“This is the gospel of Rolfing:
When the body gets working appropriately,
the force of gravity can flow through.
Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”
-Ida P. Rolf
When you hear the word “Rolfing,” it may immediately bring to mind an intense, borderline painful bodywork experience. Perhaps the only person you know that regularly receives Rolfing is a diehard bodywork connoisseur, whose description of the work makes it sound more like a right of passage than a treatment that’s helpful for everyone.
In reality, Rolfing is a structured format of delivering bodywork that can be used by almost anyone to see a transformation in their body.
Rather than treating specific symptoms in isolation, Rolfing Structural Integration treats the body as an integrated system of interconnected players.
To get the real facts on what Rolfing is, where Rolfers are educated in the system, and how you might benefit from the techniques, read on for a complete overview of it’s history, evolution and features.
The History of Rolfing
Created by legendary bodyworker Dr. Ida Rolf over 50 years ago, the system utilizes a set of 10 sessions, with each one building upon the work done in the last session, to lengthen the body and release dysfunctional postures and movements.
Dr. Rolf famously explained that structural integration is a technique that aims to “organize and order the body” in order to be better aligned in gravity.
While Dr. Rolf’s vision is admirable, the history of Rolfing has been shrouded in drama and misinformation.
Due to the extreme style of some of the more famous practitioners of the craft, the perception of Rolfing by the public is often “painful,” “intense,” and “too deep.”
There have also been numerous spin-offs of Ida’s famous 10 sessions by her proteges, from Feldenkrais to Leigh, leading to confusion about who really is a “certified Rolfer.”
The true, original Rolfing system is a proven technique that seeks to make the body of the client more welcoming to the force of gravity, allowing them a freedom of movement they’ve never experienced before.
Rolfing can integrate easily with other healthcare techniques like nursing and movement therapy, as the goal is to support overall health through better organization of the body structures.
As Rolf’s system became more well-known, she attracted a following of bodyworkers eager to learn from her success and apply the ten series to their own clients’ problems.
In 1971, Rolf founded the nonprofit Rolf Institute for Structural Integration, which continues to be the only source of training in the Rolfing system to this day.
The Ten Series of Rolfing
The Ten Series walk the bodyworker and client through a progression of soft tissue manipulations intended to transform posture and lengthen the body into it’s more natural state.
The sessions are organized in this way:
Sessions 1-3: “Sleeve” sessions work along the surface of the body structures
- Session 1: The “freeing the breath” session focuses on the ribs, shoulders, and abdomen.
- Session 2: This session begins to rebuild the support within the legs.
- Session 3: The “lateral line” session takes the side view of the body from the ankle to armpit and works along this plane to return to a better alignment.
Sessions 4-7: “Core” sessions move to the deeper layers of the body
- Session 4: This session returns to the legs and establishes the connection between the inner legs and the pelvic floor.
- Session 5: From the hips to the psoas and chest, Session 5 opens up the rest of the front body.
- Session 6: This session cover the entire back of the body from the neck down to the heels.
- Session 7: Bringing the shoulder, head, and neck into alignment with gravity is the goal of this session.
Sessions 8-10: “Integration” sessions blend the work that has been done and improves upon it to increase range of motion and improve overall body function.
- Sessions 8 + 9: These two sessions are a pairing that divides the body into halves and tackles one half in each session, typically the top and bottom.
- Session 10: The final session in the series integrates all of the previous work as well as instilling a sense of order and balance in the tissues.
The Rolf Institute provides even more detailed information and diagrams to help visualize the locations of the Ten Series work throughout the body on their website.
The Benefits of Rolfing
Some wonder why Rolfing has a famous reputation for being a “painful” form of bodywork. Since the system works directly on expanding and lengthening the soft tissue—fascia—of the body, the pain comes from areas of tension within the fascia. Where there is more tension in the fascia, manipulation of it tends to be more uncomfortable.
Unlike the more temporary relaxation achieved by massage, Rolfing looks for a deeper transformation of the body’s overall alignment and posture.
Rolfing has been described as “excruciatingly helpful,” with the painful moments during the session being outweighed by the light, balanced feeling the client has when walking out the door afterwards. And the benefits of the temporary discomfort of releasing fascial tension are many.
Rolfing Structural Integration has been proven helpful for low back pain, fibromyalgia, and a host of other conditions. Dr. Rolf famously said that the Rolfing system could help everyone, from infants to athletes and everyone in between, and truly believed in applying the Ten Sessions to each body to see positive results.
Training in Rolfing Structural Integration
The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration was founded by Ida P. Rolf in 1971 to educate bodyworkers in the precise method of her Ten Series. The headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado, with international locations in Europe, Brazil, Japan, and Australia.
The Rolf Institute and its schools are the only place where bodyworkers may become certified in the Rolfing Structural Integration method, and require a rigorous training period. According to the Institute, the Basic Rolfing® Certification Program takes 33 weeks, plus two three-month study intervals, to complete. The Post-Graduate Basic Training takes 1.5-2 years to complete.
Because of the organized system for training Rolfers, the Rolf Institute is able to maintain a directory of certified practitioners by location. If you’re looking for a Rolfer in your area, use the directory on the Institute’s website right here.