Awareness-Oriented Structural Integration and Higher Consciousness

By Edward Maupin, Rolf Practitioner
May 2024

Imagine someone has asked “how are you?” and he means it. You engage in a moment of nonverbal scanning – of your body, your feelings, your thoughts, your environment. That nonverbal scanning, expanded to a more sustained observation – that is meditation.

Hubert Benoit, paraphrased

When I read these words, I was walking away from the Detroit Public Library where I had just borrowed Hubert Benoit’s  The Supreme Doctrine (1955), which described the use of Zen meditation in his psychoanalytic practice. It was 1959, and I was a doctoral student in  clinical psychology.

Suddenly, I had a ‘beginner’s enlightenment’: I discovered ‘The Witness’. I could step behind my field of awareness and observe everything with detachment. My fears, anxieties, and embarrassments faded in the light of objective observation in the present moment. I could return to The Witness easily for the next few months, making profound discoveries that transformed my life.

At one point, I stepped beyond the witness state and entered an astonishing, nonconceptual realization of the body in the present moment – a body epiphany. I experienced the nonverbal existence of myself as body, an intelligent body that seemed antecedent to, and more fundamental than, my ordinary mind. At that point, I decided I wanted to find a method of body-oriented psychotherapy.

After I wrote my dissertation (on Zen Buddhism) and got my degree, I continued to look for body-oriented methods of psychotherapy. When I was invited to become a resident at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, I had plenty of opportunity to examine what methods existed at the time. Esalen was very body-centered. My own workshops were entitled, “Body Awareness and the Sense of Being.”

Ida Rolf came to Esalen in the summer of 1967, and I undertook a ten-session series. When she reached the inner-thigh work of session four, it was so painful I had to go into The Witness to deal with it. That was it! I had found my way back into witness consciousness which had not been accessible for a long time. I asked her to train me, and thus began my life as a Rolf practitioner in 1968.

Dr. Rolf was a material scientist; she approached the body as a surgeon might. Her work was precise, accurate, and sometimes it hurt like hell. She considered that the pain was an important part of the learning; but her goal was core alignment in gravity; and her hands were somewhat coercive in pursuit of that goal. She was respectful of emotional reactions, but she was not a psychologist. Core alignment produces a dramatic experience of integration (I remember feeling the integration of my legs during the standing foot work in session eight), but there was not much two-way communication with the body’s own awareness.

As a fledgling Rolf Practitioner I had much to learn about the organization of the body in gravity, and I found my clients and I were producing big alterations in body awareness. Don Johnson describes some of his experience in our sessions in the introduction to his anthology The Body in Psychotherapy. Other clients who had been out of touch with the body were having body epiphanies as a result of our work.

Gradually it became apparent that the focus on communicating with the body awareness was resulting in less painful, more easily integrated structural results. Not that I was alone in developing a more awareness-oriented approach – many others were moving in the same direction. My own steps included more articulation of the process of touch itself, which in turn led to an examination of my fundamental theoretical assumptions.

What Do I Think I Am Touching?

There are two levels of assumptions that need to be examined. One is the question of whether the body is a subjective being or merely an object to be manipulated. This suggests the need for an adequate psychology of the body, which will be discussed later.

The second is the age-old debate (in Western civilization) as to the nature of a human being: is it ‘good’ or ‘bad’? This is fundamentally a moral question, but it is one that dominates even our politics. One political scientist has suggested that American political debate takes place between two positions: the liberal position holds that human beings are basically good and deserving of nurturing support while the conservative position holds that human beings need force and restraint to function positively. The question emerges, in part, because of the Christian belief in original sin and the more recent (since the Renaissance) optimistic estimates of the innate goodness of human nature.

This may seem outside the subject matter of manual therapy, but there are many consequences. In raising children, the positive assumption leads to education (the root word educere means ‘to lead out’) that fosters the innate abilities of the child, while the other leads to more coercive ‘molding’. In structural integration (SI), the difference is between calling out the body’s own sense of organization or ‘fixing what is wrong’ by force. When I find myself becoming determined to break through some resistant tension by force, I have probably moved back into some form of moral coercion.

