Everyone has questions about how Rolfing works. It is only natural.
“What is Rolfing, exactly?”
The common definition is this: Rolfing is a form of Structural Integration bodywork that balances and aligns the body by working on the soft connective tissue called fascia. Rolfing increases a person’s awareness of the body in a manner that stimulates a neurological re-patterning in the brain so that the body recognises a new way of moving.
This is the beauty and effectiveness of how Rolfing works to unwind deeply ingrained strain patterns and restore strength in a holistic manner.
“I have never heard of fascia.”
You’re not alone.
Borrowing the words from a Runnersworld magazine article,
“For the majority of medical history it’s been assumed that bones were our frame, muscles the motor, and fascia just packaging. In fact, the convention in med-school dissections has been to remove as much of the fascia as possible in order to see what was underneath… In 2007 the first international Fascia Research Congress, held at Harvard Medical School, brought about a new demand for attention to the fascial system. …Fascia is a major player in every movement you make and every injury you’ve ever had, but until (2007) nobody paid it any attention. And now they’re making up for lost time.“
[Thankfully, Rolfing has been around way before 2007. If you’re interested in the history of Rolfing, you can read more about fitting tributes to the genius the method was named after, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, at the official Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) and European Rolfing Association e.V. (ERA) websites.]
Back to our topic on fascia. Did you know that no muscle attaches directly to the skeleton anywhere in the body. It only transitions into the bone via fascia. For the anatomically-aware folks, you may know that the perimysium of a muscle merges with its tendon, which then attaches to the periosteum of the bone, and then continues to the tendon of another muscle and so on. Bones are also held in place by ligaments and cushioned by cartilages at the joints. All these are fascia and they are everywhere in the body! If one part of the body is affected, everywhere is affected. The entire body system adapts to compensate for the affected part. Overtime, some parts become more used than others and pain shows up. (Read on, there are other ways in which fascia becomes strained.)
Contrary to belief, the part where you experience pain is often NOT the problem area. That’s right. Stop blaming the aching shoulder or the awkward knee for your troubles.
“Do I need Rolfing?”
(Well, you’re reading a webpage created by a Rolfer who is promoting the goods about how Rolfing works. Naturally, you’re gonna be encouraged to get “Rolfed”. Duh.)
Look at it another way, I know of very few people who do not carry any tension or some form of injury in their bodies. Sure, people learn to live with these strain patterns and adjust their lifestyle around their conditions. The question then becomes, “is there a better way?”
In modern day living, too many have voluntarily tied themselves to their computer desks with an invisible chain. Fingers punching endless keystrokes and heads strained forward. No choice. Too much work. For others, it’s a constant race to complete the newest RPG game release. The result: a generation hunched over too soon with tight shoulders, strained backs, and maybe even numb legs and hands.
In sport, the movement required to execute an action is often asymmetrical. Take a few examples, like swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet. Clearly, you would use the body differently on one side to the other depending on which hand you weld your weapon of choice. Even in the action of cycling and running, doing yoga, or kicking a football, you may notice a preference towards one side of your body that has greater flexibility or gives more power for the push-off or the follow-through. This is perfectly natural.
Where a force is applied repeatedly in a certain direction through the body, the natural response of the fascia is to thicken or shorten along those lines to cope with those forces. When injuries like joint dislocations, ligament tears or muscle strains occur, fascia also changes to support the injured areas as they heal. But they leave behind something you might call scar tissues, where the surrounding fascia is “glued” together (rather than slide over one another), leading to a restricted or reduced range of motion. Before long, the body structure becomes less balanced as a whole and develops a compensatory pattern around the restriction. For athletes, it might be the case where the harder you train, the more you work yourself into that imbalance which might be a contributory factor to a performance plateau.
Whatever the cause that results in a compensatory pattern of strain in your body, how Rolfing works is to “smoothen”, “lengthen” or “un-glue” fascia that would bring your body structure into a more optimal balance and alignment.
So back to the question of whether you need Rolfing. You decide.
“Tell me how Rolfing works.”
Rolfers are concerned with the WHOLE person, not just the spot where pain is felt. While we see the troublesome problem spot, we are more interested in what is actually causing the felt pain. In other words, how Rolfing works isn’t just to address the superficial symptoms of your pain, it homes in on the ROOT causes. This is the reason why Rolfing is holistic.
Ever heard of the 10-Series “recipe”? This is a very classical approach in Rolfing, where over the course of 10 sessions, Rolfers systematically address the entire body.
The process begins with freeing the breath in Session 1; addressing the support role of the feet in Session 2; creating a sense of sideline space in Session 3. These three sessions form the segment on opening the “sleeve“, or the outer or superficial areas of the body. The subsequent segment (Sessions 4 to 7) accesses the deeper “core” mid-line of the body. You can also think of this space as an inner line of the body opposite to the outer sideline, covering the inside of the leg through the pelvic girdle, up the viscera space, to the spine and head. Finally, the process closes with an “integration” segment in Sessions 8 to 10, when the body structure of the client is better prepared to take on more demanding and complicated functional exercises during the sessions.
