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Common steps and sub-activities

Rolfing

Introduction

Rolfing or more correctly 'Structural Integration' is a healing technique.  It was devised by Dr Ida Rolf and the original name she gave the technique has, over the years, been changed to reflect her name. 

It is a physical method  - a form of quite intense 'massage' and manipulation  - whose objective is to produce better human functioning by aligning units of the body by correcting misalignments and poor structure.  Superficially, it may appear to be a technique like physiotherapy or even chiropractics, but it is different, in that the manipulation is of the 'fascia', rather than the muscles or bones.  Fascia is connecting tissue.  Muscle is enclosed within fascia, most organs are enclosed by fascia, it is like a sort of wrapping system of the body keeping organs, nerves and bones both separated but together.

Please note that like many descriptions of so called alternative medicine approaches, my description differs from any you will find on Wikipedia which show a singular lack of understanding of the technique. To provide some idea of how very poor the description is, it doesn't even use Dr Rolf's principle book as a reference.  Well I have – Dr Ida P Rolf – Rolfing -  so hopefully you will get a more balanced, objective and more genuinely scientific view in this description.

Basic Principles

In a number of the descriptions on this website, there is a premise that form follows function.  In effect, if you are in some way functionally poorly – depressed, emotionally upset, harbouring hate or anger or some emotional wound – then it will affect you physically – your form. 

Heartache produces heart ache [and thus heart disease]! 

As form and function are so closely integrated – in fact one in reality since they are the same 'stuff'  ['energy', prana, chi etc]– then it obviously follows that a functional problem will impact the form.  If you like to use the analogy, software bugs and viruses will eventually affect the hardware.

But Ida Rolf also noticed that physical problems – the hardware – also affected the software.  So a malfunction in the gait, a twisted pelvis, a twisted shoulder, pigeon toes, crow's feet and so on, affect us mentally and functionally – a premise I think more doctors may be able to take on board, as it is at least obvious that if we can't walk well, then we are quite likely to become physically insecure and unsure of ourselves and this form of insecurity may spill over to become a full scale emotional problem of really debilitating insecurity and emotional distress.

Rolfing – Dr Ida P Rolf

Emotional response is behaviour, is function.  All behaviour is expressed through the musculoskeletal system.  All function is an expression of structure and form and correlates directly with material structure.  A man crying the blues is in reality bewailing his structural limitations and failures.  He is, of course, unconscious of this.  To him, his emotional response is a primary, independent condition.

The premise of modern psychotherapy is that man's outer circumstances are the projection of his inner, often hidden, self.  This premise may be looked at from a different angle; a man's emotional state may be seen as the projection of his structural imbalances.  No doubt this formula too is an over simplification, and there are unknowns that time and the psychotherapists will uncover.  But a man who undergoes integration of his corporeal structure experiences the basic link that exists between structure and emotion.

It is not one or the other.  Emotional problems and other functional problems can affect the structure or form and the structure -  form - can affect the emotions -  functions, so it is a sort of cyclical problem....

William James

You do not run because you are afraid, you are afraid because you do not run.

Rolfing - Dr Ida P Rolf

How would you characterise your own problem?

If it is physical, it will have arisen from, or at least been accompanied by, a deviation of your muscles from the position of structural balance.

If it is emotional, you will express this seemingly very different problem in a fixation of structural elements similar to that of your brother whose trauma was physical in origin.

In both cases, the fixation of the flesh interferes with the energy flow that is the essence of life. 

Our experience in Structural Integration underscores the fact that this is the story of much illness.

Perhaps more controversial, but nevertheless provable, was Dr Rolf's observation that many illnesses of the stomach, heart, liver, kidneys and so on, were actually caused by a structural problem – often quite deep seated.  In effect, the contorted shape of the body affected both the form of the organs and subsequently their correct functioning.  Dr Rolf was not critical of the use of chemicals to treat illness, only that drugs are used very often as though they were the only option, when many times the problem is structural.

