Rolfing Structural Integration—Empower Yourself and Your Clients

Author Briah Anson massages a client's head.

By Briah Anson, Certified Advanced Rolfer®

This blog was sponsored by the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute.

What Is Rolfing Structural Integration?

More than 70 years ago, Dr. Ida Rolf, a former biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, discovered two things: (1) Fascia was invested in every structure of the body and was not a passive player as originally thought, but actively maintained the relationships between all segments of our bodies, and (2) This two-legged human structure had to relate to the force of gravity in a manner that was supportive. If gravity did not support us, it pulled us into twists, torques, slumps, rotations, and upward strains, eventually causing a host of physical problems.

Later, as Dr. Rolf began working with these ideas, she found that our bodies needed to be approached in a progressive and organized fashion. She cautioned us against “chasing symptoms” because that would cause chaos. To make this easy to learn, she developed a series of 10 sessions, each with its own structural goal and each one supporting the next session. It helps Rolfers stay organized and impart organization to a body that has lost its sense of wholeness, as well as provide a way to get through the entire structure. It is not usually initially obvious where key holding patterns are, and the 10-series makes it impossible to miss the important problems.

For an easy illustration: Put an empty glass on a table. Now, hold it in the middle and tip it a little off its base, then let go. It will rock a bit and then settle on its base again—this is the action of gravity. Now, tip it far over and let go—gravity takes it the rest of the way over. This is what happens to the human body, except we are segmented creatures—when one segment gets rotated or shortened, we will be pulled over unless another segment counter-rotates. The Rolfing series gets these shortened/twisted areas lengthened and mobile again so gravity can pull us straight once more.

As Dr. Rolf summed it up: “Some individuals may perceive their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body, others as a constant fatigue, yet others as an unrelenting threatening environment. Those over 40 may call it old age. And yet, all these signals may be pointing to a single problem so prominent in their own structure, as well as others, that it has been ignored: They are off-balance. They are at war with gravity.”

Who Are Rolfing Clients?

  • People trying to return to movement after surgeries, pregnancies, car accidents, or injuries, as well as the aging process
  • People in high-stress or physically demanding jobs
  • People who sit for long hours at desks or computers
  • People experiencing tension or injury-related aches and pains
  • People who feel they are living and working below their inherent potential
  • Athletes, dancers, musicians, and other physically active people who want to improve performance and reduce risk of injury
  • People who believe a balanced, responsive body is necessary for the full development of the human being
  • People in every age group—infants to seniors

This quote from Dr. Rolf encapsulates the practice of Rolfing: “So many therapists are striking at the pattern of disease instead of supporting the pattern of health. Rolfers are not practitioners curing disease, they are specialists in health. They are giving their attention to the better working of people’s minds and bodies.”

People come to Rolfing seeking relief from all kinds of conditions. The list of these conditions includes, but is not limited to, chronic pain, frozen shoulder, thoracic outlet syndrome, migraine headaches, whiplash, carpal tunnel syndrome, TMJ dysfunction, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, scoliosis, effects from strokes, inability to get pregnant, arthritis, scar tissue issues from surgeries, assorted mental-emotional traumas, anxiety, and stress—the list goes on.

As a Rolfer, I became a partner in the evolution of working with my clients to better organize their body structures in the field of gravity and help them achieve a higher level of structural organization and ability to move more efficiently through space.

The Rolfing series delivers an approach that produces results that are progressive beyond the last session for months and years to come. Every client leaves better than when they first came in to work with me. The results are exciting for both the client and the practitioner.

Following are the experiences of a few clients I’ve worked with: a man who became a Certified Rolfer due to his experience with the Rolfing process; a 1-year-old; a woman with scoliosis; a 102-year-old, active woman; and a Certified Rolfer of 30 years.

Nick Neuvirth, Certified Rolfer

“Rolfing had a big impact on my life. I fell 15 feet off a ladder, landing on my hip. I was in pain and out of balance, so I decided to give Rolfing a try. After that first Rolfing 10-series, I felt better in my body than I ever had before: more balance, flexibility, ease and confidence in movement, and a major improvement in posture.

“I went on to graduate college, and a couple years later I came down with Lyme disease. It took a year for doctors to figure it out, and by that time, it had become chronic. I could hardly move or function in the smallest of tasks. I battled this for a few years, but once I started recovering from the Lyme bacteria, my body was still out of balance from immobility and the awkward compensations I was making to avoid pain. I decided to go through a Rolfing series again with Briah Anson. I started to greatly improve after a few sessions and decided I needed to bring this powerful work to more people. I signed up for the Rolfing training at the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done in my life.

