Rolfing is an odd process. It takes me by surprise over and over: how I feel in my body, what I learn, what I talk about with my Rolfer, and how endlessly wise she seems so me — yet how subtly she conveys her teaching, through her fingertips and quiet patience with me as much as through any words.
This last session I achieved a small first: I asked her to stop mid-way through her work. I’m so used to gritting my teeth and enduring that this was a major effort for me. But Rolfing has become a place where I can experiment a little, try a new way. So today a pause instead of simply tolerating the physical sensations as they built in intensity and as they triggered all sorts of emotional reactions.
Once we resumed, my Rolfer said she’d been able to feel my reactions shifting under her hands. So I guess she’d have been pleased by my request for a pause. Except that we’ve talked in the past about how my behaviour doesn’t need to please the teacher!
We talked a little now about working out the cycle of habitual reactions which might no longer serve me well, and how to recognise and ultimately let go of some old stories.
In the days following I try to follow her advice and observe my reactions more clearly as I acknowledge how my body feels during my asana practice — not how I expect it to or would like it to — and how those sensations change under observation and as I tell my old stories to myself. My ears are echoing all the while with a comment my Rolfer made, that I have “a strong and capable body”. My habitual reaction is silently to tell myself that she says this in error because I haven’t told her the truth about my body, that actually it is weak and broken and not as capable as any normal person’s body. And then I begin to wonder: what if she’s right and I am wrong!? Maybe my body is strong and capable. How would that change things?
And when I tune in during my practice I feel for these signs of weakness or infirmity, I test my assumption. I find my practice is strong, my muscles work as I ask them, my body takes an endless variety of shapes. A further test: I turn to something more strenuous, the jump tucks I’ve been working on for the last few months. I hate them. They make me feel weak and pathetic and heavy. Why can’t I get my hips over my shoulders? It must be because my body is weak and incapable, right??
I pause and think through the movement in my mind and realise I’m bending my arms instead of keeping them firm and straight. I vaguely remember my teacher correcting this back in the summer. Oh! And I realise further that this isn’t actually physical weakness, it’s more an anticipation of weakness. It’s a bit of self-sabotage. So I try again with a bit more discipline and care in physical set up and some can-do confidence in my mind. And I manage several in a row where I stack well and have a lovely hovering moment in the air, knees to chest, hips over shoulders. I feel strong, I am strong.
I’m overwhelmed by surprise and a rush of relief. In this moment my doubts about abnormality are suddenly swept away. All possibilities are now open. I collapse onto my mat sobbing and repeating “I can, I can, I can” over and over. Eventually I pick myself up and make myself try again. I repeat this cycle another couple of times. I take care to notice the strength of my body, feel my fear diminishing, a sense of capability increasing. And even the ‘fails’ just become part of the process. Exploration and testing my limits rather than failure. As I bring my practice to a close I find now I can’t wait to repeat my experiment on another day, to see if I can again uncover joy here instead of anticipating weakness and creating a situation where I will inevitably fail.
I also can’t wait to tell my Rolfer about my experiments! But only to share the experience, not to because I need to please the teacher 🙂 I know she’d see through me anyway, if that was what I was hoping for!