What is Rolfing? Part II

It's been nearly a month since my tenth and final Rolfing session with East Lyme-based Senior Rolfer Mary Staggs. I can report that there have been several positive and seemingly permanent changes in my body that I attribute directly to Rolfing:

• My chest feels more open and my shoulders feel "turned back" - not rounded forward. I am sitting up straighter.

• I have better range of motion overall. I can easily reach my back, something that I had been struggling with due to an old shoulder injury, and I can do deeper squats (even while holding two 35-pound kettlebells).

• My hands and feet are warmer.

• I can breathe more deeply. Rolfing is said to increase lung capacity, thus making workouts easier.

• My muscles and joints don't hurt as much after workouts (snow shoveling notwithstanding).

• I have grown about half an inch and my waist is more defined.

(I may have actually lost a few pounds, but I don't know because I don't weigh myself.)

• When I lie down, I feel that more of my body is in contact with the surface on which I am lying. I am more "flat."

• I have a sense of being more rooted to the ground when I stand up.

Staggs points out that the results will vary depending on each individual and what condition they are in at the beginning of a session.

In Part I of the article, which appeared in the December 2010 issue of Grace, I reported that Rolfing was not as painful as I had been led to believe, and I stand by that statement with this disclaimer: being Rolfed is not like having a massage and some of the sessions were more painful than others, depending on which part of the body she was working on. For example, when she worked on my inner legs, it hurt more than when she worked on my back.

Staggs says that Rolfers are sensitive to the use of the word "painful" to describe what they do, because ultimately, what they do is therapeutic and healing. "Besides," she says, "traditional physical therapy is often more painful than Rolfing."

I would gladly do it again. Although I wouldn't call the process "relaxing" in the moment, after each session I felt invigorated, loose and less tense. There was a definite sense of physical release, and sometimes even an emotional one.

The who and what of Rolfing

So where did Rolfing come from and why is it called that? According to Staggs, Rolfing is named after its founder, biochemist Ida P. Rolf, who died in 1979 at the age of 82. Staggs studied under and worked extensively with Rolf.

Staggs says Rolf's academic training and research, beginning in 1916, gave her an understanding of the body's chemistry and the resultant effects of outside forces on the body's structure. Rolf also explored disciplines considered to be outside of the mainstream at the time, including homeopathy and yoga. She viewed Rolfing as similar to yoga, in that it stretches and lengthens soft tissues (muscles and tendons) and increases flexibility.

She eventually opened the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) in 1971 in Boulder, Colo., to educate and certify practitioners.

Staggs, who knew Rolf personally, says Rolf was driven to develop and perfect the process in order to address her own health issues, as well as those of family and friends who struggled with ailments not addressed by traditional treatment methods. She says Rolfing can help with the following issues and conditions:

• Postural correction, including scoliosis

• Back pain

• Neck pain and headaches

• Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)

• Pigeon toe or club foot

• Sports and auto injuries and other trauma

• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

• Arthritis

In order to be called a Rolfer, practitioners must be trained and certified by RISI. Only those who have graduated from RISI can call themselves certified Rolfers. The coursework requires between 18 and 24 months of hands-on study.

For more information

Staggs Rolfing



Rolf Institute of Structural Integration


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