The Bahat Method
First chapter – recognizing support
The Bahat Method of touch and movement therapy, which I personally developed in the last 25 years (and I continue to develop it on an on-going basis), is a complex, wide-ranging, and profound method that is significant to the lives of each and every one of us in many ways (physical, emotional, mental). Presenting this method is best done gradually, and I welcome you to join me on this journey of discovery.
The Bahat Method of touch and movement therapy works first and foremost on and through the human body. The essence of the treatment is a process, which includes a significant support element that enables change (a change in health, a change in well-being, and a change in behavior and patterns that we developed at a young age).
To demonstrate the importance of the issue of support, I’d like to tell you the story of a real client of mine (I changed the client’s name to protect her anonymity):
Edna Becker arrived at my clinic after hearing about the Bahat Method from her friend. In the first session she said that she wants to improve her posture, and fix her lower back, neck, left shoulder, knees, and feet – all of which caused her chronic pain.
We walked down a few stairs on the way to my treatment rooms, and it was impossible not to notice the way her feet step on the floor. Her buttocks was flexed and clenched (i.e. it was protruding forward slightly), and her legs were shaped like the letter “O”. Each of her legs looked like a bow with the string stretched on the inside. She was walking down the stairs ahead of me and I could see that she only uses the perimeter of her feet – she doesn’t step on the whole surface of her feet.
Edna told me that she went through all sorts of psychotherapeutic treatments before, but the only touch therapy she tried was shiatsu. She said that she gained an understanding of certain sources of her problems, but never felt any changes in how she felt physically.
In the always-critical first session, I offered her to go through an integrative massage (I offer this to every patient), which would help me get acquainted with her needs and would help her get acquainted with me and my work tools. This massage enables me and the client to identify and recognize the extent to which he/she can let go and give up unnecessary tension areas in her body (hands, legs, neck, or any other area) where she is holding on. ‘Letting go’ is a key theme in the Bahat Method, and we’ll get back to it later on.
The integrative massage lets me and the client locate and recognize shortened muscles that hinder the body’s full range of motion. It is also the first time a client hears about important Bahat Method terminology such as coordinated work to open up shortened muscles (during which I put pressure on the muscle’s outer layer, while the client, as she notices the heat that’s being generated, starts moving the closest joint in order to flatten the thickening of the muscle’s outer layer that happened as a result of adhesions in that layer), and the terms adhesions, thickening, flattening and opening of fascia thickening.
Edna listened to my explanations and then I invited her to get up on the treatment table. I suggested that she remains clothed because it was her first treatment, and it is a better starting point from which to build trust.
Edna laid down on her stomach and I placed my hands on her back. I could even sense the muscular tension through her blouse. My hands merged with her back muscles and became sort of an extension of her back.
Even at this early stage, Edna could identify her connection with the earth, because she could feel that my hands and body (that are connected to the earth) are a conduit through which she is connected to the earth. Identifying this natural connection with the earth is essential for the treatment. Without it, Edna (or anyone else) cannot feel like they exist within their own body, or feel the support that’s always offered by the earth.
I started moving Edna’s body in order to magnify the feeling of connection with the earth. I generated a slight motion that began with my feet, then moved towards Edna’s back muscles, and then made it all the way to her entire torso and spine. This movement created the opportunity for Edna to feel her existence. Her body swayed on top of the table – the table provided support, she felt the weight of the body organs that exist within the movement. For the first time in her life probably (I’m being purposefully dramatic), Edna could feel her hip, her legs that are attached to the hip and sway with it, her back all the way up to the neck, and her head. She could feel herself existing within her own body.
Did you ever feel this way? Can you try and imagine this sensation? I continued rocking Edna. The process stayed the same. The swaying stemmed from my feet, which were pushing against the earth, and the earth was returning a push. The earth’s push created a vibration that moved through my body towards her body that was resting on the treatment table, which supported her body. It was a complete circle of pleasant containment and support, and of existence within our own bodies. In simple terms: Edna got to experience her physical existence, which is the most remarkable and invigorating sensation.
