Albeit not the easiest of words to grasp..and it can often be a world of pain when people ask us what we do, but the name Rolfing is actually linked to its founder, Dr Ida Rolf, who after exploring many alternative forms of healing such as osteopathy, homeopathy, and yoga, developed her own method in the 60s known as Rolfing Structural Integration.
What is Rolfing?
Rolfing Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that focuses on healing the body through working with its connective tissue (also known as fascia). Traditionally given over a series of 10 sessions, its main goal is to help you rid all underlying patterns of tension throughout your whole body so that you can change your postural habits and move in the easiest relationship to gravity.
What is fascia and why is it so important?
Connective tissue (fascia) is like a glorified body stocking within us that individually wraps and encases every single one of our muscles, organs, bones, and spans our entire body system. Better just to say, it’s everywhere!
Fascia is gel like in substance and its density changes depending on the location in the body. Most people think of bones and muscles when they think of their structure and that is what holds us upright, but it’s actually the abundance of fascia within us that connects and holds our posture in a big tension of support. Without fascia, we wouldn’t be joined together- basically.
What happens when we misuse or injure our body?
Fascia is constantly adapting in response to how we use our body, so when we’ve been misusing our body with poor postural habits, have injured ourselves or are recovering from surgery, fascia has to work much harder to support us. It’s here where fascia will shorten, dehydrate and will change to more of a glue like substance rather than a gel. What does this mean, it means that when you’re moving, fascia will stick to your muscles rather than gliding over them so your movement will inevitably be restricted.
This is the point where people can run in to problems, if fascia is glued up then this creates ‘knots’, pain, dysfunction, and fascia will attach itself to neighbouring structures to gain stability, which means they’ll move in more of a clump. This isn’t ideal for you, because adjacent body parts are then dragged in to movement when they could be at rest. The ideal situation is where fascia is pliable, hydrated and allows your muscles to glide in a rhythmical way, so that when you breathe, stand and move, you have energy because none of your muscles are constantly working and none are constantly at rest.
How does Rolfing differ from existing body therapies like massage, osteopathy, chiropractic, physio, acupuncture, fascial release?
Manipulating Connective Tissue (fascia)
Rolfing is actually in some ways very similar to practices like osteopathy, physio and massage; they all seek to optimise body health and they work with fascia in some way, even if it’s not their direct intention. When manipulating fascia though Rolfing follows a unique method designed by Ida Rolf that works toward achieving whole body ease and balance, so simply having this focus makes it different to the approach a physio or massage therapist may take.
Tackling the source as well as the symptom
As whole body functionality is the goal of Rolfing, we might not focus just on the area where you are experiencing pain. Pain is often part of a much bigger picture that has been accumulated from years of moving in a way that has made sense to you. It is only when we are in pain that we are stopped in our tracks and forced to realise that we have been moving in a way that has put too much strain on our body. So we take the time to release the underlying restrictions from your injury and make sure to track it through your entire system. Therapies like physio, massage, and fascial release generally work more acutely in the muscle or fascial system in response to pain.
Chiropractic and Osteopathy regularly use high velocity boney adjustments to restore healthy alignment in your spine and there is more of a focus on skeletal alignment. Rolfing too works to restore structure but works through the fascia to restore it, the speed of this technique is much slower than a boney adjustment.
A big part of the Rolfing work is to help you understand the way you move, and to find a more efficient and resilient way that your body can function. What is normally quite common in other therapies is showing movements to copy and repeat until that problem eventually goes away; Rolfing differs slightly in this respect. We use imagery, language, and your own feedback to navigate you through movement so that you are closer to your body and can move in a way that makes sense specifically to you and your body structure.
Most massage therapies have the aim to relax you (which is wonderful), and this at times can be a by-product of the Rolfing work, however what we’re mainly looking to do in Rolfing is to help rid all the underlying tension you have acquired and completely transform the way you move. To do this it’s important that the relationship between Rolfer and client is more active and collaborative so that you can move toward change.
Who uses Rolfing?
Most people come to Rolfing looking to reduce their pain and chronic muscle tension that has resulted from a physical or emotional strain. Athletes, performers, and public speakers use Rolfing to refine their patterns of movement or to help them conserve energy, as well as recovering from and building up a resilience to injury. Others look to Rolfing as a personal ‘spring clean’, an alternative to surgery, or a way to come back in to their body post pregnancy or trauma.