A Psychology of the Body

Dr. Rolf had an inner-outer model. She distinguished between the ‘sleeve’ and the ‘core’ – the extrinsic level and the intrinsic. The outer layer involves voluntary muscles that carry out the ego’s will by contracting. The inner, intrinsic muscles maintain an expansional relationship with gravity. This layer we must ‘let’ rather than ‘do’. In her view, when the sleeve is released and the core is able to balance on a vertical ‘Line’, there were changes in psychological feeling and behavior.

I think we can distinguish between two minds: the relative, conceptual mind of the ego and the nonconceptual mind of the body and deep psyche. We can infer awareness whenever there is reactivity. Thus we can say the body is aware on many levels, not all of which are accessible to conscious attention. What is nonconceptual is inaccessible to thought. Nevertheless, the body is aware.

There are two levels of the body-mind’s functioning of which one can become aware – the sensory experience and movement. These are where the ego can experience the body-mind. If the body therapist can assist the client to pay attention to the sensory experience, especially of touch, and also be aware of movement, then the work can bring the ego awareness into relation with the body-mind. It then becomes more possible for the client to be present in the body in the present moment – which is my primary goal in body-oriented psychotherapy.

Sensory awareness is fairly obvious, but movement awareness is a little more complex. If the client simply receives the work passively, this aspect is mostly lost. In SI, we ask the client to move in structurally accurate ways in order to produce changes in alignment. Dr. Rolf (1968) said, “Hold things where they are supposed to be and ask for movement. This is the law and the gospel of the method.”

But there is another aspect of movement: the ‘urge’ to move. In my search for body-oriented psychotherapy, I studied with Mary Whitehouse, one of the originators of what is now called Authentic Movement. In her classes, we learned to feel how our bodies wanted to move. No performance, no planning, this was simply following the body’s movement. It was a huge discovery, a sense of inhabiting the body and going along with, rather than forcing, its movement.

All of us have learned to ‘sit still and be quiet’. Years of school have taught us to curb the urge to move. Our clients may be inclined to lie passively and receive the work. But if they can learn to include the urge, the pleasure, of moving, it will engage the body-mind in a whole new way. This part of training the client will be discussed later.

Touch Communication

Touch communication is a two-way process. The practitioner needs to be receptive to what he is touching. The client needs to pay attention and let the body respond.

Touching to Know

The practitioner has three tools for getting to know the body – touch, pressure, and movement. Touch alone can be very powerful. Add pressure and one approaches the deeper muscular barrier. Adding movement, gently rocking the bones, for example, uncovers patterns of skeletal tension – how the bones are held. Touching the body in this way – receptively (rather than trying to make something happen) – engages the client and promotes body awareness.

Wherever one touches, there is a sort of barrier: go deeper than that, it hurts; don’t go that deep, and the contact can seem uninteresting, irrelevant. (I am not discounting the power of subtle touch in another context). At the barrier one can pause and wait to feel for the body’s response. As the barrier melts, the hands are guided to additional contacts. It is not that the practitioner has no goals: the theory of structure in gravity (the ten-session ‘Recipe’) guides us where to touch in the first place. Once there, though, the hands are exploring, feeling, listening for how  to proceed.

Training the Client

Naturally it is necessary to guide the client into this kind of communication. I use the following four steps:

  1. Pay attention to my hands: We do not want the client to drift off entirely. Reminding the client to pay attention keeps him/her in touch with the sensory experience even if it is accompanied by a rich reverie tinged with dreams, memories, and associations.
  2. Draw me in: It is an amazing phenomenon that we can mentally influence the flow of energy in our bodies. It is with this step that the client chooses to receive the work. Most clients can find an ability to direct the sensation of touch, rather like a sponge draws water. Women tend to find this receptivity quickly. Some men take more coaching.
  3. Pay attention to pleasure: At this point, we engage the body-mind. The ego awareness can pay attention and decide to be receptive, but pleasure is something that has to be experienced in the body. By pleasure, I mean any qualitative sense that evaluates the touch as positive – like an itch wanting to be scratched, or a movement that feels good. Pleasure, of course, is an ambiguous topic in our original-sin culture. Here we don’t mean sexual pleasure, but the multidimensioned richness of corporal sensation. Thomas Hanna called it ‘sarcal pleasure’.
  4. Use my hands to organize your body: This is the invitation to participate in the work and to help guide it. Again, it can only be done by the body awareness, not the ego mind. We assume the body has its own sense of organization that can lead the process.

