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When I entered my therapist’s office last week, the session started with a 30-minute consultation during which I described the most prominent and frustrating discomforts in my body, including postural/gait imbalances stemming from a small labral tear in my left hip, which leads to pain and locking in my sacrum and low back, as well as leg-length discrepancies that make me feel like I’m wobbling; a left shoulder that always feels sloped forward and contributes to neck and occasional jaw pain; and an incredibly tight psoas that constricts full diaphragmatic breathing.
The next step was for Laurie to examine my posture as I talked my way through how my body felt from the inside.
Standing fully clothed in front of her, I closed my eyes and described the way the soles of my feet pressed into the floor, how my knees balanced my weight, what the inside of my pelvis felt like as though it were a bucket carrying grains of sand. Was the sand evenly spread from femur to femur? Or did the sand feel heavier on one side? We used this kind of visualization up through my shoulders, and then I walked across the room a few times for her to assess my gait.
Some people may find this kind of description difficult to tap into, but as a very visual and sensory learner, I found it very natural and was happy to be with someone who worked in this manner.
I liked Laurie before I even stripped down to my underwear and got on the table!
The 60-minute bodywork session began ever-so-gently with Laurie pressing key acupressure points in my face, neck, and scalp and eventually working into my shoulders and arms, my ribcage and diaphragm, and then some work on my hips, buttocks, and upper legs. This is the traditional format of Session 1.
I was prepared for tightness in my left shoulder, and it was there. But it was never more than I could handle, and the most intense moments only lasted a few seconds. Laurie was constantly readjusting my arms, elbows, and hands like a puppet, and it felt good to move with the massage rather than lie passively and have someone dig in.
In that sense, my first Rolfing session felt like a combination of all my favorite bodywork/movement modalities—traditional massage, Thai yoga massage, chiropractic, yin yoga—all wrapped into one package, with a side of deep meditation.
I have a history of falling asleep during massage sessions, and although the Rolfing was at times surprisingly relaxing and comforting, I never felt the urge to drift off, mostly because I was taking great pleasure in the ways Laurie’s attentive work allowed me to feel my body in ways that had been locked off for so long.
For example, when Laurie worked on my perpetually tight psoas—which has been pulling on my diaphragm and sacrum for some time now—I experienced a wonderful opening in my sacrum, a sensation deep within the tailbone that I have only felt once before during a particularly intense A.R.T. session on that same area.
It was like smelling a marvelous new scent—imagine your nose suddenly inhaling something delicious—except it was my low back feeling something that had never been felt before.
I believe the words I said to Laurie were, “It feels like you’re tapping into a hidden repository of feeling in my sacrum!”, like Indiana Jones coming across a new, glimmering treasure buried deep in an ancient temple. It was there all along but just needed to be discovered!
I had a similar experience in my torso—after several minutes of her fingers smoothing out the tissue between my ribs, I had the sensation of my chest just opening and opening and opening like a blooming flower in fast forward.
My post-session description: “It was like a gynecological exam for my ribcage; she just spread me wide open!” It was a new sensation of expansiveness that I have not felt in a very long time.
Rolfing was no doubt more intimate that a traditional massage session in the way Laurie needed to work deep near my ribs and tailbone. That meant working near my breasts and close to my coccyx (i.e., at the top of my butt crack), but the sensation was more relieving than weird or uncomfortable. I am not modest when it comes to pain relief!
The work was also highly energetic and meditative for me. When she worked on my solar plexus, I felt a relaxing blue color spread through the area. Later, as she touched the same area as I lay on my side, I felt a wave of emotion swell from torso to throat, enough to make my eyes tickle with the beginnings of tears.
Midway through the session, I began to feel like a pot of water sitting on the stovetop, as though tiny happy bubbles were beginning a slow and steady rumble under my skin. I described the sensation to Laurie.
“What do you think that is?” I asked.
“That’s called good ol’ fashioned energy!” she replied.
By the end of the session, the bubbling had intensified to what I described as feeling jittery, giddy, and highly caffeinated. Laurie indicated that was a good sign, that we had worked deep enough to tap into the energetic body. Right on cue, it was time to wrap up the session before the energy got too intense.
Sure enough, as I lay on my back and Laurie did a few final touches on my scalp, something amazing happened.
She pulled her fingers off of my head, but I could still feel her. I knew she was no longer physically in contact with my head, but she was doing something above my scalp, and it felt like my facial skin was being pulling upward, a kind of energetic facelift. The sensation triggered an eruption of energy, which spilled forth in a burst of laughter.
It was not ha-ha funny laughter or nervous laughter but simply my body’s way of releasing the energy she had been coaxing. Almost instantly Laurie laughed back, saying she was keenly aware of the bubble of energy she was working with as well.
Stepping off the table, I felt amazingly aware of my bodies—yes, plural intended—my physical and energetic bodies. I felt like the planet Saturn, surrounded with rings of sensation that reached far beyond my corporeal surface.
Laurie encouraged me to use that sensation as a support, to learn to be comfortable being supported and carried by those rings of energy rather than using brute physical force to carry my body through space. I love this visualization, and I will probably write in greater detail about it later as I learn to incorporate it into my dance practice.
Before I left, I stood in front of Laurie again, feeling my way through my body from the bottoms of my feet up to my scalp. I was surprised at how firmly my feet were planted into the ground, when earlier I felt so wobbly and off-balance. The amazing thing is that Laurie didn’t do any work on my legs below my knees, which goes to show that everything is indeed connected.
Other immediate effects included a very acute tingling sensation in the big toe joint of my left foot, as though someone had spread Biofreeze on the area. This is the toe that has arthritis, and I couldn’t believe how vividly it was “speaking” to me after a session that included absolutely zero work on my feet.
It wasn’t pain, just an energetic “Hello, stuff has opened up in the rest of your body that is now trickling all the way down to me. This pesky arthritis has ‘locked’ me out for some time, but now I’m beginning to feel again!”
I felt strangely alert when I left Laurie’s office. Massages tend to make me super-sleepy and lethargic, but the feeling I had after Rolfing was more akin to how I feel after meditation or kundalini yoga—totally in tune with the world around me, grounded, radiant, and receptive.
That evening, I attempted a simple backbend by pressing my hands into my sacrum, raising my chest, and tilting my spine back. Recently, my range of motion in this pose has been embarrassingly limited with my thoracic tightness, but that night I was able to see the wall behind me. I could not believe how far I was able to go back and the wonderful opening in my chest that allowed me to do so.
* * *
At the time I drafted this post, it had been exactly 1 week since my first session, and although I feel tugged by my old compensatory patterns, I am trying to be mindful of my movement and work on staying open and expansive.
I have noticed much more opening in my sacrum, chest, and shoulders during my warrior lunges in yoga and considerably more flexibility in my spine during backbends (but not as deep as that one the first evening). I can also bend forward into gorilla pose without feeling the usual psoas-sacrum-hamstring tug that so often limited my stretch.
I am staggering my 10 sessions every two to three weeks to help with the payments, and Laurie reassured me that I won’t “lose” what I’ve learned in-between sessions.
I return this week for Session 2, which involves the feet and lower legs. Watch out, Arthritic Toe!