In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren are joined by Neal Anderson, Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Practitioner, to discuss how the Rolf Institute addresses the concept of structural integration, the curriculum and training process, the holistic approach to healing and well-being, and success stories Neal has experienced since working at the Rolf Institute.
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0:00:51.1 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.
0:00:51.5 Kristen Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.
0:00:53.1 DB: And welcome to The ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and body work profession. Our guest today is Neal Anderson. Neal is a certified advanced Rolfer and Rolf movement practitioner in practice since 2003. His Rolfing work is deeply informed by ongoing study with Rolf Institute advanced faculty, his teaching and visceral and craniosacral study. He currently practices in Loveland, Colorado. In Neal's words, "It's very important to have work that is fun and evokes laughter. For me, this is true of both my Rolfing practice and my Rolfing teaching. I love engaging with clients and students to help bring them to a higher level of function and living on this planet." Well said. Hello, Neal. And hello, Kristin.
0:01:35.8 Neal Anderson: Hello, Darren. And hello, Kristin.
0:01:35.9 KC: Hi Neal. Welcome to the ABMP Podcast. Neal, I wanna start Off, you've got a really interesting background. You were an architect and then you moved into Rolfing, so obviously there are some similarities there. Tell us a little bit about that.
0:01:48.7 NA: That's right, Kristin. Thanks. I did train as an architect in practice for about 16 years, and some people have said that it seems like an odd switch from architecture to Rolfing, but I think you picked up on it right away. It's all about structure and it's all about how structures stay in alignment with the force of gravity. That was one of Dr. Rolf's big ideas, was that we all live in gravity on this planet and how do we help a client? How do we help ourselves be in the most harmonious state and upright without a lot of structural strain in our bodies? So it's been a lot of fun to be able to transition from a static architecture or the static structure of architecture into the dynamic architecture of the human being. And I'm still having a whole bunch of fun with it 20 years later.
0:02:33.0 DB: What was it that caused you to make that leap? That's Really interesting.
0:02:37.9 NA: Well, this is a funny story, I often tell my students, I call it marketing by harassment. I worked at a university and my colleague across the hall, he was having Rolfing sessions with a Rolfer. This was in Athens, Georgia. And she would come and visit quite often, and then she would also pop her head across the hall and say, "Hey, Neal and you, when are you gonna have come in for Rolfing?" So I like to think she said it so often. I finally threw up my hands and said, "Fine, fine, I'll come in." And the wonderful thing was that within about three sessions, it really felt I could tell that it was different than any other body work that I had received. And then it was really my body and my system was driving and guiding what was happening. And the Rolfer, her hands just knew what to do and let my body express the change and the Structural Integration that was needed. So that was really... That's what got me interested and I decided to come to the Rolf Institute and study and here I am.
0:03:43.4 DB: Okay. Neal, let's set the stage for the podcast today. Can you provide an overview of the Rolf Institute and its mission when it comes to teaching and training practitioners?
0:03:50.7 NA: Sure, Darren. The mission of the Rolf Institute is to train Rolfers and Rolf movement practitioners to go out into the world and practice Rolfing Structural Integration. Structural Integration is the generic term for what Rolfing is, and Rolfing is just a brand of that. There are several schools that teach Structural Integration, and the Rolf Institute is the oldest and the one that was founded by Dr. Rolf in Boulder and still is in Boulder.
0:04:16.0 KC: Okay. Neal, we've talked about your journey into Rolfing. We've talked a little bit about the Rolf Institute. How did these two great things come together? How did you start teaching at the Rolf Institute?
0:04:28.9 NA: Thanks, Kristin. That actually started right at the beginning. Within about a couple of weeks of starting my training at the Rolf Institute, I was just enamored with the quality of teaching and the ways that things were being laid out, that really worked for my brain. And I thought, "You know what, this would be really fun to teach." And so even within about two weeks of me starting my training, the seed was planted and then I consistently worked toward that. And in 2009, started assisting in basic trainings and became a faculty member in 2016. My current role is I do teach the basic training, the phase one, phase two and phase three classes. I am also the chair of the executive education committee, which is kind of the organization on the faculty side that comes together and talks about how we teach and what we teach and how we develop our curriculum so that we continue to have a really high quality education there at the Rolf Institute.
