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Back Pain? Chronic Stress? Bad Posture? Try Rolfing!
by Leigh in

Millions of people today suffer from chronic stress, back pain, acute injuries, and impaired mobility.  Knowledge based workers sit hunched over their computer keyboards, shoulders inching ever closer to their earlobes with each additional new project request.  Anxiety about finances or relationships further contributes to the state of duress we are living in.  Our bodies compensate for all of these conditions and our muscles become shorter and our skeletal systems become misaligned.

There are many ways to cope with pain and stress.  Pop a few ibuprofen or get a massage for immediate relief.  Take a yoga, pilates, or qigong class to a develop core strength and flexibility.

Looking for a longer term, structural solution?  Does the idea of a complete overhaul of the body's alignment and connective tissue sound appealing?  If you answered yes, then Rolfing might be the thing for you.   Besides the release of chronic tension and pain, many people who have experienced Rolfing report increased energy, improved athletic performance, and ease of movement.  Rolfing results in many people feeling taller, stronger, and more youthful.

What exactly is Rolfing?  Rolfing is named after its founder, Dr. Ida Rolf, who studied and explored a variety of alternative methods of healing and pain relief including homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, and yoga.  Fundamental to all of these areas of study is the idea that the body functions best when it is in proper alignment.   Dr. Rolf believed that structural imbalances placed demands on the body's soft connective tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia) for which the body compensates for.  Over time, these adaptive compensations result in conditions such as chronic pain, injury, loss of mobility and fatigue.  Dr. Rolf's study resulted in a system of soft tissue manipulation which aims to resculpt the body's soft tissue.  Today, this soft tissue manipulation is known as Rolfing.

The heart of Rolfing is the Ten Series -- essentially ten 1 to 1 1/2 hour sessions that focus on releasing the tension and restructuring the connective tissue in specific areas of the body.  The final goal is to restructure and optimize the entire body.  Each session builds on the previous session and as the soft tissue is released and the body is realigned, more efficient patterns of movement result. Rolfing has long lasting impacts and the last three sessions focus on integrating new movement patterns of the body.  As one certified Rolfer stated, "The goal is to move efficiently and with fluidity -  as we went through our certification training we were reminded of the ease of movement displayed by great dancers such as Fred Astaire.  Fred Astaire dancing is the vision I have in my mind's eye for every patient I work with."

Many people associate Rolfing as being painful.  More than likely, this is a holdover from how Rolfing was portrayed in the 1970's movie "Semi-Tough" which featured Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. At times, the manipulation and release of the deep soft tissue may be uncomfortable, but well trained and certified Rolfers have developed many techniques to access the deeper layers of fascia without discomfort.  The entire Rolfing session is interactive and the patient is encouraged to communicate about what they are feeling so adjustments can be made.

How prevalent is Rolfing today?  That's a question that is difficult to find clear and exact statistics on.  Rolfing has been gaining momentum as a result of major media coverage and endorsements.  Dr. Andrew Weil has blogged about Rolfing and the cardiac surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz endorsed Rolfing during a 2007 airing of the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Newsweek featured an article in November of 2010.  It is estimated that nearly 1.5M Americans have tried Rolfing.  

So, what are my thoughts on Rolfing?  As a result of my ankle fracture and physical therapy, I began to question my skeletal alignment, posture and ways that my body may have been compensating for various weaknesses.  I knew that I needed to incorporate bodywork such as yoga and pilates into my fitness routine.  As I got started with yoga and pilates DVD's at home, I questioned if my movements and position were correct.  Both these practices are intensely focused with an emphasis on the core.  I was concerned that I may be overtraining and/or undertraining specific areas which were "out of whack".  After some research, I found a certified Rolfer (Certified through the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration) who practices compassionate (read that as not painful) Rolfing.  I went in for the forty-five minute free consultation and decided to "get Rolfed".

I have had two sessions, and I am amazed by the results.  In the first session, the Rolfer did some work on my ribs and diaphragm - I have always been a shallow breather and I hold a lot of stress in my mid section and shoulders (which affects my pelvis, legs and posture).  She quickly identified that as a child I had grown up in a household where my parents smoked (obviously, that was before we knew the dangers of smoking).  As she continued to release the first few layers of soft tissue surrounding my mid section, I felt my breath fully expand into my upper chest and upper back.  I was taking a full, deep inhalation and feeling it throughout my body!  I don't think I had ever done that before as my body had been in an adaptive inhalation pattern since childhood.  Three weeks after that first session, I can still feel the difference today.  In the second session, attention was directed from my hip to foot.  I had been experiencing some pain in my left knee.  I am happy to report that knee pain is gone and I feel more balanced from my hips to my feet on both the right and left side.  (I had broken my right ankle, and as a result, my body developed some compensatory patterns which affected both legs and feet in a negative way.)

Like anything else, Rolfing is not for everyone.  Do your research and should you try Rolfing, make sure you are working with a certified and well qualified Rolfer.  Check their credentials, get referrals, and verify that their practice is in good standing with regulatory agencies such as your local better business bureau.

I will keep you posted on my rolfing experience as I progress through the Ten Series.  If you have tried Rolfing, or know someone that has, please post your comments!


Samual said...

I really appreciate you for posting such a wonderful Blog. Low back pain or lumbago is a common musculoskeletal disorder affecting 80% of people at some point in their life. Several studies have proven chiropractic to be effective, for the treatment of low back pain.

Back pain Sydney

Leigh said...

Hi Samual - thanks for your input - there are many good treatments for pain including chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, rolfing, etc. I am glad that more and more options are available today.

Rachel Velazquez said...

I agree to both of you. But I much prepared the seattle chiropractic than acupuncture to help my back pain. Because for me acupuncture is so creepy :P so scared of that.

Best regards,

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