Rolfing is a deep-tissue manipulation of the fasciae, holding muscles and bones together, a practice developed by Ida P. Rolf in the 1950s. Rolf, along with contemporaries in similar fields such as Alexander Lowen and Wilhelm Reich, was very interested in the human body’s interdependent relationship with our environment, gravity, and our emotions.
Rolf’s main goal in this deep tissue work was to reestablish “the natural alignment and structural integration of the human body for vitality and well-being,” as stated in her book, Rolfing. One focus of this realignment is on maneuvering the body’s tissue, which affects bones, muscles, balance, and posture, in order to reestablish a healthy relationship with gravity. Gravity is the main force always acting on our bodies and it takes its toll, accentuating the imbalances imposed by injury or internalized emotions, and Ida Rolf’s techniques are still used as a paradigm shift for a patient’s physicality.
What does all this look like? I went to observe my partner’s Rolfing session, and on entering the room the setup reminded me of a massage clinic. The office lighting was low and the atmosphere was calm. Female and male clients remove everything but their underwear and lie under a blanket on the table with their face toward the ceiling. A Rolfing session lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and within that time a client will lie on his or her back, stomach, and either side in varying postings.
There is a high level of cohesion between Rolfing clinicians because they all go through the same training and certification process. Most offer a 10-session series that progressively works with different parts of a client’s body week by week, but clinicians do not recommend ever repeating the series, though some people come back for occasional “tune-ups”. Rolfing is a painful experience, as most will attest, because of the nature of the body manipulation. This is different than a typical massage because massages tend to deal with the points of pain or tight muscles, while Rolfers trace pain or physical problems to their origins, which are often in very unexpected areas of the body (i.e. neck pain being caused by an imbalance in one’s feet). They use their fists, elbows, and knuckles rather than thumbs, and though the process is painful, clients report that it is a “good”, cleansing type of pain.
Since every body is different and since we all go through different experiences, some people have more problems with some parts of their bodies than others. Rolfers often see the manifestation of “body memories”, which means that when they work on a certain muscle or body structure, an emotional memory might surface for the client, taking him or her back to a moment of injury, pain, or abuse in his or her past. Many clients say that this is an emotive process, and Rolfers correlate certain sessions in their series with the release of different emotions.
Overall, Rolfing is a good way to recalibrate one’s body, release pent-up emotions, and work on chronic pain, with results that last longer than any other discipline in the bodywork field.