Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) is a holistic, comprehensive method of hands-on therapy created by Ida P. Rolf to release and harmonize the entire body. Dr. Rolf sought to find “what conditions must be fulfilled in order for the human body-structure to be organized and integrated in gravity so that the whole person can function in the most optimal and economical way”. SI aims to restore flexibility, improve posture and release chronic pain, revitalizing your energy and creating ease in your body.
More than fifty years ago, Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently seamless networks of connective tissues that surround, support and penetrate all of the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. SI works to reorganize this web-like complex of connective tissues reducing compensations, alleviating pain, and altering one’s relationship with gravity. The reorganized body is more adaptability and requires less effort to deal with the stresses of life.
Athletes, office workers, and yogis can all derive benefit from Rolfing®, as it fixes imbalances and their sources. This work is recommended for injuries (old and recent), neck pain and restricted movement, chronic back pain, thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, joint pain or arthritis, migraine or headaches, restricted breathing, aftermath of any trauma, accidents, or surgery as well as surgery avoidance, and plantar fasciitis, among others.
“When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.’
Dr. Ida P. Rolf
One of the major differences between a Rolfer™ and just about every other manual practitioner is a deep understanding of relationships in the body. How to alleviate pain and discomfort by getting to the root of the problem rather than dealing with compensatory patterns or symptomatic issues. For example, lower back pain could stem from strain in the arms and ribcage causing the upper body to ‘weigh down’ on the lower back. This, combined with disorder in the pelvis from tension in the lower body, which could ‘pull’ the legs upward into the pelvis and back, rather than allowing them to ‘drop out’ of the hip and back. A Rolfer™ is like a body ‘detective’ that can see and feel into your structure to make real changes to these relationships that create order by organizing the fascial layers and creating space that can be felt throughout the body. So when touching the lower legs, there is lengthening the lumbar spine. When touching the arm, there is space opening up in the ribs, neck and back.
“Our business as Rolfers™ is to understand that we are working in a gravitational field. It is gravity that is the tool, it is gravity that is the therapist. All we are doing is directing the flow of gravity by virtue of organizing the body as though it were an electric wire so that gravity can flow through it.”
Preparing for a Rolfing® Session
Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing such as athletic shorts and tops. It is best to come with clean, dry skin. Lotions or body oils prevent access to contacting and stretching the layers of fascia. Drink plenty of fluids prior to and after the session. After the session, you will feel more spacious and be tempted to ‘test out’ your body, but it is recommended that you take a day or two (or more) to rest from exercising (including stretching or yoga practice) for at least 24 hours following a session. Most stretches shorten the opposing groups of what is being stretched. Your body will be changing for many days after the session and you wouldn’t want to interrupt this by shortening anywhere, by going back into old patterns that could be the subtle source of your pain, or adding strain. Easy, relaxing strolls are always encouraged.
The Ten Series
In your introduction to the work, you will most likely receive a standardized Rolfing® process of ten sessions. The series will systematically balance the shape and movements of the body through organization from the superficial to the deeper layers of fascia. Although individual sessions can be beneficial, completing the Ten-Series allows for a holistic transformational process that will support long-term body health. Although one session is a stand alone session, if you decide to do a series, everyone will require time to integrate each session before proceeding to the next. Some will require more, some less. In general, several days to a week is enough time between sessions. After sessions 3 and 7, one has the option of taking a bit of extra time, as there are natural resolutions in the series at these junctures.
Sessions 1-3 loosen and balance the ‘sleeve’, or superficial layers of connective tissue, working through the trunk, pelvis, legs, arms and feet.
Sessions 4-7 work on the ‘core’, or layers closer to the spine.
Sessions 8-10 are integrative in nature, inspiring a sense of order and balance from the core through the sleeve, across the entire structure.
This first session makes it easier to breathe by creating space and volume in the ribcage. We will also begin to mobilize the pelvis. Many areas of the body relate to and effect the breath, so we will work on the superficial layers of fascia of the ribs, arms, diaphragm, outer hips and thigh, and the backs of the thighs. Just about every session in the series ends with integrative neckwork, backwork, and pelvic lift to create a sense of balance in the body. Clients often say that they feel a sense of being lengthened and lightened. Many have reported others noticing a physical change after just this one session. Often clients have needed to adjust the rearview mirror up a notch in their car after just this one session!
