Saturday, November 28, 2009

Internal Structure: Part 4 – Kinesthetic Awareness and Proprioception

This is the final part of a series which presented the way I now understand internal structure. Part 1 presented a way to view internal structure / posture. Part 2 presented ideas about structural integration. Part 3 presented my session-by-session experience with Rolfing. Part 4 concludes with Kinesthetic Awareness and Proprioception.

"Proprioception and kinesthetic awareness are often terms that are used interchangeably but they actually mean two separate things."

"Proprioception is an inner sense (the central nervous system) while kinesthetic awareness is an external sense (the body in space and time). However, they do work together and impact each other."

(The above quotes were originally linked to:  The link was no longer active as of August 2018.)
A quick internet search on “zhan zhuang” proprioception, or on “zhan zhuang” kinesthetic awareness yields a wide range of reading material, data.

My purpose here is not to restate what others have said on this topic (Scott Phillips’ 12/08/07 blog post has a nice article titled: Proprioception and Kinesthetic Awareness ) but rather to “top off” this series with this topic.

Although I’ve come to a new conceptualization of my mind and body as being a unified whole and I’ve experienced many structural integration sessions, the question remains:
Have these concepts and bodywork sessions helped me develop the kinesthetic awareness and proprioception to consciously feel my internal connectedness?
I would have to say: No. And why not? Because:

1. Concepts do not result in feeling.
2. Going external does not develop internal.
Certainly, Rolfing has improved my structure/posture. Before and after pictures from sessions irrefutably show a dramatic structural change. Rolfing has done what it said it would do.

However, I made a mistake in expecting an external therapy to develop my internal ability to feel. I believed I was making quick progress from seeing my structure improve but I never learned to feel on my own. If I continued on this path, it could take me longer to “get the feeling” than if I were to simply open myself to my kinesthetic perception with whatever structure I have. I used an external method (Rolfing) to create a space (a temporary feeling of internal connectedness) that I couldn't yet create myself.

So now I’ve learned to stop “going external”, to stop thinking about, imagining, visualizing and comparing what others say the internal feeling is like and focus on simply noticing and feeling what is already in here. You are where you are and that’s where you start. Relax... Calm down… Feel…

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Functionality and Wujifa

The Different Ways to Train Zhan Zhuang article says

"In Wujifa, (without going into the philosophy of the triangles) Zhan Zhuang is first practiced to discover structure, then connection. This is a very functional place to begin, as it calibrates the body and the mind to be able to work with more advanced practices.
Wujifa practice’s first focus is to get the body functional within a certain basic structure."
What does "functional" mean in the context of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practice?

I asked my Wujifa brother and I discovered that after all my years of reading and note taking in class, I had only a vague and very, method-based understanding of the principle of functionality. This is how I understood our conversation and how I now understand the principle of “functionality”.

The primary Wujifa triangle (relax, balance, structure) is a graphic representation of what it means to be functional. How can I apply the first triangle in my Zhan Zhuang practice? My body functions optimally when there are equal levels of Structure, Relax and Balance. The more I refine this first triangle in my body, the more I feel internal connectedness; what is felt by others as internal strength. This is the meaning of "get the body functional". Where one corner is more exaggerated or diminished than another (or other two), then the whole is not functional, or can be said to be dysfunctional.

A principle can be applied to various frames or contexts whereas a rule only applies to a single frame or context. The primary Wujifa triangle represents a principle and as such, may be applied in various frames or contexts.

For example, in a martial arts context, a beginning martial artist may learn techniques/rules/methods. For example, if your partner executes this technique, then counter with this technique. As the practitioner progresses, s/he may come to understand the underlying principle of the various techniques. Wujifa takes the “learn the principle first” approach so the body responds in a way that maintains functionality: structure, balance, relax.

As always, my understanding is subject to further refinement. Thankfully, there is no end to learning...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Internal Structure: Part 3 - Rolfing Notes

After each Rolfing Massage Therapy session, I recorded my experience. These are my notes.

First ten Rolfing sessions: January to April 2004

1. Notice my shoulders lying down.

2. Notice soreness in legs – must be using “new” muscles.

3. Notice breathing seems fuller. While lying on back, notice pelvis gently rocking with breath.

4. Notice I can feel more of the floor; feet squish out more. How could I have been grounded when the tension in my foot kept me “off” the floor? Now I feel grounded. No imagining.

5. Feel that I can inhale more than before; breathing is unrestricted. Felt the softness of the abdomen for the first time, felt the support of the spine, felt vacuity between ribs and pelvis. Feel a lack of underlying anxiety. Feel taller.

