Frequently Asked Questions
Who should consider Rolfing Structural Integration?
According to Dr. Rolf, all bodies have some degree of disorder and compensation in their structure; therefore she believed that everyone, children and adults, should receive Rolfing Structural Integration. In fact, in her global vision, she imagined a more evolved and structurally efficient human species as a result of Rolfing SI. However, we realize that most potential clients need more compelling reasons to undergo this powerful transformative sequence of sessions.
Those who have a history of injury or trauma and notice that the effects of their often minor injuries are beginning to interfere with their everyday lives should consider Rolfing SI. In many cases these individuals have tried traditional medical treatments or exercise to reduce or counteract the long-term effects of old injuries with varying degrees of success. This group might include former and current athletes, musicians, performers or those engaged in physically demanding jobs, and those who choose not to accept the notion that the quality of their lives must suffer simply because they are aging. In fact, all adults of any age who suffer from any limiting physical discomfort can absolutely benefit from Rolfing SI, as long as there are no signs of a nervous disorder or a deeper pathology. For most of us, Rolfing SI, combined with appropriate movement therapy, such as Rolf Movement® Integration offers a long-lasting solution for connective tissue problems.
Even if someone has not experienced injury and/or trauma, Rolfing SI may offer benefits to enhance overall body conditioning and functionality. Whether you are athletic, perform tasks with repetitive-motion in daily activity, or are just looking to feel more "at home" in your body, Rolfing sessions may restore flexibility, increase balance, revitalize energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.
Rolfing SI could also be helpful for more than just the physical, including those who find that their physical limitations prevent them from attaining a higher level of spiritual or emotional well-being. Frequently, many on this path assume that the body is something to be transcended rather than something to be honored and loved. For these individuals, Rolfing SI can serve as an educational resource that allows them a more intimate and comfortable relationship with their physical body, which in turn, allows a greater ability to experience heightened awareness. Interestingly enough, as the body transforms physically, it often transforms on other planes as well, so that, while Rolfing SI's primary focus is the connective tissue system, it frequently has an even more dramatic effect in seemingly unrelated areas such as the cognitive, emotional or spiritual. Exactly how this happens is still a matter of much debate and speculation. However, the results of the work were of much greater importance than the how or why for Dr. Rolf. The genius of Rolfing SI is that it can affect so many people in so many ways and continue to reveal new possibilities.
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Does Rolfing SI hurt?
When some people think of Rolfing Structural Integration, one of the first words that come to their mind is pain. Often, this perception is based on anecdotal accounts of sessions performed during Rolfing SI's infancy, when it tended to be a less subtle and more intense discipline, frequently linked to popular emotionally intense types of therapies in the late 1960's and early 70's. Part of this reputation can be attributed to an often-quoted complaint of Dr. Rolf during her training classes that her students failed to work deep enough. Apparently, many assumed that what she meant was that they needed to work harder and deeper. However, we now realize that deep work is not necessarily synonymous with physical intensity.
Several factors determine the level of comfort or discomfort during a Rolfing session. One is the degree of trauma in the system; another is how long fascial distortions have been in the client's body. Long-term distortions create more tenacious and widespread compensatory patterns, which may require more sustained pressure to release.
Another factor is the degree of emotional charge associated with an area of injury or strain. Dr. Rolf made the point that during the therapeutic process, emotional pain is often experienced when deeply held emotional traumas and memories are brought to the surface and processed. Similarly, she reasoned, deep touch can result in a transitory experience of pain that is healing and transformative. However, there is actually a fair amount of variation in the level of intensity. Practitioners vary in the amount of pressure they feel is appropriate to affect the necessary level of change. It is recommended that the potential Rolfing client speak to several Rolfers about this issue, even experiencing the work of various practitioners, in order to evaluate both the level of intensity and the quality of the results you experienced.
A general guideline for the vast majority of Rolfing clients is that the intensity experienced is transitory, moving quickly from brief intensity to a decrease in sensation and finally to an easing of long-standing holdings which can prove both profound and transformative. To paraphrase Peter Schwind, a Certified Advanced Rolfer from Munich, Germany, "The art of Rolfing [SI] is to master a wide range of styles of touch and know when a lighter [or] more intense touch is required." Continuous communication with the client and pacing the level of intensity are essential, profoundly affecting the client's reaction to the transitory discomfort when seriously restricted tissue is softened, differentiated and reintegrated.