Rolfing - Dr Ida P Rolf

Twentieth century medicine, which has worked so many miracles, has been chemically, not structurally oriented.  Hence the lay mind thinks of chemistry as the only outstanding healing medium – a drug for this, a shot for that.  But any mirror or photograph would reveal that a great many problems are matters of structure, of physics – of a three dimensional body fitting very badly into a greater material universe (the earth), which has its own energy field (gravity).  Help must be sought in the terms of the problem – in the physics of spatial relations, of man in his environment, of man as a whole in the energy field of the earth, gravity.  And help can be found.  The war within can end in lasting peace.

This is the idea embraced in osteopathy and a number of healing disciplines. For example, the following comes from  a research paper in osteopathy. 

“In those cases where a somatic dysfunction is not treated and subsequently results in clinical manifestations and structural disorders, the opportunity exists to employ observational methods to study the correlations between the somatic dysfunction and the disease or illness. (John C. Liccardione, 2008). Observational study can help to strengthen and improve knowledge about a disease and its subsequent viscera-somatic manifestations. One case control study, for example, found that osteopathic palpatory abnormalities at T11-L2 were strongly associated with diabetes, suggesting a viscera- somatic reflex possibly related to diabetic nephropathy. (John C. Liccardione, 2007).

Overall I think it is helpful to realise that all these disciplines – osteopathy, rolfing, reflexology and so on are all 'batting on the same wicket' – they may have a different name but the principles on which they work are identical, it is just that they might employ different methods of treatment.

So the whole approach of Rolfing is based on the assertion that one can observe, understand  and change a person's structure.  In changing, the objective is not to treat one small part, but a 'whole body' approach which balances the whole structure, for the fairly obvious reason that tinkering with just one area, may simply exacerbate a problem in another area.  You have to view the body as a whole to make sure it is balanced and integrated structurally.

We are searching for a method to foster the emergence of a man who can enjoy a human use of his human being”.

Fascia

Rolfing is concerned with fascia.  Fascia is connective tissue.  It forms sheaths and casings around organs, muscles, nerves and acts to both protect these but also to form support for them.

When damaged, by an accident or surgical interference,  fascial tissue tends to become denser and shorter as it heals.  Because all the fascial tissue interconnects, a thickened or shortened area can transmit strain in many directions and even make its influence felt in distant points.  This knowledge of the pressure points of pain is also one of the mechanisms by which reflexology works, not just rolfing. 

Let me provide an example from Dr Rolf's book of the effect that damage of the fascia can cause.

Example  – The Sacrum

The sacrum can rotate slightly around its own vertical axis. And like all bony members of the spinal pelvic complex is balanced by a myofascial web.  The weight of the upper body tends to force the upper part of the sacrum forward, but very strong ligaments bind the sacrum in place resisting these rotational tendencies.  A number of additional ligaments unite the ileum and the sacrum and resist the tendency of the sacrum base to rotate forward.  Any form of rotation to the sacrum gets passed to the coccyx, the pelvic floor in turn is dependent for support from the coccyx.

Now let us suppose that the sacrum or cocyxx is damaged.  Perhaps someone falls backward from a horse, or whilst roller skating, or [as my Mum did] playing on a polo stick [at 45 years old for goodness sake].  Maybe they have a difficult childbirth, an automobile accident or fall off their bike.  They fall on this area and compromise it by damaging it.  The end result is what Dr Rolf termed a 'soft body', a body lacking support from the sacrum and all its fascia [and muscles].  The sacrum may have moved in all sorts of directions side to side, up or down.  In the example below the little girl's sacrum base has been displaced forward.

Well balanced sacra appear to be covered, under palpation, by a fairly thick resilient myofascial pad, but a person with problems may have a pad that feels stringy and inadequate. Sacra under strain lose this pad.  And when problems are present the person experiences pain. It may even feel as though the surface of the bone lies immediately under the skin and lacks any elastic protection altogether.

These sorts of tensions can result in tensions throughout the body.  The lower body experiences primary tension, but even the upper body lacking balanced support shows tension as well.  Remembering that flesh and fat in any area of the body tend to collect around 'insecure areas' or any under consistent strain, the body attempts to reinforce the lower area and the result is the wide hipped figure, as flesh tries to ensure greater stability by enwrapping or splinting it.

