Rolfing Explained

Rolfing® Structural Integration’s (SI) main aim is to improve structure, posture, and movement and is based on the key elements of Dr Ida Rolf’s work on Structural Integration. Rolfing incorporates these elements and the study of new scientific research within the fields of Fascia, Functional Anatomy and Movement education.            

Natural Alignment

Dr. Rolf believed that there is a more natural alignment for each of us – an easier organization between self and gravity. That through external factors, over time our natural alignment is lost, causing internal stresses that can result in both physical and emotional discomfort. Prevent or correct these imbalances and you potentially reduce the compensations and stress that cause discomfort. This concept is at the heart of Rolfing Structural Integration.

Connective Tissues – Fascia

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Rolf recognized in the human body a system – a seamless network of tissues vs. a collection of separate parts. Connective tissues, called fascia, surround, support and penetrate all of muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Fascia both unites the structure of our inner form and divides it into individual functioning units. Fascia is constantly changing and adapting in response to demands placed on an individual’s body. It reacts to specific physical damage – to a joint for example – by producing extra material to enhance stability and support. However, it can produce more than necessary. If this happens, over time rather than stabilizing the joint, the healing process itself can actually reduce mobility, leading to changes in body posture and altered patterns of movement.

Dr. Rolf called fascia the organ of form and suggested that through deliberate, accurate and targeted movement of this tissue, change could occur and a sense of overall ease and well-being achieved. Through the Rolfing touch, the elasticity and sliding capacity of fascia can be restored and the body structure realigned to function with greater ease. By introducing the impact of gravity on human health and well-being, Dr. Rolf broke new scientific ground; modern research increasingly supports her wisdom.

Before and after 10 Sessions of Rolfing Structural Integration

After completing ten sessions with a Certified Rolfer® a client can expect to experience a greater sense of over-all ease, more natural body alignment and improved mobility. Enhanced awareness and understanding of how the body works in harmony with gravity is an important outcome of the sessions. New awareness of self then becomes something each client can use as a basis for lifelong learning.       


About Rolfing Structrual Intergration (SI)  

Rolfing Structural Integration is a holistic bodywork discipline which, to this day, remains a unique form of fascia therapy. The biochemist Dr. Ida P. Rolf, who created this work, conceived the breakthrough concept of integrating gravity into therapy. This is a key difference between Rolfing SI and other methods of fascia therapy, that gravity provides the human body with a stressful, yet organising force.

Rolfers refer to fascia as the “organ of structure”

In the mid 20th century Dr. Ida Rolf developed the theory that deliberate and targeted mobilization of the connective tissue – i.e. the fascia – leads to relief and well-being. For this reason she called the fascia the “organ of form”. Rolfing always addresses the entire organism and does not orientate itself according to single symptoms.

The goals:

  • The tissue’s elasticity and lubrication are re-established.
  • The body is realigned.
  • Unnecessary tensions within the body-wide fascia network can be released.
  • Discomfort stemming from sticky and viscous fascia is precluded.

Rolfing® SI takes into account gravity’s role in our health

Gravity affects us everywhere on earth and constantly creates a pull or push tension in our bodies. If the body has become unbalanced, it must compensate to remain upright. As a result, muscles and fascia can become constantly strained with high energy demands on the body. Slouching postures aimed at relieving pain after accidents or operations, and one-sided use cause the fascia to become ever more compact in certain areas of the body. They become viscous, lose elasticity and are “drier” than healthy connective tissue. Through Rolfing the body can re-organize itself in relation to gravity. Ideally, in a standing position, every body segment’s centre of gravity is organized above the segments below. In this state a person hardly needs any active muscle strength to stand upright because the anatomical integrity of the structure is aligned with gravity which provides supporting from the ground up. The tension forces in the body are in balance.

Who is Rolfing for?
  • individuals with chronic tension, one example being professions requiring single-sided body use
  • persons with injuries or operations where posture compensations are needed to alleviate pain or where movement is restricted or limited
  • women after pregnancy and birth
  • performers such as actors, musicians, and dancers, wanting to expand their self-awareness and expression
  • athletes and sports enthusiasts wanting to train more effectively, increase their performance, avoid overuse, recover more quickly and with less side-effects after injury
  • anyone looking to increase their body awareness and seeking long-term improvement in quality of well-being.
The classic 10-Series

Dr. Ida Rolf developed a therapeutic series consisting of ten sessions. Throughout this series, posture and movement patterns are improved systematically:

  • In sessions 1 thru 3 the Rolfer primarily works on the superficial fascia layers. The goals: increased elasticity in the chest, freer breathing, a healthier orientation of the pelvis, rib-cage, and shoulder girdle, and a better organization of feet and legs.
  • In sessions 4 to 7 Rolfers work on deeper fascia layers and the body’s organization around a vertical axis “the line”.
  • In sessions 8 to 10 the body is aligned as a whole to improve balance and become more flexible. Problems that have not yet been completely solved are targeted in these sessions. Specific attention is payed to the joint work between Rolfer and client regarding body awareness and the way the client moves to ensure that changes last.

Bottom line

Rolfing Structural Integration is holistic body work. It helps re-establish elasticity and lubrication to sticky and viscous fascia tissue and an upright posture. In a series of ten sessions Rolfers support their clients in improving their posture and movement patterns.    

Rolfing Movement™

Through Rolf Movement™ clients learn how to sense, befriend and integrate gravity in their movement. From simple breathing and walking to more complex movement coordination, clients discover alternatives that free expressiveness and promote balance. Once secure and stable in themselves, clients discover that movement can be economical, powerful and fluid.