We both took a deep breath and continued with the session.
How do you let go of your hand? I took Edna’s hand and noticed, as I was expecting, her hesitation to give it to me. The hesitation and resistance stemmed from the fact that Edna didn’t know what I was planning to do with her hand. I asked her to remain passive, not assist me, and let me manipulate her hand without intervening, controlling the movement, or stopping it. “Let yourself be aware of the weight of your hand” I said. “Let yourself feel the weight of your hand just like you felt all your body organs being moved without your intervention.”
Another term came up at that point was: the center of the body. It’s a bit early to delve into this term, but the rest of the session with Edna brought the will and the need to discover and connect to the center of the body in a way that will enable Edna (or any other client) to feel their existence.
“In the same way I created a motion that started with my feet and moved through your body”, I explained, “I will create a motion in your hand so that you feel it – its weight and physicality.”
Edna listened and understood what I told her, but didn’t know how to actually do it – how to stay passive, how to let go, how to give up fear and the need for control. She wanted to “assist” me in getting her hand into the position she thinks I wanted it in, because that’s what she is used to doing. Learning to give up assisting and remain willingly passive is going to be quite a learning process for her.
I invited Edna to notice how heavy her hand is. “It’s like a ripe eggplant”, I guided her attention. “You pick the eggplant up and examine how much it weighs with a movement of your hand. It’s the same with your hand. I will generate movement so you and I can feel its weight and how it feels when someone else is moving it.”
My explanation helped Edna let go of her hand for a short and magical moment, during which she could actually feel her hand, but as soon as I moved her hand in another direction, to rest it on the table, she was quick to regain control and hold on tight. When I was “landing” her hand on the table she controlled the motion and laid out her hand neatly.
It is not easy to learn to let go in order to feel something’s existence. It doesn’t take place in the first couple of sessions. “Edna”, I said, “it doesn’t hurt when I take your hand and let it drop on the table. The lifting and the dropping of the hand will let you experience a delightful feeling of existence if you let it drop and not worry about laying it down properly.” And so she tried.
In later stages of her treatment process (so she doesn’t get overwhelmed in the first session) Edna learned how to let her arm drop to the table from the elbow downwards while remaining passive and relaxed. She learned how to feel that her hand will always be connected to her body through the shoulder joint and to the shoulder blade, and how the shoulder blade can “float” on top pf the ribs even though its connected to the body only via a single tiny skeletal point, and even though its connected to the spine and to the ribs only with muscle tissue.
The main thing Edna learned is to recognize the support she got from the treatment table. The table was always there for her, as an extension of the earth, supporting the weight of her body – countering the pull of gravity, which provides her a sense of her physical existence. Edna also learned how to recognize the fact that her hand is connected to her shoulder and therefore will not fall off when I drop it onto the treatment table. The ability to recognize these things is part of a key theme in the Bahat Method that leads to the ability to let go and trust. This ability is termed “recognizing support”. The next chapter will be dedicated to further clarifications regarding the middle, and to the beginning of the structural organization.
The treatments continue
In the following sessions with Edna, we made good progress to solidify her ability to let go. At the beginning, her ability to let go was a direct result of her experiencing support through my supportive touch, and my directing of her attention to the support the treatment table provides to her body and to parts of her body such as her foot by asking: ”how much does it weigh?” while generating vibrations.
Vibrations are very soothing because of their monotonous nature – the monotonous repetition of the same vibration to the foot relative to the calf is an experience that is hard to describe in words.
Identifying the skeletal structure – the bones
The next stage was about identifying the skeletal elements, especially in the shoulder blades and ribs area. The shoulder blade is mainly positioned on the back, essentially floating above the ribs. We can’t see it and we don’t have a clear sense of whether it even exists. What we can sense is the contraction of muscles where the neck and the shoulder intersect – the muscles that link the shoulder blade with the neck and the head.
