It’s mid February, 1994, on the first day of training and we are about to start the first practicum. Our task is to explore the range of movement of the upper leg. I have zero massage experience and have never done anything like this before. My practicum partner, Michelle, is supine and I am holding her leg, slightly bent, off the table at an angle of about 90 degrees. I am in a buoyant mood because I have just heard that I have secured a contract teaching job in Taiwan for one year starting in April.

I start to push Michelle’s leg around, at first slowly, but then accelerating. I am swept along with the excitement of the first day of class and meeting many people. My movements are clumsy and jolting. Michelle doesn’t let on how bad it must feel.

The assistant appears at my side.

“What are you doing?” Bob asks.

“Exploring,” I reply.

“But that’s way too fast. Here, let me show you.”

Bob steps in and takes hold of Michelle’s leg and carefully supports its weight. Instead of pushing her leg as if it were a separate object, as I was doing, he leans his body forward and carries it with him, forward, back, shifting to the side in a kind of dance.

“You get the idea? Now you have a go.”

I take hold of the leg much more carefully than before and start to push, but Bob stops me, puts one hand on my back and his other hand on my chest.

“Let your weight settle into your feet.”

I feel the muscular tension in my arms relax as my feet hug the floor.

“Yes, that’s it. Now… slowly start to move.”

This time I feel connected to Michelle’s leg, compared to before when it was like a foreign object. My hands support her leg evenly as I lean my body forward. It is difficult to coordinate at first but becomes easier after rocking forward and backward a few times. I start to get a feel for the end point of the femur and how it swivels in the hip socket. It dawns on me that the secret is in minimising effort, not using strength.

“This feels like Tai Chi,” I say.

“And it feels much better!” Michelle adds.

Arrival in Boulder

I flew from Japan to the United States just before Christmas, 1993, and spent a month travelling around, making the most of my $1800 air ticket, which allowed me to travel to five stops anywhere in the United States within six months. I went to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, New York, stayed for Christmas and New Year in Burlington, Vermont, then flew to Albuquerque.

I arrived in Boulder around mid-January in order to attend the Foundations of Bodywork (FOB) course in early February. To keep myself occupied, I completed levels 1 and 2 of a Reiki course and enrolled on a Tai Chi class. I also started my Rolfing Series with Pam Rankin, the Rolfer who was practising in the Rolf Institute.

Living in Boulder

I made friends in the youth hostel with another student, Marius Strydom from South Africa. We had both come to Boulder without having received the Rolfing Series, instead trusting our gut instincts having been inspired by Ida Rolf’s book. Also we were both rather poor, having only enough money to pay for the course, accommodation and living expenses with nothing left to spare for when the training finished.

To save money we sometimes went to an all-you-can-eat pasta restaurant and stuffed ourselves to the point of acute discomfort. We even went twice to the food bank to receive free handouts in unlabelled silver tins. To boost our spirits we stuck to a ritual of fortnightly ‘prosperity nights’ when we treated ourselves to a couple of beers and a pub meal and talked in positive terms about future goals — dreamers to the core!

The new world of touch

“To touch the surface is to stir the depths.” – Deane Juhan

There are many outstanding memories of my five month stay in the USA in the first half of 1994. I saw many interesting places, and was captivated by the abundant variety of the American landscape, from the ski slopes of Vermont to the oranges and yellows of Georgia O’Keefe country around Santa Fe.

My experience in Boulder represents a major turning point in life. The six week training was excellent, intellectually and practically stimulating, with very good teachers: Til Luchau, Jon Martine, Cornelia Rossi, Peter Levine, Jim Oschman and Caryn McHose. The experience of having my Rolfing Series and meeting other Rolfers and students was like a coming home. I am grateful to these people for introducing me to to the world of touch which has had a far-reaching effect on me ever since.

Until then my life had been a kind of mind game where ‘I’ was an entity which resided in my head. This way of being was a natural consequence of an upbringing which prioritised abstract rational thought at the expense of emotional or tactile expression, as if the two were mutually exclusive. The English grammar school system rewarded good solid logical or critical thinking so highly that individual personality and creativity were sometimes frowned upon. The ethos of my upbringing and academic education was an implicit endorsement of Descarte’s cogito, “I think, therefore I am,” where the ‘I’ is a thinking essence that inhabits a machine-like and relatively unimportant body.

Somatic ontology

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust

The practicum in Boulder introduced a way of being which differed from this mind-heavy dualistic cartesian hierarchy where instead the body was acknowledged as an integral part of a person’s being. I was drawn to this exciting somatic ontology and touch was the way to access it. To touch a person with skill and care is to implicitly recognise, value and respect that person’s embodied being.

Throughout the training I slowly got to grips with the basics of how to touch: the biomechanics, how to contact my own felt sense in order to improve my quality of touch, how to approach a person with clear intention in order to touch therapeutically. Right from that first day the processes involved in touching were fascinating to me, like coming across an underwater cave whose great depth I was eager to fully explore.

As I gave and received Rolfing over the next few years, my embodied experience became richer and more present. The separation of body and mind now seems like a false dichotomy — ‘I’ am a bodymind, not just a mind with a body tagged on. It also makes sense to view other people in this holistic way as a result of repeatedly seeing how psycho-emotional stress negatively impacts the bodies of my clients, and how physical pain affects their minds, in a continual feedback loop.

Training in Brazil, 1996 and 1998 — Phases 2 and 3

When the FOB course finished I stayed in Boulder for a couple of weeks to do my interphase project. In April I went to Taipei where I worked as an English teacher until November, 1995. I then stayed in Thailand, where I completed a ten-day Thai massage course at the Old Medical Hospital in Chiang Mai.

After travelling for two months in Nepal and Turkey, I went to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and completed Phase 2 of the training in May of 1996. Then I worked again as an English teacher for two years in Japan. Having finally saved enough money I returned to Brazil to complete Phase 3 of the Rolfing training from June to August on the beach north of Salvador in Bahia. Again the teachers for both trainings were excellent.

Receiving my Rolfing and Rolfing Movement certificates on 7th August, 1998 was a proud moment. It had been four years since starting the training in Boulder. After such an intense learning experience it was moving to say farewell to the teachers and fellow students. I felt ready and was itching to leave and, apprehensive about returning to England after eleven years, steeled myself for the task ahead. I was ready to start my Rolfing business from scratch in a new town: London.

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