Learning to move efficiently

Rolf Movement’s goal is for the Rolfer to find movement patterns that lead to tensions and asymmetry in the body together with the client. However, it is not necessarily the Rolfer’s job to establish the most comfortable movement patterns for the client. Rather, it is about moving more economically – with better balance and efficiency with regard to gravity.

In the 1960s Dr. Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing SI, already discovered that gravity, muscles, and fascia play an important role for upright posture and effortless movement.

The American biochemist thus developed Rolf Movement as an extension to Rolfing SI, to be applied for painful or unfavorable movements. Throughout the past decades, Rolfers have further developed the method.

In 2015 about 25% of the Rolfers trained by the European Rolfing Association e.V. (ERA) were also certified Rolf Movement practitioners:

Just as the traditional ten-series, Rolfers can offer Rolf Movement™ as a series of sessions, where each concentrates on specific structures and movement topics.

Deliberately preparing to move

“Put it where it belongs and ask for movement” – this statement by Dr. Ida Rolf indicates how important it is that the body prepares itself ideally for each movement. To support this pre-movement, it helps to…

be aware of the ground below and surrounding space align the body symmetrically feel the position of hands, arms, feet, joints, head, and neck. This is how unfavorable movement patterns can be discovered and corrected with little effort.

Rolfer Hubert Godard further refined Rolf Movement™

Many of the Movement exercises that are taught today in Europe, the US, and Brazil can be traced back to French dancer Hubert Godard; the Rolfer developed the working model “Tonic Function” about 20 years ago.

According to Godard there is a “Movement Brain”, which comprises parts of the brain and body that are responsible for movement. It is formed by the subconscious “Body Schema” and taught “Body Image”, which compete with each other.

According to Godard, the subconscious “Body Schema” knows how the body moves harmoniously, with little effort and as gentle as possible for joints, muscles, and fascia. This natural movement intelligence is strengthened when the client becomes consciously aware of her body in relation to the space around her and the ground beneath her during pre-movement (see box).

According to Godard, people develop the “Body Image” throughout life and in specific situations. They adapt their movements to their socio-cultural environment, their personal self-confidence, and their mood – which can lead to unfavourable movement and breathing patterns. Therefore, Rolf Movement aims at discovering these patterns and finding ways of replacing them with ideal movements from the subconscious “Body Schemas”.

Tonic Muscles stabilize the human body

Dr. Ida Rolf referred to the “inner line” of the body. Hubert Godard refers to this inner space as the “core”. In order to move in a positively coordinated manner, a person has to develop inner and harmonious stability first:

Tonic muscles usually take on this task. According to Godard, they respond especially well to impulses when the person is aware of herself in the space around her and the ground beneath her. Especially the “Body Schema” uses these muscles to stabilize and coordinate movements.

Phasic muscles have a different function: They are not made for prolonged contractions, but take over these functions form tonic muscles, because our hectic pace and stress as well as the learned “Body Image” require them to do so.

Thus, according to Godard, the goal of Rolf Movement exercises is to activate the tonic muscles – but not the phasic muscles – to be able to ideally stabilize the body from within so that the person can move harmoniously, lightly, and effectively within gravity.

Rolfing SI & Fascia

Fascia constitutes a network of fibrous, collagenous tissue in our body. It has always been Rolfing’s “working material”. The creator of Rolfing, Dr. Ida Rolf, already focused on fascia in the middle of the 20th century and recognized its important role in our well-being. She referred to fascia as the “organ of form” and believed that the body is malleable and shapeable through connective tissue treatment. How groundbreaking Ida Rolf’s theories were is now being confirmed by current fascia research.

Dr. Ida Rolf called fascia the “organ of structure”

Ida Rolf believed that it is the fascia, not just muscles and bones, that hold us together from the inside and determine our appearance. After years of practical experience, she was also convinced that the body can be formed and changed in a positive manner by treating the fascia and the tension relationships within the connective tissue network. What was revolutionary about her approach was the fact that she incorporated gravity. Tensions within the fascia network are meant to become so balanced through Rolfing that it requires no effort to hold the body upright. This can only be the case if all of the single body segments are aligned along a vertical line.

What is fascia?

Fascia pervades the entire body. It surrounds all of the individual structures such as muscles, organs, and vessels and forms tendons and ligaments.

Fascia arranges and at the same time connects all these structures through a body-wide network.

Healthy fascia constitutes continuous tissue, which can adapt to different types of strain through movement and stretching.

It contains enough “fluid”, displays a high level of tensile strength, and enables effortlessly gliding muscle movements as well as the joints’ freedom of movement.

Rolfing supports healthy fascia

With age, most people’s fascia loses elasticity. It becomes sticky and viscous in different areas. Special Rolfing techniques can help to add fluid to the tissue and make it smoother. Rolfing also enables the fascia layers to glide on top of each other better and to relieve the joints.

Rolfing: Interest in fascia research is growing

While Dr. Ida Rolf already focused intensively on fascia in the middle of the 20th century, for a long time established scientific fields hardly paid attention to connective tissue. Anatomists and physicians regarded fascia as a pure “packaging organ” for muscles, bones, discs, and organs. Since the First International Fascia Congress 2007, held at Harvard University in Boston, USA, and co-organized and sponsored by the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation and its affiliated schools, the fascia world has changed significantly, and a vivid, interdisciplinary exchange between scientists, movement therapists, and bodywork therapists – many of them Rolfers has begun and grown. Thanks to modern research tools and methods we are now gradually understanding the fascia’s many functions and their importance for our well-being.