“I’m now coming up on my fourth year as a Rolfer and I’ve been able to work with hundreds of clients on their healing journeys. I find so much joy helping people find hope and healing again when they think they have to live with the pain for the rest of their life. I am very honored to be able to have such life-changing work to share with others as it was shared with me in my healing journey.”

Mabel Grey Stahel, Age 1

Dr. Rolf was greatly interested in getting infants and children into Rolfing. I have worked with people of this age and always notice an acceleration in their growth and coordination. Here are comments from Mabel Grey Stahel’s grandmother, Nancy Stahel.  

“After two Rolfing sessions, Mabel’s balance improved and she became more confident in her movements, particularly climbing. Mabel began walking at 11 months, and we noticed she had a ‘cowgirl’ look, as though she had spent hours straddling a horse. She was bowlegged and slightly pigeon-toed. Two weeks after her two sessions, both the bowed legs and pigeon-toes have lessened significantly. She stands more erect. Her legs are straighter. She climbs more and with more agility. 

“We are very pleased with the outcome of Rolfing
for Mabel.”

Mary Cousineau, Client with Scoliosis

Rolfers very often work with people who have scoliosis, and I have seen many of these people in my practice. Following is the story of one of these women, Mary Cousineau.

“The appearance of my body did not match how I felt: positive, confident, in love with life. For many years I yearned for a straight back, free from the curvature of scoliosis and self-consciousness. Acupuncture, weight-bearing machines, ‘back’ exercise, and therapeutic massage were supportive but ineffective in changing my structure.

“I received an email from the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy announcing the stunning 2023 edition of Rolfing—Stories of Personal Empowerment by Briah Anson. On her website, I saw my solution in a before-and-after picture of a woman with back curvature.

“The entire premise of Rolfing made perfect sense to me, and now I’m experiencing it firsthand. Everything is connected. The extreme tightness in my legs astounded me. Once released, I had more fluid movement, a lengthened torso, and a feeling of lightness. I am more present in my body, have cried tears of emotional release, and know a deepening reverence for my physical being. Sitting, standing, and walking with a more upright carriage are natural results.

“This is just the beginning. Rolfing sets in motion continuous alignment and improvements over time. At 68, I look forward to decades of vitality, ease of movement, fun, and joy! I feel immense, deep gratitude for this life-changing experience.”

Ruth Glarner, Age 102

I have had the great joy of working with Ruth Glarner for many years and being a part of her life process. Following are her words about Rolfing and its impact on active aging.

“At 102 years of age, I am still playing 18 holes of golf twice a week with no pain. When I first came in to be Rolfed 10 years ago, I was suffering with chronic pain everywhere, especially in my lower back and left hip. Earlier in life, I had two knee replacements, two hip replacements, and major
spine surgery.

“I would say Rolfing provided me with both quantity and quality of life. Rolfing not only heals the outer body but strengthens the inner soul. This past fall, at age 101, I even bought the latest and best set of golf clubs!”

Marilyn Beech, Longtime Certified Rolfer

Following are the words of someone who has been a full-time Certified Rolfer for more than 30 years.

“Rolfing has been the perfect career for me. I have been able to mold my hours around my children’s needs, make a living for everyone, and do something extremely worthwhile in the world. Rolfing is one of the more successful and gratifying types of work a health-care practitioner can do. Rolfing has given us the tools to unravel problems that to other kinds of practitioners have become ‘something you have to learn to live with.’ We can keep practicing as long as we like; our bodies are not put in awkward positions as we work, so we don’t wear out joints. I am 72 and do not foresee retiring. The work is endlessly intriguing because every person who walks in is a new mystery to unravel; no chance to get bored or burned out doing the same thing over and over. Bodyworkers I know who are 70 have often told me they wish they had gone to the school I went to because then they’d still be interested in working and physically able to.”

An Invitation

If you are curious and seek to advance the well-being and evolution of your present and future clients, I invite you to take your experience and skills to a new level. With Rolfing, you become an active agent of change in unfolding the mysteries of the body and engage in opening your own potential as well as the transformation of your clients.

Over 70 years ago, Dr. Rolf introduced fascia to the bodywork world. Since then, the profession she left us has remained a pioneer in the field, furthering the principles of change that she discovered. Now, discover it for yourself—what a spacious body feels like and how well it can function. Then bring that discovery to your clients.

For more information visit rolf.org.

author bio

Briah Anson, MA, is a Certified Advanced Rolfer® and Certified Rolf Movement Practitioner with over four decades of experience. She is the author of Rolfing: Stories of Personal Empowerment, 2nd ed. (2023). She is also a pioneer in the field of Rolfing Structural Integration for animals and is the author of Animal Healing: The Power of Rolfing-Structural Integration (2011). Her private practice is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Travis Anderson.
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