A Visit to a Rolfer

A Visit To A Rolfer

(excerpt from Rolfing® Structural Integration by Jason Mixter, Certified Advanced Rolfer)

Marcia had known about Rolfing for maybe ten years. She knew that the technique was developed by a biochemist and that it was designed to improve posture and flexibility. She had also heard that it was sometimes painful, although people she knew who had been Rolfed did not emphasize this aspect as much as people who had not been Rolfed. She decided to try it.

Marcia picturesAfter answering a health questionnaire and discussing what she hoped to gain from the sessions with her Rolfer, Marcia was asked to undress down to her underwear and pose for some “Before Session One” photos. Then she stood in front of the full length mirror and was introduced to her body through a Rolfer’s eyes. She began to see that her body was far from organized: not only were her shoulders a different height, but they were also rotated distinctly to the right, while her pelvis was turned to the left.

She noticed that she could breathe either from her upper chest or from her abdomen, but not both. From the side, she saw that her midsection protruded out in front because her upper back slumped ahead of her pelvis and abdomen. Following her shoulders, her neck and head also came forward. The Rolfer helped her to see that if her head were balanced properly on her spine, the muscles in her back would not have to support its 12 pound weight.

Finally she was asked to lie down on the cushioned table, and the Rolfer began to work on her ribs. She felt a brief burning sensation as he did, as if the skin was being stretched and kneaded. He worked around her left armpit and asked her to perform an arm movement as he did. The discomfort was different here–sharper, more precise. His hands seemed to know just where to find tightness and tension. First in front, then along her side, back under her shoulder blade, down under the line of her rib cage. Soon she was feeling light and airy. She was breathing more deeply and with less effort. Her left arm was moving easily almost by itself. But when she moved the right one, it seemed blocked. She had never noticed a problem there before, but the difference between her arms was very noticeable.

Marcia drawingAs the session continued, Marcia felt more at ease. The Rolfer worked on her hips and then on the back of her thighs. He explained that years in high heels had caused her knees to hyperextend, or “lock” backward. This had cut off circulation in her lower legs and left her with a tendency toward cold feet. He also connected the locked knees to the forward jut of her upper body. As he continued to work, the back of her thighs had that same burning sensation for a moment, but it was soon replaced with a new sensation of “length” and freedom.

When she stood up, she felt straighter, even though she had not previously thought her posture was especially crooked. As she walked around the room, her legs seemed to glide under her; her knees did not lock as before. Looking in the mirror, she saw that her upper back was pulling back, but it did look better. Her body felt alive and tingling. The Rolfer gave her a mental image to think about: her motion should come from deep inside her body. She felt more expansive, taller. When she sat, she sat straighter and liked it. When she slouched, the position was uncomfortable! Intrigued? Try this self-help routine.

Feel What Marcia Felt

One of the major distinctions made by Rolfers is the difference between holding and supporting . As children, most of us are told to “sit up straight.” The well meaning relatives who usually make this command are trying to teach us good posture, and by good posture they generally mean some variation of “chest out and shoulders back!” Try this posture right now as you read. Notice that when your shoulders are pulled back: they cannot be supported by the rib cage, that, instead, your trunk is lifted up off the pelvis and held in an uncomfortable imitation of good posture.

backworkWhile sitting, most of us droop forward and let our bodies hang off our spines in various forms of collapse. When we do remember to “sit up straight,” we often reverse everything and hold our chests up and keep the shoulders high and aloft. Some people even become locked in this position. Although they look good to the untrained, most trained observers agree that the body structure is not supported from below in this posture; it is uncomfortably held from above. In either case, with the held posture or the collapsed one, energy is being expended, which might be conserved with proper structural support and balance.

To see how much better efficient posture can make you feel, first sit down. Then, let your chest fall so that your spine curves to the front. Now sit up so that your spine arches to the back. Do you feel relaxed, or is it an effort to hold your body in this second position? Return to the collapsed position, and put a hand on each hip bone. Push your hips forward until you feel the bottom of your pelvis (the two “sit bones”) touch the chair seat. As you do, notice that your chest floats up as the pelvis roils forward. Now rest on the forward part of your “sit bones.” Notice that you can sit and maintain a feeling of support without either collapsing or holding your body up.

Learned body patterns become so much a part of us that, at first, you may not be able to sit in this new, supported fashion for very long. You may also need to “play” with it until you can feel your body learning to support itself. But most people eventually find that they do not feel quite “right” unless they are using this supportive posture in place of the old holding patterns.

What, Exactly, Is Rolfing?

Rolfing is normally taught or applied in ten sessions of variable length. Each segment of the process is both a continuation of the previous one and an introduction to the next. The body is systematically and physically manipulated during this initial series of ten sessions, each of which lasts about an hour and may be scheduled as often as twice a week. Some people choose to schedule their sessions once a week, others once a month.

Rolfing’s ten session series is designed to uncover a structural ease and kinetic balance that is unique to each client. Rolfing cannot accurately be described as therapy or as a returning of the body to a “natural” state from which it has deteriorated. Rather, it is a process of education in which a Rolfer seeks to help a client discover the most efficient way of using his or her body, given the limitations, liabilities, and virtues of that body. In effect, the plan of each group of ten lessons must be created anew for the needs of the particular person seeking help. However, there are certain guidelines and landmarks which every Rolfer follows in each program of sessions, and it is to these basic tenets that we must turn to complete our description of the treatment process.

Rolfing® and Rolfer™ are service marks of the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration