Rolfing isn’t Lol-fing or Roll-fin

I took the first rolfing session in my life. I had heard about it (trivia: the Japanese novelist Yoshimoto Banana’s husband is a rolfer) but never tried it, because…here I am in Taiwan, the home of Chinese medicine and qigong, and the idea of trying a Western practice that doesn’t involve a knife seemed ridiculous.

It turned out to be the greatest physical therapy experience I could have ever asked.

My rolfer (masseur) first let me stand in front of a mirror in my underwear. There I was, a perfectly healthy, balanced body—so I thought. She started pointing out what was out of shape in my body, one by one. My right knee was higher than my left one. My left shoulder angle was lower than the right to some degrees. And for the best, my left thigh was facing outward, but my left waist was facing inward, then my left chest was facing outward. I was a human towel, twisted as hard as it could be along the vertical axis.

I had been watching my body for about four decades and have never realized how out of balance it had become. At the end of the visual inspection I was seeing the Elephant Man in the mirror.

The rolfing session began. She started gripping and twisting my muscles here and there. Not too strong, not too soft. I was frustrated at first for hearing no cracking sound and feeling no deep stretch. All I thought was the rather expensive fee. I was mentally cooking up a future plan to take only the inspection (sort of a human X-ray picture) with discounted price and then run to a nearby Chinese massage with detailed instructions.

Then a small typhoon was born inside my body, somewhere in my torso. It gradually covered my body, causing buzzing sensations everywhere. (Chinese acupuncture gave me similar sensations.)  It was a curious mixture of agony and pleasure: on one hand my muscles were tightening and heating up, making me want to scratch my muscles from inside. But at the same time the buzz was massaging my body inside out, sending waves of stimulation and relaxation in alternation.

This video shows more or less the experience I had.

After the session, I walked for a few steps—and saw that my view, much more so than my body, had completely changed. It was as if someone inserted a pole in my backbone. When I walked around, it was as if I became the king of the world, blessed and admired by everything that came into my vision. I saw the world with clarity and in its entirety, thanks to the confidence and angle that were brought by the adjusted posture.

Actually, I didn’t care how my body looked afterward. I was just happy that I did not have to tiptoe around in timid fashion anymore. My body was fully connected with the ground and the sky, and I was sailing smoothly between the two realms, thanks to my straight-up and centered torso that were no more blocking the lubrication flow around my body.

I have tried chiropractic in the past, but my rolfer’s explanation said it well: I could adjust my bones, but if my muscle remained the same, my body would eventually come back to the same twisted position. Rolfing changed my muscle orientation. If my body were a tent, my bones were the poles and my muscles were the strings. You can’t expect the tent to be stable just by changing the pole position and leaving the strings. Eventually the string will bring the pole into its original (and wrong) location.

I had experienced a series of physical practices after leaving years of sedentary desk work life: Dancing, chiropractic, and now rolfing. I finally learned the truth. When your body orientation is out of balance, it becomes your norm. You believe you have a fine-tuned body albeit small issues here and there, and look for outside reasons for your continuous migraines, back pains, sleep deprivation, fatigue, narrow vision: anything that isn’t physically (or even mentally) working in you. Something or someone else is always to be blamed.

The physical therapies completely shuttered my such false conviction and opened my eyes toward the fundamental issue: If I have an unbalanced body, I will keep having an unbalanced health and life. I am learning to surrender myself to the humble truth that, in fact, I will always have to start from my inside to deal with what looks like an outside issue.

Mentally, we have started to accept the inside-out approach: It isn’t much about what other people do to you, it is more about how you respond to what happens. The same goes for our physical realm, and in closer look the two worlds are intertwined, dissolving the boundaries. Out-of-the-shape minds creates out-of-the-shape body, and vice versa.