Sitting back workThere seems to be a lot of confusion in the public’s awareness of the difference between Rolfing Structural Integration and deep tissue massage therapy. Instead of writing one more article explaining Rolfing SI and how it can benefit you, I have decided to take a different approach. I recently had a new client come into my practice who is the perfect example of why Rolfing SI can be so powerful a method for resolving postural/structural issues and musculoskeletal pain patterns. I have John’s permission to share his story with you.

John is a healthy, active male in his late 40s. He came to see me with the stated goal of alleviating structural imbalances in his right hip and thereby hopefully avoid hip replacement surgery in the future. (One doctor had suggested to him it might be necessary at some point.) He had also been experiencing a significant amount of pain and stiffness on the right side of his pelvis and low back and was hoping I could give him relief from it.

John had originally sought medical attention because he had been experiencing right knee pain. An x-ray of his knee could find no source for the cause of his pain so the orthopedist suggested exploratory surgery to see if anything could be found. John chose to opt out of that offer. He continued to pursue a probable cause for his knee pain and another doctor suggested a leg length difference might be the culprit. An x-ray was eventually performed in a supine (lying down) position at the local medical facility and it was determined John’s right leg was shorter than his left. That information was passed on to John’s podiatrist who made orthotics with the appropriate amount of lift for the right leg based on the x-ray results.

In my office I examined John standing in his shoes and orthotics. I found his right iliac crest and greater trochanter to be higher than his left. That would be an initial indication his left leg was short, not his right. I had him take his shoes and orthotics off and looked at him again. I found his iliac crests now even as well as the greater trochanters.

Next I had John lay down on my table so I could check his supine legPelvic Torsion length. Indeed, his right leg was now shorter than his left. That meant something was going on in his back and pelvis that was causing his leg length to go off when non-weightbearing. I had him stand again and checked his pelvis and found a pelvic torsion. His right innominate was anteriorly rotated and his left posterior in relation to the coronal plane. I also examined his spine and noticed he has a mild curvature causing a right side bend and left rotation in his lumbar area. I inquired of John if anyone else in his family had a scoliosis and he affirmed that was indeed the case.

I set to work manipulating the soft tissues around John’s pelvis and back in a way that would resolve the structural imbalance in his pelvis, and hopefully ease off some of the curvature in his spine. The details of how I accomplished that are beyond the scope of this article. After completing the soft tissue manipulation I checked John’s leg length again with him lying supine. His legs were now the same length and the pelvic torsion was resolved. I had him stand barefoot and the iliac crests of his pelvis were still even.

I asked John to spend a little time walking barefoot to feel this new change for himself, and then suggested he put his shoes and orthotics back on. His response upon first standing in the shoes and orthotics was telling. It appeared to me like he had just stepped in something disgusting with his right foot, and the look on his face told the story that the lift felt wrong. I checked his iliac crest and greater trochanter height again and now the right side was higher than the left. I suggested to him to stop wearing the orthotics; they were throwing his structure off. He would need to get them altered.

I have completed three sessions with John and he is amazed at how much more balanced his pelvis feels and indeed his whole body. He reports much more mobility in his pelvis and back and significantly reduced hip pain. In John’s own words:

There is no question that the high level of comfort that I feel today is directly attributable to the three sessions of work you’ve done with me. I feel a freedom of motion in my hips that I have not felt in at least ten years.

My theory on what happened with John is that no one practitioner was looking at his entire body. One doctor was only looking at John’s knee. The knee hurt so the problem must be in the knee. Considering that the knee pain could be coming from a leg length discrepancy was a good idea. However, measuring leg length with the client supine is not considered a very accurate method, precisely for the reason I found with John. He had a pelvic torsion which created a functional leg length difference when lying supine, not a true bony leg length difference when standing.

Measuring leg length difference

Best way to x-ray leg length differences

Radiographic evidence that measures the actual height of the femoral heads when standing is considered the best way to measure true bony leg length differences. And finally, because the measurement of John’s leg length difference was not accurate he was fitted for an orthotic lift that he didn’t actually need. It precipitated and aggravated his right hip problem. I was the first practitioner John saw who actually looked at his entire body to see how he was structurally organized in gravity. I was the first practitioner to notice what was happening in his lumbar spine that could be throwing his pelvis off.

