Gravity and Neutral
Back in the day, Ida Rolf had a couple of big ideas: one was that fascia was the organ of structure, and the other was our alignment made us more or less successful in gravity. Something I want to say about that second idea is that it relates profoundly to the character of our stability. Now, I think it’s important to clarify that our bodies are very good at stabilizing whatever alignment pattern we’re in. So if I have a funny posture, it’s not that I lost my stability; it’s that I’m stabilizing a funny shape. And what makes a shape funny or not is how our segments stack up in gravity. When they stack up well, that’s what we call neutral—and neutral is fundamentally a relationship with gravity. One of the most important skills that we can learn about this is to enhance our felt sense of the characteristics of neutral.
One way to think about it is that in neutral, the body has a “up” feeling. We feel supported, held up. It’s fairly obvious. On the other hand, when we’re less neutral, we feel more compressed, sinking, “down.” What causes this sinking feeling is that as segments of the body slide off of other segments, they leave the position in which they were at their highest stable alignment and stabilize in a lower position. If the tops of my legs slide forward when I’m standing, my pelvis is forced to slide onto the backs of my femoral heads and sink. And in this alignment, it’s very likely that the bottom of my ribcage will also slide backwards and sink. It’s critical to recognize that in this posture, we’re not just crooked: we’re crooked and sinking. You can’t separate these two.
So part of the relationship with gravity is that as we get more neutral, we begin to expect the feeling of length, of support, of “up.” And as we get more neutral, it also becomes obvious that we’re not trying to force the muscles to hold us in this alignment. Rather, the muscles take their cue from the alignment. We feel them working, but we don’t feel like we’re “doing it” on purpose. The best exercise, I think, to improve our discernment is to keep deliberately shifting back and forth between our sense of an “old” posture and a “new improved” one. As we master the skill of making the changes, we also clarify the differences between patterns for ourselves. In other words, we’re identifying the characteristics of neutral.
As we understand these things better, it becomes clearer that in gravity, the patterns have an absolute natural order. If something falls back, something falls forward. If something falls left, something else falls right. (Rotation on a vertical axis, because it’s not so driven by gravity, is a little bit different.) In the type of standing palpation we do in these classes, we learn to feel these patterns so that they become an everyday, concrete aspect of how we experience the people we treat.