It’s been a fantastic three days for news coverage of Rolfing SI in the San Francisco Bay Area. First, on December 4, the San Jose Mercury News re-published the October 7, 2010, New York Times Style Section piece about Rolfing SI. Here are some highlights from the article.

Popular in the 1970s, Rolfing once evoked hairy-chested, New Age types seeking alternative therapies — perhaps most famously spoofed in the 1977 football movied “Semi-Tough,” starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. Today, Rolfing is experiencing a resurgence, especially among younger city dwellers.

I found the clip from “Semi-Tough” the article refers to on YouTube. Here, actress Lotte Lenya (spoofing Ida Rolf, Ph.D.) plays Clara Pelf who’s professional corporation is named the “Institute of Muscular Harmony.” Near the end of the clip notice the sculpture to the left of the front door titled “The Unreconstructed Body.” Is this scene one of the reasons why Rolfing SI continues to be hindered by a reputation for being extremely painful? People, this is satire! Est, pyramid power, and Doman-Delacato Patterning are also parodied in the movie.

Please excuse my veer off course, back to highlights from the New York Times article.

Russell Poses, a 39-year-0ld international equities trader on Wall Street, started getting Rolfing treatments after injuring his back. Chiropractors and years of physical therapy couldn’t accomplish what two or three Rolfing sessions did, he says. And he adds that he could still feel the results two weeks later. “It’s something that actually lasts,” he says.Rolfing SI on Oprah

The article also mentions the 2007 endorsement Rolfing SI received from cardiac surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Then, on December 6, Rolfing SI was featured on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”  This piece titled “Rolfing Back In Vogue, But With Shaky Evidence” was produced by San Francisco’s own public radio station KQED with reporting by Sarah Varney. Varney took the time to actually examine some fascia at Stanford University’s cadaver lab.

It almost looks like the thin layer of white film you have after you debone a chicken and pull the skin off of it. If this person had bad posture or a chronic injury, Rolfers say the fascia would tighten, throwing off the person’s gait and possibly leading to lower back pain or other aches.

The story quotes UCSF physician Wolf Mehling as well as USC physical therapist Rob Landel who say not enough research has been done about Rolfing SI and that it “probably couldn’t stand up in a clinical trial.” This has touched off quite a response in the Rolfing community and I suggest you read the comments following the article.

For my part I will restate that Ida Rolf had Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Columbia University, and she worked as a Research Associate at Rockefeller Institute from 1919 to 1927 during which time she published fifteen research articles. One of the primary missions of The Rolf Institute is to promote programs of research in Rolfing Structural Integration. To that end The Rolf Institute is a proud sponsor of the Fascia Research Congress and also supports the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation.

Here is a list of resources I have compiled about Rolfing SI and fascia research.

The Rolf Institute’s own guide to available research.

The Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation

Fascia Research Congress

Cell Biology Meets Rolfing – Science Magazine

Rolfing structural integration treatment of cervical spine dysfunction

Fascia Research Project at Ulm University

Reversal of repetitive motion strain via manual therapy


Sitting Rolfing SI back workI was recently interviewed by reporter Marissa Capodanno for an article about bodywork modalities she wrote for The slideshow turned out well with Rolfing SI being featured in its very own slide. However, due to space limitations, much of the interview was not included in the piece. I thought I would publish the full interview here on because many of the questions I answered are of interest to people who are unfamiliar with Rolfing SI. It seems like a good thing to make this information available to the public.

What is Rolfing SI? What is the underlying philosophy behind it?

This is the simplest analogy I can give you. You know how when you get in a car accident, bend the frame on your car, and have to take it to the auto body shop to get it straightened out? That’s what Rolfing practitioners do for the human body.

Rolfing SI is somatic education the main purpose of which is to improve the structure and alignment of the body. It is not a form of massage therapy. Rather, Rolfing practitioners are the structural experts of the human body. We use skillful hands-on techniques as well as movement education to empower clients to take charge of their own physical and emotional health.

