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Have you heard of Rolfing? It is a deep and transformative form of bodywork that can relieve pain and improve function. In my quest to straighten my spine and release my arm rigidity I sought out a rolfer, since I had experienced the technique years before and knew how powerful it could be. Rolfing provided me with some great results in the form of restored mobility. I worked with several very good rolfers. Below is an interview with the one whose work was most effective for me.

LT: Today I am talking with Janu Vanier, who is a rolfer. Janu, can you tell me a little bit about Rolfing?

JV: Well you know this is always a tough one. I think there are many different answers about what Rolfing is and even at the Rolf Institute there seems to be a different answer depending on which instructor you get for your training. What I think everyone can agree on is that the general term for rolfing that Ida preferred over the term rolfing— Ida Rolf is the woman who came up with the series of techniques— is “structural integration.” The idea of structural integration is basically to differentiate all of the structures of the body and then reintegrate them relative to each other and to their relationship with gravity. So we are really trying to get our clients to find what we call their line, which is a structural line that runs through the center of the body and is really the relationship that all creatures have to gravity. We look for how we can really maximize, and optimize, a relationship to gravity. Human beings have evolved with gravity, not against it, and it’s a synergistic relationship, although it seems antagonistic for most people.

LT: I would say that that seems to be the case for many people with Parkinson’s. Have you had much experience working with people with Parkinson’s?

JV: Yes, I have had some experience working with patients with Parkinson’s, also with essential and nonessential tremors that have some similar characteristics to the tremor that Parkinson’s exhibits. I would say that it is just one of a whole myriad of different types of tension that can take hold of the body systemically, it is something that exists within the entire organism. We talk about something called yielding quite a bit, yeilding to gravity, accepting your weight, allowing your weight to really sink into the earth. I have noticed that with Parkinson’s patients, the part of the body with the tremor has a difficult time really just receiving its weight and accepting the support the ground provides.

LT: I know that I myself had shoulder trouble and you helped me a great deal with that. Can you elaborate a little on your experience of how you open the tissue? No need to be scientific here with us, I just want to get at how you provided symptom relief.

JV: You know it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in Parkinson’s, it has an unknown etiology, they don’t really know where it comes from or what exactly causes it. Currently they think that it is a degradation of the substantia nigra, which causes problems with your neuromuscular innervation. What I can say is, what happens in the muscles in the part of the body that have a tremor, and what happens with the fascia around those muscles, is that they dont really, that part of the body doesn’t ever really get a break. It is constantly moving and is constantly working. You see similar strain patterns in professional fighters and athletes and people with really high stress jobs where they are overusing a certain part of their body. The fascia gets really tight to help protect the body and what eventually happens if you overwork it, is it gets dehydrated and it gets stuck together. So in Parkinson’s, because the muscles never really get a break, the fascia gets very stuck together in the area of the body with the tremor and it can definitely help for someone to come in and start to open that tissue up.

LT: Great.

JV: Now one thing I do have to say is that it is definitely a complementary therapy that I think can help to temporarily alleviate some of the restrictions in the tissue that are caused by the tremor. However, I don’t think that rolfing is necessarily capable off reducing or eliminating the tremor. It helps in reducing or eliminating some of the second hand consequences of the tremor. So someone can come in and you can open up all the tissue in their arm and it will feel good for a few days, or a few weeks, or even a few months, but if the tremor is still going, the tissue tissue is eventually going to start to harden again and they would have to come in for another session to iron things out again.

LT: Right, but it’s a good adjunct service to other therapies and can offer some relief.

JV: Well, I think whether you are a professional athlete and you are over-training or you are a Parkinson’s patient and find your nervous system is overworking involuntarily, it is the same. You come in for maintenance sessions to help keep things nice and open and unrestricted. We do the best we can to free our clients from limitations, regardless of how the limitations have arisen in their structure.

LT: Janu, thank you so much for talking with me today.

JV: You’re very welcome.

Janu Vanier, Rolf.me

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