Rolfing is the holistic philosophy, science and art of releasing, enhancing and integrating the structural, functional and energetic organisation of the human body in gravity.
Developed by Dr. Ida P. Rolf (1896-1979), Rolfing was originally called Structural Integration but the public preferred the eponymous title and the nickname remained. Dr Ida P. Rolf began her inquiry more than fifty years ago, devoting her energy to creating a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organised the whole body in gravity. She discovered that she could achieve remarkable changes in posture and structure by manipulating the body's myofascial system.
The founder of Rolfing, Dr Ida P Rolf, was born in New York and graduated from Barnard College in 1916 with a bachelor of science degree. In 1920 she received her doctorate in biochemistry from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. During the 1950s, after 25 years of developing her revolutionary work, Dr Rolf presented Structural Integration in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, primarily to osteopaths and chiropractors. Most "deep-tissue" therapies and many other types of soft tissue manipulation developed in the United States have been influenced by Dr Rolf's work, along with that of some of the early osteopaths including Drs Still, Sutherland and Ward. In the 1960s, she was invited by Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, to teach at Esalen Institute in the Big Sur, California. During this time, Rolfing rose to unprecedented popularity and, possibly, because many in the Gestalt/Human potential movement flocked to Rolfing and promulgated numerous accounts of profound transformation, Rolfing developed a reputation as a desirable cathartic form of emotional processing and release. To this day, many university psychology texts include descriptions of Rolfing.
Rolfing is a unique somatic practice designed to proavtively explore, improve and balance a person's structural/somatic "pattern" within gravity. If you can imagine how it feels to live in a fluid, light, balanced body, free of pain, stiffness and chronic stress, at ease with itself and the gravitational field, then you will understand the purpose of Rolfing. World-class athletes, musicians, artists, actors, business people and people from all walks of life and of all ages have sought the benefits of Rolfing. Not only do people seek Rolfing as a way to ease pain and chronic stress, but also as a way to improve performance in their profession and daily activities.
"Before" and "after" photographs of once slouching clients who appear to have grown an inch or two are evident that, at the very least, Rolfing improves posture and elongates the body. But the more profound results of this approach are located within the "subjective" experience of the client. It is the "experience" of being supported in gravity and the individual's perception of imminent change that Rolfers are working toward.
Rolfing is not a form of massage, deep tissue or otherwise, nor is it simply a type of myofascial or osseous release therapy, although all of these respective approaches are rest upon Dr Rolf's pioneering work. Instead, it is an entirely holistic form of education and manipulation that deals with the whole person in relation to gravity.
Rolfing is as much a philosophical stance as it is a concrete, hands-on therapy. For example, if someone came up with a way to structurally organise a person within gravity by merely waving a hand over a body without ever touching the person, that could be considered Rolfing because the holistic intent was balancing he whole person in gravity. Merely fascilitating relaxation, fluid flow, and/or symptomatic relief through superficial or deep tissue techniques is wonderful - however, it's not Rolfing. The view of gravity's impact on human structure is the hallmark of Rolfing and distinguishes it from all other types of somatic approaches.
Beginning with the insight that the human body is a unified structural and functional whole that stands in a unique relation to the uncompromising prescence of gravity, Dr Rolf asked this fundamental question: "What conditions must be fulfilled in order for the human body to be organised and integrated in gravity so that it can function in the most economical way?"
Science has known for years that proper physiological function and anatomical structure are related. Dr Rolf agreed, along with her peers in Osteopathy and Chiropractic, that the body as a whole functioned better when local areas of dysfunction were resolved, when bony segments were in proper alignment, and when joints exhibited proper mobility. But she realised that a long lasting and profound transformation in our bodily being, alignment, and overall sense of wellbeing and freedom, required a more far reaching understanding of the impact of gravity on our bodies. Dr Rolf was not only concerned with creating a system of manipulation that could ease the pain and stresses of human life by properly aligning the body, but she was also profoundly interested in creating a system that could transform the whole person at every level.
Rolfing achieves its remarkable results by manipulating the myofascial system. The medium that is so radically influenced by gravity is fascia. Fascia is a continuous web of thin, elastic (connective) tissue throughout the entire body. It binds muscle fibres together, and attaches muscles to bones and to each other, covers organs and blood vessels and provides the individual shape of the human form. Eighty percent of the body's protein is utilised to create and maintain this intricate system. Fascia can be distorted due to injury, emotional trauma and poor postural habits. It adapts to these insults by contracting and bonding, thereby shortening and thickening.
Basic physical movements become complicated and too much energy is hen required for a simple task. Rolfing attempts to reverse this process by systematically and sensitively freeing fascial adhesions and, then, introducing more efficient movement options which reinforce the structural change. The proactive nature of the work is another characteristic that distinguishes the process from other deep-tissue techniques.
Our bodies must deal with gravity like other material structures. When we are out of alignment, gravity drags us down, just as it drags down a building that has lost its architectural integrity. Whether from poor posture, injury, illness or emotional distress, a misaligned or "random" body is at war with gravity. We experience this war as pain, stress and depleted energy.
Rolfers are similar to archaeologists while working with the body in that they are involved in the process of "uncovering". Does the archaeologist, upon discovering something old and significant, pull out a jack-hammer and desecrate the site? Instead, precise tools and brushes are used to patiently extricate the under-lying material. In the same manner, Rolfers are trained to sensitively uncover patterns of holding and shortening in the body that may or may not be tolerably painful. If there was no accumulated trauma in the bodies, there would no pain whatsoever.
The most common misconception about Rolfing is that the technique consists of gratuitously painful pressure that is applied to the client, but that is not the case. In fact, the Rolfer's eyes, more than his hands are the primary tools used to "see" the structural pattersn that have emerged over the course of a person's life. To the Rolfer's trained eyes, the all too prevalent examples of bodily disorder, such as slouched posturs with head and neck too far forward, hyper-erect structures that bow backward, knock knees or bowed legs, flat feet or high arches or excessive spinal curvature (Scoliosis), all display complicated patterns of strain, tightness and thickening of the connective tissue.
But, rather than merely doing something to the body, especially something that does not honour or moves beyond the client's boundaries, Rolfers approach their objective with finesse. Metaphorically, as a type of "dialogue" with the body, Rolfing is more about listening and suggesting, rather than shouting or demanding.
Through refined and intelligent pressure applied by the educated hands of the Rolfer, layer by layer of fascia is softened and lengthened, allowing the body to effortlessly right itself in gravity. From the Rolfing perspective, if the whole body is not properly prepared to receive the effects of local manipulations, either the change will not be maintained or strain will show up in other areas. Photographs may be taken before and after the work to show changes in the body. Rolfing is an on-going process of change that may continue after an initial series. Advanced sessions are available after a period of integration.
Rolfing Movement Integration is a system of movement education that continues the process of change by promoting more harmonious and efficient movement within gravity, thereby continuing the process of embodiment.
Rolfing practitioners and movement teachers are trained and certified at the International Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which continues to be the leader, pioneer, and the source of the most advanced forms of myofascial manipulation and body integration anywhere in the world today.