This session’s focus is the feet and lower legs. The goals are to ground and balance the body’s foundation and to lengthen the lower back. This is attained through balancing the tibia and fibula (the long bones of the lower legs) Equilibrium is also established in the ankle joint, as well as the arches of the feet. Clients have expressed less effort in standing and a sensation of a broader, more even and ‘draping’ type of contact with the floor that sinks deeper down than previously experienced. These a lead to a deeper sense of grounding. An increased sense of balance is not uncommon.
The goals are integration of the front and back of the body by establishing a lateral line, to free and mobilize the lowest rib. The sides of the body are contacted, from the knee to the ear, lengthening the sides of the body, creating front to back depth and improving the relationship between the shoulder and hip girdles. Clients have reported feeling broader front to back, less holding in the arms and an ability to breathe more into the lower aspect of the back. The sense of being ‘lifting’ and lengthening is usually increased, too. This session closes the ‘sleeve; or superficial sessions.
Typically in the series, the odd sessions are usually upper/shoulder girdle, and the even sessions are the lower, hip girdle. This session follows that pattern and we work on the inner legs from the inner arches of the feet up to the pelvis. The pelvic floor is organized and awakened through this work on the adductors and the attachments, the sitting bones. Equilibrium of the inner thighs creates length and ease in the lower back, and ease and balance in the pelvis. With each leg session a new level of order and grounding manifests. Clients have often mentioned the feeling of the legs being more like a single pillar of support, rather than attempting to find balance between the feet. While standing, a greater sense of effortless ease has also been reported, sometimes as if the legs have vanished completely.
This is the belly session. By balancing of the front of the abdomen with the back of the abdomen, deep restrictions in the pelvis and abdomen are released, and the legs are able to drop out of the hip. The pelvis is brought into a more horizontal orientation, and the lower back relaxes back and lengthens. An expansiveness is usually felt by clients after this work, as if the body is literally bigger and the legs longer. Clients also often speak of the entire belly wall opening with the breath, like a balloon in all directions.
The sacrum session equalizes the length produced in the front of the body in session 5. The back is lengthen. The sacrum is the ‘keystone’ of the pelvis, also known as the ‘sacred’ bone. The goals are to free the sacrum and establishing a breathing pelvis. The ‘pull’ of the back of the legs on the sacrum is eliminated. When the sacrum breathes, it drops back and out of the back generating even more length in the lower back and a continuation of the deepening sense of grounding. Many clients also feel a profound sense of calm quietness after sacral work.
The head can’t truly be ‘put properly on top’ without creating freedom and order down below. The work in this session is most commonly from the clavicles (collarbones) up, but may include some arm work. The neck is lengthened, the head is related to the sacrum through the spinal column. The relationship of the neck to the thorax and cranium is vastly improved. There is a release of the neck, from the surface to deeper structures, and from the surface of the head, the cranial fascia, to the core, the cranial bones and work within the mouth and nose. Clients often speak of the head ‘floating’ like helium balloon afterwards. In many cases, they report that inside the mouth and sinuses feel bigger and more open. Some experience that the neck has ‘disappeared’ after this session.
The last three sessions are about integration. All of the layers are addressed, with an emphasis of moving from the core, through the surface, rather than using our bigger surface musculature unnecessarily. This ‘intrinsic’ movement is less likely to create strain and tension during activities. Another goal is to free the shoulder and pelvic girdles from creating strain on the core and spinal column. This helps the client move through life with more efficiency. Although there are many exceptions, the 8th session is typically a lower girdle session, and the 9th an upper girdle session.
In this final session the entire body and all of the layers are touched on, to insure that the body keeps finding more order and the changes last.
“We want to get a man out of the place where gravity is his enemy. We want to get him into the place where gravity reinforces him and is a friend, a nourishing force.”