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Session Seven is such a weird session. If anyone’s heard about the Rolfing 10-series from a friend, they’ve probably heard about Session Seven. This is THE ONE. The session where we work inside the mouth and INSIDE THE NOSE. Sure, it’s weird and not super comfortable to have someone else’s fingers inside your mouth, but we’ve all been to the dentist a time or two and gotten over that. As the joke goes: you can pick your friends; you can pick your nose; but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. Unless you’re a Rolfer. And Session Seven is where I get to pick other people’s noses. Well, not pick, exactly, but stick my pinky fingers in them. Close enough.

I should probably back up a bit. The goal of Session Seven is not simply to be a weirdo for the sake of being a weirdo, or for a great answer to the “what did you do today?” question. It’s not just to make my clients squirm, either. The goal of Session Seven is to differentiate your neurocranium from your viscerocranium. Your head (and my head, and everyone’s head) can be divided into two parts, based on the work that each half does. The back and top of your head houses your brain and therefore is in charge of your nervous system. Hence the title of neurocranium. The front and bottom of your head is connected to and works with your organs of digestion, or your viscera. Hence your viscerocranium. Your mouth, like it or not, is connected to your anus and everything along the way. Tension in your tongue can affect your small intestine. And the goal of Session Seven is to relieve excess tension in the whole neck and cranium and to balance your head on your body. We’re working here with the muscles of expression, be it joy, grief, or pride as well as perception, through sight, sound, smell, and taste. In the mouth, we’re working with muscles related to eating or not eating, and therefore all of our issues around food. And there are often physically traumatic experiences related to dental or orthodontic work, rhinoplasty, or a good old fashioned punch to the face to work on as well. Chronic sinus infections, migraines and headaches, and issues with vision are just a few of the reasons you might be excited for Session Seven, even if the thought of someone else’s fingers in your nose wigs you out.

Personally, I was excited to receive Session Seven because leading up to it, I’d had some issues with my first and second rib on the right side popping out of place. I’ve had wiggly ribs since I first dislocated one when I was 17. Thanks to lots and lots of Rolfing, I now experience rib problems once or twice a year instead of every day, like I used to, but it’s my thing. Some people get headaches or throw their backs out or have knee problems. I dislocate my ribs. And so, probably due to stress or some other such nonsense, I’d been having some discomfort with those top two ribs, the little jerks. Along with that, I’d been noticing that I’d been clenching my jaw at night, waking up with a sore face. Lastly, I’d been waking myself up by snorting and snoring, which is not my usual habit. Clearly, something, or several things, in the top portion of my body were out of alignment, and I was definitely ready for Session Seven.

A note about Session Seven: while yes, there is a portion of the session where, traditionally, your Rolfer will stick their fingers in your nose, it is a very small portion of the session. In a 90 minute session, it’s usually less than 2 minutes. And another 2-3 minutes of work inside the mouth. Almost all of the time during Session Seven is spent preparing all the surrounding tissues for that work. So, there’s work around the whole rib cage. There’s work through the shoulders and sometimes down the arms and into the hands. There’s a lot of neck work, as well as work on your skull and face. One of my favorite anatomy terms comes into play in this session as we try to loosen the galea aponeurotica, which is like a swim cap of fascia. Session Seven is the fascial face-lift session.

I’m not going to lie, though. Having Dave’s fingers in my nose wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t terrible, either. It was just uncomfortable. And it was over in less than two minutes, so I really couldn’t complain. Especially because when the session was over, I felt so good. It felt like there was more space in my head and my jaw felt a lot looser. I stood up and felt taller and more balanced top to bottom. Like there was a force, exactly opposite to gravity, that was pulling me up as gravity pulled me down. I also noticed that I was more aware of my periphery, as if someone had pulled a big hood off my head and suddenly I could see to the sides again. My chest felt lifted and open while my feet, oddly enough, felt grounded and strong and stable. And while I got the hiccups three times that afternoon, I haven’t had that jaw tension, or rib problems, or snoring issues since.

And if you’re still worried about Session Seven, you don’t have to get the work inside your nose or mouth. There are actually several reasons your Rolfer might choose not to work inside your mouth or nose. One of those perfectly legitimate reasons is that you simply don’t want them to. So, not to worry.

