“We do workshops, and I’ve been thinking about the name for one of our new courses. I like ‘Echoes from your Core.’” Says Schmitz. “You see, that’s what Rolfing® gives you. You may not immediately get into it but you do suddenly get the echo of something deeper. Maybe you are just happy with the echo but a lot of people want to explore deeper and are motivated to find out where the echo is coming from.” He explains.
I am speaking to Bert Schmitz about his work as a Certified Advanced Rolfer®. Schmitz is also a Clinical Psychologist, registered Psychotherapist, and MBSR/MBCT instructor. He and his wife, Bernadette van Boxel, also a Certified Rolfer®, run ‘Bodymindfulness’ which offers individual sessions, workshops and courses, to help clients understand their body, mind and energy in a holistic, non-dual way. After living in Florence, Italy, for over 32 years, Schmitz is now based in Roermond in the Netherlands.
What made you train to be a Rolfer?
It was after I had finished my Psychology studies and Masters in Amsterdam. I wasn’t very happy with my academic training as it hadn’t provided all the answers. So I went to California in 1975 and studied at the Esalen Institute.
At that time, Esalen was the centre, the birth centre for all these new fields like Rolfing, Gestalt, and especially the exploration of the Bodymind which I was particularly interested in. While it wasn’t defined in those exact terms then, Gestalt was already very much into exploring the senses, the body and awareness.
A lot of the visiting Rolfers were Gestalt-trained and I tried Rolfing in 1975.
In fact, Dr. Ida Rolf had visited Esalen only a few years earlier to help Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt Psychology as he had been very unwell. Ida Rolf did Rolfing on Perls while he was also training people in therapy and the Bodymind. Perls said to his students, who were all psychologists, ‘look, you have got to see this woman, Dr Rolf’. The psychologists really embraced her and wanted to learn from her.
Rolfing made me very happy, it was an incredible experience and Rolfing combined with the whole therapeutic, new approach was for me like a rebirth. I went on to train in Rolfing in France and Germany, and qualified in 1982.
Did you meet Ida Rolf?
Yes, I met her at Esalen in 1976. In her teaching, she had this idea that you had to lose your concepts and your words in order to find what you are seeing in the body. When training, she was always saying, ‘you have to learn to see, you are just looking in the old way’. She was very suspicious of all sorts of psychological stuff in fact and was always teasing the psychologists. She felt they were coming up with all kinds of ideas! She was actually very pragmatic.
In what way was she pragmatic?
Even for something that might be quite spiritual, Rolf didn’t want us to fantasise about spirituality, she would say ‘come down to what you can touch’.
She had this saying that you hear a lot in the Rolfing community: ‘the body’s the only thing I can put my hands on, but don’t think that I think it is all in the body, that’s not what I am about. The body is just the only thing I can put my hands on.’ She remained very open as well.
Do you integrate Rolfing into your Psychotherapy work?
Generally my Rolfing clients come to me with a specific physical complaint such as back pain, and my Psychotherapy clients come to me specifically for counselling. Some combine Rolfing and Psychotherapy and half an hour of talking followed by 45 minutes of Rolfing can be really effective.
What do Rolfing and Psychotherapy share in common?
My whole approach to being with a person is about creating an awareness, to help them get more in touch with their body, with themselves.
Even, in my psychotherapy work, when I am not Rolfing, I find myself always checking where my client is breathing, how they are holding their body and where they are in their senses. The centering of the body that Rolfing achieves is for me the entrance to meeting yourself. That is also the basis of how I work as a psychotherapist.
When a person comes in, he has a certain perception of the world, and this is expressed emotionally, mentally or physically; these all connect to the same thing however. The body and the mind work together and so you always have to look at the role of perception. However, if one can ‘massage’, or alter that perception in some way, then you open yourself up and enable change to occur in your body, mind and emotional responses.
When I am Rolfing, I am not thinking so much about the technique, but more about how do I relate to myself, how do I relate to the person and can we find the ground, the ground for communicating? Communicating can be without words. It is a kind of presence. Rolfing can help create that presence. It is about finding that field of awareness that informs and being in the present.
In Rolfing, we work with the whole body and you also have to open doors to get into rooms you can’t access immediately, as facilitated by the Ten Series. Rather like in Psychotherapy, you don’t just bust into the kitchen!
So Rolfing is for you a form of communication?
If the Rolfer and the Rolfee can communicate through the hands, through the touch, or maybe just through awareness, there is communication between the two but it is also communicating in a field. In a field of presence, of consciousness. That’s what is so powerful about Rolfing. In the power of touch, and the way you work with connective tissue, you are entering a field that isn’t structured. Connective tissue is embryological in origin. It can take a form, it can be tough, it can be tender, but it can also be soft, watery and gel-like. So in a way, if you enter in the connective tissue, you are entering an infinite space that is incredible, open and limitless. Ida Rolf looked at connective tissue as an organ system. Connective tissue is in itself continuous. There is an ocean of possibilities but in the physical body, it is gravity that is the ruler. If you are out of balance, gravity makes you curve, makes you unbalanced, leads to osteoporosis etc. If you are really balanced, gravity works through you in the right way and you will experience a sense of centre, ‘the line’.
As Rolfers we believe that if we can balance the body and relate it to gravity, then the body will heal itself’. Ida Rolf’s work on connective tissue marked a paradigm shift that differentiated Rolfing from other treatments, physiotherapy, osteopathy, or chiropractic.
The use of visualisation can be particularly powerful in Rolfing
Yes, you can help people to open through their senses – be it through visualisation or hearing, or feeling – to find new ways of perceiving. Part of our structure is in our perception. How you perceive yourself is also how the body is developing. If you are a fearful person, there is a perception of your inner feeling and outer world that your body will hold. To change your perception through working with visualisation can be a way of opening you up to new ways and new experiences. This is something very important for Rolfers to be aware of: that a person, how he holds a physical position, structure or pattern, is rooted in perception. How you look into the world is also how your perceive yourself. Correspondingly, if you get a new experience, your body will change.
Do you specialise in particular health conditions when Rolfing?
I get a lot of clients suffering from arthrosis, neck and back pain as well as stress-related syndromes. Rolfing gives them huge relief and insight. My clients come from all walks of life: bankers, athletes, housewives, dancers and doctors. My wife is now treating a lot of children. Rolfing really helps autistic children once they learn to focus on the body.
Do you see any new developments in Rolfing?
I hate to see Rolfing being taken over and included as a new ‘technique’ in physiotherapeutic-oriented methods for example, or being ‘integrated’ into all kinds of fancy new treatments and approaches. Of course, Fascial Therapy is hot these days but it is essentially missing out on Ida Rolf’s transformational view of changing consciousness through touch, and this, really is the core business of Rolfing.
Photography credits: Header-Photo courtesy of Sofie de Lauw, Florence Italy Photography, pictured is Rolfer Bert Schmitz.