A client that doesn’t know how to let go in this kind of interaction with another person, that can’t trust or give in, that won’t be passive, will, as soon as I try to demonstrate the structure of his body and the movement of his body, make the movement all by himself. That’s exactly how Edna was.
The access or key that worked for Edna was identifying the sensation of her bones. As soon as she stopped focusing on “what is he trying to do to me?” and started focusing on discovering the sensation of where her shoulder blade is and how it can move, what’s its range of motion, and how it feels, she discovered a new capability – being attuned to the existence of her shoulder blade even when I’m handling it. In other words, the ability to experience her body without operating it.
This new skill is partly thanks to her recognizing that her bones are in no way linked to mental aspects of her thoughts, nor to her emotional experience – her emotions (aspects that we do link with our muscles). She experienced her bones as something that is more primal – the self that is not related to abilities or emotions. This released her from the automatic response of tightening her muscles whenever she was being criticized and created the possibility of relaxation.
We ended up learning together how shifting your attention to your bones can completely transform the impossible into achievable.
You can say about this stage of the treatment that we found a certain key for Edna that shifted her attention from her thoughts and emotions to her physical existence, and that the calmest state came from focusing on the bones. This calm state freed-up Edna’s attention and allowed her to continue to recognize the earth’s support, which immediately helped her become aware and release areas in which she was clenching. This phenomenon occurs because our brain can release only when it identifies where it is holding on.
The process described thus far is not a short one. Along the road we encounter all those reasons and background for the unnecessary areas where there is excessive clenching, we meet the context or the events that sparked the patterns of guarding, not trusting others, always being prepared to being attacked or criticized, not being accepted as who I am, etc. Every such encounter with the circumstances that gave birth to the pattern is emotionally charged and, therefore, requires the time needed to break up the tension involved with these unpleasant experiences, and even identify, understand, and release the trauma that is at the base of everything.
This is why a process like this is longer than a mere structural organization, but it is a crucial and necessary first step whenever there are massive, chronic areas of clenching and holding on.
The next step – structural organization:
We were able to move on to the structural organization stage once Edna gained the ability to let go, as a function of the ability to recognize support and identify links in her body.
A reminder: Edna came in wanting to improve her posture, heal her lower back, neck, left shoulder, knees, and feet that caused her chronic pain.
Learning to let go has definitely helped with her pain substantially, but it was only in the form of weaker and less frequent sprains and less acute pain. Edna had yet to experience a sense of continuous pleasant comfort within her body.
That’s why we decided that she is ready for Ida Rolf’s structured series of treatments – “Rolfing”. The goal of Rolfing here was to organize her structurally in the most symmetrical way around her central axis, which will further reduce any remaining sources of pressure in her system, and also to teach Edna to experience her own body’s center, move her body so that movement will always come from the center and flow outwards while using large muscles only when necessary and while maintaining the awareness of the center.
I know that how I described Rolfing is a bit complex, so maybe I should explain parts of the process:
A Rolfing process has two main principles: it has to be built from the outside-inwards and from the bottom up.
The concept of bottom to top is completely logical – just like any building or structure, but the concept of outside-inwards comes from the fact that our structure is already built and Rolfing improves how it looks from the outside – the posture – and how it functions – the way it moves.
Most clients that come to my clinic are used to using their external muscles as a response to anything that requires their attention in life; they don’t have an innate ability to operate from the core, which is the purpose in Rolfing. That’s why, in the first step of the series we reduce tonus, open and release any excessive activity by the external muscles, in other words – we calm the external part of the body.
In the previous section of the treatment Edna found calmness through recognizing support and now we build on that and add another layer – lengthening the shortened muscle sheath (The myofascia that wraps the muscle), which will increase the space available for the muscles, and will directly reduce the stress the muscle is under.
What is the myofascia and how does it become shortened?
