Rolfing was the perfect cure for mid-life angst
Now and then, among friends - and they'd have to be really good friends to even know about it - the subject of my Rolfing comes up.
Rolfing is always good for a laugh, especially the part about the Rolfer's fingers up my nose, which was an aspect of the experience I hadn't bargained for, and yet, I have to say, when the fingers came out, I did feel very relaxed.
"If someone took their fingers out of my nose, I would feel relaxed, too," says my husband, the Voice of Reason. "Point is, they shouldn't be up there in the first place]"
Don't get the wrong idea. Rolfing is not about the nasal passages.
It is a series of 10 very deep (so deep it's painful) massages, each session between 60 and 90 minutes long, and focused on a different part of the body. The goal has something to do with balance and alignment and feeling better.
Developed by Dr. Ida Rolf, Rolfing became popular in the 1960s, which is why it is associated in the public mind with EST and such other hippy-dippy disciplines.
It's only lately, when I'm finally starting to care less what people think of me, that I would dare write about my Rolfing. I guess you could say it was my holistic little secret.
Can you blame me? I mean, the subject could lead to some awkward exchanges.
"How did you like it?"
"I liked it."
"Was it painful?"
I imagined myself writing about it - "The Rolfer presses on the muscles with the force of a steamroller . . ." - and decided to write about other things.
As it turns out, Rolfing didn't need my endorsement. It survived - even thrived - in Rhode Island, where there are now three certified practitioners.
I got Rolfed three years ago for - I guess you'd say, psychological reasons.
I had just finished a very intense self-defense course, and was bursting with unfocused energy; I couldn't seem to settle down. At the same time, I was struggling through the latest in a continuing series of early mid life crises, what my husband calls my "constant search for . . . " - poor kid, he has no idea, just as I have no idea - " . . . something."
"You were going through one of your phases," recalls our friend, Dan. " 'Who am I? I can't write. Why don't I get some measly job somewhere? Why don't I have some stranger stick his fingers up my nose and down my throat?' "
They weren't down my throat; they were in my mouth. And what can I say? It was the self-defense teacher's idea. It made sense at the time.
Actually, it still makes sense.
I look back on my post-Rolfing experience as the start of a very fertile period, during which, out of the blue, I took up drawing and painting. This seemed to help my work - story ideas came burbling up and the writing felt easy. And though I'd still occasionally be plagued by pesky meaning-of-life questions, I was a much happier person, which, as a bonus, made my husband happy.
Rolfing was the perfect extension of my self-defense course. Having permitted myself to claim some space in the world, I now moved through it a little more lightly, a little more awake.
Exactly how it worked, I don't know.
A Rolfer would tell you it results from manipulating the "myofascial system," which eases the movement of muscles and limbs, and creates a feeling of openness and relaxation, which are said to be the proper conditions for creativity.
Sounds right to me.
My Rolfer, Elaine, who has since moved West, worked on me in the kitchen of her Providence apartment.
Once a week after work, I'd show up, peel down to my underwear, lie down on a massage table spread with clean sheets, and try not to brace myself for what was coming: the pain.
Elaine would gently place her fingertips on some unsuspecting sinew, and lean onto them with what seemed her entire strength, keeping it up for a good few minutes - just breathe, I'd tell myself, keep breathing - then move on to the next muscle and the next.
As the session progressed, I'd grow increasingly relaxed - so relaxed that, after some sessions, Elaine would have to goad me into sitting up and stepping onto the floor.
She'd ask for feedback: How did I feel? Could I describe it?
This irritated me a little; the freshly Rolfed mind does not like to rummage for words. But one day, as I contentedly exhaled a long breath, the feeling expressed itself in an image.
A muffin, I said. I feel like a muffin. Not dense like a bagel. Not airy like a honey-dipped doughnut, but sort of porous and . . .
Yes, I was losing my mind.
But it was worth it.