What is Rolfing® Structural Integration?
Rolfing is a partnership between the client and practitioner that uses manual pressure applied with the elbows, arms and hands to shift and lengthen connective tissue, resulting in more fluidity of muscle movement. In this very specialized form of deep body work, I look for structural imbalances, for the twists and pulls that indicate a lack of alignment. During our sessions, I release those twists and pulls as I educate my clients about a new way to hold and move the body, creating a more vertical alignment that uses the force of gravity as a support rather than as an impediment.
How long has Rolfing been around?
Dr. Ida Rolf, a Ph.D. biochemist, recognized in the 1940s that connective tissue is malleable and that sensitive and intentional manipulation of this tissue could effect lasting change in one’s posture and movement. Students of Dr. Rolf began using the term “rolfing” to describe her understanding of and approach to structural integration.
How did you come to be a Rolfer™?
I started my journey as a Rolfer while an undergraduate in psychology at the University of Michigan. I saw a Rolfing demonstration that was impressive in terms of how much change could be evoked in such a short time. In a single session, I watched a Rolfer help his client to considerably straighten his alignment, and even more impressively, to fully inhabit his body with comfort and grace. Though I didn’t immediately decide to pursue a career in body work, that demonstration was defining for me.
What kind of training have you had? Do you participate in on-going training?
Practitioners electing to pursue Rolfing training generally are already trained in massage and have a bodywork practice. The prerequisites for admission to the Rolf Institute® include a high school degree plus at least 60 hours of college credit, including courses in anatomy (the structural makeup of the body), physiology (the function of organs, tissues and cells) and kinesiology (the study of the principles of anatomy and mechanics as they relate to movement of the human body). Applicants meeting these criteria are evaluated by an admissions committee of Rolfers for maturity and psychological readiness. Once admitted, the students first pursue basic certification, which requires 600 instructional hours over 18 to 24 months of study. Upon satisfactory completion of the coursework, the student is named a Certified Rolfer. Only students who train at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado can earn these certifications. The Rolf Institute is accredited by the independent Commission on Massage Therapy.
I have two certifications beyond the Certified Rolfer: I’m a Certified Rolf Movement Practitioner, which required one additional in-depth course, and I’m a Certified Advanced Rolfer, which required 24 additional days of training. As a member of the faculty of the Rolf Institute, I have the pleasure of interacting on a regular basis with other faculty who are practitioners and/or researchers, ensuring that I’m always up to speed on the latest approaches to Rolfing Structural Integration.
Do Rolfers have areas of specialization?
Some Rolfers do specialize. In addition to my standard practice, I specialize in the treatment of post-surgical patients in a technique called Visceral Manipulation. If you think of the scar tissue that forms on the surface of the skin after a wound, you might easily imagine that connective tissue inside the body is “roughened” by surgery. This is not to suggest that people who scar easily have a more difficult time following surgery, but there are certainly people who suffer greater pain and loss of mobility after invasive surgery. One of my areas of specialization is the manipulation of surgical sites – after primary healing has taken place! My clients who have had abdominal surgery report considerable lessening of post-operative pain and a commensurate increase in mobility after Rolfing.
Who most benefits from Rolfing sessions?
People who are experiencing generalized pain of movement or decreased range of movement are ideal candidates for Rolfing. In addition, current and former athletes, people who do physical labor, people who have had surgery, and those who are aging all report that they recapture the freedom of movement and grace that they had before life took a toll on their bodies.
What can I expect at my first Rolfing session?
While you are still clothed, we’ll talk about the concerns that brought you to me. I’ll ask you to disrobe to your underwear and examine you visually to look for asymmetry and/or poor posture. Appropriate clothing for receiving a Rolfing session consists of underclothing, swim clothing, or athletic clothing, meaning both tops and bottoms for women, and shorts for men. Next, I’ll watch you stretch and move at my direction to see where your mobility may be limited or painful. We’ll then begin treatment. I’ll manipulate your muscles and connective tissues with my elbows, arms and hands, looking to identify the areas where you are less than optimally aligned, generally because you’re holding that area more tightly. As I find those areas, I’ll assist you in physically releasing them. If it’s a part of your body that you stiffen in response to emotional stress, you may find an emotional release accompanies the physical release.
