Developed in the 1950’s as way to “unlock” pain, Rolfing (named for its founder, Ida Rolf) is distinct from massage and chiropractic work: While a massage therapist focuses on muscles and a chiropractor is concerned with the alignment of bones, a certified Rolfer manipulates the tissue, called fascia, that connects both. Rolfers don't rub-they apply steady pressure to key points on the body, releasing tension, reducing stress, and promoting balance.
Ida Rolf received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University more than 30 years before popularizing her healing treatment. She developed the practice based on her personal interest in movement theory and yoga, and after discovering an innate talent for helping friends free themselves of pain. She shaped her bodywork practice into a series of ten standardized sessions that remains the core of any Rolfing program.
Rolfers say their technique can relieve chronic pain, improve breathing, and ease symptoms of repetitive stress injuries, sciatica, and plantar fasciitis (chronic foot pain). “The basic premise is that if you change the posture and movement of the body, the functioning of the entire human is enhanced,” says Brooke Thomas, a certified Rolfer from Brooklyn, N.Y. If you develop pain in your upper back, for example, a Rolfer will try to loosen and elongate the connective tissue in the chest and ribs. This should balance out the front of the body and reduce strain all over.
Rolfing is a holistic technique in that changes in structure can impact the whole person, physically, emotionally, and energetically. In Rolf Movement Integration, the Rolfer helps clients become aware of their inhibiting movement patterns and teaches them how to change them. Dancers can benefit from awareness of their own negative movement quirks. The most common injuries in the dance world are overuse and stress injuries. Rolfers can help minimize chronic pain and teach dancers how to prevent further injury. Like in dance, Rolfing technique is concerned with positioning of the body in space and elongation of posture. Rolfing and dance are very complementary practices.
Once obscure, Rolfing is gaining new popularity among athletes, dancers, and others who suffer from chronic pain. High-profile clients include Olympic figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Elvis Stojko, and a handful of professional sports teams have incorporated Rolfing into their athletes' physical therapy programs. As demand for the bodywork increases, so has the number of Rolfers. According to the Rolf Institute, in 1970 there were 350 certified practitioners in the world; in 2007 there were more than 1,550.
ROLFING: WHAT TO EXPECT
A 20 minute consultation A 60 â€“ 90 minute bodywork session for $75 - $160
A TYPICAL SESSION
During your first visit to a Rolfer, you can expect the program to begin with questions from the practitioner about prior diseases, injuries, and activities that trigger pain. In the bodywork sessions that follow, you lie on a table as the Rolfer presses on different spots, using fingers, fists, and elbows to loosen the fascia. “It should feel like I'm taking out the strain,” says Mary Bond, author of The New Rules of Posture (Healing Arts Press, 2007) and a Rolfer from Los Angeles who studied under Rolf. “The fascia is like a responsive, textured clay that connects all parts,” she adds. Your Rolfer will occasionally ask you to stand up and walk to see how your body is responding to the manipulations.
After a series of sessions, you should become more balanced and chronic pain may be relieved entirely. Some Rolfers suggest coming in for periodic tune-ups. “But it's very much up to the individual,” says Thomas. “Some come back like clockwork every couple of months; others will get a tune-up only once or twice a year.”
The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) has continued Dr. Rolf’s exploration of how to enhance the whole person by organizing the body in gravity. To find a Rolfer practitioner in your area click here. (http://www.rolf.org/find/locate.asp).