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Rolfing Lays Hand on Kitsap County

NOTE: Article originally printed in Kitsap Week Wednesday, September 24, 1997 . For more information on this article, contact Shonnie Carson.

by Dennis Wilken, Staff writer

It’s no quack medicine, says practitioner of physical healing

Shonnie Carson had never heard of Rolfing in the early 1970’s.

But when she was introduced to Ida Rolf’s creation --- a process of physical manipulation designed to reorganize the body and enhance its movement and balance into a more graceful relationship with gravity – she knew almost immediately she had found her life’s work.

Carson was working as a nursing supervisor at a California hospital when she went on a much-needed vacation to the Boulder, Colo. area.

“At the time I took that vacation” Carson recalled, “ I was very frustrated. I was feeling a lot like that Peggy Lee song, "“Is that all there is?"”

Emmett Hutchins, one of the folks she was visiting, was an original student of Ida Rolf in northern California. Hutchins had spent a lot of time around the Esalon Institute, and he was a Rolfer – a body manipulation technique pioneered by Rolf, a biophysicist at the Rockefeller Institute..

Carson, who was born and raised in Utah and now lives in Kitsap County, was intrigued. But she wasn’t ready to give herself up to this new and at the time very alternative profession.

“ I was coming from a very conservative mindset. I asked for and read everything he could give me ( on Rolfing). After four days I said, “it all makes perfect sense,” she remembered.

Hutchins then asked her to watch him do a session of Rolfing on a mutual friend.

“ Watching that body literally change shape was a turning point,” Carson said.

Rolfers use their hands, fingers and elbows to lengthen and “unstick” the body’s connective tissues. Rolfers also claim to break up blocks of pain – physical and emotional – in a person’s body.

Carson was Rolfed herself, and that experience made her a Rolfer for life.

“ My body didn’t feel good. It (Rolfing) made significant changes in my life. Until I was Rolfed, I didn’t really have an appreciation of what a good body even felt like.” Carson said.

Carson said she’d had significant problems with asthma and also suffered from frozen arches.

After a series of Rolfing – the standard treatment is 10 sessions, each treating with pressure a different area of the body – her asthma “essentially left” never to return. Carson’s shoe sizes went from 5 and a half to 8 and a half. And her chronic knee problems disappeared after the third session. They haven’t come back.

Carson believes completely in Rolfing and its results, but she isn’t one of those illogical fanatics who claims her personal health or spiritual beliefs are the only answer to life’s difficulties.

“Rolfing doesn’t make you superhuman. Rolfing doesn’t make you perfect. You are still going to have to go to the bathroom, you are still going to die. Rolfing doesn’t make cancer go away. But it does help create a body more ordered, a body more functional,” she said.

Carson is no wild-eyed radical following some New Age fad away from common sense.

She is an adult nurse practicioner who has worked in hospitals for 30 years. She still nurses at a Bellevue hospital. But more and more of her time has been spent on Rolfing since she was certified by the Rolf Institute ( in Boulder) in 1981. Shonnie moved to Seattle in 1983 and Rolfed there until last year, when she moved to the Southworth area.

In addition to Rolfing certification and her nursing degree, Carson graduated from the Rocky Mountain Healing Arts Institute in Boulder in 1978. Her studies there included accupressure and massage (Carson is also a licensed masseuse).

Like all Rolfers, Carson has many success stories to relate.

One South Kitsap area woman suffered so severely from rheumatoid arthritis, she couldn’t unclench her hands. After the third session with Carson, the woman’s hands opened and closed normally and she could grip things for the first time in years without pain.

A young woman came to Carson because she could barely walk, “Her husband wanted her to go to the Puyallup Fair. She said “ I can’t see myself going anywhere on these feet and legs,” Carson said. After a session on her lower body, the woman went to the fair and walked around for hours without pain.

People magazine did a story last winter about Leon Fleisher, a renowned concert pianist whose right hand curled up hours before a Carnegie Hall concert in 1964. Fleisher was 36 at the time. For 20 years, he went to doctors and therapists of every stripe. Then a friend talked him into Rolfing. After three sessions, Fleisher was playing two-handed piano for the first time in 30 years.

Carson said the most often-asked question of Rolfers is “Does it hurt?” This question stems from Rolfing’s beginnings in the late 1960’s. Because Rolfers break down blocks in connective tissue and force is required, Rolfing sometimes caused quite a bit of pain to the patient. Beneficial pain, an old-time Rolfer would say, but pain all the same.

“It used to be a requirement that Rolfers had to weigh at least 140 pounds. That is not at all the case now, Rolfing has evolved, and as it matured, grown more sophisticated,” Carson said.

According to Carson, Rolfers now know they don’t have to push tissue and force it into new patterns.

“The more subtle you are, the bigger the changes,” Carson said.

Stacy Mills, an early female Rolfer who isn’t a large woman, helped Carson see the way toward subtlety.

“I was watching her. She had a man on the table, working on his arms, very subtly,” Carson said. “She told me to come over. I put my hand on his arms. I could literally feel where her hands had been. I said that to her, and Stacy answered, “ You can do quite a lot with your intention.”

The days when a Rolfer’s next door neighbor called the police because they thought the patient’s howls of healing agony were the screams of a murder victim are over.

“My own feeling.” Carson said, “is if someone is pushing to a level where the only thing I can do is grit my teeth to keep from screaming, that is not the way to work. I want them with me, not just trying to survive.”

“I love this work. People come in that don’t feel good and they go out an hour and a half later feeling good. My drive as a person and spirit to heal others is met. This work is very creative and I can control it.”

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