Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rolfing and Body Weight Part 2: The Vocabulary of Beauty

"You know something strange," the woman in my office started to tell me, "Ever since I started getting my Rolfing sessions, people keep asking me if I've lost weight.  But I haven't.  I keep getting comments like 'You look great!  Did you lose weight?'  What's going on?"

This happens, I've heard about it many times.  People who receive Rolfing do look better, and most of the time it has nothing to do with weight.  But our society lacks the proper, sophisticated vocabulary to talk about wellness and health.  Instead, we are bombarded by media that grunts in the primitive binary language of "fat" and "thin", and the only verbs are "lose" and "gain."  Thus, we observe the phenomenon that the word "thin" is equated with "beautiful."  It is no wonder, then, that words that relate to body weight are the only words most people have to talk about our appearance.  That said, it is true that some people who go through the Rolfing series not only feel longer and lighter, they also look longer and lighter.  For example, it certainly flatters the figure when the shoulders aren't hugging the ears anymore.

In any case, I'd like to introduce a few words to your vocabulary that refine the concept of looking good.  They are also words that we Rolfers use amongst each other to describe what we see.

"Embodied."  To be embodied is such an important part of holistic wellness that a good third of the Rolfing training is dedicated to this, called Embodiment.  It means "inhabiting the body", or, in daily speak, "being present."  We all know what someone is like when they are emotionally absent, but we Rolfers can also detect when someone is physically absent in their bodies, even in localized parts of their bodies.  A person who is not embodied can be described as stiff, out-of-touch, or awkward.  People who are embodied, on the other hand, are graceful, expressive, and possess something called body awareness.

"Oxygenated."  Also commonly known as "glowing."  We commonly witness oxygenation on a person's face, maybe after a yoga class or eating a bountiful green salad.  But true oxygenation is more than just rosy cheeks; it's an overall peachy, supple complexion (compared to the middle-aged smoker's pallid skin).  Individual body parts can also be inadvertently deprived of oxygen through muscle tension or bad posture so that they fail to glow.  I see this most often in lower legs and feet, or even in lumbar regions of the back, as well as, of course, the face.  During a Rolfing series, as the body's magnificent parts begin to co-operate, not only is there greater embodiment, but also a visible quality of glowing as the legs, back, and other hitherto neglected muscle groups are flooded with oxygen.  Often referred to as "looking younger."

"Innervation."  Innervation is the biological process of nerve growth and maintenance that leads to grace and mobility.  Imagine that you have one room in the house which you never use.  Eventually, dust accumulates, and over time you find that it's economical to turn off the electricity and heating in that room to save energy.  It turns out that your body thinks the same way about nerves and tissues:  Use it, or start shutting it down.  So when parts of your body are immobile, why continue supplying those muscles and tendons with expensive nerves?  I see this most often in people's feet, which have sometimes been so cooped up in shoes that they become stiff and paddle-like even in their leisure time.  The result: the person hobbles like a stick figure.  However, Rolfing not only restores long-lost movement, but also gives the entire body function.  Thus, once a person begins using the foot properly in walking, the entire body above it moves more gracefully. 

"Range of motion."  We usually only hear this in relation to shoulders, hips, and neck.  But is also applies to all the hundreds of joints in your body that add up to how you function and move.  Your diaphragm also has a range of motion, in all directions, and a decrease affects how much oxygen you breathe in.  There is also range of motion in the spine, which should undulate with every step.  When the many articulating surfaces of the spine become immobile, people start to lurch or hobble.  Rolfing releases this, so I often observe my clients becoming slinkier and more fluid.

Does graceful, slinky, supple, and fluid all sound good?  I agree, and I'm grateful that bringing these qualities into other people's lives is my job.

"Well, you certainly look embodied today!"