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Yoga Therapy

At first glance, it may seem like two very different areas - but after taking a closer look it becomes clear that there are actually quite a few commonalities. Physical therapist and body worker Andreas Lutz talks with us about the potential of combining both approaches.

The distorted body segments of a boy on the left in comparison to a proper body alignment after treatment on the right. The idea of this image was based on an actual young patient of Dr. Ida Rolf 50 years ago.

A New Approach to Body Work: Rolfing and Ashtanga Yoga

In his 30 years of work as a body worker, Andreas Lutz has developed a method which has evolved from the classical functional massage and Physical Therapy. In the solution-oriented Rolfing method, physical body work indeed plays an important role; however, it digs deeper into other areas. Feelings and emotions are released, relationships can be resolved and everything starts moving freely again. A new body can be formed as body awareness, posture and proprioception change fundamentally.

The Path Toward a Holistic Approach

On his long search for a movement concept which combines the physical-mechanical with emotional and spiritual aspects, Andreas Lutz finally found Ashtanga Yoga Innovation (AYI®). The way that this method integrates therapeutic exercises or modifications with the traditional practice of Ashtanga Yoga system not only speaks to his personal philosophy, but also brings the concept of "Yoga Chikitsa", or, healing of the physical body, to the point. Why? Because breath is life and life is movement. Regular physical practice is the key to health, strength, energy, vitality and happiness. Andreas has taken a few selected aspects of Rolfing to explain the connection.

Andreas: After many years as a physical therapist, I realized that I consistently ran into the same challenges - in spite of all the knowledge and experience I had, I always hit a roadblock with my patients. I also noticed that I was using the exact same approach with each of my patients. Then it became apparent that through the experience of releasing physical pain, when emotional blockages are acknowledged and lovingly accepted, is where the patient-therapist relationship starts to deepen. We are working on the physical body and at the same time and on the emotions and dogmas associated with it. Here is where the solution lies!

What is Rolfing?

Ida Rolf, an American biochemist, developed this method in the 1960's. Based on her experience with Yoga and body work she examined the effect on gravity in the human body and observed the resulting different solutions. The practical skills she developed through intensive massage-like bodywork, from which the modular method we use today originated: ten 90-minute sessions that extend over a year, where you gain the ability to sense with your hands every corner of the body, to release blockages and tension in order to allow free movement within the body.

Each step is dedicated to a specific area of work:

1. Freedom of breath
2. Foundation
3. Stretching the side body
4. Inner foot to pelvis
5. Create space for internal organs
6. Mobility of the Os Sacrum - the sacrum
7. Balancing the head
8 and 9. Coordination of pelvic and shoulder girdle movements
10. Rooting the feet and looking toward the horizon

Andreas: It is only when the therapist accepts the client in his or her current state that he can evoke the impulse for change. That moment is a result of all past experiences which cannot be undone, which have been processed and etched into our physical being causing certain behaviors or actions to ensue when similar experiences take place. The only thing one can do is attempt through awareness to overwrite those automated physical reactions. Without unconditional openness and trust it is simply not possible to do this type of work. The therapist's role in this is to make room for the client to make that move when he or she is ready.

The Functional Aspects of Rolfing - Working with Fascia

Fascia is currently the newest trend word. You would have to look hard to find an article on therapy or yoga where fascia is not mentioned, at times even excessively so. It is actually quite simple to explain. Muscles function more like rubber, so they are resilient, meaning that they return to their starting position. Fascia, however, is like plasticine, so it is pliable and can be sculpted.

In the body these two fabrics do not exist independently from one another, this separation exists only theoretically. The two tissues are actually closely interwoven. The muscles can move only within the fascia and as the saying goes: "Hot glass melts, cold glass breaks" fascia is only malleable when warm.

Postural and movement patterns change the fascia over many years in a customized form that reflects those patterns, to a point that we are no longer even aware of them. A Rolfing specialist works on the fascia components, which are hardened and blocked, often where we find we no longer have the ability to move freely. In this way 'new' movement patterns are possible.

Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Rolfing

In his groundbreaking book "The Hakomi Method" Ron Kurtz describes that our character is etched into our bodies over the years through repetitive muscle activity. Depending on our beliefs, our mood or even our physical activities, we tend to repeat these myofascial habit patterns because they somehow feel right. Ultimately, our thoughts and feelings are directly related with how we handle our physical body.

Since these character strategies include both skills and limitations, they are reflected in our mobility. The body is actually the ideal feedback system. It allows us to work with the client without challenges like personal thoughts or interpretations to get in the way. Through intense body work the therapist can help the client to dissolve blockages and to have a sense of having a body which is liberated and the person can again feel comfortable in their own skin.

Andreas: When you come to a point of pain during treatment, you not only palpate firmer tissue under your fingers, but you also feel the reaction of the client. Incipient pain leads to more active breathing, and as we come to the client's pain threshold, the client begins to turn away and they start gasping for breath. This type of reaction is counterproductive, so we want to maintain the intensity of the body work below this level, so that we are able to release tension, and so that deep, uniform and relaxed breathing ensues, with the desired result being mobility in the previously blocked area.

The Connection Between Ashtanga Yoga and Rolfing – Where the Two Methods Meet

What it all comes down to in both disciplines is breath. In Ashtanga Yoga we perform breathing while applying Bhandas and the sound of Ujjayi as a means to start movement from the inside out. This leads to a feeling of liberation and we are detached from muscular tension which impacts our current mood.

In Rolfing we achieve heightened body and emotional awareness through intense body work combined with mindful breath. Trauma can be detected and physical blockages where the trauma was stored in the body can be released. This is initiated through the watchful, caring and non-judgemental relationship between therapist and client.

There is no need to bring up and discuss the past events, through the physical work these things come up, are acknowledged and then released from the body.

With this new freedom the body is ready to move, and in order to maintain this it is vital to keep the body in movement. The First Series is an excellent way to integrate every possible movement of the body, many of which are simply not part of daily life. We find physical, mental and emotional balance, which brings us as individuals as close as possible our true nature.

Andreas: The integration of breath and movement which is core to the Ashtanga Yoga practice was what led me to really contemplate the pain reaction. The breath-synchronous movement is they key to creating a renewed awareness of the body from inside out. When change does not start from within, the risk is high that we fall back into old, familiar patterns. On the other hand, just being active and exercising will not help to release emotional blockages or negative behavior patterns because these lie in our subconscious. It follows that a combination of Rolfing and Ashtanga Yoga Innovation (AYI®) can help to allow for an even more complete holistic solution.