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Semiotics of Neurophysiology and history in Rolfing® Structural and Movement Integration

Subtitle: Post-Traumatic Stress, The Polyvagal Theory, Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, and historical neurophysiological states, with additional thought on meditation and prayer as stress management approaches.  (Just having a li’l fun there, folks.)

Sometimes when reading these posts, I suppose the gentle reader can tell that I just love to read books where I have to look up at least a word or two.  Then I like to use the word.  However, the word semiotics is not a recent lookupable for those of us indoctrinated in Ida Rolf’s love of S.I. Hayakawa and Bucky Fuller.

Anyways, three new remarkable books about trauma and the body signs thereof are redolent with semiotics of neurophysiology. Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, and particularly Stephen Porges, are loving the naming of signs and symbols of body reactions.

Not every terrible event causes trauma for every individual.  Porges has researched out how that lack of trauma could happen with certain individuals, giving credence to Bill O’Hanlon’s quiet statements about trauma.

As for Bill O’Hanlon, the way that I saw him work with trauma at an Ericksonian conference workshop (1986ish) had some basis in a hypnotic approach as well as his considerable skill as a gifted talk therapist and his skillful use of his own motor neurons in trance to model new behaviors for his client.   We await Bill’s book, on the meta hypnotics of working with neurophysiological states of trauma.

Back to the naming of stress signs: the comic book version of stress says, Picture this,  You are on the path of an ancient forest, and suddenly before you appears a sabre-tooth tiger snarling loudly.  In a twinkling of an eye, before you can even assess whether your spear is good to fight this monster, or decide to run away, your heartrate pulse has sped way up along with your breath and the blood has gone to the muscles and away from your guts because after all, you wouldn’t want to have to stop and eat or pee or poop.  (Let’s just overlook that lack of overseement of the guts could cause diarrhea.)

OR–maybe you just want to play dead. This depressed physiological state can be a stress reaction as well.

These automatic responses if continued can be hell on your whole system, including neuro-endocrine problems, cell reproduction problems, blood pressure problems, accident prone issues, the list goes on and on.  In addition to the known which has been around for awhile, Porges talks about oxytocin in the stress of caregiving, which might be worth the price of his dense but ultimately readable book.

Two of the writers, Peter Levine and Pat Ogden, were trained as Rolfers™.  The third, Porges, was associated back in the ’80s with a Rolfer and together they did a small study on vagal tone using Ida Rolf’s pelvic lift, which can still be obtained through the Rolf Institute®of Structural Integration.

Peter Levine’s trauma work in the ’80s was first becoming known to Rolfers, especially the branch of Rolfing called Rolfing Movement, which was already into helping folks with limitations of movement and function mediated through the stress system.  Then he wrote books over 20 years ago that were groundbreaking on the subject.  (Waking the Tiger).

When this stuff came along, there was a certain smugness to Levine’s true disciples, as in “Look what I can notice” and also “You dense cretins are still ripping people up”.  Peter himself seemed to be just working away.

Actually ripping was long past anyway, and the smugness had an offputting way about it that still obtains for me, since I hadn’t run into anyone who wanted to ignore what was going on in their clients. (Oh, mebbe they were using some pretty trite ways to talk about it, As in “Oh, you got the world on your shoulders”, or “Oh, You are way into resignation”.)  (I say, “Oh, and maybe I’m gonna have to meditate or pray my aggravational state related to their triteness or smugness out, haha”.)

It wasn’t that nobody had noticed that clients were having these heart rate changes, tension changes, color changes.  Part of a problem which I mercifully didn’t see since I came along in the ’80s was that a certain subset of Rolfers who had been in Gestalt training also at Esalen thought that there was value in having folks “blow up”, get “it” out, whatever “it” was, do a big abreaction and be done with it.

The big trouble was that most weren’t done with “it” after the abreaction.  Most would go back over and over and abreact over and over.  It was good for keeping folks in therapy, and creates a lot of business still for some.

Respectful and useful ways of working with trauma are out there now and becoming more known.  Some talk psychotherapists themselves are the ones who are getting the tools, and they are catching up with the bodyworkers in knowing state changes and working with them.  There is still that problem for psychotherapists who aren’t physicians with being able to touch their patients.

In closing for now, I want to talk about “mirror neurons”.  This says that we are constantly recreating in our own nervous systems, the neurophysiological states that we perceive in people around us, and that we may have chronic tensional or stress states that actually belonged to our parents or some other person who was important to us.  And we may historically recreate those neurophysiological states for ourselves, using our own stories.

I have at least one left over from my mother that I know about, and I was in it today.  There was a memorial service today for a policeman who died in the line of duty in Philadelphia in 1918 a block away from where I write this. The chronic emotional state that was recreated for me happened when the bugler played, and again when the bagpipe band played. Tears came and I was totally joyous at hearing the music. I remember my mother talking about going to parades and having this reaction, and now I have it myself.

I love a parade.


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