Today, Thursday, January 17, 2019

Have You Been Rolfed?

If you never heard the term 'rolfing' you might be surprised by this technique, which is a method of soft tissue manipulation that focuses upon the release of bound connective tissue to enable a more flexible, greater range of motion of the musculature. Technically, the name of this technique is Structural Integration, but it is most commonly known as rolfing, taking its name from its creator, Dr. Ida Rolf.

Dr. Rolf's interest in expanding the established limits of Western medicine led her to study alternative practices such as yoga and chiropractic medicine. The result of her research work was embodied in the modality of Structural Integration, or ‘rolfing'.

Rolfing to Improve Body Movement 

The basis of this technique is that human discomfort, physical and emotional, stems from imbalances in the connective tissue and its relationship with the earth's gravitational field. The goal of rolfing is to restore balance and alignment within the body through a manipulation of this tissue so that it allows the muscles and joints to move freely.

To understand how rolfing works it is important to learn about the role of connective tissue. Internal structures in the human body are linked by the fascial web (i.e., connective tissue).  The fascial web is composed of three layers:

            1. Fascia Subcutanea - Existing directly underneath the skin

            2. Fascia Profunda - Surrounding muscles, joints and bones

            3. Subserous Fascia - Surrounding internal organs

These three layers coordinate to provide us the characteristics of posture, movement patterns and injury predisposition. The fascial web is unique to each individual, due to genetics, structural alignment, habits, and activity levels. When we place pressure on our bodies through bad posture, injuries or gravity, we require more energy to compensate and relieve the tension. Other causes of imbalance are presumed to derive from emotional factors.  Angry or depressed individuals have a marked tendency hold their bodies in a different way (e.g., rounded shoulders, tensed muscles), which has long-term has effects on the fascia.

Rolfing takes the approach that all connective tissue is interconnected, and hence the rolfer focuses upon manipulating the facia to alleviate discomfort, pain and stiffness, hence improving postural alignment in the process. While chiropractic addresses the skeletal structure and massage therapists concentrate on the musclulature, rolfing may be the missing solution for those suffering from certain pain or discomfort that does not seem to improve with traditional methods. Rolfing is also extremely helpful with injuries, which create scarring in the connective tissue.

How it Works 

Rolfing works through a series of hands-on manipulations, usually ten sessions where each session will build upon the previous one. The rolfing therapist, who has been trained in the muscluloskeletal structure and connective tissue manipulation, will assess the patient's levels of discomfort, flexibility, body posture and alignment. It is important to note that most rolfing practitioners will request full medical history, which helps them to understand what injuries, patterns, surgeries or other occurrences have led to the current condition of the fascial web.

While the patient is laying face down on a massage table, the rolfing therapist will identify problematic areas; mostly stiffness, misalignment and lack of flexibility.

Rolfing sessions include a mixture of very deep massage, stretching and strong pressure applied to key points in the body, stimulating the connective tissue. With each session the rolfing therapist will go deeper into the connective tissue, using the body's natural resistance as a guide. While working on the fascial web in a determined area, the therapist can work on a series of muscles contained within the same connective tissue.

The first three sessions concentrate on the fascia subcutanea and are referred to as the ‘sleeve' sessions. These sessions diminish surface tension to open space for deeper manipulation, moving tissue that is stagnant.  

The next four sessions are referred to as the ‘core' sessions. These will build on the initial superficial manipulation and focus upon the alignment of pelvis, femurs and hips, which will in turn,  impact the spine. The goal is to achieve balance, stability and freedom of movement. The seventh session will focus on the cranium, axial skeleton and spine, to achieve balance and symmetry.

Sessions eight and nine will work on spacing and orientation and are referred to as the ‘integration' sessions. They start working from the center out and putting segments where they belong. The last session concentrates on ankles, knees, hips, diaphragm, neck and cranium. The purpose of the tenth session is to prepare the patient for assimilation, stabilizing the layers after the manipulation for structural awareness.

During sessions, the therapist makes use of hands and elbows to stimulate the connective tissue effectively, as well as the shoulders, which assist in lower body stretching. The goal is to align head, ankles, hips, thorax, pelvis, knees, shoulders and ears.

Emotional and Other Benefits 

Rolfing often causes changes on an emotional level. Once the discomfort is gone, people feel freer, lighter and more relaxed. Some people who consider rolfing as a therapeutic method also practice yoga, as it also works in regaining balance and stability on a physical and emotional level.

Releasing restrictions in the fascia through rolfing can help with headaches, insomnia and other health problems. By pressing in points of restriction the tensions are relieved, and the body will become more adaptable, having regained the natural integrity of its form.

Once the ten sessions are finalized, this alignment continues to improve posture over time. People who have severe problems with posture, trauma, have experienced injuries or have gone through surgery may need additional sessions.

People who lead a stressful lifestyle or have an ongoing emotional condition may choose to receive additional sessions for maintenance purposes. Because our whole being is an integration between emotional and physical factors, when either of them experience an imbalance it is important to address these issues through medicine or alternative practices such as rolfing, which have long lasting effects on well being.

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