At the Head of the Table: An Interview with Jan Sultan

By Lina Amy Hack, Certified Advanced Rolfer® and Jan Sultan, Advanced Rolfing® Instructor
August 2023

ABSTRACT In this interview with Jan Sultan, he talks about Dr. Rolf’s Seventh Hour philosophy and practical execution of ‘putting the head back on’. Sultan presents his key concepts of the head, the differentiation of the viscerocranium from the neurocranium. Nose work, tongue work, and palate work are discussed.

Lina Amy Hack: Thank you Jan for meeting with me to talk about the head in the Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) context.

Jan Sultan: Glad to be here. So, the plan for our chat is to talk about the anatomy of the head, about Dr. Rolf’s original seventh session, and the evolution of that as our understanding of normal anatomy has deepened.

LAH: That is the plan. When you think about Rolf’s ‘Seventh Hour’ instruction ‘to put the head on’, I wonder if it’s just as nuts and bolts as that sounds as ‘put it back in the middle’, is it that direct of an instruction?

JS: Exactly that. What I like to reflect on is how to get from Rolf’s put the head on to What is the nature of the head? This is the deeper inquiry into the anatomy, the physiology. She said odd things like “Faces are the resultant of neck patterns. Take a look at Richard Nixon’s face, he’s got a terrible neck.” I don’t know if you know Nixon’s face that well, he had this very hound dog look to his face. And she used him as an example; she’d say, look at his cervical thoracic junction, big hump. Rolf was fond of abstractions to express complex processes. Yes, get the head on, was her general directive for the session. That said, there were discrete elements to the process that proceeded in a rough order; not always exactly the same because of individual anatomic differences but the relationships to be addressed were quite constant.

LAH: That makes sense.

JS: So yes. Her objective was really in the geometry, the math of “Is it on the ‘Line’?” “Are there horizontals?” And it was to get the head, as we looked at the person in profile, on the gravity line. Parenthetically, I’ve got problems with how ‘the Line’ has come to be understood. She said, “It is a logo of relationship between the mass of the body and the mass of the planet.” It is not a thing. The Line is a logo for the physics of this relationship of the masses of the body and planet [logo as an identifying statement]. Rolf was explicit when she said the word logo! So, people have spiritualized the Line and tied it into some sort of high spiritual function. I’m not disputing the value of aligning along the centers of mass; of reaching down into the earth for support, and reaching for the ‘far stars’ as a kind of functional yogic (linking or yoking) practice. I’m interested in the spirit of the teaching, and the bridge between the abstraction and the event.

I’m not into myth-busting here. I just want to say that Rolf didn’t do that. She was looking for metaphors to describe the spatial order that she wanted to produce. The Line and the horizontals were two of the metaphors that she came up with. I remember at one point she was trying to describe intrinsic function and extrinsic function, and she said, “It’s something like putting a key in a lock. The key lifts the pin tumblers, and then the cylinder turns and lock opens.” She also said, “It’s like an armature in a field of an electric motor.” The armature spins in the field and a current is generated, and presto, you’ve got lights. She was fishing for these descriptors (in the time that I was her student) for the metaphoric way to describe what she was seeing, and trying to get it so that we could see it; to evoke our understanding.

This idea of the Line stuck. I wanted to ask, “Okay, I understand if I’m standing like this and I’m ‘on my Line’, what happens when I walk? Where does my vertical line go?” It’s no longer vertical because I’m now accelerated and the Line (as logo) is now leaning into motion, and is dynamic. The question of how we carry the concept of the Line into motion is under study as our work continues to unfold and we learn to teach movement more coherently. I don’t remember where those discussions went; I do remember being curious because the metaphor didn’t hold when we put the body in motion. This line idea created a static nature to Rolfing order which, and for this we got critiqued. Without the distinction of ‘Line in motion’ we could be guilty of producing a kind of rigid, very straight individual, but not somebody who could run, jump, and dance.

LAH: I like the math quality of the Line; I can see that this is a mathematical line and a line rooted in physics. She was obviously thinking about physics with the Line metaphor.

It’s a functional quality that is expressed in this abstraction of a line; it ain’t a thing, it’s a vector.

LAH: That makes sense to me. And I do hang in the spiritual meaning of the Line too. I feel like I have both.

