Not for the faint of heart, Rolfing sessions can be intense but also rewarding. This increasingly popular style of deep-tissue massage and postural alignment may be useful for treating a variety of conditions, including chronic pain and emotional issues.

What Is Rolfing?

Rolfing (also referred to as “Structural Integration”) gets its name from its creator, Dr. Ida Rolf. Rolf believed poor posture and body alignment led to aches, pains, and other somatic manifestations. According to Rolf, strains of gravity on the body cause its muscles and fascia to learn certain unhealthy responses and postures. She used her expertise in biochemistry to develop a number of techniques for “restructuring” fascia, muscles, and other soft tissues.

As a structural integration practitioner, Rolf made remarkable improvements in her clients’ postures. She traveled throughout the U.S., demonstrating her methods to chiropractors and osteopaths. Her organization, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI), has trained more than a thousand certified Rolfing therapists. Many other training institutes split from the RISI and spread across the nation. Today, trained Rolfing therapists have spread Dr. Rolf’s methods across five continents.

In the 1970s, Rolfing became a popular alternative treatment among New Age seekers. In recent years, young urban professionals have rediscovered Rolfing via the internet, increasing the number of 20-somethings who seek out Rolfing practitioners as an alternative to traditional massage and yoga providers.

Because of fascia’s remarkable strength, especially when it includes knots and scar tissue, Rolfing practitioners use a great amount of force. Therapists use their knuckles, fists, and elbows to dig into tight ligaments and tendons, which may put clients in a variety of uncomfortable positions. Needless to say, Rolfing can involve a greater amount of physical and emotional discomfort than some other massage techniques.

Because Rolfing practitioners help people get into tendon-stretching poses, the practice may, in some ways. be considered a form of “assisted yoga.” In this sense, it bears many similarities to physical therapy, Russian massage, sports massage, and certain acupressure traditions.

Health Benefits of Rolfing

Leaning certain parts of your body forward and backward puts undue strain on your body. However, lifetime habits of poor posture often make proper posture feel awkward and unattainable. By helping you return your body to a “structurally sound” condition in which your bones (not soft tissues) bear your weight, your Rolfing practitioner can help you address a number of health conditions:

  • Injury recovery
  • Loss of balance
  • Back pain
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Respiratory issues
  • Decreased mobility
  • Fibromyalgia pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Limited range of motion

Fasciae surround your muscles, nerves, organs, and blood vessels. These connective tissues hold some body parts together and allow others to slide across each other.

Many factors can cause your fascia can become tight, short, and dense, which pulls your musculoskeletal system out of alignment and causes discomfort, fatigue, and pain. Other contributing factors include:

  • Repetitive movements (both at work and play)
  • Athletic exertion
  • Poor posture
  • Injuries and surgical recovery

If yoga, massage therapy, and other treatments only partially relieve your symptoms, Rolfing could be the deeper, longer-lasting, and more effective treatment you’re looking for.

Rolfing Precautions

The American Cancer Society recommends massage as one of the best complementary therapies to medical treatments. Not only does massage soothe the body, mind, and soul, it reduces stress hormones and has even been shown to increase immune function in some breast cancer patients.

However, uncomfortable and strenuous treatments like Rolfing may put too much stress on the immune system. If you’re a cancer patient, please talk with your physician about the type of massage therapy that best suits your condition.

If you have deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots), your doctor will probably instruct you to avoid all forms of massage (Rolfing included). Some experts say massage could loosen blood clots, causing them to enter the bloodstream and cause major damage. However, massage can greatly benefit patients with other heart and circulatory conditions. Ask your doctor which complementary treatments suit your particular needs.

People who are experiencing skin conditions such as sunburn, poison ivy, or other temporary irritations may want to postpone their Rolfing sessions until these issues clear up.

What to Expect from Your First Rolfing Session

Be sure to talk with your Rolfing practitioner about the differences between this experience and typical massages. Ask them about their deep-tissue techniques and discuss what to do if you’re overwhelmed by painful sensations or emotions.

Many practitioners conduct a series of ten Rolfing sessions. Each session lasts about 60-90 minutes. Before your first session, your practitioner will likely talk with you to discover your medical history and determine your goals for therapy. Be sure to share your thoughts honestly with your therapist and mention any sensitive areas you would prefer them to avoid.

During your sessions, you may lie on a low table, sit, or stand up. Your Rolfing therapist will apply pressure (mostly with their hands) to your body to release tension. In your first session, they will probably work on your body’s outer wrapping (or superficial fascia) to help you breathe easier. In subsequent sessions, your practitioner will work on deeper parts of your body; in each session, the practitioner will build cumulatively on your previous sessions.

You will probably feel discomfort and pain during your Rolfing sessions, although some clients report pleasurable feelings of release. Maintain communication with your therapist throughout your sessions; this feedback helps them gauge the success of the treatment and identify target areas. With a little time and effort, they can help you get to the root causes of your body issues and achieve lasting relief.


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