Pelvic Relationships and the 'Ten Series'

April 2023

ABSTRACT Rolfing Structural Integration instructor Lu Mueller-Kaul interviews colleague, Advanced Rolfing Instructor Tessy Brungardt, about how Rolfers® think about the pelvis throughout the 'Ten Series'. From wholism to specific session considerations, Brungardt reflects on challenges that students and Rolfers experience with various structures of the pelvis. The authors discuss the refinement of pelvis palpation and getting comfortable with the territory as a means to strengthen pelvic techniques at all stages of the structural integrator’s career.

Lu Mueller-Kaul: Hi Tessy, today we’ll talk about Rolfing® Structural Integration’s (SI) view of the pelvic girdle. I always recommend your continuing education courses and Advanced Training. There’s a lot we will not cover in this interview, like pelvic shears and torsions. Getting the full picture of how to work with the pelvis takes days of discussion and years of study. And the way you teach how to address those topics is straightforward and makes it almost easy.  

It Starts and Ends with Wholism

LMK: Let’s look at the bigger context. How do you talk about one part of the body, like the pelvis, and keep the wholistic paradigm in mind?

Tessy Brungardt: Thank you for the plug! So true Lu, when we think about Rolfing SI, we think about interrelationships, not separate parts. We understand it’s the whole thing. And yet, there may be a specific, very particular small thing that needs to be addressed, that is still part of the whole thing.

Our work affects a system, even when we address one particular area. We stay curious about how far those changes can reach through the whole. That’s where the power of our work comes from, not by the specific techniques you learn in a continuing education class, even though that is important. We have to keep our focus global, while we have a local action.

Regarding the pelvic girdle, we might even start with the local action because leaving that undone would interfere with the systemic order. We work with specific anatomical regions within the whole context. When we stay with the relationships instead of fixating on one joint, we balance the whole organism in gravity.

LMK: So, in structural integration, we start with the whole human wanting to order itself, and with our interventions, we are only taking obstacles out of the way.

TB: Human bodies are self-regulating and self-organizing, that’s what we focus on in our Rolfing SI framework. What we do is engage these drives. When we see our clients in pain, we observe their attempts at self-regulation in a disordered system. We all live somewhere on the continuum of order to disorder. We try to get our clients – and students – to spend more time self-organizing. Through our work, they start to understand how to feel these drives. So, we offer education. People become aware that they actually organize and align themselves.  

We work with myofascial layers and structures, all the way down to the ligaments, to remove the restrictions and all the happenstances of life that keep them from being able to self-organize better.

Supporting the Pelvis from Below

LKM: Good, then how would you say the feet and knees relate to the pelvis if we consider obstacles to alignment in gravity?

TB: First, let’s ask ourselves, what is ‘the pelvis’ in our work? Is it the innominate bones and the sacrum alone? Do the ilia form the pelvic bowl? From a Rolfing SI point of view, we think of the pelvic girdle to include the feet and legs, because they are not separate from the innominates, sacrum, and coccyx. If we look at a skeleton, we can see the ilium, ischium, and pubis come together with the sacrum and coccyx. We talk about the pelvis as if it was a distinct structure, but the myofascias of the pelvic structures are continuous with the legs and feet. As our clients learn in ‘Second Hour’, feet and legs profoundly affect the pelvis’ order and how it translates movement into the upper body.  

For example, high-fixed arches will create one system of organization in the pelvis, and low arches with flat feet will create another system of organization. Knee disorganization will show up in the pelvis. Pelvis disorganization will show up in the knee. We don’t really need to know where the issue starts, but we know that you can’t have anything going on in your knee or calcaneus that doesn’t show up in your pelvis – it’s directly connected.

There is a famous phrase from Rolf [Ida P. Rolf, PhD, (1896-1979)] that the whole job is only as good as the legs and feet. It’s the foundation. If you have a client who has had an injury, for example, a break in her fibula, we can assume she had to limp around for a time. Then we can consider the other side may be tighter due to carrying more of the weight while it was healing, causing a higher hamstring on that side. A tight hamstring pulls on the sacrotuberous ligament, which pulls on the sacrum. A person can end up with trouble on the other side of the sacrum that came from their broken fibula in high school. Eventually, it ends up there, or higher in the spine. We may not know that the first time we work with somebody, but ultimately there it is. The whole system is affecting the pelvis.

On the other hand, the problem might be very specific. You slipped on the ice and fell on your butt, and poof, there goes the innominate bone. It’s disorganized. So, part of what’s interesting about Rolfing SI is figuring out what is the biggest obstacle to self-organization, that’s part of what keeps it interesting, and then being able to do something about it.

LMK: To use medical terminology, we talk about the pelvis as the coxal bones (another term for innominate bones) and the sacrum. In Rolfing SI terms, we talk about the pelvic girdle, whose connective tissue starts at the tippy toes all the way up and over what we call the pelvis. Where would you say that territory ends on the superior part? Does it go to the lumbodorsal hinge?1

TB: Ultimately it never ends. It depends on how we’re thinking about it. We think about parts of the body from different points of view. Think of the sacrum, which is part of the pelvis and also part of the spine. Whatever the sacrum is doing will affect spinal patterns all the way to the head. But we can also think of iliocostalis, one of the erectors, coming from the ilium. Trouble from the pelvic disorder will often show up in the ribs where it attaches, influencing the costotransverse joints, and pulling on the ligaments to the front of the spine.