The myofascia is a thin and transparent sheath that many of us may have seen when we fried schnitzels. It is the transparent sheath that wraps the meat and assembles at the edges to bigger clumps where it seems white. This film, as thin and transparent as it is, determines our shape because our muscles are wrapped within it. In a relaxed state, the size of this wrap determines the space that the muscle has available.
How do we get adhesions in the myofascia?
Our muscles know how to contract and relax, but the myofascia doesn’t have the same amazing mechanism. When the muscle contracts, the myofascia gets folds just like in a curtain. Problems occur when we forget to release a contracted muscle – due to pain from an injury or due to an emotional reason that makes us constantly tighten the muscle.
The constant contraction causes the folds of the fascia to become glued to each other. This can be opened up on day one by doing some stretching, but after two weeks there is no chance of opening it up just by stretching because the area becomes clotted and it becomes the strongest point of the fascia – the fascia will rip before these adhesions will open up with mere stretching!
To complete this unfortunate scenario we need to understand that the adhesions can be compounded by sticking to a neighboring fascia folds and to the bone the muscle is connected to. These adhesions shorten the internal space that the muscle has in a relaxed state, which makes the muscle shorter and causes chronic pressure on the bone. For example: someone who forgot to release his Levator Scapula muscle after a car accident, has reached a point in which years after the accident one of his shoulders is higher up than the other.
How does Rolfing open these adhesions?
I’ll write about that and about Edna’s structural organization process in the next chapter.
The Third Chapter – Rolfing
You need pressure in order to successfully open up adhesions in the fascia. The applied pressure has to be precise, and it fulfills two functions.
First of all it heats up the matter. The myofascia is mostly comprised of water – water that’s trapped in collagen fibers. Applying pressure to water heats it up. Heating up the myofascia enables the melting of myofascial adhesions.
The second role of applying pressure is to press down thick and over-grown myofascial fiber – just like the pressure you apply to a rolling pin when you work with dough. The difference is that here there is bi-directional movement in which the client provides the main movement. The client has to create movement in the closest joint that the manipulated muscle passes through. The movement has to be slow and effortless in order for it to assist in melting myofascial adhesions and in pressing down the myofascial fibers. The movement by the client only really begins when he/she feels the heat that’s being generated, and it must combine with the applied pressure in order to release the adhesions and stretch the fascia. The movement also has to be on the right plane according to the therapist’s instructions because that is how a new path gets paved – the preferred path. The path that has been paved with the coordinated effort of the therapist and the client will let the ground’s support transfer properly through the joint to the rest of the body.
The angle of the foot has to be on a perpendicular plane!
The clearest example for the importance of a correct angle of movement is the foot’s movement at the ankle: the foot has to move on a perpendicular plane to the leg – not too far inwards and not too far outwards. That way, when you bend your knee while moving, the foot and the ground support the knee. In contrast, when the foot points outwards and the knee leans forwards (which is an all too common condition) the knee doesn’t get the support from the ground, which automatically tightens up the back muscles (because the back muscles don’t feel any support), which is exactly how so many back problems begin. Since the act of walking is a daily thing, the tightening of the back muscles becomes a chronic problem and that’s only because the foot is pointing outwards instead of being right under the knee and operating on a place that’s perpendicular to the leg’s. This chronic tightening can lead to direct back pain, and, when the tightening is not symmetrical, can even nudge a vertebra out of line.
When the work is coordinated and done properly, the client paves the path of the new movement and this becomes the preferred path for the body. The body also learns that this movement is correct and central in the joint.
The work is done on a different area of the body in each of the sessions in the Rolfing series, which gradually paves the proper movement paths in every joint. The client also learns how to move in such a way that would provide the body with the most support from the ground.
The first stage of Rolfing
The first three sessions of Rolfing focus on the external muscles with an emphasis on reducing excessive usage in them and, if necessary, reducing muscle tonus. One of the first areas to be addressed is the rib cage because work in that area increases breathing efficiency, which is important for the rest of the process. Remember that Rolfing is a true change in how the body looks and how it moves, for example – how it sits down, how it gets up, how it stands, how it walks, and for athletes – how it jumps…
True change shouldn’t be taken lightly. Every change can be difficult to go through, and anyone about to go through a change should first and foremost want to go through it.
