How can Rolfing nourish your soul?
Rolfing is a hands-on treatment intended to help balance and align the body by restoring the fascial system of connective tissue to its most natural arrangement. The fascial system is a complex network of membranes that envelop and interconnect the muscles, organs and other structures of the body. By working on the fascial network, Rolfing is intended to improve posture and flexibility, relieve pain and discomfort, and help the body distribute the force of gravity as naturally as possible.
This modality was developed by Dr Ida Pauline Rolf, who earned a PhD in biochemistry in 1920 at the University of Columbia in the US, and subsequently worked as a researcher at the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr Rolf’s exploration of osteopathy, yoga and other therapeutic practices led to her conclusion that the fascial network played a key role in skeletal alignment and the optimal functioning of joints. The effect of gravity on the body figured prominently in her design of a bodywork program intended to literally restore equilibrium, “so that the whole person can function in the most optimal and economical way.”
If you’ve heard the term ‘structural integration’ used to describe the techniques developed by Dr Rolf, you might be wondering, what is Rolfing in contrast, and why is it sometimes used with a registered service mark (®)? Rolfing® is a trademarked brand of structural integration taught by the Dr Ida Rolf Institute in Colorado, USA, as well as training organisations in the UK and Germany endorsed by the Rolf Institute.
Structural integration therapy following similar principles is taught and overseen by membership organisations such as the International Association of Structural Integrators and the Guild for Structural Integration. However, the term ‘Rolfing’ is only used colloquially to describe these related techniques, so it does not take a registration mark for legal reasons. In general, ‘Rolfing’ and ‘structural integration’ are terms that can be used together or interchangeably.
Benefits of Rolfing
There is evidence to suggest Rolfing structural integration may increase range of movement and reduce pain in people suffering from spinal dysfunction in the neck area. The results of one study indicate Rolfing may offer a significant improvement in symptoms experienced by people suffering from fibromyalgia.
It is reported that Rolfing may be an effective method for reducing hamstring tightness, although active release techniques may provide greater improvements. There is also evidence to suggest structural integration may improve gait quality in children with cerebral palsy.
While academic research into Rolfing therapy is scarce, anecdotal reports of its benefits are widespread. Rolfing is one of several types of bodywork endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation in the United States, and it is reported to possibly bring relief from chronic pain. Structural integration is also said to improve a person’s proprioception and body awareness.
Because it is hypothesised that unresolved emotional issues may manifest as musculoskeletal problems, it is suggested that Rolfing may support the resolution of psychological issues. Some people undergo Rolfing as a path towards personal and spiritual development. It is also reported that through improving bodily alignment and freeing up restrictions in movement, structural integration may boost vitality and make a person feel more energised.
Rolfing may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Cerebral palsy
- Energy and vitality
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- Headaches and migraines
- Inflammation and swelling
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Mobility and movement
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Neck pain
- Pain relief
- Posture and spine issues
- PTSD and trauma
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Sports injuries
- Sports performance
- Stress and tension
What to expect from a Rolfing session
The Rolfing “Ten-Series”, often referred to as “the Recipe”, involves 10 sessions lasting roughly 90 minutes each, divided into three phases or units. Although this is a dependable approach, experienced structural integration practitioners may decide to adapt the program to suit your individual requirements. It is usually recommended that you do not wait longer than two weeks between structural integration sessions.
Prior to commencing, your Rolfing practitioner will ask you about your general health, any injuries you might have sustained, and other subjects relevant to your treatment. At the start of each session, they will also observe you as you perform common movements such as walking, breathing deeply and sitting down.
You will normally need to strip down to your underwear, although you will be provided with towels to help you stay warm and keep you from feeling exposed. You will be invited to lie down on a specially designed padded table, and your practitioner will slowly apply firm pressure to precisely targeted areas of your body. Although Rolfing massage should not be painful, some of the manipulations are quite deep and may cause feelings of discomfort. Always tell your practitioner if any of the movements are causing you pain.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Rolfing or structural integration. Rolfing is a whole-body approach to wellness, which is not intended to replace conventional medicine. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your Rolfing practitioner, who will be happy to address these and explore the option of personalising the treatment to your needs.