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Thursday, March 17, 2005 03:27 am

health wise 3-17-05

Donna Griffiths: “A healthy body is a body that allows a range of experience.”

Donna Griffiths’ life is marked by many firsts: She’s the first in her family to go to college, Springfield’s first female union carpenter, and the area’s first resident Rolfing practitioner.

Griffith’s interest in Rolfing — a process to improve posture and body structure — dates back to 1976, when Griffith met a 67-year-old woman who moved like a 6-year-old. The woman, Griffiths learned, had just been Rolfed.

In 1977, Griffiths got herself Rolfed in Chicago; by the early 1980s, she’d decided that this was what she wanted to do as a profession. In 1987, after attending the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colo., she went to work.

Now certified as an advanced Rolfer, Griffiths works to free a client’s body of the consequences of traumas and movement patterns that have, over time, “glued” body parts into certain structural compensations. The process can reduce chronic stress and ease pain, say practitioners and subjects.

In her Athens home, Griffiths has set aside a room with a padded table. Information, certificates, and a picture of Ida P. Rolf, founder of Rolfing Structural Integration, are displayed on the walls, and a model of a human skeleton rests on the floor. A camera sits on a tripod for before-and-after photos of every session so that Griffiths and her clients can visually track their progress.

Rolfing, which generally requires 10 sessions, is done once in a client’s lifetime. Griffiths applies specific directional pressure, usually from joint to joint, using her fingertips, the heel of her hand, her forearm, or her elbow to engage and stretch a client’s body, often as the client performs specific motions. A typical session lasts 60 to 90 minutes.

Griffiths, who sees between six and 15 clients a week, does not advertise her Rolfing practice, and that suits her just fine: “If I just let go, it seems to take care of itself, even incorporating my need for time off.” That reflects, in a way, her philosophy of life: By letting go of anxiety about the future, our lives will follow their destinies and we’ll see personal growth and enrichment.

That’s the path Griffiths’ life took. As a child, Griffiths wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but, in 1961, when she approached the engineering department at the University of Missouri, she was told that women weren’t accepted. Griffiths became the first person in Mizzou’s social-work program to focus on community organizing. She now holds a master’s degree in social work.

Griffiths had been doing community-organizing work for seven years when she felt the sudden urge to become a carpenter. “I wanted to work with my hands, build structures, and work out of doors,” she recalls. After gaining entry to the Carpenters union, Griffiths did rough framing, roofing, siding, and interior finish work for 13 years. She took an honorable withdrawal from the union on becoming a full-time Rolfer.

When not Rolfing, Griffiths can be found reading voraciously, mostly political commentary. She displays a poster in her front yard keeping count of the American victims of the Iraq war. Griffiths also maintains an organic garden and works on an open, airy, sunny loft addition to her home that lends a sense of the outdoors’ being brought indoors.

How does Griffiths take care of herself? She sleeps outdoors with no heat, either on an enclosed porch or, when weather allows, on the ground in her yard. “A healthy body is a body that allows a range of experience,” she says.

“All gifts are equal. If Rolfing is a gift, the client is also a gift,” Griffiths says. “I believe I help unswamp a person of a lifetime of damage of traumas or abuses or injury and let God’s light shine through. The only thing to lose is your self-limiting identity.”

Donna Griffiths may be reached at 217-636-7120 or rolf10@earthlink.net.

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