Conversations with a master Rolfer part 3

In this third part of an ongoing series, Russ Pfeiffer, Certified Advanced Rolfer, discusses his practice with an anonymous patient. This is an excerpt from an actual session and with full permission and encouragement of the patient. 

In this session, Russ and his patient discuss how Rolfing can help improve your movement and live a better life.

Russ: So, what did you just witness or what did you just experience right there when you picked up the trash can, what did you think?

Patient: I picked up the trashcan and it was way heavier than I thought, I almost dropped it. It looked lighter so I wasn’t prepared for how heavy it was and it just slipped.

Russ: Heavier than you thought! So, what the brain does all the time is predict. It’s predicting all the time. People say don’t judge but you’re judging all the time.

In fact, on a mind level, you just judged in a split second when you went to go pick that up you were judging that it was going to weigh X and then when you went to pick it up you had to recover because your prediction and reality didn’t meet up and it was heavier than you thought.

You had to readjust and you almost dropped it but then you clamped down harder and you recovered well enough not to drop it. That’s what goes on in life all day long every day. Some people are good predictors and they don’t have a lot of recovery. Some people are bad predictors and they’re recovering all the time.

Then what can happen if your successful and that goes beyond picking up trashcans and stuff like that. Now we’re getting into social sociology. Take somebody like Trump. How do you think he got where he is? Harvey Weinstein’s success. You start predicting and controlling and predicting and controlling and the whole thing runs around itself. Then they exude confidence and all that.

They will come into a room and have the authority and think they control the whole room. So, there’s listening and predicting but they both are happening all the time. That’s just the way the brain works. Prediction, Prediction, Prediction and the more open I can be in the moment, there’s a little less predicting.

Patient: So, how does that relate to Rolfing and what you do in general?

Russ: It relates to movement more than anything. You’ll see some thinkers are big predictors. They’re like “oh I might fall, and then they fall”. Then when they fall there like “I’m sorry for falling”. I knew the thing was there and I still fell. 

Patient: It’s funny because it’s like riding a bike. I learned this when I used to do downhill mountain biking. I’d fly down these single-track trails, with large boulders you know? You’ve got this narrow path to stay on and you tend to go where you look.

Like if you’re looking at the rock, you’re going to crash into that rock. I learned that you look where you want to go, not where you don’t. It was the perfect example of watching my son ride without training wheels for the first time. He came to an obstacle he’d been looking at the obstacle and “boom”, crashed right into it.

Russ: Yeah, there are so many beautiful aspects to life in general. They did an interview it was right after the game one-time Kobe Bryant scored. They go how do you do it when your being double and tripled teamed? He goes “honestly I don’t see them. I don’t see them at all” No one really caught up on that. Kobe’s got a brain that’s a little bit different from the rest. He didn’t see them, he sees the space and the opportunity in between them. So, he’s not focusing on it.

Patient: You see the competitors, they’re going to be in your way and they’re going to psych you out. Isn’t that a metaphor for everything? Like if you sit down for the workday and you say, “oh, these are all these things that are standing in my way.” You’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Russ: Yes, exactly. Then it becomes difficult as a father because if you say don’t fall out of that tree. I wasn’t even thinking about falling out of the tree until you just mentioned it and now, I fell out of the tree. Then is it self-proclaimed?

Patient: Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Russ: Yeah. Now come a little bit closer and take a deep breath in. Now the shoulders are involved a little bit more. I’m going to do something. I’m going to take this back and then take it forward. Here is where we have a lot of expansions and it’s not happening. So, the ribs go in then out and up.

All the ribs go in, out and then up. Take another breath. I want you to open your eyes here because I want you to see how every time you breathe you come up in here. In fact, I need you to be in here more in the arms and I need this to be engaged.

It doesn’t know how to come up here without getting the shoulders involved and into the breast cage here. Take another breath. Inhale up. Now keep that lifted. Exhale pull in here and pull in the ribs. Notice what happened there?

You inhale here and pull in, but this drops too quickly. Watch, I inhale here, and I pull in and slowly this drops. I don’t drop it like that so try that. I ended up here and we got to open some things there. Exhale pull in here but that still stays open there.

Now I’m just going to lift your head up here. We got to get you down in there more so that breath is going to be bad but that’s better. Now pull in with your chest still lifted. Watch me, think more length like a big long swooping spine.

Now we just must do a little bit more work around here because 30,000 times a day these guys are breathing. So, we’ve got to open up this chest to give more room here. Then once we do that, we can get you to walk in here more and we’ll just use this torso more.

So, this is the thing you’re so well connected in so many ways. You’re such a good mover but this is bound up in here and we’ve got to loosen up this whole rib cage here. We must get more strength here. This is the weakest part. 

Patient: okay

Russ: We’ve got to get this dialed in even more. This is where all the shockers are in the spine. This is Robert right in here. If you could move and not jiggle any fat at all. So, I’m moving and I’m not jiggling any fat. So, you can smooth this there and we really got to pay attention to do that. That’s how some people will walk all the time.

