An original methodology of structural integration of the body, Rolfing is accomplished through the use of fascial (or connective tissue) massage.  Structural integration is thought of as a holistic approach whose goal is to align a person's body in order to improve one's psychological and physiological functioning. 

Rolfing begins with the body's relationship to gravity.  One of this technique's primary objectives is to teach the body to move more efficiently and without pain or tension.

This type of massage therapy helps to ease pain in the back, neck and joints to resolve the emotional issues which can be seen in the body's movements and posture. 

Rolfing is based on three principles:

  • The human body is affected by gravity.  When the body's major segments (mainly the head, shoulders, chest, legs and pelvis) are in proper alignment, gravity will work to uplift the body rather than to pull it down.

  • The myofascial network or connective tissue of the body serves as a type of continuous "bandage" the unsheathes the whole body, allowing it be molded and changed.

  • The key to aligning the gravity in the body is to systematically release the connective tissue network.  This allows the muscles to return to a balanced relationship with each other.  It also frees the body of many various aches, pains and tensions.

History of Rolfing

This type of therapy was developed by Dr. Ida R. Rolf, who was an American biochemist who studied the flexibility of proteins in connective tissue in the 1930s and 1940s.  At the time, Dr. Rolf was a young research biochemist in New York City at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City who was studying connective tissue (the network of tissue beneath the skin that links other tissues and forms ligaments, tendons and aponeuroses), particularly its plasticity, or capacity for being altered or molded.

Along with other researchers, Dr. Rolf discovered that connective tissue has the ability to change its shape and elasticity (even its length) with the application of appropriate pressure.   D. Rolf spent the next 50 years traveling widely to study and eventually started to teach a systematic way to better organize human structure.  She called the method structural integration, and in the late 1960s her technique became more widely known as Rolfing.

"When the body gets working appropriately," Dr. Rolf noted, "the force of gravity can flow through.  Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we organize the body so that the gravity field can reinforce the body's energy field.  This is our primary concept."

Rolfers believe when the body is properly aligned it can release the physical tensions and holding patterns resulting from years of improper alignment which resulted in impaired movement and balance.  Rolfing can also release the emotional stress that accompanies the physical symptoms.

After many years of research, Dr. Rolf concluded that Rolfing is most effective in a 10-session format.  The sessions are designed to slowly and methodically get the body to lengthen, wide, deepen or just let go.

Finding a Therapist

Back in 1998 there were only about 700 Rolfing practitioners in the world.  Today there are many more.  Seek help from a Rolfing organization in order to find a qualified therapist.

Conditions Benefited by Rolfing

Rolfing has been known to help alleviate anxiety, neck and back pain, painful menstruation, stiff or painful joints, and chronic structural imbalance.  It also prevents postural or stress-related problems.  This type of therapy is frequently used by dancers, musicians and sports people to ensure their bodies are in peak condition.

The First Session

After a thorough interview and structural analysis (during which photographs are usually taken), the first session is held.  The rolfer will attempt to identify the main structural issues affecting the patient's body, or the reason the individual remains "stuck" and unable to find the support or ease he or she needs.

In a person who has been slumping with their head forward for a number of years, the tissue of the upper chest has been gradually responding by becoming shorter.  The muscles of the upper back have had to hold up the head and are now more rigid.  This type of person is now unable to lift his or her head back over the shoulders where it should be.

This person's pelvis is likely to be tipped forward and no longer provides support for the shoulders and head.  Also, the pelvis is probably not getting the support it needs from having the legs and feet improperly aligned. 

Rolfing examines the relationships between all the body's parts - left and right, front and back, lower and upper, core and limb.

During a Rolfing session the patient will either lie on a low table, sit or stand.  The rolfer eases tensions from the outer layers of the tissue with the application of pressure, using the hands and fingers as the primary tools.  The first session works on the torso to release the outer wrapping free up the person's breathing.  The work is slow and with the cooperation of the patient, usually through feedback to the help the rolfer relax the fascial tissue.

Dangers and Limitations

Rolfing should be avoided by women who are pregnant.  Those people who are known to have an infectious disease, deep vein thrombosis, shingles, scar tissue or varicose veins should also avoid Rolfing sessions.



  1. Bratman, S. (1998). The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions. New York: Crown Publishing Group
  2. Brown, L. (1999). Alternative Medicine. London : Teach Yourself
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. (2002). Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Puyallup, Wash. : Future Medicine Pub.
  4. Rolf, I., Lodge, J. & Thompson, R. (1989). Rolfing : reestablishing the natural alignment and structural integration of the human body for vitality and well-being. Rochester, Vt. : Healing Arts Press
  5. Rolf, I. (1997). Rolfing : the integration of human structures. Santa Monica, Calif. : Dennis-Landman

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