Spinning in Ida's Grave

The story-with-a-message below was written for practitioners of Structural Integration. A humorous satire on how things seem to "have to" changed. So much so that the original thing is no longer recognizable. Also, even in the face of the original thing being — arguably —sufficient, complete and effective.

There have developed over the years quite the number of variants on Dr. Rolf's peerless and definitive approach. The following was sent as a jibe on the predictable tendency to better the teacher. And, to not leave well enough alone. And, in more than a little exasperation over introducing “improvements” (?) before even the basic original identity is established in the world.

Some history . . .

At one point in time the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration was the first and only school teaching the unique approach to health and wellness originated by Dr. Ida P. Rolf. In a nutshell, the work Dr. Rolf named Structural Integration is based on the idea that the human body works best when it is [structurally] adapted to [integrated] Gravity. If you look around for this simple architectural requisite in the human population, you will see that the humanity has a bit to go in this respect. And, if you contemplate how being at odds with gravity has impacts on health, performance, and general quality of life, you will appreciate Dr. Rolf's contribution.

Since Dr. Rolf's time things have, ahem, progressed.

Typically, and as too often happens after the founder leaves, schisms develop. First, there was only one school, the one founded by Dr. Ida P. Rolf. The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. My school. In 1981, my school anyway. During her time there, Ida called the shots. After her passing a core group held sway for a short time, carrying on with a traditional approach to the work. They essentially managed the organization in much the same way as the founder; that is, autocratically, by their best lights. And justifiably, in their minds anyway — since, as I have it from the horse's mouth, Dr. Rolf took those few people aside and made a covenant with them to protect her legacy and keep it intact after she would depart these shores.

Not surprising there were those with other, better ideas. In fact, judging from my own first day after certification at a member meeting, many others; and loudly vocal and divergent ideas. Mainly on the other side of the spectrum from the traditional. Looking for improvements in the general realm of "more, better, and different". After all, who would argue with trying to make things better? And, who could argue with windy rationales using five dollar words from bright fellows with high academic credentials?

The argument/conversation along these lines continues to this day. Witness now around 20 or so separate schools of Structural Integration recognized by the International Association of Structural Integrators, the professional accrediting organization in the field of Structural Integration. Some are traditional, others open to innovations/mixing in other modalities, one based on unique proprietary anatomical models, another blending in psychological considerations, yet another focusing on offering trainings in underserved locations worldwide. Within each, depending on what teachers are giving the class, besides whatever core curriculum points which are covered which link to Dr. Rolf's original approach, there can be a wide range of emphasis along the spectrum of art versus science, intuition versus technique.

All that leaves me flummoxed still by how [my take] the traditional teaching of Dr. Ida P. Rolf resides somewhere other than the very school she herself founded. So it goes. All I can say is that it is a good thing to have a repository of the original, unalloyed teaching. Of course, now the philosophers will jump in to disabuse us of the notion that there can be any such thing. Sort of like how you can't put your oar in the same place in the river. Yah? Tell that to the Coca-Cola Company though. Existentially, no can of Coke is the same as any other. At the consumer pop-the-seal level, however, pretty much the same thing can to can. When you go to McDonald's, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what you're going to get no matter where you are in the good old US of A is going to taste and look the same. Overseas, the game changes. But, I'll bet, consistent within countries and regions where those permutations exist.

And I won't even get into how the school bearing Dr. Rolf's good name has never done anything to secure the brand identity other than through threat of legal action against anyone using the service marks without authorization. That much is well and good. But not sufficient in any way in terms of brand management. Put simply, you gotta let people know what's in the box. And, the folks have a reasonable expectation that what's in this box of Cracker Jack is going to be in their next box. Alright, but even with Cracker Jack the tacit expectation is that there will be a surprise inside. And, hopefully, different from the one you got last time. You don't however want to pack Rice Crispy Treats inside a box of Cracker Jack. Especially, when you're at the introductory phase of the product/service life cycle and people are forming opinions and expectations for what you're putting on the shelf. In the case of Structural Integration ... that would be into the public discussion and marketplace for health and wellness services.

It’s not too far from the truth to say that there are probably as many variants of Rolfing® as there are Rolfers®Maybe not so much due to the teaching itself, but more to do with how the origin school's embrace of so-called innovation and improvement undoubtedly may have led its practitioners to conclude or feel justified to have carte blanche to do whatever they please. Best intentions assumed, of course. 