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What is the difference between massage and Rolfing SI?
One of the most common misconceptions about Rolfing Structural Integration is that it is a nothing more than a type of very deep massage. There are many varieties of massage, which can be particularly effective for loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, detoxing the body and evoking an increased feeling of relaxation and well-being. Since these benefits are also a byproduct of Rolfing SI, the general public experience confusion as to the precise difference between our work and the proliferation of effective touch modalities currently available. Ray McCall, a Certified Advanced Rolfer in Boulder, 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: "It is easy to take a body apart, but it takes skill and understanding 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 for long term results.
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. Influencing the structural evolution of man on a global level was Dr. Rolf's fondest dream.
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How does Rolfing SI work?
Rolfing Structural Integration strives to align and balance the body’s components until the entire system is a smoothly functioning coordinated whole. For example, the legs are aligned to the hips, shoulders to rib cage, the body is positioned over the feet, and then all of these joints and related tissue are integrated to one another. A few of the many benefits people have experienced are reduced pain, increased flexibility, an enhanced sense of body awareness, and improved posture.
These wonderful transformations are possible because Rolfing SI addresses the body’s internal system of flexible support, otherwise known as fascia. These connective tissues surround ever muscle fiber, encase all joints and even have a role in the nervous system. Think of the fascial system as an intricate internal guide wire network for the body. If one set of support wires becomes tight or out of place, the excess tension may appear as nagging joint pain, muscle soreness, or a postural shift.
To correct internal misalignments, a Rolfer uses mild, direct pressure to melt or release facial holdings and allow the body to find health through the re-establishment of balance. It is currently believed that the slow, deep strokes of Rolfing SI stimulate intra-fascial mechanoreceptors (sensory neurons of the muscle nerve), which in turn trigger the nervous system to reduce the tension of the related muscles and fascia.
Put another way, Rolfing SI allows the brain and nervous system to “re-boot” areas of the body that are receiving too much electrical stimulation (chronically tight or sore muscles). Once a healthy level of muscle contraction is established, the person’s entire structure is free to express a pain-free form.
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What is the Rolfing Ten Series?
The hallmark of Rolfing Structural Integration is a standardized “recipe” known as the Ten-Series, the goal of which is to systematically balance and optimize both the structure (shape) and function (movement) of the entire body over the course of ten Rolfing sessions.
Each session focuses on freeing restrictions or holdings trapped in a particular region of the body. A practitioner also maintains a holistic view of the client’s entire system during each session, thus ensuring that the transformational process evolves in a comfortable and harmonious way.
The Ten-Series can be divided into three distinct units.
Sessions 1-3: Called the "sleeve” sessions, numbers one through three strive to loosen and balance surface layers of connective tissue.
Specifically, the first session is devoted to enhancing the quality of breath with work on the arms, ribcage and diaphragm. Opening is also started along the upper leg, hamstrings, neck and spine. The second session helps give the body a stable foundation by balancing the foot and muscles of the lower leg. Number three typically involves a “side view” for an understanding of how the head, shoulder girdle, and hips are positionaly related to one another when standing under the influence of gravity. Then, the body is addressed within the context of this new vision.
Sessions 4-7: Four through seven are referred to as “core” sessions and examine terrain found between the bottom of the pelvis and top of the head. The idea of core also includes the deep tissue of the legs for its role in support.
Session four begins this journey, its territory extends from the inside arch of the foot and up the leg, to the bottom of the pelvis. The fifth session is concerned with balancing surface and deep abdominal muscles to the curve of the back. Session six seeks to enlist more support and moment from the legs, pelvis and lower back, while the seventh session turns its sole attention to the neck and head.
Session 8-10: “Integration” is emphasized throughout the remaining three sessions, as eight, nine and ten provide an opportunity for the practitioner to blend previously established advancements, and ones yet to be made, into the body in a way that encourages smooth movement and natural coordination.
During sessions eight and nine, the practitioner determines how best to achieve this integration, as the protocol is unique for each individual. The tenth and final session is also one of integration, but more importantly, serves to inspire a sense of order and balance. Once completed, the wisdom of the Rolfing Ten Series will drive and support the body with health for years to come.
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Is Rolfing SI suitable for infants and children?