0:05:24.4 KC: Neal, I'm curious about the curriculum. How long is the Rolf Institute program and how is it split up? Tell us a little bit about the structure of the program itself, if you will.
0:05:35.8 NA: The current structure is, and it's been this way for a while, it's three phases of training. So there's a first phase that covers the basics. So we teach anatomy and kinesiology, physiology, basic touch skills because we get a lot of people who come in who don't have any touch knowledge at all. And so we have to teach them how to contact a body in an effective way. And that's about seven weeks. And then there's a second phase, which is learning the Dr. Rolf Ten-Series recipe to take a client through that process. And then we have a clinical phase at the end, and those, the second and third phases are both about eight weeks. And so the whole training takes about a 6-8 months, depending on how the those phases are spaced out on the calendar.
0:06:21.3 KC: Okay. I'm gonna dive deeper into the Ten-Series as the only person in the room who has not either been trained to give the Ten-Series or have received the Ten-Series. I wanna know from both of you, starting with you, Neal, walk us through the Ten-Series and maybe tell us a little bit more about Rolfing techniques for listeners who really don't know what we're talking about. So kind of give us a little bit of info, walk us through the basic structure of a Ten-Series. And then Darren, I wanna hear from you as the client, of course, what the experience was like for you as well. So Neal, let's start with you.
0:06:52.0 NA: Sure. The Rolfing Ten-Series is something that Dr. Rolf came up with as a way to take a systematic way to take a body through a series of sessions so that at the end of it you have a body that feels and functions better. So she broke it down into these 10 specific sessions to work on different areas of the body with different intentions and different strategies so that when you come to the end of the Ten-Series, you just have a much more integrated body, functional body and one that just feels better to be in. So there's sort of three main parts, and I think this is replicated within the other schools, that they have a series of sessions that takes a body, a client's body, and a client through the sequence and with the idea that when you get to the end of it, you just have a... You have a system to take somebody through a series of sessions so that by the end of it they have a better feeling and functioning body.
0:07:50.9 KC: And it's really fascia focused, is that right?
0:07:51.8 NA: That's right. That was one of Dr. Rolf's other kind of ideas was that we have this... She was a biochemist and studied collagen and got a PhD in the '20s and from Columbia, so pretty rare for a woman to be in that field at that time. And she saw the capacity of connective tissue, specifically fascia, to have a bearing on how we hold and use our body. So that's kind of the lens at which we look through the body, at the body as to how do we work with it in a fascial sense to be able to elicit these changes and get these things to stick in a client's body.
0:08:32.0 KC: Okay. Darren, what was the experience like as a client?
0:08:36.8 DB: I loved it. I've never quite done anything like that, nor had I ever worked with a practitioner that consistently for that long. It was great. I don't know if I'd ever had a balance of work where you're really working together for a same goal over many weeks or months. And the communication too, between the practitioner and the client, you're essentially working together. I'm not saying that that's not the case with other body work, but because it's broken down in specific areas of the body and its approach, we were able to each week... I was told that we would be working with these certain body parts or with this portion of the body and he goal would be X, Y, and Z.
0:09:22.6 DB: So I knew that in advance and then knew... It helped me also as a client to understand that this isn't full body massage, that we're working on specific areas and then tying the body together in the long run. I loved it. I developed a different relationship than I'd had with other practitioners because of that communication back and forth. And again, the Ten-Series, we didn't do it 10 weeks in a row. There were often weeks where it could be 2-3 weeks between the sessions to let my body settle and/or integrate. And if Neal, I'm using the wrong words there, please correct me, but let the body adapt to the work that had been done. So each time I came back, it felt fresh and new and like, what are we doing next? What's the next thing? Yeah, I can't stress enough the bond between the practitioner and the client was different than I'd had. Now, I had done a lot of PT stuff in the back and in the past, and even that was vastly different than this because we weren't addressing any specific problem.
0:10:21.9 KC: And curious about two things. What was the assessment like? Was there an assessment at the beginning and then before each session? And then also did you get homework between sessions?
