Plagued by muscle pain? You might benefit from a unique massage technique called Rolfing. “Deeper than a deep-tissue massage”, this technique was developed by Dr. Ida Pauline Rolf in the 1950’s. Rolfing works to separate bound-up connective tissues (or fascia), which link the muscles.”Rolfing releases the joints,” says Dr. Oz, Oprah’s health expert. The impact of this massage technique goes far beyond a relaxing effect. Experts have shown the rolfing method to provide medical benefits. Its most unique in that it works with the body instead of on it. The therapist aims to release the fascia, the important sheath wrapping around the body’s muscles. “When you talk to folks about the impact it has on them, a lot of them just stand taller. A lot is just freeing you up to live the way you’re supposed to live.”
After Rolfing made the Oprah show, I was eager to learn more… what was this unique massage form and why was it considered better than other modalities of bodywork? I met with Marie Thiebaud, Structural Integration & Massage Therapist to get the inside scoop on the “Rolfing” method of bodywork.
What is Rolfing?
Rolfing is a system of hands-on soft tissue work and movement education. Rolfing can change your alignment and movement patterns and make your body more comfortable and capable. Rolfing uses a series of approximately 10 individualized sessions to bring lasting changes to your body. Each session is different, and cumulatively they balance your body by releasing lifelong patterns of effort, compensation, tension, and strain.
Sounds similar to regular massage…. How Does Rolfing Work and what makes it different?
Rolfing consists of two elements: structural work and movement work. Structural work is hands-on bodywork that involves fascia, the connective tissue that envelops and permeates muscles, bones and all other tissues in your body. Rolfing opens, lengthens, and softens fascial restrictions throughout your body.
Movement work helps you to become aware of and to change inhibiting movement patterns. It can help you use and maintain the structural changes that happen in a Rolfing series. Movement work can address any of life’s movements, especially the basic patterns of breathing, sitting, standing, and walking.
What can I expect from my first Rolfing session?
Allow ninety minutes for your first Rolfing session. We will start by discussing your health history, current condition, goals and any questions you have about Rolfing. I will watch you walk, stand, and do simple movements to begin to assess your structure. For most of the session you will be lying on a massage table while I work on the first layers of restrictions in your body, usually on your neck, shoulders, back, ribs and hips. In a first session, we will start to learn how to work together. I will start to learn what your body needs to change, and you will begin to learn to actively participate in your Rolfing series. Active participation helps you to get more out of Rolfing. In the beginning, it can be as simple as actively paying attention to bodily sensations during a session; I may also ask you to participate by performing simple movements while I work with your body, or by doing an occasional experiential/physical “homework assignment” between sessions.
But doesnt Rolfing come in a series of 10? What else do we do in the other 9 sessions?
After the initial first session, sessions usually last about an hour and 15 minutes. Its best to space sessions anywhere from 1-3 weeks apart, depending on what your body needs and how it responds to treatment. People commonly feel a difference in alignment, movement, body awareness and/or pain levels immediately during and after each session; these differences accumulate and can become increasingly lasting as the series continues. Each session focuses on a different part or parts of your body, and cumulatively the sessions build upon one another to create thorough and lasting changes in your body.
Rolfing has the potential to create significant changes in your body. This process can be accompanied by changes on other levels of your being as well. It is not uncommon for people to experience emotional, mental, social, and/or spiritual growth during the time they are undergoing a Rolfing series. My focus as your Rolfing practitioner is always on your physical structure, but I support and encourage growth in other areas of your life.
So after the series, do these changes last forever?
Many people do successfully sustain changes over time, especially if new movement patterns have been learned. If not, you may find an occasional tune-up or further movement education to be beneficial in helping you maintain balance. It is also possible to undergo another short series some point after your initial series to take your body to an even higher level of integration.
Ive heard Rolfing hurts… What does it feel like?
Rolfing is deeply transformative work, but it is not the painful process that some have heard it to be. That reputation stems largely from Rolfing’s early years, but since then many practitioners have helped to refine Rolfing and have developed more subtle ways of working with soft-tissue while still effectively changing structure.
