by Ritchie Mintz
Sunshine Canyon, Boulder, Colorado. April 1973.
When Michael McIver opened the door, he had a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that hinted of a secret he was willing to share. I was immediately taken with how happy he seemed to be with his livelihood. I remember thinking, “Maybe I could be that happy some day.”
As we visited, Michael was looking at me in a way I felt I’d never been seen before. What is he looking at? What does he see? I wondered if he could see my insecurities. Could he see how small and insignificant I felt? Could he see how I really wanted to love myself and my life if only — if only what? Even I didn’t know. But somehow, Michael McIver, Certified Rolfer™, seemed to see and to know.
We walked back to the Rolfing room where I found a low homemade plywood table with a foam pad covered by a clean sheet. One corner of the room had a Polaroid camera on a tripod. We were ready. I removed my outer clothes and left my shorts on. Michael’s presence was so easy that I felt okay. I thought, “Not bad for a guy who doesn’t want to be seen at the beach in a bathing suit.”‘
Michael took Polaroid pictures of my front, back, and profile and we looked at them right away. Michael pointed out how my lower back was so swayed forward as to be completely hidden behind my elbows in the side views. He showed me how my ribs were compressed and dropped down in front, giving me a look of having little or no chest. I already knew that. Most striking was that my hips, as seen from front and back, did not begin to approach being level. My right hip was dramatically higher than my left and my right shoulder was dropped down a lot lower than my left shoulder. In profile, my tilted pelvis dumped my abdomen forward. I had always wondered – I don’t have an ounce of fat on me, how could I have that protruding belly?
Michael was quick to say that these were not isolated problems or independent from one another. They were all related and all part of a “big picture”, if one only had the eyes to see it that way. I thought for the first time that I was beginning to “see” what Michael saw when he looked at me. It occurred to me that if he could see people’s “invisible” problems that most folks just take for “normal”, the world must be a pretty funny looking place to a Rolfer. Perhaps that was the reason for Michael’s secret smile. Maybe he could see places where people hold their strains and pains and he knew he could do something to help them. I sure hoped he could do something for mine.
We did a session about once every two or three weeks. At times the work seemed intense but I noticed that whatever discomfort I experienced came not from Michael but rather from inside of me. There were places that were very tender which were, of course, right where I needed the most release. Michael was very sensitive to how much pressure was too much and although he pushed my limits at times, he never exceeded them.
Considering the outcome of Michael’s efforts, it is amusing that at the time, I found some of his favorite comments very annoying. As he worked, he would say things like, “Now feel how you can breathe into your armpits.” Or he would say, “Feel the length come into your back.” Sometimes he said, “See if you can feel the support of gravity.”
Whenever he said these things, I would think to myself (but never aloud since I liked him), “Would you please spare me these kooky California witticisms.” Most annoying was how he proclaimed repeatedly throughout the ten sessions, “We’re breaking up the ice so the river can flow.” “Give me a break!” was my silent retort. But the work went on.
In addition to the Polaroid pictures he took before session #1, Michael also took pictures after #3, #5, and #7. As we looked over these pictures, Michael seemed most pleased. He pointed and said, “Look how much longer this side is,” and, “See how much more balanced this looks.” I looked and looked but I swear I never saw any changes. I said as nicely and agreeably as I could, “Michael, if you say so, okay, but I don’t see it.” Michael was unperturbed. He just shrugged as if to say, “It is there. Someday you will see it.” And boy, was he right about that!
We completed the series with my 10th session in August, about five months after we began. Michael took a final set of photos after session #10 and we reviewed the pictures of Before #1 and After #10. Michael went on and on about how this had lengthened and that had changed. He spoke of balance and support, of release and organization. He asked me if I saw what he was talking about. Again, I said, “Michael, if you say so, I believe you, but I swear I don’t see it.” Michael smiled that “I know a secret” smile and said, “This isn’t the end — it’s the beginning. Don’t forget, Ritchie, your body will continue to change in the next six months or more.” He thanked me and I thanked him and I left the house with my pictures in my hand.
