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What is Rolfing Structural Integration?

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’s not the kind of “ralphing” one might do after drinking or eating too much. It is not ROTFL (“rolling on the floor laughing” for those not familiar with text-speak). And it also has nothing to do with “Rowlf” the piano-playing Muppet dog.

Rolfing is better known as Rolfing Structural Integration (or Rolfing 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 SI 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 clearly saw the correlation between body function and alignment—that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity. She discovered that she could achieve dramatic changes in posture and deepened embodiment 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, or life’s daily stresses, the nervous system tells fascia in that area to thicken or shorten. This constriction and armoring serve 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 manual therapy process in which all major fascial segments of the body were attended to in a particular order. The purpose of these sessions was to balance the right side of the body with the left, the front side of the body with the back side, and the inside (innermost core structure) with the outside of the body (body sleeve). 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 just 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 at the time (by both practitioners and clients) that more pressure on the body’s tissues created more change.

More than 70 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. Gentle awareness-based movement work has also become important within the context and goals of Rolfing SI—providing a multi-faceted approach to addressing inefficient and dysfunctional movement patterns.

Our posture and structure may 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 when new possibilities of moving, standing, and being become available!

Victoria L. Huss is the Certified Rolfer® and Rolf Movement® Integration Practitioner of New Possibilities Integration LLC in Appleton. She finds joy in helping people unfold, find freedom, and authentically express themselves within the challenges of rigidity, chronic pain, and trauma. For a free consultation or more information, call 920.427.7653 or visit Rolfing® and Rolfer® are registered trademarks of the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute®.

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