Patient: I’m getting there.

Russ: Yeah.

Patient: It’s like the analogy of the biking you know, it’s like you don’t have to stop right here. You can continue your follow-through. 

Russ: Yeah.

Patient: I’m finding that it’s the follow through.

Russ: That’s what I’m saying, your legs and arms are working great. We’ve got to get the torso involved. This torso is more about your self-to-self and that connection. So, we’ve got to move some Fascia around there. I want you to come over here, stand facing that way and put this on your head (straps on an elastic device that stretches the neck muscles).

I’m going to ask you to make it a little more even on your head it looks like it’s tilted. Step forward, then come out of that a little bit right now. Be in here and hold that on like so. Now curl chin to chest. Try and watch me. I don’t want you bending like that. You want to be curving like this.

That’s it give me two more after this one. Okay now take that off your head and then just take a walk and see how that feels. See if you feel anything.

Patient: Yeah

Russ: It seems like you’ve rolled everything into it.

Patient: For me, it’s just a matter of putting all the elements together. Like I told you there’s this guy at improv and I went to talk with him in the parking lot and he was telling me how funny I was but what I was really lacking was physicality.

You know the ability to combine that humor with physical expression and that’s related to dancing and a lot of other things. For me, that’s one of the reasons I’m in improv. They’ve taught classes just on physicality.

For me, if I go on a long walk I get in the zone and if you’re walking next to me you would say I was walking perfectly if I’m going up an incline, I’m using my abs and it’s so much easier to use my whole body. I know when I’m going up the hill that I turn this part on and I feel more complete and feel more powerful just like now when I’m walking, I got this back step and I’m pushing myself forward. I feel so much more powerful and with a more balanced effort.

Russ: Right. But that front line like you say is the weakest part of you.

Patient: I get a little performance anxiety too. Like when your watching. But with my wife if she were here right now and someone put on a song and said dance, she could just start dancing and be like “all right, lets dance” but with me, I’m like “oh, God, give me a couple of drinks.”

Russ: Is that inhibition?

Patient: I don’t know

Russ: it’s an interesting one because I don’t have a direct answer for it but there’s this thing about being watched and having someone hold space for you. I don’t believe that you’re used to having someone hold space for you.

Like your kids are growing up in an environment of keep trying, dads got your back. It’s good. Just keep trying to do your best. That’s okay.

I don’t think you ever had a lot of that watching. The one thing that’s interesting about virtual reality is that you can see these people playing these games and this guy goes “I’m going to try this, who cares it’s VR.” If he’s out on the dance floor there’s a lot of caring but with VR your in your own world.

You go in there and you kind of feel amazing. While you’re in there it’s your own robot. So, its who cares because its just VR but if it’s reality then okay, I care. Now there’s a dissonance in my nervous system and we don’t want that dissonance.

Patient: Yeah.

Russ: There are sports guys that get stage freight. It’s difficult for some. Your starting to move really well. 

Patient: That’s what I’m saying if I’m walking for a distance than in my brain, I start to think about all the different elements you’ve taught me. Then I get to a point eventually where I feel confident. I’m relaxed and I’ve successfully incorporated what I’ve learned from you.  I can’t do it in a short space on short notice though.

Russ: It’s very similar to the Yoga training I used to do. The Iyengar Yoga which is very particular you concentrate on your big toe. Okay, my big toe is doing this action. Then you

move up to the lower leg and what’s that doing?

Then you go up to the knee and what’s my knee doing? Then move on up to the hip joint and what’s that doing then the abdomen and my back and my chest then my head. By the time you get all the way up to your head, you’re like oh, right that big toe and you’ve forgotten all about the big toe.

What happens eventually is that you get a canvass awareness. It’s a little bit more like a broadcast and a symphony that’s happening effortlessly.

Then you start to get into the principles of the least work and there always an improvement for our human boy on the principle of work.

Now if you were a machine and we were saying the principle of least work, you would say that you know your body, and everything is trying to find the easiest way to do something with the least effort. With your body this way, it doesn’t hold true in the physical body.

It’s one of the things that would have to happen to this machine if we want to call it that. You strengthen the weakest part of you and that’s what you feel when you walk.

It’s like the organism or like when you get that website built right and you got your search terms right. It runs itself. You get these abs on gear they’ll be working every time you take a step and it will balance itself out.

There is a lag time to the discovery. I need those abs to work stronger and then take the time to get your abs to work stronger.

Then you get that orchestrated feeling now that’s Yoga. That’s why people like Yoga because you can get into this position and I can take time in this pose and then I feel okay now, I got it.

There’s no timing and coordination. Now what we’re also researching and finding out about the brain pathway for dancing is different.

If I can get a person to dance and if they dance like your wife dances, they let go, then they’re moving perfectly and their one with the rhythm.

Patient: That’s not so weird. It reminds me of what I read about on autistic kids who can’t speak but they can sing.

Russ: Look at Ozzy Osborne. I can’t understand a word that man says when he talks. He’s one of the guys in rock and roll that you can still understand him when he sings because he’s singing so clearly but stutters when talking.