Now consider the anterior longitudinal ligament all the way back down to pelvic floor attachments on the anterior surface of the sacrum. From there, the obturator internus membrane fascia is again continuous back down into the leg. We can go back up via the iliopsoas and cross the front of the ilium this time, back to the spine. The psoas fibers interdigitate with the crus of the diaphragm, so we have a lot of influence on the whole visceral space when we think from a fascial perspective. Then the heart and lungs attach superiorly along these fibers above the pelvis. No matter where we focus on the fascia, we may name it a region like a pelvis, it is an arbitrary place because it is all connected as one. But we can’t teach it all at one time, as one continuation. We have to break it down into parts within the whole system, and then we can learn specific things about these specific parts.  

When we think about the pelvis, we have to consider all the organs supported from there, within the visceral tube. The jaw and the pelvic floor are the two ends of the visceral space, and so we often see changes in ‘Fourth Hour’ all the way up to the face, even the eyes. Just think about abdominal scars interrupting the whole thing!

LMK: Reductionistic thinking is probably necessary for beginners, but even there we see the pelvic girdle bringing support to the axial complex. If that’s all we think, just along the bones, we lose the principles of palintonicity and adaptability. Bringing in the whole visceral tube gives us a sense of depth front to back, and also up and down in that anterior space. So, would you say that the pelvic girdle is supportive and carries the Rolfing SI Principles of Intervention throughout the whole body?2

TB: Yes. There’s no way to take the principles out of Rolfing SI, they are one way that we describe the work of Rolfing SI.

The thing that’s brilliant about the ‘Recipe’ is that it tells you: start here; and go there next. Until you understand the relationships more, the Recipe is a good guide. The Rolfing Advanced Training goes to the next steps where you’ll design a series for client-centered work. Years of experience give Advanced Rolfers a deeper understanding to the connections and relationships. Just by doing the Recipe over the years, we find out what an exceptional piece of work Rolf left us. It keeps the practitioner moving within a clear frame, so you’re not overwhelmed by too many choices. Otherwise, you would think you have to do everything in every session; one session would be ten hours long.

Pelvic Considerations in the First Session and Second Session

LMK: When you start with a new client, what do you have in mind with regard to the pelvis and the relationships within the whole system?

TB: I start in session one thinking broadly – considering the whole body. The Rolfer is thinking, “How do I get the pelvis horizontal so that all systems can relate across the pelvis?”

LMK: Talk a little bit more about the idea of getting the pelvis horizontal, I’ve noticed how it confuses students as a structural goal for ‘First Hour’, as if they fail when there’s still a pelvic tilt.3

TB: Ah, then we need to talk about symmetry for a moment. We have the ‘geometric taxon’ that is part of our Rolfing SI theory. I often observe our colleagues collapsing that idea together with the ‘structural taxon’, but they are not the same. They are distinct from each other. The structural view has to do with tissue manipulation, mobilization, and with movement. The geometric taxon on the other hand is how we look at the abstract gravitational ‘Line’ as an idea around which people organize themselves. Then we can imagine horizontal lines perpendicular to it.

Some think there is an actual vertical line, but that’s not how I learned it. My instructors taught me that Rolf’s Line is an abstract idea that she used to measure order in the body, and then we can look for symmetry of the body. The geometric taxon helps us see this in body reading: the vertical line is the y-axis, the horizontal lines are the x-axis, and the z-axis of depth spans the front and back body. It turns out that the more organized you are in space, the better everything feels.

Within these ‘models of seeing’ that we use in body reading, with the Line model and the grid model, we can infer the horizontal lines, but there is no actual symmetry. It’s a dichotomy in our thinking that we have to hold. We’re seeking symmetry knowing that we’re not going to attain perfect symmetry, yet we’re still looking for it. Human beings are not symmetrical at the deepest level. The shape of our bones is different from person to person and even from side to side in one person. The innominate bones in some people are longer on one side by as much as an inch compared to the other. This is going to change the shape of a person at the waistline and you’ll never be able to get it to match the other side and yet the pelvis might be well balanced. Each coxal bone just has a different shape.

There’s a huge variety in the shape of the sacrum, whose profile can appear to be almost vertical in some people, while it appears horizontal in others. This changes the shape of the spinal curves. For the person who has a vertically straight sacrum, they are not going to attain the same shape when sitting on their ischial tuberosities as someone who has a curvy sacrum. Those two people’s pelvises are going to look different.

The horizontal pelvis is better understood as a relationship. It’s not a literal thing. Don’t measure from anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) to the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS) and say, “That’s a horizontal pelvis,” because it’s not going to be functional for different people. We’re looking for a sense of balance between front and back of the pelvis, more functional than structural, and more relationship than measurement.  

When that relationship from front to back emerges, so the pelvic bowl balances easily over the head of the femur, it tends to work better and people feel better. We are always working in that geometrical realm knowing that we can never attain literal symmetry, just like there are no straight lines in nature. The perfectly straight line only exists in the mind of a human. Once you get it down to its smallest parts, there are always wiggles. So, there’s no real three-dimensional symmetry, yet we can use it as an idea to help us do our work better.

LMK: That makes me think that the idea of the horizontal pelvis in session one refers more to a pelvic tilt than a pelvic shift.4

TB: In session one, if you can get some loosening around the trochanter and a little bit more balance in the hamstrings, that is sufficient for the First Hour because all of our work is proceeding through layers and layers.

