Home > Skepticism > What the hell is rolfing?

What the hell is rolfing?

November 27, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

I thought it was some combination of roller-blading and golfing, but what do I know? Anyway, I came across it at work and wondered what exactly it was. I sort of knew it was related to New Age-y alternative medicine, but didn’t really know much about it. A brief synopsis:

Rolfing® seems to be a kind of myofascial massage, but Rolfers prefer to call it “movement education.” Whatever you call it, Rolfing involves touching the skin, feeling around for “imbalances” in tissue texture, and separating “fascial layers that adhere and muscles that have been pulled out of position by strain or injury.”* It is also a kind of energy medicine.* Rolfers consider their unique contribution to be “to balance the body in gravity.” Deep massage or other forms of soft tissue manipulation can’t do that, they say.

It looks for all the world like a form of massage. Rolfers apparently don’t really think so, but they don’t seem to do a good job explaining why it isn’t. As would be expected from a form of alternative medicine, there’s plenty of weird and nonsensical gibberish explaining it:

The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) has continued Dr. Rolf’s profound inquiry into how to enhance the whole person by organizing the body in gravity.

Rolfing is a holistic technique in that changes in structure can impact the whole person, physically, emotionally, and energetically.

In Rolf Movement Integration, the Rolfer helps clients become aware of their inhibiting movement patterns and teaches them how to change them. In Rolfing structural integration, the Rolfer releases these patterns through manipulation as they manifest in the client’s structure. Rolfing is as concerned with how people experience and use their bodies in their daily lives as with their structural organization in gravity.

I’d like to see anyone to explain how rolfing improves “structural organization in gravity.”

That’s really the problem with the sort of physical therapy-ish alternative practices. To the extent that they do anything, it’s placebo and basic muscle, joint, and skeletal function improvement. Not content with that, a bunch of metaphysical pap and elusory benefits are added to dazzle the consumer into thinking it’s something new and exciting.

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Categories: Skepticism
  1. November 28, 2006 at 10:48 am | #1

    Bea Arthur: “Occupation?”

    Comicus: “Stand-up Philosopher.”

    Bea Arthur: “What?”

    Comicus: “Stand-up philosopher. I coelesce the vapor of human experience into a viable and logical comprehension.”

    Bea Arthur: “Oh. A bullshit artist!”

  2. November 28, 2006 at 5:01 pm | #2

    So I read this as “rofling” in my head and giggled. Roflcopters! Huzzah!

    I’m dyslexic.

  3. December 1, 2006 at 11:40 am | #3

    My God, how come I haven’t heard of this? I mean, I live in Missoula for God’s sake, this is the snake oil capital of Montana! We’ve got entire stores dedicated to this kind of crap!

    I went into a place called Feng Shui with a friend once. It’s a store that sells a bunch of different kinds of horoscopes and herbs and rocks and stuff for the purpose of healing. My favorite was the rocks, though. They had a bunch of different kinds of rocks that they were selling for $4 a pop. Each one supposedly had a different healing or rejuvinating characteristic. For instance, they had some micah there (for those who don’t know, micah is a clear rock that flakes off with a mere fingernail scratch.) Take a wild guess how the micah is supposed to help you (after you pay the $4)….. It gives you “clarity.”

    Brilliant.

    But hey, these people wouldn’t be in business if their bullshit didn’t sell.

  4. harry
    February 19, 2007 at 5:16 pm | #4

    rolfing is not some quak remedy to whoever wrote that. YOu’d do well to read Ida rolfs books where she DOES explain ( in great detail) the theory behind rolfing and the work that she does. and it’s not nonsensical giberish. Stop jumping to conclusions when you know nothing about Rolfing.

  5. Erik
    November 25, 2007 at 8:46 pm | #5

    While it is true that some people are not good at explaining what Rolfing is or how it works, that was not my experience with it. Although the results could be interpreted as a “miracle” and techniques and methodology are easily explainable in western-scientific termonolgy. I underwent the ten series in hopes that my back problem would experience some relief. The results were extrodinary and have been lasting. My Rolfer was a former Ballet dancer and instructor who was quite articulate in her explaninations of how Rolfing works and did not come across as a New Ager; Rather, she was well grounded in the science. Just my experience though. Later.

  6. jennifer
    January 18, 2008 at 4:37 pm | #6

    I had undergone 10 sessions of Rolfing in Butte, MT. I heard about it for the first time from a woman who had raved about how it helped after years of physical agony in her legs and hips after a car wreck. There is a strong theory behind it. It helped me tremendously with my posture and some old injuries. I felt like I was walking on air after going through the entire 10-session body work.
    I just found this site today as I am looking for a Rolfer in Billings, MT…

  7. March 23, 2008 at 8:52 pm | #7

    Structural Integration is what Rolfers call it. Movement education is only a part of the process, not a moniker. Balancing the body in gravity is pretty much common sense — Dr Rolfs VERY specific protocol of sessions provide a process to organize human bodies (via the fascia system which holds the body in or out of proper shape) around a vertical axis. Any structure parallel to gravity is supported by gravity, in fact lifted. Think of a pencil balancing on its eraser, it is gravity which brings it back to center as it teeters back and forth. It is the pencil’s enertia which pulls it off center until gravity brings it back to center again. If there were no gravity, the pencil would keep moving in the same direction. Our bodies are the same way. If we are not parallel to gravity, gravity is a real downer. Rolfing changes — no– transforms our relationship to gravity to be optimally efficient. Very basic physics. Very basic. Only gibberish if you have no education in science. The goals of Rolfing is simple yet the results can be profound which is why people have a tough time putting a finger on explaining it. It FEELS like a lot more is happening than better balance, etc. Probably a lot more is happening. Read Dr. James Oschmans books for interesting clinical studies. See http://www.solbergcenter.com for links to articles and websites describing the basic physics of structural Integration as well as some of the more esoteric stuff which does not degrade the hard science of Rolf’s work.

