Rolfing is named after Dr. Ida Rolf who created and developed the therapy. She originally called it Structural Integration, because of how it helped the body function better as a whole.
Rolfing was the nickname that the therapy picked up over time. The full name now is Rolfing Structural Integration, but it usually just referred to as Rolfing.
Dr. Rolf’s scientific research led her to some fundamental discoveries, which revolutionized the understanding of how the body works.
The connective tissue of the body, known as fascia, surrounds, supports, protects, and permeates everything in the body. It forms a seamless and all-encompassing web throughout the entire body. The fascia is what truly gives the body its structure.
The fascia responds to the stresses put on the body, supporting whatever movement patterns and posture the body adopts. The body actually changes shape in response to how it is being used. The fascia can aid optimal posture and movement patterns.
It can also compensate for injury, constant strain, and other stresses by tightening to relieve strains on other tissues. This compensation is very helpful in the short term, but persisting patterns are problematic as they lead to the body being stuck in those new patterns.
Dr. Rolf discovered that this network of connective tissue can be restored to its original, healthy state after it has been stuck in these poor patterns, and she spent her life developing the best means to do so.
The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration, which Dr. Rolf founded, has continued to teach and develop the work that she started. Students are taught to analyze body patterns, identify the key areas to be addressed, and then help to restore the body through refined pressure and movement cues.
The change occurs not through forcing the tissue, but through a means of re-educating the tissue.
Dr. Rolf also realized that the most important influence, or stress, on the body is gravity. The body is balanced within the field of gravity, and its pull fundamentally establishes how the body develops and is maintained.
Because of the pull of gravity and the fact that the fascia forms an all-encompassing web throughout the body, any change to one part of the body affects the rest of the entire body.
Therefore, if the natural balance of the body is upset, the whole body will gradually change form to adapt to the deviation.
If, for example, a person twists an ankle, he or she will tighten the muscles around the ankle to limit the pain. The entire muscle and fascial system will then gradually shift to compensate for that change. Movement through the pelvis is affected, as well as the breathing pattern and how the head is carried.
The muscles cannot handle the additional load by themselves, especially over long periods of time, so the fascia tightens to support the new arrangement.
Over time the whole structure of the body is reshaped.
The human body is like a building, where each piece of the structure must be precisely placed to balance the load of the others, so that the whole can properly function.
Pieces pulled out of their proper place put strain on the other parts, which leads to warping or collapse in a building, and pain and reshaping of the body in a human.
A return to the original blueprint design will solve the problems in both a building and a human body.
The Rolfer identifies what is out of place, rather that just what is being stressed. What is feeling painful or strained in the body is often not the true underlying problem, but merely the result of another part that is out of place or functioning incorrectly.
If the structure has been in a deviated condition for a significant amount of time, though, realigning that one piece will no longer be sufficient to correct the imbalance. This is because the rest of the body has shifted and become accustomed to the new condition.
Each piece needs to be reset to its original position and condition in order for the structure to be a fully functioning, efficient, and integrated whole once more.
Unlike a building, though, the human body is able to heal itself (restore its original condition) once it has been realigned properly (with the excess stress no longer present).
This is the basis of what Dr. Rolf called “The gospel of Rolfing: When the body is working properly, the force of gravity can flow through it. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”
The goal of the Rolfer is the restoration of this optimal alignment and balance of structure along with the accompanying ease in movement.
Posture should not be thought of as a passive thing, but as an active adaptation to the changing stress of the body as it moves and changes position within the field of gravity.
The body should glide along as it moves, rather than exerting excess effort working in a disjointed manner.
This key understanding and goal of Rolfing is what most distinguishes it from other forms of manual therapy.
I have combined the principles of Rolfing movement and manual therapy with Hanna Somatics to form a new system of movement education.
I developed it myself when the two systems independently did not give me all the results I was looking for. It is far more effective, easier on the body, and something you can learn to do on your own if you are interested. By developing something that I can use on my own body, I have gotten immediate and direct feedback as to what is most effective in changing the body.
This has enabled me to develop a system of removing tension that is superior to all others by experimenting on what is most effective in my own body.