0:10:31.6 DB: Assessment at the beginning and at the end of each session. Absolutely, yeah. Neal could obviously speak more to this, but side view, front view, back view, bending, standing, that type of thing. Just, and then the assessment and then relaying that back to me and seeing whether the work during the session had had an effect. And then obviously when I came back, she had taken extensive notes to start here and this is the thing that she was gonna look at specifically with my body at that time.
0:11:00.4 NA: Yeah, of course, we have to have an assessment process or an analysis process at the beginning and the end of each session because that informs us what to do within the context of the territory we're working in. So when you use the word territory, I mean a specific geographic area of the body. So for instance, in the second session, we're working with the legs, ankles, and feet. And so we do a lot of analysis on how are the legs relating to the feet, how are the feet relating to the ground, what's happening with the arches, what's happening with the capacity for that ankle hinge to work, and how do those things affect both the thigh and the hips above? So we look at that within the context of what we're gonna be doing and then before and after. So when Darren got off the table, there was... It felt different.
0:11:46.2 NA: And though it looked different probably to the practitioner, it felt different for Darren. And then were able to make those connections and have him go out and live with that. And that's really the homework. The homework is live in this body now that it's slightly different. And I think what Darren talked about, kind of getting a different idea and relationship of his own body and feeling into the things in the two to three weeks between sessions, that is the homework. I know you had a yoga and neuroscience podcast just a little bit ago. And part of the thing the brain does is get really interested in how the body feels different and what is different about it specifically. So what are the mechanoreceptors picking up that are... The joints in a slightly different place, that tissue is in a slightly more open and easy capacity to move. So all those things are coming into our brain and it's super interested in what those changes are. And so just doing the things that you normally do that you have, if you have a regular practice of exercise or yoga or whatever it is, do those things but with this slightly different body. And then that becomes the thing that bakes in the change or provides for the interesting change in your own life.
0:12:58.8 KC: And we've talked about the Ten-Series. What's a typical follow-up? How often then would someone come for a session after they've completed that initial Ten-Series?
0:13:05.9 NA: The timing can be different for different people. So I have some clients who've gone through a Ten-Series and they want to come in about once a month, and that's just part of their maintenance. I can think of a woman I just had, she's in her mid 70s and this is just part of what she does to keep her body working. She goes, "Oh my God, I can't believe how all these people are, I see them just hobbling around and I can't understand why everybody isn't coming to see a Rolfer having body work." And so she just does it as a matter of course to keep her body working well. I then have other clients that I won't hear from or see for a year, and then they'll call me up and be, "You know, it's been a while. I just feel like my body isn't quite at the same place or the same if it doesn't feel the same or as open or as easy as it did After we finish the series. Let's set up an appointment."
0:13:55.5 NA: And usually, I'll say, let's have about three in a row because there's a real value in... As Darren has alluded to, sort of having a sequence of sessions that you can take the time to work through what you see in the client and what they're feeling in their body. And you don't have to hit everything all in one session, right? You can take some time to break it into chunks and then work on different things that have been... You know with your client history. These were areas that were more challenging or that were a little more difficult to feel into. And so let's focus on those and get those things caught back up to feeling as awesome as they did after the series was over.
0:14:34.8 DB: Yeah, it was important to me, and now that I think back to it a little bit, 'cause this was early in 2023 when I did it. It was important to talk about the activities that I did. And at that time in the season I was snowboarding and/or playing like a little golf. So she was able to assess that and bring that in and she could see like that my right hip was lower than my left hip because of snowboarding and the way I faced. And so those are the things we worked through. But Neal's totally right, the homework would be to work through it and think through it and have better body mechanics or to at least be thinking about those body mechanics while you were doing those activities. 'Cause I had some pretty poor body mechanics that was probably contributing to some of the stuff I was feeling.
0:15:19.2 KC: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:16:38.9 KC: Let's get back to our conversation.
0:16:41.7 DB: Neal, can you tell us... You addressed it at the beginning just a bit, but I'd like to talk about the distinction between Rolfing and Structural Integration and what makes Rolfing unique, just so the listeners understand the difference there.
