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What is 'Rolfing'?



As a Holistic Health Practitioner, I specialize in The Rolf Method of Structural Integration, more commonly known by the trademarked name of Rolfing® (after Dr Ida P. Rolf, the founder of this transformative ground-breaking discipline of body-work). Rolfing® is not the prettiest of names for a treatment, but it is an especially effective way to bring a remarkably higher level of health and well-being to your life...to your 'life’s form', as it were.

When your physical body is working well and you are happy in your body, your outlook on life, and the expression of your abilities, will have a certain more pleasant and harmonious quality to them. When, on the other hand, your body gets into trouble, the physical issue usually affects or influences your mood and outlook as well as your ability to do the things you enjoy doing, as well as duties you may be obliged to perform.

The manner in which we exist and behave, in and through our physical selves, plays a large part in how we perceive, interact with and experience the world around us. Persistent discomfort, whether physical or emotional, even when we are ignoring it, colors the quality of our interactions with others and the look and feel of the world around us. On the other hand, when a body is free from restrictions and imbued with health and feelings of well-being and aligned energy flow, the experience and outlook of the person whose body it is will have a lightness and effectiveness that may have never been there before or may have been missing for many years.

I first experienced Rolfing, as a client, in 1997.  During that process of going thru my first 10 session series, I gained many benefits. The work just made so much sense to me and so I really connected with the process. I began to breath deeper, have more range of motion and feel more grounded.   Experiencing the profound difference that it made for me in my life, it became the catalyst for me to explore it more deeply. That exploration turned it into my passion. 

I know that I am a lot more productive and happy when my physical body is operating well. When I feel well in my body, I also feel more connected to others, the world around me and to life itself.

What is Rolfing® ? In what follows, I shall do my best to explain, simply and clearly, what this sophisticated and yet simple process that we call the "basic 10 series" is. 

Rolfing® is a kind of body based therapy whose aim is to release restrictions in the connective tissue and to restore or augment healthy function. This is done largely by aligning the body with respect to the field of gravity. This system yields a number of positive results, including better posture, the resolution of various body aches and pains, as well as providing a greater measure of general emotional or psychological well-being for those who undertake the course of treatment.

Rolfing® is not, as many people think, deep tissue massage. Originally called Structural Integration, Rolfing® was developed in the 50s and 60s by Biochemist Dr Ida P. Rolf, from whom it takes its name. It has more in common with Osteopathy and Physiotherapy than massage, though it does contain elements of each of them. It is a unique therapy having its basis in Bio-mechanics but is influenced by understandings from other disciplines, including Hatha Yoga and Cranio-Sacral therapy.

Our approach as bodyworkers is to, by turns, bring the various segments of the human form back into alignment with gravity wherever insult or injury have caused chronic contraction of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. In addition to aligning with respect to gravity, we also work to bring adaptability between the segments themselves.

If we take a higher view, then our overarching aim is to simply create or hold a safe space where the client can find resolution for troubling issues and invoke a greater measure of well-being, grace and joy. It may sometimes sound a little complicated when Rolfers talk about what we do, but ultimately our aims are simple: more comfort, ease and well-being in your body -- comfort, ease and well-being that are lasting, and that come from having a physical structure that is more optimally balanced and thus fostering the feeling of being more deeply connected to your own core-being.

Rolfing is not a quick fix. One of the distinguishing features of this therapy is that it is designed as a process, or program, of ten consecutive sessions, one building upon another, systematically and methodically working through the whole body to provide true, deep and lasting integration. This is experienced not only physically, but also for most people, psychologically and emotionally.

Basic Rolfing is a methodical process of release, realignment and reeducation of the body and nervous system. Intermediate and Advanced Rolfing are less method-bound and they tend to capitalize on the attainments of the Basic 10 Series.

The chief means to attain the sought for results are threefold:

1. Skillful Touch
2. Conscious Movement
3. Patient-Practitioner Rapport

Skillful Touch:

This has been defined variously, but basically it is a good combination of intelligent and intuitive touch. The best bodyworkers approach their work both scientifically and as an art.

Conscious Movement:

Unlike a massage, Rolfing is not purely a passive experience; the client participates in the session. This has several benefits. One is that it brings awareness to areas of the body where previously there was unconsciousness. Specific movement is often asked for as the practitioner works to free a particular area. This movement, coupled with the manipulation of tissue, greatly increases the degree of release. This is deliberate, attentive movement, guided by the practitioner which reeducates the muscles and neural system to new, more efficient and graceful uses of the limbs and body as a whole.

Patient-Rolfer Rapport:

This is crucial to stay in communication with regard to how something feels, and to stay within agreed upon comfort zones. I occasionally use a scale between one and ten with my clients so they can let me know whether I can or should work more deeply or more lightly, avoiding unnecessary discomfort or pain.

One of the other things that makes it remarkably effective is that in addition to working with muscles and joints, bones and tendons, Rolfers are very interested in something called fascia. This is the tissue that covers muscles and interpenetrates them. It is elastic and has a kind of memory. It is enervated tissue and provides access to a deeper intelligence in the body, sometimes called “the neural net”.  By working on this tissue to lengthen and free it, more lasting change takes place than if we were only working on muscle, ligaments and tendons. The Rolfer gives input to the nervous system resulting in smoother, more effortless posture and body motion. It is possible to make clear impressions on the neural net that inform it such that new more appropriate movement patterns are adopted.

