Dr. Rolf, when she began teaching her students her brand of manual therapy, later known as “Rolfing” (please note, I am not a Rolfer, I am certified in Structural Integration, which was the name Dr. Rolf originally gave to her work – the differences between these terms are mostly political), was asked to give a protocol, or a specific recipe to follow when performing the work. She was somewhat reluctant to do this, at first, because she felt that each session with each individual must be catered to that individuals needs and personal story, and to not adhere to a rigid sequence of steps. And while that is still true with this work, she also recognized that there were some guiding principles that should be followed to allow the greatest efficacy for the client when doing the work. Since Ida Rolf passed, her students have gone on to create many different modalities based on her work, but the spirit of her work - is the common thread among them all.
Structural Integration starts from the premise that function follows structure. If a body's structure is efficiently aligned in gravity, then the functioning of that body will be smoother, more free, and joyous. What inevitably happens over the course of our life is that we experience injuries, and traumas. We develop holding patterns in our bodies which lead to chronic shortening of myofascial tissue, which can then lead to chronic pain or an experience of tightness and restriction in a person's body. This is felt as a stiffness, a soreness, or a persistent and nagging discomfort in the body. And, being people, we mimic the people around us. Which means that we may mime and adopt inefficient patterns of movement, standing, bending, sitting, or walking. This will eventually lead to a kind of energy leak, due to our bodies not being efficiently integrated in gravity, and will be experienced as pain, or fatigue. The goal of this work is to bring a body back in line with gravity and the movements that we perform. Posture is improved, gait changes, pain diminishes significantly, and efficiency is restored.
So what happens in the ten sessions?
Here's a simplified breakdown:
1. The first three sessions are what is known as the "sleeve" sessions. Meaning, we are opening and freeing any constrictions in the outer layer of the myofascial (muscle) tissues which may have been compensating for a weaker core to pave the way for later work when we address the deeper tissues directly.In the first session we are lengthening your front line, encouraging it to stretch in order to allow the structure to be vertical and erect. This is crucial since most of us are constantly hunched forward, as if collapsing against the force of gravity. This first session ensures the front of the body is open enough to accommodate later changes in the structure which will encourage length and upward elongation of your structure. We also being working with the breath – giving your body more space to allow for easier, less effort-ful breathing.
2. Here we are establishing a solid foundation, which of course is in your feet! This session is the favorite of many, as we are bringing awareness and space into your soles, which are constantly engaged in the task of holding us up. We examine your weight displacement across both feet, and ease the muscular soft tissue of your arches and ankles into a more efficient pattern. Afterward, you will feel more solid and grounded.
3. In this last sleeve session we will be lengthening the sides of your body. Your breath will feel more expanded and liberated as we work with the muscle tissue that expands and contracts your rib cage. We will also begin to work with the superficial tissues that makeup the shoulder girdle.
4. With session four we start working with the core, deeper muscles of the body. In this session we work with the inner muscles of the thigh, freeing the pelvis and allowing for greater freedom of movement. You may find movement, especially walking, much easier and natural afterward, especially if this has been an issue for you in the past. We also contact the deep, core muscle, the psoas, in a way that is gentle but effective. This will begin to really expand and lengthen your structure. As we continue to work with this important muscle you will feel taller.
5. Here we work with the deeper muscles of the front line, integrating and building on the work from the previous sessions. This will continue to give a feeling of freedom in the pelvis as more of the muscle attachments are cleared.
6. In this last core session, we will be working with the muscular tissue of the back of your leg, leading up to the attachments of the pelvis. We will also be working the deep gluteal where tension habitual is stored. Afterward your hips and posterior will feel loose and free, as if you have put down a great weight that you did not even realize you had been carrying.
7. This is what is known as the bridge session, where we work to bring your head back over your body. The head, which weighs anywhere from 10 to 11 pounds on average, can do a lot to change the entire structure of the body, depending on where it is habitually placed. For many people that is forward, ahead of the body, which puts strain on the entire posterior chain of muscles which can lead to back and shoulder pain. Your neck will feel longer after this one.
8. The next three sessions are the integration sessions, which takes stock of all the work that has been done in the previous sessions and addresses any lingering holding or congestion in the tissues. The first integration session works with the upper half of the body.
9. The next integration sessions addresses the lower half of the body
10. This session addresses your entire body, aiming to integrate the entire structure.
So those are the sessions in a nut-shell. Along the way we will be doing a brief body reading in which I will invite you to feel into your body and notice how you see it being held in a mirror. Together we will be noting things which will increase your body awareness. This will be partly how we determine the way to proceed and also to measure any changes that have occurred along the way. Many clients find it useful to have pictures taken of oneself to compare how the body's form changes as the work progresses. How the changes are felt is sometimes subtle and more difficult to put your finger on, but seeing a picture can point out some very dramatic changes!
Again, many people want to know – is the work painful? In the beginning, as this work was first being developed and taught, it could be very uncomfortable, and it eventually gained the reputation of being painful. Since then, more gentle, coaxing, and still more effective approaches have been adopted. When Ida Rolf herself did this manual therapy, patients reported it sometimes being intense, but never painful, and typically very relaxing. This was not always the case with her first students. Since then the work has gained the reputation of being “deep and delicious”, like a good stretch. It is unfortunate that deep work in manual therapy has been associated with pain. This is only so in the hands of unskilled or impatient therapists. My method is to gently coax the tissue toward release of tension and adhesions, never to force.
I hope you will consider this powerful work and come to experience yourself in a new, more comfortable way inside your own body.