Do you practice yoga and want to improve your flexibility and coordination? Then Rolfing can help you. Did you come to yoga because of back pain? Or, are you looking for a polished presentation? Then there are 2 specific examples for you in this post. The easy answer to “How to improve your yoga with Rolfing” and why this makes so much sense is: they share the same goals and have natural connections.
Rolfing and yoga have several natural connections. For one, many Rolfers practice yoga themselves (including me) or are even yoga teachers. For another, Dr. Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing, studied yoga for decades. You can read here why Dr. Ida Rolf finally shifted from yoga and osteopathy to her own way of working – Rolfing. But still, many goals of yoga and Rolfing are the same. Just the look and feel are different. For that reason, Rolfing is a great complement to your yoga and will improve your flexibility and healthy yoga practice.
Like yoga, Rolfing is one of those practices that your body instantly tells you makes a lot of sense.VOGUE MAGAZINE, MARCH 2007 ISSUE
Why at all – Healthy length in healthy joints with Rolfing and Yoga
Our bodies have a natural tendency to shorten. Our fascia wraps around us like a full-body immersion suit that shrinks rather than wears out over the years. As we age our wrinkles may seem to tell us otherwise. But just bending forward to your feet will reveal “Something has shortened” In addition, as we age, the fluid balance in our connective tissues (our fascia) changes, further contributing to our aging-related stiffness. And third, restricted movement becomes entrenched over time. Whether it’s caused by accidents or surgery, or simply by just not moving enough.
The reason for this is our nervous system, more precisely the nervous system embedded in our fascia system. So, it is actually better to speak of a fascia-nerve system. If a movement restriction persists for a long time, then the stimuli from this fascia-nerve system in our joints also change. Previously “normal”, healthy stimuli cease to exist and are then evaluated over time as no longer “normal”. Our body image (proprioception) has changed and is increasingly rejecting the old freedom of movement. That is why anesthesia mobilizations are also being judged more and more critically. You cannot and should not restore your old body image and the old range of motion with brute force.
In summary, our fascial nervous system
- unlearns juvenile and happy range of motion
All of this is addressed in Rolfing and Yoga
Background – Stress-free tension for pain-free posture – a topic in yoga and rolfing
Many of my patients complain about tension. Sure, they all look for relaxation, the more, the better. Not just clients with tension, but also exhausted patients want rest and relaxation above all. In both cases, just relaxation is not the solution.
Our body is constructed like an old sailing ship. The masts, yards and other “wooden parts” correspond to our bones and the rigging (the entire rope) to our fascia. Now imagine if all ropes lost their natural strength and stretched without applying too much force. The entire structure of the sail would no longer be plumb. As a result, the ship would become increasingly difficult to steer and pilot safely in stronger winds.
And indeed – this is the challenge for hyper-flexible people. Your connective tissue has a low tone. As a result, you can apparently easily get into some yoga positions such as the cobra or the plow. But her body actually hangs like a slack sail in her skeleton. Apparently, there is little firmness. But even this appearance is deceptive. The firmness is just much deeper in the body and nervous system. Careful yoga and Rolfing can – hand in hand – establish a new balance between this deep tension and external flexibility.
Searching for too much tension
We all have an area within us that is slightly or usually too much in tension. And this can really be anything. The toes, the back of the knees, the pelvis. Or the diaphragm, the shoulders, the jaws … – actually everything. When we get stressed, that’s where we get some of our security. And whether we achieve our security more in walking forward or in silence or in retreating depends on us and the situation. You all know expressions like: “Grit your teeth and keep going.” “Pinch your ass cheeks and through.” “You are speechless.” “Resist something …” The point is that these are all physical reactions and that we have our own personal preferences.
This area of us that has potentially too much tension is not something should always grapple with. It makes us who we are. And it often supports us in finding adequate reaction. It defines our posture in which we feel at home, which is normal for us. Because of this posture, a yoga position is easier or more difficult for us. An example from my Rolfing practice may illustrate this:
The two sides of too much body tension
A man in his late forties perceives his excess body tension in the pelvis. As a result, his hips tilted too far forward, according to his interpretation. I believe that our body always has a good reason for tension and thus for posture. Try it out yourself.
To accomplish this, start in the opposite basic position: Tilt the upper edge of your pelvis backwards. This means that if your tailbone were still a long tail, as it was a few million years ago, then the tip of your tail would now come forward between your legs. By the way, this is a basic tension that was very popular with boys in my youth, super casual, no hollow back (was almost forbidden because it was somehow dangerous) – cool, relaxed and leaned back – just not hectic. Do you also feel tension on the inside of your sacrum? That would be correct if you are not completely comfortable in it, your rear pelvic floor is on. Alternatively, you have used your six-pack. Less stomach is cool too.
