist without a source, but I keep staring at the yellow gypsy, wishing it freedom, wishing to see it break away from its tether and whirl off into space. Perhaps, though, it’s OK to be wild, elegant, chaotic, and uninhibited while still holding on–but holding onto the Source, the Self, the wax and wick, the divine. It’s OK to dance with a partner and to still dance freely with your own breath. I look to that tiny flame for inspiration, for understanding. I don’t need to detach myself completely from everything and everyone–I just need to find the proper wick, the connection that allows the heat, the burn, the dance to continue.
The above journaling came as a result of morning sadhana with Larissa, a class that ended up being very, very peaceful and meditative. We enter the room to find Larissa, dressed all in white, surrounded by 60-some votive candles, flickering in the morning darkness and illuminating Shiva more than ever. Each of us takes a candle back to our mats, and there we meditate on the flame. When I close my eyes and go inward, the bright flame turns to a deep purple button, throbbing in my third eye. I love watching its dance externally and then seeing its shadow as I closed my eyes.
We do minimal asana, but Larissa has us go into utkatasana for about 3 minutes, being still, doing kapalabhati, bouncing lightly, and finally releasing the pose inch by inch. We immediately go into tadasana, holding our arms overhead for what feels like 5 minutes. She reminds us that we aren’t hurting ourselves–our circulatory system will still be able to bring blood back into our arms. Find our edge and inch our way beyond. Inner exploration isn’t about staying where you are, but testing the waters. Invite these new sensations into our body, breathe into them, find an inner stillness even among all the heat and chaos.
The prana effect of that holding is delicious, and Stage 3 could not come quick enough. After that, everything feels incredible. It’s 7:15 a.m. and I am ON, I think. We do a variation of nadi shodhana (fingers on third eye and breathe in and out of one nostril only, switching halfway through), which balanced me wonderfully, and I floated down into meditation without hesitation.
It looks like rain today, but right now the clouds linger over the mountains, cool air (not cold), the trees really naked now, a giant black crow squawking on a tree on the patio. It’s hard to believe that right now, 8:40 a.m. on Thursday morning, November 16, I am essentially a certified yoga teacher. That I just embarked on and survived a month away from everything familiar, a brand new learning experience, a whole new course of living and learning. I studied, practiced, dreamed, wept, had fun, had frustration and somehow got rewarded for it all. If only all learning and education could be as fulfilling and hearty. I am getting a certificate for learning to be myself and find safety and security within myself and community. I get a certificate for taking what I love, wanting to spread it out to the world, and learning how to do so. I am so blessed to be rewarded for just wanting to be.
We are told not to come into Shadowbrook until instructed, and a colorful sign on the closed doors tells us to have either clean feet or a pair of socks, two cushions, a blanket, and a partner. R. asks to be my partner, and I say yes. Megha sneaks out the door, giddy as a child, telling us that she feels like a kid on Christmas Day, eager to share that one present with that one special person. Inside our room is a circle of purple yoga blocks, an elegant Stonehenge of sorts, different levels of towering blocks, each tower with a votive candle on top, each stack dressed up with a colorful scarf.
We set ourselves up around the “alter,” foot massages with the receiver on her back, feet draped over the giver’s crossed legs, a cushion between back and root chakra. Tenderness. Face and neck massage, a candle swirled around the receiver’s supine body, the warmth and light penetrating the koshas, delving deep into the intuitive and mental bodies. We are asked to speak…What does yoga mean to me?
It’s the same question we were asked on our first day here, the question that seemed to definite and easy and black and white. I realize now that asking me to define yoga is like asking a Christian to define God, a spouse to define love. I can give examples (“Love is snugging in bed”), but the true, the black-and-white dictionary definition is impossible for me to discover. Yoga is moving from the inside out. Once, I used to dance from the outside in. The costumes, the lights, the audience–they were my stimuli, and I reacted. The external is what fueled the internal. Now, the opposite is the case. I feel my heart and soul quake; therefore, I move, I dance.
Yoga is union, connectedness, oneness. I am that I am, but I am also that of him, and her, and them, and they. I studied creative writing for four years, yet yoga has no words to describe fully. I write, but I have no words. I am empty, full, so full, bursting, but so empty and vast.
