ROLL ON Suffering with long-term aches and pains? Why not visit a Rolfer, says practitioner Keith Graham
What is Rolfing?
Rolfing Structural Integration is a method of deep-tissue manipulation and movement education that aims to balance the body so it can deal more efficiently with the force of gravity.
Named after American biochemist, Dr Ida Rolf, who developed the method in the 1950s, Rolfing addresses patterns of tension that can develop in the body’s fascial or connective tissue system.
Over 10 carefully structured sessions, Rolfing unwinds layers of tissue strain, which may have built up over years due to injury, habitual movement patterns, trauma or emotional holding. Undergoing the full Rolfing series is like giving your body a 100,000-mile service and will improve posture, balance and muscle coordination for more energy and greater freedom of movement.
Why is it different from normal sports massage or osteopathy?
Rolfing differs from other bodywork methods, like massage or osteopathy, in several ways. The first is in the way that Rolfers view the human body, not just as a mechanical structure but more as an ‘ongoing event’. So, while a person may have pain in a particular place, Rolfing recognises the interrelatedness of the mind and body and so treats the entire human through a systematic approach, which tries to be sensitive to all that each individual brings to the table. It’s not necessarily
“chasing the pain” by loosening a tight muscle here and there, but noticing how those muscles coordinate with their neighbours and the surrounding tissues. Noticing unconscious holding patterns that may be at the root of ongoing pain and injury, and working with the client’s perceptual and sometimes emotional relationship not only to themselves but also to the spaces they move through.
The second difference is based on our strategy for bringing change and what we actually do with our hands. Chiropractic and osteopathic treatment tends to focus on bone alignment and joint mobility, and various methods ranging from gentle tapping to high-velocity thrusts are used to manipulate and correct boney lesions. Rolfers believe that unless the tension and strain in the soft tissue is addressed and relieved, the bones will continue to be pulled out of alignment and so will need constant re-adjustment. The Rolfing method involves slow, sustained and focused pressure in a specific direction, to affect the entire tissue bed in which the bones and nerve fibres of the body are embedded. The Rolfer’s goal is to achieve balanced tension which enables the bones to move back naturally into their proper relationship and alignment.
How can it help triathletes?
Rolfing aims to bring maximum freedom in all three dimensions of movement, while also improving the ability to resist the destabilising force of gravity.
Rolfers work very specifically with the bodyʼs “tonic system”. The human myofascial system consists of two types of muscle fibre: “tonic muscle”, which helps keeps us upright and stable, and “phasic muscles”, which move us.
What can you expect from a session?
What you take away from a Rolfing session depends to a large extent on how your life journey has been before you came to Rolfing, and how available you are to the work.
At the outset, the Rolfer will watch the client performing simple everyday movements and then talk about their feelings and concerns. A list of mutually agreed goals for the work and a strategy for achieving them will then be drawn up. The work of restructuring and rehydrating the muscle and connective tissue network is done by applying various degrees of pressure and direction. Work is done with the client in underwear or a swimsuit so that the Rolfer can see and palpate more easily during the sessions.
Although the primary goal of Rolfing is to realign the body in gravity, emotions can be repressed within the body’s connective tissues, so emotional aspects have direct relevance to Rolfing. An example of trapped emotions, is a child being told not to cry and suppressing this natural emotion by wilfully contracting certain muscles (eg. the pelvic floor, shoulders or jaw), an action which, if repeated over time, becomes an unconscious holding pattern, which is evoked every time the adult feels upset.
When the chronically tight connective tissue finally releases during Rolfing treatment, emotionally charged material can be resolved. In this sense, Rolfing acts as a catalyst for emotional growth and change. Rolfers are trained to contain this process safely. This aspect is partly what makes Rolfing potentially such a profound experience. A treatment lasts between one hour and 90 minutes, depending on the practitioner’s preferred working schedule. It is important to allow the body to integrate the work between sessions, while keeping a sense of continuity, so that each subsequent session can build on the gains of the previous one.
Therefore, sessions are usually scheduled one or two weeks apart.
Are there any after effects?
After a treatment, there can be feelings of tiredness or, in the worst cases, of toxic release, mild flu-like symptoms might be experienced. The majority of people, however, leave a session feeling more relaxed, with looser movement and perhaps a greater feeling for the ground. Some also report a greater sense of confidence and overall wellbeing, and many come back to their next session saying that their partners or work colleagues had noticed “something different about them”.
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