The Opera Singer

Early in my practice in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was visited by a former opera singer.  A grand dame in her seventies in the Southern tradition, she had long since stopped singing professionally.  She was tall, stately, with a chest as large as a diver, and a bosom you could have served tea on.  She would disappear into the practice bathroom with a sheet and emerge wrapped in it, her blonde beehive hairdo coming out of one end of the sheet, and her black patent leather shoes peeking out of the other.  She would doff the shoes and lie on the table under the sheet.  She had her undergarments on, but dignity must be preserved, and I never did see her, and had to do all my work by feel.

She had come to me to fix her knees.  With advancing age, she had worn the cartilage off the back of her knee caps (chondromlacia, I later learned) so that they hurt every time she bent them, as in going uptstairs. When she bent them reflexively in sleeping, the pain woke her up.  She also complained of migraines, but the knees were the main thing.  She’d heard good things about me from her son, so she was game to try this as one last clutching at straws before surgery.

Being a young rolfer, I was going through the 10-session series.  It was soon readily apparent that her quadriceps were overly tight, pushing her patella down onto the femur.  What hope I had of changing it lay in getting those quads to relax their grip.  So every session, I would tuck some work on the quads into the session.

When that failed to make any progress, I tried the antagonists, the hamstrings.  And when that didn’t work I tried the counterantagonists – the soleus and gastrocs.  I tried everything I knew how.  Maude was loving it – her migraine headaches were better, and she had more of a spring in her step, but “My knees!  Young man, when are you going to do something about my knees?”

I redoubled my efforts but nothing was working.  We cam to the seventh session, when we usually do intra-oral work and put our fingers up people’s noses.  I didn’t know if this dignified old lady was going to go in for this, but Maude was up for it all: “If that’s what you do, then go ahead.”

In doing her mouth, I noticed that her palate was high and narrow as a Gothic cathedral.  Since a high palate can sometimes be implicated in migraines, I worked intra-orally to widen her palate to lower the ‘ceiling’.  As I worked on the left side, she said, “I feel that in my knee.”  I didn’t pay attention – I was fully concentrated on working in this dignified woman’s mouth.  As I worked the other side, she said, “I feel that in my right knee.”

She called me the next morning: “Young man, you’ve done it.  The pain has gone from my knees.”  And that was it – we finished the session, but she never had another day of pain.  That was the only session I never went anywhere near her knees.

Old Ida Rolf was still alive at the time, so I called her up, “Dr. Rolf, I have found the naso-patellar ligament.”  (It was a joke in class – when we didn’t know what else to do, we would say, “Work on the naso-patellar ligament.”)  We talked about it a bit, and came to the conclusion that perhaps when she hit the high notes, which you bounce off your palate, she had reflexively forced her knees into a locked position with the quads, and somehow there had come to be an association between the palate and the knees.  Though one could manufacture a fascial connection, it was most likely a conditioned reflex.

And it certainly wasn’t talent, but a great stroke of luck, and a standing demonstration of Ida Rolf’s dictum, “Where you think it is, it ain’t.”

A friend of Maude’s showed up at the Rolf Institute in one of my classes 8 years later: “Maude’s still singing your praises. She’s even singing again.”  Luck – but covering the entire body via the recipe makes its own luck.


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