Conversations with a Master Rolfer part 2

In this second 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 what the importance of breath, organism, and environment have to do with the body.

Russ: Have you been working out?

Patient: No

Russ: So that says a lot. Maybe you’re moving well all day long. The need to work out isn’t where it might be, you know? What’s more important is moving well all day long rather than going to the gym every day. I want to be really clear about that.

Patient: Yeah.

Russ: There’s no competition between the two. Take a deep breath in, and then just walk back and forth. You’re doing great. I really am enthused. I’m enthused because everything seems to be working quite well for you. What I’m saying is one of your biggest skills for you as an individual is embodied that’s your ability and willingness to tinker and pay attention. I think that’s part of it. I think that you have a background in skateboarding and some athleticism so that’s part of it as well.

Those things are coming together. Take a deep breath in and you’ll see there starts to be a strain in here. This is way better than it used to be. The positioning was more back like that, and now you’re up here. We still have to get this separation and get this clarity in between the head and the chest here. 

Patient: Yeah


Russ: That’s when it can start to pull the head back like this and even go up and pull in here. That’s where we have some restrictions which can cause pain.

Patient: So it could eventually start to hurt?

Russ: Oh yeah, absolutely. Here’s the thing. When we talk about building up. One of the things we build-up is more fascia. It gets thicker and thicker because we’re overusing in this area. We get shortness, we get long and tight and we start to mold into a deformed figure. That’s not really the most efficient figure of gravity. So those tensions in the fascia will keep us away from free movement.

They say the older we get, the less flexible and supple we get. We’re trying to change that around a little bit and go. No way, man. We haven’t looked at these shoulders, we haven’t addressed those shoulders in Rolfing, these sorts of things. So we can actually reverse the aging process, get you more limber as time goes on. The beautiful thing to say about you is everything’s very well set up. Believe me. Everybody’s problem is shoulder to neck hair.

Patient: Yeah, I started to notice that in people.

Russ: Yeah. That’s where we’re at now. You know, even my mechanic has carpal tunnel syndrome, not from turning a wrench, but from working on the computer all day looking for his parts and every other thing. You know, everyone’s on the computer all day long. It’s what it is so, we just got to deal with it.

That’s what we’re going to do all the way down into this arm here. Sit right here and face this way. So, when I look at you, you’re sitting here. Everything goes well, then right up here and it’s not that bad. I want to be clear. You’ll see some people with a dowager’s hump right here.

Patient: Yeah I see it all the time.

Russ: Which is really tough. But that general is happening to you. So we’ve got to get these top ribs to lift up and this to come down. Then when we go in here, this is where we feel all the tension. I’m seeing a build-up of the fascia. We’ve just got to address that. That’s what we’re going to do today. Does that make sense?

Patient: Yeah. I’ve been trying to walk more with my core.

Russ: I can see it’s involved in more of your stomach and center.

Patient: It’s such an unusual thing to do when you’ve been not doing it.

Russ: Yes. That’s not what people do particularly. How old are you now? You’re 50 right?

Patient: I’ll be fifty-one in six days.

Patient: Tell me what you’re doing right now.

Russ: Well, this is the biggest part of it. There are two parts. The first two ribs lift up. Now what you’re doing is what most people I’m trying to get people not to do. They hold themselves up with their shoulders. You don’t do that, but your shoulders go down. Then this swings down. So there’s two parts to it.

There’s the front where the breastbone and the first two ribs are. And we’ve got to open that up and lengthen it. But if you take a breath in there right now and lift that, then the shoulder starts to sit like this. Actually, these will bring the shoulders up a little bit. Go ahead. Take that breath in there again, see how it lifts the shoulder up and then it takes the strain off of this. So that’s the opening here. It’s taking this strain buildup.

Patient: Now, why does this happen?

Russ: This is short when overemphasized. It’s pulling in. First, two ribs in the front part are pulling it short. It’s pulling this all in and it’s creating a strain here. This fascia build-up isn’t that big, but it’s used to being in a short position. This one’s actually being in a long position, but the fascia is built up a lot because it’s being stretched all the time.

Patient: What’s that?

Russ:  That’s the Levinger scapula. Another muscle that goes from shoulder to neck. So what’s happening is there’s a huge amount of complexity with the shoulder. You know, there’s a ton of muscles that go from the neck, and shoulder girdle. Now, from here, turn your head to the right and then turn left. Turn it right now. Turn it left, right, left. Right. It’s not just you but your pattern is different than most because your shoulders are low. Have you noticed this?

Patient: Yeah, is it a genetic thing?

Russ: Of course. Everything is half genetics and half developmental or nurture. So it’s 50. I guess it’s not. Often times this is probably one of the biggest build-ups of fascia in your body right here. I’m blaming, you know, years on the computer.

Patient: Right.

Russ: In this area here, which is traps this upper back part.  We’ve got two parts. Shoulders to neck in the back, shoulders to neck in the front. So we’re talking in general sense neck to shoulder complex.

There’s the back which has the elevator and the trapezius and some other muscles. Then there’s the front that has the scalene It’s got some of these muscles in the front of the chest right here and the pecs. You know, I see all the blood coming in here.

Patient: What do you mean you see all the blood coming in here?

Russ: There’s a restriction of blood So if I press my finger, it’s white and then it takes a while for the blood to come in.

Patient: So there’s an indication it’s coming in faster?

Russ: Yeah. There’s an indication that the blood flowing isn’t working well here. That you know, is typical of a muscle being overstrained.

Patient: So tell me what you just used on me.

Russ: It’s called a rapid release. It breaks up some of this fascia. Now we’re starting to get where you can actually feel the muscles because there’s so much fascia over the top of them.

Patient: Really?

Russ: The muscles don’t individualize and have their own sense of self because they’re all clumped together.

Patient: Ok. So years of fascia build up and the resulting of muscle stretching. Does it ever have an effect on the skeletal structure? Like, change the nature of the skeleton?

Russ: Yeah, we can say that they affect each other. The bones are really fascia, which has calcium deposits in it. So it’s the same net. If you cut a bone in half, what you’ll see is all these trabeculae in there.  Here’s a sacrum. You know, this part of the back it’s cut.

You can see it’s all spongy fluid if you put that in my microscope. You’d see all kinds of, you know, webbing, but it’s solid and it’s got calcium mineral in it. So it’s strong. It’s literally bone. So the fascia and a muscle have fascia in it. But a muscle is hamburger meat. Muscle cells can contract to let go of some capability with the fascia but there’s more in the neck casing that holds the muscle.

You can’t really talk about a muscle without talking about fascia. Then there’s a contingency on the muscle where it turns into a tendon. So it’s no longer muscle. It’s just fascia and then it connects into the bone, which is a form of the mineralized fascia. So these muscles tend to get less supple. Now some muscles are more subtle than others. They contain more muscle fibers. For instance, the Psoas is deep here. A lot of muscle, not a lot of fascia.

Patient: This is the opposite of the neck?

Russ: Yeah. This is the kind of meat you don’t want. Right? More muscle, you know, more tender cut all of that stuff. You start to go to the more of the sleeve of the cattle on the outside, depending on what it uses more in each animal. Each animal does that a little bit differently The meats tougher which you don’t want to eat.

Patient: This is crazy what you do. It’s like I can’t believe that all these sessions later, I’m still learning so much.

Russ: Yeah, well, you know, this is even deeper when we get into the fascia. There are certain layers that come off in the first few sessions and then we go deeper into the layers and more and more layers. So, you know, you see even up here, maybe you feel it, that thick fascia, right there. It’s just hard to break that up, but it’s much better now than it was.

Patient: Yeah. I’ve come along way. You know, I can feel it. I could tell by how I move every day. But you’re right to identify my neck and shoulder and head area. Because I still feel lost.

Russ: Part of that’s the inability to get there because of the fascia.

Patient: Exactly.

Russ: That’s why yoga is good because it works on the range of motion.

Patient: So you do like yoga?

Russ: In a limited form. Look, all movements have a really smart focus in a particular movement, then they’re going to have a lot of issues that they don’t address. That’s why I like to stick with breathing and walking because those are the inherent motions of all human beings. swinging a tennis racket there’s nothing natural about that. Nothing in evolution maybe in the last 200 years, and if we want to be, you know, generous, we can go back to the Greeks in terms of sport. But people act like sport is natural.

There’s nothing natural about that. Now there’s something natural about running and maybe catching an animal in some sports, mimicking these sorts of things. But that’s what we were built on. Here’s the weird part about being human, that we have the ability to change the environment.

So our evolution is based on, you know, adapting to the environment. It’s so challenging as a species. Some species have to adapt because we’ve controlled and manipulated the environment so much that they live in that they have to adapt. So the raccoons that live in the sewer outside this city are city raccoons, they’re not a country raccoon. Think if you took those raccoons out to the country, they might not survive because they’re used to living in a sewer and going in the garbage cans.  Does that make sense?

Patient: Yeah

Russ: So I’m going at the erector muscles in the back. The patient is laying on his stomach. The erector muscles are in the back. So I’m just going on these muscles and I’m breaking up the fascia on these muscles because if we’re looking at the backline of the body, it starts from the eyebrows and then goes all the way down through the body to the toe hinge. So this is involved in the neck all the way down here.

Now we try to sometimes look at some movement modalities, look at the fact that we weren’t built for computers. We were built as hunter-gatherers. Right? So they do these primitive movements that are what our bodies are designed for, which is hunter-gatherers. So if we want to say the last twenty thousand, thirty, fifty thousand years, hundred thousand years, we came from hunter-gatherers then we came into an agrarian society. You know, when you look at bones of hunter-gatherers, there’s so much better than bones of people that lived in agrarian farming.

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.