Olaf Korpiun Class Review – “No Growth Without Resistance”

I recently returned from Olaf Korpiun’s first American presentation of his SELF Waves approach to craniosacral therapy. What follows are some of the major impressions I took from the class, some of which are a little surprising considering my previous post.

The problem with Olaf Korpiun is not his teaching, it’s the part of his teaching that is captured in his published writing. Like many teachers who commit themselves to print, his approach and ideas have been frozen in time and put on display. With Korpiun, so much of his understanding is absent from the paper snapshot sitting on the bookshelf. Make no mistake, he’s not a member of the biodynamic fan club (or Somatic Experiencing, for that matter). And it is clear to me that he doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of modern biodynamic practice. But he works in the same landscape. He works in similar frequencies. He just wants to streamline the process of accessing potent stillpoints.

And he does.

Several people have told me that the tone of my commentary on Korpiun’s book was a bit harsh. I disagree. This misunderstood pioneer has faced much harsher treatment from the European community than I dealt him in this blog. Now that I’ve spent some time with him, I understand that criticism doesn’t phase him anyway. He has strong opinions of his own, does not adhere to the subtleties of political correctness, and he has no problem with confrontation. In fact, he thinks confrontation is healthy. Those of you who have done your embryology homework will recognize the phrase “no growth without resistance.” Well, this idea is at the core of Olaf’s philosophy and work.

I can punch holes all through his book. My last post was just a taste. His writing espouses several inaccuracies regarding biodynamics that have upset more than a few in that camp. But after experiencing his work in my body, I must say that my theoretical objections to his approach are starting to appear a little lame. The perceptual experience of receiving SELF Wave work speaks for itself. There was broad agreement amongst the students in the class that the work was effective, had depth, was well-contained, and was well-paced.

I’ll spend a little time summarizing his treatment approach: It really all revolves around aiding the ability of the body to “swing” to the frequencies present in the global background field (including but not exclusive to the mid tide and long tide.) This work is very embryonic, as a primary gateway Korpiun utilizes to enter relationship with the client’s organism is the curling and uncurling that manifests in the developmental progression of the embryo. So as a starting point, the practitioner accesses the embryonic curling and uncurling present in the field of the client with a focus on various strata of biology (depending on the technique being utilized.) The practitioner simply works with the predominant frequency he or she first encounters, rather than aiming to connect with a “landmark” movement such as the long tide.

The controversial “technique” Korpiun advocates is to establish a counter wave of the same frequency as the client, but offset 180 degrees. This counter wave has the effect of neutralizing the client’s wave and bringing it into stillpoint through destructive, or subtractive interference (aka an induced stillpoint.) I have experimented with stillpointing slower tides before, but mainly by setting up a firm barrier of stillness to deflect the frequency. Korpiun’s approach of establishing a counter-frequency is more dynamic. It allows for a little more “play” in the process, and works the waveforms from both directions. The “looseness” inherent in this swinging technique seems to lessen chances of iatrogenesis – a major concern I raised in my last post.

One concept sticks out more in my memory than any other I picked up in his class: When you counter a primary respiratory pulse or waveform with another offset 180 degrees, you perform both a CV4 and EV4 at the same time. Please take a minute and really consider this.  It is a very important statement. This was a big “aha” for me, and it explains the sense of physical wholeness and balanced embodiment I felt after his treatment. In a CV4, resources are focused on the midline. In an EV4 they are focused on the periphery. In Korpiun’s method, potency and fluid are spread out throughout the middle of the field resulting in a fleshing out of the middle of one’s experience. You are worked from two directions. I am still having trouble explaining the sensory perception of it. The inadequate phrase I used in class was “a healthy vagueness.” I felt bigger, with a greater sense of embodiment, but simultaneously I felt “hugged” and pleasantly contained.  In other forms of treatment, I have experienced great spaciousness and faced areas of tremendous compression, but I have never felt anything quite like this before. It smells like balance, actually. I like that smell.

Olaf has not convinced me that this approach is wholly superior to biodynamics. At this point, I think it should be considered complementary to biodynamic work. It shares the same perceptual and spatial terrain, but it treads differently. It has a heavier foot. It leaves footprints. There is a strong sense of embodiment and solidity in this approach. It brings the earth element into the biodynamic model in a fairly elegant way, and the practitioner can’t really “disappear” with this work. This approach requires a different kind of effort than biodynamics. The therapist must create a tone and embody a frequency, and navigate the manifestations of dissonance that arise when they counter the existing impulses of the client’s field. The practitioner is very actively engaged with a disciplined focus and directed presence. When this style of work is practiced well, the client feels engaged but not invaded. Practically, this is a concern every biodynamic practitioner should consider when utilizing spacious physical contact in a clinical setting – “does my client feel meaningfully engaged?” When utilizing Korpiun’s approach skillfully, you can most likely answer “yes” to this question.