What kind of work you do will depend on how much time you have to do it, and what’s available in the structure. Suppose you have ten sessions with the person and almost every session deals with getting the pelvis horizontal. In that case, it may not happen in session one, session eight, or session twenty-eight – it depends on how engaged the person is in changing. We consider questions like: how old are they? How healthy are their tissues? How much dysfunction have they had in their life? What’s their belief system about their pelvis? All of those things go into it.

The first three sessions are just the setup so you can go to a deeper layer later. To the new Rolfers, do your best job and then relax about it. This is a foundational part of the body, and the relationships go up and down through the whole system. It’s going to take a long time. The fact that we can get functional alignment in the pelvis in a ‘Ten Series’ is nearly miraculous to my mind.

But still, it doesn’t matter how many great techniques we try, a shift or tilt in the pelvis will get better, but it doesn’t go away. Part of that is because the client would have to change a lot – not only structurally, but functionally, biopsychosocially, and energetically. Tilt and shift are postural and functional patterns; they are unconscious, automated habits, deeply ingrained, in most cases from early childhood on. Sometimes ‘functional enough’ means ‘good enough to function well’. Still, there are cases when less tilt and more shift toward the imagined Line makes a big difference. That takes action from the client’s side and education from ours.

So first, in session one, we work through surface layers to get enough differentiation that things can move, and then in the Second Hour we start to help them to change it. We educate people in the second session about sitting. Many people don’t have sufficient structural differentiation to even sit on their sits bones [ischial tuberosities], and it’s not a lack of awareness. They just don’t have the structural capacity to do it. Differentiation and education often come in this order, since freeing up structural limitations, we are enlisted to teach a new behavior so that they can keep the change.

Addressing tilt and shift within the Recipe, layer after layer, we differentiate a bit more, then educate more. We work and work sessions one through six, or even much longer, towards more options in the client’s behavioral and perceptual patterns.

The same thing applies to a pelvic shift. You have to have enough differentiation and adaptability in the structure, so you work and work and work. Then you start to do the educational pieces as you get more differentiation. Shift and tilt require an educational component because they’re postural. They’re intersegmental and behavioral pieces as compared to intrapelvic mechanics. Those are intrasegmental, and have to do with the relationship of the bones, one to another. A person has no control over that. Intersegmental considerations in the pelvis require education to go with them to really change them. It’s really important to remember that if you’re a new Rolfer and you didn’t change the shift of the person in ten sessions. First, that’s okay. And secondly, try some education.

LMK: In regards to a pelvic shift, I like to use a mirror, and if they can sit or stand sideways to it and are able to turn their head far enough they can see the shift between one segment and the next, and they can learn to shift closer to their Line.  

TB: Yes, a mirror is an essential tool for Rolfing education so that people can really see. The internal perception, our map of where we are in space, we think that’s what we should have, but we don’t really know until we also see it. At the end of one of my first Rolf Movement® sessions, I thought, “Okay, this feels good, but I’m leaning forward.” Then, I looked in the mirror and saw, “No. That’s straight.” And that’s when I realized what I was doing before was leaning back. Visual cues really help us learn gravity orientation. And our clients need it. I have a full-length mirror in my office and I use it every single day.

LMK: I found that useful for my own body mechanics too, to just check what I am doing.

Focusing on the Recipe and the pelvis, how much do you want to work around the knees in the Second Hour?

TB: It depends on the person that you have as a client. If I have a person whose feet are very disorganized, I may not have time for the knees. If the person has a lot of knee trouble, or if they have sacral trouble, you might have to be at the knee.

Here’s one way I think about it: the hamstrings will have had work done at the superior end in session one, and maybe all the way down to the inferior attachments below the knee, trying to balance them side to side. In the Second Hour, we consider the hamstrings at the knee even more, particularly where the gastrocnemius tendons attach to the distal femur, crossing the hamstring tendons that go down to the proximal tibia and fibula. When you’re at the fibular head, you’re in the hamstring. So, the work around the knee, it’s the continuation of your hamstring work from the First Hour, and it has direct effects on the pelvis.

If I already know from the First Hour that the client has sacroiliac joint trouble and I found one hamstring much tighter than the other, then I was already planning time around those attachments and the relationship with the gastrocnemius and the popliteus, and all the way down. I’m also preparing the lateral line for the ‘Third Hour’ to come.  

Third-Hour Pelvis

LMK: Speaking of the lateral line, how do we avoid doing the same work around the greater trochanter in the third session that we already did in the first session?

TB: In an ideal world, you’ve loosened up the area in the First Hour superficially, so in the Third Hour you can go to a deeper layer, and that gives you new territory. In session three you can begin to differentiate lateral gluteal muscles and the deep rotators. By the third session, you know something about the person. You know the femur rotation, whether or not you work with Jan Sultan’s internal-external rotation patterns (Sultan and Hack 2022). If the femur is laterally rotated, then I focus on the lateral rotators. If it’s medially rotated, my focus is on the medial rotators. Don’t get hung up by the feeling that the lateral rotators are tight. Think about the structure in front of you. In medial rotation the lateral rotators can be tight and still stretched long, trying to compensate for that medial rotation. The best way to address that is to get the tensor fascia latae and gluteus minimus to relax so that the femur can start to move more easily in its long axis. That’ll provide ease for the lateral rotators. The reverse is true for laterally rotated legs in relation to the pelvis. So, the short answer to your question is: In the third session you can start to be very specific with the trochanter.

