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


Here is the final part of my 3 part series on In Part 3 I discover my love for dance, receive my first taste of hands-on manual therapy for a dance injury, and discover my life’s work Rolfing® SI.

My soul death is averted by Rolfing® Structural Integration | Soul’s Code.

Rolfing® treatment of the hamstrings

Starkey Laboratories, Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minnesota has earned the 2010 Governor’s Award for Innovative Measures in Workers’ Compensation from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council. Here is a 1997 video clip about Starkey’s program from WCCO TV.

Starkey Laboratories has 1,760 U.S. employees and is a world leader in the design, development and distribution of comprehensive hearing solutions.

To combat the rising number of repetitive strain injuries that are common in the light electronic assembly and administrative work of the company, Starkey incorporated conventional approaches for eliminating musculoskeletal injuries, such as encouraging stretching exercises, increasing job rotation and providing adjustable, ergonomic workstations.

It also went beyond such approaches by securing the services of a Certified Rolfer™.

Starkey created a systematic approach, introducing employees to its on-site Rolfing® practitioner by starting with those employees who had active workers’ comp claims and were reporting pain. The focus was then expanded to those employees who had the potential for developing repetitive stress claims due to the nature of their job duties. Eventually, the company-paid service was expanded to any employee who was experiencing symptoms of discomfort or mild fatigue.

By focusing on injury prevention, employee comfort and the use of Rolfing, carpal tunnel syndrome cases have been virtually eliminated from the workplace—there have been six carpal tunnel claims since 1999, with an estimated savings of up to $20 million dollars.

Since implementing the on-site Rolfing program, Starkey’s workers’ comp claims cost has dropped from $150,000 a month to just $58,000 a year. (Nationally, $345,000 a year in claims is considered quite good for light electronic assembly.)

An unexpected benefit of the Rolfing program at Starkey is that its cost per hire is 50 percent of the national average. Starkey has higher retention rates than most companies in light electronic assembly and an easier time recruiting employees. Starkey believes their employees know they are cared about; an employee with fewer health issues has fewer absent days and wants to come to work.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2010.

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 the August 2009 issue of Nylon Magazine deputy editor Luke Crisell and beauty director Holly Siegel describe their experience receiving three Rolfing sessions from a Rolfing practitioner in New York City. Apparently Siegel suffers from a lower-back problem and Crisell wanted to go along for the entertainment factor. What they found out was that Rolfing really works!

Not only can Rolfing make you more flexible, alleviate stress, and increase energy levels, it can recalibrate your whole body. Show us a spa that (really, truly, actually) does that. . . . we immediately and surprisingly feel these benefits (we practically skip to the Oak Room afterwards), and after three visits, we are pretty certain an extended course of treatment would continue to yield positive results.

To read more of Crisell and Siegel’s humorous account and why you might not want to wear your thong for a Rolfing session check out their story on page 109 of Nylon’s August issue. Thanks for giving me something to smile about!

And now, The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a story about the University of Minnesota Gophers’ Jeff Tow-Arnett. Tow-Arnett, a senior center for the Gophers football team, is happy to be back at training camp. Last season he injured his right knee, underwent surgery, and endured an infection at the surgical site. Tow-Arnett decided to try Rolfing as part of his rehabilitation and worked with the same husband and wife team who are known for their work with the Minnesota Vikings.

Just before camp started, Tow-Arnett underwent a Rolfing session, a technique of deep tissue massage. Tow-Arnett was worked on by a husband-and-wife team.

“Walking out of there I could feel a difference,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

To learn more about how professional football players are using Rolfing to help them get ready for the game and heal from injury watch this segment from Vikings Game Day.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

I have been involved with Pilates more or less since the late 1980s. I was first introduced to Pilates principles while studying dance with Mercy Sidbury at Sonoma State University. My curiosity piqued, I went to the SSU Library and checked out The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning by Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen. This was a hardcover book, originally published in 1980, and the first of its kind to bring Pilates out of private studios and present it to the general public. I studied the book and began practicing on my own both at home and before ballet class to strengthen my awareness of and build my ability to move from and stabilize my core.

The Art of Dance MedicineIn the spring of 1989 I attended The Art of Dance Medicine presented in San Francisco at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Dancemedicine Center. Alan Herdman presented “Floorbarre for the Dancer” which for me, at the time, was synonymous with Pilates mat work.  A couple of years later, after I injured my left hamstring dancing, I ended up rehabbing at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Dancemedicine Center where I was exposed to Pilates in more depth. At that time, Pilates was not readily available in Sonoma County, and traveling to San Francisco for one hour of therapy was a bit of a burden to me. I decided to treat my hamstring injury with hands-on manual therapy, rather than through corrective exercise. That choice led me down the path to become a Rolfing® practitioner which I have written about previously.

I drifted away from Pilates after I moved to Washington state in 1992. I was busy preparing to train as a Rolfer and it was difficult to be present with ballet and Rolfing and Pilates all at the same time. I had to focus on one or two things. Through dance, however, I continued to do some mat exercises, in particular with Marcia Quigley at the Maple Valley School of Ballet.

Many of my colleagues in the Rolfing community are quite drawn to the Gyrotonic Expansion System® and that type of non-linear, undulating movement began to appeal to me. By early 2000 I had experienced a couple of unpleasant episodes doing Pilates mat work classes at the local gym. One in particular stands out in my mind. The instructor had us stand at the wall and attempt to flatten our backs against the wall, trying to “imprint” the lumbar spine. That had the effect of putting my sacrum “out” and lead to several days if not weeks of an intense low back pain episode. I began to become a fan of what is known as the “neutral spine” in Pilates and decided to check out Gyrotonic as soon as I had the chance.

When I moved back to California in 2002 I contacted local Master Gyrotonic Instructor Manisha Holzwarth, and I did months of private work with her. Also, percolating through the Rolfing community, primarily through the World Congress on Low Back & Pelvic Pain, came much discussion about low back pain and spinal stability. The Rolfing community was talking about physical therapist Diane Lee and Australian researchers Carolyn Richardson, Paul Hodges and Julie Hides. Their research has shown that anticipatory recruitment of the transversus abdominis and multifidus is absent or delayed in patients with low back pain or a history of low back pain episodes. Why is this important? Because these muscles stabilize the spine so that other muscles can move the trunk without compromising the integrity of the spinal joints. I started researching co-contraction, the simultaneous activation of the transversus abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. I found out that physical therapy had, so to speak, incorporated Pilates into their own body of knowledge.

As a Rolfing® practitioner I see many clients with low back pain. I believe it is not enough to correct motion restrictions and structural imbalances in people’s spines and pelvises without educating and re-training them in the correct use of their bodies as well. The research has shown this essential. And so I find myself in 2009 having come full circle from 20 years ago. I just became a Certified Mat Trainer in ITT Pilates. My desire is to become a better teacher and resource to my clients who suffer with back pain and stability issues. I also would like to bring all my knowledge to bear in teaching groups and in general improve the quality of what’s out there and available to the general public. Having worked one on one with people for so many years now I feel the impulse to share my knowledge in a bigger way.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.