Elisabeth (Bess) Coble, BS, LMT, Certified Rolfer, Certified Pilates Instructor 
Rolfing® FAQ

What is Rolfing?
Rolfing is an advanced holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and  movement education directed at organizing the human body in the field of gravity. Dr. Ida P. Rolf developed Rolfing more than 50 years ago, at first calling her work "structural integration". She realized that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity. Rolfing works on the fascia, a seamless web of strong and resilient connective tissue, that covers and holds everything in your body in place - muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, nerves and organs. Think of it as a three-dimensional piece of fabric that creates the shape of your body and organizes the relationship of its parts. 

How does Rolfing work?

Many people in pain presume that the problem lies where it hurts. Often this is not the case and symptoms appear in an area that is forced to compensate for an imbalance that lies elsewhere. Rolfing works by balancing these tensional pulls through stretching, lengthening and repositioning the body's fascia and by the re-education of old movement patterns. Rolfing addresses the source of the pain for long-term relief.

Does Rolfing hurt?
Rolfing is extremely effective because of its ability to work as gently as possible to affect the greatest amount of change. A goal of Rolfing is to have the client's body integrate the treatment. If sessions were painful, this would be difficult to accomplish. The touch can range from light to comfortably deep and the contact always remains within the individual's comfort zone. The idea that Rolfing hurts has persisted because the initial style of Rolfing at the time of development was from a more forceful way of working. The process has greatly evolved over the last 20 years.

What are the benefits?
Clients commonly report many of the following beneifts:
Relief from pain and tension
Increased range of motion
Increased flexibility
Improved posture and breathing capacity
Greater self-confidence
Increased energy
Better coordination and balance
Increased body awareness
Enhanced performance in work, athletics and day-to-day activities
Greater sense of well-being
A general sense of feeling more 'at home' in your body
and many others....

What is the Ten Series?

It is Dr. Rolf's basic Rolfing method that progessively addresses all parts of your body. Each of the 10 sessions focuses on targeted areas of the body and has specific functional goals. Every session builds upon the last and prepares the body for the next one. It's like stacking blocks. The blocks on the bottom need to be able to support the ones on top. No two sessions are alike - each session is tailored to the unique structure and needs of the client. If you seek relief from a specific complaint, the Rolfer will spend time not only on that particular area during sessions, but will also address how the rest of the body is affecting, supporting or encumbering an area of chronic or acute discomfort. When the whole body supports a structural improvement, that change is more likely to be retained. The first 3 sessions are considered 'superficial' sessions. The connective tissues open more and more during these sessions as the body and nervous system adjust and accept the changes. Sessions 4 through 7 are considered 'core' sessions because they affect deeper changes. Although it may not feel as if the Rolfer is working deeper, the affects are deeper, taking place at the organ level. Sessions 8 through 10 are considered 'integrative' sessions. Even though every single session is integrated into the body, sessions 8, 9 and 10 are two-fold sessions: they go back and work on any area that may need a little more work; and, more neuromuscular movement is done, which means working with the nervous sytem to retrain movement patterns that may have contributed to the problem and taking the new patterns into your day to day life.

How does each session work?
In a simplified way, the sessions build on each other in a progressive way of opening, releasing and stacking body segments. Using the first 4 sessions as an example...the first session's goal is to allow fuller breathing through freeing the ribcage. Areas all around the ribcage, shoulders, arms and hips may be worked, as well as the neck and back. Session two moves to the foundation of the body: the feet, lower legs, and knees. Clients often feel a greater sense of support and balance coming up from their feet after this session as well as better contact between their feet and the ground. Foot problems, such as high or fallen arches, are also addressed in this session. The sacrum, neck and lower back are also checked to pull the changes from this session into the changes from the first session. A goal of session three is to better connect the ribcage to the support provided by the lower half of the body, by creating front-back, side-to-side balance. It works the whole side of the body from neck to feet. It also introduces the body to what will be occurring in session four, which is considered the first of the 'core' sessions. Session four addresses the inside of the legs from the feet to the pelvis to create an inside-outside balance and to begin the steps to release the legs so they drop through a pelvis that floats on top. This helps to 'free' the sacrum and low back. Even though each session has its specifics on where to work, consideration is taken on what is specifically going on with the client if they happen to need a different area addressed.

How long do I need to wait between sessions?
The optimum time between sessions when going through a series is a week. This gives the body time to integrate the work without overloading the nervous system. However, for various personal reasons, some people have their sessions every two, three or four weeks. Since the session results are cumulative, it's harder for the body to keep the results if a person waits longer than four weeks between sessions when going through a series.

Do I have to do the Ten Series?
No. You can have as many or as few sessions as you like. Deciding to do the entire ten series is a different process for everyone. Many clients know they want the entire series before they begin. For those who are curious but not sure if the whole series is for them, I recommend trying a mini-series of three sessions. If you decide to do fewer than ten sessions, we can develop a strategy to get the maximum benefit out of the number of sessions you can do. Some clients with chronic problems choose to extend their Rolfing beyond the ten sessions. To a certain extent, even one session will provide some results.

