Organising and integrating the human body in gravity promotes wellbeing
‘If you can imagine how it feels to live in a fluid, light, balanced body, free of pain, stiffness and chronic stress, at ease with itself and the gravitational field, then you will understand the purpose of Rolfing.’ (Dr Ida P Rolf, PhD)
Among the various systems of manipulation and somatic education, Rolfing is unique in its focus and goals in that it aims to align and organise the body in gravity. This is done through gentle manipulation of soft connective tissue, combined with movement education and the client’s subjective experience of their body.
HOW DOES ROLFING WORK?
Rolfing is applied as slow, gentle, highly specific touch of soft connective tissue (fascia) and movement education. The touch allows stiffening and shortening in the connective tissue and muscles and organs embedded in it to ease and lengthen, adjusting the posture into a more aligned, comfortable balance. In combination with this touch, the client participates actively in two ways. Firstly he or she performs movements during the touch, designed to create new neuromuscular habits that are more efficient, easier and more comfortable – direct pressure and stretching are combining to change connective tissue. Secondly, verbal exploration increases perception and awareness of the parts of the body where tissues contract in response to stress and the environment. The combination of touch, movement and perceptual involvement of the client creates a highly effective way of bringing about long-lasting, in-depth change.
Rolfing is usually applied as a series of ten sessions. Each session builds on the last and prepares the body for the next. It addresses the entire body and is a beautiful and thorough way to address and reorganise any restrictions there might be. Sessions last from 1 to 1½ hours. The amount of time between sessions varies and is determined on an individual basis, the average being 1 – 2 weeks.
Most people experience greater ease of movement after even the first session. This lasts for several days to a week at first, gradually becoming longer as the sessions progress.
FASCIA – A FASCINATING TISSUE!
What is fascia, and why haven’t we heard much about it before? At first glance fascia is messy, irregular tissue that is difficult to dissect and study, which is probably why it’s missing on the illustrations in your doctor’s office. In reality, however, fascia is what holds us together and gives us our shape. It forms an elaborate and intricate matrix that envelops and inter-connects every bone, every organ, every muscle and every single muscle cell in our bodies. Fascia is truly the organ of form or structure.1,2
Advanced Rolfer, Rolfing faculty member and researcher Robert Schleip, PhD, has recently discovered that fascia has previously unknown contractile properties due to its myofibroblast content3 – in other words, fascia can contract on its own. Even though it is a much slower contraction than that of the muscles, it is significant. So fascia is much more than the simple wrapping it was previously thought to be.
Schleip also researches the intimate connection between the fascial system and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which may further the practitioner’s understanding of the connection between manual touch and the ANS.4
WILL THE CHANGES LAST?
‘Your body is constantly changing as a result of the way you move. Muscles, bones and connective tissue get stronger when they are used. By affecting the way you move, structural integration allows your body to continue and change after the treatments.’ (Dr Thomas Findley, MD, PhD, Certified Advanced Rolfer, Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehab, University of New Jersey, , and Research Director, Rolf Institute)
WHO COMES TO ROLFING?
People from all walks of life and of all ages, from children to the elderly, can benefit from Rolfing. Many seek relief from chronic pain or impaired mobility, which originate from internal strain and are relieved when this is removed. Others seek to improve athletic performance. Yet others seek to enhance personal growth and move towards fuller realisation of their potential as they stop spending unnecessary energy fighting against gravity.
‘We want to get a man out of the place where gravity is his enemy. We want to get him into the place where gravity reinforces him and is a friend, a nourishing force.’ (Dr Ida P Rolf)
THE HISTORY OF ROLFING
Dr Ida P Rolf (1896 – 1979), a biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute (later Columbia University), started her pioneering work in the 1930s. She called her method Structural Integration, and designed it to integrate the human body in gravity in order to allow the whole person to move efficiently and function optimally. When she started teaching in the 1950s, however, her students nicknamed the work they were doing after their mentor. The words Rolfing and Rolfer are now registered service and trademarks of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (www.rolf.org), which was formed in 1971 in Boulder, Colorado, USA, to conduct training and continue scientific research into and development of Dr Rolf’s method and ideas.
The first training of Rolfers in South Africa, led by South African Advanced Rolfer and faculty member of the Rolf Institute, Marius Strydom, commenced in 2010 and the first South African-trained Rolfers were certified in Cape Town in October 2011. The Rolf Institute in Boulder and its affiliated schools in Germany, Japan, Brazil, Australia and now South Africa are the only schools that qualify Rolfers.
Training to become a Rolfer now takes place in South Africa. Rolfing training offers a unique blend of experiential learning, academic rigour and personal growth. In-depth, embodied learning takes place in small classes, to maximise attention to individuals. Anatomy, physiology, movement, touch and the therapeutic relationship are integrated with the perspective of facilitating structural/postural change and optimising movement.
The first South African training course, recently completed, included students from Denmark, Portugal and Colombia, while instructors from Brazil and USA joined local Rolfing faculty members to make for a diverse cultural learning experience. For more information on the next training, or to find a qualified Rolfer in your area, visit www.rolfing.co.za.
‘Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body’s energy field. This is our primary concept.’5 (Dr Ida P Rolf)
- Lindsay M. Fascia: Clinical Applications for Health and Human Performance. Delmar Cengage Learning, 2008.
- Paoletti S. The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction and Treatment. Eastland Press, 2006.
- Schleip R, et al. Active fascial contractility: Fascia is able to contract and relax in a smooth muscle like manner and thereby influence biomechanical behavior. Acta Physiologica 2006; 186: Suppl 1, 247.
- www.fasciaresearch.com, www.somatics.de
- Rolf IP. Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well Being. Healing Arts Press, 1977, 1989.