It still rings in my ears hearing a Rolfer colleague confidently assert: "I am a Rolfer, and anything I do is Rolfing." It's no wonder that no one really has any clear core idea what is Rolfing or — to use Dr. Rolf's own original name — what is Structural Integration. What's more, there is no clear takeaway among its recipients. All this is further exacerbated by a lack of agreement within the community of practitioners after all these years since Dr. Rolf introduced her brilliant ideas and peerless approach. 

Even that most well intentioned IASI has yet to put out a formal definition of what makes Structural Integration what it is. Meanwhile, Structural Integration in the minds of recipients is whatever their experience may happen to be. I have on some occasions worked with clients who have been to other qualified practitioners. No doubt they like what they got. But, I was amazed to discover that work specified in the training for a particular session(s) — work which would also be indicated even by common sense — was omitted.

No danger of the work itself from being modified out existence, however. Ida Rolf “buried her seed deep.” Maybe not blossoming fast enough to suit some, but the idea that Gravity itself can be enlisted as a potent force for health and well-being, that is still news that hasn’t arrived on most doorsteps.

And, so ... Here's my little parable:

Dear Friends,

I recently discovered yet another branching in our fascinating field. This is in no way a recommendation and I don’t vouch for the efficacy of the method being described. Just a humble reporter, at your service.

Here’s a brief recount of the four w’s: (Who, What, Where, When, Why) Alright, that’s five. OK?

Recently at the mall I spotted this fine young fellow who had the kind of posture and bearing that we professionals would instantly recognize as “structurally integrated.” I approached and introduced myself and asked, “Who is your Rolfer?” Well, first he chided me for using the term without the requisite legal qualifiers; for which lapse I apologized. Then he told me what at first seemed to be a total shaggy dog story; but, it gets more interesting, so read on.

He said that he wasn’t “Rolfed,” but in fact was “Besomed.”

Before telling me all about what I am about to share with you, he counseled me that the terms “Besom®” (proper noun and verb usages) and “Besomer®” (trained/certified practitioner) were privileged terms, there being huge legal and karmic repercussions to use these words even in ordinary speech, even in the privacy of one’s own home. It seems that the name came about as a nickname based on the name of the developer of this unique approach, who is seen here: 

Joe Besom

I may be going out on a limb to share all this with the group, but I am a professional after all and therewith comes responsibility to my fellows (used in the gender neutral sense). I’m not going to tempt fate, however, so the reference to “Besom” (just then) is the last time I will use the term. Next time I hack into the akashic record files I’ll try to erase any evidence that I’ve violated anyone’s rights in this matter.

Pray for me. And, while your at it, excuuuuse me! too.

Anyway, it seems that this approach that I discovered by happenstance seems to have some parallels with our own beloved craft. And, since there is a growing interest in gadgets and other things to do in the group, I also thought this new approach being built as it is around an electro/mechanical device, there would be some interest, particularly among those advanced practitioners working at the leading edge in our field. You know who you are.

The device in question is worn on the body, in the back. It is composed of a long hardwood dowel with some sort of stiff flexible fibers attached to the bottom. The closest I can come to telling you what it’s like is to have you imagine . . . a broom.

The original way this worked was by strapping the thing onto one’s back with the shoulder of the business end of good old fashioned hand made broom right over the sacrum. The handle was positioned to align with the spine. In the early days they used good old duct tape to attach the broom to the pelvis, around the chest, and around the head. Evidently wearing this contraption over a prescribed number of weeks (10 was originally recommended. Can you believe it! Talk about synchronicity!) showed some remarkable improvements in posture among many of whom are called— as we used to say in my old marketing days — “early adopters.” As near as I can discern the core concept has to do with some sort of resonance at the level of the parasympathetic nervous system and the causal body with the vertical arrangement of the wood fibers in the dowel itself. No “spare the rod” in this crowd — tough love if you ask me.

It seems that this is not a new field at all and that there are now several schisms developing out there, each with a slightly different spin on the basic technique. There are, naturally, the traditionalists who hew to the old man’s original ways — old fashioned, hand made broom and duck tape and off you go.

Some thought there could be room for improvement. Obviously, the one thing that always seemed to come up was the issue of pain. Getting that duck tape off was painful and no amount of pussyfooting around that fact seemed to dissuade anyone.

There is naturally the group of young turks who feel there is plenty of room in the field for experimentation/improvements. They now say it’s gentle. In fact, they talk about how it is also "new and improved." (Now, as a former marketing guru, I don’t get the wisdom of saying that something is new and improved when the people who you are offering it to don’t have any clue what the heck the thing is in the first place. I’m just not enough of a philosopher to understand that.)

The "gentle" technique seems to involve wrapping the areas of the body where the duct tape goes with some soft felt straps. This, even to me is an obvious improvement for any number of reasons which I won’t get into at this time. It may even be the precursor to the technique going around now called, "Fascial Wrapping". Just saying.