0:16:53.6 NA: Yeah. Structural Integration is the generic term for what Rolfing is. So Rolfing is a brand of Structural Integration. So when Dr. Rolf, kind of came up with this back in the '60s and then set up the Rolf Institute to teach it in 1971, she called it Rolfing Structural Integration as a whole term, and people shortened it to Rolfing, and that's kind of what the term is now, but that's a branded name. And so we have other schools of Structural Integration. Tom Myers has one, there was a Guild of Structural Integration that is reformulated that's out there. There's many other schools, or several other schools all under the umbrella of the IASI, which is the International Association of Structural Integration.
0:17:38.2 NA: So what the Rolf Institute does is, we have faculty members who actually learned from Dr. Rolf who are still teaching. And so to have that direct connection to really the founder of this work is really great, I think. I've learned from teachers who learned from them. So I've taken classes from those original teachers that she had. There's the two that are still alive, Jan Sultan and Michael Salveson, and then teachers that learn from them. So I'm sort of in this third category down or third level down, but it's just really fun to continue to interface and work with those people who have been teaching it for so long and to continue to sort of refine and develop how we teach and how we talk about Rolfing and Structural Integration and Rolf movement as well.
0:18:25.5 DB: Neal, how do you balance Ida's legacy and what she taught in any developments and research that occur in the Structural Integration field? Is that constantly ongoing with the practitioners and the instructors at the Rolf Institute?
0:18:42.7 NA: I would say that it is. We have someone who taught Rolfing, he was a faculty member for a while, he's Robert Schlepp. He's a fascia researcher in Germany. And so he's continuing to do really high level research on what fascia is and what it does and what it doesn't. And that continues to inform us all the time about how we talk about Rolfing, how Structural Integration works, why it works, why it is that this specific system of working with a a client's body, why is it so effective at so often eliciting and then securing the change that the client wants? Of course, like anything, it doesn't work all the time for everybody, but it seems like it's a really great system in the Rolfing and especially the Ten-Series, to take a human body through that process really does give the client not only some pain relief and some relief around issues that they're facing in terms of their physical body, but it also just helps the body function more happily and easily. So it's really about function and ease and bringing that into each client.
0:19:50.9 KC: And Neal, let's talk too about the balance between the science and keeping up with research on fascia and so well stated, what it does and what it doesn't, but also the fact that Rolfing takes a really holistic approach to the body. So how do you balance the two, that scientific research approach and the holistic approach and how you teach Rolfing to your students?
0:20:12.1 NA: Yeah, thanks for bringing up that holistic word, that is kind of a key principle of Rolfing. And it is what we like to have in the foreground or at least up in mind all the time when we're working with a client. Not only it's, someone comes in with very common, my back hurts. Well, there can be a lot of reasons a back can hurt. And so being able to work with the client and to say, okay, let's... That's really important. We want to help your back pain, and there are other things that are affecting that. It's not just the back that's hurting. What are the things that are affecting that? How are the legs and the feet affecting what's happening in your back? How you use your arms and your shoulders affecting your back? How is your job and how you live in the world and sit in a chair, for instance, how is that affecting how your back is feeling? So it's not always just about the back, and very often it's not about the back, only about the back. That's the thing that's crying out for the help. But looking at the body holistically, there's other things that feed into this whole this system of dysfunction. And that's what we work with and that's what we train our students to do.
0:21:25.0 DB: Neal, can you share with us any memorable success stories of working with clients and/or students?
0:21:32.1 NA: Yeah, I was thinking about this. Only this week, I've had three very different clients come in. One was a young man in his early 30s, very active, did a Japanese martial arts and a Russian martial arts and had a big background in Tai Chi and some other things. But he was dealing with some dysfunction in his left hip that he couldn't quite get right, in his words. And so working with him, getting him to, with his language and his understanding of his own body and all the things he was already doing, was to get him to function differently. So those sessions were much more about movement cueing, how do you come into these movements? How do you... There was a movement where he had his feet offset front and back and then he would crouch into that position and he could do it easily on one side and not the other.