These four steps engage the client in a full-scale participation in the project of reorganizing the body structure.

Awareness vs. Consciousness: Levels of Consciousness

Up until this point I have used the term ‘awareness’ for this kind of work. The term ‘consciousness’ is more complicated and deserves further comment.

The philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) was the first to use the word ‘consciousness’. His definition included reflexive awareness, awareness of being aware. But Locke was describing his own subjective awareness, which in a larger sense is only a level of consciousness. From the standpoint of higher levels, he was entirely in illusion; because, ultimately, the ego is an illusion.

In many spiritual traditions, there are descriptions of states of consciousness that transcend personal awareness. People have been experiencing and describing these states since the beginning of time. There is a fair amount of agreement about these levels. For example the terms samadhi in Hinduism and unio mystica or ‘mystical union’ in Christianity refer to an experience of the ‘Ground of Being’ in which the ego is suspended as a tiny drop in the presence of a vast ocean of Being. This can also be called ‘Divine Contemplation’ because the ‘Ocean of Being’ clearly feels divine. Whatever God is, it is a human experience, ineffable, indescribable, but divine. From this standpoint, ‘consciousness’ does not appear to be a personal faculty, but something divine that inhabits human existence.

Oscar Ichazo of the Arica School has offered a map of levels of consciousness. The map is consistent with other spiritual traditions. The upper levels he calls

Divine Unity
Divine Contemplation Divine Love
Divine Life
Empty Mind (entering the subjective mind)

These levels are quite recognizable when they occur. Divine Unity and Divine Contemplation are the experience of the Ground of Being described above. Divine Love is a heart-opening perception of the Love underlying everything. Divine Life is experiencing the present moment in the body without conceptual thought.

Consciousness and the Body

Below these upper levels of consciousness are deeper and deeper levels of subjectivity, more and more clouded by personal conditioning, cultural beliefs, and conflict.

It is my opinion that our work, and most psychotherapy in general, works to release tension in these lower states so that the client has increasingly greater access to the Empty Mind from which the higher states can sometimes occur. Empty Mind - The Witness. When Ida Rolf leaned on my inner thigh, I felt so much pain I went into the witness state. At that point, I could release the tension. With that I had also arrived at a point of insight into my holding pattern.

Ichazo describes Divine Life as a pure awareness in the body with “no thoughts in the head.” I suspect this is the same as what Zen Buddhism calls satori. What I have called a ‘body epiphany’ is, I think, an instance of this level of consciousness. What I remembered from my own body epiphany, I expressed this way:

My body is me: I am my body. My body is intelligent, responding in the present moment to the world it imagines it lives in (which can be distorted by conditioning). Where I center in my body determines my experience (Maupin 2001).

The experience itself was nonverbal, nonconceptual, and life-changing.

Once in a while, often in the aftermath of the first Rolf session, a client will have such a radical discovery. I have the impression that it is people like myself – intellectual, intuitive, not sensory-aware – who have it most dramatically.

I have not seen the levels of Divine Love, Divine Contemplation, or Divine Unity emerge directly as a result of SI, although they are real, discriminable experiences. They are said to be gifts of Grace beyond our control.

Meanwhile, in session after session, the touch communication leads our clients to release physical tensions and the psychological experiences they express; to become aware of the body in the present moment; and to reside more and more in the quiet of the empty, witnessing mind.

Edward Maupin is the earliest trained (1968) Rolf Method practitioner still in practice. A clinical psychologist (PhD, University of Michigan 1962), he is the author of a two-volume manual of Structural Integration, A Dynamic Relation to Gravity –  Vol. 1: Elements of Structural Integration; Vol. 2: The Ten Sessions of Structural Integration – both published by Dawn Even Press (San Diego, California, 2005).


Benoit, H. 1955. The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought. New York: Pantheon.

Maupin, E. 2001. The Body Epiphany. San Diego, CA: Dawn Eve Press.

Rolf, I.P. 1968. My personal notes from Dr. Rolf’s class in 1968. ■

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July 2018 / Vol. 46, No. 2
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