JS: She used to say it like that. This is the spiritual piece: she said, “Look. Imagine that the Line goes through the center of mass of the planet, through your body, out to the far stars.” This is about relationship, I’m on the ground, I’m here, and I have a vector that goes through the center of mass of the planet, and out to the far stars. As a working meditation it works. We come to know our size in the universe, and our place here on earth.

When Rolf would do neck work before the Seventh Hour, would she just focus on lengthening? I know I just have a simple idea in mind about her, that she would just keep bringing the pole away from the sacrum.

JS: Her neck work prior to Seventh Hour usually looked like broad strokes on the superficial fascia, the platysma. She would often put her fingers up under the occiput and appear to be wrestling with getting the head on better. By this time in the Ten Series, the preparation is in place to be able to put the head on. Rolf also emphasized that at the Seventh Hour, two things emerge: this is the time when you put the head on, and this is also the time when you run out of ‘Recipe’ about halfway through seven.

One distinction she did not emphasize was the relationship between the neural and the visceral elements of the head. In her Recipe, the intraoral work was aimed at putting the head on. Rolf emphasized that faces were resultant of necks, and she did try to relate the face to the neck. But she didn’t talk about faces as a compartment that belonged with the gut. The maxilla, mandible, clavicles, and ribs all coming out of the same layer with the gut side of the embryo, the vault and the spine are the other side with the primitive notochord (see Figure 1). So that’s why I think of faces as the gut side of the head, because of looking at those embryo pictures. And I would think, “No, grandma didn’t make that distinction. She didn’t frame it like that.” Although, she pointed out that she didn’t actually have a way to say what she was looking at.

LAH: So, when Rolf did Seventh Hour work, did she camp out at the head?

JS: She would sit down at the head of the table to start a Seventh Hour. And the only time she would leave it was at the end of the session. She’d rotate around and do a pelvic lift – not sacral balancing, just a good old pelvic lift, drag the sacrum down. Then she’d have the client sit and she would get up on the table and hold the head [from behind and above the client] and translate it to see if she could see a translatory wave go through the spine. My later understanding of this ‘test’ is to evaluate the capacity of the spine to do what I call fish or lizard movement. She demonstrated this and we learned to do it. It is only now, some fifty years later, that I was watching a gecko go up a wall, and had the thought.

Figure 1: Neurocranium (A) and viscerocranium (B). (From Plastische anatomie: Die konstruktive form des menschlichen körpers by S. Mollier. Munich: J.F. Bergmann, 1919.)

LAH: Wow.

JS: Literally put her hands, like the ear would be right here between the middle and ring fingers, and she would then move the head side to side like that. And if it was good, you see this . . . [bobs his own head left and right in a soft manner]. It’s like that gesture of Hindu people, or Manipuri dancers. So, these were the standard bits from Rolf, she’d stay on the head. Her rule was you exhaust the possibilities of working outside of the oral cavity before you go in it. Her work was on the cranial fascia, some attention to the sutures, but not a great dwelling on them. Muscles of facial expression outside, and then muscles of facial expression inside the mouth, then tongue, palate, nose, balance, and then out.

LAH: I’ve heard you speak about how you think of the goal ‘to put the head on’ can be addressed earlier in the Ten Series, that you have preparatory work you do before the Seventh Hour. What leads you to do it that way and where in the Ten Series do you do this work?

JS: What came over time, first I followed the Recipe until I thought I knew what I was doing, and I was working rurally which led people to present [with things like] “I put my back out cutting wood.” What evolved in my mind was that by the time I had finished the third session, I knew what I was going to do in seventh session, because I was looking at the whole body. And I began to think, “I’ve got to find a way to get that head on, and if I don’t start here, I won’t be able to do it when I get to seven.”

So, knowing the road in a sense, the big goal of the series was to optimize spatial organization. The journey was tense here. Rolf used to say, one of the hallmarks of maturity is a shift from goal-orientation to process-orientation. Each session then, you already knew where you were going, but you had to do the steps in order to get there. At one point I was struggling with the Eighth Hour question which is, “Is it an upper or a lower session?” You know, the famous fork in the road. Mind you, the Recipe is gone at this point. She said that mid-seven it becomes really client-specific, not formula-specific; my words, not hers, but that was the implication.

I began to see people early in the series and I would think, “I can’t do a Seventh Hour until I do a full shoulder-girdle clearing,” because the arms are impinging so heavily on the neck. That if I don’t (in a sense) deviate from the Recipe, I won’t get that head back on in the seventh session. This particular piece wasn’t in the Recipe, this differentiation of the girdle from underlying structures. Yes, you got some of it in the third session. Yes, maybe fifth hour you’d get up into the pectoral fascia, but there wasn’t a specific arm, scapula, clavicle session. The work needs to address how the ‘yoke’ relates to the rib cage and is wrapped around the back of the neck.

