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A Conversation with Brian Joly

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If you've got a hitch in your giddy-up, rolfer Brian Joly can probably help. He's been offering the alignment-based bodywork style, developed by Ida Rolf in the 1950s, at the Nuin Center, in Highland Park, for the past three-and-a-half years. When he's not helping people learn to reduce their own pain by paying attention to their bodies, he's most at home in the great outdoors.

 

 

So, what's rolfing and why do people seek it out?

I like to say a rolfer is to muscle what a chiropractor is to bone. You're always asking that question: What's going on, how do they walk, how do they stand? Everyone knows Lance Armstrong spends six to eight hours a day on a bike. If I were to work in his hip area, it would be stiff. Many of us don't realize how much time we spend doing something really mundane. To Lance Armstrong, riding a bike is really mundane. To you, maybe typing is mundane. People also take an active stance in what they're doing ... their keyboard's too low, how you sit, things like that. Those are things I'm always thinking about. Sometimes I actually go to people's workplaces and watch what they do.

 

Do people set themselves up to get misaligned, to have pain?

Our bodies are how we present ourselves. We hold ourselves in a certain way and we just become oblivious. I see a lot of people not breathing fully. People think they are supposed to breathe from their abdomen ... that's great, if you're sitting in traffic and you don't want to flip someone off. People's upper chests aren't open. They just don't feel right. People get trapped into doing it this way. Variety is the spice of life. People get locked into one thing.

 

How is rolfing different from, say, massage therapy?

It's not about deep, it's about how you contact the body. Often I'm doing a "10 series," working on somebody 10 times over the course of months. I'm working from the ground up, the inside in. It's kind of like the princess-and-the-pea theory ... take the pea out from under your foot, you'll stand differently, your hips will change. The change won't hold without the foundation.

 

What kinds of misconceptions do folks have about rolfing?

Rolfing has a reputation of being painful. Anyone who's been rolfed, that's not what's going to come out of their mouths first. They aren't in that same pain. The reward is good. Rolfing doesn't have to be painful. A lot of people feel there's a no-pain, no-gain idea. People come in and think, "I gotta take this." That might be about how they feel about their body, the unconscious ways we treat ourselves.

 

How do you become a rolfer?

The Rolf Institute is in Boulder [Colorado], but there are people who teach all over the country. Each class is two months long. I lived in a rolfer's basement [there]. That was great. I got to talk with her about rolfing every morning and play music with her husband every night.

 

What did you do before you became a rolfer?

I've had 20 different jobs. I did asbestos abatement for three days. Too many. I have a creative-writing degree and half a master's in social work. I went to Pitt Johnstown. I was president of the outdoors club. That's a great spot. I play the guitar. I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll guitar player. That whole lifestyle, the nightlife, I can't deal with that. I can't stay up that late. I like to be up early in the morning.

 

So what do you do to relax and unwind?

Every weekend I try to get on the river somewhere. I kayak a lot ... I'm in a couple kayak videos. I ski a lot, both cross-country and downhill. I telemark ski. You're cooler if you telly. It's a hippie style. Telemark is a county in Norway. Back in the day in the 1400s, people figured out how to turn on those long skis. I can telemark in the woods or in a resort. You have different binding systems ... your heel is free. "Free your heel and your mind will follow" is a telemark bumper sticker. I spent a week in California doing deep powder. You can't do that with regular skis.

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