Bodies in BalanceSusannah Kent September 1, 2005
An Interview with a Rolfer“When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through, then spontaneously, the body heals itself.” — Ida P. Rolf
The following is an interview with Rob Stott, Certified Rolfing Practitioner.
Susannah Kent – What can you tell us about Rolfing, its origins and philosophy?
Rob Stott – Rolfing was originally developed in the 1940s by biochemist Dr. Ida Rolf. She called her work Structural Integration. She found that by manipulating the body’s myofacial system, dramatic change in posture and structure could be achieved. Structural Integration soon became known as Rolfing after its inventor. By the 1950s Dr. Rolf was teaching her methods to chiropractors and osteopaths. By the 1960s, when Rolf was herself in her sixties, the practice of Structural Integration was very limited and almost dying out. It received a rebirth of sorts when a group at the Essalen Institute in California discovered it. Dr. Franz Perls, a psychologist, was particularly vocal about the benefits of Rolfing and began to recommend it wherever he went.
The philosophy, or intent, of Rolfing is to overhaul the entire myofacial structure (myo meaning muscle and facia being the connective tissue). Facia is the body’s inner lining. It surrounds our organs, muscles, nervous system, blood vessels and bones. The facia can be likened to a web and if there is a snag in the web it is going to affect the overall body structure. The object of the 10 sessions of the Rolfing 10 series is to chase away the tensions that inhibit the natural alignment of the body. Rolfing looks at the body as a whole. A Rolfer would not just treat the neck, but would work on the entire body.
SK – Can you explain the Rolfing 10 series in detail?
RS – The 10 sessions are really a process that leads to structural integration. The first seven sessions are devoted to loosening, balancing and realigning the body from head to toe. Sessions 8 to 10 constitute the integrative phase. This is where the Rolfer and the client will find out what the client’s body needs to be more balanced, fluid and connected. When these discoveries are made the integration happens and the work sticks.
SK – Rolfing has been compared to a deep massage. Is there a difference?
RS – Visually they look very similar as both Rolfers and massage therapists use their hands in a manual way to loosen tight tissue. With massage, the client is on their stomach and there is little verbal interaction between client and therapist. The object is to loosen muscles, relieve stress and help alleviate pain. Unlike massage therapy, in Rolfing you lie on your back for the first five sessions, interacting with the practitioner as they manipulate the various areas of the body, finding out where the tightness is.
The main intent of Rolfing is to improve the body’s relationship to gravity — to organize the body around a vertical line. It is bodywork that is meant to educate. Rolfers engage the client throughout a session to help them achieve more body awareness. Rolfers want their clients to ultimately learn to notice things about their own body and make the necessary adjustments to bring their own bodies into balance.
SK – Can you describe what happens in a Rolfing session?
RS – The first thing that happens is the Rolf practitioner takes a health history. We find out how the client’s health is now and what (if any) major injuries, trauma or illnesses they may have had and what type of treatments were received. Next, we take a body reading. This involves the practitioner standing in front of the standing client and taking note of their posture and overall structure, how they stand, if one shoulder is higher than the other, if they lean more to one side, and so on. We ask questions of the client like which foot feels as if it has more weight on it, does one shoulder feel higher than the other, things like that. This is the beginning of getting them to be more aware of their bodies. The actual work in the first session begins with the client on their back. The first objective is to free up any tightness in the rib cage in order to facilitate easier breathing. We then begin a superficial manipulation of the myofacial structure from the knees to the top of the head. At the end of the first session we do some work on the neck and back. At this point the client will be in a seated position. In this seated position the client is in partial gravity and we ask them to do some forward movement and to hold at certain points and to get them to notice how they are moving and to help them move in a more easy and fluid manner.
SK – Can Rolfing be painful?
