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Rolfing®, a method of Structural Integration, is a codified series of soft tissue manipulation, which purports to organize soft tissue relationships, with the objectives of realigning the body structurally and harmonizing its fundamental movement patterns. This is said to enhance vitality and well-being.
The process known as Rolfing was developed in the early to mid 1950's by Dr. Ida Pauline Rolf (1896- 1979). Rolf obtained her PhD in biochemistry in 1922; her dissertation concerned the chemistry of unsaturated phosphatides.
Rolf claimed to have developed a method of organizing the human structure in relationship with gravity, which she originally called Structural Integration of the Human Body. Early consumers of Structural Integration coined the word Rolfing from the surname of Ida Rolf. Since the early 1970's, Rolfing has been a service mark of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, the school founded by Rolf.
Theory and practice
According to Rolf, bound up fascia (or 'connective tissue') often restricts opposing muscles from functioning independently from each other, much as when water, having crystallized, forms the hard, unyielding ice. Her practice aimed to separate the bound up fascia by deeply separating the fibers manually so as to loosen them up to allow effective movement patterns. Rolf states that an adequate knowledge of living human anatomy and hands-on training are required in order to safely negotiate the appropriate manipulations and depths necessary to free up this bound-up fascia. Advocates claim that after Rolfing, clients stand up straighter, gain in height and bodily asymmetries of the soft tissue tend to dissapear. Rolf's followers have produced photographic evidence of Rolfing's claimed effectiveness.
Rolfers often prescribe a certain number of sequenced sessions to gradually "unlock" the whole body, usually beginning with the muscles that regulate and facilitate breathing. Some people find the experience of Rolfing painful. People have screamed while being "Rolfed", however it is important to remember that the early days of this process were highly experimental. Much like surgery during the Civil War was quite crude by today's standards – though it saved a lot of lives, Rolfing and Structural Integration has continued to evolve over the decades into a practice far more gentle than in its early origins.
The Basic Series taught by Dr. Rolf comprise ten sessions. A "tune-up series" of a variable number of sessions, and an "Advanced Series" of five sessions is also available, typically after a period of time to allow the client to settle.
During a Rolfing session, the patient generally lies down and is guided through specific movements. During these, the Rolfer manipulates the fascia until it returns to its original length. This takes place over the course of 10 one-hour sessions, with a specific goal for each session, creating cumulative results. However, people with kidney disease, liver and intestinal disease and pregnant women would should see their family doctor before beginning Rolfing therapy.
The Rolf Institute and a number of other schools, including the Guild for Structural Integration, IPSB Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing, and Hellerwork Structural Integration, currently teach the method as presented by Rolf. Many modern modalities of "Deep Tissue Bodywork" can trace their lineage back to Rolfing and the legacy of Ida Rolf's theories about the fascia.
Rolf's process of breaking down old muscle patterns by massage had similarities to the therapies of marginalized psychotherapist Wilhelm Reich, who also, as just part of his theory and practice of orgonomy, had used massage to break down a pattern of learned muscular and psychic responses which he called "armor". Only those de-armored could fully experience life, love and sexuality. In common with Rolf, Reich thought that many people have such tense muscles they cannot even breathe fully. Reich, however, placed much greater empahsis on sex. This has developed into the practice of Neo-Reichian massage.
Skeptics claim that the theories the program advances the idea that there is some sort of disharmony in body movement that can cause illness, and the idea of a connection between muscle movement and trapped emotional experiences are unproven. However, this theory is gaining significant traction in the field of Somatic Psychotherapy.
- In the movie "Semi-Tough" (1977), Burt Reynolds gets "Pelfed" by Lotte Lenya, in which he goes through the painful process of the deep tissue massage.
- Many EST participants have gone though the process of getting "Rolfed".
- Official homepage of the Rolf Institute
- Official homepage of the European Rolfing Association
- Homepage for the Guild for Structural Integration
- MP3 Files of Dr. Rolf's Lectures From GSI
- Structural Integration Consumer Information and Resource Center
- Skeptic's dictionary
- Alternative Medicine Site
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