Frequently Asked Questions

How does Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) work?

Dr. Rolf never offered a complete answer to this important question. Consequently, since her passing, a number of useful theories have been proposed for how Rolfing SI permanently transforms human structure. Several of our senior faculty have contributed important theories.

One widely accepted theory is called the thixotropic or gel-sol-gel theory. Basically, this theory states that touch/pressure generates heat and that this heat softens or liquifies connective tissue and turns it from a gelatinous to a liquid substance. Once the tissue is softened, it becomes more malleable and can be more easily reorganized and manipulated. While in this plastic state it forms a new relationship to the surrounding muscular and bony structures.

Another view proposed by Advanced Rolfer and faculty member Robert Schleip argues that there is a strong neurological connection. Pressure of the type applied by Rolfers activates sensory receptors. These receptors send signals to the brain which in turn allows the affected tissue to change its tensile strength and make it more easy to manipulate. Other Rolfers have argued for a hybrid theory which incorporates elements of both the neurological and thixotropic models.

Another way of answering this is to state that Rolfing SI balances the body in all directions: front to back; side to side; and inside to outside. It integrates all layers and types of connective tissue. When we do this, we return the body to a state of balance or homeostasis that is more desirable for optimum functioning.

Since it is universally accepted that the body is constantly in the process of self-correction to achieve homeostasis, and since Rolfing SI is a process that helps move the body more closely to that state, we can therefore infer that a body that has undergone Rolfing SI is a more highly desirable state for the human organism and that the human who has received Rolfing SI work will tend to both prefer and "hold" this more efficient orientation.

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Who should consider receiving Rolfing SI work?

According to Dr. Rolf, all bodies have some degree of disorder and compensation in their structure; therefore she believed that everyone should be Rolfed. 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 session. It is possible to divide those who come to Rolfing SI into two groups.

The first and largest group who should consider receiving Rolfing SI are 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. 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 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 the pains themselves are in the neuromuscular system and not signs of a nervous disorder or a deeper pathology. For most of us, Rolfing SI combined with appropriate movement therapy and exercise offers a long-lasting solution for connective tissue problems.

The second group are those who are on a spiritual path and who find that their physical limitations prevent them from attaining a higher level of spiritual or emotional peace. Frequently, many on this path assume that the body is something to be transcended rather than something to be honoured and loved.

For these individuals, Rolfing SI can serve as an educational resource which allows them a more intimate and comfortable relationship with their physical body, which in turn allows a greater ability to experience greater serenity.

Interestingly enough, as the body transforms physically it transforms on other planes as well, so that, while Rolfing SI's primary focus is the muscular and connective tissue system, it frequently has an even more dramatic effect in seemingly unrelated areas such as the 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 effect so many people in so many ways and continue to reveal new possibilities for such a rich diversity of individuals.

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What is the Rolfing Ten Series?

When Dr. Rolf began teaching students to Rolf in the 1960s, she taught them a sequence of sessions which is are generally referred to as "the recipe". This recipe is a sequence of 10 sessions each of which focuses on a specific region of fascial geography and has detailed structural goals.

The logic of this sequence is a consequence of over 50 years of frequently revised thought and practical application. This pattern of sessions can be divided into three discrete units.

The first three sessions are called the "sleeve sessions" and are devoted to loosening and balancing the surface layers of connective tissue. The sleeve can be visualized as the connective tissue network which is arranged in a series of vertical bags.

Easing the outer layers and improving the relationship between these bags is a critical first step in the process of achieving improved structural balance and integration. In Dr. Rolf's view, it is not appropriate to work deep in the tissue unless the stress you release has somewhere to go.

If the first three hours have been performed successfully, the deeper work can be translated through the surface and integrated more completely.

The first hour is often referred to as the breath session and focuses on freeing and mobilizing the ribs. The ribcage is also freed from the pelvis. Connecting type work is also done along the upper leg, hamstrings and through the head, neck and spine. This connecting work from the head to the sacrum is typically done at the end of each hour.

The second hour provides support for the first session and focuses on balancing the foot and muscles of the lower leg.

The third hour typically involves a view of the body from the side and seeks to organize the body around a conceptual lateral line that runs from the earlobe to the lateral malleolus, the protruding ridge of bone on the outer lateral surface of the ankle.

Increasing a client's awareness of this line is an important aspect of this and later sessions. Another term for this hour comes from Dr Rolf's Protégé, Emmet Hutchins. He calls this hour the "sloppy block" session and views the body, when seen from the side, as a series of blocks and seeks to arrange the body around the lateral line.

