What is Rolfing® Structural Integration?

Short Answer

Rolfing can be difficult to define. A quick, yet overly simplistic, description is: Rolfing does for the soft tissue of the body what chiropractic work does for bones, namely get them back to their proper place and function. The techniques of Rolfing are slow paced and like those of a deep tissue massage. Rolfing is unique in that Rolfers work in a holistic manner to untwist and reposition the various segments of your body. This allows your body to become aligned vertically, or in Rolfing lingo, “aligned in gravity”. This leads to better posture, more ease of movement, and other benefits. It has roots primarily in osteopathic manipulation, massage therapy, and yoga.

Rolfing is also unique in that it is a process, and not just haphazard work done here and there. The sessions follow several principles that determine where and when to work with the tissue. A large portion of Rolfing also involves reeducating the client about their own body use patterns.

Detailed Answer

Dr. Ida P. RolfRolfing Structural Integration is named after its founder Dr. Ida P. Rolf. Dr. Rolf began her inquiry in the 1920’s and 1930’s. She devoted her energy to creating a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organized the whole body in gravity.

Dr. Rolf discovered that she could achieve remarkable changes in posture and structure by manipulating the body’s myofascial system and eventually named her work Structural Integration. “Rolfing” is the nickname that many clients and practitioners gave this work, and it is now a registered service mark in 27 countries.

Rolfing structural integration has the ability to dramatically alter a person’s posture and structure. Athletes, dancers, children, business professionals, and people from all walks of life have benefited from Rolfing. People seek Rolfing as a way to ease pain and chronic stress, and improve performance in their professional and daily activities. It’s estimated that more than 1 million people have received Rolfing work.

Research has demonstrated that Rolfing creates a more efficient use of the muscles, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. Research also shows that Rolfing significantly reduces chronic stress and changes in the body structure. For example, a study showed that Rolfing significantly reduced the spinal curvature of subjects with lordosis (sway back); it also showed that Rolfing enhances neurological functioning.


FasciaFascia is one of the basic building blocks of your body. It is comprised of a living matrix of cells, connective tissue, and other materials. Cells called fibroblasts are responsible for creating and maintaining this tissue. They have an ability to sense directional stresses on the tissue. As a result, they rearrange the fibers to line up with these directional stresses. This increases the strength of the tissue. Fascia surrounds all of the bones, organs, and cavities in the body. For nerves and muscles, fascia surrounds each group, bundle, and individual cell. A superficial layer even exists under your skin and acts like a giant body stocking. Quite literally, it is EVERYWHERE in your body.

Fascia appears as a spidery or shimmering layer of tissue in the body. If you have ever seen raw meat, the gauze-like layer that you can remove from a muscle is fascia. Its thickness and strength depends on what part of the body it is found, the depth it is found at, and how you use that part of your body.

As people use their bodies inefficiently (or don’t use them at all), layers of fascia tend to get glued together. These areas also tend be dehydrated and no longer have a proper flow of nutrients in and wastes out. This is what is known as a fascial adhesion or restriction. They prevent the free flow of movement and energy throughout the area they affect. They can also be the result of injuries with incomplete healing. The rest of your body will adapt over time these restrictions and begin to function differently, and soreness or pain may develop.

Rolfers work directly with this network of fascia. They DO NOT work on muscles or bones, although these will be affected as well. They help to locate and remove the fascial adhesions that have formed at all layers of your body. As a result, the fascia will become rehydrated and proper physiological functioning can be restored. Rolfing also helps you body adapt back to its original state of functioning more quickly.

How Rolfing Works

Theory and Principles of Rolfing

Ida Rolf once said: “This is the gospel of Rolfing: When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”

The goal of Rolfing is to help the client become more aligned in gravity. The body can be divided into blocks. Over time, these segments get displaced and rotated with relation to one another. Your muscles, bones, and tissues will have to adapt to keep your body in one piece and functioning. Overtime, your body “forgets” that it can be any other way. Also, this act of holding things together wastes a lot of energy. Rolfing helps you to get your blocks stacked properly again and remind you remember what your body CAN and USED to be like. This sense of stacking or verticalness is referred to in Rolfing as “The Line”. Learning to function and move around “The Line” is what allows for greater ease and mobility in your day-to-day life and activities.

There are five principles that Rolfing is based around. They are: holism, adaptability, support, palintonicity, and closure. Holism guides all of the other principles. Each Rolfing session contains an element of each of these principles, but the mix will vary from session to session based on the specific goals.

Rolfing is a unique style of work

Over time, the Rolf Institute of Structure Integration of Structural Integration had defined its training to teach a unique style of working with the human body. Its basic tenants are:

  • Principles of Intervention — Rolfing training begins with the Ten Series developed by Dr. Rolf. Over the years, the faculty at the Rolf Institute has articulated the core principles on which the original series was based, including variations of Dr. Rolf’s original protocol. By understanding these principles Rolfers can work effectively inside or outside of the Ten Series and incorporate intervention strategies that reflect the unique needs of each client.
  • Gentle Techniques — As Rolfers work with the deep myofascial structures, some people may experience the work as uncomfortable; however, Rolfers have continued to develop a broad range of techniques that produce profound results with less discomfort.
  • Joint Mobilization Techniques — The Rolf Institute faculty has created a range of soft tissue techniques that release the motion restrictions that impede whole body organization. These techniques increase Rolfers’ effectiveness in working with many common structural problems.
  • The Personal Experience — Rolfing is a holistic technique in that changes in structure can impact the whole person, physically, emotionally, and energetically. Ultimately, each client’s individual experience plays a central role in Rolfing’s transformational aspects.
  • The Integration of Structure and Function — 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. This unique blend of both, the functional and structural aspects of Rolfing, is a distinctive feature of the training at RISI.