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Bodywork and Baking Bread

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 15 - October 1996

I have a good friend named Donna (not her true name) who started studying body therapies about twenty years ago. The first therapy she learnt was a form of structural bodywork, an offshoot of Rolfing. She was a very serious student taking copious notes all the time.

She practised for a couple of years and then realised that although the structural work was very powerful it had its shortcomings – it did not directly address the habitual patterns of her clients and was not that effective when dealing with people who were severely neurologically impaired. Fortunately Donna had the opportunity to study under Moshe Feldenkrais, and over a four year period she studied the Feldenkrais Method which emphasised improving the client's nervous system patterns. Again she took copious notes trying not to miss anything the Master said. She would go so far as to hound Feldenkrais's assistants to ferret out more information. Donna had all the makings of an exceptional Feldenkrais practitioner. She was naturally talented and had the basic knowledge down pat.

After completing the Feldenkrais Training, Donna spent the next couple of years giving seminars in structural bodywork, doing some Feldenkrais work, and teaching a mixture of the two. But Donna still had this gnawing feeling that despite all the training there was more to bodywork, something she had not learnt yet which would make her an even more effective body therapist. Donna was in luck while in London, she was able to persuade one of the finest Alexander Technique schools to accept her as a student. So for the next three years she studied diligently and was certified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique.

Donna has now taken a break from further studies (I'm sure this is temporary as she is already considering the need to study NLP to make herself an even more effective therapist). She spends her time going around Europe and the USA giving seminars and mini-trainings in Feldenkrais work, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and Alexander, Tai Chi and Alexander, Yoga and Feldenkrais etc. Knowing Donna I'm sure she has a lot of knowledge to impart and teaches what she know well.

However, over the years, I have had a number of sessions with Donna. I've experienced her structural bodywork, Feldenkrais work and Alexander Technique a number of times. And to be blunt, in all the sessions, I've found the work to be at best mediocre. As I've experienced over the years hundreds of sessions of bodywork, I am in a good position to judge the quality of her sessions.

At first glance this is surprising. Here we have a talented person (Donna) who had many years of training and took her studies very seriously, knows the minutest details of various bodyworks, teaches well and yet only does mediocre body therapy sessions; this is even more surprising since my friend Donna often would offer me combination sessions combining in the one session more than one type of bodywork. One would expect the sessions to be particularly effective because of what is called synergy, but they weren't.

Synergy, simply put, means if two (or more) therapies are effective they can be used intelligently in combination so that the result is even more effective than any one of the therapies used individually. In other words, a case where one half plus one half equals more than one. The concept of synergy has become popular among certain somatic therapists, but I have my reservations.

I believe the reason Donna was not a first-rate therapist can be easily explained with an analogy to the process of baking bread. After kneading bread the next step is allowing the bread to rest and ferment a while to allow it to properly rise (with the concurrent chemical changes). This takes time. In the past there was no substitute for this time of resting. With the commercialisation of breadmaking there developed the Chorley-Wood process, a way of avoiding this long time-consuming resting process. Much of the bread available in Great Britain today uses the Chorley-Wood process. This mass-produced, speeded-up bread sort of looks like old-fashioned bread but lacks the flavour and texture of real bread.

Donna's bodywork looks like the real thing but lacks the depth and subtlety of the original. Donna never took the time, the many years needed to fully absorb the full depth and subtleties of her studies. Yes, she could parrot all about structural bodywork, the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique but her hands-on work was no better than Chorley-Wood bread.

One of the main ingredients in becoming a masterful practitioner is time. It takes many years before you can master any complex form of somatic therapy and by jumping to learn another form of bodywork one cuts short the necessary incubation period.

To my mind this calls into question some of the new trainings in bodywork which offer an amalgam of bodyworks psychology or spiritual development. The idea behind these trainings is synergy; that is by offering a package you get a more powerful result. I've met a few people who graduated from these programs and I'm convinced that what they receive is a pale, emaciated, impoverished version of an original system. The sad part is that these graduates have no idea what they missed. They think they mastered two or three therapies when in truth this is impossible without time and single-minded dedication and more time.

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About Allan Rudolf

Allan is a Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner and trained with both Dr Rolf and Dr Feldenkrais. He now lives in China and is not contactable.

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