So.  Session Six.  Let’s just dive right in, shall we?  With the start of Session Six, we are officially past the halfway point in the series, which always makes me nervous as a client, because I feel like there’s so much more to do.  But Session Six is also this lovely session where, for the first time in the series, we (as clients) are facedown, and we get oh-so-much work on the back.  Seeing as back pain (and hip pain and shoulder pain and sciatica, etc.) are so common, it’s a session a lot of people, myself included, look forward to.  The “territory” of Session Six is the back of the body.  More specifically, we work from the bottoms of the feet, up the backs of the legs, through the glutes, to the lower and middle back.  Are you noticing a pattern here?  In Sessions One and Two, we address the top and then the bottom.  In Three and Four, we work the outside and then the inside.  In Five and Six, we focus on the front and then the back.  It’s kinda genius, but it’s another reason why you might not want to start the 10-series if you can’t commit to finishing it.  I wouldn’t want you to have an open and flexible front without a matching back!

Dr. Rolf used to quiz her students about the goals of each session.  She’d ask, “What’s the goal of Session Three?”  And her students would hazard guesses such as “increase anterior-posterior depth” or “balance the body along a plumb line” or “transition the client from sleeve sessions to core sessions.”  And while none of those answers were wrong, none of them were the answer that Dr. Rolf was looking for.  Eventually, her students learned that whenever Dr. Rolf asked, “What’s the goal of Session (fill in the blank)?” the answer she wanted was “free the sacrum,” regardless of which session it was.  Apparently, Dr. Rolf thought freeing the sacrum was important enough to be the primary goal of every single one of the 10-series sessions.  However, in Session Six, we actually spend an entire session working directly to free the sacrum.  So, hooray!

Your sacrum, in case you were wondering, is that awesome bone at the bottom of your spine that’s comprised of five fused vertebrae, shaped in a curved triangle, between your last lumbar vertebra (on top), your coccyx (on bottom), and your two hip bones (on the left and right).  If you’ve ever had a session from me, it’s the bone I’m holding at the very end of every session.  It’s the Latin word for “sacred,” is considered our anatomical center and the keystone of the pelvis, and it’s tied to, in addition to your spine and hips, many muscles like the piriformis, one of your hamstrings, and a few of your pelvic floor muscles.  Your rectum is nestled right up against it.  So, nothing important.  Kidding.  I can see why freeing the sacrum would be so critical.  It seems like a bone you’d definitely want in the right position, and free to move how it needs to move.  The sacrum is held in a ligamentous bed, basically swimming in a sea of ligaments, and if any one of those ligaments is either too short or too long, you might have problems.  It’s a broad, annoying, and painful range of problems, too, from sciatica and constipation, up to headaches and TMJ problems, and down through plantar fasciitis, with many, many crappy options in between.  Freeing the sacrum is no joke.

Unfortunately, the sacrum is a bone (and an area of the body) I’ve found to hold trauma more than most.  I don’t know why.  I just see it a lot.  That time you drunkenly tried to do a high kick and and fell on your bum instead; that snowboarding tumble; that trip down icy stairs…if you injured your sacrum, it tends to give you trouble for 10, 20, or even 30 years, while your broken arm heals in a few months with no after-effects.  I’ve also found the back of the body to be where boundaries are established, maintained, and broken.  I’ve long felt that we give our energy out into the world from the front of the body; be it love, anger, support, or just our opinion.  Where we receive energy from the rest of the world is in the back of the body.  And the back of the body is where we make the decisions, conscious or not, around what we allow in and what we don’t.  I’ve often found with people who had boundaries violated in a big way at a young age, accessing and connecting to the backs of their bodies can be really challenging.  That might have something to do with trauma hanging around so long in the sacrum.  Perhaps.  But still, 20 years?  Come on, body.  Regardless of the reasons, Session Six can be a good one for beginning the process of reestablishing an awareness of that back body and learning where there might be more work to be done in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.

I had been looking forward to Session Six because I’m always looking for a little more attention to be paid to my hips and healthy boundaries are something I’ll probably be working on for the rest of my life.  But when it was time for me to get my Session Six, I had kinda broken myself and was very ready for a Rolfing session of any number, and I figured Six was as good as any other.  See, I’d been playing volleyball and I dove for a ball that I probably should have just let go.  I ended up feeling like I had whiplash, like someone had taken hold of my spine and given me a good shake.  From my left hip up to the left side of my head hurt.  I had a headache, rib pain, low back pain, as well as a charming inability to follow conversation.  My brain felt broken and swollen.  So, yeah, I was ready for some bodywork.

Session Six is the session that most people struggle to stay awake through, and I’m no exception.  I definitely drifted in and out of dreamland while receiving the work, but when I stood up afterwards, I felt tall, grounded, and clear-headed.  As per usual, Dave had worked his magic and gotten me all sorted out.  My pain and the headache were completely gone.  My left hip still felt a little off, but after a few days, that also seemed to sort itself out.  In fact, it’s been several months now since I had that Session Six and I haven’t had any problems with that left hip.  And that left hip had been bothering me for 13 years.  See what I mean about that sacrum trauma sticking around much longer than it’s welcome?

One more core session to go (and it’s a doozy!) before we get to the integration sessions!

Can we talk about shoes (oh my god, shoes) for a minute?  I know, I know, we’ve talked about them before.  I don’t care.  It’s my blog and I do what I want.  Shoes keep coming up, so we’re going to talk about shoes again.

You know how we evolved running through the savannas of Africa?  You know how we evolved climbing trees and mountains?  You know how we did that without Doc Martens on our feet?  Yeah.

Your feet (and my feet, or any feet, for that matter) are awesome.  Not only are they strong enough to hold you up and carry you around all day, but they are so magnificently flexible and adaptable.  You can wiggle your toes.  You can flex and point.  You can supinate and pronate.  You can rotate left and right.  You can tell, even with your eyes closed, so much about your environment, just from your bare feet.  Is the surface you’re standing or walking on level, tilted, or uneven?  Is it smooth or textured?  Is it slippery or grippy?  Is it hot or cold?  Is it soft or unyielding?  Is it wet or dry?  Is it constant or constantly changing?  So much information!  Feet are like the wikipedia of human existence!  They might not tell you everything you need to know, and you might want to fact check what they tell you, but you can still learn an awful lot from your feet.

And what do we do with them?  We put them in casts.  We put them in their little leather (and canvas and rubber and plastic) casts as soon as we wake up and don’t take them out until it’s time to go to sleep, when, let’s face it, they’re not good for much besides regulating temperature.  Can you imagine?  (I’m sure you can because you’ve probably been doing this to your feet most of your life, or at least know someone who has.)  It’s like taking a well-trained, super-fit border collie and putting it in a crate all day.  Every day.  For it’s whole life.  Not cool.  And it wouldn’t be super-fit for long, would it?

We’re missing out, people! And the bottoms of our feet are connected to the tops of our heads, obviously.  When we stimulate, stretch, and move one, we stimulate, stretch and move the other, and everything in between.  Did you know there’s a huge correlation between foot function and pelvis function?  Don’t want to be incontinent as you age?  Keep your feet healthy and active.  Did you know that pelvis function is related to head and neck function?  No interest in headaches or TMJ?  Keep your feet fully functional.  And can we just pause for a minute and consider how important it is to feel steady on our feet as we age?  How often have you heard of an elderly someone who seemed to be in great health, but they fell, and broke their hip, and then they were hospitalized, and then they got pneumonia…and that was the beginning of the end?  I’m not saying that you’ll never fall again once you restore your foot health.  But functional, vibrant, healthy feet will not make you fall more.  Guaranteed.

I know, I know, we can’t all be barefoot all the time.  I get it.  We live in a place where winter happens.  We (some of us at least, myself not included) go to real jobs, where shoes are expected to be worn every day.  And quite frankly, for most of us, suddenly going all barefoot all the time would land us with tons of injuries and the accompanying pain.  Think about it like this: if you kept your hands in casts from your fingertips to just above your wrists, starting around age two, until now, and then decided to take them off today and go play a two hour piano concert, do some light carpentry, knead a double batch of bread dough, and write a five-paragraph essay, by hand, how do you think that would go?  Yeah.  Not super great.  Let’s think about our feet the same way.  Yes, the goal is to do light carpentry with our feet.  No, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  (I’m kidding about the carpentry.  Come on.)

Getting Started:  So what can you do, today, to start restoring your feet to high functionality?  Let’s get rid of the shoes once in a while to start.  Can you walk around your house without shoes on?  I’m guessing most (if not all) the walkable surfaces in your house are flat, level, in a narrow range of comfortable temperatures, not too slippery, and not very texturally interesting (ooh! carpet! how exotic compared to hardwood floors!), but also pretty gentle on your fresh-out-of-their-casts feet.  This is like going from a cast to a sling.