0:22:23.4 NA: So I had to look at that, that movement and look at how his body adapted to that and how it was different. And there were some very specific things that were happening at the hip and the knee joint, but it was also about how he got into that movement. So simply giving him the cue instead of activating a muscle to make something happen, think about the opposite muscle releasing, to have that same movement happen because as we know, we have agonist and antagonist muscles. And so that simple cue of just turning off the muscle that wasn't supposed to work was eye opening for him. He just texted me from... He and his wife were up in Wyoming hiking. He said, we hiked up, I don't know, 1200 vertical feet, seven mile hike. And the simple cue of, in this case it was the hamstrings, lengthening the hamstrings to actually have the hip flex.
0:23:07.5 NA: He said, "It's the first time in a long time that I haven't felt pain in my hip simply from doing that." So that was a very specific way to work with him. And then the other two women earlier this week, one was coming back to Rolfing after a while. She hadn't seen a Rolfer in about five years, works out a lot, does a lot of heavy strength training. And then she was just having some tightness in her back. And so for her, it was getting into how does the weight training affect how her back is tight? So there was a lot more work within the shoulder and thorax to actually get how those structures were feeding into the dysfunction she was feeling in her back. And that was... And she was... Yeah, she felt a lot better after that.
0:23:54.0 NA: And it was just, for her it was more a structural shortening. So getting into the fascial was about fascial manipulation rather than the movement cueing. And then the... I just had a woman and she's a massage therapist and she comes in for help because, as manual therapists, we use our hands a lot and we need to take care of our bodies. So as part of that, she comes to see me pretty frequently, but her dog had just died. And so for her, the session was not about what's happening with your body in terms of how you work, but it was what's happened with this big emotional upset you have. How was your heart living within your chest and how does that affect the rest of your body? And so with that session, it was a lot more.
0:24:40.3 NA: And she had spent, as her dog was dying, she spent time on the floor with her dog and slept next to her and to be near her. And so that really messed her up physically, as she said, those are her words because she was lying on this hard floor, but it was really all about how do you live now with this emotional weight that's now present in your body? And so it was very little getting in and working with fascial manipulation or working with movement cues. It was more of an emotional session. How do you have your heart live within your body in a way that it can absorb and be big enough to live with this now huge part of you that's missing this, this animal that you've had and this pet that you've had in your family for a long time?
0:25:25.0 DB: Neal, as we bring this podcast to a close, what advice would you give individuals considering a career in Rolfing?
0:25:32.1 NA: I think for this audience who, everybody who's listening has a successful practice as a Touch therapist. And so if you're at a place where you're Touch therapy practice, your massage practice or whatever it is, feels like it's plateauing or you haven't... You're wanting to work with clients in a different way, I think Rolfing can be... Coming to the Rolf Institute and learning about how to be a Rolfer is a really great next step. It gives you a whole... Like I said, we talked about the Ten-Series. It gives you a systematic way of taking a looking at your clients and helping them come into a level of higher function that's more about getting to some of the root causes of what might be causing a pattern of discomfort and a pattern of movement unease, I guess I'll say, that's not really a word or a phrase, but [laughter] I'll say it is now. And so if you're questioning or just feeling like you want something, a deeper way or a more impactful way in terms of how your clients feel and live, then I think Rolfing can be something for you.
0:26:39.3 KC: And listeners handily, they've got a find a Rolfer section of the Rolf Institute website where you can find a practitioner near you if you wanna go and explore. And that's, rolf.org is the website. And luckily, I live in Boulder, so I might come visit the student clinic. So I'll see you at school, Neal.
0:26:57.8 NA: That's Right. We do have student clinics, and in that clinical phase we have to have clients. So please come and also at that rolf.org website, you can find out all the things you need to about becoming a Rolfer, if that's what you're interested in.
0:27:11.5 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Neal Anderson. For more information about the work that the Rolf Institute is doing, visit rolf.org. Thanks, Neal. And thanks, Kristin.
0:27:20.6 NA: Thank you both. Thank you for having me.
0:27:23.2 KC: Neal, thanks for this great conversation about Rolfing, Structural Integration, the Rolf Institute, and taking a holistic approach to the body. We appreciate you.
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