With some people I began to do in the Seventh Hour [timing in the series] more what might look like the upper Eighth Hour. That preparation then should allow the next session, the classic Seventh Hour, to have better integration. So, I switched seven and eight if the girdle called for it. That was the first breach of the Recipe. It works better if you do it this way with some people, meaning you could get the head on better if you took the time to detail the shoulder girdle first. Then I would do the ninth session, which was connecting across the girdles, and then Tenth Hour put in the horizontals.

LAH: That makes a lot of sense.

JS: The second deviation from the Recipe was based on an observation in my Advanced Training, Rolf would line everybody up when we were going to trade sessions and she would put us in order of the best head and neck order to the worst. “Look at so-and-so. His head is really beautiful. Now look at Jan, he just doesn’t have his head on.” I got to be low man on the totem pole over and over. I didn’t take that personally or like an insult. I had damage; I was hurt. I could count the injuries, blows to the head and heaven knows what. I was a rough and tumble guy as a kid, so I collected injuries. So she would line us up like this prior to our Fourth Hour, and she would evaluate everybody’s legs, and grade our available support.

In those days we didn’t talk about genu varum (bow legs) or genu valgum (X legs). She would sometimes say, look these legs don’t match. You’ve got to get the hinges in. You’ve got to get the inner lines of the legs open into the pelvic floor so the legs are connecting from below. We would do the Fourth Hour on each other, and then we would all line up again. Universally, what would emerge is that the heads and necks appeared better organized, right across the board, no matter how crappy the legs were at the outset, no matter how complicated or relatively simple the legs were, the necks got longer. And that started an inquiry that took twenty years to understand . . . Could it be that the visceral compartment is dragging on the neck? That forward-head posture might be a prevertebral and visceral event? Over time then I began to think about the relationship of internal space to the visceral space of the neck and the head.

LAH: Do you mean you began to think of the embryological space?

JS: Yes, that embryological bit. That’s when I realized the Fourth Hour should include introductory Seventh-Hour work in most people – tongue and palate, and some of the digastric, the mylohyoids, and the floor of the jaw, all the way to the collar bone and down into the first and second rib. It is important to carry the fourth session into this area because it makes structural sense, and even without anatomic understanding, the client will report neck relief. The prevertebral length happens when the gut opens all the way through from the pelvic floor into the jaw. After that, you had a very elegant look for the neck and head. I began to understand that Rolf’s unique approach through the inside of the legs was in fact visceral work. Not organ mind you, but visceral fascia and suspension of the celomic sacs.

In my notes, Rolf said, “Never leave someone after a Fourth Hour.” It was deemed essential to do the Fifth Hour fairly soon because they will be vulnerable. Over time experience reinforced this idea that Fourth Hour had to lead directly to Fifth Hour in order to get the integration to carry from the pelvic floor up into jaw and face as the upper pole of the visceral layer – which includes the complex of the pelvic floor, respiratory diaphragm and thoracic outlet. Once you got across those two sessions, then people’s backs got stable again. When I started drawing session four all the way up into the viscerocranium, no more problems after session four. That was like the pelvic lift of the Fourth Hour, only it was the face.

These two changes – (1) taking the Fourth Hour to the face, and including intraoral work and (2) the possibility to do a shoulder-girdle session before you tried to put the head on (switching sessions seven and eight) – for me forged the practical sense of doing the work. One of the markers that would let me make this choice was the look of somebody before session four. You’ve had three hours with this person, so by then you should already have a sense about these two questions and whether it applies to them. You got a sense of where you’re trying to get and maybe a sense of what is possible – not the limits, but just the general road that we were going to go on.

LAH: Sounds logic driven.

JS: Logic and experience, it’s empirical science. I tried it this way and it worked, I did it again and it worked. Now I have to go back, if I’m going to do real science, I have to explain why it worked, but I don’t have to know why it worked. I have to know that it works first and then I can ask the right science questions. Research follows empiricism, it doesn’t lead it.

LAH: I have a question about therapeutic relationship, how do you introduce face and intraoral work to a new client to put them at ease?

