The Rolf Method of Structural Integration

The Rolf Method of Structural Integration is a systematic method of bodywork which uses physical manipulation and re-educating movements to reorganize the body's soft tissue within the field of gravity. But what does that mean?

First, the system we refer to is the 10-session series which everyone undergoes at the start of his or her Structural Integration process. Each session has a particular goal for a certain area or areas of the body. In general we want to create space and balance within and between the front and the back of the body, the left and right sides and from the inside of the body to the outside. We want to balance tissue around all sides of the joints so that they are neither too flexible nor inflexible; hyper-flexibility in one joint means hypo-flexibility in another. Here's a brief summary of each session:

Sessions | Fascia

Gravity | Ida P. Rolf

Missoula Structural Integration

Sessions

Session 1: We begin by opening up the breath by working on all of the superficial tissue that could impede breathing. More breath for you means more oxygen going to your entire system to aid the work we have to do in the following sessions. Time is spent on the arms, chest, shoulders and ribcage, as well as the top of the pelvis and hips to begin to bring more movement and balance to the pelvis. We end with neck and back work, as we do at the end of every session.

Session 2: The focus is on the lower legs and feet, giving you a more even, solid relationship with the earth. When the lower body is grounded into the earth, the upper body receives more support and is able to lengthen upwards. The session concludes with seated back work to coax more length into the back.

Session 3: Since we've begun to lengthen the front and back of the body, we now work on the sides, freeing the shoulder girdle from the thorax and creating a harmonious relationship between the upper and lower body.

Session 4: We now head towards deeper layers of the body, working on lengthening the inside of legs, from ankles to inner groin. This begins to release the tissue at the deep front of the lower back.

Session 5: This session is a continuation of session 4, bringing length further up into the abdominal core by balancing the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) with the psoas (a hip flexor), further releasing the front of the lower back.

Session 6: We work up the back of the body to create more space and movement in the pelvis, this time lengthening the back of the lower back.

Session 7: Since we've worked on creating an open and solid foundation below, it's now time to work on the neck and head, getting them straight and balanced effortlessly on top of the shoulders.

Session 8-10: These are our integration hours, taking all of the "cleaned up" areas we have worked on thus far and making sure they are all functioning well together. We do a lower body session, an upper body session and an all-over session.

Missoula Structural Integration

Now, what soft tissue are we reorganizing?

The soft tissue that Structural Integrators are particularly interested in, additional to the muscles, is the connective tissue called fascia. Fascia makes up the support system of the body, enwrapping every part of the body including muscles, groups of muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Repetitive stress, accidents, injuries, aging, and even emotional trauma can cause the fascia to shorten and tighten, thereby putting stress and limitations on the functions of our muscles, organs and our body as a whole. Often we compensate for these limitations in ways that just further misalign us and cause imbalances in our bodies.

In SI sessions, I use my hands, forearms and elbows to carefully separate and loosen layers of tissue, releasing the adhesions between them and bringing vitality and proper movement back to the area. When the soft tissue is addressed in a systematic way, people become taller, straighter and move with greater ease and fluidity.

Integration

But what does gravity have to do with anything?

Gravity is a force that affects us constantly but about which we seldom think. Because our bodies are broader at the top than the bottom, gravity can easily take its toll when imbalances in the body exist. Imagine the body as a stack of blocks arranged on top of one another. The aforementioned stress and injuries can cause individual blocks, such as the pelvis for example, to shift, rotate or tilt, then causing the other blocks to adjust and fight the pull of gravity. When we get the blocks relating optimally to one another around a vertical line, gravity supports us rather than pulls us downwards. In Structural Integration, we are always thinking about the body functioning within the field of gravity, and we use this force as a tool in combination with small movements in seated and standing work to help the soft tissue find its way back to its appropriate home.

Integration

Who started Structural Integration?