RS – Historically, Rolfing did employ very deep massage; the thought then was the deeper the better. Over time the practice became more finessed and incorporated movement with massage to achieve its goals. The philosophy became one of working the muscle and tissue gradually, layer by layer. Rolfers were encouraged to appreciate the subtly of the work and the change that could be affected by a softer touch. Having said that, the work is about changing the body, and clients’ level of pain may be correlated to their willingness to embrace that change. Clearly people undergoing Rolfing are not going to experience painful agony for the 75 minutes of each of their 10 sessions. That would be counterproductive. There could be some pain, but likely only temporary or transitory because the practitioner is constantly making sure that the client is staying in touch with what is happening to them during a session and is prepared to pull back if the client indicates the necessity. In my experience, I have not had a client leave in pain. Rolfing has had quite the opposite effect. They feel good, looser, more fluid, and even more so the next days after a session.
SK – What type of conditions would Rolfing address?
RS – Rolfing has been used to treat pain and discomfort at the neuromuscular level. These can be things like chronic pain from old injuries or trauma or soreness and stiffness due to poor posture. In other words, it addresses conditions which interfere with the performance of daily activities. My wife and I have treated athletes and musicians and many other clients suffering from back, neck and shoulder pain, poor posture, and breathing and circulation problems. We have also had clients who did not have any specific muscular problems; they were on a spiritual path and looked to the experience of Rolfing to enhance that journey. They were looking for a deeper connection between mind and body.
SK – What is the expected outcome of doing the 10 Series?
RS – Ida Rolf believed that for optimal health, the body has to be properly aligned (with gravity). Anything that adversely affects this alignment (i.e. injury, poor posture) requires extra energy for movement and this causes unnecessary strain on the musculature. Ultimately these cumulative stresses cause even more problems for breathing, circulation and digestion. People who undergo Rolfing are able to work their muscles more in balance. They have a demonstrably greater range of motion. They move easier, with more fluidity and grace. Ultimately they are able to the same work as before with less effort. The end outcome then is to create a more efficient energy unit. I have found that Rolfing enhances this efficiency “big time.”
SK – What kind of training does someone need to become a certified Rolf practitioner?
RS – There are no Rolf training schools in Canada. The two main schools are in Colorado. Also a number of massage therapy schools in the U.S. offer training in Structural Integration. The first requirement toward becoming a Rolfer is that you must experience the Rolfing 10 Series and get a referral from your practitioner. The total training takes about a year. The first part involves getting hands-on experience with massage technique, plus anatomy, physiology and movement work such as yoga or Tai Chi. This is followed by six months of intensive work with actual Rolfing.
Rob and Kimberley Stott are Toronto area Certified Rolfers practising since 1998. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling (416) 406-5565.
The Downward Facing Dog: Adho Mukha Svanasana
The downward dog is a very intense, overall body stretching exercise. It strengthens the arms and legs, helps prevent osteoporosis and can be beneficial for conditions like high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue, asthma, sciatica and sinusitis. It can also calm the mind and aid in the relief of stress.
Start on your hands and knees. Place your knees directly below your hips and your hands and arms under your shoulders. Keep your spine straight.
Inhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first the knees should be kept slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Begin lifting the sitting bones toward the ceiling.
With an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees without locking them. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms. Hold this pose for five breaths.
Fit Facts on Childhood Obesity
• Canadians, especially Canadian children, are eating less well, moving less and as a result are getting fatter.
• From 1981 to 1996 the number of overweight children doubled, while the rate of obesity tripled.
• 40% of obese children and 70% of obese youth will become obese adults.
• Children are eating fewer foods that provide fibre, vitamins and other important nutrients while eating more foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.
• 1998 statistics showed that nearly 60% of 12 to 19 year olds in Canada were considered physically inactive.
• In 2000, only 14% of elementary schools and 4% of secondary schools provided daily physical education.
• A 1997 study showed that the cost of obesity to the health care system was $1.8 billion. This was primarily due to increased cases of high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.
• Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chair of Active Kids Canada, says this about the problem of childhood obesity, “vigilance to fundamental laws of health would be a simple, promising solution: if the government would legislate for physical activity and healthy eating the same way that it has the use of seat belts and smoke-free public buildings, the healthcare situation might improve dramatically.”