The pioneer of this unique approach was Dr Ida P. Rolf (1896-1979), a brilliant and original American scientist who developed the Rolfing® system when she was struggling to deal with the physical problems of her family and friends.
She originally called her work Structural Integration, but her early clients often joked that they were going to be ‘Rolfed’ or ‘Rolfed over’, so the word ‘Rolfing®’ was invented and this slang has stuck.
Dr Rolf had a passionate belief in the ideals of yoga and believed that a lengthened and aligned body not only promoted physical health, but psychological, emotional and spiritual health as well. Like the followers of yoga, she believed that a body organized around a vertical line was freer to respond to all of life’s challenges, and better organized to resist the relentless force of gravity that so often accelerates our postural collapse.
In her own word: “Some individuals may perceive their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body, others as a constant fatigue; yet others as an unrelentingly threatening environment. Those over 40 may call it old age. And yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem, so prominent in their own structure, as well as others, that it has been ignored: they are off balance. They are all at war with gravity.”
What is Rolfing®?
Rolfing® refers to a system of Structural Integration and manual therapy developed by Dr Ida Rolf over 50 years of study. It is an original and scientifically proven system of body restructuring and movement education, which releases the body from lifelong patterns of tension and bracing, and allows the force of gravity to realign the body’s segments.
The Rolfing series is designed to uncover a structural ease and balance that is unique to each client. Rolfing cannot accurately be described as therapy or as a returning of the body to a “natural” state from which it has deteriorated. Rather, it is a process of education in which a Rolfer seeks to help a client discover the most efficient means of using his or her body, given the uniqueness of the individual. Through hands on techniques and guided movements, Rolfing slowly stretches and repositions the body’s fascia, the supportive wrapping of the body, restoring natural length and elasticity to the body through its network of deep connective fibers of the fascia.
People seek Rolfing as a way to ease pain and chronic stress, and improve performance in their professional and daily activities. Athletes, dancers, children, business people, and people from all walks of life have benefited from Rolfing.
What is the difference between Rolfing and Massage?
One of the most common misconceptions about Rolfing is that it is a nothing more than a type of very deep massage. There are many varieties of massage, which are particularly effective for loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, detoxing the body and an increased feeling of relaxation and well-being. Since these benefits are also a by-product of Rolfing, the general public experience confusion as to the precise difference between our work and the proliferation of effective touch modalities currently available. Ray McCall, an Advanced Rolfer in Boulder and former student of Dr. Rolf, once said that what Rolfers do can be summed up in three words: palpation, discrimination and integration. We palpate or touch the tissue, feeling for imbalances in tissue texture, quality and temperature to determine where we need to work. We discriminate, or separate fascial layers that adhere and muscles that have been pulled out of position by strain or injury. Finally, we integrate the body, relating its segments in an improved relationship, bringing physical balance in the gravitational field. Other soft-tissue manipulation methods, including massage, are quite good at the first two, but do not balance the body in gravity.
As Dr. Rolf used to say: “Anyone can take a body apart, very few know how to put it back together”. The true genius of her method is the art and science of reshaping and reorganizing human structure according to clearly defined principles in a systematic and consistent manner.
In addition to our skill as structural integrators, we are also educators, a point Dr. Rolf stressed frequently in her training classes. The role of teacher is something every Rolfer takes seriously. In each session, Rolfers seek to impart insights to clients to increase their awareness and understanding, to help the client make the work we do their own. Our job is to make ourselves obsolete, by empowering our clients to take charge of their own physical and emotional health.