A common misunderstanding about Rolfing Structural Integration is that its main value is in correcting long-standing structural patterns. Rolfing SI can also serve as a preventative measure to minimize potentially problematic patterns in the young. One of the things children learn from watching us is how we carry ourselves, and they will naturally imitate their parent's language, movement and other modes of expression. These patterns can be seen in family photos and are as much a part of a child's makeup as his hair color, height and predisposition to certain hereditary illnesses. Rolfing SI can begin to correct patterns, such as posture imbalances which may limit the child's development and mobility.
Also, when children are injured from falls or minor accidents, they may seem to be fine on the outside once the cut or bruise has healed. However, as Dr. Rolf pointed out, they are not really the same. Minor changes have taken place in the connective tissue, in their joints and in the muscles that were injured. Small tears or pulls cause the tissue to thicken. Soon, muscles begin to adhere to each other and are less able to function as discrete entities. These changes may express themselves as a slight limp, lower energy, a decrease in range of motion or strength.
Early intervention by a Rolfer aware of the unique needs of infants and children can make a profound difference in a child's awareness, comfort level and self-esteem. The importance of receiving loving supportive touch in and of itself is of immeasurable value to a developing child. Rolfing SI, however, can accomplish so much more, creating palpable change in the child's connective tissue matrix. We have also found that adolescents who receive Rolfing SI during and after puberty, a time of great insecurity and emotional turmoil for most of us, frequently experience, in addition to the obvious structural benefits, a profound effect on their awareness and level of comfort in their rapidly changing body and mind.
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Does Rolfing SI relieve stress?
When people come to Rolfers, they frequently complain about their high level of stress and how it affects their everyday life. They are seeking some means of reducing their stress. Often, they have explored allopathic means such as muscle relaxants, painkillers, liniments, balms and other topical treatments. When these treatments fail to achieve a satisfactory level of improvement, those still suffering seek other forms of relief such as exercise, meditation and yoga..
They may also seek a myofascial (neuromuscular) solution and start receiving regular massages or some other similar soft tissue therapy. In many cases, these therapies are good at providing transitory relief of the physical causes of chronic stress. Those seeking a more permanent solution to the problem are more likely to have success with Rolfing Structural Integration.
Rolfing SI creates a higher level of integration in the body, balancing and educating the body and the psyche. As the body approaches balance, it is more comfortable in the gravitational field. As the body becomes more comfortable, physical and emotional stress can diminish. This chain of events is a more typical sequence of events as a body changes during the Rolfing process. Ultimately, however, the results as experienced by the client are more important than the process. All clients may experience benefits from Rolfing SI; an important benefit for most is that they become less stressed and more at ease in their bodies.
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What about the emotional and psychological effects of Rolfing SI?
It is impossible to touch the physical body without touching the emotional body. All individuals develop compensatory patterns, ways of the body holding and defending itself against a variety of physical and emotional traumas.
For most Rolfers, emotional catharsis is not something consciously desired nor intended for their clients. Rather, the person is approached with reverence and compassion. When emotionally charged areas of the body have been identified by the client, or intuited by the practitioner, they are normally accessed slowly and with constant communication between the Rolfer and the client.
Sometimes, however, repressed memories or experiences will arise for which the client and the Rolfer may not have any advanced warning. In this situation, the goal of the Rolfer is to provide a safe container for their release, taking the requisite time to integrate the experience into the physical and emotional body in a way that promotes maximum resolution and minimal trauma to the system.
Rolfer's are trained to ease a client through such an experience but are not trained as therapists. The nature and quality of accessing and resolution of emotionally charged material may be the most profound portion of a client's Rolfing experience. However, the client should not enter the Rolfing process with anticipation of such a major release but should remember that the Rolfer's area of expertise is integrating and balancing connective tissue. The emotional component, as attractive or dreaded as it may be, remains an ancillary aspect of the Rolfing process and not its primary intention.
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Where can I find a Rolfer in my area?
Find a Rolfer on this site.
Please note that not all structural integration practitioners are Rolfers, even if they call refer to themselves as Rolfers or say they do Rolfing structural integration. To verify that your practitioner is an Certified Rolfer, please use Verify a Rolfer on our website.
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What are some books I can read to learn about Rolfing SI?
The Ida P. Rolf Online Library of Structural Integration offers a searchable index of many articles on Rolfing SI.
The list of books below are also a good reference, but some may no longer be available:
Anson, Briah. Rolfing: Stories of Personal Empowerment (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Press, 1998). Inspiring and insightful accounts of the Rolfing experience as reported by numerous former Rolfing clients.