The next four sessions are referred to as the core sessions. The core is a conceptual space deep in the centre of the body. Imagine a human skeleton and place your hand inside the skeleton at the base of the pelvis. Now slide your arm up under the ribs to the jaw. If you could extend your hand up to the top of the cranium, you would have a clear sense of what most Rolfers mean by "core".

The core sessions begin with a session in the inner leg. It focuses on a conceptual inner line that supports the core and runs from the inner arch of the foot to the deep adductor tendons that attach into the pelvic floor, a thick band of connective tissue at the base of the pelvis on which the intestine sit. The fifth session is concerned with the abdomen and focuses on balancing the surface and deep abdominal muscles. Fascial restrictions in and around the visceral (organ) system are normally addressed in this hour as well. The six and seventh hours can be thought of as a unit which includes the surface and deep structures of the hips and the spine and continues that work up to the head and neck.

The last three hours are referred to as the integrative hours. This is where the Rolfer has an opportunity to tie her previous sessions together, working in the middle layers of connective tissue. Dr. Rolf encouraged her students to look at the body anew in these final sessions. Rolfers are encouraged to ask a series of questions about what our client's body needs to be more complete, more balanced, freer to express its full potential. While there are a variety of creative ways to achieve this higher level of integration including movement sessions, subtle body cueing (a type of education and awareness through movement) and subtle middle layer integrative techniques. Most Rolfers agree that the genius of Dr. Rolf's work is in the ten-series which can result in amazing physical and emotional transformations in a remarkably short period of time. One obvious advantage of this sequence is that it is possible to complete sessions with different Rolfers anywhere since we all understand what you would require if you come us and say: "I'm here for my 5th hour." This broad standard framework assures a high and consistent level of work throughout the world.

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What is the difference between Rolfing SI and Massage?

One of the most common misconceptions about Rolfing SI is that it is a nothing more than a type of very deep massage. There are many varieties of massage, which are particularly effective for loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, detoxing the body and 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, an Advanced Rolfer in Boulder and former student of Dr. Rolf, 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: "Anyone can take a body apart, very few know how 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.

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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Is Rolfing SI suitable for children?

A common misunderstanding about Rolfing SI is that its main value is in correcting long-standing structural patterns. Rolfing SI can also serve as a prophylactic measure to reverse 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 colour, height and predisposition to certain hereditary illnesses. Rolfing SI can begin to correct patterns, such as hip 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 since the cut or bruise 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 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 Rolfing SI adolescents, during and after puberty, a time of great insecurity and emotional turmoil for most of us, besides the obvious structural benefits, frequently has a profound effect on the developing child's awareness and comfort in his or her rapidly changing body and mind.

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Does Rolfing SI hurt?

When most people think of Rolfing SI, one of the first words that come to their mind is pain. Often, this perception is based on anecdotal accounts of sessions performed during RolfingSI 's infancy, when it tended to be often 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 surface and processed. Similarly, she reasoned, deep touch can result in transitory experience of pain that is healing and transformative.

However, there is actually a fair amount of variation in the level of intensity. Various practitioners feel intensity is appropriate to affect the necessary level of change. It is recommended that, if possible, the potential Rolfing client speak to a number of Rolfers about this issue and try the various work of practitioners, judging both the level of intensity and the quality of the results you experience.

A general guideline for the vast majority of Rolfing clients is that the intensity experienced is transitory, moving quickly form 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 and more intense touch is required".

Continuous communication with the client and pacing the level of intensity are essential, profoundly effecting the client's reaction to the transitory discomfort when seriously restricted tissue is softened, discriminated and reintegrated.

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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 SI. Since Dr. Rolf's death in 1979, others, including Heather Starsong, Gael Ohlgren and Vivian Jaye 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 often served the client well, but rather to offer more economical solutions which promote greater balance and efficiency in the gravitational field.

Like the structural Ten Series, Rolf Movement Integration is 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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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 this 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, yoga, visualization and chanting.

They may also seek a myofascial or 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 SI. What most potential clients fail to understand is that Rolfing SI is not a method which focuses on stress reduction.

What the Rolfing method does is create 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 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.

Clients tend to experience benefits from Rolfing SI; an important one for most is that they are less stressed and more at ease in their bodies.

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Are there emotional and psychological benefits

It is impossible to touch the physical body without touching the emotional body. All individuals develop compensatory patterns, ways of holding and defending against a variety of physical and emotional insults to their well-being.

