On Body Memory




        When you're Rolfing someone, and you stimulate some part of the body and a memory emerges, the question is, where did it come from? After it happens enough times, eventually you get the idea that there might very well be some kind of sensory, memory-level storage going on in the part of the body that experienced the incident to begin with.


       In Rolfing, I might be working on someone's face, and if they have been in a serious automobile accident they will reexperience actually hitting the windshield. Their original fear and discomfort will come back to them, too, not with as physical pain, but as an intellectualized version of the incident. They might say, "Hey, I hit my head right here!" or "Oh yeah, I just remembered smashing my nose."


        For a split second, they're back at the scene. And the memory emerges, it would seem, quite literally, out of the muscle that's being rolfed.


       This is not to say that sometimes these recollections aren't accompanied by emotional pain. It's not uncommon for people to remember an incident, the memory of which has been buried in their bodies for many years.  If they're suddenly catapulted back there, they may very well wind up getting upset or angry. Suddenly they're feeling whatever particular emotion was attached to the incident at the time.


. . . Certain kinds of memories tend to be related to specific areas of the body. Sexual incidents come up when Rolfing the legs and the hips. Beatings are often lodged in the lower back and buttocks. This depends on how the incident happened, of course.


 . . . The expression of the emotion that accompanied the incident gets repressed, you see.  That is the piece that's left out here, and when you are repressing that kind of an emotional awareness, it's bound to get stuck somewhere.  In the deep bodywork, you often bump into a physical area that's connected to that sort of feeling.


  . . . One of the groups of people I find quite interesting to work with is those who have been abused as children, either physically or sexually. A lot of this kind of abuse goes on, and it's usually repressed, blocked out, or otherwise transformed intellectually. The people somehow come to accept these abusive patterns as tolerable or just fool themselves into thinking that what happened to them wasn't really all that horrible after all.


. . . But if they start doing some Rolfing or another type of deep bodywork, the real memories of those incidents--as opposed to the edited ones, begin to surface. And this can frequently result in a major breakthrough for them.


. . . Many times, women who have been raped protect themselves by being tough about it, being controlled about it. On the surface, it's ok, they can handle it, they can manage it. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, way down inside, they are falling apart.  So, those are the kinds of things that can sometimes surface, those parts of them that have been quietly crumbling finally get recognized.


 . . . It's as though you were in therapy and all of a sudden became aware that your mother's death when you were four left you with a terrible feeling of abandonment. You'd thought you got over it, because gee whiz, after all, you were only four and you grew up and then everything was supposed to be ok.  But now, during a Rolfing, you finally become aware of all the futile compensations you have made for that loss in your life over the past forty years. And they were futile because they weren't ever what you really needed. What you needed to do was reconnect with those original feelings of loss, recognize, express and finally integrate them into your life. Once you do that, you are able to start living as an adult rather than a perpetually dissatisfied child.


 . . . Sometimes people come back after a year or two after being rolfed, and they'll say, "You know, I don't think that I would have been able to handle things the way that I have during the last couple years if I hadn't been Rolfed. For the first time, I feel that I've been able to manage my life on a solid footing."


Excerpt from the Appendix, Towards A Biology of Culture

 Copyright (@) Lee Strauss 2018