We are thinking deeper about the relationship of the whole leg to the pelvis, and we can address the pull on the iliotibial band from the tensor fascia latae and the gluteal muscles attached to it. The pattern in the deep fascia of the leg and the prominent femur rotation of the client is going to be all the way down the leg.

The other thing that’s important for the pelvis in the Third Hour is the work on the quadratus lumborum (QL). We work on the lumbar fascia in sessions one and three, but the QL spans from the iliac crest to the twelfth rib. It is all about the relationship of the pelvis to the thorax. It has the functions of bracing and stabilization for that continuity. Fixations in the QL will inhibit the person’s ability to organize how the pelvis relates to both femurs. And in general, people use the QL a lot, so we have to take our time with it.

TB: We work on the lumbar fascia in sessions one and three, but the QL spans from the iliac crest to the twelfth rib. It is all about the relationship of the pelvis to the thorax. Photo by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash.

Some practitioners are timid in that area. They’re afraid of hurting the twelfth rib. To get to it, a Rolfer needs to be relaxed and comfortable within themselves and with the client. Then, just take the time necessary for the fascial manipulation in the whole twelfth rib, QL, and iliac crest area. We have here the first access to the deeper core layers. The QL is a big, strong, deep muscle that requires a lot of attention if we want to get the pelvis organized.  

LMK: So are you saying we might see session three a little less as ‘the last sleeve session’ and more as the beginning of the core sessions?  

TB: Addressing the QL and twelfth rib complex is core. And it can be very sensitive in people. Sometimes, you just start to address the area, and you notice something that needs to change, but that may be as far as you get in the third session. When I teach continuing education and advanced classes, every person I encounter needs work in some part of their own QL. Usually, it’s up at the upper fibers, right by that floating rib.

LMK: The next time I teach Phase I, I’ll definitely help students get comfortable with palpating that twelfth rib.5

TB: If you know where it is, then you won’t work on it but at the inferior border of it, and then you don’t have to be worried. Even if you’re still not entirely sure whether you are feeling QL, you know you’re on it because that’s where it is. Just go ahead and work there as if you did, until you do know.

It’s so important to practice because it can be challenging even for Advanced Rolfers, to find the floating ribs. They can be buried under a lot of tissue and they have wildly different angles and lengths between individuals. Sometimes it’s right on the iliac crest.    

LMK: Remember that Phase III we did together, where there was one client with the iliac crest not only touching the twelfth rib but actually superficial to it? The tip of the twelfth rib on both sides was going inside the pelvic bowl.

TB: It does happen in my practice, but it’s uncommon. But nobody has a wide gap between the iliac crest and twelfth rib like the skeletons we have! It’s often just a finger’s width gap.

Pelvic Floor Palpations

LMK: Since we’re talking about difficult palpations – what other structures in the pelvic area are difficult for Advanced Training participants?

TB: Oftentimes there is discomfort around working with the pelvic floor, genitals, and sometimes contradictory ideas about appropriate behavior and techniques when working around the pelvis in general. I find that the most inhibitory factor is a lack of understanding of what you want to accomplish there.  

Some things are crucial about working around the ischiopubic ramus in terms of organizing the pelvis and the whole person in gravity. If you leave it out, it’s a disservice to the client because they’re not going to get something they need. They will get other good things from the other work, but people need pelvic floor work in particular because this is part of how you get differentiation of the leg to the pelvis.

What I see, across the board with Rolfers, is that if they find the obturator internus membrane a challenging area to touch, for all the cultural reasons, without a clear understanding of the purpose, they just stop doing it.

My advice to our readers is to understand why you’re doing these interventions in particular, which is to get differentiation from the pull of tension from below so that the pelvis can be more mobilized. Then you can get freedom around tilt and shift instead of staying stuck in one pattern. Also, it brings more ease to walking. To accomplish that goal you have to differentiate the pelvis from the legs, all those adductors that attach to the ramus are part of it. If you can’t get clearly between those tendon attachments, sometimes you can get it from farther down. But ultimately you have to help people have an awareness of that.

Plastic skeletons often have an exaggerated gap between the twelfth rib and the iliac crest. Photo by Ekaterina Kuznetsova on Unsplash.

LMK: Yes. I found it important to say to students, “Okay, we want the support from the feet we’ve established in session two to connect up the inner line, through the pelvic floor and to the front of the spine, then the whole upper body is supported by the core from the feet. And opening space between adductor attachments inferior to the ramus helps with a natural gait.”

TB: The obturator internus connects the pelvic floor to the femur, from the anterior sacrum, the pelvic floor hangs and attaches to the tendinous arch, a part of the fascia of the obturator internus. So, if your femur is not differentiated from your pelvis, that pulls on the pelvic floor. You are right to bring that up specifically because it takes it from the outside all the way to the inside, and this is going to profoundly affect everything that’s happening above.

What the femurs are doing relative to the innominate bones is going to affect the pelvic floor, then that’s going to pull on everything, it’s going to pull on the sphincters, it’s going to affect the iliopsoas. The pattern goes all the way up that way, any tension from the legs can affect the organs.  