Not everybody who arrives to a clinic because of pain actually wants this kind of change. Many people would rather just not have the pain anymore, but they don’t really want to re-learn how to use their body.
Does this change last?
One of the most common questions clients ask is: “will this change last? Wouldn’t the body revert to its old habits – isn’t the tendency to go back to old habits very strong?”
Ida Rolf explains that this process is not regressive – it’s actually progressive. Clients will look better a year after the end of the treatments than they looked right at the end of the treatments. She continues to explain that the body becomes better organized with regards to gravity and that the weight flows better through the central axis towards the ground. This is a new posture for the body and the force of gravity will continue to train the muscles and strengthen them so that after a year the body is steadier and stronger within its new posture.
Regarding the force of old habits, the body actually detects that the new paths feel better and doesn’t show any need to regress. Old habits are about comfort, and Rolfing creates a sense of comfort in the body. It is a new sense of comfort, but the body still prefers it!
The second stage of Rolfing
The forth session is when we start working on the body’s internal plane. Once we reduced the external muscle’s hyper-activity, we can awaken the internal muscles. One of the most significant areas in this process is opening shortened muscle tissue that’s on the inside of the legs (the inseam). This area is tight and shortened for most people and it sometimes also exhibits a downward collapse, making the foot twisted and collapsed, making the arch non-existent – similar to flat-footedness. Most importantly, the body doesn’t get support from that area!
Opening up the inward-facing side of the leg creates length that didn’t exist before, which pushes the feet into the ground through their inward-facing side. The client learns how to move the feet on the correct plane and not in the outward angle, which doesn’t give the knees any support. There are special exercises for people with a strong outward tendency – those exercises together with opening the fascia adhesions (that limit the proper movement of the foot) create better foot movement and better support for the whole body.
This procedure often releases a lot of energy that was stuck in those tightened inward-facing leg muscles, which gives clients a burst of energy in the days following the session.
Later in the process, this proper support needs to be channeled from the legs to the spine. This is not an obvious support path – most of us hold our backs up by using the buttocks and the lower back muscles.
One very special muscle
There’s a special muscle that connects the inward-facing side of our legs with the spine. The name of this muscle is ‘Iliopsoas’, or ‘Soas’ for short. The Soas represents our body’s central plane. It is positioned right behind the internal organs in the belly, but it’s not a back muscle at all – it doesn’t connect to the spine from behind, rather it connects along the center sending tentacles to the rear of the spine. In other words, the main part of the muscle is located in the middle of the body in front of the spine.
The activity of this muscle represents the choice we have as humans to operate from this place at our core and do this while being conscious of the center. When we’re not aware, it’s the Soas that expresses the way we stop being conscious of our core – our rear creeps to the center, and the center is pushed forward so our presence shifts forward – the belly creeps forward, and now we opened the door to lower back issues.
The role of the Soas is to execute actions in a proper way, i.e. any movement of a leg or a hand, for example, needs to start with the elongation of the psoas area, while keeping it at the back of the body. When you’re walking, for example, the Soas continues your movement by sending the knee forward, but the important thing is that the back stays in the back and doesn’t creep forward. The forward movement of the leg cannot sustain itself with only the Soas, and it needs an external muscle, such as the Quadriceps, but here is the main idea – to start a movement from the inside and continue it with external muscles, as opposed to starting a movement outside and suffocating the internal plane!
To start your movements from the core means choosing the movement from the core, which dictates a different quality – awareness of your movement as opposed automatic responses, which is so typical to most of our daily actions.
Getting back to Edna
We can go back to Edna’s story for a minute to tell that her discovery of this core or ‘depth’ as she calls it was ground-breaking. A new life in the body, almost like a life within a life. The discovery was so exciting for her that it was another step in the key process of learning to let go and relax.