How specifically does it differ from massage therapy? What is the process like? What can someone trying Rolfing SI for the first time expect?

Ida Rolf, Ph.D. created a 10 step process whereby the practitioner systematically works through the entire body to bring it to a higher level of order both structurally and functionally. Rolfers address whole body patterns. A client may come in with an issue in a specific area, but instead of just focusing on “the problem” intelligent evaluation is done to figure out what is happening structurally the may have caused the issue.

For example, in repetitive strain injuries of the wrist, evaluating and educating the client on how to sit in a supported way is essential. Looking at what is happening higher up the muscular chain of connection to the elbow, shoulder, neck and indeed the entire ribcage and spine is essential to create lasting change for the client.

Rolfing SI Before and After PhotoSome specific differences with massage therapy are that a structural evaluation is done at the beginning of every session to observe structural patterns and set goals for the session. Usually this is done with the client in their underclothes, but it can also be done in a bathing suit or shorts. This allows the practitioner to clearly see the structure of the body. I personally also take time during this part of the session to educate my clients about their patterns so we can begin to create awareness which ultimately leads to long-term change.

Rolfing practitioners do not use a lot of oil or lotion to glide over the skin as in massage therapy. To access and effect change in the deeper layers of connective tissue it is necessary to have a little traction on the skin.

Rolfers work with clients in different positions than you would see in a typical massage. Practitioners will frequently work with the client in a sidelying position. We will also work with the client “in gravity” which means while sitting on an adjustable height Rolfing bench or even while standing.

In general, Rolfers ask clients to more actively participate in a session than you would see in typical massage which is passively received. We will ask the client to change positions more frequently, stand up for more structural and functional evaluation, or make slow precise movements while we manipulate their tissues. These things helps facilitate the change and awareness process for the client.

What are the benefits? Are there any risks? What precautions should someone take who is considering Rolfing SI?

Rolfing SI has the ability to dramatically alter a person’s posture and structure. Rolfing SI can potentially resolve discomfort, release tension and alleviate pain. Rolfing SI aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.

Athletes, dancers, children, business professionals, and people from all walks of life have benefited from Rolfing SI. People seek Rolfing SI as a way to ease pain and chronic stress, and improve performance in their professional and daily activities. It is estimated that more than 1 million people have received Rolfing SI.

Research has demonstrated that Rolfing SI creates a more efficient use of the muscles, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. Research also shows that Rolfing SI significantly reduces chronic stress and changes in the body structure. For example, a study showed that Rolfing SI significantly reduced the spinal curvature of subjects with lordosis (sway back); it also showed that Rolfing SI enhances neurological functioning.

Make sure you see a qualified practitioner. That means someone who is trained and certified through The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration, or a Board Certified Structural Integrator(CM), or at least a professional active member of the International Association of Structural Integrators. Watch this video demo of a Rolfing session with Hubert Ritter from Berlin. You can really get a sense of what a session is like without getting distracted by focusing on language.

The usual precautions apply as with any form of hands-on manual therapy. Care should be taken with people at risk of embolism or thrombi from atherosclerosis or varicose veins, and certain autoimmune diseases if in an active phase such as lupus, scleroderma and psoriatic arthritis. People with loss of sensation from diabetic neuropathy or other nerve damage need special attention from the practitioner when receiving work. The same holds true for people with blood clotting issues or who are taking anti-coagulants. There is much research being done on whether it is safe to work with someone when they have cancer. This is a big discussion which I will not delve into here. It is generally a good idea if someone is actively working with an oncologist that they receive approval from their physician.

When would you recommend Rolfing SI?

For relief of musculoskeletal pain which can come from many different causes. For people who are worried about their posture and recognize they would like to have better posture. For people who are on a path of personal development and want to increase their self-awareness. To enhance athletic performance and support yoga, pilates and other mindful movement practices. See also the benefits listed above.

When should someone avoid it?

Acute intervertebral disc problems, during the first trimester of pregnancy, no active work on broken bones, and post-surgery after approval from the attending physician.