Other sling-like options include switching out your hard-soled shoes for more flexible-soled shoes.  Sure, there are lots of companies nowadays making ‘barefoot’ shoes and minimalist shoes.  Which is awesome.  And most of those shoes are hideously ugly.  (I still own them.  Stop judging me.)  And some of those shoes may just be too much for your recently-back-from-the-dead feet.  So, instead.  Next time you go shoe-shopping, try this.  Walk around the shoe store for a minute or two in just your bare feet, or with socks on.  Yes, you will look weird.  Who are you trying to impress? You can do this at home, first, to get a feel for it.  While you’re walking around, pay attention to how your feet feel.  How do they move?  Do your toes spread as your weight transfers forward over them?  How long is your stride?  How fast do you comfortably walk?  Where does your foot contact the ground?  Heel first?  Mid-sole?  Starting at the toes?  Really feel your feet as you walk.  Then, try on a pair of shoes.  Go for another walk.  Really feel your feet again.  What changed?  If the answer is “nothing,” this is probably a good shoe for you.  In fact, this is probably a great shoe for you (but is also probably imaginary, as even ‘barefoot’ shoes still feel different from actually being barefoot).  If the answer is “everything,” this probably a terrible shoe for you.  Try to get as close to “nothing changed” as possible within your style/budget/patience-for-shoe-shopping constraints.  See?  Easy.  If you do this every time you go shoe shopping, in 10 years, you will have totally different, and significantly healthier feet.  I promise.  (They’ll also probably be bigger.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

With your new and improved choice of footwear, you can now start mixing up the terrain you walk on.  Start with walking through the grass at the park instead of on the sidewalk or path.  This will help build up the stabilizing muscles in your lower legs and feet (and all the way up through your pelvis and back) that might have atrophied from always walking on flat, level surfaces.  Go hiking (not in thick-soled hiking boots, in your new, more flexible shoes).  Climb trees.  Scramble up rocks.  Go out in the rain and the snow and the ice.  Teach your feet to be good at handling as broad a range of experiences as possible.  This is also good advice for bodies in general.  Flat and level is for sissies.

Another option for improving foot health and slowly restoring function to your feet is taking shoe breaks.  We all know by now that sitting for four hours straight is bad for us, right?  Right.  We all know that even if we can’t be moving all day, we’re supposed to get up every hour (or 20 minutes) and walk around/stretch/just stand.  Same thing applies to shoes.  Can you slip them off at your desk and wiggle your toes?  Can you pad around in your socks while you’re on that phone call?  Can you go stand barefoot in the grass in your backyard for five minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil?

Next Level Shit:  Once you’ve gotten your feet out of their casts, and comfortable in slings (and this could take several years), it’s time to take things to the next level.  Go ahead.  Take the slings off.  You might want to consider some of those ugly, but awesomely functional ‘barefoot’ shoes.  Work up to spending as much time as possible barefoot.  Strengthen the skin of your feet by walking barefoot on as many different textures (and in as many temperatures) as you can.  Strengthen the tiny little muscles in your feet and the big strong muscles of your core by walking on different terrain, at all sorts of angles.  You can even do some of this in your house!    Throw the couch cushions on the floor.  Throw the kids’ building blocks and Lincoln Logs (Do they still make Lincoln Logs?  Please tell me they still make Lincoln Logs.) on the floor.  Walk over it all.  The couch cushions will make you work harder to balance.  The Lincoln logs will challenge your skin strength and flexibility.  Rolled up towels, wooden spoons, pencils, a rolling pin, a candlestick holder, a bookend, heck, crumple up your junk mail and throw it on the ground.  The list goes on.  Throw it on the floor and walk on it.  (And you’ll get bonus movement points when you have to pick it all up and put it away!)  Keep seeking new and different challenges for your feet.  Don’t let them get bored.

You can get those border collies back in top shape.  It’s a long process, but you can do this.  I know you can, because I’ve done it.  And my feet continue to get stronger and more flexible.  And the rest of my body continues to thank me for it.  But we’ve got to start with the shoes.  For the love of your feet, please stop it with the high-heels and the flip flops and start letting your feet be the magnificent beings they are.  Oh my god, shoes.

Hey there!  Today we’re talking about the weirdest thing Rolfers do, which is saying a lot, considering just how weird Rolfers are.  And that strange thing is nose work, or intranasal work.  Traditionally, this is done in the 7th hour of the 10-series, along with some work inside the mouth.

First, let’s talk a bit about the 7th session.  This session is devoted to the “upper pole” or the top of the thorax, the neck, and the head.  The goal is to create space front to back, differentiating the visceral cranium, or the face and the associated tongue, throat, and viscera (guts), from the neural cranium, or the back of the skull and the associated brain and spine.  This session is the last of the four “core sessions” before we move on to the “integration sessions” of 8, 9, and 10.  And since it’s the last core session, we Rolfers decided to go out with a bang and stick our pinky fingers into our clients’ noses.