We also now have a link with another technique.  Dr Arnold Kegel, a gynaecologist - observed that the health and positioning of a muscle in the pelvic floor called the pubococcygeus appeared to have a significant effect on the well-being of his patients.  The pubococcygeus is substantially affected by the sacrum and the myofascia surrounding it.   If these are damaged the pubococcygeus may malfunction.

This muscle contributes to the placement and function of the anal sphincter, however, the fibres of pubococcygeus surround the urinary passage, vagina and rectum interlacing with other muscle fibres of these organs. 

In the diagram left we can see what happens when the muscle is poor or damaged.  The organs sag and problems are caused.  A whole range of health and emotional problems can result from dysfunction here. 

Fertility may be affected, a person's sexual response and  pleasure can be affected [negatively], urinary incontinence and lack of bladder control can be a consequence and the contractions in orgasm may be affected – in that there are none.  In men this may mean impotence – inability to have an orgasm.  The prostate may also be affected.  The lower intestine may also suffer and here you may get constipation!

So the effects are not just cosmetic – the potbelly and the sagging gluteals, the dragging gait and bowed stance and the look of pain.  There is real damage being done here on a day to day basis to your innards.

The pubococcygeus inserts into the coccyx and the coccyx is united to the sacrum by a relatively delicate sacrococcygeal disc.  It is thus relatively easy to damage; every time you land on your bottom – hard - it is the coccyx that receives the blow and when the coccyx is forced out of line or the fascia is damaged the entire floor of the pelvis may suffer.  Every little girl who has fallen off her horse and found her self in later life unable to have an orgasm may have the reason here.

There are some further knock on effects when the coccyx is damaged and the myofascial structure around it.

The pelvis tends to tip forward. 

The pelvis acts like a sort of bowl, cradling the intestines, bladder, womb and so on.  As it tips forward the contents spills out.

The little girl shows the effect of a tipping pelvis.  Here the pelvic contents are being displaced forward and downward.  Although we cannot see this in the photo, the basin and contents are tipped as a whole and within the basin the contents sag.  As the contents also sag, a further knock on effect will affect other muscles and fascia, the recti abdominus, the gluteal group of muscles – in fact any muscles attached to the pelvic bone are going to be affected.

The healing

In order to heal someone, the professional healer will often prescribe a sequence of several [ as many as ten ] sessions.  Each session may last anything from an hour to an hour and a half.  You can see why.  If the problem is deep rooted, it is going to take several sessions to loosen the fascia and you cannot loosen fascia in one go – it has to be done in gradual stages so that it doesn't hurt.  If fascia and tissues have really got glued together, it is going to take some time to get them unstuck, but clearly the benefits are obvious.

During a Structural Integration session, the patient  lies down, relaxes and is guided through specific movements. The therapist  manipulates the fascia until it can operate in conjunction with the muscles in a "normal" fashion.  There is usually a goal for each  session and also an overall goal.

And it works.

Effects of soft tissue mobilization (Rolfing pelvic lift) on parasympathetic tone in two age groups - Cottingham JT, Porges SW, Lyon T.;  Frances Nelson Health Center, Champaign, IL 61820.

The effects of a soft tissue mobilization procedure, the Rolfing pelvic lift, on parasympathetic tone was studied in healthy adult men. Parasympathetic tone was assessed.

  • by quantifying the amplitude of the respiratory sinus arrhythmia from the heart rate pattern and
  • by measuring heart rate. Heart rate patterns were assessed during the pelvic lift and during the durational touch and baseline control conditions.

Two groups of healthy subjects were tested: Group 1 contained 20 subjects aged 26 to 41 years, and Group 2 contained 10 subjects aged 55 to 68 years.

  • In Group 1, the pelvic lift elicited a somatovisceral-parasympathetic reflex characterized by a significant increase in parasympathetic tone relative to durational touch and baseline conditions.
  • Group 2 did not exhibit a parasympathetic change during the pelvic lift.

The results of this study contribute to our understanding of pelvic mobilization techniques and may help to explain why these techniques have been clinically successful in treating myofascial pain syndromes and other musculoskeletal dysfunctions characterized by reduced parasympathetic tone and excessive sympathetic activity.

PMID: 3279437

References

  • Rolfing – Dr Ida P Rolf
  • The Key to Feminine response in Marriage - Dr Arnold Kegel

Observations

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