6. Notice pelvic area feels like a big “dead zone”; no feeling. Notice an increased sense of feeling throughout my body. A feeling of connectedness?

7. I did some crying during today’s session. Don’t know why. It just came out. Felt calmer after session.

8. Notice a feeling of leaning back. Therapist said in fact I was standing straight up and not leaning forward. Reset my internal gyroscope.

9. More crying during session. After this session while walking around in public, for the first time I’m seeing peoples’ structures; how people carry themselves, especially where they’re holding. I see people whose bottom and top halves don’t look connected. Am I imagining seeing this? Seeing people this way is a bit overwhelming.

10. Feel really energized. Felt a big release in neck and shoulder. Discovered more tightness in shoulder.

First set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: February 2005

1. No notes about feeling. Rather some Q&A data from therapist and me.

2. I invited the therapist to not back away from my pain vocalizations. A very uncomfortable session yet I now feel taller, broader, fuller, lifted, grounded and smiling. I feel new.

3. Lot of pelvis work. Feel very vulnerable, tender and painful, so much so that I pull away. Still a good session. Feeling a new way to stand and walk. Fascinating!

Second set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: May 2006

1. Request to focus on working right knee problem. Notice lots of “dead zones” around ankles and knees, probably scar tissue from high school basketball injuries.

2. No notes about feeling. Rather some Q&A data from therapist and me.

3. I showed how I try to open the lower back to allow the femur heads to roll forward (close the kua). Session focused on releasing fascial adhesions in thighs. After these sessions, notice my zhan zhuang stance feels completely different, much more inviting, easy, fuller.

Third set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: May- June 2008

1. Noticed a release up into neck while therapist working on ankles. Felt like a web of internal connection; “tugging” at ankles produced a tugging sensation in neck. Amazing! I can feel that!

2. Feel neck is very tight. We worked it hard. Sore afterward.

3. Invited therapist to not go lightly working pelvic area and lower back. Painful yet fruitful session. Feel top and bottom more fully connected.

Fourth set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: November 2009

1. Therapist working ankles, lower legs. Don't feel too much different after session as before.

2. Therapist working shoulders, lower neck. Feeling tingling into legs. Feeling muscles across scapula and lower neck like steel bands against his touch. Wanted to pull away from the pain but stuck with it as long as I could. Feel more expansive on top and taller after session. Notice I'm standing much straighter. My head is more over/on top of my neck.

In the week following this session I noticed a "tug of war" between the new more vertical neck with head on top, chin in vs the previous, habitual, neck leaning forward, head forward, chin out. In stance practice, I'd notice the upper back muscles engage and relax in each position respectively.

3. Third (of three) sessions usually works the pelvis. In this session however, the therapist returned to working primarily the feet and a secondarily, the pelvis and rib cage. Another wonderfully painful session as he dug as deep as I could tolerate. Afterwards, I noticed I felt more of a "ka-chunk" solidity with the ground. Viewing the before and after photos, I saw a lengthening in the leg muscles.

Fifth set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: May 2011

1. Therapist worked ankles. He mentioned I must've injured ankles a lot. In fact, yes, many sprains and strains playing high school basketball. We've been chipping away at this for six years.

2. Therapist worked shoulders and wrists. The root of hip problems is in the ankles. The root of shoulder problems is in the wrists. After this session, I noticed a couple changes:

  1. I no longer have right knee pain when doing squats and climbing stairs! (That said, my ankles are still tight and I can't do a full squat without raising my heels.)
  2. I felt my left shoulder open up. Meaning, my habit was to lean on my left elbow or arm which locks the shoulder. I'm now able to feel the difference.
3. Therapist worked pelvis and knees. When I got up off the table I was able to feel much deeper into my kua move as I walked. Therapist said I was feeling my psoas working.

Sixth set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: July 2012

For this set, I want to address an imbalance in the movement of my right and left legs. In the weeks prior to this session, I saw a couple different massage therapists who both pointed out and worked on tension and holding in the psoas and other internally located pelvic muscles.

1. The Rolfing therapist noted I have a twist in the hips, the left is slightly forward and down relative to the right being slightly up and back. He noticed the source of the torque in the hips originating in the left ankle. He worked my left ankle particularly hard and then the right ankle to balance the work on the left. Before and after pictures showed a huge extension and lift through my abdomen - all from working ankles primarily and knees secondarily!

2. I mentioned that I'm noticing a taut feeling extending downward from the top of my right iliac crest when I relax and let the right hip drop when taking a step. (Not getting the same effect on the left side.) The Rolfing therapist said that was a sign of the hips opening. He also suggested a pelvic floor exercise to help get more relax.

