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Creating Creativity in Body Therapy

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 28 - May 1998

I've been involved in body therapy for about twenty-five years and although I have studied many systems and styles of body therapy my main practice has always been Rolfing. Being a Rolfer, doing the same thing for so long, can get boring. I place a high priority on keeping my work interesting to me. I have seen too many therapists suffer burn-out to ignore this issue; I find that when I start getting bored I start getting depressed. If the state of medicine were more advanced, many of the death certificates that doctors have to sign would read "bored to death". I don't want a "bored to death" certificate. What do I do to avoid this sad end?

The most obvious approach is to keep changing the work. I feel one of the most important factors in keeping my work exciting and keeping me excited about Rolfing is making a conscious effort to be creative. In consequence, the quality of my Rolfing improves year after year If I were to describe what I do in more detail I would call it Rolfing 1998.

A few years ago I read about a training in body therapy called the Bowen technique (see Positive Health Issue 18 1997). I was impressed with what I read and the training was brief; so I signed up. The teachers, Ossie and Elaine Rentsch were superb in passing on the techniques of the healer Tom Bowen. Of course, I was excited about putting this knowledge into practice and I selected a handful of my clients as guinea pigs. After a few weeks I decided that the Bowen technique was not for me. There were numerous reasons for this but at the top of the list was that it was a highly mechanical technique which made no logical sense but which I was expected to follow because Tom Bowen found that it worked. I know that there are many happy Bowen practitioners around but because I put such a premium on creativity it was not for me.

I would like to suggest and briefly discuss some obvious, and some not so obvious, ways of adding creativity.

Often we learn a certain body therapy from a teacher we highly respect and even adore and as a consequence we attempt to duplicate as many details in the style and nuances of the master. This is a mistake, it stifles creativity. Moshe Feldenkrais, one of my main teachers, had a way with words and he put it beautifully in his own inimical style, "I hope you (students) will all be doing my work but in your own handwriting". It is important to know what are the essential basic principles which form the foundation of your work, and to be creative, to put them in you own handwriting and realise this is an on-going, not a static process.

Cross-fertilisation of body therapies is another path to creativity. If one knows more than one therapy one might be able to incorporate some of the ideas into another therapy. Here is an interesting example tried by an ex-friend of mine which did not work and I applaud him for the attempt. My ex-friend, like myself, is trained in Rolfing and the Feldenkrais Method. The Feldenkrais Method involves changing some of the patterns of the nervous system ("We are all brain-damaged" Feldenkrais). Sometimes pure imagination is used to change movement and hence structural patterns. My ex-friend tried Rolfing one half of the body (very deep soft tissue work) and then asked the client to imagine, in detail, that the other half of the body was Rolfed. Clients walked out of their sessions very lopsided. This cross-fertilisation experiment ended after a very short run. When you are creative expect some failures. Maybe I shouldn't call it a failure but say the outcome of the experiment was different than hoped for. Currently I am trying to cross-fertilise some of the ideas I'm learning in Tai Chi with my Rolfing and yet keep my Rolfing "pure", so I am not giving my clients a mishmash of Rolfing and Tai Chi. I believe I am succeeding but the experiment is not over.

Timing and speed profoundly affect the quality of body therapy. At what speed do you perform each technique? How long does each technique take? How long do you pause between techniques? Timing is an easy area to apply creativity. Do some sessions at a slightly faster speed than usual, slow down a little in other sessions. Keep playing with timing and speed until you can fine-tune to meet the needs of the client in the here and now. Arthur Rubenstein was once asked by an ardent admirer "How do you handle the notes as well as you do?" The pianist answered, "I handle the notes no better than many others, but the pauses – ah! that is where the art resides." This perceptive observation is also applicable to body therapy.

I have just barely scratched the surface of ways to enhance creativity in body therapy; hopefully some of these ideas will act as a spring-board to more satisfying creative work.

Lately, I've found it more difficult to be creative in writing my column for Positive Health so I feel it is time to take a break and call it quits for a while. Maybe I will return with some new ideas. Suggestions from readers are welcome. I want to thank Sandra and Mike of Positive Health for their support in giving me a forum to express myself. I wish them and all my readers health and happiness.


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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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