Rolfing® Structural Integration and the "Liberation of the Heart"

There is a deep connection between the breath and the heart in the areas of the mediastinum and diaphragm. Rolfing® Structural Integration, a method of bodywork, explores the interwoven dynamics of these inner structures and creates space for the heart to beat freely and the breath to flow unhindered. 

Guardian of the Heart

At the core of this exploration is the pericardium, a protective sac enveloping the heart.

Comprising two layers of connective tissue with a fluid-filled gap, the pericardium ensures the heart's smooth movements. It keeps the heart in the correct position and prevents too much blood from flowing into the heart.

The pericardium is part of a larger network of connective tissue known as visceral fascia. These layers of fascia enrobe all internal organs, providing support and embedding them within the body.

Space to Breathe

The fact that the diaphragm and the envelope around the heart are intertwined in a complex way is relevant to Rolfing Structural Integration. The outer pericardium merges seamlessly into the upper outer layer of the diaphragm.

With each breath the diaphragm, a muscular structure beneath the lungs, moves about 4-6cm up and down, it indirectly moves and “massages” the heart within the mediastinum—a cylindrical space in the chest cavity. This works well when both the diaphragm and the mediastinum are free of restrictions or adhesions.

Due to its central location between the two pleural cavities of the lungs, the mediastinum is also known as the "mediastinal cavity". It is a passage for nerves, vessels, and lymphatic channels.

While Rolfing doesn't explicitly target the pericardial sac, there is a focus on preparing the inner spaces of the chest, already in sessions 1 and 3 and finally working on it directly with the deep inner cavity in session 5.

By creating space in the chest cavity, Rolfing helps to free breathing and facilitates the broader spectrum of self-regulation and self-healing - a fundamental principle of Rolfing. 

Key to well-being

Breathing plays a crucial role in well-being:

Balanced tone in the diaphragms leads to longer, more balanced breathing and reduces the strain on the heart. Emotions can also manifest physically in the diaphragm, especially those associated with stress and tension. They can lead to shallow breathing and a feeling of tightness.

By releasing tension in the fascia of the diaphragm, Rolfing aims to promote deep, unrestricted breathing and facilitate emotional release. This can create a feeling of openness and lightness, which contributes to the general liberation of the heart.

A Rolfing client describes the feeling after her first Rolfing session as follows:

The first session… I had always had this pain in the chest, around my heart, which frightened me, and [my Rolfer®] was able to provoke this pain and tension by touching some spots in the body and then release them. It really felt like he physically grabbed hold of the pain and removed it from me. That really helped me relax and let go.”

In the complex interplay of heart, breath and connective tissues, Rolfing Structural Integration therefore provides a pathway to liberating the heart by freeing the breath - which is reflected not only in anatomical function but also in the depths of emotional wellbeing.

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