We engage in meditation-in-motion, one person acting as the Witness Consciousness, as the other sinks into dance and movement. R. is beautiful, dancing with nature, playing and pulsing with the earth and sky, vibrating with the Earth. I feel intrusive again, being involved in such a profound, personal movement. I feel choked up. In the distance, someone cries, loudly. Sobbing. It is a gorgeous soundtrack. I don’t recall my meditation-in-motion too much, but I didn’t use a mat, and it felt great. I rolled on the ground, caressed, stroked, flowed here and there, in and out, up and down. I recall lots of pelvis motion into the ground, lots of finger twirling, fingers and feet flexing and pointing. I have a deep connection to m hips and knees, and I find myself hugging them close quote often during Stage 3 experiences. The moment is elegant, soft, loud, and pulsing. Always a paradox, always a dance of polarities.
R. looks me in the eye afterward and tells me: “You are grace.”
To close the experience, we sing our student-teacher mantra, and it is both filmed and recorded. I can’t hold back the emotion. We are not loud, but we are strong. Our voices are buoyant, heavenly, beyond this world. Our final Om is _______. No words. Its sound fills me up like a helium balloon. I feel expanded, full, ready to float to the sky.
In the cafeteria, I witness one of the control/operations employees embrace an individual with what looks like retardation and maybe cancer. He/she (it’s hard to tell) is bald. The embrace this man gives is so sincere, so intentional. I watch his fingers wrap around this person, each finger’s motion a slow and tender touch. His one hand just danced a dance of a thousand words.
Five years ago on this day, it is Practice Teach #2. Da-da-dummmmmmm!
After our personal sadhana, the adventure begins. The staff had already assigned us numbers; I was #3, to teach at 1:30 p.m. Blah. I was really all prepared to go in the morning. G. went first, then came lunch. I ate way too fast, but I did run into [yoga teacher from home] in the buffet line. We didn’t have time to talk much, but we hugged and it was a comfort to see a familiar face. Carrot ginger soup, salad, studying. Twenty-five minutes on the treadmill listening to Alias music and “What a Feeling” from Flashdance. Confidence booster. My facilitator turns out to be Danny, who wears pink toenail polish.
I don’t remember (again) much about my class. I remember joking about the Reuben sandwiches served at lunch and how we wouldn’t be doing wind-relieving pose or bow. I was definitely better prepared than last time, but it still felt weird, a new pair of shoes. But is IS a new pair of shoes. I’m not used to being a teacher. It is a new pair of shoes. I felt good in the moment but kind of hazy afterward. What just happened? Were my transitions too choppy? Did I make the students hold the posture too long while I talked? I forgot the lateral side stretch in my pratapana! I didn’t have a cool-down pose between warrior and savasana! But my languaging was on, everyone appreciated my foot rubs in savasana, and I felt confident during the class itself. I just feel confused now. Does this feel weird because of the clipboards? The constant chatter? The incessant noise and distraction, the sardine-type environment? When it’s over, I’m relieved but mentally foggy.
J. closes our practice, and then we had yet another sadhana with Ray. Ray was awesome but unfortunately I had hit rock bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in a yoga class, even those at 6:30 a.m. We did a ton of forward bends and downdogs, and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I’ve never had such a weak triangle and wobbly warrior II. I conked out somewhere between plank and half-shoulderstand and sunk into savasana. It’s a shame, because I think he was saying some great stuff, but I was just gone. No yoga nidra for me–just sleep.
We have a beautiful, beautiful evening in Shadowbrook with singer/songwriter Linda Worster. We spread out blankets and cushions and form a massage clinic, a 10- to 12-minutes massage per person, as Linda sings intimate, melodic songs to us. Candles at the altar, Shiva at the helm, Linda on guitar, and a whole lotta TLC all over the room. I massage H. and M. and then they work on me, me sinking into samadhi. These people, these complete strangers, now together in a deep sense of respect and love, nearly crying at the beauty of the moment.
After the massages, we set up the backjacks for a concert, laughing at Linda’s songs about her cat and travel buddies. When the songs get slow, Megha disappears to the back of the room to dance, eloquent lyrical dancing. I can’t stop myself. I must dance too! Must dance! Soft lyrical music. Dance! Slowly, I step into Stage 3 movement, a combination of both wonderful music and wonderful company. How much more can I ask for? Santosha.