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History of Rolfing

Ida Pauline Rolf was born in the 1890s. She received a PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University in New York City about 1920, very rare for a woman at that time in the United States.

Dr. Rolf studied widely, including but not limited to yoga, homeopathy, Gurdjieff, kinesiology and other movement systems popular in her time, anatomy, physiology and osteopathy. People I have spoken with that knew her directly described her as "ferociously intelligent".

She began doing physical manipulations in the 1930s. She taught her first class in 1954. Originally she hoped to teach her methods to physicians, chiropractors and osteopaths. In the late 60s, she went to Esalen in Big Sur, California and Rolfed Fritz Perls, a well-known psychologist. His notoriety added a great deal of momentum to her mission.

By that time she had developed the 10 series of Rolfing and began teaching it to Big Sur residents. From this group of students from the late 60s and through the 70s came the current Rolfing instructors. The 10 series conceptualizes basic principles of human posture and is taught at the Rolf Institute. Even beginning Rolfing practitioners can affect profound change using these concepts. It is a work of genius and original to Ida Rolf.

Ida Rolf died in 1979. She organized the Guild for Structural Integration located in Boulder, Colorado which later was renamed the Rolf Institute. In 1989 a political schism in the Rolf Institute created a new Guild for Structural Integration, also located in Boulder. More than three decades after her death, many of the original teachers have passed away or are no longer working. However the faculty has grown widely and Rolfing instruction is now done by schools in Japan, Europe, Brazil and the United States.

Several of her original students asked her to develop Rolfing Movement systems. This is also taught at the Rolf Institute. Aston Patterning was created by an early Rolf student named Judith Aston.

Peter Levine, PhD, who created Somatic Experiencing, an elegant system of processing psychological trauma, was an early student of Ida Rolf. Many Rolfers use his principles routinely.

There are approximately 1600 Rolfers worldwide. In addition, there are graduates of Hellerwork, Kinesis and the Guild for Structural Integration and other schools of Structural Integration.

Remembering Ida Rolf by Rosemary Feitis, D.O. is a good resource to learn more about Ida Rolf and the early days of Rolfing development as a profession.

The Rolfing Experience by Betsy Sise is an excellent book describing the Rolfing process with many interviews of the early students who became the leading Rolf Instructors.

Rolfing: Stories of Personal Empowerment by Briah Anson has many client written anecdotes of their personal Rolfing experiences. You will see if you relate to some of the stories in her collection.

Excerpts from a poem written by Peter Melchior, Rolfer Emeritus

All your ancestors look into your time demanding your eventual growth into maturity.

The only acceptable payment for the gift of Life is to live it fully – to say yes, and to mean it.

We leave you here with simple blessings and an awesome duty.

 

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