July 6, 2009

In my early 40s, I started falling apart physically. Carrying around my big, fat, adorable baby girl was killing my lower back. Typing my attempt at a Great American Novel had triggered tendonitis in my aching hands. Then there was that strange creaking in my left knee.

But I refused to accept these symptoms as middle aged destiny.

Instead, I got rolfed.

That’s r-o-l-f, as in Ida P. Rolf, who invented a deep tissue manipulation technique that can get very, very intense but offers tremendous healing power.

Notice that I didn’t call it “massage”; there’s nothing conventionally relaxing about rolfing. This is body work. Oh, honey, it can be very painful! But Cathy is an expert, which means she is very sensitive to her patients’ threshold levels and doesn’t go overboard. This is good pain that helps keep me young.

So meet Cathy Allen, my rolfer. She works out of her Manhattan office near Union Square.

She looks so innocent, filing her nails before those hands investigate fascia — the connective tissues that surround muscles, bones and organs. Fascia is supposed to be soft and bouncy. But in reality, the way we move and live knots these tissues tight and hard until they’re as crusty as old, dried-up rubber bands. A rolfer’s job is to knead those brittle, bitter suckers until they loosen up enough to regain their elasticity.

In more technical terms, rolfing is concerned with realigning our physical core. Rolfers also believe that posture is tied into our emotions. It makes sense. After all, body language reveals frustration, depression, disappointment, anger…feelings that create funked-up fascia.

“I think it’s really important that we understand our bodies as home,” says Cathy. “But with modern day technology and the quickness of life, we lose contact with our bodies.”

Reconnecting the tissue to its humans became the quest of Ida Rolf (1896-1979), a Columbia University-trained biochemist from the Bronx. By the ‘60s, she was a hippie grandma-guru and her invention was viewed as trendy in a fringe, rather freaky way. Decades later, it has earned respect for what it can accomplish. Certainly, the work has been crucial to my own transformation. I’ve learned to let go of stuff like my chronic hunching patterns  — and the difficult memories that created them (e.g., as a kid, I hated school and slouched in my seat; later, I was a pimply, teen wallflower.)

Of all the rolfers I’ve dealt with, Cathy’s been the most successful in helping me visualize ways to move more happily in this world. My back’s now in great shape. While my knee’s been diagnosed as mildly arthritic, it functions just fine. I’ve been well enough to stay out of her office for nearly a whole year.

But I just returned last week and signed up for a few more sessions. Because even though the drafts for my unpublished novels are buried in a closet, my hands are still messed up — these days, from blogging (!) and grading papers. Looks like me and Cathy are entering a new round of reorganization. And, revelations.

For more about Cathy, here’s the link to her website.