I got into my car and started the engine but I didn’t drive away. I sat there thinking – Well, everybody told me to get Rolfed™ and I did, but so what? I didn’t feel any different and I saw no changes in the pictures. I sensed that something significant had happened but I could not determine what. I scratched my head, drove home, and threw the pictures into a drawer. And that’s the way I stayed for the next six months. I was in a long-term state of scratching my head and wondering just what in the heck this Rolfing thing was. It was August 1973.
Six months later, in February, I happened to be walking down Pearl Street in Boulder. I was minding my own business and thinking about anything but Rolfing when I happened to catch a glimpse of myself reflected like a mirror in a storefront window. What I saw stopped me in my tracks.
I looked and looked and looked. I exclaimed out loud, “That’s not me!” But it was me. As I looked, I saw that my sunken chest was puffed up high and proud. My butt, which had always stuck up like a duck’s, was neatly tucked down and under. My former sway back was long and straight. My scrawny neck, usually stuck forward like a buzzard’s, was also long and straight. My head, instead of poking forward, was poised and balanced easily atop my shoulders. My shoulders were back and I looked like a proud Marine at attention. No, better than that. I was both straight and relaxed all at the sametime. I took a couple of steps forward and back. Instead of my awkward waddle that I had grown to hate so much over the years, I saw a brave, self-assured citizen of the world striding down the avenue.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! That couldn’t be me! But there it was. I took a breath and an amazing thing happened. I felt the breath effortlessly fill my whole chest and my back right up into my armpits! I was stunned! I couldn’t help but remember Michael McIver saying, “Breathe into your armpits.” I had silently ridiculed the very idea.
I found that if I swayed and shifted my weight back and forth between my toes and my heels, I could find a point where I felt completely weightless, as if I weren’t even there. At that zero-balance point, I felt that all my front muscles perfectly balanced my back muscles. At the same time, my back muscles perfectly balanced my front muscles. Likewise, my left and right sides perfectly balanced each other and I was… I was… well, balanced. I felt supported, however, I wondered, supported by what? It hit me again what Michael had said — “Feel the support of gravity.” And for the first time in my life, I did.
Then an even more amazing thing happened. As I stood there oblivious to all the other life around me on Pearl Street, I felt a river of… I didn’t know what… run up my spine! It seemed to begin in the seat of my jeans and it shot right up my spine and out through the top of my head. Again, Michael’s words washed over me: “We’re breaking up the ice so the river can flow!” YES! Yes, I feel it, Michael! I feel the river!! It was perfect.
At that point, it all hit me at once like a ton of bricks. In that profound moment, I fully got what structural integration is and what it does. I understood for the first time what my physical problems were and I saw why no previous efforts to change my body ever touched them. Suddenly I got how SI effectively addressed my structural issues. I also knew in that magical moment who Ida Rolf was and what her legacy was that she left for the planet.
Superimposed on top of all this revelation was something even more profound for me. It occurred to me that I had spent the previous 26 years … all my life… hating my body. Now, here in one second, I saw that a technology existed to, for the most part, make anything one could want out of a body. Here was a system that can release the human body from the pattern of distortions caused by birthing, accidents, injuries, seriousillness, pregnancy and delivery, surgery, negative emotion, cultural upbringing, and even the strain of living in the earth’s gravity. Here, finally, was the tool I could use to work on myself and erase the blocks to the happiness that had eluded me all my life.
Standing there before my reflection on Pearl Street that crisp February afternoon, I forgave my body and my life. My heart swelled with love for myself. My eyes flooded with tears as I forgave my body for its smallness and its fear and self-hatred. I realized that had I been born with the rugged swashbuckling body that I longed for all my life, I would hardly have been capable of appreciating how structural integration had set me free. Nor would I have the compassion and skill I would need for working with people who are small and stuck like I was. In that minute, a whole new life began for me that continues to this day.
I thought of Michael McIver and his secret smile. I thought of the love Dr. Rolf must have for this planet and its people. I thought that this thing with its unwieldy yet totally descriptive name – structural integration – was an original creative concept that had changed my whole way of relating to myself and to my life. And I knew in that beautiful moment that I wanted to share this with the world. I, too, would be a Rolfer.
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