The Third Finger
by Hans Flury
One of the many anecdotes told about Ida Rolf ends with her calling across the room: "No, it's under your third finger!" Concerning this peculiar and in several ways remarkable incident, a naive and curious observer will come sooner or later to ask three questions:
1. What was "it" that was under the third finger?
2. How did she know that "it" was there?
3. What was one to do about it?
The position of the naive and curious bystander is often productive. lt refers here to practical as well as theoretical questions and problems which are sometimes underrated as to their importance. Concerning the practical work, the questions illuminate what could be called the existential aspect of the Rolfer's situation. They reflect exactIy the questions he asks himself or should ask himself all the time day in and day out, such as: In which way is this structure not normal? What would normal look like in this body? What kind of intervention would help it most to become more normal? The client's situation is characterized by his coming in for treatment He generally expects well-being, pain relief, personal growth, or other such goals which go far beyond that which the Rolfer offers and for which he takes money: the integration of his structure. The Rolfers' s professed goal and promise is unspectacular in itself, and only in as much as the structural improvement spreads in its effects to the larger goals of the clients does the undertaking prove worthwhile for them. There are other means to these ends which are not Rolfing. And the Rolfer and the client must sometimes resign themselves to realizing that the integration of structure does not always bring about the benefits expected on the higher levels. Rolfing is not a panacea, and beyond this our knowledge of how and when it influences which higher states and functions positively is sketchy.
So in practice Rolfing is generally a means to another end for the client. But this is also in some way true for the Rolfer because he is usually not simply aspiring to make hundreds of pairs of feet a little more parallel, and he is not content with simply having horizontalized every pelvis he could lay his hands on. He also would perhaps like to initiate a personal evolution or to make life worthwhile again for a client in chronic pain. But it is responsibility to study structure and find ways of integrating it, and to know what's what in the physical body in terms of vertical and horizontal lines, fascial differentiation, resilience of tissue, etc. This is his professional duty -- if Rolfing aspires to become a profession which it certainly is not yet. So the Rolfer must deal constantly with technical questions, with the help of his unproven idiosyncratic and fragile concepts of normal structure and its integration. The client doesn't and doesn't have to do any of that. He usually doesn't have the expertise and he certainly doesn't have to muster interest for such technical matters.
There is very little firm knowledge the Rolfer can rely on in this difficult situation. He can draw on essentially three sources when trying to orient himself in the bewildering mystery any structure presents. The first is Ida Rolf's theory of normal structure as laid out in her book. As consistent and complete as it is, translating its concepts into the structural reality of a client doesn't come easy. It is not so simple to see what would be normal for any part of the body, not to speak of the whole body as a system. And when one has a somewhat clear notion, it still is not easy to see how exactly that part deviates from normal. Furthermore, because of the circular nature of structure where every part relates to every other part, observing one part in isolation is not infrequently useless. When the head is off to one side e.g.,all the other parts of the body will be off center too, because they have to fit the head.
Secondly the Rolfer relies on the recipe. The trouble is here that it tends to be formulated either in very general and vague terms or as a concrete course through the geography of the body. In the first case it lacks applicability, in the second the structural individuality of the client is lost. In addition, the recipe was never defined and is strictly in the oral tradition. It is so open for arbitrary indusions, exclusions, and interpretations which have led to a wild variety of versions.
The third source is imitation of the teachers and other experienced Rolfers. This has several disadvantages besides the obvious necessity of this type of learning. Because of the lack of criteria Rolfers are generally not able to talk about what they are doing, and why, and for what purpose, except in the most general terms. This "learning by osmosis" takes many years of apprenticeship. The process is slow, and evolution of the work is also very slow in this traditional form of transmitting a craft. It would also take a very long time -- if it ever came to that at all -- until a certain "unite de doctrine" would be reached so that it could be said that Rolfing is a method which looks sufficiently similar with its individual practitioner.
What is needed behind the practice a theory. Its development would allow to accelerate the pace of gaining a better understanding of structure immensely. It would permit all the practitioners to participate in new insights quickly. And it would allow to test the practice, the beliefs and contentions that lie behind it so that what is found to be of value could be confirmed and developed further, and what has proved to be useless could be discarded.