They’re like that, they can sing but when they talk, they stutter. So, there 


are different brain pathways that access these different movements and the timing and coordination of them.

So, we’re researching that and we’re looking at that. We can access those concepts within VR. VR is a wonderful training ground because of what they say no one cares about in VR. In VR I think that gives you permission to mess up.

I would say that you’re a perfectionist, right? That’s why you’re good at your job. You’re suffering from what they call OCP, obsessive-compulsive perfectionism. If you don’t get it exactly right, it’s a problem.

In your world that’s true. If you don’t get that code exactly right if that computer isn’t working exactly right. Halfway, right. 99% right. It doesn’t work for you. I think that’s probably why you enjoy being in that world

Patient: That’s what I enjoyed about the technical world. It fascinated me ever since I was a kid. As I’ve gotten older, I’m more interested in the human element of things.

They’re more interesting, less technical. I know I’ve asked you this before but what are your feelings about meditation?

Russ: I think it’s great. I think it’s a fantastic baseline. It’s not the end of the road. It’s just a beginning.

Patient: What do you mean?

Russ: To calm your mind and to have self to self-contact is great. There are a million ways to meditate and you can do your astral travel and all this stuff. But for me, I’m about practical humanity. It’s about movement and the role it plays with the way you think and feel.

Patient: So, tell me again, all the different things that you’ve studied that have led to your work

Russ: This is what I’ve studied but also what I’ve experienced in my life. I didn’t have kids and all that stuff. I was free to make some moves, study, and explore a little bit deeper.

Patient: So, let’s start from the beginning. How did it all start?

Russ: Well I would have to say growing up with a Christian scientist you’re exposed to all this spiritual world of love and light. Nothing’s all love and light. I knew there was something else. Then there was a pursuit of many different spiritual quote-unquote endeavors from martial arts.

Patient: what martial arts did you study?

Russ: Kenpo in the beginning. That was never good for me. I didn’t like that much, but I was into the spiritual aspect of it.


Patient: What else besides Kenpo?

Russ: There was Korean martial art, karate that my dad’s buddy was a sensei in our hometown, and I studied for years. It was all. It had good techniques.

Then Yoga came around at some point and Tai Chi came around and I started studying those. Those are very self to self-things. Because I had always played team sports as a kid because I was socially an extrovert and would like to connect with people and enjoy people.

That brought me into taking Yoga teacher training and I took many more workshops every weekend. Every weekend I attended a workshop for Yoga and Tai Chi.

I always prided myself on studying with who I thought were the best people in the world. The best people in the world weren’t always the best-selling authors. There’s a difference between somebody that can write well and somebody who can sell their writings.

Patient: It’s the same thing with music. Some of the best bands never make it big.

Russ: Yeah, It’s all about the sound bite. I was always trying to get to a deeper truth always trying to understand. What’s that one saying “I went to find myself” then I didn’t.

I went to find God and I wasn’t able to, which brought me into the service of my work. Then I went to find my brother and what they’ll say is I found all three. So, you connect in life and you do. You make your mark. These people don’t want to be human doings, they want to be human beings. 

Let me tell you something, if you’re a human being, not a human doing, then you’ve failed. How can I be while I do is the question? I have a quality of effort that’s in the here and now.

There are efficiency and quality of effort that carries out, and to do that I need support. I need the distribution of load and I need timing and coordination.

Patient: What’s funny is, well number one, just related to what you just said, what I’m finding is I don’t know if other Rolfers teach this or not, but it’s a metaphor.

Everything you’re teaching me about the physicality is  that it’s also related to the mental and spiritual aspect of it as well.

Russ: That’s right

Patient: Do other Rolfers teach that? 

Russ: No one talks during the sessions and you just do the tissue and you let yourself evolve around that.

Patient: The other thing that I really liked is the human doing versus human being. I had never heard that before.

Russ: You’ve never heard that before?

Patient: No, never heard you say it, or anyone say it. I notice sometimes when your working on like Fascia that you do more work on one side than the other.

Russ: If it needs it. Yeah. It’s never even one side to the other.

Patient: So, you can feel what side needs more?

Russ: I’m going in there and this you know, there’s a visual, right? So, I look at you move and then I come, and I go, okay, this fascia is going to be tighter, that Fascia might be looser. Then I come in, I test.

I’ve already made my prediction. Like with you picking that thing up. I come in and I feel the tissue and I expect “oh this is going to be thick and it’s not” or “oh this isn’t going to be thick” and it is. So, my estimation usually matches up. There’s a new set of criteria and information about what’s going on here.

That’s not fitting the movement but what’s happening here is the stress holding that isn’t with the functional movement that I’m doing at the time. I feel the tissue and I get to what level I need for everything to open up. However long it takes.

Russ Pfeiffer works with some of the most forward thinking entrepreneurs in Los Angeles to improve their lives. When Russ is not helping his customers, he is working on a virtual reality project that he believes will change the world. He lives in Venice Beach with his wife Sue.