Anterior Pelvis

LMK: Now we’re already getting to session five. And if we’ve skipped those pelvic floor aspects of session four, we can’t connect the legs to the front of the spine in session five.

TB: Right, from the head of the femur going all the way through to the anterior lumbodorsal hinge. Session four and session five could be just one session, but you can’t do it all at one time. So, you do the bottom in session four and then the top part in session five. They’re both about getting the pelvis horizontal. In four, you’re differentiating the thighs from the pelvis, and in five you’re differentiating the thorax from the pelvis. We ask ourselves, how do you get that differentiation from below and above, so that the pelvis can become more horizontal through the whole?

That’s one of the beautiful things about the fascia – access at a distance. You may or may not be able to touch everything, I can very rarely get to the inferior iliopsoas attachment on the lesser trochanter, but I can address everything because the fascia is everywhere and connected through to everything. If you can’t put your hand on a structure of interest, you put it in the next place over, pull on it and push on it, reach into it, and through rotation. Then ask people to do movements, you can get them to move it themselves and address the attachment that way. By working on the psoas higher or lower, then having them move their leg, they’ll do the work for you.

LMK: Let me see if you agree with this next idea. In ‘Fifth Hour’ there is so much focus on the iliopsoas, and people are addressing psoas attachments on the lumbar vertebrae, and they work on the iliacus fascia. Sometimes they miss the layers around and under the inguinal ligament.  

Pathway of the genitofemoral nerve and the femoral branch at the inguinal canal. Copyright Thieme Medical Publishers Incorporated 2023.

TB: Yes, this is another place where people are timid to work, the femoral triangle and the inguinal ligaments, they’re worried about the nerves and blood vessels. Nonetheless, that huge iliopsoas tendon is right there, and it’s important. And underneath is the iliopectineal bursa, which is right over the head of the femur and the acetabulum. Imbalances in the use of the leg and overuse can cause bursitis there, which often shows up as groin pain when it’s not mobilized.  

LMK: Exactly. And sometimes clients say, “I have tight hip flexors.” When I ask how it shows up, it’s when they pull the knee toward their chest. Thinking of introductory kinesiology, which should give the hip flexor muscle some slack. So why would that tension show up? I think it is because of the structures under the ligament, there’s not enough glide, and that bursa is affected, you have pretty much this buildup under the inguinal ligament.

TB: It’s important to work on the iliopsoas tendon below the inguinal ligament. Again, it’s being certain in your palpation. The inguinal ligament goes straight from the ASIS to the pubic symphysis. You know where the ASIS is, then go medial and inferior, that’s when you’re on the iliopsoas tendon. It’s more lateral than the femoral triangle. The femoral branch of the genitofemoral nerve goes across there, so if somebody says, “I feel a tingling,” just move off it by moving over a little bit. Go a little more lateral.

There are many people, for various reasons, maybe for tight muscles, sensitivity, or visceral fat deposits, you cannot get on their psoas from the visceral compartment. Even scar tissue can make that difficult. You may never get to that layer when attempting to work the psoas in session five. So, how do you address that? Become comfortable working at the tendon and the inferior part of the iliopsoas. You can have the effect upward from that access point onto the front of the back. You can address it through the fascia, even if you can’t put your hand right on the psoas that’s higher up.

LMK: Right. You can usually work the iliopsoas tendon, a little medial of the ASIS, then address diaphragm attachments from the costal arch, and you get an effect into the visceral space indirectly.

The Back Line of Sixth Hour

LMK: Next, let’s talk about session six. What can be challenging for our colleagues in the ‘Sixth Hour’?

TB: People are nervous about the sacrum, and the coccyx too. Sometimes they’re also worried about doing something wrong around the sciatic nerve or the sacroiliac joints when they don’t have palpatory certainty. The sacrum is basically hanging between the iliacus bones being supported by ligaments, that’s the whole upper body weight going through there. Imagine how tough those ligaments are.

LMK: Yes, you’re not going to mess them up.

TB: I teach students how to become comfortable, to imagine the thick layer of ligaments on the sacrum. They can’t even touch the bone, even if they can feel what it is doing. The sacrotuberous ligament is also really thick to the touch, and can take some effort to start to address it.

Palpation really is not easy sometimes, with all the different shapes of bones and ligaments. Finding where the PSIS is and knowing which side of the sacroiliac joint our pressure is on can be challenging in some people. Mostly, it is deeper than you think.

Rolfers often don’t take the time necessary to do the differentiation that’s going to be ultimately helpful to people. They get in a hurry to get things done and don’t allow the time necessary for the ligaments. And really, you can start in that area in sessions one, three, four, five, and six.

If people have back problems, which many of our clients do, you’re going to have to organize the sacrum relative to the pelvis – those sacroiliac ligaments are really important for this. I encourage our colleagues to get comfortable working on those ligaments so that they get any kind of adaptive capacity starting to emerge. It’s imperative to become comfortable with that.

LMK: Now that we have a textbook for our Skillful Touch Training [Phase I] that shows many of the basic touch techniques (see page 60 for the article about The Rolfing® Skillful Touch Handbook), we can dedicate more time to palpation practices as students prepare to learn the Ten Series in Phase II and Phase III.  

TB: The better your palpation is, the more efficient and easier your work will be. You are going to have a better understanding of what it is you’re trying to do and how to do it. You’ll become able to actually do the thing, instead of something close to the thing. Close is good, but precision is better.

