What’s in a name?
What is commonly referred to as Rolfing® is actually a form of Structural Integration (SI). Rolfing® is a trademark owned by the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, as is the little boy logo on the right, and these can only be used legally by Rolf Institute graduates who pay a yearly membership fee. Nevertheless, all forms of Structural Integration have their roots in Dr. Ida Rolf’s work, hence the term “Rolfing®,” although Dr. Rolf called her work Structural Integration. It is also less known that there are two aspects to Rolfing® work, namely the structural work and the movement work. The word Rolfing® is usually used to refer to the structural aspect of the work.
So, what exactly is Rolfing® Structural Integration?
Rolfing® SI is a form of physical manipulation of the body to try to realign it to function with ease and balance in the field of gravity. Balance in the field of gravity is achieved by bringing segments of the body, i.e., head, neck, torso, pelvis, legs and feet, into a more structurally organized relationship with one another. In other words, Rolfing® helps to improve a person’s posture. Our body can get out of alignment in many ways. Falls, accidents, pregnancy and childbirth, repetitive stress injuries and incorrect body use all contribute to the state of our physical and mental well-being or dis-ease. Our modern lifestyle is stressful and consists of hours in front of computers and monitors, demanding a high level of mental concentration and contributing to eye fatigue. All of the above conditions can bring about tightness and stiffness in the body, leading to twists and imbalances. Joints become compromised and chronic pains appear in various parts of the body.
Rolfing® SI works to restore balance in the body. The Rolfer™ attempts to bring back optimal relationship between the different parts of our body so we can use it as a connected whole by taking away tightnesses and pulls that take us out of alignment. Each person has a unique body history with tensions and pulls that must be considered in relationship to that person alone. The work, in terms of the exact parts of the body that are worked on, the elements that are considered important in a session, and the number of sessions, is completely tailored to each person’s individual needs.
A word on gravity
Gravity is something as second nature to our existence as air is, and yet it’s not something that we think about or pay attention to. It’s taken for granted that the physical world as we know it is as it is only because of gravity. Trees grow upward, while a ripe apple falls to the ground.
As with all structures, our body is under the influence of gravity from the day that we are conceived. Our challenge increases as we learn to raise our heads as infants, to crawl, sit, and eventually to stand and walk as a biped.
A tree can grow into a strong and sturdy tree only because it is able to use gravity to do so. The animation above shows how plants use the downward pull of gravity to grow upward. In the same way, if we can find the exact opposite direction in our bodies to the pull of gravity, we will be able to stand tall and strong, without unnecessary effort.
Look at the posture of the person in the photo. Before starting the Rolfing® process, his upper and lower centers of gravity were not aligned, and were thus fighting with gravity to stay upright. Areas marked in red were where the body was working unduly hard to hold the structure up, and these were the areas that the client complained of pain and tiredness. After completing the Rolfing® series, both centers of gravity are more aligned and there is now a sense of ease and lift in the body. As Ida Rolf says, “Gravity is the therapist.”
What is manipulated in Rolfing® Structural Integration?
Rolfing® SI manipulates the connective tissue, and especially the fascia, in the body. In Rolfing® SI, when we say connective tissue, we’re mainly referring to fascia, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Fascia is a sheet or band of connective tissue that lies deep to the skin or invests muscles and various body organs, enveloping and isolating them as it provides structural support and protection. There are three kinds of fascia: subcutaneous or superficial fascia, aponeurotic or deep fascia, and subserous fascia. The picture below shows the relationship of deep fascia to other connective tissue in a muscle.
Superficial fascia is a continuous sheet that covers the entire body, similar to a wetsuit or a piece of clothing over the body. Click here to see a picture of an intact superficial fascia from a dissection.
If a part of the superficial fascia is twisted or pulled in a certain direction due to chronic patterns in how we use our bodies, the entire fascia is affected, as illustrated in the picture below.
Chronic pulls in the deep fascia, as well as tension in tendons and ligaments, can pull bones out of alignment, bringing about any number of discomforts in the body. Along the spine, this can cause herniation of intervertebral discs, for example.
Rolfing® SI attempts to restore these connective tissues to their optimal relationship to one another, so there is ease, flow and balance in the body.
Rolf Movement® Integration
Although the word Rolfing® is more associated with the structural aspect of the work, i.e., the physical manipulation of the body, it is really a holistic form of bodywork that responds to the entire human experience, which includes the physical, functional, energetic and psychological.
The physical shape of our body reflects the state of our mind and the way we use our body. How we sit, stand and walk directly affects how we feel in our body. At the same time, how we sit, stand and walk is intricately related to our perception and our relationship to the space around us.
For example, if we are to habitually put our weight only on the left leg when we are standing, then over the years, our body is going to assume a shape that is created around the body supporting itself on that one leg. There could be a myriad of reasons for why someone would put weight only on the left leg. It could be due to a protective habit that came about after an appendectomy surgery which left the right pelvic area feeling sore and tender. It could be that the person feels more connected and comfortable on the left side of the body, or that the person’s peripheral vision is clearer on the left side, etc.
Rolf Movement® work, also referred to as the functional aspect of the work, is indispensable in Rolfing® SI. They are but two sides of the same coin and it takes both to bring about a complete experience. Frequently, a Rolfing® session would include both aspects of the work. Rolf Movement® Integration explores our habitual way of movement, our perception, and how these are an expression of how and what we think and feel. Rolf Movement® helps us become aware of how the different aspects of our experience come together in our body and offers us new options of movement and being.