Expand Your Experience
So after the five years (however long your five years is), you will want to expand your training. I studied with Ida Rolf and returned to take Advanced Training from her two years later. For the first five years, although I took other classes from other ‘rolfers’, I stuck to the straight and narrow. Beware of trying to take in too many modalities too soon. Few people who try to combine, say, acupuncture, massage, and PNF do so successfully (and the few who do are great synthesists). More often,
trying to combine too many things too soon ends up making dishwater rather than soup.
Five years in, I got the chance to study with the great Moshe Feldenkrais. In doing so, I thought I would give up my rolfing practice and take up Feldenkrais as a full-time job but as it happened all the knowledge I gained flowed back into my SI practice, which continued to flourish.
A couple of years later, I delved into osteopathy, especially cranial osteopathy. I had been dealing in my SI practice with what is called the parietal myofasciae, the muscles and surrounding fabric. Studying osteopathy took me into the ‘ligamentous bed’ (the fascia close to the bones, what I have termed the ‘inner bag’). Cranial osteopathy took me into the meningeal fascia that spans the dorsal cavity.
A few years later, I was drawn into the world of visceral osteopathy of Jean-Pierre Barrall, which gave me a fresh and expanded perspective on the fascial connections and intrinsic movements in the ventral cavity.
An intensive study of the movement meditation called Continuum further informed my work. In my own case, all I learned got plowed back into the fertile field of my SI practice but by now my SI practice bore only some resemblance to what I had received from Ida Rolf. I still genuflect to her in gratitude and her basis is definitely still there, but each outside training I do changes my work toward something I can genuinely call my own.
By now, teaching is my primary way of learning – my days of being able to stop and take other people’s long trainings are over. Teaching teaches me a great deal. I learn from my faculty, from my student’s questions, from challenging students and colleagues and mostly from the practice of trying to articulate what it is I do now, which sometimes seems magical, even to me. But many formerly ‘magical’ things I can now convey to others with words and touch – it has made my work better to be a teacher.
Now my students are beginning to surpass me and I am learning from them – like James Earls, Karin Gurtner, Wojciech Cackowski, and Ari-Pekka Lindberg.
As I passed the 12 year mark – and now to more than 40 years – I achieved a state I call ‘mastery’, but I mean nothing egotistical in that. It is a state where the work lives within you and you are its source, or at the very least its clear channel. You will know it when you are there and then you can call yourself a master too. Technique and method give way to intuitive ease and invention. Everyone wants to hurry themselves to that state; ironically it will take longer if you try to hurry.
“Many formerly magical things I can now convey to others with words and touch.”
One pitfall that should raise a red flag in you is when all your sessions start to look the same. After some years, we get our ‘favourite hits’ we keep going back to because they are effective and we are comfortable with them. Yes, but they can get us stuck in a rut when we are too comfortable with them. Do not believe your ‘tricks.’ Keep working with them, even plowing them under sometimes to fertilise the soil, until they show up, in subtler form, from within your work, not imposed on top of it.
When this happens, you need a new training, something to shake you out of the rut.
The other way to expand your experience is to take all comers. The exception is, of course, if you do not feel safe with the person but otherwise it is a practical benefit in your practice to be able to deal with a wide variety of people – athletic ones, obese ones, the elderly and children, body aware and numb, hardheaded professional and etheric airhead, all the doshas – how many types of people can you field, build rapport with and deliver lasting positive information to?
A corollary of this idea is to allow your practice to teach you. In a long practice, you will get ‘runs’ of people. I had two years where the majority of my practice was pre- and post-partum women. One year, for no reason I could determine, I had five cases of spasmodic dystonia. It was as if God wanted me to learn about it.
Another year I had a ton of London’s top musicians, for a while I had a run of dancers from Saddlers Wells and one of the most interesting was a year of British sex-workers. Each of these groups dominated my practice for a while and taught me lessons I could bring to bear with others.
Or reach outside: Is there a way to donate your work in your community to some population unlikely to make it to your professional door? Those volunteer experiences have taught me as much useful and practical information as expensive (and not nearly so emotionally satisfying) training experiences.
In hindsight, it was a magical choice for me to choose bodywork as a profession. In my early years it provided the ability to travel and to get to know cultures through my work with individuals in them. It always kept me in funds, though few get rich in such service. But I have always valued the portability and low equipment costs associated with the somatic profession.
Somatics is anything but dull. All therapists have to answer the questions: ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘How do we get out of here to someplace better?’ My studies to support my practice led me into anatomy, of course, but also medicine, psychology, anthropology, sociology, embryology, cellular structure and tensegrity engineering, as well as all the insights derived from yoga, Continuum, personal training, martial arts, dance, etc. You can attach all kinds of points-of-view to bodywork and successfully find a niche.
I found myself progressively attracted to first one part of the body and then another: “Oh, oh, it’s the feet! Get the feet right and everything on top gets fixed”. Sure, explore that idea for a few months or a year. Another year it might be the pelvis or the breath or the neck (and there are equally convincing arguments for each of these). Go ahead and delve into your passions, secure in the knowledge that, like all storms, they will pass, but you will move on with more knowledge about the feet, or spine, or cranium, whatever you let take your fancy for a while.
So, looking at our triangle – the art, the science, and the craft – like any triangle each side determines and fixes the angle
between the other two sides. Neglect any one of these and your journey becomes more linear, one-dimensional. They are all necessary for a solid practice and career.
Concerning the science, you may or may not be as conversant with fascial research, or with the anatomy or chemistry, as the bodyworker beside you but your intuition will be better the more science you know – not all the Latin names, necessarily, but an accurate picture of what is actually under your hand. Let your hand become more ‘knowing’ and the pictures in the books will suddenly come alive for you. Steal from the best but steal accurately!