Rolfing In Austin: Beyond Rolfing

Mike Williams Rolfing Austin TXOver the past 7 years as a Rolfer – 7 years this month! – I’ve had the immense pleasure of partnering with over 500 unique clients on their quests for greater health, logging thousands of hours of Rolfing sessions along the way. I’ve worked with an amazing variety of human beings:  children as young as just a few months old, adults as old as 80, professional athletes and musicians, weekend warriors, cubicle workers, and people that just want to be able to grocery shop without being in pain. It’s been an incredibly rich and enlightening exposure to the diversity of people in Austin and beyond, the challenges we have, and how powerful Rolfing in Austin can be in providing our bodies a new platform for movement, comfort, and health.

And yet, over the years I’ve often been challenged, sometimes frustrated, and even left scratching my head and saying “Huh??” when client outcomes aren’t in sync with the work I’m doing and the change that we both perceive happening as practitioner and client. Those moments have naturally led me to adapt my practice and learn new skills along the way, but recurring questions have been “So, you’ve done the work of Rolfing….now what? And how can you better help clients take what we accomplish during a session out into the real world to integrate it into their daily lives for lasting change?”

Those questions have been the primary guiding principles in my practice these last several years. In the last two years alone my practice has expanded beyond just Rolfing in Austin as I’ve added two significant methodologies to the way I work: mindfulness-based self-study (the Hakomi method), and coordinative and natural movement education. While these additions are somewhat outside of the scope of the classic Rolfing process (which I still do as well), they are both oriented toward function and awareness of the body, and combine beautifully with Rolfing to create a very unique experience of transformation.

So, what does this combination of work – Rolfing, mindfulness, and movement – look like for a client? And how has it changed client outcomes? One recent example stands out as a powerful blend of these three methodologies.

Scott, 39, began seeing me as a client this past summer on a referral from an excellent chiropractor here in Austin that I often share clients with. His primary symptoms were low back pain and a tight jaw and neck, which led to difficulty standing, sleeping, and walking comfortably, and were interfering with his ability to work. He’s also an avid gardener, so he spends a lot of time in a squatting position, moving up and down to and from the ground, and carrying heavy loads. As a teenager he’d had back surgery for a herniated lumbar disc so I knew structural integrity and support was a key issue.

We began our work using a rough sketch of the classic Rolfing protocol, the 10 Series, to see how his body would respond to more traditional hands-on work. Although my initial focus was on balancing his myofascial tissue to reorganize his structure, early on I began giving him specific homework exercises designed to elicit a better connection to his body’s natural support system while beginning to build basic mindfulness skills:  focusing on his feet pushing him forward from the ground as he walked, and using his feet and legs to go from sitting to standing rather than pushing out of his seat with his hands and arms.  As his body began to change over the first several sessions and our work together began to create better core stability in his body, we upped the ante a bit and began looking at more complicated movement patterns for getting down to the ground and back up again, all the while eliciting the core support we’d already evoked through the hands-on work.

Early on with these relatively simple measures, significant change in Scott’s symptoms occurred. By his 4th session, Scott reported only one day in the previous two weeks of back pain, and by the 6th session he reported increased confidence in his body’s integrity. Just a few sessions later and he was “pretty consistently well”; any pain that did recur tended to be of a lesser nature and he rebounded quickly if he overdid it in the garden. He also described a better understanding of his body and a new ability to understand the difference between normal aches and pains from overexertion and more significant structural pain. Along the way I recommended Pilates to build core strength and continued chiropractic care as needed, both of which added to the overall improvement of Scott’s body.

Given the success of our early work, Scott and I began to devote more focus toward movement-specific skills in our later sessions. Alongside these skills, I introduced the use of a deeper layer of mindfulness to build a better understanding of the nuances of his system, and awareness of habitual patterns that create tension and instability for him.

Armed with a better understanding of how he uses his body day-to-day, I began challenging Scott with balancing skills in order to engage his newly-stable body in multiple dimensions, which would translate well to his real-world activities of moving up and down from the ground with precision in the garden. This was an extraordinarily fun part of our work together, as we continually connected back to the improvements Rolfing had evoked in Scott’s body, used them as a framework for movement integrity, and took them forward into the natural movement exercises of balancing (and recovering from imbalance) while walking forward, backward, turning around, and going into and out of a squatting position. As a client, Scott did a great job of owning this work, continuing to practice the skills we’d developed outside of our sessions, which did a tremendous job of integrating them into his movement system.

