Dr Ida Rolf (1896 - 1979) is the woman whom we can doubtlessly thank for how we look at Structural Integration today. Having been been born in New York and brought up in the Bronx, she studied for her Ph.D in Biological Chemistry from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (Johnson. D & Feitis. R (1995). Bone, Breath and Gesture, Practices of Embodiment. North Atlantic Books). After working to become a registered Osteopath and looking in depth into the practices of Tantra Yoga and Homeopathy, as well as a plethora of other disciplines she realised her talent for unwinding the body for it's Fascial restrictions in 1940.
In 1940 she treated Ethel, a friend of a friend who had sustained a horrific fall in New York and had to stop teaching music. Although she had tried a huge range of treatments to relieve the injury, she hadn't found anything until Dr Rolf treated her. After two years she was able to work and through her successful outcome Dr Rolf's practice grew. However it was a client, Grace, that her work really started breaking fundamental barriers in body work based therapies. In her own words “The day I started working with Grace was the day I really got Rolfing going”.
Grace was crippled; she couldn't bend down to pick her tights off the floor and Dr Rolf started to 're-organize' the fascia within the body through different stretches, manipulations and continually checking in with Grace to see that the way she was working felt correct and was moving Grace's body into a place of more ease. As Dr Rolf said in an interview “That was when the first principles of Rolfing was really born – moving the soft tissue toward the place where it really belongs”.
And so she worked it out from there with the goal always to lengthen the myofascial/soft tissue so that the pressure was released off the joints to allow full movement and allow the person to have freedom in their movements. She also discovered that when the body is allowed to release from the trauma that creates the inner tension a lot of psychological relief is felt. Old baggage is allowed to fall away from the body and the person is allowed to walk forward from that point into a better place.
“Rolfing is an approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen componants of the physical body. It integrates and balances the so-called “other bodies” of man, metaphysically described as astral and etheric, now more modernly designated as the psychological, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.” Dr I. Rolf, Psychotherapy Handbook
It was in the mid-sixties at Esalen, Big Sur, that she really got the message of her work out to the world. By this time she had developed Structural Integration into a series of 10 treatments. Working up the front of the body, down the back and around the sides, she was seeing great results with the clients that she treated. Esalen was, (and still is to a lesser extent), a place that accepted people who were searching for a way out of the main-stream think-tank. People went to 'Get Rolfed', and so the phrase 'Rolfing' was a term of endearment towards her, rather than her preferred term of 'Structural Integration'. At Esalen many people learned from her and there she was able to work on her book; Rolfing and Physical Reality and finally people where able to re-balance bodies through her amazing gifts.
Today I feel that we as body-workers have lost the fundamental principles of re-balancing through Structural Integration in it's purest form. Much like the works of Joseph Pilates, Dr Rolf's idea of working in a set 10 session approach to rebalance has now been broken down to different methods, ideas and principles to an extent that we now even use aspects of Fascia Release combined with Swedish Massage. It's a long way from where Dr Rolf felt the work should be done. She intended her work to be seen as a stand alone treatment that should be approached as a whole and not something that needed to be tinkered with. But today we tinker!
Is this wrong? I don't think it is either right or wrong. Personally I thank Dr Rolf for her dedication, work and focus to get bodies to a better place. As a therapist that has to be my own and singular reason to go to work each morning. Without her work it is very unlikely that we would even consider using yoga based stretches to allow the body to unwind, I wouldn't have been taught how to listen to the body, to see it in a correct manner to enable me to get to a place where I can create a pathway to allow my clients to get to a better place. And I thank her for fascia release in today's practices. I see aspects of her work bless people in my treatment room every day. BUT, I would still love to train in the purist form to see where we really have come from and where we can go ... We never stop learning and new research allows us to mentally move forward as well.
All the information on Dr Rolf that I have found for today's blog, as well as interviews with her, can be found in Don Johnson's book: Bones, Breath and Gesture. It's a great read if you would like to look into the resent history of today's therapeutic practices.
What I'm loving in the Treatment Room today:
Nothing; I am hold up in bed with a streaming head cold :( . I am getting through Lemsip, Vitamin C drinks and facial steam at a rate of knots.