People also have a hard time finding the sacral base, L5, L4, and PSIS. Practitioners will find it, then lose it, or they will find it easily with one person, but with a different body type not at all. In order to do effective back work for all the clients that walk through our doors, we need to adapt to the different sacrums. Practitioners often will end up on L5 and think they are on the sacral base, or on the PSIS instead of the sacral base. To be highly effective you have to have palpatory certainty. You have to practice it over and over, and this takes time. Try to attempt what you can and then build on that. Don’t wait until you’re good at feeling everything every time before you try to do something. Do what you can and then build on that.  

LMK: There are so many variants to sacral base, L5, and PSIS, we must learn from working with many clients. I often ask Phase I students to keep going around to different tables, feeling different structures, so eventually it doesn’t feel so weird anymore. It’s often surprising when PSIS is somewhere else than where I expected it, off by not just a little, but a whole hand width.

TB: The thing that’s great about bones in this regard is that they’re hard. Ligaments might be somewhat bonelike, but the hardness of bone is distinct. That’s the place to start in your palpatory certainty and move from there because you know what attaches to those bones.

LMK: For sure. I find it fascinating every time I palpate the sacrotuberous ligament in different people that it can go from almost vertical to almost horizontal.

TB: Yes, and that depends on how wide the tuberosities are and what is the angle of the pelvis. If the tuberosities are narrow, it’s going to be more vertical. If they are wide, it will be more lateral. It can be thick or not as thick, but as far as I can tell, it’s always tough.

If you are clear about what you want to do, your touch will communicate that to your client. Then you’ll be able to say, “Yes, part of your back problem is coming from a restriction of motion in your sacrum and this ligament here is very tight.” When practitioners have this level of confidence, their clients will be comfortable and, even better, they will understand.

LMK: If people are okay with finding the coccyx, what do you say about practitioners working to correct deviations?

TB: The coccyx has a synovial joint with the sacrum, which implies motion is not only possible but should be available. But mostly what you find is that it’s stuck down and held in place in some kind of odd way. Theoretically, it can move thirty degrees anterior, posterior, and side to side, but I’ve only encountered a few of those.

By the time someone becomes older, many ligaments are really tight, and many people have likely fallen on their butt and disorganized the sacrum. Or they have a baby, and their sacrum gets disorganized, or the joint with the coccyx gets sprained and even broken. Coccyx injuries are incredibly painful. People can’t sit comfortably, or at all, and they can’t walk easily. It pulls through the whole spinal system. They might end up with headaches. It is better to move those coccyxes if possible, loosen them up and ease them someplace more normal. If there is no systemic issue leading to the coccyx, it’s not at the top of the list.

LMK: I often tell clients all their joints should move, even just a wiggle, because the cartilage in the joint is only getting nutrition and hydration from the synovial fluid when it moves, most cartilage has no blood supply at all, it’s all from the movement of the fluid inside the joint. If that doesn’t move, the cartilage gets dehydrated and degenerates.

TB: It can fuse or become arthritic. The body does not make synovial joints for no reason. If there’s a synovial joint, it’s supposed to move. When we are talking about the highest level of function, the coccyx won’t be on the top of the list. But if you have an intransigent sacral issue and haven’t looked at the coccyx, you’d better do it. Remember that the sacrospinous ligament goes right onto it and is probably involved.

Intra-segmental Relationships of the Pelvis

TB: So far in our interview, we have talked about intersegmental relationships, myofascial relationships, and how to address them within the Ten Series. In our work we typically describe them as pelvic tilt, shift, and rotation. Also, I’ve talked about topics that come up in first-aid sessions and advanced classes because it all has to do with relationships.

In addition to all of those topics, the pelvis also has intra-segmental relationships. These are the relationships of one innominate bone to the other one across the sacrum and at the pubic symphysis. These are called torsion, flare, and shear. The innominate bones are supposed to move relative to each other and the sacrum in walking. Torsion and flare are normal in walking if everything is moving correctly. We don’t have control over those mechanics – it’s built-in. Just like the rotation of our femur as we bend and extend our knee, it’s built into the mechanics of the joint. That’s how it is with these intra-segmental relationships within the pelvis. Maintaining these movement relationships across the sacroiliac joint are really important for the basic mechanics of walking.

So, whereas the myofascial relationships have a behavioral component, these intra-segmental ones don’t. It’s just part of how the joint works in itself, in the relationship between the sacrum and the innominates.

Nutation, counternutation, and rotation are normal motions of the sacrum, and they’re built into the mechanics of normal motion. These come together as alternating diagonal axes called transitory diagonal axes, which happens with each step as we bear weight and this creates a torsion. With chronic use or with some kind of trauma (like slipping and falling), or sometimes one hamstring becomes tighter than the other, those intra-segmental relationships at the joint become disrupted. So there can be sacrum to innominate problems, or innominate to sacrum problems, or both. It can be complicated.

If the sacrum or the innominate bone or both of them are not in their correct place, not in their happy home, it interferes with the proper motion. Usually, this is painful for people, and it will disrupt the normal motion of walking. Unless you can address these intra-segmental misalignments and issues, you can’t get the gait proper. The transitory diagonal axis won’t be able to move back and forth, so they have to walk around that joint instead of through it, which will have implications all the way up and down the lines of the myofascial. If the sacroiliac joint itself is disorganized, all our myofascial organization work will have limited results.