Importantly, I introduced Scott to a more-nuanced type of mindfulness during this phase of our work: tracking basic sensation in his body so we could discover where, when challenged with balance, his body wanted to create inefficient tension patterns in order to stabilize prior to moving. As a practitioner, this was very helpful to guide the continued hands-on interventions that were woven in during these sessions and, even more importantly, they illuminated the source of a problem area’s recurring discomfort. Understanding this gave us a great piece of information about how Scott’s body habitually moves, and a very specific movement pattern he could then track for and correct to create more balance and ease in his whole body. Finding awareness of those inefficient efforts, and then working together to reorient his nervous system to the support of his body, the support of the ground, and the space around him (skills we’d also woven through our later sessions to help improve his coordination), created the “next level” of Scott’s body intelligence and ease.

Tracking “positive” sensations during and after sessions (such as feelings of groundedness and circulation), in addition to finding areas of tension, and practicing reconnecting to those sensations regularly, also was a great tool to deepen our work’s integration into Scott’s nervous system. This practice effectively rewrites your system’s software, building new neural pathways to use rather than allowing you to continually fall into the well-trodden paths of old habitual patterns. For Scott, this was a great way to continue to teach his body that support could be easy rather than effortful.

Scott shared this with me about his experience working together:

rolfing massage austin tx“After twenty-four years of chronic back pain I found Mike Williams, Certified Rolfer. I have benefitted from work with chiropractors, massage therapy, acupuncture and yoga but after two, three week bouts of debilitating back pain this year I wanted to start over. Rolfing has given me a chance to rebuild and relearn my body so that I can enjoy doing what I love. Some have asked me if Rolfing is painful. It is not, it is quite relaxing and energetic at the same time. Mike has a very comfortable and secure space for his practice. I am so thankful to a have found Rolfing, it is truly changing my life and body for the better.”

Start to finish, this was an amazing journey to have as a practitioner. It showed me first-hand the transformative power of client engagement in the practice of rediscovering the body. Rolfing in Austin itself solved a lot of the pain and basic challenges Scott brought in very quickly. And transitioning to a deeper level of reflection, awareness, and mindful movement deepened the process tremendously, creating a platform for Scott’s continued self-discovery and somatic exploration for a long time to come.

While the specific work I did over the last several months with Scott was unique to him, this is a great example of the scope of work and the expertise I bring into my Rolfing practice. If you’re curious about how we might work together, feel free to contact me anytime, I’d love to chat with you! 512-470-8998


Posted: December 17, 2015 By: Comment: 0

Will Rolfing Alleviate Physical Pain?


Physical pain is what brings fully 90% of my clients into my Rolfing in Austin, TX practice. Pain is a great motivator. Often, Rolfing is a last resort for people that have tried any number of traditional or holistic therapies with little or no success, whether it’s surgery, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage. Many times, Rolfing can fill the gap for these folks and give their bodies the support and ease they need to recover from the pain cycle. There have been many, many times over the years that someone comes into my practice having tried several other therapies, and the technical know-how I have has been exactly the skill their body needs to feel better. Sometimes that’s happened in one session. Other times it’s taken several.  Either way, those are great days as a practitioner, and as a client.

Pain can be a tricky thing to solve, however. It’s not always as easy as “I have pain here, fix it here.”  Rolfing, as a system of bodywork, is designed to address the whole body rather than simply the local area, to create balance and support, and that can often be enough. But sometimes even that relatively simplified view of “get the best, smartest manual work = pain relief” doesn’t play out.

In recent years, neuroscience has taught us a LOT about pain and its causes. We now know that getting the right medical or manual intervention is but one part of the healing equation. Other significant factors that may need to be addressed include stress, thoughts, and emotions, and how they affect the nervous system; diet and lifestyle factors; the meaning or stories assigned to the pain; and overall physical activity and function. This variety of inputs creates a unique equation to you that manifests physically in the body, and can be challenging to unravel. That’s why even dramatic interventions like surgery don’t always resolve pain.

Here’s a short and interesting video that lays this out a bit:

So, what may seem like a relatively simple, painful spot in the body that just can’t quite heal may in fact need a more systematic effort in order to come to resolution. I had a great experience in my practice about how not communicating this well with clients can lead to faulty expectations and disappointment (which, in today’s social media-based information exchange, has the potential to really negatively impact practitioners).

