By Rob Shaul
My introduction to Rolfing came 15+ years ago from Mark Twight, during a Gym Jones seminar I attended shortly after launching Mountain Athlete. Mark spoke enthusiastically about his ongoing Rolfing experience, describing it as “life-changing.” His endorsement stayed with me, and later, a close friend echoed the sentiment. At the time my close friend spoke glowingly of Rolfing, my body was stiff and achy, and I was unusually open-minded, so I decided to explore Rolfing by signing up for the initial course of ten Rolfing Sessions with the practitioner he used.
Before starting, I knew very little about Rolfing, other than the fact that it involved ten sessions and could be rather painful. Rolfing, also known as “Structural Integration,” is a bodywork approach developed by Dr. Ida Rolf over 50 years ago. It focuses on reorganizing the connective tissues, called fascia, throughout the body.
According to the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute (rolfing.org), Rolfing Structural Integration aims to release, realign, and balance the entire body’s fascial network, potentially alleviating discomfort, reducing compensations, and relieving pain. The ultimate goal is to restore flexibility, revitalize energy, and enhance comfort within one’s own body.
The initial ten Rolfing sessions are mostly standardized and scripted by body part. Session 1, “Opening the Sleeve,” targets the fascia in the feet, legs, and pelvis, while Session 2 focuses on the feet, lower legs, knees, and thighs. Session 3 delves into the inner thighs, pelvis, and lower abdomen, and so forth. Generally, the Rolfer starts at the feet and progresses upwards over the ten sessions.
Rolfing is painful. Imagine lying on your stomach with the Rolfer’s elbow digging into the back of your calf muscle. Throughout my ten sessions, I endured the pain in silence for all but one session when my Rolfer was digging her fingers underneath my shoulder blade, and I had to tap out and request a brief break.
The New York Times called Rolfing, “a painful form of massage.”
Surprisingly, I didn’t dread the sessions due to the pain. In fact, I found the process quite interesting. After each session, I felt lighter, more energized, and even had a spring in my step. Despite the pain, there was almost a sense of release upon completion.
Rolfing involves deep tissue work aimed at breaking up fascial restrictions and enabling muscles to move more freely underneath. Additionally, it’s suggested that the process can release longstanding patterns of tension and imbalance in the body, leading to a greater sense of ease and balance.
Some claims also suggest that Rolfing can evoke emotional responses or memories linked to physical tension. When these emotional knots are untangled, physical tension can dissolve away as well.
To be honest, I entered the Rolfing series with low expectations. I had never witnessed “self-pampering” resulting in lasting physical or emotional change. Despite the pain, I initially prejudged Rolfing as another form of self-indulgence.
Despite my skepticism, I genuinely attempted to keep an open mind and monitor my posture, joint discomfort, and overall physical well-being during the ten-session series. Immediately after each session, I did feel lighter on my feet and revitalized, but an hour later, I seemed to revert to my usual posture and experienced joint discomfort once more.
Upon completing the ten-session series, I detected no noticeable differences in posture, fluidity, flexibility or balance. Ultimately, I found Rolfing intriguing, largely due to the pain aspect, but it didn’t have the “life-changing” impact I had heard from others.
When I discussed my experience with my Rolfer, she mentioned that the first ten-session series is just the beginning. Many individuals, including herself, undergo multiple series, each yielding progressively better posture, flexibility, and balance results. She emphasized that responses to Rolfing can vary among individuals, much like how athletes at MTI respond differently to the same training. So, it could have been that Rolfing just didn’t work for me.
In terms of cost, each of my 60-minute sessions cost $100, with a total cost of 1,000 for the first 10-drddion series.
If you’ve completed the initial Rolfing ten-session series, I’d appreciate your feedback, especially regarding any lasting improvements in fluidity, flexibility, or posture. If your experience aligns with mine, finding Rolfing interesting but not life-changing, I’d like to hear that as well.
Please share your feedback and comments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.