Rolfing can be defined as structural integration. A central premise is that the aligned body can balance itself better against gravity and is therefore more efficient. Human functions such as flexibility, coordination, and physiological conditions are improved when each individual segment of the body is aligned. This can be compared to a child’s tower of blocks, which is more stable when each block is placed squarely upon the one below it. Rolfing re-establishes this vital balance by stretching the fascia tissue, which is a thin elastic membrane that covers muscles, bones, organs, and nerves.
This structural integration, or rolfing, is systematic in its approach; you go for a series of ten weekly, progressive treatments. The realigning of the body is through manipulation of the connective tissues. Working these connective tissues, known as the myofascial system, the support system of the body, benefits the entire body.
A major theory in rolfing is that everything you have ever done, thought, felt, or lived is stored in the tissues of the body. This includes every trauma, negative event, and injury. Patterns of stress and strain are kept in the tissues and cause them to be hard and weak, blocking the energy flow through the body. This can cause chronic fatigue, pain, and stiffness. Rolfing attempts to release the muscles or tissues that hold tensions.
Negative emotions are stored in the very cells of the body. Because each cell has its own intelligence and stores emotional trauma, rolfing can release each cell’s memory. Rolfing opens up the areas where life experiences have accumulated, allowing the body to let them go and heal.
My personal experience
I had read and thought about rolfing for a very long time. After seeing a chiropractor almost weekly and massage therapists once a month for years, I thought I’d try rolfing. I was hoping for a treatment that might provide me with longer-lasting effects.
I called the Rolfing Institute in Boulder and was faxed a list of rolfers. I called several and mostly got voice mail or answering machines, but a nice receptionist at the Wellness Center explained rolfing to me as well as different traumas and situations it could help. She told me the Center had a great rolfer named Teresa.
Teresa promptly phoned me back and we spoke for quite some time. I asked her what rolfing was and how it differed from massage. Massage was a wonderful experience, she said, but rolfing provided better results for recurring problems. She used to be a massage therapist but found rolfing much more rewarding for her patients. Rolfing, she continued, could give me more flexibility, increased energy flow, relief from chronic pain, and make me look and feel better about myself. “I’m sold,” I told her. “I wouldn’t be devoting my life to this if I didn’t think it could truly heal and help people,” she replied.
“There is an emotional side to rolfing,” she warned. As the rolfer touches certain spots that may harbor pain from particular events, those events often come up and to mind. Teresa said it was important to fully recognize and acknowledge the pain, let go, and release that particular tension. Psychotherapists recommend rolfing because people can get things intellectually, and intellectually they know they should let things go, but because they hold this tension in the very cells of their bodies, they need the actual physical release to aid in complete closure and healing.
Teresa has a sincere healing quality in her practice. She was genuinely concerned and wanted to be helpful without being intrusive or judgmental. She also wanted to make sure the therapy was working for me and that I had the direct benefits of the treatment.
I immediately felt good in her hands. I felt her very capable and knowledgeable. We talked a lot during the first treatment, mostly about my troubles of the week. Twice I’d said, “Oh, let’s talk about something more positive than car and motorcycle accidents, cancer and cramps, incarceration of friends and frustration,” but negative subjects and events kept coming up. Not in a negative way though; it was just a discussion and sharing about our lives.
The first treatment went very well. While she was working on my back and shoulders, opening up my lungs, it felt like a massage. I wasn’t sure, though, that it was going to be what she had promised. After I left her office, I noticed I felt pretty good and that it stayed with me through the evening. My breathing seemed a little deeper, a little better.
The next morning, however, I felt really good doing my yoga. Two years earlier, I had stopped doing the plow position daily because I was concerned it was hurting my neck. But I could do the plow better than ever. I couldn’t believe it! I just slid right into it, perfectly. I was definitely a fan of rolfing.
Teresa and I engaged in such interesting conversations during the next several sessions that I sometimes was paying almost no attention to what was really going on specifically in my body. After the third or fourth session, I was driving my car to work down a country road by my house, and all of a sudden a couple things I did 30 years ago came to my mind. They were painful memories: two different events where I had hurt others. Both incidents came to my mind all of a sudden, apparently out of nowhere, simultaneously. The mere thought of these two events caused me discomfort and discontent. I knew they had resurfaced from the rolfing, but I also knew I had to take another look at them before I could forgive myself and let them go for good.
Over my ten weeks of rolfing, I cried a lot, and easily. I cried for my own pain, and for the pain I had caused others. After the belly and stomach session, I felt like I had a direct connection with and could tap into all the pain of the universe. This came after a friend at Ambrosia Health Foods in Pueblo, Colorado (one of my all-time favorite health food stores) was asking me about the rolfing. I told him I was preparing for the stomach area session. “Wow, that’s going to be powerful,” he said, “since your belly is your connection to the universe, because of the umbilical cord.” I thought that made sense. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion or what, but I felt that powerful link for quite a while.
Two of my first four sessions, I walked into my rolfer’s office very uptight, very stressed, and the two other times I had terrible pain in my neck and back. One session, she just worked on my feet and legs, but when she was finished my whole body felt better. Every time I left her office, I would walk to my car thinking, “Yes, life is good,” feeling free, easy, and relaxed.
I am not sure if I felt good because I liked Teresa, the benefits of our stimulating yet therapeutic discussions, or the physical rolfing itself, but I knew I was going through something and was going to be better off when I reached the other end.
The sixth session
The sixth session was euphoric. She did my lower and middle back, and the back of my feet and legs. Again we talked about me, my problems, and what was surfacing emotionally during the sessions. I have a scar on my left thigh where I had 60 stitches from a bike accident when I was eleven or twelve years old. I can never stand for anyone to even whisk by it, let alone to touch it. Teresa touched it gently and immediately I braced myself. My whole body tightened up. The accident, the stitches, my mom and Aunt Helene rushing me to the hospital, the recollection of my mom having said to me for years, “Always wear your nicest underwear; you never know when you’ll be in an accident,” meeting the good-looking doctor in the emergency room—all these thoughts came rushing into my mind. I became convinced: every tissue in your body does hold memories, physical and emotional pain. When those tissues are touched, the memories arise.
I left the sixth session giddy. I was in such a good mood that I was walking on air. By the tenth session, not only was I feeling great, I felt like a lot of junk had been purged, and even a lot of the more confusing things that are an inherent part of my emotional makeup had been dealt with. Teresa and I celebrated at an Indian restaurant.
A high recommendation
Yes, I highly recommend rolfing. A lot of the benefit may come from a skilled practitioner, or it may come from the sense of security you feel from building a trusting relationship with a person you can dump your emotional baggage on. It is an emotional process and a rolfer should encourage you to talk about what comes up when he or she touches those places that do seem, indeed, to hold emotional trauma.
The fact that rolfing is ten weeks in a row may be an important reason why it is so life changing. I thought it beneficial to set the same time every week, making it a part of my cycle. It also saved me the hassle of scheduling. Plus I find I don’t need to go to my chiropractor nearly as often.
For further information contact:
The Rolf Institute
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