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Rolfing as Trauma Release, by Richard Atherton

This is a client’s story of his journey of Rolfing together with Primal Therapy, as expressed by himself.

A butterfly in their chrysalis either breaks free into a new life or they get stuck and they die. My arrival into this world was different, I got stuck, and I lived. It was 02:10 am, Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge, UK, on March 16, 1976. I had been trapped in the birth canal for 24 hours. My heart-rate had dropped to a dangerous 50 beats per minute. Fearing that I might lose my life, Dr Hee acted. With the aid of a pair of mid-cavity forceps, he pulled me out of my mother’s vagina by my skull.

To extend the metaphor, a butterfly has four wings. Having frozen and contracted my body as a form of defence, I emerged from my birth with all four wings, so to speak, but with my forewings tight and my hind wings partially unfolded. This is the story of how Lizzie’s Rolfing, in combination with Primal Therapy, has helped me to unfurl those wings.

I first walked into Lizzie’s consulting room at the Indaba yoga studio behind Marylebone station on Monday, October 31, 2016. The room has a huge window overlooking the playground of the school below. I could see footballs stranded on the roof of one of the classrooms. I checked a faint urge to go down and retrieve those footballs as Lizzie offered me to take a seat.

I was to have ten sessions. I spoke to Lizzie about my desire to relieve my sciatica, the nerve pain that burned through my hamstrings whenever I assumed downward dog in my yoga classes. Lizzie listened diligently regarding my sciatic issue and also mentioned posture as a focus for our sessions. It was true that my sciatica bothered me and I could see the benefits of improving my posture – I envied a friend of mine Gerard who had also done Rolfing. He had a magisterial, upright walk. However, deep down, my intuition told me this was going to help me further heal my birth trauma. By the time I first met Lizzie, I had been engaged in a decade-long project to relive and relieve my birth and childhood trauma through Primal Therapy. A friend of mine, Jan Johnsson, had shared how combining Rolfing with Primal Therapy had made an enormous difference in his own work resolving his difficult birth. My intuition was the Rolfing could help me a similar way.

“I’d like you to get undressed to your underwear and lie on your front,” Lizzie instructed as she beckoned me to the crisp white treatment table. Fifteen minutes in and kaboom! As Lizzie sunk her hand into my hamstrings, the pain was intense.  I screamed loudly. Lizzie didn’t ask me to be quiet. She allowed me to express myself.

Even though this pain represented a momentary peak-state and not the norm, it’s fundamental to the story. The pain was my body’s way of saying ‘No! We’re OK as we are, don’t go there’. My body was trying to protect me, holding on to the pattern that had saved my life at birth, but I had to go on. I had waited a lifetime to be free of my story.

There was a strong emotional element to my Rolfing experience. As Lizzie helped me to articulate parts of my body, slowly unfreezing them after decades of numbness and contraction, I would cry with grief. But from the first session, I felt wholly safe. I trusted her with my body. I trusted her to let me express an often anguished and ugly version of me.

If the intensity I’m sharing is dissuading you from taking this path, let me tell you this: the pay off I have received from these sessions has been enormous and life changing. It’s been an hour per week of sometimes biting pain, in exchange for a lifetime end to suffering. If you focus on the long term, it’s a tremendous bargain.

I’ve been Rolfing for over two years now. My posture has improved markedly, my toes have flattened from a somewhat claw-like appearance, my feet have widened. I always used to joke that I had no arse. I now see that this was down to me habitually keeping my tailbone tucked in. I now have a bum and ‘wag my tail’ high. I’ve unfolded those hind-wings.

My upper wings have lost their tightness also. Now, I can spread my arms wide in my warrior poses in yoga, and I can let my belly hang having lost the tightness in my psoas.

As for sciatica, it’s a distant echo of a once burly cacophony. I did a downward dog recently, and I felt no pain, physical or emotional. I cried. 15 years of feeling pain in downward dog now vanquished.

Although this may read like a particularly intense but effective course of physiotherapy, in reality, this has been a comprehensive relieving my birth trauma. Back then, I froze in my mother’s vagina, my body locked up, heart-rate descending, dread rising and my nervous system partially shutting down. I held tight in my chest, in my belly, in my psoas. I retracted my legs and kept them tucked in fear. Lizzie, through her artful and empathic manipulations of my twisted fascia, has expanded the parts of my body that I compressed in my formative terror. Through her lead, my body has learnt that it’s safe to feel into these forbidden crevices, to move in ways it once believed were dangerous.

In almost every session with Lizzie, I grieved the years of denying life to various parts of my body. My physical and emotional bodies are intimately bonded. As I’ve lifted my tail, so my confidence has risen. As I’ve softened my hamstrings to allow my heels to sink into the earth, so I’ve become more grounded. As I’ve let my chest broaden,  I’ve become more powerful and more loving.

Rolfing is not a Massage from Hell, it’s a powerful, loving walk into forbidden chambers of the mind-body complex. It’s like opening the windows and letting the air circulate in those dusty back rooms. Rooms where the wolves had been howling and no-one dared enter.

Rolfing has helped me to become lighter. By descending deeply and deftly into my most buried pain, I’ve found freedom. Freedom within and freedom without.

To quote from my favourite Sufi, Rumi:

“But come! Take a pick-axe and break apart your stony self.”

I’ve been attending Lizzie’s clinic most weeks now for nearly three years. She has never pushed me further than I’ve been ready. Her intuition of where to explore has been at times astounding. She has allowed me to merge my experiences in Primal Therapy with those on the Rolfing table with complete openness.

For anyone working on deeply held trauma – or indeed if you’re simply looking to improve your posture – I would thoroughly recommend Lizzie as a therapist. She is a master of her art.

For more information about Rolfing, click here.

For session information and booking, click here.

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