(There is an intense debate within the group of professionals practicing this approach. The traditionalists feel that the direct tape-on-skin makes for what they call the experience of “purchase.” But the innovators aren’t buying it. The “trads” subject the "new-bees" to stinging mockery and call them “kid glovers.” You could say that the gloves are off on this one. Let the marketplace of ideas decide.)

It doesn’t end there; even if you decide to stop reading this report. The originator did his homework and learned a few things from the experiences within our SI community. He anticipated that some folks would want to put a few new spins on the old man’s basic approach. For instance, if you wonder whether there might be sufficient attention paid to the psychological factors, suffice it to say, and, as you could imagine, walking around with what for all practical purposes looks like a broom strapped to your butt sure does bring up some embarrassing issues.

As far as the 10 weeks that you’re supposed to wear the device, the original instructions suggest 10 weeks but leave it to the wearer to decide. Less or more, depending on results and/or peer pressure factors. This way the newly minted practitioners would be spared splintering off into a new school(s) every time someone decided that the system wasn’t sufficiently holistic or that this or that many weeks were just right or that the old man was, as it is put, "characteristically" full of it. This guy made sure that the path was swept clean for as far as anyone could see.

There have been some new developments in the field which portend to raise this work into the truly holistic dimension. This is where we leave your basic physics and enter the realm of your metaphysics. (My mother told me every time I got cranky that what I needed was a good “physic.” I only mention this.)

The very latest method uses your basic broom. Store bought is fine. (See here for the best, and perhaps, only, broom you will ever need to own. That link goes to Lehman’s, a good source of all kinds of good stuff. Check it out.) Size and type of broom should be determined depending on height and build. Just under the shoulders of the broom bristles are wrapped three layers of medium steel wool each sandwiched between layers of wool felt. This produces an Orgone effect at the base of the spine. Around this two copper wires are wound in opposite directions and the winding continues up to the very top of the broom handle. At the approximate points of each of the chakras the wires are wound three times. Also at the broom shoulders where the wire is started there are attached two copper wire leads that affix to copper bracelets on each wrist. Please get your copy of The Eating Gorilla Comes in Peace off the shelf and look up “Eemen Screen”. This is a devise for balancing the energetic polarity of the body, also referred to as a harmonizing bio-circuit screen.

Sounds like they’ve done their homework to get this concept together. The theory is that there is a phase coherent sine wave generated at the base of the spine which resonates in sympathy with the Sushumna Nadi along its entire length integrating with the Idala and Pingala via the left/right sympathy (their term) evoked (our term) by the connection to the wrist bracelets and the corresponding phase shift, especially when walking. I’m not going to even hint at what kind of effects are possible when walking fast and/or running. You must be certified to even hear about it, and they never write it down. Heady stuff, huh? Kind of makes you want to go and reread someone's* massive missives [name removed to protect the guilty] just to clear your head. (That was a little ribbing. Sort of like the kind he gave me — literally — in a workshop we did together. Simmer! Whoa, boy! *You should know** who you are.) **Actually, that is recommended for everyone; knowing who you are, that is.

There also seem to be a few other refinements. Like using some sections of tissue paper tube encircling the broom handle as a better way of connecting the tape. This supposedly offers more mobility. And then there’s the radical idea of cutting off most of the bristles to enable the wearer to also sit comfortably. Both these ideas are being strenuously debated in their professional journal. Seems the bristles on the buttocks was originally meant to stimulate cranial-sacral respiration. For many it’s a sore point, however. A real pain in the butt. Makes some folks bristle. Literally.

Like you are probably thinking right now, I thought this guy was putting me on. I asked him how well this rather, ahem!, folksy/new-agey approach was making it with the scientific/medical community. “Of course there is the usual resistance to new technology,” he said. “Just remember though, those are the guys who sew metal rods to your spine.” He had his point.

There is obviously much more than what’s in this cursory report. I have the fellow’s name and he has assured me that any sincere inquiries will be addressed when he gets around to it. And then, of course, there’s the next workshop. I’m told that bona fide practitioners from the other schools, after some refresher classes and a peer group review, will be able to be trained and certified, at a price.

Yours as always,


*In some elite circles, yours truly, David D. Wronski, is known affectionately as GravityAce . . ."Ace" to his friends.

Please, don't get cute and offer alternative spellings.

CLICK to read the Standards of Practice I submitted to the International Association of Structural Integrators. It's lengthy, but organized in outline for the reader to scroll to the section(s) of particular interest.

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