This existence in her own depth gave her a new perspective on existence. Until now her insides were held together within a general tightness of muscles that hid who she really is.
“It’s a condition in which you know that it exists – an internal truth – and you make sure that you or anyone else will not have access to this truth. It’s kept within you with the clenching of muscles, as if to say: I do exist somewhere inside, but I don’t know how it feels like, and all of you definitely can’t see that I exist inside of me. It’s not what you see and it’s not who you meet.”
When Edna found herself in her own core, a brand new ability to let go was discovered – beautiful and amazingly powerful. As if there was nothing to be guarded about anymore. All of the sudden, guarding who she is inside (that she wasn’t even sure of, but she knew she had to guard it) became pointless because who she is on the inside revealed itself instinctively. She now exists instinctively. She doesn’t have to guard this fact, but enjoy this existential experience. When I asked her what was the key to the change she experienced in the ability to let go (it was just so astounding) she said that the realization that you are what you are is what made the difference.
The power of synergy
What we’ve seen here is that the ability to let go was deepened by the internal existential experience, which came in addition to the tools acquired before – the ability to recognize support – which took the recognition of support to a deeper level to the innermost existence in the core of the client. The synergy between the self-awareness tools and the opening of the shortening and the thickening of the sheath around the muscle – a reduction in tonus and in hyper-activity of external muscles and touching the core of the physical structure while learning the correct way to move that starts with the core – all these combined to make a brand new existential experience that enabled her to reach a higher level of inner peace and self-acceptance – two very valuable gifts that created for Edna a new reality.
A new reality
This new reality has many expressions and I won’t go into all of them here, but let’s revisit the symptoms Edna had:
Let me remind you that Edna wanted to: improve her posture, heal her lower back, neck, left shoulder, knees, and feet that caused her chronic pain.
Well, months have passed and she didn’t pull her back again. But life is more than the therapy process – it has tension, stress, and ups and downs. Edna also has the body-mind connection and one day her lower back started acting up as well as her knee, and muscular tension behind the knee appeared after she got back into a more intensive fitness routine.
The amazing thing is the speed at which the new symptoms disappeared with the continuation of the Rolfing process. The pain in the knee was gone after one session, and the muscular tension behind the knee and the lower back that started acting up calmed down quickly. Edna was able to continue the fitness routine, which made her feel even better in her own body and gave her more joy! Edna transitioned into the next sensual stage – if her starting point was a place of pain and restriction, now she started to enjoy her body! It became much more pleasant for her to live in her own body, and she is happy and able to engage in physical activities, which now don’t hurt her, but increase the good feeling of existence within her body. Something new has opened up for her – Edna enjoys life more. Something inside her wants and finds the way to live a more satisfying and enjoyable life!
The third stage of Rolfing
In order to close this chapter with regards to how the method works, I will talk about the next stage in the Rolfing process – after the core has woken up, after the client learned how to start movements from the core, many connections have been made between the woken up core and other parts of the body and with a variety of movements in order to support the process of learning how to move so that the movement begins at the core and continues through the external muscles to the completion of a full movement.
The thing that was most moving is seeing how this learning manifests itself in Edna’s life not only in how she moves, but also in the relationships she has with other people. Her ability to stay true to who she is has transformed: instead of the internal tightness that was characteristic of her, she can now express herself directly, without sacrificing who she is. She actually expresses who she is by expressing her opinions, without ignoring her own needs and without being afraid of rejection or criticism. She can also give up all sorts of internal and external battles – these battles now seem irrelevant, and unimportant because there is new focus on what really matters.
All of the sudden, the things that matter are linked to her inside in a clear way. There’s no need to guard it by tightening the muscles or by going into battles – the sheer sensation of existence in the core leads to different kinds of reactions – reactions that come from a deep sense of self, which lets us decrease the hyper-activity of all those external selves that know very well how to fight over an existence they don’t even know about.
That’s it for now, but there’s more to come later.