A young UT student came to see me who’d been experiencing right shoulder and neck pain for several months. The cause for it wasn’t clear, he perhaps fell a year prior and regularly participated in sports, but tightness and discomfort had manifested for about 3-4 months leading up to our session. Acupuncture had been tried once or twice, without any change, and the acupuncturist had then recommended Rolfing to help solve the pain.

It was clear that stress was a big part of this client’s life; it was one of the first things he mentioned as we chatted, and his neck and shoulders were rather tight in the way that stressed bodies are. My diagnostics concluded that he had a very healthy structure overall (hooray for youth!), but that his neck and head were tightly drawn down into the right shoulder area – imagine what it looks like when you’re holding your phone between your head and shoulder for too long. From a strictly structural point of view, this was a great place to begin our work:  free up the neck, head, and shoulder from each other and see how the system and the symptoms would respond.

This aspect of our session was pretty straightforward. The client’s structure changed and improved rather easily. Movement of the shoulder smoothed out and the head balanced better on top of the shoulders and spine. I gave some brief homework to begin to track bodily responses to stress (Do the shoulders raise? Is there a habitual head tilt when working?), and we discussed the potential for dietary triggers being a factor. I was satisfied overall with the outcome, and as is often the case in a first appointment, I had the chance to give the client a good sample of what to expect from further care but not necessarily use every tool I have at my disposal.

Where I failed was in the education department. A few days after our session, the client posted a 3-star review on Yelp (I know, not the end of the world, but review ratings are a huge deal for small businesses) expressing his disappointment at still experiencing the same levels of pain and tightness, despite greater awareness of posture and placement of his body. If I had to guess, I would suspect that he went back into his stressful world without understanding well enough the physical impact of that stress on his body. So, upon reflection, I truly felt that I had done the best work possible, but the structural changes we made in the session were probably quickly overridden by a stress-induced habit – something along the lines of holding his shoulders tightly upward. Those constantly locked-up muscles were going to keep sending him pain signals until he figured out how to undo the habit pattern.

This was such a great reminder about the importance of creating awareness around the process of dealing with pain, describing better how structure is just one part of the equation, and giving enough emphasis to the importance of learning how to undo the habit patterns to resolve the pain. That’s potentially a challenging process, particularly for someone charging their way through school, but I believe it’s important to address pain holistically and not just expect that a single type of intervention will be a panacea.

So what does this all mean for you, and how does it relate to my practice? Will Rolfing alleviate physical pain? For one, it gave me an even deeper appreciation for clear communication about the impact of non-structural patterns on the body. But more importantly, I hope it’s illustrative of the level of engagement it sometimes takes to resolve pain patterns in the body.

In my Rolfing practice, our focus goes beyond simply changing and balancing your connective tissue, beyond just “fixing” your body. Though that sometimes works, my particular focus is on educating and empowering you so that you can become your own best practitioner. Working with mindfulness, learning how to slow down and study yourself and your body’s responses to stimuli, is a powerful way to gain a deeper understanding about what supports or triggers your pain. And looking carefully at your movement patterns, improving coordination, and teaching you new tools for simpler, more efficient movement gives you a new operating platform from which to use your body and move through the world. The combination of Rolfing, mindfulness, and movement education in my practice more completely addresses the healing equation than manual work alone, and leads to a longer-lasting, more impactful change to your health and comfort. And even your pain too.

My goal is to put you back in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health. Together we’ll not only create a healthier body through Rolfing, we’ll give you the right tools to deeply connect you to the impacts (positive and negative) of your day-to-day actions, and to discover your own authentic ways to move and be in your world.

Contact me if you have specific questions about pain in your body and if Rolfing is a good fit for treatment.

Posted: November 17, 2015 By: Comment: 0

How to Know if Rolfing or Deep-Tissue Massage is the Right Fit for You

Deep Tissue Massage or Rolfing Austin TXLet’s face it. Not many people know what Rolfing is; let alone how it can help them. Even in a very forward-leaning city like Austin, (rolfing Austin TX is my expertise) there are only about 15 Rolfers practicing here so there aren’t many resources out there for potential clients to lean on to find out more. It’s a challenge I deal with every single day, whether talking with a new client or chatting with an acquaintance about what I do for a living.

Usually when I tell people I’m a Rolfer, if they actually understand the word and don’t think I said “roofer,” they ask one of two questions:  “That really hurts right?” (that’s a topic for another post), or “That’s a type of really deep massage, isn’t it?” The answers are “No,” and “No” to those questions, and I’m here to set the record straight….on the second question for now.