JS: Okay, first let’s talk historically. In the old days, what you used to hear is, “Oh, you’re the guy who puts his finger up people’s noses.” That was the most intrusive thing that we did. People will tolerate intraoral work, but when you put on a glove and say, “I’m going into your nose,” you universally get a sort of vigilant person saying, “Really?” And in fact, it was pretty intrusive the way we did it. Rolf would say, you got to put your little finger in there and open the third meatus flap, which in some people is the covering preventing the sinus draining into the back of the nose. To get that high in the nose and to be able to then rotate your finger, just so, to lift that little flap . . . And I’m going to say that at least two in ten people, roughly, that flap over the upper meatus is closed, because when it comes loose there’ll be a crepitus sound. It is not a pop like an articular cavitation but rather almost like a tearing sound, but it is not ripping. It’s just glued with old cruddy mucus stuff. But in any case, to get your finger far enough up someone’s nose to reach the upper meatus, in some people this is too much.

LAH: Have you ever had the nose grip your finger? Just a squeeze and then it lets go?

JS: Yes. And I want to make a parenthetical comment here. There was an old Jimmy Cliff song where he was going on about being angry with something that had happened in his environment. Roughly I remember the song going like “I had my nose opened, that’s no lie.” Jimmy was talking about being mad. And I thought, anger in the nose. So, I started paying attention, when I put my fingers into people’s noses, about the capacity to flare those nostrils like you see in those Chinese dragons where the nose is big, that’s a war gesture. Look at the haka dance of the Maori, that is part of battle preparation – noses open. When your nose is open, it is because you want to smell everything that is going on around you. A flared nose is also part of battle fury, this particular demon energy, it’s like, “I’m up, don’t start with me.”

Part of what I think about noses is this long chain of ideas. In that aha, I started changing how and what I did with myself when I put my figure up someone’s nose. And I made sure that I wasn’t imitating or mirroring those energies. Rather, I focused on creating a much calmer center. I didn’t often share this with clients, to come back to your question. I talk with clients about successive inflammations that tend to plug up the nose, and how it’s better if we got these nostrils open, to have the sinuses open, then the head will function better. I’ll tell them they’ll have a better sense of smell. Some people have a certain amount of emotional charge that’s locked up in the nose, it may be tied to very primal stuff, which leads back to that flaring the nostrils that you see in the Chinese dragon.

LAH: I can feel that in my body as you describe it, I can feel that open flaring anger possibility, it does feel primal.

JS: So, these are observations along the Rolfing road. Rolf didn’t hang out on the head in any other session the way she did in the Seventh Hour. She did seem to do a certain amount of preparation work, which would be largely the deltoid fascia into the jaw, successive journeys into the scalenes. She didn’t talk about the articulations of rib one and two, and she didn’t make the distinction of the difference between first and second rib with the rest of the rib cage.

When we got to Sixth Hour, she began to talk about Seventh Hour. The Sixth Hour, it was framed largely as a recapitulation of the leg work organizing the sacrum and the spine. This was the practical part; she didn’t have much theory about this. With somebody in a prone position – and back then I didn’t have words for it when I saw it – she would just differentiate the lamina groove from the costotransverse junctions. I saw her do rib work. I saw her put her elbow in the lamina groove. I saw her “organize” the erectors, working with erector tonus, but her language wasn’t the same as what the structure was. Later I came to understand and differentiate: that is costotransverse work, that is laminar work. Think: this is the lateral border of the erectors, the sacrum. The sacrum doesn’t just sit there, the sacrum articulates, counter-rotates. She was addressing these relationships in the sixth session. A lot of times, her Sixth Hour would actually start at the groin, at the anterior superior iliac spine and work down the legs, then she’d flip them over and work the other way from the calcaneus to the sacrotuberous ligaments. Then she would “organize the sacrum,” – there’s that word ‘organize’ again, a high level of abstraction. Nonetheless, she would do this work running up the back, this was preparation to put the head on in the seventh session.

Rolf’s Seventh Hour, she would sit at the head of the table and go to work on the fascia of the external aponeurosis, beginning to really render this tissue to have better continuity of tone. She would work on the forehead and face, the wrinkles, the habitual patterning of people’s facial expressions. She’d get into the cranial structures, into the occiput, and scrape where the trapezius comes up and inserts on that big wad of aponeurosis at the base of the skull.

Now we can talk about her oral work. From my notes at the time and in my remembering, Rolf’s introduction to oral work had basically three phases:

1. Muscles of facial expression inside the cheek but outside the teeth. She would say, “Get the lateral pterygoids as part of the work at the mandible.”