It might sound like a mambo-jumbo, mesh-mash of sleeve-core-integration jargon, but it is not. The 10-Series “recipe” is a methodical, step-by-step, thought-through process that makes sense for the body to come into a more natural balance and alignment. Another way to look at the process is that opening the “sleeve” lays the foundation block before the next block of accessing the “core” can be stacked on top, which then sets the stage for the final functional “integration” block thereafter. Throughout the process, with each movement, the client is also gaining a greater awareness of the body-mind connection.
Take a breather.
In case the point didn’t get across in the jungle of text, I’ve been highlighting what marketers like to call the unique selling points about how Rolfing works compared to other forms of structural bodywork and manual therapy. i.e. (i) Rolfers pay attention to fascia – the key quarterback player defining form and function of the bone-muscle system in a body, and; (ii) Rolfers pay attention to how the WHOLE person adapts a compensational pattern to move around his/her pains, strains, and restrictions. In short, Rolfing works in a holistic manner.
“Can’t you just work on a specific area in my body where I have strain?”
It boils down to expectations.
I can do that, reluctantly, if that is what you wish, but this is what I call fixing the symptoms that appear on the surface without getting to the root causes. I wished I had the powers to cast your years of body strain away in a snap. *poof* I wished. So if you do decide that you only want specific work done, I will try my utmost to do the best I know how, but you will need to adjust your own expectations of the results you get accordingly.
If you prefer the tried-tested-worked 10-Series that Rolfers worldwide have relied upon (wise choice), it is also best that you have a think through what exactly you’d like to get out of your holistic Rolfing process.
“Are the effects of Rolfing long lasting?”
Yes! When you receive Rolfing, the changes in your tissue are reflected in your body structure, posture and movement. Since you are actively participating in movement during the Rolfing sessions, you build a greater awareness of how your body moves, and learn how to better “let go” of parts where you may be “holding” or are restricted. That way, you begin to develop new habits to support the new changes that your body embraces, simply because it feels so good to be there! If the old patterns do creep back, you are also more empowered to deal with the matter.
Think about it.
What Rolfing achieves is to restore a greater balance and a better alignment in your body within a span of ten 1-hour sessions for the strains you have accumulated and carried for years.
“What does a Rolfing session look like?”
We start each Rolfing session with a quick chat about any changes you may have noticed in your body since the previous session. (At the first session, we may spend a little more time covering your health background and understanding any personal goals of your Rolfing process.)
We then do something Rolfers call a body-reading, which simply is me observing you as you stand, walk and sit. I may also ask you to do certain movements like raising your arms or bending the knees. This is so that I get a better idea about what your tensional patterns look like and how you may be adapting around these strains in your body. The observation is useful in tailoring the work of that session to fit your needs, to shift your body structure towards a better balance and alignment. Then, we start working on the table or bench.
What makes Rolfing different from some types of bodywork is that you don’t just “check your body in, then check your mind out”. Throughout the session, I may ask you to move an arm or a leg (or both) or breathe (yes, some people forget to do this). These active movements play a big part in raising your body-mind awareness level. Often, clients go like, “oh, I never knew that I moved differently one side to the other.”
“Does Rolfing hurt?”
Your pain is not my gain, nor yours for that matter. When you experience a sharp kind of pain (let’s call it bad pain), you naturally tense up, and there would be no way for me to access the fascia to work on it. On the other hand, there are also good pains where your body knows need work done and would open up to receive that work. We both gain in the latter, and I keep an open communication during the work with my client to make this possible.
“Right, I now know how Rolfing works, roughly. What about the logistics – what do I wear; what is the cost and duration of each session; what is the interval between sessions? etc etc etc”
The typical Rolfing dress code is underwear (including bra for ladies). Nothing too tight. I have blankets for extra covering if needed.
Each session is $170** and generally lasts an hour. In the first session, we may take a longer time (about 10 to 15 minutes more) to go over your health background.
Generally, there are 10 sessions in a Rolfing 10-series, with the exception of special needs that may require additional sessions to address, but these special cases are rare. As a rule of thumb, the time in between the sessions is about a week. This is only a guideline. A lot depends on how your unique body adapts to the changes experienced from the Rolfing sessions.
**It isn’t very nice to be stood up after you have made an appointment. In the local colloquial, we call it “fly my aeroplane”. Not only does it deprive others of receiving their Rolfing session at that mutually agreed upon date/time, it also means that the room reserved for our appointment cannot be used by other in-house practitioners. Therefore (ahem), for no-shows and postponements made less than 24 hours in advance, I would have to charge the full fee for the missed appointment the next time you come.
“Do you have any other advice for me?”
I would just add that I encourage clients to take extra care in hydrating themselves after each session. In any case, drinking water is essential for life.
More details on where and when I work on the Contact page.
Even though I do not offer any trial sessions – after all, Rolfing is a process that takes time because our bodies are not machines – I encourage you to get in touch with me directly so I can give you a FREE phone consultation. This will help you make a more informed decision on whether Rolfing is the right approach for you at this time.
There may be other aspects of how Rolfing works that have not been addressed here. You might be able to find them under the FAQ sections of the RISI or ERA.
If you haven’t already read my profile page and prefer not to be “Rolfed” by a complete stranger, you can read a little snippet about me Rolfing in Singapore. Also, here are some testimonials of some who have received Rolfing from me have to say.