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Yoga and Rolfing®

Three or four years ago I got an invitation I couldn’t refuse from Joan White, who teaches yoga all over the world in the discipline of B.K.S. Iyengar.  She and I taught a weekend event in Philadelphia for her teacher-trainees.  In it, we kept running into congruences between Iyengar’s sayings and doings and Ida Rolf’s sayings and doings.

Ida Rolf did her beginning yoga practice on the front porch of her parents’ home in New York.  She has been said to have studied with the early popularizer of yoga in the U.S., Pierre A. Bernard.  Bernard’s biography, The Great OOM: The Improbable Birth Of Yoga in America recently documented those early days in a fascinating story of belief in physical experience as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment.

It depends to whom we talk amongst the early pioneers of Rolfing as to whether any of them will admit that they thought of physical experience as a pathway to spiritual enlightenment.

In the physical domain, although some divergences exist, to my mind notably in yoga thigh rotations and the yoga extreme what I would call forcing of the chest into a position of “inhale”, there is still a lot of structure and posture in which yoga and Rolfing are in agreement.

In one clear example, when Ida Rolf devised the advanced series of Rolfing Structural Integration, she used a famous yoga twisting pose for the Rolfee to assume, one which gave more ability to take form into function.  (Btw, the advanced series is a lot about taking good structure into better function at a deeper level.)

Here is a short video I like from Youtube showing the yoga pose:

What I like about this version is the extensionality of the arms, her use of the wall for that, and how she clearly gets extension through the top of her head, though a little discreet Rolfing could help her with spinal extension in her upper thoracics and neck. In the Rolfing version of working in this pose, there is movement while the Rolfer is working on the client.

The heyday of this pose, known in the Rolfing world as the “Z” pose,
has come and gone, although some still use it for certain very advanced clients, especially for yoga practitioners. It is easy for someone a little too stiff to be injured in the pose, both in Rolfing and in yoga. As Joan would say, “Not if the teacher is paying attention!” and I agree with that for Rolfers, too.

Joan will begin teaching again in the fall, in West Philadelphia and various other venues. Her schedule is here:

For the book about Bernard,
the writer is Robert Love, and “The Great OOM” will get the result I think.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Linda, I’ve been reading the Great Oom – thanks for the recommendation. Interesting story! I haven’t finished it, but so far no mention of Ida Rolf. Do you happen to know anything more about their relationship, or where to find more info? Now I’m curious.
    -Karin Edwards in Portland, OR

    1. Hi Karin,
      This is documented in “Ida Rolf Talks”, the book, I think. I’m at the beach now and can’t hunt it down.
      You are right, the Great OOM book doesn’t have any mention of Ida Rolf and I should clean that sentence up a bit, I can see that I have created an illusion of her being mentioned.
      I love your website, it is clear you have put a lot of thought into the presentation and information.

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