Your body didn’t come to its current state in one day, and we’re not going to restore it to alignment in a single session. However, at the end of the first session, you should:
- Know whether you can work with me. Do you feel safe? Have we established a rapport that supports us in hearing each other? Were you able to let go, physically and emotionally? Did I help you to feel empowered in taking charge of your own body?
- Have a sense of whether Rolfing SI is congruent with your general approach to life. Were you able to give yourself over to the process? Are you able to make a commitment to making positive change in your movement?
- Feel some relief. Rolfing is intended to be done over at least 10 sessions, and so you can’t reasonably expect relief throughout your body. But do you feel less pain and greater mobility in the area we concentrated on today? Can you project how that will feel as you progress through your entire body?
Is Rolfing painful?
Those who describe Rolfing, done properly, as painful are usually talking about that “hurts so good” kind of pain. Most clients, however, describe little to no pain. Two things can lead to pain: a practitioner’s haste, and a client’s resistance. I work very hard at being constantly attuned to my clients, and I schedule them with sufficient time that we can work at an appropriate pace. If I sense that you’re resisting my efforts, or if you see that you’re having a hard time letting go, one or both of us will verbalize that, and we’ll slow down and, if appropriate, discuss whatever it is that is hindering the work. In order for you to find Rolfing beneficial, we need to communicate openly and trust one another. When we’re working with that level of partnership, Rolfing will achieve the desired result of decreasing pain and increasing mobility without trauma.
What, exactly, do words like “release” and “letting go” mean? Are these physical or emotional responses?
It’s actually pretty hard to separate the physical from the emotional when it comes to Rolfing. I have a number of clients who have been referred by psychotherapists, or who are otherwise working to resolve emotional issues, and who still continue to manifest physical issues. In the course of resolving those physical issues, emotion may arise. On the surface, Rolfing focuses on the physical, but the interconnection of mind and body ensures that the emotional is also involved.
How many sessions are generally required, and how frequent are they?
Rolfing is usually scheduled over ten sessions, engaged in at one- to two-week intervals. Some of my clients come fewer times, and some continue to come in for maintenance on a regular and infrequent basis for years. Unlike a spa massage, where the massage therapist works at a relatively superficial level over the entire body, a Rolfing session primarily focuses deeply on a single portion of the body. Each session prepares for the next in a logical progression. If you’re doing yoga, Pilates or some other form of stretching, we can usually spread the sessions out to biweekly. Otherwise, the sessions will generally be weekly.
How long lasting are the effects of Rolfing?
The length of benefit will in large part depend on the commitment you make to change. Over the course of the recommended ten sessions of manipulation of the connective tissue, I’ll teach you the skills you need to maintain proficiency in moving and holding yourself in alignment with gravity, instead of in opposition to it. If you practice this regularly, just as you might practice a sport or other physical avocation, you’ll feel the benefits continuously, barring trauma. If you fall out of practice and are later motivated to re-establish these habits, it will be like climbing back up on a bike. Some of my clients come in periodically (annually, for instance) for a “tune-up.” Others come in after an accident or surgery to both renew their experience and to address the recent abrupt changes.
Would I choose Rolfing instead of or in addition to other massage or chiropractic?
Each of these therapies has different intentions and different foci. The intention of therapeutic massage is to relax muscles, reduce stress and move fluids; this massage is generally done at a relatively superficial level over the entire body, though the therapist may pay special attention to an area suffering particular tension. Chiropractic therapy addresses structural alignment of the skeletal and nervous systems, and generally follows trauma of some sort. Rolfing, on the other hand, works through the myofascial system (muscles and connective tissue) and is as concerned with how people use their bodies in their daily lives as it is with their structural organization in gravity. Because Rolfing teaches you about how you use your body, its effects are longer lasting than therapeutic massage, and because gravity takes its toll on all of us as we age, we can benefit even if we are fortunate enough to never have experienced physical trauma.