Rolfing was developed about 50 years ago by Ida Rolf, PhD, a biochemist who became interested in the subject of body structure and function while trying to relieve her son’s pain. She originally named it “structural integration” and although this name is still used today, it has become more popularly known as Rolfing – a name that is now trademarked.
The theory behind Rolfing is that the body’s natural state is relaxed, comfortable and aligned with the Earth’s gravity. However, over time the stresses of everyday life cause people to adjust the way they hold their bodies and the way they move. An example is what happens when people spend long hours at a computer – their head drops down and forward, their shoulders hunch over and their ears end up over air instead of directly above their shoulders.
Newly-learned positions and movements become patterns and for a while may be more comfortable. But eventually, because they work against gravity, they put even more stress on the body. Muscles may become shorter on one side and longer on the other and the tissue that connects them – the fascia – may become stiff and even fused, creating adhesions. A Rolfing treatment is designed to not only release the adhesions and relax the muscles, but also teach better body mechanics so that the patterns the client has just “unlearned” don’t return.
A Rolfing session does use massage techniques, but these are usually done more slowly and deeply; since Rolfing is intended to affect the structure of the body, the more superficial techniques of massage are not helpful. The work the Rolfer does can be intense. But the level of discomfort the client may feel will depend on how out of the balance the body is and whether the Rolfer has to do a lot of work to release the effects of old injuries. The best advice is to try to avoid tensing up by “breathing through” the more difficult techniques. After a treatment the client will usually feel lighter and more balanced and may even be taller.
Rolfing is usually done in a series of 10 sessions, starting with specific areas and progressing to whole-body treatments. These sessions are usually done about a week to two weeks apart. The Rolfer may also give the client exercises to do between sessions to help them move more correctly and stay aware of how they move – in other words, to keep the re-education process going. Some people would rather get only one or two treatments focusing on what they think are their problem areas, but most Rolfers discourage this. They believe that focused treatment is not helpful and does not have lasting effects, because each part of the body supports each other part.
Some of the effects of Rolfing are – increased flexibility – better posture – relief of pain, muscle tension, or headaches – smoother, more efficient body movement – emotional balancing (which results from the physical balancing and release of old injuries)
Because it works to change the structure – and therefore function – of the entire body, Rolfing may not be as relaxing as some other forms of bodywork, but for long-term effects many people prefer it to anything else.