During the Rolfing process, we offer options and new modes of physical expression. Resultant emotional changes are quite common. There is a well-documented "cellular memory", a memory of experience stored in the tissue at a cellular level. Touching the body will frequently help the client access these physical memories encoded in the fascial (or connective tissue) matrix.

Anecdotal reports of major cathartic releases during Rolfing sessions are very common and often act as an impediment to some individuals entering into the Rolfing process.

For most Rolfers, this catharsis is not something consciously desired nor intended. 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 the release and take 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.

Rolfers are trained to ease a client through such an experience but not always 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 anticipation such a major release but should remember that a Rolfer's actual expertise is integrating and balancing connective tissue.

The emotional component remains an ancillary aspect of the Rolfing process and not its primary intention.

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Is Rolfing SI helpful for 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 SI and Rolf Movement Integration may 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 this modality 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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Can Rolfing SI help animals?

We discovered we had an added bonus when Tessy Brungardt arrived from Baltimore to teach our Advanced Training for Certified Rolfers. Some of our Rolfers had heard that Tessy also practised and taught Horse and Dog Rolfing SI. They were eager to take advantage of the opportunity, so we organised a Horse Rolfing Workshop on Sunday 18 July 2004. It was a tremendous success - Tessy is a gifted practitioner and educator.

The weather had been beautiful and sunny all week, however Sunday was the coldest day of the year, with swirling, gusty icy winds blowing dust in eyes and mouths. In spite of the dreadful weather, everyone said how exhilarating they found the day.

We know the horses definitely enjoyed the work done on them. They were leaning into the Rolfers while they were being treated, and were very relaxed. There were immediate visible improvements in their gait and general movement. Happy horses and happy Rolfers® below.

Our special thanks to Kay Mallinson, Horse Massage Therapist, for organising the horses for us, and to Charmaine of Hambledon Road Horse Park, Quakers Hill for providing the horses and venue.

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Can I combine Rolfing SI with Yoga?

Rolfing SI and yoga complement each other by improving structure, balance and flexibility. Dr. Ida Rolf used yoga to further our understanding of human structure. Did you know that Hatha Yoga influenced Dr. Ida Rolf's development of Rolfing SI?

When Dr. Ida Rolf was a young mother, before she started practicing Rolfing SI, she used yoga to address back problems, related to a scoliosis. In the 1930's, she studied yoga with Pierre Bernard, a yoga teacher in Nyack, N.Y. Yoga was considered a bit far out at the time, and there were very few teachers available in the US. At the time, Rolf was cautious about referring her students to yoga. "Dr. Rolf declared that yoga was the best exercise system ever devised, if the student worked with a good teacher," says Jeff Linn, Certified Rolfer and archivist. "If the teacher was not good then it could do serious damage in the long term."

Over the past seventy years interest in yoga has grown steadily in the West, and now there are many expert instructors teaching from a variety of yogic traditions. Dr. Rolf's personal study of yoga, osteopathy and homeopathy contributed to the evolution of her Rolfing principles. She aligned her vision of Rolfing SI with the goals of yoga, "a physical system that enriches the student's body, mind and spiritual well being through an understanding of structural balance."

"Dr. Rolf always investigated what was new and was never afraid to take what she learned and use it," says Rosemarie Feitus, Certified Rolfer, in the introduction to her book, "Ida Rolf Talks: About Rolfing and Physical Reality." "In those years of practicing and discussing the principles of yoga; (Dr. Rolf) was establishing the basis of her future work; that bodies need to lengthen and be balanced, and that a balanced body will give rise to a better human being," says Feitus. "Slowly she realized that the asanas did not achieve length and separation of the joints, that in too many cases there was actual contraction of the joint surfaces. Something else was needed." Sometime later, Rolfing SI was born.

Rolfing SI works primarily in two ways, with hands-on manipulation and movement education. It physically changes the body's structure and energetically improves movement and function. Yoga and Rolfing SI both work subtly with energy inside and outside the body. Let's look at the breath, and how Rolfing SI works with energy. Sometimes stress makes us short of breath, so we breathe more tensely. By guiding the breath throughout the body, Rolfing SI can potentially help relieve tension and increase energy levels.

The most common objectivesthat guide people to Rolfing SI and yoga are:

  1. to gain relief from chronic or acute tension or pain
  2. to increase flexibility or coordination
  3. to improve posture and alignment
  4. to learn to relax and obtain more body awareness
  5. to offset deleterious effects of aging
  6. to release emotional blocks stored in the body
  7. to have more energy and stamina
  8. to find relief from breathing difficulties
-"Bodies, Health, and Consciousness, by Rosie Speigel, SRG Publishing, 1994

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