Our body is always looking for the best possible solution
And now across the street: Release your rear pelvic floor! Also, your six-pack. You may be activating your anterior pelvic floor slightly. This feels like you’re doing something to counteract the urge to urinate. If you are at home on this side of the street, i.e. in this posture, you won’t have to do anything, you just go back.
The question behind such body tension is, what benefits do we get from it? What good reason did our body choose for such a tension pattern? Go through the above example again. Pay attention to your rib cage, more precisely to your sternum. You can then watch it straighten up as it tilts your hips forward. And that is often a reason for many people to take such a position. Let’s take a look at the effect of this free sternum.
Do you know the situation where you want or should introduce something to a group? And do you want to convince? Then you also want to internalize a free upright sternum, because we combine openness and security with it. But woe to you forcing your chest into this position! That would be a “fake” attitude. We humans perceive this as a fraud on an almost animal level and react quickly and disparagingly. “Such an arrogant …”
And another advantage: By tilting your hips forward, you also get a little more on your forefoot. This, in turn, can give you a more dynamic stand. You’re on the verge of …
The Link from too much tension to Yoga and Rolfing
With the example above, I would like to show the following: Our excess body tension almost always has a positive side. We should honor this positive side. It shows the best possible solution that our nervous system has found to conform to posture, security and role models. However, there is also a danger lurking behind it. It is a warning that injuries, operations or traumatic experiences can overwhelm our perceived security. As a result, the search for security becomes the all-determining issue for our nervous system. We protect our physical and emotional integrity through our excessive body tension. If you want to read more about it, then you will find more about it in the article “The different levels of healing“.
You can approach your tensions in yoga, and you can usually achieve real improvements in it. But above all, they train clarity in your own body awareness. And Rolfing can build on that in a wonderful way. Rolfing can hold up a mirror of your own body to you. This way you can see much more clearly how tension, protection and security belong together. So, I often hear my clients say things: “Now I can feel the connection between the elbow and the diaphragm.” Or “My shoulder didn’t even know where it belonged before, it feels entirely different now.” You often need a supportive hand that can work with you to detect tension or restricted mobility at the right depth in your body.
The common trap – The painful danger of brute force in Rolfing and Yoga
What does massive stretching in the ankle look like for you? Is this a good learning experience? I think it doesn’t look good and I just think this is wrong. There is no additional security where the stretch is supposed to take place. Stretching changes your range of motion and in order to incorporate this new range of motion you have to learn to use it. Hopefully, you will not pull your tissue brainlessly in yoga exercises either. Rather, you sit behind the wheel and take your body awareness with you and thus learn new connections to the body. And yet you probably know stories in which brutal violence was “somehow” successful.
I know a colleague from Rolfing and a former dancer who only got into dancing in his late youth. He told me that because of that he had to work hard on his mobility and that was only possible with pressure. And it seemed good for him. So, is it possible to use force “in an emergency”? In other words, why did it work for my Rolfing colleague? I believe that this was made possible for the following reasons: He was still young and his tissue remained within its limits. He was behind the wheel, i.e. he wanted a change and that’s why his nervous system also said “yes”. He has not had any injuries that have pervaded his nervous system in the stretch area with uncertainties. In other words, he was a perpetrator and not a victim on all levels.
You can read about the fine line between training and destruction in this article (in German) on high-performance sports in children. When you’re older and may have had injuries or surgery, that line becomes even narrower. Even if you desperately want changes. It is precisely then that there is a risk of overrunning your own limits.
The painful danger of violence in Rolfing and yoga
No pain, no gain. You want to keep your body flexible and healthy, or even improve it. For this, you are happy to take advantage of the support of trainers, yoga teachers or even Rolfers. And you are looking for a helping hand. But where? And what for? Let’s look at the three pictures with supporting hands:
The amazing mistake in assisting orientation
In the first picture, a young dancer in the position of a dove is brought further into the opening. First off, the pose is spectacular. This flexibility and apparent ease. Here the left hand of the trainer gives additional orientation in space. For people with spatial orientation, the young dancer is one of them, security can be supported in this way. (More on orientation in space or ground). I cannot say how far it is at the limit or even beyond it. This is only felt by the touching hand.
The danger lies rather in the violence of the dancer towards herself to seek more and more opening and to demand support in it. If you are one of the down-to-earth people, then support like this from this trainer would be simply wrong. We cannot force our nervous system to change its orientation. This is a long road and this is exactly where Rolfing can help and thus indirectly improve your yoga.
