How Does Rolfing Achieve its Effects?
Here is the short answer: through two mutually-reinforcing components: myofascial techniques (hands on body) and movement techniques (exercises aimed at educating the client towards better coordination), which together utilize neurologic function, connective tissue physiology, and the physics involved in human posture.
On a purely physical level, the Rolfer remodels the clientʼs fascia and retrains inefficient muscular tension patterns. A body that is being held in misalignment by stiff fascia is now free to achieve better alignment in the field of gravity.
It assumes a vision of a person as an integrated whole of body and mind.
It can bring relief from musculoskeletal pain “through bringing length and space into the body, and by relating the major segments of the body to each other and to the vertical, more than by working directly on pathology”. “Gravity is the therapist”, Dr. Rolf would say, indicating that the “relief of symptoms was due more to the realignment of the body so that gravity becomes an energizing rather than a depleting force.” [Sise, p.33]
Dr. Rolf formulated a basic “recipe” called the 10 Series. It truly is an original work of genius. It consists of 10 different postural principles relating to the body’s structure. Rolfing is not just an event that takes place between a client and Rolfing practitioner. It is a process that takes place over time: client to gravity.
To straighten a wrinkle in a bed sheet, you can't work on the wrinkle. You have to organize the entire sheet. So it goes Rolfing human beings.
In order to understand what Rolfing is and how it works, it is important to remember that Dr. Rolf originally conceived of Rolfing not so much as a treating modality, i.e. as a method of correcting musculoskeletal problems, but as a process of “somatic education”.
What is the client learning?
To know who he is with much less acquired strain; to feel/sense more of routine function; to feel a new functional integration of body parts; how he and others relate now that he has less of his prior burdening, contradicting, limiting, embedded acquired stress, strain and adaptations to unresolved traumas.
It means that the body itself is being “educated”, but also that the client is being educated.
Unlike massage, which primarily targets muscular tension, and chiropractic, which works on the vertebral alignment to optimize nerve signal quality, Rolfing works on the fascia, the connective tissue system of the body. Under mechanical pressure, the connective tissue (fascia) will go from a “gel” to a “sol” state, much as taffy will go from being hard and stiff to being more pliable if it is “worked”.
Why should I care about things which I cannot feel, which I do not even know are there?
Imagine that you are wearing a spandex sleeve over your forearm, a sleeve which you never take off; it has become so accustomed as to be unnoticed. Suddenly removing it, a flood of sensation occurs and its long-term effects become apparent.
It is only through the process of having something removed, that you even become aware that it was there to begin with.
Imagine that same spandex sleeve has been torqued to the point of becoming symptomatic. What a relief to have it removed! The pain stops immediately, then you feel all the other lesser adaptations to the spandex pressure, previously unnoticeable due to the louder pain.
How do such “sleeves” get there?
A sleeve is mostly a metaphor, but such malalignments, torsion, and shortening are acquired through life by everyone due to unresolved daily overwhelms, traumas and exhaustions. Some are caused by relative underdevelopment. Consider the outside of your leg growing slightly faster than the inside for a while. There will develop a relative imbalance and strain. Some growth is not physical; imagine those who grew up in an emotionally deprived or dysfunctional environment. Never learning proper emotional relating skills or over-defending from abusive memories will cause physical posturing habits which is not the best state of balance, not the true person.
What about Rolfing Movement?
The client becomes educated as to which habits of posture and movement might be reinforcing certain malalignments or structural imbalances and what to consciously do about it. It is a truism of Rolfing that “posture becomes structure”. Common sense tells us that there is a relationship between our posture and our habits of movement, and our structure. For example, a person who habitually slouches all through his life will eventually find it difficult to hold himself upright even when he consciously endeavors to do so, because the adapted remodeled fascia hold muscles and ligaments in place.
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