Bond, Mary. Balancing Your Body: A Self-Help Approach to Rolfing to Balancing the Body (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1993).
Cottingham, John T. Healing Through Touch (Boulder, CO, The Rolf Institute, 1985). Exploration of methods of healing going back 5,000 years.
Fahey, Brian W., PhD. The Power of Balance: A Rolfing View of Health (Portland, OR: Metamorphous Press, 1995). A very accessible summary of the basic Rolfing theory and movement.
Feitus, Rosemary, ed. Remembering Ida Rolf, (Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Books, 1996). Collection of stories from people who knew Dr. Rolf.
Maitland, Jeffrey, PhD. Spacious Body: Explorations in Somatic Ontology (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1995). Philosophical consideration of embodiment, Buddhism and the Rolfing experience.
Ida Rolf Talks about Rolfing and Physical Reality. Rosemary Feitis, ed. . Reprinted ed. (Boulder, CO, The Rolf Institute, 1978). A collection of quotes on bodywork and a variety of topics of interest to Dr. Rolf.
Rolf, Ida. Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-being. Reprinted Ed. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1989). The bible of Rolfing completed late in Dr. Rolf's long career.
Schultz, R. Louis, PhD. Out in the Open: The Complete Male Pelvis (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999). A unique look at the structural and psychological issues involved in the male pelvis from a Rolfing perspective.
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What is Rolf Movement® Integration?
Towards the end of her life, Dr. Rolf felt that a movement training component would be a valuable adjunct to her structural Ten-Series. In her lifetime, Dr. Rolf collaborated with first Dorothy Nolte and then Judith Aston to develop this aspect of Rolfing Structural Integration. Since Dr. Rolf's death in 1979, many others have elevated this less familiar style of Rolfing SI to a level of high art with tremendous transformative value. Currently, approximately 25% of all Rolfers have been certified in Rolf Movement Integration and employ their training as a way of enriching their work. The purpose of Rolf Movement Integration is to work with the client to help her identify movement patterns that promote strain and asymmetry in her system. Once the patterns are identified, the Rolf Movement practitioner does not seek to change those patterns, which have served the client well, but rather to offer more economical solutions which promote greater balance and efficiency in the gravitational field.
Typically, Rolf Movement Integration exercises are folded into structural sessions. Rolf Movement Integration can, however, also be taught as a sequence of sessions devoted to specific structural and movement themes. In a classic movement series, the first session is devoted to exploring breathing patterns and using the breath to promote ease and release holdings in the ribs, lungs and respiratory diaphragm. Subsequent sessions address movement patterns in the foot, ankle and knee joints, the hip joint, the arms and head and neck. These sessions are normally repeated to access deeper holding patterns and achieve higher levels of order just as structural Rolfers return to the extremities and upper and lower girdles (the shoulder and pelvis) in the latter sessions to more fully integrate structure and function. Rolf Movement Integration can be explored by clients who have completed a structural series and can serve equally well as an autonomous tool for achieving higher levels of self-awareness and coherence.
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Is Rolfing SI helpful to musicians?
Musicians often face a number of unique physical challenges brought on by years of diligent practice and performing. Sometimes, even the best musicians develop habits which lead to chronic pain, mostly in their hands and wrists, forearms, neck and shoulders and lower back. Rolfing Structural Integration and Rolf Movement Integration can help in a number of ways. Physical adaptations to a musician's chosen instrument, including the voice, which often lead to discomfort and imbalance, are normalized in a traditional Rolfing Ten Series. The Rolfing Ten Series can be specifically adapted to address such patterns as carpal tunnel, chronic muscle imbalances and long-term effects of odd stances and body position caused by the exigencies of playing a given instrument. Musicians who have experienced the basic series have consistently noticed profound changes in their level of physical comfort, energy level and internal awareness. This increased freedom of movement noticeably impacts the performer's pleasure in performing and often leads to greater creative abilities. Another tool many Rolfers employ is movement work. Those trained in Rolf Movement Integration observe you in the act of playing and call your attention to subtle ways you hold or translate force through your body which reinforce strain patterns that interfere with your performance. The movement teacher's intention is not to change how you play or to inhibit your unique approach to the instrument. Rather, they help you find creative alternatives to stressful patterns in your current mode of performance.
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