Monday, November 27, 2006


Recently I asked current and previous clients if they had any questions they would like to ask me about Rolfing in particular and body work in general.

Thankfully, I received quite a few...

One of the first questions I received was one of my favorites.

"During a Rolfing session, my stomach starts to growl. Afterwards, I sometimes get very hungry. Why is that?"

It is so true! Sometimes a client's stomach will want to get in on any conversation we are having. Usually, my client's are wondering, why is my stomach making such a racket? I always tell them, "It's a good thing!" Here is what happens and why.

Unfortunately, we live in a fight or flight world. Even though it isn't really necessary, we live in this self induced and culturally sanctioned place called "stress."

One branch of our nervous system is called the Autonomic Nervous System. This puppy is the brains behind the brain. I.e., it doesn't think so much as it acts.

The hypothalamus is the prime regulator of the The Autonomic Nervous System, or ANS. It's in the brain, and it's tiny. It may be tiny, but it has a tremendous impact on our bodies.

From the hypothalamus, you've got two branches of the ANS. One is called sympathetic, the other is parasympathetic.

The sympathetic runs tightly along the spine, and then branches out throughout the body. What does the sympathetic nervous chain do?

It dilates the eyes, thickens saliva, dilates breathing, stimulates the secretion of adrenalin, increases heart rate, and here's the kicker, decreases digestion.

Sympathetic = fight or flight.

And the lovely parasympathetic?

The parasympathetic branch of the ANS is responsible for the constriction of the pupils, secretion of saliva (How many times have I drooled during a Rolfing session or massage? I can't count them all...), decreases heart rate, and, here we go, increases digestion.

Parasympathetic = chill out.

So, often times, during a Rolfing session, we interrupt the loop of the sympathetic ANS. So our body which is often, too often ruled by the sympathetic, has an opportunity to explore the parasympathetic. Don't get me wrong here, we need the sympathetic. We just don't have to live there day in and day out.

So, next time you are on the table getting rolfed, and your stomach starts to growl, and damn that sushi sounds good, I say, indulge! Enjoy the new found freedom of parasympathetic digestion.

Recommended Reading.

Don St. John, Ph.D. (2006), Limbic Hypersensitivity and Structural Integration. (article from IASI Yearbook, 2006)