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The Reluctant Novice

ROLFING : Pain for Gain : The somewhat brutal body realignment technique can feel good--especially when it's over.

July 25, 1991|Aurora Mackey | Times Staff Writer

Left to your own devices, it never would occur to you to pay a woman $90 to dig her fingers, knuckles and elbows into your body. But then, you say to yourself, you really weren't the one who decided that you needed to do this.

First there was that sales clerk, tugging at the sleeves of the jacket you were trying on. The fit would be a lot better, she said, if you didn't wear shoulder pads.

You weren't wearing any shoulder pads.

Then there was that cashier, the one who was unmoved by your assertion that the pricey pair of designer pants you wanted should cost less because one pant leg was a different width than the other.

"I wouldn't be blamin' no pants," she said, her voice dripping with snideness. "I'd be blamin' your legs."

The final blow came from the harmless-looking man at the shoe repair shop. After you handed him your footwear, he chuckled heartily. "How," he asked, looking at the worn heel, "did you ever do THAT?"

No, you are not a hunchback. In fact, you have always considered your physique to be, well, fairly normal. But this recent turn of events was conspiring to tell you otherwise. Your body, the world seemed to be telling you, was definitely not the well-oiled or well-organized machine of your youth.

After listening to your woes, a friend tells you not to worry. The same thing happened to her a few years before. Her body had gotten out of balance, she said, and to compensate, her posture and gait had changed. It was then, she said, that she found out about Rolfing.

You are stunned at this disclosure. What should you say? One of your very best friends . . . with an eating disorder!

Your expression of compassion is stopped in mid-sentence. She hands you a brochure.

Rolfing, you read, is a technique of "connective tissue manipulation" to correct "distortions" in the body. It was developed by Ida P. Rolf, a former organic chemist with the Rockefeller Institute, and works on the theory that connective tissue between muscles--called fascia-- becomes shortened through injuries or chronic misuse of the body.

Rolfing, which involves 10 sessions, each lasting about 1 1/2 hours, supposedly lengthens the connective tissue and creates a new freedom of movement.

On paper it looks OK. Still, connective tissue manipulation doesn't sound nearly as pleasant as massage.

"Well, you do incur some pain," says Paul Schmutz, a Simi Valley physical therapist. "But it does work. And later, you feel a lot better."

As you dial the Rolf Institute in San Francisco, it occurs to you that you might try hitting your thumb with a hammer, since it would feel so much better once it stopped hurting and it would cost nothing at all, assuming you didn't break the thumb. Then a voice on the other end of the phone comes on, informing you that there are no Rolfers in Ventura County. You breathe a sigh of relief.

"But Patricia Wandler, in Santa Barbara, is excellent," the voice continues. "She's been a practitioner for many years."

As you drive up the coast, you wonder which is better: a good Rolfer or a bad Rolfer? And you wonder how you'll know one from the other. Patricia, a beautifully complexioned, energetic woman in her early 60s, acknowledges that your fears are not unfounded.

"Rolfing does seem to have acquired a reputation for being brutal," she says as she ushers you toward a back room in her home. "But I don't know if that is earned or not."

After asking you a few questions about your general health (good), exercise habits (did spoon lifts count?) and stress levels (high), she asks you to undress to your underwear. As if it were the most normal thing to do, you stand practically naked in the middle of the room as she assesses the state of your body.

Your head is too far forward, she says, and one hip is higher than the other. Also, she adds, your right shoulder is higher than the other.

Assessment over, you lay down on a narrow table covered by a sheet. She then goes to work. Holding one part of your thigh with one hand, she digs the knuckles of the other hand in deeply and runs them toward your knees.

"Let me know if you have any discomfort," she says.

"Mmmmph," you say, face down in the pillow.

"This can get intense," she says.

"Nummump," you say, again into the pillow.

After half an hour, she flips you onto your back. She then places her elbow in your armpit and leans into it. One good thing could come of this, you think. You'll probably never have to shave again.

As she pushes your feet toward your head, attempting to lengthen your calf muscles, Patricia explains that for many people, Rolfing doesn't just release stress in the muscles. It also releases pent-up emotions. It is not uncommon, she says, for people to burst into tears when pressure is applied to certain parts of their bodies.

This makes sense to you.

Finally, she stops. You can get dressed now.

During the drive home, you ponder the experience. Maybe, you think, you are now experiencing the benefits of Rolfing.

After all, as promised, you certainly feel better now that it's over.

* THE PREMISE

There are plenty of things you have never tried. Fun things, dangerous things, character-building things. The Reluctant Novice tries them for you and reports the results. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and has no choice in the matter. If you want to tell the Novice where to go, please call us at 658-5547. If we use your idea, we'll send you a present.

This week's Reluctant Novice is staff writer Aurora Mackey.

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