Supposing that such a theory could be a science, it is evident that it would focus on the practice as expressed in the "existential aspect" of the Rolfer's situation. It would be an applied science comparable to medicine or engineering. As such it would draw heavily on natural sciences, especially physics and biology. But it would have its own specific way of asking questions, and therefore the answers found would be specific and valid only in its own context in a strict sense.
It may sound preposterous to compare Rolfing with medicine and engineering. It doesn't possess a history of thousands of years of prescientific development of crafts and arts like these two highly evolved applied sciences. It is much more limited in scope. But the hypothesis deserves at least to be examined. If it were discarded right away, it would mean to renounce the powerful tools for evolving the body of knowledge which the scientific method promises.
If the potential of Rolfing for becoming a science is at issue, the question of whether it constitutes a "field" should be investigated first. Ida Rolf of course called Rolfing expressedly "the field of personal structural integration". "Personal" refers to the practice, the factual work of integrating persons' structures. Perhaps it is also meant to point from structure to the whole person. A "field" has two characteristics. It first defines a certain aspect of reality which is the object of enquiry and work. Secondly, it implies a certain point of view, a standpoint, from which one looks onto that object. The object maybe the same for several fields which then only differ in the points of view chosen. Most of reality looks very different depending on the point from which one departs.
The object of the Rolfing view is the physical human body at first. It shares that with many other fields, but the point of view appears to be original. It looks at the body basically as a construction in the gravity field. This specific way of looking does not seem to be shared by any of the existing fields and methods. It is common experience that when Rolfing is compared with other fields that seem similar superficially, and when the comparison reaches a certain depth and concreteness, the differences and incompatibilities become increasingly larger. When the function of the knee joint is discussed with representatives of other fields e.g., it will soon become clear that the reference systems are very different. Most methods go from the anatomy of the joint and norms derived thereof while the Rolfer considers the relationship of the gravity centers of the thigh and the lower leg and the rotational axis in terms of verticals and geometrical planes, elates this to the whole structure, and then examines the impact of gravity on it. The results of such deliberations may be very similar or they may be different. The question is then not who is right -- both or all are within their respective theoreticaI frameworks if the reasoning is consistent. What turns up is the realization that any two of such systems don't relate in a one-to-one manner. They relate more like different languages. They can perhaps be translated into each other. But in the process they invariably lose some connotations and meanings and acquire others which were not contained in the originaI.
Ida Rolf was fond of monism. But that doesn't mean that everything is the same anyway because "the two aspects unify only at the subliminal level" which exists outside conscious awareness" (Rolf, p.22). On the much smaller scale discussed here, the various points of view are discontinuous, one cannot go from one to the other in a smooth way.
The historical fact is interesting that Ida Rolf tried for along time to get her point of view across inestablished fields. That she failed in this and set up her own school eventually is not because she was inarticulate or because it was refused for petty reasons. It was very probably due to the basic incompatibility of view points. To accept the Rolfing view point would have meant to transform one's own field. This would inevitably have led to the loss of parts of knowledge which would neither be desirable nor sensible.
The point of view can be exactly described by the basic question it asks: what must the structure of the human body look like to hold up best in the gravity field and function or move in it in the easiest way ? Thue practice wants to know in addition how to create this ideal structure. The second part -- how man move easiest -- can be called the economical premise of Rolfing. In practice it says that the structure which can move the easiest way is closest to normal in the Rolf sense . Economy belongs to the level of function. Rolfing shares it with several other methods, e.g biomechanics or the Alexander method, which implicitly or explicitly go from the same premise. What makes the Rolfing approach singular and specific is that not movement of he body as it is considered but its structure. Moreover, this structure is understood as a whole, a system, and thirdly:this sytem is always and inseparably subject to and determined by the gravity field.