There’s a whole series of techniques for assessing intra-segmental misalignments and then techniques for addressing them so that you can reestablish normal motion. Then all of our excellent myofascial and movement work can be effective because those joints can then move. Even if you do really good work, but you see that the client then still can’t extend her leg, probably there’s an issue in the sacroiliac joint, a fixation of nutation or torsion in the sacrum, or torsion and flare fixation in the innominate bone. There could be a shear as another possibility in either the sacrum or innominate. A shear is never normal and almost always painful, and you just can’t get around that. It needs to find its way back to its happy home in order for the joint to function. Ligamentous and joint mechanics is the next level to solve these issues toward normal function.

LMK: If the sacroiliac joint is not moving, you cannot have a natural gait and walk naturally. The support from the legs into the front of the spine will always get stuck in that compromised sacroiliac joint.

TB: Right. And it’ll hurt to move through it, so people move around it. Even if it’s not that painful, it eventually becomes like a gristle. And, it may not be sore all the time. For example, if an innominate is stuck in posterior torsion and can’t move into anterior torsion, that leg can’t extend fully behind them. So, they have to swing their hip around in order to walk and it can cause increased wear and tear elsewhere along the fascial line. Plus, it’s not very efficient.

LMK: In session four when we say to differentiate the adductor compartment from the quadriceps or respectively from the hamstrings, we’re really working out that septum. But if the actual fixation is in the sacroiliac joint, that’s still not going to help.

TB: It will set it up to be helped, and it will get some relief because usually, people are holding more than necessary anyway. If the whole pelvic region is really tight, that tightness will interfere with your ability to organize the joint. You will have to work through the layers. You have to do the myofascial preparation so that you can access the ligaments, so that you can address the joint mechanics.

After session four, you’ll see improvements, and you’ll get a real sense of how it is stuck. Then you have to start thinking, this is probably deeper at the joint level, and then that will have to be addressed. In session six, we are working on the sacroiliac joints, which are also tight in the position of disorder. By session eight, you might be able to address it. If that pelvic disorganization has been there for a long time, it’ll take a long time to work through the layers. The goal is to improve circulation in there and get the tissue juicier. Then, finally, you can address the deeper issues.

If someone just fell on their butt last week and you see this thing, you can clearly see and palpate the pelvic intra-segmental dysfunction, you can just put it back where it goes. It’s easy and it seems like a miracle. But if it’s been there for forty years, they’ve adapted around it. All the myofascial work is completely necessary in order to even access the problem. You might only be able to get it partly and then get the rest of it later.

People often ask when can you address these issues in the Ten Series? I would say, as soon as you can. But if it’s old, you probably won’t really be able to impact it until session eight. Maybe you can do it sooner, but you must work through the layers to get to it.

Pelvis and the Closure Principle

LMK: We covered a lot of ground about the pelvic girdle and from the point of view of the Rolfing SI paradigm for our Structure, Function, Integration journal readers. What closing remarks would you like to make to ensure the pelvic girdle is properly addressed?

TB: Closure always has some aspect of integration. We talk about the last three sessions being about integration, but the fact is, we are doing differentiation and integration all the time. With everything we’re doing, we should be doing it every time we touch a person. There will be an end to the actual thing we’re touching and that’s a closure moment. It’s the place where something happened and some settling happens where we go, okay, that is integrated. It feels better, more ‘right’.

As we are thinking about working on the pelvis, there are always more layers that we haven’t gotten to at any particular moment, there’s always more to do and you can’t accomplish the whole task at once. So, how do you know where to stop, when is time up? The answer has to do with working through the system on the places that are not congruent. Instead of working on everything, I suggest working on the parts that are not congruent with the other parts in the systemic view, and getting them to match better.

Once you get a few places to become more congruent, you will likely see something happen across the whole pelvis. You can manipulate the leg and see something has happened because that movement goes through, settles, feels better, and that’s the time to close that intervention. Time to hop off the ride.

Closure is not making the body patterns match perfectly, it is more the sense that all the parts are connected and match better in their tension, in the tonus, in the tissues, in the ability to move. We look for congruence in the whole body, signs of integration, and that’s the closure point.

LMK: Nice. Is there a specific way you address the pelvic girdle in the tenth session that might be different from other practitioners?

TB: It depends on what kind of session ten you’re doing. If you’re doing the classic work for that superficial layer of the deep fascia, organizing all the superficial fascia, putting the horizontals in, I include the pelvis in the whole-body stocking and just do that through the whole thing.

LMK: So when you’re considering the superficial layers in session ten and establishing horizontals, it’s not that you are doing deeper pelvic manipulations?

TB: Right, not for that type of session ten, which is the classic basic session ten, and is immensely powerful and wonderful. But there are other ways to look at the ‘Tenth Hour’. So, Rolfers may be doing something different and useful. For instance, you might work on the calcaneus, the sacrum, and the palette as your session ten, for a particular client as those three things may integrate the whole system for that person. But that’s a higher skill set to determine those things. You have to understand the connections and how they relate to go there, but that would be a more advanced way of thinking.

LMK: Thanks for allowing me to interview you for the journal’s Regional Study of the Pelvis theme. We have covered a lot of ground, I’ll give you the last word.

TB: You are welcome. My advice to our colleagues is to consider – just have fun.