First off, I do want to acknowledge that I am NOT  a deep-tissue massage therapist, but I know and love many of them here in town. I am a Rolfer of 7 years, and I have a pretty solid sense for when people can benefit from Rolfing or would benefit more from someone else’s work. To my MT friends out there, I’m happy to hear your comments and corrections. What I’m writing here is based on my years and experience in clinical practice, and feedback I’ve received directly from clients along the way.

So, how do you know which therapy you need?

You have a new injury, such as muscle strain, or want post-activity soreness relief.

I’ve done a lot of first-aid work over the years – regular clients come in and they’ve just injured themselves, or new clients come in on a referral with a fresh injury. I can successfully treat a lot of acute injuries, and have many times over the years, but there’s an army of expert massage therapists out there that focus specifically on that. Rolfing is much more powerful a therapy addressing long-term and chronic pain and postural issues.

You really want strong pressure and intense sensation to just get rid of that knot already.

Seek out massage therapists that advertise that. Rolfing is not “deeper-tissue massage”, and truthfully the phrase “deep-tissue” is generally misunderstood. “Deep” does NOT mean painful, and the deep-tissue MT’s that I typically recommend are not in the business of hurting you. But if you look online, there are practitioners that celebrate that. It’s OK if that’s your preference, but you won’t find that type of work with most modern Rolfers, myself included.

rolfing massage austin txYou have chronic (long-term) musculoskeletal pain that is having trouble resolving or is of unknown origin.

If some type of pathology has been ruled out, this is where Rolfing really shines. Rolfing is a holistic system, meaning it addresses the whole body vs. a very specific area of pain (though again, I’ve done that), and it’s designed to reorganize your whole body to be more efficient, supported, and comfortable.

When you’ve had pain for a long time, your body creates compensatory patterns to help you continue to move and function. So, when neck pain mysteriously shows up a few months after you twisted your ankle stepping off a curb, that’s because the limp you walked with for awhile affected your hips, which made it harder for your spine to move easily, which in turn created tension in your neck and shoulders. Rolfing systematically removes this series of compensations so your WHOLE body can rebalance. Most of the time, those painful areas disappear along the way as the kinks in the system get unstuck. It can seem like magic – a lot of clients tell me they one day noticed they hadn’t been in pain in awhile – but it’s a pretty logical process.

You’ve been to a massage therapist or chiropractor and your symptoms are not resolving, or you need to get the same work in the same place over and over again.

This is a great indication that there is a systemic issue going on. It’s likely you’re receiving good care, but your body just can’t sustain the change. Rolfing’s a great way to hit the reset button to balance and align your structural system. Then, the work you do with your MT or chiropractor can be easier on your body and last longer (and, I’ve heard several times from chiropractors over the years that they love seeing clients after they’ve received Rolfing as their work is then easier!).

You have a postural or structural challenge (scoliosis, knock knees, post-surgery hardware implants, etc.) that is painful or limits movement.

Rolfing also does great in these situations, where the body’s structure is compromised somehow, or has simply reshaped itself after years of sitting at a computer, playing an instrument, etc. Very often, postural challenges can be completely resolved; it depends on how long they’ve been there. Almost always, Rolfing creates better support and ease in the body and helps you live more comfortably with that challenge. And in my practice specifically, I focus on educating you as the client so you can learn how to better support yourself through movement and posture in your day-to-day activities, and often how to do them even better. When clients proactively continue these new practices, the power of Rolfing and the changes it brings the body really settle in for the long haul.

You want to gain deep awareness about how your body works in your unique environment and lifestyle.

Oh yeah, Rolfing baby! I love this one. If you’re proactively interested in building your body into something better and discovering deeper body-based patterns that you carry, Rolfing is absolutely for you. Not only will we build you a new body to discover and explore your Self and your world with, we’ll create new ways to move and educate you about what your triggers are for falling back into disrepair. You will be empowered to proactively take charge of your physical well-being. If that’s not growth, I don’t know what is!

Hopefully, that clarifies things for you a bit and gives you a sense for what Rolfing can do!  If you’re ever curious or just not clear if what you have going on can be addressed through Rolfing, feel free to drop me a line or give a call. I love talking about this stuff and will happily answer your questions!

Mike Williams  |  512-470-8998

Posted: October 30, 2015 By: Comment: 0