If another field shared this object and the viewpoint for enquiry, it would necessarily come to the same conclusions as Rolfing. It would be Rolfing! Otherwise its reasoning -- or that of Rolfing -- would be faulty. With the field defined this way the question can be asked again how it could become a science. Unlike many other newer viewpoints Rolfing has a certain advantage here. It is firmly rooted in the body of Western science so that if one accepts the basic economical premise and asks the basic question mentioned above anyone will arrive at the principles of Rolfing using consistent deduction.
In the historical view, generally at least two phases in the development of a science can be distinguished, a qualitative and a quantitative one. In the qualitative phase, patterns are described, relationships are established, phenomena are structured with little regard for the quantitative issue. After usually a long time the quantitative phase starts with measuring such relationships. Medicine was practiced for a very long time before somebody began to actually measure what appears to us as such a simple matter as blood pressure objectively! Of course, quality is still an issue in this second phase: when models are replaced, paradigms change. But the crux of the matter lies in that an ample supply of qualitative understanding is necessary to permit measurements to be taken which further clarify matters and are therefore sensible. Many sciences never make it to the quantitative phase because of the nature of the field and are therefore not considered sciences by some. Others admit other means as proof, e.g. logic. But the common denominator seems to be that contentions, models, and theories which are presented need to possess two properties: they must be internally consistent, and they must be formulated in a way which permits some ways of testing.
Disagreement on what is science and what not is often very outspoken, but it actually doesn't concern the field of Structural Integration much. This is still deep in the first phase. Whether one wants to go toward a quantitative science, or whether one is satisfied with qualitative theory which is supported by other than quantitative argument, the stage of evolution of the field only permits to develop a qualitative theory for the time being. Since its content is determined by the problems of the practice, some parts of such a theory can be named. They are listed according to the three questions asked in the beginning which are reformulated in the following way.
- What would normal look like for this structure?
- In what ways is this stucture not normal?
- How do I get from 2. to 1.?
1. Theory of Normal Structure
This part of the theory is ready to be developed. All important concepts and terms are assembled and described in Ida Rolf's book. They only need to be specified and defined better, and they need to be made applicable. This means finding and defining criteria for what indicates normal in any part of the body which are shown to be relevant and reliable.
2. Theory of Random Structure
"Random" is the opposite of ordered and indicates that the body is not organized along a unifying principle. It doesn't mean that no reasons can be found for why a body has become the way it is. It is also somewhat misleading there exist other such principles than the Rolf order. A ballet dancer's body is ordered to a high degree e.g. but along other principles. A congruent internal or external structure perhaps also qualifies as ordered. The term has the advantage of being able to avoid the loaded term "abnormal".
This part of the theory is largely undeveloped. Its evolution would allow to describe recurring patterns of aberrations and lead to typologies. It would greatly enhance our understanding of the mechanical properties and the meaning and sense of random structures. We would know more about how they relate to normal structure, and the practical work would become much more effective.
Theory of the Process of Structural Integration
A general part would raise our understanding of how random structures are best brought toward normal. Together with the Theory of Random Structures it would replace the usual more or less blind fumbling along a series of interventions which is strangely believed to apply to all and any structure regardless of where one starts with. Rational procedures would be different for because tailored to individual structures. The theory would explain how very differently bodies behave under manipulation and which bodies need which kind of technique and for what reasons to be integrated optimally.
A more special part is the Theory of the Technique which would examine consciously what which manipulation effects, and where which move is indicated. It would provide a kind of sign posts in the process to reorient oneself when one has become lost and so prevent mindless "working" which may just as well disorganize the body as order it. It would furthermore allow to be aware of different kinds of touch and tell in which case which kind is best suited.
Another theoretical part is essential to the field. It would be called the Metatheory. This does not examine normal and random structures and the process of integration but examines the view point taken itself. It looks onto it from outside determining its place with respect to other viewpoints and the specific properties hat follow from the choice of this point. It also examines critically the important terms and their content as to their meaning and significance. As a special task it concerns itself with the nature of structure as a construction.
