Rolfing Structural Integration is the name given to the system of body manipulation originated by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, PhD in biochemistry. Dr. Rolf had a child who had a health problem, and searched for a way, outside of conventional medicine, to solve it. She went to work on the child with her hands and with a good measure of success, discovered that she could restore the child’s body to a more balanced shape and alignment, ease of movement, by working with the connective tissue in the body. This evolved, then, into working on friends, and friends of friends, until she had quite a reputation for being able to “fix” things for people in their bodies.
As a scientist she had the insight that gravity is a force constantly at work in the body either maturing it towards organization, alignment and wholeness; or as an ever disorganizing force compressing and misshaping the body. She worked privately for more than 20 years, asking people how they felt after the last session, watching them walk, and postulating about what she should do next for the person.
Rolfing Structural Integration is a way of working with the fascia that balances the body in gravity. In its most simply expressed form, Rolfers work with the body as a system of inter-related segments to restore these segments to proper alignment in the vertical and horizontal grid of gravity. Thus for example, the Rolfer will determine the shift and tilt of the pelvis and its relationship to each leg in order to bring them into better vertical and horizontal balance with each other, while working with all other body segments, so that further balance, rather than strain, is induced through the whole body.
The physical body in its shape, form, and negotiation of gravitational energy, cannot be divorced form the emotional state of a human being. When the physical body is fluid and flexible, the emotions are allowed to be the same. This is where Rolfing Structural Integration got its reputation for being an emotional therapy. Rolfing clients find a new freedom to allow emotions in their bodies and in so doing find that these emotions can enrich their creative capacities.
There is a dimension in the Rolfing experience where client and Rolfer share in a field of the unknown. This is where conscious experience at the level of language ends and felt experience at the level of the body begins. For the client this is a direct experience that the body’s process has movement and a wisdom that can be trusted and relied upon at a deeper level than thought. This is the center, the place where the spiritual is encountered.
People come to the Rolfing process for many reasons. Perhaps they’ve had an accident and have some residual, chronic pain in their body. Some people come to Rolfing because of poor posture. Others come because they just want to feel better. Some people have a sense that they just need a change in their lives and in their bodies, and Rolfing may be right for them. Rolfing can also help children who have had accidents, whose parents notice that the child is just not engaged in life, or who are having a difficult time with knocked knees or bowed legs.
Rolfers, in a broad sense, start their work with a client on the outside of the body, then move to the inside, then integrate the inside and outside. When a client commits to ten sessions, this gives the Rolfer plenty of time to consider the whole body and how that body relates to its self and to the earth. The ten sessions may be received in a short time–ten weeks–or over a longer time, ten months. This allows each client to integrate the Rolfing changes at their own speed.
Athletes ask their bodies for maximum performance. Their daily chosen activity repeatedly stresses and exercises the body in the same way. Rolfing creates new movement options for every one, and athletes notice these changes more than the average person. The professional athlete gains speed, fluidity and flexibility in his body along with a decrease in injuries he or she may suffer.
Modern day Rolfers are taught to listen with their hands, wait for the tissue to begin to change and allow clients to change at their own rate. You might look at the discomfort associated with Rolfing in this way. If you sit on your foot and it goes to sleep, it hurts. As you move it around and circulation begins to return, it first feels numb, then good. This is, in a way, similar to Rolfing. Tissue that has had decreased circulation, fluid exchange, and nerve innervation hurts to the touch. When it is “worked” through the Rolfing process, it feels lighter, longer, and good. Rolfers work with their clients so that the client participates in the Rolfing process. For example clients may be asked to “breath” into the tissue to help it release, or the client may be asked to make a little movement under the Rolfers hands.
Clients will benefit the most from Rolfing Structural Integration when they do several other things in conjunction with their Rolfing. We recommend engaging in an exercise program in their lives, and having a healthy diet. “Exercise program” may mean daily walking, running, swimming, or yoga, tai chi, or other more sophisticated forms of exercise. “Healthy diet” means being responsible for what goes into your body, including good food, good fluids and so on.
Yes, there are benefits for people in the performing arts from the Rolfing process. The freedom that the Rolfed body feels allows the performer to more fully embody their art. For the musician, this might mean he/she can play smoothly, without personal fears getting in the way. For the performer, this freedom is portrayed in fully embodying the desired emotion.
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