Rolfing® practitioners are the structural experts on the human body. For John, deep tissue massage therapy around his right hip would not have been enough to give him the relief he was seeking. He needed someone with a structural evaluation skill set as well as soft tissue manipulation skills to figure out the cause of his problem and implement the appropriate treatment.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

A guide for all you 21st century internet savvy, Facebooking, Blogging, Twittering Peeps out there

Ida_with_Client_lgLong, long ago in a century far, far away lived a woman named Ida Pauline Rolf. She observed that the structure of the human body affects its optimum function, and set out to do something about it. Receiving her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Columbia University in 1920, she worked as a Research Associate at Rockefeller Institute from 1919 to 1927 during which time she published fifteen research articles. In addition to biochemistry, Rolf’s thinking was influenced by her practice of yoga and treatments and training from pioneer osteopaths.

Rolf started working hands-on with people in New York during World War II. By the 1950s she was traveling the country teaching structural integration to chiropractors and osteopaths. It was in the 1960s Rolf ended up working with Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy. That was when structural integration become known as Rolfing and got caught up in the human potential movement.

Rolfing structural integration 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. They use skillful hands-on techniques as well as movement education to empower clients to take charge of their own physical and emotional health. Rolfing also has the potential to support personal evolution through enhancing the vertical alignment of the body, facilitating the upward movement of energy through our systems and the subsequent evolution of consciousness.

And now a visual guide . . .


This IS Rolfing


This is NOT Rolfing


This is NOT Rolfing

Any questions?

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

In an interview in the April 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine Van Jones Van Jonesspeaks about his personal quest for healing.

He says he spent his time “meditating, listening to New Age lectures about self-improvement, dancing ecstatically with white people banging on drums.” He delved into shamanism, Buddhist retreats, Rolfing, yoga, Landmark, you name it. “I was so desperate for healing,” he says.… He began to resolve his grief through counseling, praying, and falling in love with a law student who is now his wife.

As a result of his soul-searching Jones began to form the idea of “green-jobs-not-jails.” His organization, Green for All, promotes green-collar jobs and opportunities for the disadvantaged. Its mission is to build an inclusive, green economy – strong enough to resolve the ecological crisis and lift millions of people out of poverty.

I salute Van Jones for having the courage and tenacity to do his personal work and for taking his subsequent insights out into action in the world. To learn more about Green for All please visit their website

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this 4 Part series.

After graduating from university I tried to force myself into a career as an accountant. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working in the business world, but was unhappy sitting at a desk all day long. Upon taking my first full-time job my gloom about my profession started to grow. Each day at work felt like a slow soul death and most of my nights were spent being sick to my stomach. At some point in the future I knew my inner spark would be completely snuffed out. I was living a double life. During the day I did my best to be a business professional, but after work, most every night, I headed to ballet class. I loved ballet.

I had started taking formal dance lessons at the age of 15, first in jazz and then moved on to tap dancing. I noticed some dancers had much better technique than others. I found out they had studied ballet. Given my leg issue history and not fond memories of ballet from pre-school age I had steered clear of those classes. However, the tap dance studio was in the same building as the ballet school. I would watch the students come and go, and hear the classical music drifting out from behind closed doors. Doesn’t every little girl dream of becoming a ballerina?

Don Quixote Peninsula Dance TheatreI decided to take a beginning class, just to improve my technique. It was hard, and I wasn’t built for it, but I loved it. I gave up tap dancing just to focus on ballet. I had the good fortune to have a teacher, Antonio Mendes, who noticed how committed and hard working I was, and he encouraged me. I continued dancing while in college, both at the ballet school and at the university. I knew I wasn’t capable of having a professional career as a dancer and would have to give it up at some point, but I just couldn’t stop. Dancing felt wonderful, and freeing. I felt beautiful when I moved.

