"A body that is in balance,
offers the human being the opportunity for development
on a physical, mental and energetic level"
Dr. Ida P. Rolf
Structural Integration / Rolfing
Work on the human body according to Dr. Ida P. Rolf
"Structural Integration" is a manual body treatment. It was developed and researched over 50 years by the biochemist Dr. Ida P. Rolf. Following the name of the founder, the treatment method became known under the trademarked name "Rolfing".
Every body has a structure. In the ideal case, this body structure is in balance, integrated in the sense of aligned and erect, organized.
A non-integrated - disorganized, unbalanced - body structure manifests itself in chronic posture problems or in pain associated with them.
The aim of Structural Integration/Rolfing is to bring a disorganized, poorly integrated body structure back into a harmonious relationship, in balance with gravity:
Original artwork: Ida Rolf, Rolfing®. The Integration of Human Structures
A well-organized system, in this case, an upright and efficiently aligned posture, supports our mental well-being and performance.
The starting point of Structural Integration/Rolfing is the acceptance that there is a natural, optimal and yet individual alignment for each of us that supports and facilitates our relationship to gravity.
If this alignment is impaired by external influences and circumstances, e.g. accidents, physical or mental trauma, permanent misalignments or protective postures, this leads to internal tension, which manifests itself as chronic physical discomfort, but also as mental disharmony.
The outlines, the gait, the positioning of a shoulder or the pelvis could indicate the weaknesses in the structure:
Original artwork: Rolfers United 2004
Some individuals resemble a question mark with the stomach pushed forward, a round back or the upper edge of the pelvis tilted forward. Others have a collapsed ribcage, which leads to narrowing of the diaphragm and thus restricted breathing. However, they may all have the impression of standing upright.
People with an integrated body structure are supported by the floor up their whole body in a balanced way. They are connected vertically from the centre of the head to their feet. The body is thus in harmony with gravity instead of fighting it. This enables relaxed and graceful movements.
Fasciae (Latin for ribbons) are fine, tough skins. They are part of the connective tissue and form an organ that wraps up and connects all internal structures of the human body. This organ is called the fascia net.
The fascia net is multi-dimensional. It runs from the smallest cell nucleus to the outermost skin cell through the whole body. It supports and shapes the body by enveloping, dividing, connecting and coordinating bones, muscles, blood vessels, organs, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules etc.
The fascia web is also an extremely powerful conductor. Minute changes in fascial tension are transmitted to the central nervous system at high speed.
Fascia skins thicken and condense when exposed to permanent stress. Accidents or injuries lead to deformation. The natural ageing process of the body also leaves traces in the facial web. The support and elasticity of the fascia diminish.
Due to their biochemical composition, fasciae can be shaped by pressure and heat. Thanks to the plastic ability of the fascia, it can be returned to its natural anatomical position through targeted stimulation.
Structural Integration/Rolfing uses and supports this malleability of the fascia. With well-directed touching, tensions in the fascial net are balanced.
The session begins with a short observation phase: How does the client walk, stand and sit?
The treatment is mostly carried out on a couch. The client wears his or her underwear and supports the therapist's work with targeted breathing or small, guided movements.
Ten sessions based on each other at intervals of ten days to three weeks are ideal.
The sketch on the left ("before") shows posture problems before the first session:
The legs are overstretched, the pelvis tilted forward. The abdominal wall pushes forward. The chest collapses and is tilted backwards. The head hence must balance with a strong orientation to the front. Breathing is thus impaired both in the lower back and in the upper thorax.
In the short or long term, this incorrect posture leads to chronic head and back pain.
The sketch on the right ("after") shows the progress after 10 sessions.
For what and for whom?
Structural Integration/Rolfing focuses on improving posture and movement.
Achievable goals are:
- improved mobility
- facilitated breathing
- a more upright posture
- physical and mental stabilization
- Facilitation of movement (less effort when walking, getting up, sitting down)
The following symptoms can be indications of imbalances in the body structure:
- back-, neck-, headache
- chronic tensions
- restricted movement
Structural Integration/Rolfing is suited for people of all ages:
- after accidents or sports injuries
- one-sided occupational stress (computer work, heavy body work, sports, music, etc.)
- preventive, for a good body feeling and mental well-being
Dr. Ida P. Rolf
Dr. Ida P. Rolf was born on May 19, 1890 in Brooklyn, New York. She was one of the first women to earn a doctorate in biochemistry from Columbia University in the USA.
She worked for twelve years at the Rockefeller Institute in the Department of Chemotherapy and Organic Chemistry. She later studied mathematics and nuclear physics in Zurich and homeopathic medicine in Geneva.
Dissatisfied with the medical methods of treatment common at the time, Dr. Ida P. Rolf began researching osteopathy, chiropractic, Tantric Yoga, Alexander Technique and Korzybski's work on consciousness in the 1930s. In the course of her studies and practical work with people, she developed and refined her method of counteracting a faulty structure of the body and thus reducing physical and mental problems. She herself called her method "Structural Integration". The treatment became known as "Rolfing".
During the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Ida P. Rolf's successes became so well known that Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, invited her to the Esalen Institute in California, where she led the first training courses in Structural Integration.
In the 1970s, Dr. Ida P. Rolf founded her own institute in Boulder, Colorado.
She died in 1979.
There are several schools that continue Dr. Ida P. Rolf's quest for the balance between man and gravity, two of which are the Guild for Structural Integration and the Rolf Institute.
Links and Literature
Rolf Institute (Colorado, Boulder)
Diego Albertani, Horgen
Ales Urbanczik, Feldmeilen
Ida Rolf Interview (SOMATICS, 1979)
Rolfing, a Painful Form of Massage, Regains Popularity (NY Times, 2010)
Ein neues Kapitel der Heilkunst? (GEO Nr. 05/2017)
Ida P. Rolf, Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being. 1989.
Peter Schwind, Alles im Lot. Eine Einführung in die Rolfing-Methode. Droemer/Knaur 1994 (2004).
Hans G. Brecklinghaus, Rolfing - Strukturelle Integration. Was die Methode kann, wie sie wirkt, und wem sie hilft. Lebenshaus Verlag 2015 (6. Aufl.)
Hans G. Brecklinghaus, Rolfing. Strukturelle Integration für Kinder und Jugendliche. Lebenshaus Verlag, 2005.