Lumbodorsal hinge is a term we don’t hear much outside of bodywork schools, and medically it is referred to as ‘lumbodorsal junction’ or ‘thoracolumbar junction’ when speaking of the joints between T12 and L1. Rolfers abbreviate the term as LDH, the lumbodorsal, or even thoracolumbar hinge, which also gets used in yoga practices and other movement schools. ‘Hinge’ is deliberate rather than junction because we use the term more functionally than structurally. Or even energetically! So in some of our clients, the functional LDH may be between T11 and T12, or L1 and L2, we describe it as the transition from kyphosis to lordosis, or where we see more rotation in the thoracic vertebrae and a lot less in the lumbar vertebrae. Note that a less-used term, the mid-dorsal hinge (MDH), which is the functional peek of the thoracic kyphosis where most of the thoracic flexion happens.

Rolfing SI Principles of Intervention are adaptability, support, palintonicity, closure, and wholism, they are the foundational theory of the Rolfing SI and Rolf Movement Integration (Sultan and Hack 2021). Adaptability refers to the preparedness of the client’s body to receive order in the gravitational field. Support is Rolf’s principle that you can’t organize the upper body in gravity unless the legs are organized from below, to receive the body’s weight above. Palintonicity is about the human body’s nature to reach in two directions at the same time, specifically the head’s ability to reach upward and elongate the whole body from above while the feet, legs, and pelvis, hopefully, have ease and balance while relating with the planet. Palintonicity can be between any two places of the body, like how each arm can reach in opposite directions, opening up the spaces in between. Closure is the principle of giving space to the client that eases the end of touch and movement interventions, the end of sessions, and the end of a Ten Series. And wholism is the idea that every place you touch the body gives the practitioner access to the whole body, through the fascial network and the interconnection of all the tissues, a Rolfer is constantly working with the whole person.

Pelvic tilt is defined by comparing the levels of the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) and the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS). Still, we know that this can be misleading due to anatomical variances. An anterior tilt means the ASIS is more than ten degrees lower than the PSIS. Neutral is zero degrees to ten degrees ASIS lower than PSIS. Posterior tilt is when ASIS and PSIS are even or ASIS is higher than PSIS. Anterior tilt is actually not as easy to see as most people think, but posterior tilt is obvious – it’s people who even when standing look as if they want to sit on their sacrum. Within the internal-external model of seeing, we expect anterior tilt in ‘internals’ and neutral or posterior tilt in ‘externals’ (Sultan and Hack 2022).

Pelvic shift is when the whole pelvic bowl, seen from the side, is shifted anterior or posterior when compared to their knees and shoulders. There may or may not be a pelvic tilt with the shift, and an anterior tilt can show up with a posterior shift, or an anterior shift, all combinations are possible.

(LMK) I did teach a Phase I after this interview and we did a lot more palpation of areas that often intimidate students, including the tips of the floating ribs. Tessy will be teaching that group of students, I’ll be curious whether she notices a change in the palpation comfort of this group of future Rolfers.

Tessy Brungardt received her BA in environmental biology in 1976 from the New College in Sarasota, Florida. In her studies and following career she enjoyed exploring the interface of observing the natural world and the science of how things worked. Once she was introduced to Rolfing SI in 1979, she was inspired to take this exploration into the human realm. She became a Certified Rolfer in 1985 and a Certified Advanced Rolfer in 1988. Brungardt completed her Rolf Movement Certification in 1994. She also became certified to teach for the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® in 1994 and became an Advanced Instructor in 2002.

Lu Mueller-Kaul is a Rolfing SI Instructor with the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute since 2019 and coauthor of The Rolfing Skillful Touch Handbook (2022) with Bethany Ward and Neal Anderson. She mostly teaches Phase I courses, bringing physiology, therapeutic relationships, and Skillful Touch together so students learn an adaptable spectrum of touch skills while staying aware of the space they hold for each client. Mueller-Kaul began her journey as a licensed naturopathic physician in Germany in the 1990s. Along the way, she’s practiced acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and traditional Chinese medicine before coming to the United States to study Rolfing SI.


Anderson, Neal, Bethany Ward, and Lu Mueller-Kaul. 2022. The Rolfing® Skillful Touch Handbook. Boulder, Colorado: Dr. Ida Rolf Institute.

Sultan, Jan H. and Lina Amy Hack. 2022. Internal-external is a perception of the nature of structure: A post-Rolf point of view. Structure, Function, Integration. 50(2):36-42.

Sultan, Jan H. and Lina Amy Hack. 2021. The Rolfing SI principles of intervention: An integrated concept. Structure, Function, Integration. 49(3):16-24.


Ten Series; pelvis; pelvic girdle; Rolfing SI; wholism; self-regulation; self-organization; sacrum; innominate bones; coccyx; myofascial; Ida P. Rolf; First Hour; spine; viscera; lumbodorsal hinge; geometric taxon; pelvic tilt; pelvic shift; gait; Second Hour; adaptability; palintonicity; Recipe; Third Hour; Line; gravity; pelvic floor; Fourth Hour; iliopsoas; Fifth Hour; Sixth Hour; Tenth Hour; Principles of Intervention; intersegmental; intrasegmental; closure. ■ 

Article from edition:
March 2023 / Vol. 51, No.1
Purchase Edition

View all articles: Articles home