2. Open the mouth to work the tongue, with one hand inside the mouth and the other hand simultaneously supporting the floor of the jaw – making the tonus balance side to side was the best I could describe it.

3. Then she turned her hand and addressed the palate.

Once that intraoral work was finished, she put on the gloves and did the nose. She had very specific techniques for the nose, the way you were to turn your hand and how you controlled your pressure. You were supposed to do all the finger work from the elbow so that the whole hand worked as a unit; you’d turn the elbow to turn the finger, you wouldn’t just turn your wrist. There was this whole orchestration of how to do nose work including getting into the upper meatus. Depending on your client and the size of your hand, this work is more or less intrusive.

Once that was done, then there was the suboccipital space while they were still lying down, but she would begin to work to get the head on by getting her fingers into what had to be the atlas. She’d reach into that space between the ramus of the mandible and the mastoid, hook her fingers, and then have people nod and lift – do the very slow yes nod. The first phase of the chin moving inferiorly would open the posterior space. The second phase, she would lock the atlas and have the person nod down again while she pulled the atlas posterior. This would be repeated a few times. I want to say parenthetically that I saw two cases of Bell’s palsy induced by this technique.

LAH: Oh wow, was it a temporary state of it?

JS: Yeah. One was a guy whose photograph I saw a couple months ago on Instagram and his face is still slightly asymmetrical. Having seen Bell’s palsy induced twice, I thought, “I’m not doing that technique . . . I will modify it.” It actually led me down the road of being able to deal more coherently with the atlas-occiput relationship. But at any rate, she would do this nod and then she would do the pelvic lift.

Then she would sit the person up, square on their tuberosities on the side of the Rolfing table, and she would climb up on the table, standing behind the client ask them to bend forward and do traditional back work. And as I already described, she would get a hold of the head with that translatory movement and she would look to see if a translatory wave would go through the spine. This is a very interesting functional test because, for one thing, it is not flexion/extension. It’s actually lizard movement, it’s the way a lizard goes up a wall, it’s the way fish move in water.

LAH: That’s what I was thinking, like a fish moves through water.

JS: Our cold-blooded neighbors, lots of them share this lateral movement: snakes, lizards, fish. This is what she was testing for. She didn’t say these words, Lina, but when I look at it, I think that’s what she was doing. I think she had an instinctive sense for this, but didn’t have the verbal articulation.

LAH: I hear you do profound tongue work; your reputation is that your tongue work is very thorough. It makes me wonder what you’re doing because I know my tongue work is simple.

JS: Well, it also rests in the person who is receiving. I probably had seven full hours of work from Rolf over probably two to three years of the time I was in classes with her. I’d get selected as the one she wanted to demonstrate the Seventh Hour on, and I remember around the fifth time I was called to have her Seventh Hour, she said, “Jan, come up here, I want to demonstrate.” I said to her, “Are you aware that I’ve had four sessions on my head already?” And she looked at me, and she looked to the class, and, she said, “Look at his head.” Away we went.

Okay. She did tongue work a very particular way. What I got was that there’s a raphe in the middle of the tongue, which is like a hard aponeurosis in the midline, a stable, vertical plane. One time I got a tongue from the butcher and I said, “Cut that thing down the middle; I’ll buy it, but I want to see what’s in the middle.” And sure enough, there was this tough membrane, which allows the tongue to make its folding gestures. The tongue articulates around this midline, which is a plane. What I felt when Rolf worked on me was that she would reach into my mouth and position on top of the tongue where it started to go inferior into the larynx, and she would bring her other hand up underneath in front of the hyoid bone. She would drive until she had that raphe between the inside hand and the outside hand. Then, the hand on the inside was the anvil and the hand on the outside raked that tissue from back to front. When you watch it done, it looks like the inside hand is scraping away at the tongue, but, in fact, the inside hand is the fulcrum and the outside hand is coming up underneath and working between them, gradually moving forward. The hand in the mouth is slightly anterior to the hand that’s in the floor of the jaw. So, it’s like pushing a wave from back to front. She said not to push the tongue back into the cavity because people can’t breathe when you do that. Tongue work is very specific, it goes back to front. This technique is primarily for the tongue, almost exclusively. If it is done right, it will get a change in tone that is big. It addresses the neurology that terminates in the tongue. The tongue is so busy neurologically that I am certain that you have a hold of the brain when you’ve got somebody’s tongue.