  8. March 24, 2008 at 7:34 pm | #8

    I looked through some of the articles linked on your site and I see nothing that explains your claims in anything even approaching a rigorous manner. The only concrete claims I can find are comments about deteriorating posture as you age. Do you have any longitudinal studies tracking patients who had regular rolfing treatments and their posture as they aged?

    Rolfing changes — no– transforms our relationship to gravity to be optimally efficient. Very basic physics. Very basic. Only gibberish if you have no education in science.

    What’s your education, then? Your website lists no formal scientific education. And judging by the list of references, which includes homeopaths, acupuncturists, and reflexologists, I’m doubting you have any. It certainly doesn’t appear to have sunk in, in any case.

    If it’s basic physics, then let’s see some diagrams. In my university physics classes we drew plenty of diagrams showing how different forces affected objects in different configurations. Lets see something like that for the human body. You can then show me how rolfing reconfigures the body and how the forces you’ve diagrammed change. Of course, that’s a lot more complicated than your pencil example. It’s probably beyond basic physics and is quite difficult to diagram. Of course, that’s my point, but I’m sure you’ll prove me wrong.

  9. Steve
    April 22, 2008 at 11:38 pm | #9

    I’m embarrassed to say that I took the Rolfing training at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.
    It was expensive and worthless. I’d say my teachers were without integrity, and the administration was worse. Nothing about that place was even internally consistent, much less could it stand up to any critical examination. To say that the instructors were ignorant would be a terrible understatement. To say they were ignorant and arrogant, well, that would be getting closer to it. Anywhere where you go where “everything you do is correct” and the main ideas is that we are after “no particular result” — well, that about sums up the rigor of the training. About all you can do wrong is be unsatisfied with the training, and then they suggest you aren’t “spiritually enlightened enough to training at this time”. A thoroughly disgusting place. Thinking about it makes me wretch.

  10. Mike
    July 8, 2008 at 9:18 pm | #10

    The work of Rolfing Structural Integration involves four tenets of focus 1. Gravity being a force that
    bares a force on the body creating resistance. 2. Geometry : front ,back, Right and Left side planes 3. Fascia And Bones 4. Movement Awareness of proper structural mechanics

  11. January 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm | #11

    Reading this thread I sense much disagreement and very opinionated points of view. How exciting that Ida Rolf’s work is still talked about and tried to be understood! It is that revolutionary, that still 50 years later only 1 million people have experienced the work! I am a Certified Rolfer. I agree with Michael Solberg’s opinion as he is similar to I, a Structural Integrator. Trying to cognitively get a better understanding of Rolfing is really the antithesis of it all, being a somatic exercise for living! Along the lines of Friedrich Nietzsche,
    ‘The inquiry into bodily sources of reasoning has furnished evidence that somatic and cognitive processes work in tandem, that reason “arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience,” that the “structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment” (Lakoff and Johnson 1999:4; see also Shalin 1986a, 1992a), and that the “common origins of emotions and intellect demand a conception of intelligence that integrates those mental processes that have been traditionally described as cognitive and those qualities that have been described as emotional, including the sense of self or the ego, the awareness of reality, conscience, the capacity of reflection, and the like. The mind’s most important faculties are rooted in emotional experiences from very early in life. . .” . This is not new-agey, Rolfing is the bridge of two medicines from two worlds-east and west. But I admit not everybody is ready for such a powerful healing transformation so they just discredit it with out really feeling for once in their body……
    Michael
    Certified Rolfer
    Missoula, MT.

  12. January 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm | #12

    If a) I’m not allowed to understand rolfing “cognitively” and b) you have no evidence for its effectiveness over basic massage techniques aside from anecdotes (which is same sort of evidence sugar pills have), why should I consider you anything other than a charlatan?

  13. March 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm | #13

    I had the 10 sessions of rolfing. Would have been better off with 10 sessions of massage. It did help with my posture – temporarily. But no permanent change. Back to the chiropractor for me!!

    Yours Truly
    Jorge

  14. ben
    April 5, 2010 at 6:19 pm | #14

    @Michael What insightful comments Michael. It sounds like Jeff is a confirmed skeptic, which is very different from one employing the scientific method. A little research on ‘Sugar Pills’ for example would reveal a wealth of peer-reviewed studies… One study found for postoperative pain following the extraction of the third molar, that a saline injected while telling the patient it was a powerful painkiller was as potent as a 6–8 mg dose of morphine. ^ a b Levine JD, Gordon NC, Smith R, Fields HL. (1981) Analgesic responses to morphine and placebo in individuals with postoperative pain. Pain. 10:379-89. PubMed There is plenty of information available on the long term results of Rolfing. You just gotta look. Several easy articles and videos are available on my resource page; http://www.alifeofgrace.org/Resources.htm The funny thing about Neuroscience though… is that your body can only change if your mind can change. Which means it won’t work for everyone! I started my career in mechanical engineering tech… so if you’d like to see some force vectors of how and why Structural Integration works, let me know! I have nothing against the analytical mind, but its merely a tool, not something to be imprisoned by.
    Truly, ben

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