The painful and wrong way to aim for lengthening
In the second picture there are again dancers who support each other. The question for me is where in the body should more length arise? And how can support for this be useful? In the cobra, the opening is aimed at the front of the spine with the back and shoulder area activated in length. And now “simply” pulling at one end, in this case behind the corner of the jaw, will only provoke a protective tension deep in the throat. My observation in Rolfing is that length in the neck is often caused by manual work from the head towards the shoulder. The neck elongates itself. This creates a length in the neck and shoulder transition that we can often admire in African women who carry loads on their heads.
In my Rolfing sessions, I sometimes ask the question of which yoga position is perceived as particularly terrible. This enables me to search for deep-seated tensions in a more targeted manner. In this way, Rolfing can not only improve asanas in yoga in a targeted manner, but also pursue the same goals together with yoga: more length where it is necessary.
The common trap of the long lever
In rolfing as in yoga, most considerations aim at freedom in the pelvis. This also means the transitions into the lower back and the hip joints into the bends. A classic example is the forward bend in yoga. What the struggling man lacks in the forward bend is length around the ischial tuberosity. But how do I get these fixed structures?
It is so tempting to use a long lever over your legs and back. As if you were using a nutcracker and exerting great force on the nut through the long handle lever. But neither the lower back nor the knees are as stable as the middle of the handle of a nutcracker. Because of this, the pressure on the shoulders only produces stress in the hollow of the knees and lower back. The leverage does not reach the area around the ischial tuberosity at all. Rather, you are more likely to damage your back or knee joints.
2 concrete examples – How Rolfing can improve your yoga astonishingly directly
I going to use use the forward bend and backward bend positions to demonstrate show how Rolfing can improve your yoga. It almost seems as if the classic 10 series in Rolfing is working off these two exercises. If you are a moderator, teacher or manager, the backward bend is your practice. Read now why. If, on the other hand, you are struggling with back pain, then follow the young man here and let yoga and Rolfing help you.
How Rolfing supports the backward bend in yoga
Let’s look at the young woman first. She can keep the front of her spine elongated because she does not compress her back as she nicely supported there: the length around the breastbone (1st Rolfing session), balance between the front and back (3rd), integration of the arms in the shoulder girdle (8th session). Transition from the pelvis to the abdomen (5th). All of this leads to the fact that space is open in front of the sternum.
Free and open posture
Rolfer refer to this area as G ‘(G prime). It is the center of gravity for your upper body. Via openness or hiding in G’, we clarify, for example, who is avoiding whom at the vegetable counter. Or whether a look is perceived as shy, weird or open. It is the area where martial artists see the attack about to start. This is also where the heart chakra is located. In short – we want to be open here. Yoga and Rolfing are in perfect harmony.
Next – still with the young woman – her midline is wonderfully activated. Big toe, inner legs, through the pelvis to the front of the spine. Active in her power and extension! And that’s not for granted. Acting Muscles will shorten in length, they work like a rope: you can only pull a rope, you can’t push it. And yet: this young woman is actively extending along her inner leg line. This active support allows her to open around G ‘. She is – figuratively speaking – organized like a Y. Closed at the bottom, deep in the middle, then an opening at the top. In Rolfing, sessions 4, 5, 6, 7 are addressing this inner line and are supporting many yoga assanas. It is not only worthwhile for yoga, but for life to maintain this inner line and keep it active.
Who will benefit most of practicing the forward bend
You may now think that the young woman has achieved anything you can think of. So what’s left? Are there still open ends for the young man? YES! The backward bend balances tension on the front and in the organ area. In contrast, the forward bend is our core stabilization from the heel to the head.
Give it a shot. You can stay seated as relaxes as are rigth now. Begin by pressing the ball of your foot and your big toe on the floor. As you do so, observe how tension builds up on the belly side of your body. After realizing your body tensions, change your pressure on the floor from the ball of the foot to the heel. If you like, you can lift your forefoot a little while doing this. What changes in your perception? Ideally, you will get into a more upright sitting position with less buttocks and abdominal tension.
How Rolfing supports the forward bend in yoga
What if you don’t notice a difference now? Then you may be at home in the posture of the silhouette men above. This would also mean, the forward bend is your exercise, even if it is extremely difficult for you. Yoga and support from Rolfing can help to improve your mobility in a meaningful way. This is how you can sustainably prevent back pain.
Or – you are already in back pain. You know the impulse to lean forward every now and then – like the silhouette man on the right. Stretching your lower back. Yoga and Rolfing then work perfectly hand in hand for you. Direct body work, i.e. Rolfing and intelligent movements, i.e. yoga will rebalance your tension pattern around the pelvis over time. Thus allowing for more length in your lower back.
Several sessions from the Rolfing 10 series support the forward bend. It starts with the 2nd session. This deals with the mobility in the foot and especially the sole of the foot. This is the start of the journey through posterior planes according to Tom Meyer’s Anatomy Trains. The journey continues with sessions 3 and 4. Both continue to prepare the length in the back plane. The following session 5 can be a key for deep back tension as the psoas starts to let go.
