…Ida Rolf and the Two Paradigms, cont’d

From Chemistry to Physics

In 1925 Dr Rolf applied for a leave of absence to study in Europe. She had wanted to continue her studies in Europe ever since graduating from Barnard, like countless other scientists had done since the late 19th century, but the war prevented her from traveling. By 1925, from the tone of letters she wrote to Simon Flexner during her leave, she was in need of a rest and break from her work, and was increasingly restless at the Institute. She was granted the leave late in the year, and in January 1926 she sailed for France to begin her trip by studying at the Pasteur Institute.

While she was en route, Flexner wrote her. He enclosed a check for $200 to help pay for her stay in Europe, and he confirmed what she was feeling about her relationship with Rockefeller. He said in part, “I have thought for some time that you had both received and given services to the Institute which about fulfilled the advantages to us both.”9 He encouraged her to begin looking, soon after her return to America, for another position. (This is pretty consistent with what is known about Flexner. Ida Rolf had been employed at the Assistant/Associate level for seven years, about the maximum time for most non-tenured employees to stay with the Institute. Flexner was never shy about telling scientists what he thought was best for them, and when it was time to go.)

Dr Rolf received the letter while in Paris. She replied in a handwritten note to Flexner. “… I am in complete accord with your opinion that the period of maximum efficiency of that tenure, for both the Institute and myself, is past.”10 She went on to describe her relief at not having to make the decision to leave the Institute. She expressed her gratitude towards Flexner and Levene for the opportunity they had given her and her sense of obligation to repay them for the chance afforded by the leave of absence. She sounded both relieved and excited, describing her adventures in learning French and her studies at the Pasteur Institute.

Dr Rolf, in “Rolfing and Physical Reality”, mentions studying physics in Zurich during her leave, and visiting Geneva to study homeopathy.11 Not much else is known about her time in Europe, including when she returned.

(How exciting must it have been to study physics in Europe in 1926? The 1920’s were possibly the most exciting period in the history of physics, and Europe was the scene of the drama. Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Niels Bohr, Einstein and others were hashing out the details of quantum mechanics, creating an entire new physics and changing our understanding of the universe at a rapid-fire pace. Ida Rolf began her shift to physics at almost precisely the moment that the world of physics was experiencing a paradigm shift every bit as significant as that ushered in by Descartes.)

Two more papers later appeared in 1927, coauthored by Rolf and Levene, concerning lecithin and cephalin. They possibly represented work she completed before her leave, or possibly she returned to complete her work before parting ways with the Institute. Her tenure at Rockefeller was officially over in 1927, when she left the world of scientific medicine for good.

Approximately 14 years after her last scientific article was submitted for publication, around 1940, she would see her first client, a piano teacher in the Bronx, doing the work that would later develop into structural integration.

“And you see all of this is a something, which if you are really considering man,… you have to think of in those terms, because this is the man, the man is the energy field, the energy consolidation….In terms of the orthodox methods used by your doctor, in general they are dealing with the chemistry of the body. They are not dealing with this low man on the totem pole, this forgotten man, this forgotten element of the body, this element of the actual physics of the body.”12

Ida Rolf, 1966

Ida Rolf had begun her career as a product of the biggest paradigm shift in the history of medicine. From the 1920’s to the early 1940’s her professional shift took her from scientific medicine back to wholism. There is irony in her trip to Europe. During the last decades of the 19th century, American scientists had made their pilgrimages to Europe to embrace the biological sciences. It was where they could go to study the tiny things, so they headed towards the microscope. Decades later she made her pilgrimage as a scientist as well, but it also symbolized her transition. She began the leave as a biological chemist, studying at the laboratory founded by Louis Pasteur. Then she left the microscope behind and in Zurich, studied mathematics and physics, the language of energy. Just as Descartes was achieving supremacy in American science, she headed back to Hippocrates.

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