In this session I laid face-down over a bosu ball while he worked my scapular area really hard and to a lesser degree, my lower ribs. Several times he hit the spot where I felt tears forming from the pain and wanted to quit and simultaneously wanted to keep going. Got huge changes. Noticing a feeling of three-dimensionality fullness out the back. When I got off the table, I noticed I felt more connected through and more solid on my feet. The before and after pictures showed a huge shift of my torso from a slight lean forward to being more "plumb" over my ankles.

3. I mentioned that I'm again looking at working on my right foot because the arch collapses and it is difficult to stand with stability on that one leg. The therapist had me walk around and said, "We'll work on the ankles." And he worked them hard! I was surprise how much pressure I could tolerate. By the end of the session, I felt like I had new feet, was more solid, and with more lift, and my arch was no longer collapsing when I walked!

Seventh set of four follow-up Rolfing sessions: March-April 2016

"So, what's going on with your body?"

For this set I specifically wanted to address the left knee which continues to have a limited range of motion, and decreased strength as I approach a 90 degree angle; unable to squat. I demonstrated a comparison of right and left leg movement.

After two sessions, I noticed more increased range of motion and strength (as well as a sustaining of these gains) than I noticed after all the physical therapy sessions throughout 2015! (I went to physical therapy throughout 2015; in the spring/summer for bi-lateral Achilles Tendonopathy and fall/winter for left knee which was originally diagnosed with a Baker's Cyst and later x-rays showed the beginning of osteoarthritis.)

I asked how it is that Rolfing is helping with this. C'mon Mike, you know the answer. Rolfing "untwists" the body. We're releasing the compression on the knee joint which should help decrease the irritation. And in your case, the ankles are contributing to misalignment in the knee. As we get the ankles softer and more functional, this will help the knee.

In all four sessions he focused on the problematic left leg from ankle to pelvis. He also worked the right leg to keep it in balance as well as a little on the shoulders/neck/head to keep them connected as well.

I asked if he remembered how my ankles felt when I came in for my first ten session set. He said, Yes. They felt like they were cast in concrete! And now? Now they feel more like asphalt which has a little "give" to it but still hard.

I mentioned that my instructor notices a holding pattern in my pelvic area. Do you notice that too?

Most alignment problems in the body are caused by problems in the ankles. Making adjustments in the ankles has a trickle up effect through the rest of the body. In your case, your ankles are pretty messed up so naturally the body will compensate with various holding patterns. The pelvis is just one link in the chain where compensation occurs.

He told me about one aspect of his Rolfing training in 1982 in New York City. His instructor told him that the best way to know what to do with the patient is to feel what they're feeling in their body. So, go out on the street and watch someone and "mirror" or "put on" their structure in your body. Then he told me some anecdotes of this experience. This has been his approach to Rolfing for 30+ years and it has now developed into an art where just at a glance he "knows" where he needs to work.

I mentioned that I wrote a book; a collection of experience and references pertaining to the pelvis. He then told me a story of when he started yoga. He was having trouble balancing in a particular beginning yoga pose. The instructor told him to contract his perenium muscles and this helped. He went on to say that this instructor has a method for new students to work with their pelvic floor moving from contraction to relaxation. The process develops focused attention in that area which contributes to a relaxed balance in connection with the ground.

Eighth set of three follow-up Rolfing sessions: July 2018
Whereas all the previous sessions were with the same therapist, I decided to try someone else this time. And I'm glad I did.

In the first session, he asked if I'd ever been in a car accident.
"No, nothing serious. Why?"
I'm getting the feeling that your sacrum is pushed forward, as if from a blunt trauma.

Between this and the next session I thought about this and the idea came to me that he may be detecting a familial postural habit - pelvis forward, chest sunk back and down. My uncle and one of his sons stand like this and while my father did not, I do. For me, being above average height, I always felt a need to shorten myself to "fit in". Making this kind of postural adjustment helped, as it were.

In the second and third sessions he worked on giving me more "lift", getting the "up energy" flowing, getting me to stand up straight. He mentioned that my chest needs more work but that will be for another time. Get comfortable with these changes first.

Common notes:
During session, therapist will press a spot and ask “What do you feel here?” Nothing. He says he’s pressing hard and the muscle feels like wood. After he works a bit, I can feel where I couldn’t before.

He works one side first then the other. After working the first side, I notice this first side feels alive and connected whereas I don’t feel the same aliveness and connectedness on the not-yet-worked-on side. Feeling the side-to-side comparison in my own body is amazing!