Note: As a resource for the precautions and contraindications listed in this article I used Contraindications and Cautions for Deep Bodywork 9th edition, May 2008. This article is written by Robert Schleip, Ph.D., Til Luchau and John Schewe all of whom are Rolf Institute Faculty.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2010.

2009 Was Divine: Wish You’d Been There?

Rolf Institute 2009 Membership Conference ProgramThe official theme for the newly renamed 2009 Rolf Institute® Membership Conference was “The Shifting Sands of Rolfing®: Body Maps, Perception, Gravity.” The event was formerly known as the annual meeting, but “membership conference” seems a more fitting name given the emphasis on presentations and the sharing of information, as well as the social and community building aspects of the event. Headlining the “Body Maps” category was Sandra Blakeslee, award-winning science writer for The New York Times. She presented the opening keynote Friday evening on her newest book, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. Blakeslee received the Rolfing® Ten Series for a knee injury she sustained that left her unable to fully flex or extend her knee. She believes that one of the explanations for why Rolfing structural integration works is that when we as practitioners touch people, we are helping to alter their body maps. The concept of body maps originated in the 1930s with neuroscientist Wilder Penfield. He created the first-ever maps of a human being’s somato-sensory and motor cortexes, creating what we know today as the homunculi. In addition to the origins of the body maps concept Blakeslee’s book also includes cutting-edge research on out-of-body experiences, mirror neurons, and phantom limb phenomena. Kudos to Sandra Blakeslee for inspiring us in the structural integration community and providing us with such valuable and timely information.

Under the category of “Perception,” Hubert Godard presented the Saturday morning keynote (with Blakeslee in attendance), “From Biomechanics to Body Image: How Perception Shapes The Body.” It had been twenty years since Godard presented at an annual conference, and understandably there was much excitement about his presentation. He started by explaining the difference between body image and body schema. He defines body schema as a physiological construct that is mostly unconscious. Body image, on the other hand, is the more conscious perception of the body. It is about one’s emotional response to how one experiences one’s body; how one feels about one’s physical traits, and how one believes others view oneself. (Blakeslee goes into quite a bit of detail about this in “Dueling Body Maps,” Chapter 3 of her book.)

Godard sees the body schema as a space of action. People can have part of their “space” missing, which can have profound implications for things like scoliosis. One of the ways Godard works with this is by playing with focal and peripheral vision. For Godard, focal vision is a way of perceiving where vision goes to and seeks out the object, whereas peripheral vision allows the space or object to come into our vision. Losing peripheral vision on one side apparently affects the vestibular system on the same side, setting up a cascade of concentric contraction doHubert Godardwn the muscular chain starting with the scalenes. Godard seeks to disrupt this pattern by hiding the focal vision on the affected side using a sticker applied to the central part of the lens of a pair of eyeglasses. In so doing, he seeks to enhance the vestibular function on the affected side, by emphasizing its peripheral vision use, and achieving a functional improvement in that side. Many of those in attendance had our own “perception” challenge with Godard’s lovely French accent. For myself, I heard Godard speak about “a stick” that he put in “a glass.” How relieved I was when we received the sticker and eyeglasses clarification. I had literally imagined a water glass held up to the eye with a pencil inside it!

On the social side of things I found myself a bit nervous about Friday evening’s meet and greet event. Would anyone I know be there? Would people be friendly and want to talk with me? Would I feel included? It turned out I had nothing to worry about. I hadn’t actually realized until this event how many colleagues and friends I’ve come to know over the fifteen years I’ve been practicing Rolfing structural integration. I could barely make it to the food tables without running into someone I knew who I hadn’t seen in a long time and who I really wanted to catch up with.

For give-aways at registration this year, instead of t-shirts, we were given stainless steel water bottles with The Rolf Institute logo on them. How cool is that? My co-attendee commented to me that she’d been intending to purchase exactly such a bottle and now she wouldn’t need to. Another highly coveted give-away were the temporary tattoos of “the little boy logo.” We were limited to one upon registration but I wanted more! By Saturday morning’s presentations I spotted many fellow attendees sporting tattoos on various body parts.