We wear gloves for this, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t really make it any less strange.  While the mouth work is odd, we’ve all been to the dentist and are somewhat familiar with having someone else’s fingers inside our mouths.  Nose work, on the other hand…  What can I say?  It’s just plain weird.

Also, in my opinion (again, I’m a Rolfer), it’s totally awesome.  I love receiving nose work.  It makes my head feel spacious and open.  It feels like my sinuses are cleared out afterwards.  I feel like my peripheral vision has just been polished and shined and I can see twice as much.  I can breathe easier.  In fact, I want some nose work right now.  Too bad the dog isn’t a Rolfer.  But I digress.

Mouth and nose work can also be emotionally intense.  Our face is where we express to the world all of our emotions.  Sadness, grief, anger, joy, excitement, fear, nervousness, regret, apathy, frustration, and the like all come out, hopefully, through our face.  Every issue we have around eating, or not eating, starts here, at the mouth.  The throat chakra is smack in between the heart chakra and the third eye, or the head chakra.  It’s where your will rests, and until you can get your head and your heart to agree, your will is going to have a hard time making itself known.

It’s not all emotional roller coasters and sinus clearing, though.  Intranasal work can be super helpful for people suffering from chronic headaches and migraines.  The intraoral (mouth) work can be great for TMJ sufferers.  And since you already know, as an A+ Rolfing client, that everything in the body is connected via the fascia, you also know that work in the cranium can affect everything else in the body, all the way down to the bottoms of your feet.  Which is pretty crazy.  But not as crazy as having someone else stick their fingers in your nose.

We don’t often think about standing.  We just do it.  But there are an awful lot of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and fascia that all have to get on board before this simple thing can happen.  And once we’re upright, lots of things need to work to keep us there.  Let’s do a little exercise.  Go ahead, stand up with your feet about hip width apart.  Give it a few seconds.  Now, check in with your feet.  What do you notice?  Is there more weight on the outsides of your feet?  The insides?  Are you resting more on your heels or your toes?  Go ahead and gently rock forward and back and see if you can find the middle.  Is it comfortable to be there?  Do you stand more on your left or your right?  Go ahead and stand on one foot.  Now stand on the other.  Which one is easier?  Does it feel stronger?  More stable?  More balanced?  So many questions; so many things to consider; and we rarely think about any of them!  (You can sit down now, but I’m just going to make you stand back up in a minute.)

Ideally, when we stand, our weight should be balanced: front to back, side to side, inside to outside.  When we stand, everything that happens in our feet is reflected in our pelvis.  So if you’re just on the outsides of your feet, the central corridor of your pelvic floor (where all that important stuff like excretion happens) isn’t turning on.  And speaking of turning on, if all your weight is in your heels when you stand up, the front half of your pelvic floor isn’t being stimulated (and who doesn’t want the front half of their pelvic floor stimulated?).  If you’re noticing a drastic difference in any of these areas, it might be something to talk about with your favorite Rolfer (also known as Theresa).

Also, we’re not really supposed to ‘stand still.’  As you stand there should be a subtle weight transfer through your feet and subsequently through your pelvic floor.  Weight on the outside of the left heel moves to the left big toe.  From there, weight moves to the outside of the right heel and then to the right big toe, and back to the left heel.  Go ahead and stand up again (told you) and give it a try.  Exaggerate it until you can really feel what’s happening in your pelvis as you shift your weight on your feet.  There’s a figure-eight quality to it, yes?

Keep that motion going and shift your attention from your feet to your pelvis.  As your weight moves through your feet, muscles in your pelvic floor should tense and relax in a very smooth pattern, like a wave.  Are there spikes in your wave?  Is it harder to shift to the right or the left?  Maybe going forward on one side is more difficult than the other.  Do you notice any ‘dead spots’ where you just don’t feel anything in your pelvis?  Is your figure-eight smooth or choppy?  You can continue to make your weight shifting more and more dramatic to really feel into your pelvic floor.  Again, any big imbalances may be something to discuss with your favorite Rolfer.

And, since everything’s connected, what happens in your pelvic floor is reflected in your shoulders and your head.  So if you’re noticing a not-so-smooth figure-eight in your feet and your pelvis, it may be causing neck and shoulder pain or headaches and TMJ.  What?!  It’s crazy, I know.  Thinking about neck pain coming from your feet is hard to get your head around, but it happens all the time.  Just something to think about while you’re standing there rocking from side to side.  You can sit down now.