At around the same time I graduated from university I also managed to injure myself dancing. I damaged my left hamstring to the point I couldn’t balance on that leg and when walking would have to kind of pull it along behind me. I sought out physical therapy and was eventually referred to Dr. Garrick at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sports Medicine. I’d never been to a clinic like this. It was everything under one roof, orthopedics, podiatry, physical medicine, sports medicine, physical therapy and unique to Saint Francis, Dance Medicine. I worked with the Pilates trainers there, and ran into one of my dance teachers from Sonoma State University, Mercy Sidbury. She had been the first person to introduce me to Pilates principles back in the late 80s.

One particular dance medicine specialist inquired if I’d had any manipulation done on my leg. My response, “No, they do that?” Up to that point all the treatment I had received focused on exercise and stretching. No therapist had actually touched me. The specialist referred me to a chiropractor who referred me to a massage therapist, and thus I received my first taste of hands-on manual therapy. It was transformative! My intelligent bodymind knew it was exactly what I needed: hands-on work to break up the scar tissue in my hamstring.

But, what was I going to do about my career? I felt strongly I needed to do something more fundamental and grounded then work in the abstract world of numbers. I liked the clinic at Saint Francis and began to ponder how I could get the skills to work at such a place. Also, for me, there was something magic and powerful about touch. I decided to quit my full-time job and enroll in massage school.

While in massage school, I continued dancing and exploring movement. I took Feldenkrais classes, modern dance classes, yoga. I kept learning more and more about body structure and how bodies work in motion. The woman who ran the massage school brought in the local Rolfing practitioner to speak with us about his work. From somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind I remembered Rolfing. Rolfing changes structure. . . I have structural issues. . . being able to change structure is a good thing. . .

I volunteered to be the model for the Rolfing demo. The first thing the Rolfer did was have me stand so he could look at my structure. He described to me what he saw, and what he described made perfect sense to me. I felt it in my body standing there, and had felt it previously when at the barre in ballet. He told me he could help me change my structure, and that the changes would last a long time. (Something that resonated for me. I’d been getting a massage a week on my hamstring and felt strongly I needed something that would have a longer lasting impact.)

I eagerly laid down on the table and he started to touch me, touch like I’d never felt before. His touch had an intelligence to it, a listening quality. It was like he was having a conversation with my flesh. His touch had no quality of the rather mindless pushing, pressing or kneading that can often be likened to one’s body being a lump of clay that the other person is trying to mold or soften into some shape. No, he was asking my body to open here, let go there, and listening for the response from my system. This conversation was highly conscious non-verbal communication between our two dynamic, biological living systems.

I was smitten, not by him, but by the work. It was on that day in 1992 that I knew I had found my calling. I would combine my curiosity and interest in body structure with my love for touch and train to become a Rolfing® practitioner.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this 4 part series.

In reconstructing the timeline for this article I discovered I wore the twister cables for 15 to 18 months. I was still wearing the cables when I entered kindergarten in the fall of 1972.

Until that time I had been relatively sheltered at home from the type of harsh teasing that can happen when one is “different” from their peers. We, as humans, seem to have a primitive instinct that informs us if someone’s legs are funny or they walk abnormally then they may be retarded.

Thus, similar to Forrest Gump climbing on the school bus for his very first day of school, I was ostracized and cruelly mocked by some older children. I tried my best not to show how much it hurt me and vowed to never make fun of someone else’s disability.

Wearing the braces at the age I did, and having to cope with difficulties like being teased by older children helped to reinforce an earlier defense strategy in my character structure known as Late Will. This terminology, as I use it here, comes from Bodynamic Analysis, a form of body-oriented psychotherapy from Denmark.

They have defined a seven phase character structure model starting from the 2nd trimester through the age of 12. Their model puts a more positive spin on character structure than previous models developed by Freud, Erikson and Lowen.

