Rolfing Technique

What is Rolfing Massage?

Rolfing is a type of structural integration that helps to align the whole body by reorganizing the connective tissues of the body.

Using mild, direct pressure and slow, deep strokes, the Rolfing practitioner works each part of the body in need of realignment. It is believed that by addressing the connective tissues of the body—the interconnected network that ties the muscles and bones into one cohesive unit—clients can find pain and stress relief.

Rolfing takes a three-pronged approach to balancing the body: Palpation, Discrimination, and Integration. In the Palpation stage, practitioners find areas of weakness in the body by using their hands to feel the muscles and tissue.

In the Discrimination stage, the practitioner more closely determines the imbalances (muscles and tissue that have been pulled out of position) that need to be repaired. Finally, in the Integration stage, the body is returned to a more balanced and natural order by reshaping and reorganizing the body’s connective tissues.

How Rolfing Structural Integration Works

Rolfing works by aligning each of the body’s components with the others, with particular attention to the way the whole body coordinates with the forces of gravity. For example, the legs might be first aligned to the hips and the shoulders to the rib cage before trying to align the upper and lower body halves. While this process is occurring,there is typically an emotional and spiritual component to the healing, as well.

Rolfing can be painful, if only because access to the deeper myofascial tissues can take a more firm touch. However, it is believed to be no more painful than other types of deep tissue massage, especially in more recent years, when the focus has been on shared transformation of the mind and body, rather than just the body. Intensity tends to be increased for those with longer-lasting and deeper injuries.

History of Rolfing

Rolfing was named after Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the founder of the treatment. Dr. Rolf received her Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1920, doing much research to further her own knowledge of the human body. Part of this commitment was fueled by the health problems experienced by Dr. Rolf and her two sons.

Dr. Rolf’s research eventually led to an alternative healing path that embraced the tenets of homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractics, the Alexander technique of controlling one’s own body, and yoga. The result of her studies was the first form of Rolfing, which was built upon a series of ten sessions (now called the Ten Series) that work the deep connective tissues, bringing a level of physical balance that uses the natural pull of the gravitational field on the human body.

Although Dr. Rolf passed away in 1979, her work continues on through the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. There are now more than 1,550 Rolf practitioners operating all over the world.

What are the Differences between Rolfing and Massage?

Although massage and Rolfing share many similar characteristics, they are not the same thing. Deep (or myofascial) massage seeks primarily to loosen muscles deep within the body by using strong physical manipulation. The reasons for deep tissue massage are varied, but typically include relaxation, stress reduction, detoxification, and pain relief. Although these types of benefits are often experienced through the Rolf technique, Rolfing works to balance the body by “integrating” the different segments, which might have become pulled out of position by injury, strain, or a lifetime of bad habits.

Perhaps most importantly, Rolfing is also based on the idea that bodily tension and emotional stress are connected, and that only by relieving one can the other be healed. When a client undergoes a Rolfing treatment, the result is not just a more balanced body, but a more balanced awareness, as well. Clients are taught to take care of their own physical, spiritual, and emotional health, allowing them to continue enjoying the effects of structural alignment for years. In this way, Rolfing is considered a holistic practice as well as an “energy” healing process.

Benefits of Rolfing Structural Integration

One of the most visible benefits of Rolfing Structural Integration is a person’s posture. Because the body and all its muscles are being realigned with respect to the natural pull of gravity, the release of tension and pain allows flexibility to be restored. Other reasons for seeking the treatment include pain relief, stress reduction, holistic awareness, and increasing sports performance.

Like pushing a reset button on the computer, Rolfing is believed to allow the body to work more efficiently and conserve energy. Minor injuries, such as those that befall athletes, musicians, and other professionals who do repetitive muscle movements, are those most often helped by the Rolf treatment.

The second largest group to receive treatment are those seeking ways to transform the body while simultaneously transforming the mind. As Dr. Rolf herself states, “Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body’s energy field.”

Clients go through a series of ten sessions, which are divided into three units. The first three are devoted to loosening and balancing the surface layers of tissue all along the body.

The second set of four sessions are the “core” of the program, paying particular attention to the center of the body, from the pelvis to the head. The deep tissue of the legs is also addressed here. The last set of three sessions encourage a more healthy and natural movement by bringing all the other units sessions cohesion.

Rolfing Practitioners

To become an official practitioner of the Rolf technique, practitioners must go through a one- to two-year (731 hour) training program through the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, which is located in Colorado. International offices can also be found in Europe, Brazil, Australia, Canada, and Japan. Upon completion of the course, practitioners are certified and can learn advanced techniques through continuing education.

Practitioners may also be certified in the Rolf Movement, which is more of a spiritual teaching component for helping clients to generate balance in their lives away from the Rolfing treatment. Variations of the structural integration technique do exist in other forms and under other names, but the trademarked version of Rolfing is the only one that is based directly on Dr. Rolf’s work.




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  1. tissue techniques says:

    There is a whole lot of good information throughout this article. I will be opting-in to your rss feed.

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