Dr. Ida P. Rolf, who held a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University, spent the 1930s and ‘40s seeking ways to help her own and her family’s health issues which were unaided by traditional medicine. She explored multiple disciplines including osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga and the Alexander technique. Through observation, experimentation and intuition she came up with the system of bodywork she called structural integration. It was in the ‘60s that she began training other practitioners to do this work at Esalen Institute in California, and the first Guild for Structural Integration was formed and headquartered in Boulder, Colorado in 1967.

Integration

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Structural Integration differ from massage therapy?

What do I wear?

Is Structural Integration painful?

What happens after I do the 10-session series?

How long do the sessions last and how often do I come in?

Do I have to pay for all 10 sessions up front?

Who should receive SI?

 

How does Structural Integration differ from massage therapy?

SI usually takes place within a 10-session series of bodywork, each session building upon the previous one, whereas massage is typically single-session based. Additionally, SI is more active on the part of the client than massage. You'll often be in different positions than you are during a massage and frequently, I will have you do small movements while I apply pressure or a stroke, or at least be focusing on your breath.

 

What do I wear?

Because I need to view your structure before, during and after a session, and I work with you while seated and standing in addition to laying down, women wear bras and underwear or bikinis, and men wear briefs or boxer briefs. If this is the only thing holding you back from doing the SI series, please let me know and we can discuss other options.

 

Is Structural Integration painful?

The pressure applied during an SI session is similar to a deep tissue massage. There might be moments that are uncomfortable or painful because of long-held strain and disorganization of the tissue. Most of my clients speak of their experiences as a "good" or "helpful" kind of pain. You are always welcome to say you need less pressure or to take a break. The way to true change in your body is not to "grit your teeth and bear it." We will produce better results if we're able to work together within your comfort level.

 

What happens after I do the 10-session series?

Comparisons of photographs taken of people after their 10-series and months and years later show that the structure often continues to change and progress as the work settles in over time and they are moving differently in their daily lives. Therefore, it is customary to wait three months or more before any further SI work is done to allow the body this processing time. After this time, we do additional sessions in a 3-series format for maintenance and further progression.  Any accidents or injuries or prolonged emotional stress may necessitate doing additional work sooner. Feel free to be in communication with me at any time. On average, a person may opt to do a 3-series 1-3 times per year and a 10-series every 4-5 years. All of this depends on the individual and his or her particular situation.

 

How long do the sessions last and how often do I come in?

The sessions range from an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how quickly we meet our goals for that session. You can schedule sessions from one week apart to a month apart, although a couple of the sessions still need to take place with no more than a week between them. Obviously, the quicker you proceed through the series, the sooner you will likely feel better. We will discuss your frequency when you decide to schedule.

 

Do I have to pay for all 10 sessions up front?

No. I ask for payment at the time of each session.

 

Who should receive SI?

  • Do you have chronic aches and pains that have not responded to other treatments?
  • Do you have specific problems which have resulted from an injury, surgery or repetitive motion?
  • Are you an athlete or involved in yoga or dance and would like to enhance your performance and reduce the risk of injury?
  • Would you like to feel more comfortable in your body?
  • Would you like to experience better posture, ease of movement and breathing capacity?
  • Are you looking for a transformative experience to bring greater awareness to your physical body and enhance mind/body connection?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be a candidate for Structural Integration. SI is appropriate for people of any age, from infants to seniors.

 

Links of Interest:

Andrew Weil on Rolfing

Dr. Oz recommends Rolfing

Rolfing in The New York Times

Ida P. Rolf discusses Structural Integration (video)

Dr. Robert Schleip discusses fascia and Structural Integration (video)

Gil Hedley, Ph.D. on fascia and stretching (video)

Helpful explanation of fascia (video)

How to survive the madness of everyday life (video)

 

Recommended Reading:

Rolfing and Physical Reality by Ida P. Rolf

Meet Your Body by Noah Karrasch

The New Rules of Posture by Mary Bond

Remembering Ida Rolf by Rosemary Feitis and Louis Schultz