Indeed, in Bodynamic Analysis, each developmental stage represents a central issue or theme dealt with during a particular age period. In fact, each theme can also be viewed as a basic human right. They are:

  1. Existence (2nd trimester to 3 months) The right to exist in one’s physical environment.
  2. Need (1 month to 1 1/2 years) The ability to sense one’s own needs and that one’s needs can be met.
  3. Autonomy (8 months to 2 1/2 years) The ability to engage in independent movement and explore the world.
  4. Will (2 to 4 years) The ability to make choices and state one’s own power through actions and emotions (i.e. control) and still be loved.
  5. Love/Sexuality (3 to 6 years) The ability to create a balance between feelings of the heart (love) and the genitals (sexuality).
  6. Opinion (5 to 8 years) The ability to form and express one’s opinion.
  7. Solidarity/Performance (7 to 12 years) The ability to balance being one’s best with being a member of a group.

Bodynamic Analysis was developed by Lisbeth Marcher and a group of 10 Danish therapists who studied and worked together for 20 years. I have studied this system’s character structure model as well as their approach to working with shock/trauma.

I continue to study Resource Oriented Skill Training with Merete Holm Brantbjerg one of Bodynamic’s co-creators. I will write more about this body of work in future posts.

At some point during kindergarten the doctors deemed the braces no longer necessary and I was set free. I chuckle now to think about it, but they gave my mother instructions to stretch me.

I suppose this was to keep working to improve the external rotation in my hips. What they showed us to do I now know as Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose from yoga.

Bound Angle Pose

Of course my Bound Angle Pose didn’t look like the one in this picture. My knees were much higher off the ground. I would sit in this position with my back against the hallway wall while my mother would push down on my knees. It hurt, and I didn’t know how to relax. I would push up with my knees as hard as my mother would push down. I’m not sure we made much progress in changing my pattern.

As you may imagine, going through all of this at such a young age created in me quite an awareness of body structure and alignment. After we stopped torturing me with stretches my leg issues faded more into the background.

The next time I can remember a significant Aha! Moment that led me down the path to become a Rolfing practitioner was in high school.

In the 1980s I used to listen to a morning radio program called The Alex Bennett Show out of San Francisco. One morning Alex was talking about getting Rolfed. Since his show featured standup comedians as his guests, he was making fun of the funny sounding name. However, he also said some things that burned into my memory.

He said the work was literally changing the structure of his body, that he had better posture, was more flexible, and had more energy. That information got stored in my brain. . . there is something out there that changes structure. . . being able to change structure in a positive direction is a good thing.

And then, I promptly forgot about Rolfing until many years later.

Continue to Part 4 Finding My Calling

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

Different synchronistic events and life circumstances can sometimes conspire to show you your life’s path. In my case, those events and conditions combined with my anatomical structure to show me mine.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from new clients and friends is, “How did you get into Rolfing?”  Being born in San Francisco at the height of the Summer of Love (August 1967) maybe it was inevitable I should become involved with a body of work that came into public consciousness during the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s. My Vedic astrologer, who happens to live in San Francisco, certainly believes it is clearly evident in the alignment of the planets at the time of my birth.

As I look back on my life I see it all began around the age of four. I was very “pigeon-toed” as a child. I remember going to see Dr. Adams, my pediatrician, with my mother and her asking him at the end of my physical, “What about Carole’s legs?” Early on the answer was, “She’ll grow out of it.” and “Do these stretches and that should help.”

I remember running down the hill one day and falling down again. (I fell down a lot as a child, frequently enduring bruises and abrasions on my elbows and knees.) As I was picking myself up off the ground I became curious about my predicament and determined to figure out what I had tripped over. Looking around on the ground I could find nothing. And then, slowly creeping into my consciousness, came the awareness I had tripped over my own feet! That was a monumental moment for me.

I was eventually referred to a “specialist” and fitted with twister cables, braces that fastened around my waist, thighs and calves with attached shoes. I was to wear them 24 hours a day which I ultimately detested. The daytime wasn’t so bad, but nighttime was horrible. The shoes, being connected to the braces, didn’t allow me to relax my legs at night. I have memories of the sheets getting twisted around the braces leaving me feeling trapped in bed with the frequent result being torn sheets.

My father, who is quite the home filmmaker, filmed this footage of me in my braces in 1971.

Continue to Part 2 Gaining Knowledge

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.