Copyright Richard F. Wheeler, July 1, 2007



Richard F. Wheeler

During her 1972 basic practitioner's class in Boulder Colorado, Dr. Rolf called the class over to look carefully at her third hour model's left side.  The longer we looked, the more structural details we saw.  Students began noticing that the model's ribs were not evenly distributed and that some were deeper than others.  They commented that the model's breathing and ribs moved at different rates and timings.  Dr. Rolf then proceeded to deliver her Third Hour.  She placed her hands on both sides of the model's lateral line and began working each contact evenly away from center.  When she was done, she invited the class to observe the results.  I was astonished to see that all of the previous structural observations had been corrected.  My amazement was that she had accomplished correction of many structural problems by directly addressing none of them!  As this lesson has matured within me over the years I have come to realize that the specifics of anatomical structure are not as important as what is done with them. 


Any given structural situation is complicated by the observer's perceptions.  The more time and in-depth effort one invests in seeing, the more detail and complexity one sees.  The sharper one's perceptions become, the more problems are observed.  One problem with this is that any perceived misalignment may be interpreted as the 'cause of the problem' and, based on this, a treatment modality is designed for its 'correction'.  For example, symptom-oriented Chiropractors love finding that a fourth Lumbar vertebra is anterior on the right.  Their allopathic-ally inspired reasoning leads chiropractic practitioners to a simple fix of moving L4's left side forward to correct the misalignment.  However limitations of available treatment time dictate that practitioners cannot apply this reasoning to all the body's 206 bones.  Structure is relationship after all.  When we look beyond each bone's immediate neighbors, the mathematical number of relationships in the whole osseous body is 206 bones factorial (mathematically written 206!).  206 factorial is 206 x 205 x 204 x 203... x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.  206! is a HUGE number, well beyond the ability of the human mind to conceive of let alone to plan an all-encompassing treatment strategy.  The same logic, and the same tyranny of complexity, applies to the body's myofascial tissues at any level of dissection or detail. 

How did Dr. Rolf normalize all those structural problems without specifically addressing each one?  Did an essentially unteachable miracle happen or was a different dynamic invoked? 


Lets model the spine as a stack of plates (vertebral centrums) and marbles (disks).  In our readily observable Newtonian, everyday 'real' world, a stack of plates and marbles can never be perfectly aligned.  There will always be small differences in plate alignment or marble placement.  Therefore even pressure applied to the top of the stack will exaggerate subtle misalignments until a near-perfect alignment disintegrates into off-center marbles and diagonalized plates.  Now imagine the reverse process:  Evenly applied decompression forces will pull everything back towards center, eventually enabling Gravity to better support the stack. 

Dr. Rolf treated both sides of the body evenly and the misalignments, movement and/or contour problems corrected themselves.  She also commented that improved structural integration could be accomplished with minimal anatomical study, just by paying attention to the body's overall geometry, shape and function.  Given that we do not need a detailed knowledge of anatomy to change a person's physical shape, motion dynamics and posture it becomes sufficient to know that:

1)  If one decompresses an anatomical region, it will expand to fill all available space.

2)  If one melts or softens solidified, work-hardened tissue, it will expand like a re-hydrating kitchen sponge because pressurized water is always present. 

Shape and span normalizes whether from decompression or re-hydration.  Like an inflating dirigible or balloon sculpture, body contours will normalize and assume their genetically predetermined shapes when the forces on all the interconnecting lines and struts are equilibrated. 


Structure, as dissectible, analyzable shape, is an intellectual red herring.  What is important is what one does with it.  This is why a geometry-based, N-step formula works well as a simple context for framing and teaching a whole-system treatment approach.  If we choose the number of sessions to be given as ten, Dr. Rolf's original recipe for a sequence of treatments becomes quite reasonable:

Session        Release and/or Relate

   1,2    front to back (coronal plane)

   3,4    side to side (sagittal plane)

  5,6,7    top to bottom (transverse plane)

   8,9    girdles to core (internal/external)

    10    establish horizontals and/or verticals

A few guide lines apply.  Any of the above numbered steps can be sub-divided or repeated as much as is appropriate.  The order may also change as long as the integrity of the approach is observed.  If the practitioner wishes to transform the whole structure and if sufficient treatment time is available, be sure to distribute contact and treatment efforts everywhere, at all depths, sooner or later. 


Pressure creates both dis-integration and re-integration.  In randomly organized bodies, gravitationally induced pressures will cause asymmetries, misalignments and functional problems to settle and solidify.  Direct manual application of pressure can cause all of the body's inherently soft, squishy parts and tissues to adjust their interfacing contours to fit together differently.  The systematic application of steady pressure to change a shape -or create a morphological transformation- is a concept easily understood by anyone who has ever sculpted clay or kneaded bread dough. 

Dr. Rolf's hypothesis, that collagen gel chemistry might be the mechanism underlying the body's inherent and observed plasticity, could prove to be too complex.  Simple re-hydration, analogous to the act of squeezing and releasing a kitchen sponge to promote water absorption may be a more accurate description of the physical nature of the events involved.