Question. Why do you stop pushing when I wince in pain even though I say "keep going"?
Answer. There are three parts to your answer and these can overlap:
  1. The "Mike" that people know says, "Keep going. Let's get through this once and for all." However, the system says, "No way!" There's only so much change the system will allow and that has to be respected. If the entire body freed up all at once, the system would be so different to "Mike" that there would be some real identity issues.
  2. Pushing through pain can create resistance to future treatment which will make further change more difficult.
  3. The body has to be unwound in a way that the the entire body will support. Sometimes a painful area will naturally release when another area releases so it doesn't make sense to push through that area.

Question: What's the purpose of Rolfing?
Answer: A lot of Rolfers mistakenly think their job is to unstick fascial adhesions. Not so. The purpose is to untwist the structure. Everything is fascia. Muscle fiber is fascia. Bone is fascia with mineral deposits. Habits create chronically tense muscles and when the muscles stop moving, then they get stuck together. Rolfing gets everything moving again.

A good Rolfer is like an engineer. He sees the entire structure then works to untwist sections at a time and only to the degree the rest of the system can support without undoing the changes.

A not-so-good Rolfer may work on a particular problem area, like a knee and get the knee all freed up but doesn't bring the rest of the structure along with it and so the un-free parts will force the free part to get stuck again.

Question: So it sounds like Yoga can do the same thing that Rolfing does?
Answer: I have Yoga teachers who come for Rolfing. The Asanas are designed to do what Rolfing does. What can take years in Yoga, can be accomplished in a few hours in Rolfing.

Question. When I first come in, you always ask, "So what's going on in your body?" What are you looking for?
Answer. This question is a way to find out what problem you have without going psychological. I'm looking for information about your body; feedback on the results of last session. It can be a starting point. It's a way to connect "you" into your body.

Question: Rolfing, Yoga, Zhan Zhuang all sound like similar kinds of practices. Thoughts?
Answer: One purpose of practice is to bring conscious attention to freeing up the body, to discovering what's stuck and not moving. The work then is to get that free and moving. Doing this through Asanas or Zhan Zhuang is a way to point out what's stuck. My putting my fingers on this stuck part is another way of pointing out for you what's stuck and then helping you free it up.

Question: It is said that once Rolfing frees fascial adhesions that those same adhesions will not reform but can new adhesions form?
Answer: New adhesions will not reform in the same place because the trauma or habit that caused them in the first place has been changed. However, new trauma or new habitual ways of not moving may form new adhesions in a new area.

Question: I've been coming back every 1-2 years for a three set follow-up. If I had unlimited resources, what's the most frequent pattern for treatments?
Answer: I have some patients come twice a year (summer and winter) for a three session set. I have others come for one session once a month who say, "You see what's wrong. Fix it." Actually, the body needs time to adjust and settle into the changes so maybe twice a year is probably the most frequent treatment pattern.

You can also use eating as an analogy. You take some food in. You chew on it a while, notice its flavors, digest it, then excrete it. Then you're ready for more. If you continuously ate without stopping, never allowing time for digesting or excreting, you'd never notice the flavor or the effect. Rolfing is like this. You need time between sessions for the body to settle, to "digest" the changes.

The three session "tune up" is like eating a full meal. You need some time for you to chew on the changes, digest them, and rest before the next meal.

Question: Can anyone ever get completely free of fascial adhesions to where they no longer need to come in for Rolfing?
Answer: Yes, but it may take 800 years. (Laughter.) They say that some monks sitting in Himalayan caves reach a state in meditation where their bodies completely relax. I think these guys probably don't need Rolfing. Be that as it may, you and I are surrounded by hundreds of people with all kinds of stuck patterns and our bodies tune into this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Internal Structure: Part 2 – Structural Integration

When I began Zhan Zhuang stance practice in the Wujifa system, I experienced difficulty getting good structural alignment.

Going for structural integration bodywork has helped me with the Structure aspect of the Primary Wujifa triangle – Structure, Relax, Balance.

Because structure was the easiest place for me to start, and due to my inclination to gather and analyze information, I read quite a bit about the various psycho-somatic and somatic therapies ranging from Bioenergetic Analysis to Rolfing Massage Therapy.

My understanding of the theory of Bioenergetic Analysis is that it looks at how emotions are stored in the body and through body work and talking, strives to open the body to get a pulse to move through body, looking for and resolving the emotional-muscular holding patterns that block that pulse. On the other hand, Rolfing only works on the physical structure and does not counsel psychological issues. If psychological stuff comes up that needs discussing, then the person should see a qualified counselor or psychotherapist.

For a historical context, my understanding is that the Western psycho-somatic “movement” originated with Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) who was a student of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and by extension, a “classmate” of Carl Jung (1875-1961). Where Jung followed the mind only path of Freud, Reich followed the mind-body connection and developed methods to work on the mind through the body. Two of Reich’s students, Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) and Ida Rolf (1896-1979) respectively established Bioenergetic Analysis and Structural Integration which later became known as Rolfing.

