Rolfing® Structural Integration (or Rolfing SI) is 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 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". 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 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 can be like making your bed in the morning. You think you’re going to get by without pulling that bed apart, so you pull up this cover and the next cover. When you get all the covers puffed up, you’ve got nine ridges running across the bed. Now you’ve got to go to a deeper layer and organize the deeper layer, and make your bed on top of that. Then you’ve got a made bed. Well it’s the same with the body: you’ve got to organize those deeper layers.”
Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.
Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. said, “In Structural Integration, we expect to give a cycle of ten sessions. There is a reason for this. We are not dealing with local problems. We are not dealing with the kind of thing that you can say, '"Well, I fixed that, that's all."' We are dealing with intent to make a body more secure, more adequate within the field of gravity. This requires that muscles be balanced, and need to be balanced around a vertical line. And, when I talk about balancing muscles, I'm talking about balancing the right side against the left side. About balancing the front of the body against the back of the body, and finally, about balancing the innermost muscles against the outermost, the inside against the outside, this is the most important of those balances, and we start from the outside working in, and it takes us ten hours before we can get to the place where we can really balance the outside against the inside."
The Ten-Series can be divided into three distinct units.
Sessions 1-3: Called the "sleeve” sessions, numbers one through three strive to loosen and balance surface layers of connective tissue.
Specifically, the first session is devoted to enhancing the quality of breath with work on the arms, ribcage and diaphragm. Opening is also started along the upper leg, hamstrings, neck and spine. The second session helps give the body a stable foundation by balancing the foot and muscles of the lower leg. Number three typically involves a “side view” for an understanding of how the head, shoulder girdle, and hips are positionaly related to one another when standing under the influence of gravity. Then, the body is addressed within the context of this new vision.
Sessions 4-7: Four through seven are referred to as “core” sessions and examine terrain found between the bottom of the pelvis and top of the head. The idea of core also includes the deep tissue of the legs for its role in support.
Session four begins this journey, its territory extends from the inside arch of the foot and up the leg, to the bottom of the pelvis. The fifth session is concerned with balancing surface and deep abdominal muscles to the curve of the back. Session six seeks to enlist more support and moment from the legs, pelvis and lower back, while the seventh session turns its sole attention to the neck and head.
Session 8-10: “Integration” is emphasized throughout the remaining three sessions, as eight, nine and ten provide an opportunity for the practitioner to blend previously established advancements, and ones yet to be made, into the body in a way that encourages smooth movement and natural coordination.
During sessions eight and nine, the practitioner determines how best to achieve this integration, as the protocol is unique for each individual. The tenth and final session is also one of integration, but more importantly, serves to inspire a sense of order and balance.
Think of the “Ten Series” as exquisite detailing for your entire body. Ten sessions are not required but are an effective and efficient way to deal with system-wide structural imbalances.
A Rolfer™ will help potential clients determine if Rolfing® Structural Integration is right for them by offering a complimentary consultation. The consultation is an opportunity to discuss personal goals, review body history, clarify expectations, and answer any questions. If a client decides to proceed, the Rolfer and the client will set an intention for the work. Some clients know right away that they want to systematically unclutter their bodies and clear body history, so they decide to commit to ten or more sessions while others just want to dip their toes into the pond and commit to a single session.
Once the initial consultation is complete, the Rolfing SI process—which actually began the moment the client contacted the Rolfer—advances to the actual bodywork session. Rolfing SI sessions begin with a brief check-in and assessment of a client’s structure and function. This usually involves breathing, lifting arms, doing knee bends, walking or other movements. This assessment clarifies goals, marks progress and helps to plan subsequent sessions. The client then lies on a padded table or sits on an adjustable bench while the Rolfer uses hands, arms and body weight to put slow, sustained pressure in certain directions on the tissue of the client’s arms, legs, front and back. Directional pressure helps to reposition fascia, take slack out of an area, or release restriction.
Throughout a Rolfing SI session, the client is very much an active participant in the process. For instance, while working on the shoulder, the Rolfer may encourage the client to breathe into the sides of the body or to stretch the arm overhead. A client is strongly encouraged to be ‘present’ at all times during a session while at no time is this client asked to go beyond his or her level of comfort. A Rolfer who feels that her client is ‘checking out’ or bracing against a particular stroke speed or depth of pressure will adjust her approach to meet the needs of the client. Slowly and systematically, the Rolfer works with the client’s nervous system to allow the body to repattern itself at a pace that is effective and comfortable. This coordinated effort encourages reeducation and reprogramming of the body's movement patterns.
After the session, the client is asked to be present and aware of his or her body and to respond to any needs as they arise. Drinking plenty of water, going for a walk, or taking a warm bath is recommended. To promote and anchor new changes from the session, the client is often given ‘homework’ in the form of movement explorations or encouraged to journal about any new awareness or realizations that may have surfaced. The client then leaves the session integrated and prepared to explore a world of new possibilities in moving, standing and being!
Ideas and inspiration for this page courtesy of Rachel Hayden, my first Rolfer and dear colleague
"We are not truly upright, we are only on our way to being upright...One of the jobs of a Rolfer is to speed that process along."
- Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.