The Power of Posture

Two weeks ago I went to hear Amy Cuddy speak on presence and the impact of “power postures” at The London Business Forum.

amy-cuddyIf you’ve not yet come across Amy’s work, there is a brilliant Ted talk that provides a good introduction. In essence, she has found that taking on a powerful physical pose (such as “wonderwoman”) there is a bio-feedback mechanism making a person more confident, adaptable and present to deal with life scenarios.

Taking on a dominant posture for 2 minutes increases the levels of testosterone and decreases cortisol, making you a better leader & more adept to dealing with stress. This shows the rapid response which exists between the mind and the body.

She has found certain power postures to be highly effective. These are all open postures with good stability through the feet and body as a whole.

angela-merkelDuring the talk she made a reference to the importance of hand positions, within power postures, identifying that bringing your hands together, spreading your fingers to create an arch in the palms, as is often seen with Angela Merkel, can increase the energy and power of the individual.

This is also found with Cambodian dancers – there is a even a special dance of power where performers arch their feet and hands like that of tree roots.

This principle of arching the hand to increase energy up the arm is present in a number of disciplines. From studying Scaravellian yoga with Angela Farmer, there is an opening in the shoulders and upper torso that occurs by spreading the fingers apart in downward dog. A natural arch in the palm opens up an energy line up the arm (& arm pit) and a broader strength through the shoulders and upper torso.

As an aerial dancer, in acrobatics the same techniques are used in creating advanced stability for handstands. Making sure the hands are shoulder width apart, weight is directed through the “ball” of the hand with the fingers spread.

Looking at anatomy, the hands and feet are analogous (from our days as a quadripeds) with the ability of bringing a natural arch into the structure through spreading the fingers or the toes.

You can use these principles to gently strengthen your shoulders & upper back.


Explore a gentle downward dog (like nothing before!)

  • With feet hip-width apart, bend over and bring your hands to be in contact with the floor (you may need to bend your knees for this, which is fine).
  • Whilst bringing no weight through your hands, explore how it feels to make contact with the different parts of your hand. It can feel very new, making contact with the ball of your hand (the area beneath your knuckles).
  • Keeping gentle contact from this area with the floor, imagine there is space for a small mouse to hide underneath the arch of your palm. This naturally lifts the base of your palm and wrist away from the floor. (When we bring weight down through the base of the palm we cut off energy and strength coming up through the arm.)
  • As you spread your fingers, you may feel muscles in your lower arm and shoulders activate. Gently explore bringing weight through this contact point, keep this process gradual as it can take time for your body to adapt and strengthen. For some the image of roots helps support this exploration.

Who was Dr. Rolf?

Often I get asked:
“Where did the Rolf Method come from?”
“When did was it developed? Is it connected to The Alexander Technique or Osteopathy?” So here’s a little information on Dr. Ida Rolf and the origins of Structural Integration.

Dr. Ida P. Rolf, PHD

The Founder of Structural Integration
May 19, 1896 – March 19, 1979

“Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body’s energy field. This is our primary concept. “ – Ida P. Rolf.

ida_rolf_

Ida P. Rolf was born in New York in 1896. She graduated from Barnard College in 1916, and took up a research post at the Rockafella Institute of Medical Research. In 1920 she earned a PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University (NYC) from her research in the behaviour of phosphatides (molecules that predominantly make up cell membranes). She continued her research based in Organic Chemistry for a further 7 years, publishing many papers over that time.

In 1927, she took a leave of absence from her work to study mathematics and atomic physics at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich. During this time, she also studied homeopathic medicine in Geneva.

Returning from Europe, she spent the decade of the 1930’s seeking answers to personal and family health problems. Medical treatment available at that time seemed inadequate to her; this led to her exploration of osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga, the Alexander technique, Physio-synthesis and Korzybski’s work on states of consciousness.

By the 1940’s, she was working in a Manhattan apartment where her schedule was filled with people seeking help. She was committed to the scientific point of view, and yet many breakthroughs came intuitively through the work she did with chronically disabled persons unable to find help elsewhere. This was the work eventually to be known as Structural Integration. For the next thirty years, Ida Rolf devoted herself to developing her technique and training programs.

IDADuring the 1950’s, her reputation spread to England where she spent summers as a guest of John Bennett, a prominent mystic and student of Gurdjieff. Then, in the mid-60’s, Dr. Rolf was invited to the Esalen Institute (a retreat centre which focuses on the development of human potential) in California at the suggestion of Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy. There she began training practitioners and instructors of Structural Integration and it was at this time that the infamous nickname of “Rolfing” arose from her session work.

The more Structural Integration classes Ida Rolf taught, the more students sought admission to training. Newspaper and magazine articles began featuring the person and work of Ida Rolf, and soon the necessity for a formal organization became apparent. As early as 1967, a school for Structural Integration was loosely formed and eventually headquartered in a private home in Boulder, Colorado. Until her death in 1979, Ida Rolf actively advanced training classes, giving direction to her organization, planning research projects, writing, publishing and public speaking.

A few years after her death, the school divided into “The Guild of Structural Integration” and “The Rolf Institute”. Over the years, evolution of the work has led to a number of schools developing from Dr. Rolf’s direct students. These subsets include: Hellerwork (Joseph Heller), Kinesis Myofascial Integration – KMI (Tom Myers) and Soma Neuromuscular Integration (Bill Williams). For more information on Structural Integration as a whole you can visit www.sidirectory.co.uk and http://www.theiasi.net.