Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • September 2013
Written by  Victoria L. Huss

Clearing common misconceptions about Rolfing® SI — It’s not just “excruciating massage”

I have to admit, it is priceless to see the expressions on people’s faces and hear what comes out of their mouths when I tell them that I am a Rolfer™ and that I practice Rolfing® Structural Integration (or Rolfing® SI). There is usually a brief pause and then an indication that they either have no idea what I am talking about or they “know all about it.” For the folks giving me puzzled looks, I smile and agree that, indeed, it is a curious title for a profession. I then tell the story of Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. and how she developed a transformative bodywork system in the 1940s that focused on manipulating fascia, or connective tissue, in order to align and balance the body. For the folks who already know about Rolfing SI, I ask them how they heard about it and if they have any questions … thus, I begin the arduous task of correcting facts and clearing misconceptions.

Sometimes it is difficult for a distinct healing profession to shine in its own uniqueness when constantly compared to other healing disciplines with very different training and goals. A common practice is to compare Rolfing SI to deep tissue massage, which is akin to comparing apples to oranges. Generally, massage is used to achieve relaxation, relieve pain, increase range of motion, reduce adhesions, and promote detoxification and better circulation. While a number of deep-tissue therapies and myofascial release techniques can be traced back to Dr. Rolf’s brilliant work of structural integration, the focus of massage tends to reside more in the paradigms of relaxation or “fix-it work” and corrective action. Now just as apples and oranges are fruit, Rolfing SI does shares these benefits and Rolfers on occasion do perform “fix-it work,” however, this is where the similarities end.

Rolfing SI differs from massage through its goal of restoring balance and the body’s most efficient alignment in relation to gravity. Many folks tend to believe that gravity is more of a destructive force, but Rolfers utilize gravity to restore health. They work with the body directly through sessions consisting of hands-on manipulation or indirectly through awareness-based perceptive exercises. Physical clutter and kinetic drag are cleared to free movement. Perceptive cues that create awareness both within the body and with how a client occupies his or her personal space are also utilized. Rolfing SI is even happening while the client is walking or standing, as they are taking in and trying on a new relationship with their body or the space around them.

As a Rolfer works, he or she is strategizing and considering relationships of different fascial segments of the body, all the while striving for balance of the whole body. The goals of interventions are to attain better balance, organization and alignment throughout the entire physical structure. The work, usually done in a series of sessions, is systematic and cumulative. Each session builds upon the work of the previous session, while the body is balanced around a vertical line.

Another very common misconception I routinely come across is that Rolfing SI is “excruciating.” In its early days, Rolfing SI did have a reputation for being painful since it was believed that more pressure on the body’s tissues created more change. Research challenged this belief and has shown us that fascia responds to less pressure than previously thought. Rolfers have since adjusted their work to create an experience of structural integration where the client is an equal and active participant very much in control of the intensity level. An enjoyable and transformative Rolfing SI session requires good communication between client and practitioner.

I am sure that for some time I will continue to get puzzled looks or smiles of amusement when I speak about my profession. I embrace every interaction and chance to clarify confusion around Rolfing SI as a teaching opportunity. I can only hope to impart insight and empower folks to consider their own health and well-being in relation to their bodily awareness and understanding. The day that my job becomes obsolete and I no longer need to explain what I do will be a happy day indeed! 

Victoria L. Huss, Certified Rolfer™ and owner of New Possibilities Integration LLC (in downtown Appleton), finds joy in helping people unfold and find freedom from rigidity and chronic pain. She offers free 30-minute consultations. For more information, call 920-427-7653 or visit Rolfing® and Rolfer™ are registered service marks of the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration.

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