Saturday morning’s breakout sessions were with Tessy Brungardt, Lael Keen, and Robert Schleip. I attended Brungardt’s presentation, “Another View of Neck Work – Techniques for the Visceral Compartment of the Neck.” She began with a nice review of the anatomy startMuscles of Necking with the superficial layer, dropping into the mid-cervical fascial layer, the visceral compartment of the neck itself, and finally the deep cervical layer. Brungardt said she views the hyoid bone as the key to the entire visceral compartment of the neck. She tends to stabilize the hyoid and motion test/feel to assess what the strain pattern she’s working with is organized around. I discovered and made a mental note that I need to review the pharyngeal muscles. Happening at the same time as Brungardt’s lecture were Lael Keen’s “Re-mapping the Feet” and Robert Schleip’s “Fascia as Sensory Organ.” Saturday afternoon’s breakout sessions were with Steve Evanko, William Smythe, and Don Hazen. I split my time between Evanko’s “Extracellular Matrix and the Manipulation of Cells and Tissues” and Smythe’s “Working on the Edge.” Hazen offered us “Neurology of Posture – A Synopsis.”

Saturday evening was the famous Rolf Institute dance party, a typical and not-so-typical barefoot affair. Brett Linder and Alexi Boshart saw fit to come in costume and entertain us all. Have you ever seen a dancing Rolfer in a bunny suit?

Sunday morning was back to business with a Q & A session for the the advanced faculty panel. Morning breakouts were Hubert Godard’s “Endogenous and Exogenous Origins of Spinal Dysfunction,” where I was fortunate enough to see him demonstrate a little bit of how he works with an eager volunteer from the audience. Liz Gaggini presented “Natural Alignment: How to Recognize and Facilitate Different Fundamental Alignment Patterns” and Nicholas French shared some “Rolfing Odds and Ends.” Sunday afternoon was the actual membership meeting. To entice attendees to stay, a raffle was held with some cool prizes donated by local businesses and Rolfers alike. Proceeds were to benefit The Rolf Institute student library. Sunday afternoon’s closing ceremony was officiated by Barbara Dilley, former soloist with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, who has taught dance and embodiment at Naropa University since 1974. She led us through a simple yet elegant movement ritual to close the conference.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2010.

Continuation of the article by my friend Raymond Bishop, Certified Advanced Rolfer.

The ideas of Tolle have a strong resonance with a much earlier esoteric philosopher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff who integrated Eastern tenets with his uniquely confrontational approach to enlightenment. In his hagiographic study of Gurdjieff and his philosphy, John Shirley frequently affirms this mystic’s belief that we must go through the body to attain enlightenment.

For Gurdjieff, to be sure, the human body is the crucible of transmutation. An active work with turning attention to the sensations of the body – combined with taking conscious ‘impressions’ of one’s inner and outer state – is the beginning of the transmutation that creates a lasting soul.¹¹

Jennifer Hecht, the author of an ambitious consideration of the history of doubt in religious thought, offers another perspective on this somatic path to enlightenment in her discussion of renunciation as taught in the Hindu faith. She says, in part:

The Hindu notion of meditation is essentially that when we can manage silence and stillness, we get a glimpse of our real self. . . . To be at peace we must clear away everything that is not the true inner self. This ‘everything’ includes one’s own body in particular, because this is the source of so much useless, distracting, and redundant desire.¹²

Whether the body acts as the source of distraction as the Hindus believed, the means through which we attain “no-self”, or, whether it is the wounded raging ego gnawing on the bones of problems projected into the future or recycling from its past, as Tolle argues, any discipline that takes us deeper into present moment awareness should be considered a valuable resource for all wishing to experience themselves more fully. From somatic awareness spiritual awareness may soon emerge. So, any modality that evokes and teaches awareness has the potential of being in and of itself a means of approaching the meditative state. We can therefore reasonably assume that embodied SI work done in a fully engaged and cooperative manner can evoke this state not only in the client but also in the practitioner.
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