Receiving a Rolfing session ranges from feeling pleasantly relaxing to momentarily uncomfortable. People who have heard of Rolfing’s painful reputation are often surprised at how pleasant and subtle Rolfing can be. If I am working in an area of significant restriction or holding, Rolfing will likely feel more intense, but that intensity should always feel appropriate, welcome and manageable, and should quickly pass as your tissue releases.
Besides getting the body to a more balanced place, what are the other reasons people choose Rolfing?
Rolfing is appropriate for people of all ages, from infants and children to the elderly. The ways Rolfing can serve people are numerous and individual. The most common reasons people decide to participate in rolfing include:
- Embodiment: In this day and age, it has become normal to be disconnected from our bodies. Rolfing is a great way to find your way back home to your body as a source of enjoyment, knowledge, and health.
- Help with Tension, aches and pains: When your basic structure is out of balance, your body has to work very hard to keep you upright and moving around. Over time, this extra effort may result in chronic tension, strain, and pain. Further, an off-balance body is already overextended and has a reduced capacity to tolerate or to heal from accidents and other traumatic events. By improving your whole body alignment, Rolfing can release tension, aches and pains without creating strain elsewhere in your body.
- To improve posture, balance or flexibility: Many people find that balance, posture and flexibility get worse as they age. As common as this is, many of these changes are not an inevitable part of aging. Rolfing can help you find better posture, flexibility and ease of movement at any age.
- To liberate restricted movement patterns: Nearly all of have activities in our lives that can lead to restricted movement patterns. A mail carrier with a heavy bag, a dental hygienist stooping and twisting to work with patients, a violin player, parents carrying children, anyone who uses a computer at length—all of these people ask their bodies to repeatedly move in specialized ways that can become limiting over time. Rolfing can unwind problems created by a lifetime of activity and create a body that is better able to perform movements like these without strain.
- To improve athletic and everyday performance: Balancing your structure can enhance athletic and everyday performance by improving body awareness, movement patterns, and range of motion. Athletic endeavors and life’s everyday activities—from running a marathon to doing housework—are easier when your body is more comfortable and when less energy is required to move with more ease and power.
- To support other personal growth practices: The time when you are going through a Rolfing series has the potential to be a time of significant personal transformation and change. Rolfing is very compatible with many personal growth practices, like yoga and therapy, that likewise promote insight and transformation.
Massage seeks to relax the body as it is; Rolfing asks the body to reorganize itself. In general, the many therapeutic benefits of massage come from relaxing muscle tone and increasing circulation—from relaxing, but not changing, the overall way the body is organized. Rolfing changes your whole body’s structure so that old habits of tension and strain are no longer necessary. Massage offers a quick fix to body imbalances, where as Rolfing provides a results oriented approach to solving chronic body issues.
Marie is certified in the Rolf Method of Structural Integration, also known as Rolfing® from The Guild for Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado. Her massage training was completed at National Holistic Institute where she was trained in Swedish, Deep tissue. Shiatsu, Myofascial Release, and Reflexology.
Marie’s passion for healing began due to her own struggles with scoliosis and fibromyalgia. She initially started working in a chiropractic office as a massage therapist in 1997, and then pursued a corporate career, but found that her true calling was helping people manage their pain as a massage therapist.
Marie specifically chose the practice of Structural Integration because she experienced first hand the dramatic long lasting changes within her own body. Motivated by this, Marie pursued this approach to help people also work toward a pain-free existence.
Through her extensive training of over 1400 hours in body work, Marie has been able to apply her healing touch to a large and diverse client base. Whether a client is suffering from a carpal tunnel syndrome, scoliosis, or chronic back pain they can benefit from Marie’s healing touch.
Marie had the privilege of working with Emmett Hutchins, who was chosen by Ida P. Rolf to carry on her practice of Structural Integration. In addition, she would like to thank Jeff Linn, and Amber Leigh for their incredible knowledge and support.
In addition to her passion for somatic studies, Marie also likes to snowboard, practice yoga, and dance with her hula hoop!