Controversy and Position
During the 1940s, biochemist and philosopher Ida Rolf PhD created a therapeutic system she called Structural Integration. The name that has stuck for her work is Rolfing®. A central goal of Rolfing® is to align the body so it can start to make use of gravity as an energy source rather than fighting it. After Rolfing®, people not only feel lighter, they feel lifted up. Another goal on the way to this gravitational advantage is to reduce internal stress in the body so it moves with ease and fluidity. Yet another stepping stone to the gravitational relationship is to produce the classic hallmarks of good posture as the easiest place for the body to be.
All Rolfers™ agree on this set of goals for Rolfing®. However, there are frequent and heated discussions among Rolfers™ about the best and most appropriate methods with which to achieve these goals. Here are the essentials of the controversy:
Dr. Rolf developed a range of hands-on manipulative strategies to produce the changes of Rolfing®. She also worked with her clients on how they used their bodies in daily activity. Dr. Rolf continued to evolve her treatment methods and strategies until her death in 1979. Most of her manual therapy was directed toward the fascia associated with muscle. She also worked with other forms of connective tissue.
To structure the teaching of her work, Dr. Rolf developed a series of treatment sessions to create comprehensive change in each client’s body. Originally, there were seven sessions in the series. This gradually grew to ten, a number that has been standard since the early 1960s. This series of sessions has been described in various ways over the years, but is probably best described as a series of goals. For example, the goals of the first session in a Rolfing® series include improving ease of breathing, and starting to move the pelvis toward greater flexibility and a more level position. Goals of a second session include getting the feet more fully and flexibly on the ground, further balance and freedom for the pelvis, and greater spinal length and mobility.
There is a spectrum of opinion among Rolfers™ about how Rolfing® should be defined. At one end of the spectrum, some Rolfers™ feel that for bodywork to be called Rolfing® it must not only produce the classic goals of Rolfing®, but must produce those goals by working with the hands, on the connective tissue associated with muscles, in a classically ordered series of ten sessions. At the other end of the spectrum there are those that feel only the goals are essential to define Rolfing®, and any methods may be used to achieve those goals.
My current belief and practice are fully at the goals-only-definition-of-Rolfing® end of the spectrum. For more than 20 years I practiced Rolfing® by working almost exclusively on fascia in the classical ten-session format. Then as I developed skill in osteopathic methods, including Visceral Manipulation and Cranial Manipulation, I began to use those skills to produce the changes of Rolfing®. I made this shift in how I work because I could make the changes associated with Rolfing® in a more efficient and thorough way. These superior results are produced with comfort for the client, and less effort for me.
Clients and potential clients are encouraged to discuss this and any other issue related to Rolfing®.