For the past few weeks, I've been getting Rolfing done by Jason Sager, who is fantastic. Some of you know I started Rolfing for my RSI, and that it's been a positive experience not just in terms of pain relief, physical awareness as well; some of you also know I started dancing in order to get over my fear and awkwardness of physical contact, and that dancing has also been a positive experience in terms of cutting down that anxiety and letting me flow - not overanalyze, but actually connect - with another human being's body, without fear, and to communicate and express things through motion. So you might imagine how much rejoicing went on in my brain when I stumbled across Jason and discovered that he was a Rolfer and a lindy/blues dance instructor.
We decided to do the Ten Series, since Diana's earlier work last summer had gotten me out of the zomg everything hurts all the time pain!!! zone and I could now focus more on alignment and awareness and making sure RSI didn't come back to haunt me the same way ever again, dammit.
The first session was a lot of torso work - ribs, abdomen. Here's how Jason describes it:
Often referred to as the "freeing the breath" session, the first session focuses on ribs, shoulders, and abdominal muscles. For clients unaccustomed to breath work this is often a surprising session where many report feeling that it redefines their idea of what a full inhale feels like. Session 1 also introduces the idea of breathing into areas of the body as a means to help release tensions.
I'd already gotten my "whoa, breathing!' moment with Diana, so this was an expansion on that theme. We started out by having me walk up and down the hallway while Jason watched how my muscles and bones moved in relation to each other. He pointed out that I wasn't twisting as I walked - my hips stayed locked in one position perpendicular to my walk path, making me waddle like a penguin. My torso muscles somehow wouldn't let me twist.
As we worked, Jason pointed out that my lower ribs had flared out so my diaphragm was always pulled tight. He applied pressure on the floating ribs to give the diaphragm a chance to ease up, and I was surprised at how difficult it was to get my insides to relax - but suddenly, it was as if stiff cardboard was replaced by pliable sponge, and I felt my diaphragm's motion and went whoa, that's weird. I was feeling the internal three-dimensionality of my breathing for what seemed like the first time; I'm used to thinking about my body primarily as it could be mapped or projected to the surface, to my skin.
The tightness in my ribs was fairly localized to the middle section; when I inhaled, the middle section of my ribs didn't expand -
only the top and bottom of my ribcage did, so it felt like there were separate bellows going in my chest rather than one big integrated breath. We worked on that, and I focused on being aware of the coordination of my breathing; I tend to inhale more than I exhale, so exhaling fully sets me up for better breathing in general. At the end of the session, my breath was integrated from the bottom of my ribcage to somewhere below my collarbone - my neck and shoulders were still too tight to let it go all the way up, but that one's for later.
The second session started in on feet.
Session 2 is the first step towards rebuilding support in the legs. The
primary territory for this session is below the knee, restoring motion
between the bones of the feet, tuning up the arches, and starting to
rebalance how the body rests on the feet. Depending on need, this
session may also involve some work on the upper legs and hips.
I love walking barefoot, and will kick off my shoes every chance I get, so my feet are actually apparently in pretty decent shape. Sweet! I had ridiculously tight calf muscles, though; instead of splitting into two on either side of my knee, my gastrocnemius had fused into one large mass; the muscle on the outside of the calf that allows the foot to tilt/cup inwards (looking at anatomy diagrams now, possibly the flexor hallucis longus) was also inhibiting my ankle flexion, and sure enough, loosening those gave me a new sense of space - very tiny, very subtle, but there - in my hips when I walked.
I also learned that my quadriceps are actually composed of many parts and layers, and that they run at a slight diagonal instead of the perfectly-vertical single-muscle mass I had imagined. I learned this very, very vividly when Jason started easing apart those layers. Rolfing is intense - and personally, I find that very worthwhile and illuminating. As I walked out of Jason's office, I could feel the individual muscles in my legs articulating in a way I'd never been aware of before; they were free to move and I was aware of their movement, so now I have a better chance of being able to keep them that way.
That's all so far; my third session is tomorrow. I've also been borrowing Jason's books, and am starting to learn what sort of books are useful for me in terms of physical awareness. Eric Franklin's books Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery and Conditioning for Dance have been my favorites, and I'm getting myself a copy of the latter. They combine analysis and science (physics - mechanics and dynamics) of detailed anatomy - which my left-brain engineering self can grasp and pick apart - with pictures and imagery and vivid descriptions of where and how a movement ought to feel. And different ways the same movement can feel, depending on how you think about it!
This stands in stark contrast to a lot of "exercise program" books that only show you photos of what a movement looks like from the outside - and then fills half the book with "Maggie, a mother of 4, lost 40 lbs!" pep stories that... well, good for Maggie, but I don't really need that sort of motivation. (I want awareness and control, not weight loss, thank you very much.) Franklin's book is a lovely balance for an overintellectual geek who started out with so little physical awareness she couldn't look at that picture of Maggie at the gym and imagine what it would feel like to do a lat pulldown.
Will report back after tomorrow's session on how I'm feeling and what I've learned. Mmm, the learnnnnnn.