LAH: Yes, I believe that, several cranial nerves terminate there.

JS: Glossopharyngeal (CN IX), one of the big boys.

LAH: And the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII), vagus nerve (CN X); tasting is facial nerve (CN VII) and the lingual branch of trigeminal nerve (CN V). Do you ever grab the tongue and pull it out to get at the lateral aspects?

JS: Nope. I might occasionally go on the side of the tongue and underneath toward the digastric side and work there. Again, always in concert with a hand on the outside, supporting what my inside hand is doing. I would never have a finger in the mouth that worked without the other one, including on the muscles of facial expression. One hand is inside the cheek, the other one is anchoring the cheek outside and they are working together – otherwise you got no architecture to do the technique. So yes, you sometimes do the sides of the tongue underneath. Remember, when you see the tongue at the butcher, that is only the top quarter of the structure of the tongue that’s in the mouth. The rest of it is this huge muscle that sits back in here [indicates hyoid region]. So at least, let’s not suffer from the illusion that the tongue just sits there: it is practically the whole front of the neck.

LAH: It is so thick. All the other muscles of the face are paper thin, the tongue is meaty. I’ve been meaning to ask you; how did Rolf approach the palate? How do you approach the palate?

JS: Okay, what I’m speaking of then is a little bit of a meld [blend, mixture] between me and Rolf. Her palate work essentially was aimed at widening the palate. She had a very particular technique, essentially her forefinger would be the working tool and she would cross the midline [I do not cross the midline]. So, if I was sitting at the client’s right hand, I’d be working on the right side of the palate, literally shaping the palatine and the maxillary part of the palate. And she would do one side then the other [crossing the midline]. Never did I see her put two fingers to contact both sides of the palate at the same time.

LAH: She was thinking bone? Now we might think about sutures, nerves, vascular tissue, but she got all of this directly talking with bone?

JS: Widen the palate, that was it. As I began to play with it, before I learned cranial work, I realized that there were three kinds of palate: one was a broad, wide palate, another was a palate that had almost a bony ridge down the center, and the third type had a high fissure like a cathedral. The latter two went with more narrow craniums and beak-like noses. I think these things are in the gene pools. Weston Price demonstrated the effect of quality of food on the development of these structures in the embryo. In any case, everybody in the gene pool that has a beaky nose and a narrow skull has that midline palate ridge. I began to wonder if those were variants of normal rather than pathology and normal.

So while Rolf mostly widened the palate, if someone already had a broad palate, you didn’t do much; with a narrow palate, you worked at them. What got me was finding palates where one side was narrow and the other side was wide. And this, again, was on the way toward cranial work but before Upledger came in to teach the faculty at the Rolf Institute®. He came in 1982-1983 and taught the Rolfing faculty, which broke it open for us. But before that, I was curious about these palates that didn’t match side to side. Typically, I would think you wanted to widen the narrow one and leave the wide one where it was. So, people would get quite a bit of palate work on one side.

I have to tell this story now, a teachable moment. It was when I was teaching an Advanced Training and I had all the practitioners, half of them lined up on the table and the other half palpating palates and doing a little palate work. I walked down the row, and did palpate work on every single practitioner. I’d show them things like, “This is how it felt when grandma did it to me.” I put on a glove and I put my fingers into this woman’s mouth and [when] I felt it I looked at her and she said, “Well, I had two rounds of orthodontics when I was a kid.” I was too big for my britches, Lina: I went at the boundary between the soft palate and the hard palate, I pushed up, and that soft palate went up like a quarter inch and her eyes flew wide. She sat up and grabbed her face and went, “Oh my God, what was that?” And I said, “Are you in pain?” And she said, “I don’t know, but I don’t feel right.” This started a whole nightmare of trouble for this person. It was unfortunate that we were in Boulder, because she left that session and went directly to another practitioner, who worked on her without ever contacting me to see what happened. So, the water was muddied [more] with somebody else’s intervention. I don’t know if I could have done better otherwise, but that was just the way it went.

But the lesson is, you be damn careful when you put your finger in somebody’s mouth. And when you get back at this transition of soft and hard palate, you’d better be very vigilant, respectful, and careful. I had my finger on her palate and I was speaking to the class who were gathered around, so I wasn’t paying attention the way she deserved. So, I tell this story all the time to say, my dear friends, don’t take this lightly, this is real stuff.

