One question I hear from people who know that Rolfing® Structural Integration is hands-on bodywork but don't really know what it is: "Is Rolfing® Structural Integration a type of massage?"
One question I hear from clients who are massage therapists or craniosacral practitioners or newer Rolfers™: "Where did you learn that technique?"
These questions are actually interrelated and speak to something relatively unique about Rolfing work – and bodywork mastery in general: the difference between protocols and techniques, and the integration of skills into a sort of "mastery" (for lack of a better word) that can come from years in practice but requires a certain environment to develop.
Students in massage classes typically learn protocols: first do this for a few strokes, then do that for a few strokes, then move here and do this. Many craniosacral classes are the same, at least for the first few levels, teaching rote protocols to do on each client. This works as a learning tool for students, and it makes teaching easier for teachers. For larger classes, it's almost necessary as any other mode of teaching requires a higher teacher:student ratio.
With this kind of "technique" training, you often get competent practitioners. But they can be the kind of practitioner who can do a massage while also planning his shopping list in his head, because it is all rote. These practitioners may develop further, but many will not, as it's easy to just do the same thing over and over again, to have your set of "moves" that tend to get you certain results and that people tend to like. This is what alot of spa treatments are like, especially since the therapists are on tight schedules so it's often like a production line. (I know because I once worked at a "world-class" spa, but was appalled at what was often delivered.) That's not to say it will be bad work, but it's fixed because the nature of the business does not encourage innovation or deviation from a set standard.
Massage practitioners and craniosacral therapists in private practice may get more creative. Continuing education classes can help a practitioner develop in many ways, but sometimes these are places to just learn more techniques to add to your toolbox. These are the kinds of practitioners who ask me "Where did you learn that technique?" Continuing education classes to learn techniques are useful, but they don't take you out of the box. That requires a certain kind of thinking, and a certain "art" on the part of the practitioner.
Rolfing SI as a profession is somewhat unique in its training methodology. We learn a few techniques here and there, but our work really comes down to customization and frank innovation. Even with the "Ten Series" – the ten-session Rolfing series to optimize the body into a basic alignment, as illustrated by our "Little Boy Logo" – the sessions are not a protocol of defined moves but rather a progression of work governed by certain principles and customized to each client.
As I tell my Rolfing clients in Seattle, each session of the Series has a goal and a territory of the body, but to achieve that goal I need to make my own strategy based on what I see in that person's body. This is how we are taught at the Rolf Institute®, so we have to be seeing and analyzing bodies and thinking out of the box from the first days of our Rolfing training. This makes Rolfing training very intense and challenging, and some new Rolfers come out of school feeling overwhelmed and uncertain or even angry as there are not those handy techniques to rely on. It's an uncertain world, but one that Rolfers learn to swim in.
So if you come into my Seattle or Port Orchard office for a Rolfing session, what I do with you will not be rote. It will not be what I did with my last client, or what I did with you the last time I saw you, or even what I did that worked for someone else who came in with the same issue. And what I do may be brand new, something I've never done on anyone else before, something I invent based on what I have to figure out unique to your body. So a good Rolfer is always inventing "techniques" but never storing them away as fixed items to be pulled out of a metaphorical toolkit and applied indiscriminately.
This relates to this earlier post about "Rolfing is to massage as the Navy Seals are to the Boy Scouts", a quote that comes from a comment a Rolfing client made to his Rolfer. A Boy Scout learns a whole bunch of skills and has many useful tricks up his sleeve, but has not matured into a seasoned woodsman. The work of a Navy Seal requires different training and a higher-level arsenal of skills – plus the ability to strategize and think on his feet to get results.
It's the training we receive as Rolfers, and the way we go about thinking about our work, that makes us particularly good at sorting out what others may not get results with. For example, injuries do not respond well to protocols. So many clients come into my Seattle office saying, "I've tried chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture... they've helped a little but it doesn't last," or "it knocked the pain back a bit but the problem is still there..." Obviously, when so many credentialed and talented folks have already had a go at this person's issue, I'm going to have to think out of the box, and as is said, "necessity is the mother of invention."
This has led me deeper into craniosacral and visceral work also. Sometimes clients tell me "the way you do craniosacral is different from others I've been to." That may be because as a Rolfer I'm more engaged with the cranial fascias than someone without a "fascial fascination" would be. But it may also be that they've seen other practitioners who have applied a protocol or fixed techniques, as that is how much cranial training is done (at least that outside the osteopathic world). As with Rolfing sessions, I will invent a cranial technique on the spot, if what I've learned elsewhere does not give me access to the right structures or vectors to ease a strain pattern. Now you cannot do this without a certain critical background in anatomy, highly developed palpation skills, and highly developed touch.
So it's not invention for the sake of invention, but invention because you need to determine exactly what is needed for the situation and you have the understanding of the body to do that. Each body event – whether an auto accident, a pain scenario, a postural pattern, etc. – has its unique history and configuration in the body. Unraveling these fully generally requires work from a bodyworker who has moved beyond technique and into the art of the profession, where the practitioner is capable of creating the work that your body needs.