Here, however, I have to correct too high expectations: Sustainable change in the psoas is a long way. High tension in the psoas is usually more than “just” a tense muscle. Rather, it is a basic element of our attitude. Changes here need support and time.
Session 6 is then the classic back session, which is continued with the 7th in the neck and head area. Depending on the need, the topic of length in the back will be taken up again in sessions 9 and 10.
You want to get started – How to optimize mobility and posture with Yoga and Rolfing
As for Rolfing, it’s not that difficult. Here you can find a list of German Rolfer. Remember, not all Rolfer are the same, preferences, additional training and convictions make each of us very individual. If you search, you will find “your” Rolfer.
If Rolfers are colorful, then yoga seems to me to be even more colorful. Yin Yoga or would you prefer classic Hatha-Yoga? And what about dynamic Ashtanga Yoga be? Yoga is an intelligent movement system, which should also be used intelligently. That means, if you are already very flexible, then you shouldn’t stretch too long because that’s where you are at home already. Preferable you rather don’t choose yin yoga, but a more dynamic forms in which you train your stability.
I would like to encourage men to practice yoga. Yoga is not made for women per se, even if today’s yoga classes suggest it. The age of the yoga tradition of over 2500 years alone points in the opposite direction. Men usually have tighter connective tissue, so the differentiated stretching exercises are ideal for training mobility and body awareness. Both areas in which men often do not sail with a tailwind.
Your first steps
Important things first. You are doing yoga for yourself and for no one else! This also means that you start with yourself, regardless of where your flexibility and strength lie. Do not be discouraged by experts, dancers and acrobats – even in your own yoga class. You are the only measure. The only valid question is: ‘What is the next possible step in your development. Be slow, stick to it.
DVDs I found usefull during Coroan times. I went through these set a couple of hundred times, hence I allow me some judgement.
You exercise for yourself only
Kundalini Yoga for Your Week – Natalie Wells The DVDs were also available on Amazon for a long time, but this is not the case at the moment (2021). The video is in English, you can listen to it and watch it on YouTube. See if you can handle the style. Each day starts with a classic warm-up, followed by the actual yoga set and a short final meditation. I like the straightforward style, after a few repetitions you no longer have to look at the picture and can concentrate more on yourself and your execution.
Mantra Yoga (A journey to yourself!) Janin Devi, Inga Stendel is a German audio instruction. (You do not need much German, though). This means that you should already know the basic positions or acquire them through other YouTube videos. Rapid breathing, sun salutation, child’s position, headstand or dog, shoulder stand, plow, fish, forward bend, cobra, bow, seated twist pose, standing forward bend. This audio instruction is accompanied by vocals you ether like or don’t. Anway, this guidance will lead you through a balanced yoga set for 80 minutes. The more often you repeat this set, the better you will understand the depth of this yoga practice.
You are looking for prudent helping hands
Yoga in Ratingen with Nina Werner If you live in Ratingen (Germany), I recommend Nina Werner, with whom I am in constant contact. Sensible and prudent support and an understanding of Rolfing brings yoga and your body in good alignment. In addition, good hands will help you to safely master your personal next step.
How Yoga and Rolfing focus your goals
- Targeted change in the tone of the fascia and the nervous system
- Correction of micro-movements and preparation for movement
- Treatment of medical conditions, especially chronic ones
- Integration of new freedom of movement in complex movements
- Maintaining and expanding a wide range of exercise
Summary – Why Rolfing and Yoga are so effective together
Why do Rolfing and Yoga come together in such a meaningful way?
Yoga and Rolfing share the same goals. Both want to keep our fascia-nerve system alive. Aging results in a shorting of our fascia-nerve system. Furthermore over time our fascial system tends to dehydrate and to lose its mobility. Both Yoga and Rolfing counteract this.
Why is the treatment of tension so complex
Body tension and tension are reactions of our body to perceived threats. These cannot simply be “ironed smooth” through yoga exercises or manual body work. Rather, the next possible steps must be explored together. Here, Rolfing and yoga can improve too much tension.
Why is violence a bad advisor in Yoga and Rolfing?
Ultimately, in yoga and rolfing you are looking for more freedom for your movements. The limits they now have to this space are there for a good reason. Therefore, neither you nor your trainer or therapist should force them to move. Even if you finally want to get further yourself. At the end of the day, your nervous system has to accept these changes benevolently so that you can benefit from them in your everyday life.
What are the basic forms in yoga that are particularly valuable from Rolfing’s point of view?
The forward bend and the backward bend are two such opening core positions in yoga. This occurs in many positions and variants. As a dynamic addition, there is the swivel seat, which combines a length at the back and openness at the front.