What happens after the Ten Series?

After the ten series, it is recommended that you take a break from Rolfing to integrate the changes. Your fascia and nervous system continue changing and learning in response to the Rolfing work. Your body uses this time to develop new patterns of movement and posture. Then return to Rolfing as needed.

What do I wear?
Most clients receive Rolfing in their regular underwear. For women it is best to wear a bra and underwear or a two-piece bathing suit. If a woman prefers, loose fitting gym shorts and a sports bra work fine if the sports bra is one that takes up the least amount of space as possible on the back. For men, boxers, briefs, or loose fitting shorts work fine. It is important for the Rolfer to be able to periodically assess the changes that occur during sessions.

Is Rolfing different from Deep Tissue Massage, Myofascial Release or Chiropractic care?
Yes. Even though Rolfing has influenced a number of therapies, it is not a form of deep tissue massage or myofascial release therapy or the same as chiropractic care. From the Rolfing perspective, if the whole body is not properly prepared to receive the effects of local manipulations, either the change will not be maintained or strain will show up in other areas.

Massage typically focuses only on relaxation and relief of muscle discomfort, while Rolfing is aimed at improving body alignment and function - seeking to align the larger structural patterns responsible for the imbalance. Although massage is relaxing, you may find the same area bothering you again shortly after each session. That is because the area that hurts is often a secondary issue which massage doesn't address.

Some Deep Tissue Massage uses a few of the same techniques to release local patterns of structural strain, however, deep tissue massage is often directed toward releasing tension instead of balancing the whole body and addressing underlying structural problems.
Myofascial Release uses techniques derived from the work of Ida Rolf. Myofascial Release is more 'target-area' oriented, while Rolfing is 'full body' oriented. Another main difference is the cumulative process over sessions that Rolfing provides.

Chiropractic is primarily concerned with freeing spinal joint restrictions and promoting nerve flow to and from the spine. It does not address the soft tissue patterns of the whole body and their influence on structural balance. Rolfing uses soft tissue techniques to treat bone-to-bone restrictions that are a part of the overall body pattern. Rolfing and Chiropractic care are compatible and can be complimentary. Rolfing helps chiropractic adjustments last longer.

How long does Rolfing last?
The benefits of Rolfing reach far beyond the immediate results of a session. Many clients report noticing changes in their body up to a year later. When accidents and stress do occur, clients often decide to come in for periodic 'tune-up' sessions in an effort to maintain their alignment.

How does Rolfing help my Pilates or Yoga practice, or any other activity?
In a simplified way, Rolfing can open up tissues so a person can experience ease and efficiency in any exercise, particularly those that were difficult to perform because of structural issues, and can help to facilitate moving from one's core. Postural muscles can now be strengthened in an aligned state. Rolfing also increases muscular endurance by opening tissues to allow more oxygenation and relieves joint restrictions for improved range of motion.  People often comment how poses that used to be difficult or painful, now feel easy after Rolfing.

                                                        Bess Coble, BS, LMT, Certified RolferTM
                                                                Certified Pilates Instructor
                                                                        Fort Myers, Florida
                                                               rolfingfortmyers @ gmail . com

With thanks to my amazing colleagues for their help in compiling portions of this information:
Al Fielder,
Becki Ruud, www.rockymountainrolfing.com
Eric Gordon, www.ericgordonrolfing.com
Holly Krebs, http://kinetikos.net

About Pilates

Pilates is a unique exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's to strengthen and stretch muscles while integrating the mind and body. Joseph Pilates believed that by exercising the Pilates way, the natural intelligence of the body and mind begins to self-correct misalignments and distorted muscle firing patterns. Deep core muscles are activated and strengthened as the body and mind begin to work together in a dynamic synergy. Pilates creates uniform development of all muscles and teaches body awareness, which makes the body more efficient for daily activities, thus reducing injuries.

Joseph Pilates' original exercises were mat exercises performed on the floor with no assisting apparatus. Gravity and body weight create resistance. Over time, Joe invented equipment to assist students in performing the Pilates exercises. These include the Reformer, Cadillac or Trap Table, Wunda Chair and Ladder Barrel. The equipment offers assistance in alignment and form, and contains a spring system which adds resistance. There are over 500 equipment exercises, so it is never boring!

Some of the benefits of Pilates:

Better posture
Improves flexibility and balance
Creates greater strength and muscle tone
Improves efficiency of circulatory, lymphatic and respiratory systems
Decreases stress level
Creates a flatter stomach and a trimmer waist
Decreases back pain
Increases bone density
Boosts the immune system
Reduces injury
Increases joint mobility
Reduces risk of urinary incontinence

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