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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

What is Rolfing?

Apr 30, 2015 07:01AM ● By Lynn Cohen

Many people have heard of Rolfing but have no idea what it is. Rolfing is bodywork—hands-on, manual therapy. Like other forms of massage, Rolfing can be relaxing and restorative; it can lower blood pressure and soothe overworked muscles. However, Rolfing has a larger goal in mind. Rolfing—introduced by Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D., in the 1930s and also known as Structural Integration—is a systematic process, usually conducted over a series of sessions, working within the connective tissue web of the body, called fascia.

Fascia permeates our bodies. It’s made of collagen and elastin, and exists in different consistencies throughout our bodies. Think of the white filmy stuff under the skin of chicken, the layered marbling of a steak or the rubbery tendons on a leg of lamb. Fascia connects flesh to bones; it also separates muscles so they slide easily for free movement.

Depending on how we use our bodies over time, fascia can become tight, dehydrated and sticky. When this happens, it constricts and pulls on muscle and bone, preventing us from moving freely. We become stiff. Joints cannot function properly, so we compensate and eventually feel pain. Drinking water isn’t enough to rehydrate the tissues. Specific, skilled manipulation is needed.

Enter the Rolfer. In service of deep, restructuring work, Rolfers work to release those adhesions, rehydrate and restore balance to muscle groups. “You’re like a sculptor,” clients frequently observe. The results include freedom of movement, better coordination and relief from pain.

Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons people summon the skills of a Rolfer. Injury, repetitive movement and the aging process can bring on shoulder pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, carpal tunnel syndrome, hip pain, knee pain, low back pain and more. Western medicine’s allopathic answer to these symptoms frequently includes drugs, steroid injections and surgery. Rolfing has an impressive track record for resolving chronic pain by restoring balanced functioning. Of course, allopathic medicine is invaluable for many conditions, but when people are otherwise in good health, yet suffer from musculoskeletal pain, it is advisable to explore alternative, holistic approaches like Rolfing.

Rolfing can also be an opportunity for self-discovery. Clients are often amazed to learn that they have ribs up to their collar bones, for example, or that their lungs reside in their back, that they have 26 bones in their feet and their hip joints are in front, not on the side. By exploring sensations and the possibilities for movement in each session, clients learn a tremendous amount about their own bodies.

It is not uncommon for clients to recall forgotten traumas or experiences. The theory is that all past events; physical, social and emotional, have a bearing on how our bodies function today. Rolfing reconnects us to our body, enhancing awareness of old patterns and giving us the freedom and choice about the way we want to move through life.

Certified Rolfers are trained at the Rolf Institute for Structural Integration, in Boulder, Colorado. Certified advanced Rolfers have several more years of experience and training. It is a good idea to interview potential Rolfers before scheduling an appointment to assure a comfortable fit. Like any form of therapy, a trusting relationship between client and practitioner is essential for achieving good results.

Lynn Cohen is a certified advanced Rolfer and owner of Rolfworks, in Shorewood. Connect at 414-477-1033 or