Personally, I have not been to a Bioenergetics professional but I have been to and experienced a series of Structural Integration / Rolfing sessions.

Here is a short video of compiled clips of an interview with Alexander Lowen. The original clips and other short videos can be found at the Lowen Foundation website.

Alexander Lowen - Segment 1. You Are Your Body

Método Rolf - Primeira Parte (

Método Rolf - Segunda Parte (

While the Rolfing logo “before” picture (on the left) illustrates twists, to me it only infers un-parallel lines. I like the image that Karin at uses because this explicitly shows the un-parallel lines of the “before” structure and like the Rolfing logo, shows the parallel lines of the "after" structure.

(Image used with permission)

I think both images together provide a good representative comparison of the un-integrated and the integrated structures. I particularly like the way these images help me relate to the images of vector alignment in the Wujifa “Zhan Zhuang Alignment” article.

In the “Myofascial Tensegrity and Zhan Zhuang

    “There is now emerging a lot of research on fascia that gives us a whole new understanding of the structure in our body. We all know that fascia surrounds and connects everything. But never have anatomist given it any attention. For centuries they have overlooked fascia just to get down to the individual muscles and their individual functions. But now, with Tom Meyers amazing work – - we are seeing the emerging of a whole new understanding of the holistic myo-sceletal system in our body. And for our Zhan Zhuang practice, this is a gem! Instead of seeing individual muscles connected to individual bones and joints, we can now begin to see whole-body patterns.”

Structural integration not only helps improve posture a.k.a. structure, but it is also a doorway to understanding and getting a feel for whole-body connectedness.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Internal Structure: Part 1 – The Body

In high school biology class I developed a dis-integrated, system-isolated view of my body as being an upright skeleton upon which were added muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and organs all wrapped in skin. I viewed my body as a collection of parts.

In college, my view of my body changed to a confused amalgam consisting of:
  • The holistic triangle Body (Physical), Mind (Emotional/Psychological) and Spirit
  • The body as energy via the Shakras or Qi-gong energy centers
  • The Chinese Organs-Elements-Meridians system
However, none of these views contributed to my developing a kinesthetic feeling sensibility of my own corporeal reality, of life in and under my own skin which I am now discovering is critical to developing whole-body or internal strength.

When I started Wujifa classes, I learned about Wilhelm Reich’s (1897-1957) view of the body. (I quote others here as my understanding of Reich's work is amateurish at best.) This is from Wilhelm Reich - Armoring:
"Wilhelm Reich was a student of Freud's who believed that the body plays an important role in an individual's expression. Crucial to his understanding of psychology is the concept of Armoring which is basically the physical component of repression as understood by Freud."
And also this from Wilhelm Reich and His Influence
" "Body Language" -- the term is now commonplace. It wasn't always that way. With Freud and psychoanalysis everything was the mind. Reich was the first to bring the body into psychoanalysis, and to physically touch the client.

An armored person does not feel their armor as such. Reich believed that mind-body work is necessary for people to rid themselves of this armor.

BODY ARMOR AND CHARACTER ARMOR are essentially the same. Their function is trying to protect yourself against the pain of not expressing things that society says you may not express. Muscular armor is character armor expressed in body, muscular rigidity.

Armoring is the sum total of the muscular attitudes which a person develops as a defense against the breakthrough of emotions, especially anxiety, rage, sexual excitation. Character armor is the sum total of all the years of the muscular attitude that have also been incorporated in the person's character."

In addition to emotional or character induced muscular holding, fascial adhesions may develop from repetitive motion, physical habits and/or physical injury. Gil Hedley's "Fuzz Speech" uses a human cadaver to show fascial adhesions.

Esther Gokhale’s Authors@Google presentation brings up a couple interesting points for me about structure. 1. Body structures vary between cultures and through history (time 14:10 – 20:40) 2. Comparison of human spines from 1911 and today (time 30:40 – 33:40)

So how do I see all this relating to my Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practice? Esther’s presentation tells me that my core body structure is a living, malleable structure. Over time, my skeletal structure can change. Gil’s presentation gives me a look inside my body. Now I know what fascial adhesions are. Victor Daniel’s article on Reich’s work points to the unity of “me” and “my body”. This Me-Body, this "I" is what shows up at class and practice. Some parts move freely. Some muscles are rigid. Some muscle bands are stuck to others. Some adjustments feel great. Some adjustments scare the hell out of me. The me-body work is my internal gong-fu.