LAH: We can all learn a lot from that, thank you.

JS: Rolf’s touching the palate was firm, even aggressive. After she scoured my palate a few times, my teeth wouldn’t quite occlude correctly. It took a little while to settle in. But I was younger then and so I had a lot of plasticity; my teeth would move around and finally would line up. I don’t know how it would be now, now that I’m less plastic.

This is quite a trip around the mouth. This is all going to be on my mind next time I do intraoral work, especially the tongue work, I don’t think of the tongue as a go to place but I want to.

JS: Now I want to talk about psychobiological content and the tongue, I’m going to speak metaphorically. What is in the tongue? Most often what you find is all the things that were left unsaid, all the times in your life when you had something to say and didn’t. Maybe it wasn’t safe. Or if you said it, you were going to pay for it. Sometimes you said it and paid, and sometimes you ‘held your tongue’, metaphorically, and you ate it. When a Rolfer gets a hold of that tongue and begins to work this middle aponeurosis, frequently those memories come up. And people will practically spit your hand out.

In the old days, maybe clients had more expectation about psychological discharge. People would howl. They would cry so hard it was like they were crying at a funeral – deep, deep, sobbing. Other times people would come up mad. It was a little tricky as a practitioner to not take it in, not take in the responsibility for the anger. But still, often the person would look at you like you were the devil himself, or you were that person who terrified them or stifled them, or any of the ways.

And then, of course, we practitioners must always keep in mind, you could encounter tissue that experienced sexual boundary transgressions. Oh my God, the stories you may hear. I don’t even want to bring this in other than to say we use our trauma-informed therapeutic relationship at that point. The Seventh Hour potentially has lots and lots of stuff about boundary transgressions. More often with women than with men, but not exclusively.

LAH: Mouth work is so emotional: things said, things unsaid, dentistry, boundary violations. And attachment, the face is so relational. That’s my experience of being in the client role, absolutely psychobiological. So, when I’m in the practitioner role, I always have that in mind. Like you were saying, centering is key. It is tricky to not become the object of the client’s projection, to not let the projection stick to us while the work is taking place.

JS: Rolf alluded to this early on. She said, “When you go into a Rolfing session, you hang your personal hat on the hook outside that room. This is not about you. This is about the client’s needs.” My hat is off to Ida for so many things that she intuited. And she started this stuff in the 1930s, and so much of it predicted holism. The way she structured her work, I’m constantly in awe of that continuity. And I don’t think she gets full credit for this – how visionary and prophetic she really was.

LAH: This is so helpful to a Rolfer like me who is a few teaching generations away from Rolf. Is there anything that’s lingering that you feel needs to be mentioned to our readers?

JS: To the people who are reading this interview, who are in the position to teach this work, take my words seriously. This business of Fourth Hour into the face and often switching the Seventh Hour and Eighth Hour in order to make more space for getting the head on by getting the arms out of there, these are very important variables that should be introduced into the modern Recipe. They don’t have anything to do with the internal/external model, or any of the other refinements.

The key distinction is between neural and visceral, that the head is not a head, it is two bits: the pelvic floor to the face is the viscerocranium and the sacrum to the cranial vault is the neurocranium. I’d love to see this presented in the teaching across the SI field, because everybody who receives SI work will benefit if you follow these developments. I hope that people can take it in and realize that Rolf’s formula didn’t end with Rolf. The Recipe is a very useful tool, but it’s not a finished work.

LAH: This will be very helpful, the SI artistry that we all do in our studios, this is great information for all those decisions that we make there. Thank you so much for this interview for our Journal.

JS: Thank you, Lina, thank you for asking me to do this.

Jan Sultan’s initial encounter with Dr. Rolf was in 1967 as her client. In 1969 he trained under her. In 1975, after assisting several classes, Rolf invited him to become an instructor. After further apprenticeship, she invited him to take on the Advanced Training. Over the next ten years, Jan taught several Advanced Trainings with Peter Melchior, Emmett Hutchins, Michael Salveson, and other faculty members, collaborating on refinements to the Advanced Training. Jan currently teaches Basic Trainings, continuing education, and Advanced Trainings for the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® and to the extended SI community. He feels strongly that his responsibility as an instructor goes beyond simply passing on what he was taught, to include the development of the ideas and methodology taught by Rolf.

Lina Amy Hack is a Certified Advanced Rolfer practicing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Structure, Function, Integration.

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March 2021 / Vol. 49, No. 1
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