the story of an idea
The story of an idea is a peculiar things by modern standards. Modern language and concepts struggle to communicate the nature of an idea, its relationships its characters, its story through time.
I begin with a revisiting of an old Greek idea. Modern thought is dominated by a reductionist, materialist, scientism. We make the mistake of assuming this has always been present but it turns out to have been a recent addition to our pantheon of thoughts. Much longer in the tooth and by far the previously dominant idea was idealism/vitalism. Idealism encapsulated the believe that everything has life and spirit in it. trees, animals, even man made objects and of course ideas.
Whilst none of the ideas in this narrative i am about to unfold are necessarily new, they have in recent history been abraded, edited, abused and campaigned against by various institutional policemen of thought. When people stop engaging with an idea and adding their energy to it it diminishes but never disappears completely. Like a lonely cloud wandering the world in search of a receptive mind and environment to rain down its wisdoms upon.
One of the earliest receptive minds to this particular idea was Alexander.
He began his exploration of the relationship between form and function in late victorian times at a time when the dominant mindset of empire was already declining and being reshaped by ideas from all over he empire.
Alexander surmised that poor patterns of habitual posture and movement damaged spatial self awareness and health. He found that posture and movement efficiency could support and even transform overall physical wellbeing. His work began as an amateur aspiring shakespearian actor. Now in theatres there were no sound systems, or amplification technologies available. He discovered his frequent voice loss correlated to an altered head carriage associated with a habitual postural pattern. this pattern had the effect of changing breathing, vocal cavity shape and quality and consequently vocal performance.
Simply put he surmised that structure equals function. In the early 20th century he began working on methods of correcting this and as the idea spread he took in great intellectual heavyweights of this time, George Bernard Shaw, John Dewey, Aldous Huxley, Henry Irvin, shared his idea and work and allowed the great, “ideas” folks of the time to propagate it.
Fritz Perls, (progenitor of Gestalt) took it in a different direction, Moshe Feldenkrais kept the direction and rolled on exploring application further via the medium of functionality.
The idea of the line then birthed with a new crowd of genii. The heaven and earth (as called in Tai Chi and Qi Gong…. for several thousand years-are there any truly new idea’s?) line of alexander was then observed as the spine and osteopathic and chiropractic work began to be born.. Palmer, the progenitor of chiropractic treatment said that the idea came to him by revelation and he was decidedly a vitalist (a receptive mind to the idea) . Chiropractic philosophy takes in holism, the observation that health is affected by everything in an individuals environment. It observed that the line , or spine was an influential component of that environment. Thus an individuals health could be positively influenced by adjusting the spine to match the conceptual line. Worth mentioning that the tradition had many references to the vital essence, innate intelligence, energy, and spirit of a person. (One of many reasons it later encountered much conflict with the traditionalist scientism that became medicine) these concepts seemed mystic at the time and were resisted by the thought police of the time.
Once again structure was shown to equal function with a suggestion that structure influenced more than physical function. About this same time Andrew Still was receiving the same idea which formed into osteopathy.
The Shorts were investigating the beginnings of physiotherapy following the impulses of the same idea.
The idea began to multiply and divide. The chiro’s and osteo’s surmised from research and practice that the adjustments could be achieved using adjustments of the head and tail and cranial was born (lots of species),
Dr Ida Rolf was already an incredible proponent of scientific method, involved in research at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, she was a lifetime student of yoga and eastern philosophy, and was also known to the progenitors of most of the aforementioned disciplines.
With her enquiring mind she surmised that there were many lines on the body each exerting its own different but equally important influence on the wellbeing of the whole. Her receipt of the idea became “the recipe”, a sequence of sessions to realign the whole body/person and balance all the lines.
The idea had experimented with reductionism in exploring the cranial aspect and ida stood on the shoulders of the giants whilst exploring a truly holistic application.
In fact she said many times there is no such thing as a closed end revelation. Then began a lifetime of exploring this new aspect of the original idea and evaluating it through both the medium of scientific enquiry and also through its application to thousands of bodies. In fact if you include her educational legacy of thousands of practitioners worldwide the number elevates into probably 100’s of thousands.
Dr Rolf understood the precious nature of her body of enquiry and sought to teach this in a fashion that would be preserved authentically and by her method of teaching i believe she achieved that. Often we are told anecdotally that she berated when folks began veering off into other stimulating philosophies and practices. This is often seen as guarding the boundaries, however from a teaching point of view she was simply keeping new students directed towards the learning at hand. To more developed practitioners keeping them from distraction until sufficient mastery in her discipline was achieved. After all what use is the next layer of revelation if you have not earned the right by endeavour to fully appreciate it. Pearls before swine…
Over many years in practice the understanding gained from the recipe has allowed me to study and engage with many other practices which i hold in high esteem. They have all added something to my work. They have allowed me a shared language with many other practitioners, to understand how different disciplines relate and often complement one another. But i must ultimately confess that despite my enthusiasms eventually all my new skills simply become tools in my SI toolkit.
If you stand on the shoulders of giants it is wise to appreciate the view.