Examining Rolfing® SI: The transformative bodywork system with a funny name

by Victoria L. Huss

When one hears the word “Rolfing,” all sorts of images, bodily sensations and noises may come to mind. Yes, it is an interesting name. No, it does not involve wretching, excruciating pain or visits to a bathroom south of the border. Rolfing is actually better known as Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI)— a dynamic and holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and somatic education that restores and balances the whole body to its natural, healthiest and most efficient alignment.

Rolfing® Structural Integration was developed by Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. A biochemist interested in health and alternative healing, Dr. Rolf explored osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, homeopathy and yoga. Through her research, she saw clearly the correlation between body function and proper alignment. She discovered that she could achieve dramatic changes in posture and physical structure by manipulating and balancing the body’s densely woven web of connective tissue called “fascia.”

Fascia surrounds, supports and penetrates all muscles, bones, veins, nerves and organs and provides a network for the nervous system to communicate with the body. When one part of the body becomes injured or inflamed through poor posture, repetitive movement, emotional or physical trauma, surgery and life’s daily stresses, the nervous system tells fascia in that area to thicken or shorten. This constriction and armoring serves a great purpose as it protects the body from further injury; however, once the injury has healed or the danger of injury has passed, the holding pattern that remains often affects functioning of the entire body.

By the 1940s, Dr. Rolf developed a process of 10 sessions during which all major fascial segments of the body were attended to. The process became known as the “Ten Series” and the work itself became known as “Structural Integration.” Dr. Rolf’s fans would refer to her work as “getting rolfed over” and eventually, nicknamed it “Rolfing®.” The practitioners of this work soon became known as “Rolfers™”. The work gained a reputation for being highly effective but rather painful as it was believed that more pressure on the body’s tissues created more change.

More than 50 years later, the work is still highly effective but it is no longer nearly as painful. Research has shown that Rolfing® SI works on a neurobiological level and affects the autonomic nervous system by contacting extremely sensitive mechanoreceptors residing in fascia. These receptors react to far less pressure than previously thought. Rolfers™ have since adjusted their techniques and have created an experience of Structural Integration that is as comfortable as it is transformative.

Rolf Little Boy Logo

Our posture and structure display our collection of holding patterns, limitations, accidents, injuries and not-so-pleasant life experiences. When we are held in the past by our fascia, we may find it difficult for our minds and spirits to function fully and optimally in the present. By systematically and gently releasing chronic stress, dissolving armoring and unwinding tension patterns, the body naturally finds alignment in gravity. Posture improves, chronic pain eases, bodily awareness and perception are heightened. Energy levels increase as the body no longer automatically resorts to inefficient movement patterns or guards against traumas of long ago. Transformation occurs and new possibilities of moving, standing and being suddenly become available!

Rolfing®, Rolfer™, Rolf Movement® and the Little Boy Logo are service marks of The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration®, Boulder, CO.

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