I should recognize, however, that it is over-engagement and invasion (both physically and psychologically) that has been driving practitioners away from biomechanical and functional work and into biodynamics. But the engagement we see in many schools of biomechanics is largely focused on tissue. SELF Wave work is engaged with deeper forces and has less of a physical edge to it. I liken it to medical qigong– which works “beneath the physical” and is “bigger than the body.” It is strong but also soft.

For the biodynamicaly inclined, I have put together some relevant highlights in a language you can appreciate:

  • The neutral, or holistic shift, is not recognized as separate event or useful concept.
  • No special sensory preparation or grounding is taught or encouraged other than sustained, disciplined focus on whichever frequency you choose to work with. Negotiation of contact was not even considered in class.
  • Work is in various frequencies from CRI to mid-tide to long tide, and even longer.
  • The basic idea is to stillpoint a frequency, and then stillpoint the next frequency that emerges, and so on, working the “frequency cascade” method through slower and slower manifestations of primary respiration. Noticing where the field chooses to present a new frequency is as close to an inherent treatment plan as Korpiun gets.
  • Korpiun does not believe that stillpoints encountered while syncing with or augmenting tides are stillpoints with much depth or transformative power. He sees this type of stillpoint as a form of perceptual illusion – like two people sitting in a boat looking at each other. There may appear to be stillness between them, but they are both still moving up and down on the waves influencing the boat. Only by countering the waves responsible for moving the boat itself do we access potent transformative power.
  • He believes that one valuable effect of directly stillpointing wave forms is bringing the client into an encounter with the “self.” He sees the primary path to growth as being an internal one, and stillpointing should stimulate the client to states of greater self-awareness. Korpiun recognizes that this new awareness may not be pleasant, and he doesn’t really seem to mind if the client gets uncomfortable. For him, that is just sometimes part of the process. He utilizes his own version of Upledger’s therapeutic dialoguing to aid the client in navigating barriers if the client encounters any with which they need help. This was not demonstrated in class, because no one went into a psychological process that warranted it.
  • Most of the focus is placed in Zone A and B. The waveforms Korpiun works with cover more ground, of course, but he keeps a much tighter focus than a biodynamic practitioner. He wants to know how the body tissues and the immediate field are “swinging” with the pulsations of the background field. The corresponding curling and uncurling actions of the embryonic field are focused around the middle of the body, between the kidneys. This point is a fulcrum of great importance for the SELF Waves approach. Although he often gazes out across the horizon while treating, most of the attention is kept in fairly tight by biodynamic standards.
  • Korpiun does not believe that perceiving slower wave forms requires stillness in the mind.
  • I see Becker’s three-stage process of negotiation, stillpoint reorganization, and reestablished motion as part of his frequency cascade approach, with each stage occurring at each frequency worked upon.

Korpiun is much easier on the mystics in the classroom than he is in his book. He appreciates that the mystics encounter many of the same forces that we do in deeper forms of craniosacral, but he really has no interest in discussing mysticism. He is interested in what is right in front of him: the body, its immediate field, and belief structures in the mind that prevent freedom of movement in the body.

Olaf didn’t make many friends with his book, and his mischaracterization of several key concepts of biodynamics didn’t earn him much respect amongst biodynamic devotees. But in person, he acknowledges that some of his statements were inaccurate reflections based on the information he had at the time of English publication. The naysayers in Europe and the U.S should experience his teaching and work before they concretize their opinions of his approach. I’m glad I did.

Our field is in the middle of an open and ongoing investigation into the role of ego in the treatment room. Biodynamics has shown us how to take much of the ego out of the treatment space. Thank the gods for that! But Korpiun is attempting to swing the pendulum back from the excursion which biodynamics has taken us into – back to a more direct and substantial posture for the self and the will. I guess this is just a natural course correction for craniosacral therapy, and I must say that for many therapists this is needed. I encourage every serious practitioner to consider their place along this pendulum of ego opacity/transparency: “Just when, how, and to what extent is it wise to use my will in a self-directed manner?” An inquiry might just breathe new life into your practice.

I will be incorporating ideas from Korpiun’s SELF class into my clinical work, and I will report on my experiences in a later post.

Ryan Hallford is a craniosacral therapist and educator. He offers certification programs in basic and advanced cranial work through the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, TX. www.cranioschool.com