These topics should about cover the field of Structural Integration. Developing them theoretically can only come from the specific Rolfing point of view, it can only be done within the field. Of course, progress and knowledge in basic sciences could help. If the properties of connective tissue were known better, this would be useful forthe technique because touch could be adapted more specifically to the kind of tissue at hand. A better understanding of the mechanical characteristics of the body could be put to use, too. But all this would depend on work within the field, on making such basic knowledge applicable for the concrete questions of the work.
Several studies exist, and perhaps more will be done, which show positive medical, physiological, psychological effects of Rolfing. Such studies are naturally not in the field of Structural Integration but in their own respective fields. As such they do not concern the field of Structural Integration and hardly contribute anything except perhaps in peripheral ways to a better understanding of structure or more effective work They are good public relations. The responsibility of Rolfing with such studies lies with showing positively that the models' structure is indeed integrated.
It can of course be discussed when serious theory should begin. It is sensible not to start too early, before a certain wealth of ideas has been created from which the more promising ones can be chosen for closer examination. I believe that this point in time was reached when Ida Rolf published her book. It firmly sets the ground to start a theory from by describing the general principles and countless aspects of their meanings for special problems. To this can be added a rich lore of further notions handed down orally. And based on these two sources every Rolfer who takes his job serious develops his own ideas of how structure is not normal, of where "it" is, and what needs to be done about "it" .The majority of such finds are not pearls and deserve rightfully to be forgotten -- as every Rolfer knows! But some appear promising to him, and he incorporates them into his routine and his personal view of Structural Integration. They might serve him well or not, but they always suffer from several drawbacks. First, they are not known to other Rolfers. Secondly, they never reach the stage of concise description involving definitions. And thirdly, since they are never presented in such a way they don't allow to be tested for validity and truth.
There is something almost like a law concerning mental processes -- as everyone knows who is familiar with manic states. When the number of ideas, inventions, associations, and mental flashes exceeds a certain limit, they begin to lose contours and eventually meaning. When the phase has passed, one is left empty-handed and nothing is gained but depressing frustration. This is what has been happening in the Institute for too many years. Idea upon idea is generated and lost again quickly without ever having reached a presentable form to be tented. This is probably the reason why more and more Rolfers turn their attention away to other fields -- which-ever that may be if only it offers a semblance of solidity, rational or esoteric. Those staying with Rolfing converse in strange language which uses so general and diffuse terms no dispute can ever arise and even discussion turns into its own parody.
The intention of the Notes on S.I.. is to change that deplorable state of affairs. The procedure is very simple. Any notion, or any aspect of the practical work, can be taken and brought to a form with some definition. There is literally nothing any Rolfer does or says which is not in dire need of specification and concretization. The form needs to be in writing because only this allows -- although not guarantees -- that it can be examined in detail by all. This of course lead inevitably to the question of what is right and what wrong. It cannot be avoided if some truth is intended to be found; it is inherent in the process of gaining knowledge. But just as naturally not only parts of a relative truth found advance knowledge but also separating out a concept or view which has shown to be useless propels the process. It clears the mind, too.
The alternative is not attractive. When Rolfers claim to integrate structure, this contention cannot be supported by any evidence that deserves its name. It is pure conjecture tampered here and there by some reasonable explanation. But essentially the Rolfer's case rests on believing himself, and although he maybe consoled by clients testifying because they believe in him too, the circular nature of this system lastly doesn't serve to put any firm ground under him. It cannot be recommended to promote sanity of mind.
The Notes on S.I. challenges any Rolfer to come forth with his concepts and views. This entails the risk of recognizing that an idea is not do great and perhaps even wrong and this would mean losing an illusion. But it promises to produce a better base for one's beliefs, a more solid gound of rational knowledge on top of which one may speculate, and eventually a self-confidence founded on observable facts shown to be relevant and reliable and which therefore doesn't have to be protected by rigid rules or misty transcendental beliefs but is able to remain resilient, curious, and alive.
lda Rolf was certainly not shy of speculating daringly. But she also insisted on metaphysics being based on physics. The first has evolved grandly in the field, the second needs to be developed now.
Original publication in ROLF LINES