Rolfing treatment is based on what we call "The Basic 10 Series". This consists of ten distinct sessions. Each session is unique, and at the same time is part of a greater whole, with each level building on the work of the previous ones; or, in another sense, and perhaps a little more accurately, releasing progressively deeper and deeper structures as those areas become available for work.

In an automobile, you can’t repair certain parts deep inside the engine until you undo, and move out of the way, the outer bits that are blocking access to the areas you need to reach. In principle, the body is the same: outer layers of armouring and tension need to be softened or released before any real and useful lasting adjustment can be made deeper inside, properly getting to the area that needs attention.

Here is a quick overview of the theme and major content of each session of the series:

1. Freeing the breath: muscles and structures involved in respiration

Here the goal is to evoke a more balanced breathing pattern by working around the ribcage, shoulders, neck and head. This session also begins the process of mobilizing and horizontalizing the pelvis by working around the hip joint and legs.

2. Support : The feet, lower legs and knees

Support is the theme. In this session I focus primarily on the lower body, working on the feet, legs and knees to create a more stable base of support for the upper body. I seek to straighten or enhance the spinal curves as appropriate, by working on the lower, middle and upper back, and the neck.

3. Side Dimensions: Freeing the ribs and the hips

Here my goal is to enhance front-to-back balance and to continue working with the client’s breathing pattern, further freeing the ribs from one another and the ribcage itself from the pelvis. This session also ties the previous two together with further work on the side surfaces of the legs, the hips, torso, arms, neck and head.

4. The Rolfing Line: The inner mid-line of the body

Now I begin working to establish core support in the legs. From the inner arches of the feet up through the inside surfaces of the legs, support is created while old tensions and incorrect arrangement of connective tissue are addressed and corrected.

5. The Diagonal Space: Psoas/Rhomboid balance

In this session I lengthen and soften the outer abdominal wall, working in the tissues that line the front of the torso and pelvis to create a more balanced relationship between inner and outer structures, and enhance communication and connection between the legs and spine through release and lengthening of illiopsoas muscle.

6 Freeing the spinal column: sacrum, spine and soleus

Here the focus is to free the back of the legs and pelvis, and establish more freedom of movement and resilience in the whole spine through work around the back of the pelvis, the outer spinal channel, neck and head. Here I also address the sacrum and the coccyx.

7. “Putting the head on”

I continue treating the upper back, shoulders and neck. Here I also sometimes work on the jaw and facial structures. Up to this point, with regard to function and structure, the focus has been slightly more on the undoing than doing  -- more taking things apart, unhooking, differentiating, in order to then put them back together in a more efficient and comfortable arrangement.

8, 9 & 10. The Integrative Phase: Lower Body, Upper Body and Overall Body
These“integrative sessions”are unique to each client and custom designed with regard to what areas are best addressed. The emphasis is on “bringing together the renewed body segments”, and the majority of time is spent on the remaining individual problems. Here I work to create better upper to lower body integration and, establishing horizontal planes of support and movement from the feet up. In the last session there is a final integration and closure.

The basic series is complete in itself, however, on a rare occasion, a client may opt to continue to receive a few more sessions after completing their basic 10 sessions.  For most individuals, I recommend that they have maintenance sessions after a few weeks have passed to allow the previous to settle in.  Once a client has been initiated into the work with their basic 10 series, then they will have the opportunity to receive more advanced work as their bodymind has become more sophisticated. 

Rolfing® is more of an ‘approach’, than a method or collection of techniques. While there are hundreds of techniques for a Rolfer to choose from, it is not the techniques themselves that make Rolfing what it is. It is the trained mind and approach of the practitioner.....the way he sees the body in front of him, and how the working strategy is formed in progressive steps.

It is considering treatment strategy with regard to how treatment will affect, and be affected by, adjoining areas of the body. It is being able to mingle intuition with experience, and sound judgment, to assess the emotional and physical condition of the client to determine just how to proceed in each specific instance and with which method or approach.

Although treatment sessions are largely body-centered, some practitioners - including myself - do not neglect the emotional component, and in such cases there are opportunities for emotional content to be discussed if appropriate, and then worked with, and if a willingness is there, released.

Rolfing® is for patient people (or for those who wish to become somewhat more patient and grounded).  That is to say that it works very well in the great majority of cases, but it is not a quick-fix therapy. Often, there are significant changes and releases of long-held tension (cellular memory) very early in the series, but the Rolfer’s eye is on the future as well as the present, looking to provide medium and long-term structural and functional changes with benefits that will either last a lifetime or, for years to come.

Some of the top reported benefits are: 
Pain Relief
Increased energy and awareness
Easier and even effortless posture
Freedom of movement
Deep level of release and relaxation
Deeper, more refreshing sleep
Better blood flow and circulation
Release and elimination of toxins

“We live what we know: If we believe the universe to be mechanical, we will tend to live mechanically. Nature, we are learning, is not merely a collection of forces over which we must triumph, but the very medium of our transformation”.
~ Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy.