About Rolfing®:

New Developments

  • Gentler more discriminating style of fascial manipulation
  • Non- formulaic principle centered approach
  • More comprehensive ways to evaluate structure
  • Integration of movement education and Rolfing manipulation
  • Systematic soft tissue approach to releasing the all the joints
  • Deeper understanding of how to manipulate the membranes, organs and cavities of the body
  • New ways of understanding and releasing the effects of emotional and physical trauma

Since Dr. Rolf's death in 1979, the philosophy, science, and art of Rolfing has evolved significantly. As an expedient way to teach her work, Dr. Rolf created a ten session formulistic protocol, which she characteristically called "The Recipe." Her recipe was astute in its conception, broad in its scope, and quite effective in its ability to benefit a wide variety of people. Every system of manipulation relies on its own version of formulistic protocols. And even though Dr. Rolf's ten session recipe is powerful and effective, it has certain obvious drawbacks common to all formulistic protocols.

Formulistic protocols by their very nature assume the existence of an ideal body or state that is assumed to constitute normality. The theory that there is an ideal structure that every body should strive to emulate can be called somatic idealism. Formulism and somatic idealism go hand in hand.(8,10) Since formulistic protocols dictate the same sequence of interventions in the same order, they presuppose the same outcome for every body. Since they assume the same outcome for every body, formulistic protocols surreptitiously perpetuate somatic idealism. Unfortunately somatic idealism, whether it assumes an ideal form for the way the body should relate to gravity or an ideal notion of normality, is inappropriate for many people. In fact, treatment protocols that encourage patients to conform to these somatic ideals sometimes actually create dysfunction rather than ease it.

The other related drawback common to formulistic protocols is that they are sometimes incapable of attending to what is unique in each person. As a result, they are incapable of sequencing treatment strategies in the order required by each person's unique needs. Dr. Rolf understood the second drawback and did not always follow her own recipe. But she was less clear about somatic idealism and tended to use her idea of the ideal body as a standard against which to evaluate clients' bodies and the success of her work.

The Rolfing logo, pictured previously, can be seen as a example of the typical postural and structural changes for which Rolfing is known or it can be seen as an example of somatic idealism common to many other systems of manual therapy. (11) As an example of somatic idealism, the logo illustrates a body organized around the line of gravity. However, the belief that the weight centers of the human body can be organized around the line of gravity is problematic. It presupposes that the body is equally dense throughout. Clearly, however, the human body is not organized in gravity the way stack of blocks is or other nonliving material structures are, and it does not manifest the same density throughout the way a stack of blocks does. Thus, using the line of gravity as a way to evaluate how well or poorly a body relates to gravity is limited.

Overcoming the limitations of somatic idealism and formulism occurred after Dr. Rolf's death through the efforts of a number of advanced teachers at the Rolf Institute. (7,8,10,12) As a result, Dr. Rolf's somatic idealism has been abandoned and a greater appreciation of how diverse psychobiological types handle the effects of gravity has become part of the theory and practice of Rolfing. (12) Every type of soma can benefit from the work of Rolfing; but not all benefit in the same way or exhibit the same psychobiological pattern as a result of Rolfing.

Coming to terms with somatic idealism and formulism has also led to a more appropriate and complex understanding of normality. (8,10) This developing concept of "normal" is quite different in scope and implication than the commonly accepted idea of "normal" as measuring up to a norm, statistical average, or standard that is external to the body. "Normal" in the sense in which Rolfing now uses it refers to what is appropriate and optimal for each individual person. Finding normal for each client is not a matter of imposing a structural template by means of formulistic protocols, but is a process of discovery. Since there is no one form or pattern that can serve as the standard for what constitutes normal for all human beings, discovering what is normal for each individual in relation to their environment is a much more complex matter of uncovering what is natural or inherent in the being of the whole person. What constitutes normal for each client unfolds by means of careful and sensitive structural manipulation and movement education which explores and uncovers the plasticity and limitations inherent in each person's form in relation to how they have adapted to their environment. Living wholes are self-organizing, self-regulating, self-sensing systems characterized by the continual ongoing attempt to balance, organize, harmonize, and enhance their lives. Normality is neither an ideal nor static state, but an evolving orthotropic achievement that is won again and again over the course of a life.

Since somatic idealism and formulism go hand in hand, it is not possible to abandon one without abandoning the other. But if both of these concepts are abandoned, the question of how to strategize treatment without the benefit of formulistic protocols and a somatic ideal becomes especially acute and complex. Like so many other gifted practitioners and theorists in manual therapy, Dr. Rolf intuitively understood the principles of intervention. But because she was unable to articulate the principles she expediently taught her ways of evaluating and manipulating structure in the form of a formulistic protocol.

When attempting to sequence clinical decisions into a treatment strategy, three simple questions must be answered: what do I do first, what do I do next, and when am I finished? Answering these questions without the benefit of a formulistic protocol and its attendant somatic idealism requires understanding the principles of intervention. (13,14) The word "principle" can refer to a basic law, a fundamental property, or a value. But the meaning relevant to a principle-centered clinical decision-making process is that of a constitutive rule from which a chain of reasoning proceeds. Constitutive principles define the parameters of intervention and the conditions for optimal human activity. Strategies are then sequenced in accordance with these constitutive rules - analogous to the way the principle "add 2 to the last number" allows one to complete the sequence, "2, 4, 6,..."

All third paradigm approaches, including Rolfing, are based upon the holistic principle. In its simplest form the holistic principle states that no principle of intervention can be completely fulfilled unless all the principles are fulfilled. Since the holistic principle states how the principles of intervention function together, it is properly called a meta-principle. There are five constitutive principles of intervention that fall under the holistic principle.

The first principle of intervention is called the adaptability principle. It is defined as the client's ability to adapt to and accept new options of self-perception, alignment, and motion. It recognizes that an intervention is therapeutic to the extent that the client is capable of adapting to it.

The support principle is a specific application of the adaptability principle and is based on Dr. Rolf's understanding of the effects of gravity on structure. The support principle states that an intervention is successful to the extent that the client is capable of supporting the change in gravity. It refers to the ability of the client to adequately adapt to gravity after the body's movement and alignment patterns have been changed through an intervention. It also refers to the ability of the client to express and maintain new shifts in perception and worldview.

The continuity principle is also a further specification of the adaptability principle. Because a living whole is an irreducible holistic complexity, the continuity principle recognizes that restrictions at any level of the human organism will be reflected at all other levels. Every intervention affects the continuity, organization, and functioning of the whole person and the continuity, organization, and functioning of the whole person either limits or augments how any particular intervention will affect the whole. Continuity manifests in living wholes as freedom from fixation. Loss of continuity can appear as joint restrictions, distortions in energetic fields, as blocks to appropriate flow of energy, as an overcharged or undercharged nervous system, as imbalance between agonist and antagonist muscle pairs, as myofascial strain patterns and scar tissue, as strain patterns in the celomic sacs, as loss of organ motility and mobility, as emotional or psychological problems, as dysfunctional movement patterns, as a dissociated worldview, and so forth.

The palintonic principle recognizes that the success of any intervention or series of interventions is a function of appropriate spatial relationships - for example, back/front, side/side, top/bottom, and inside/outside balance. "Palintonic" is derived from the Greek word "palintonos" meaning "unity in opposition" (literally, "stretched back and forth"). Palintonic harmony describes the spatial, somatic geometry of order which becomes apparent as a body approaches integration. It expresses the unity of opposition that arises among all structures, spaces, volumes, and planes of an integrated soma as it moves through space. For example, a patient with an imbalance between the agonist and antagonist muscle groups of the flexors and extensors of the neck, lower back, and pelvis displays one kind of palintonic imbalance. Lack of extensor/flexor balance can also be present in inside/outside imbalance when the rectus abdominous is stronger than the psoas.

The closure principle recognizes that when the patient has achieved the highest level of somatic and perceptual integration possible within his current set of limitations, treatment should be terminated.

Answering the questions, "What do I do first, what do I do next, and when am I finished?" in accordance with a principle-centered decision making process also requires a clearly developed and systematic evaluation process. Along these lines the advanced instructors are developing elaborate taxonomies of assessment designed to direct the evaluation process toward a more detailed understanding of how structural, functional, energetic dysfunctions, conflicted worldviews, as well as emotional and physical trauma impact the body as it organizes itself in gravity. (8,10,14) As a result of creating a principle-centered, non-formulistic decision-making process based on what is empirically observable across a wide range of assessment taxonomies (Figure 3), Rolfing theory and practice finally freed itself from the grip of formulism and somatic idealism.

Applying the principle-centered decision-making process requires that the practitioner perform a clear evaluation that locates the client's fixations and dysfunctions in each of the taxonomies of assessment and determine what issues most interfere with the overall organization of the body with respect to itself and gravity. In evaluating the whole, the practitioner determines which aspect or aspects of the client if properly treated would most benefit the whole. Then the practitioner uses the principles of intervention to determine whether the body can adapt to, support, and sustain the changes that will result form the proposed intervention strategy.

Rolfing also evolved in a number of other important ways. Rolfing began as a rather painful style of manipulation and over the years has sustained this reputation in the mind of the public. However, the techniques of Rolfing have broadened to include a softer and more discriminating sense of touch. These newer techniques are both less invasive and sometimes more precise in their ability to release and organize the body at every level. Many clients' who have experienced this gentler approach are often surprised to discover that their experiences of massage are actually more uncomfortable than Rolfing.

Also a host of new soft tissue techniques have been created that can easily release restrictions in facets of the spine and other joints of the body with as much precision as any other system of manipulation.(15) Rolfing accomplishes these results without resorting to techniques developed in other schools of manipulation such as the high velocity, low amplitude thrusting techniques or muscle energy techniques. These techniques work by positioning the body in order to challenge the joint restriction while applying gentle but firm pressure to the small muscles and ligaments responsible for the fixation. As the strain patterns in the fascia and ligaments are eased under the intelligent pressure applied by the Rolfer, bones and the other structures of the body quietly shift their aberrant positions as motion restrictions at many levels of the body dissolve.

A number of faculty members at the Rolf Institute are also exploring the concept of biological organization in more detail. Although Dr. Rolf understood the importance of organizing the body with respect to itself and the need for a holistic biology of form, she tended to pursue the question of bodily organization primarily in terms of how the body was organized in gravity. While it is true that human morphology and morphogenesis cannot be understand apart from the effects of gravity, it is also equally true that how the body responds to gravity is a function of its unique morphology. Dr. Rolf used the analogy of a stack of blocks to understand organization in gravity as organization around the line of gravity and she used the tent analogy as a way to illustrate the tensile organization of the body. Both of these analogies make a useful point. But by comparing the body to inanimate material structures, they divert attention away from the important point that living creatures are organized differently than nonliving things and that human bodies are organized differently than animal bodies.

The analogies also occlude the important point that living creatures are not passively acted upon by gravity the way material objects are. Organisms establish their biological identity by differentiating themselves from inorganic objects, from their environment, and from other organisms. As a result of this self-organizing, self-sensing cognitive ability they are continually in a process of defining themselves in opposition to gravity and their world as they are continually compelled to adapt to their ever-changing internal and external environments. (16,17,18)

Living organisms are not serially cobbled together from pre-shaped parts the way machines and other constructed material structures are. Living organisms are irreducible complexities that are not composed from pre-shaped parts. They are self-sensing unified seamless wholes in which no one aspect, detail, or part is any more fundamental to the make up and organization of the whole than the whole itself. Unlike a machine, a tent, or a stack of blocks, every detail of the organism, whether it is an organ, a bone, or myofascial structure is an unmistakably clear, although differently formed, _expression of the same wholeness and biological identity. Every aspect (or to speak loosely, every part) of an organism is an _expression of its self-organizing unified wholeness, every aspect of the organism exists for and by means of every other aspect, and every aspect enters into the constitution of every other aspect of the organism. Although the human form has evolved from the animal form and shares the same anatomical structures common to the mammals, human morphology is quite different. (19) By vertically appropriating gravity human morphology transforms these common animal structures and organizes them into to an upright self-directed, self-sensing, self-conscious whole.

Since corrective practices tend to overlook the significance of the orthotropic, holistic organization of the body in gravity, they tend to treat symptomatically with little grasp of how local interventions impact the whole. Clearly holistic somatic practices must be more attentive to the nature of biological organization as Dr. Rolf insisted. By pursuing the question of what constitutes human biological organization and morphology, the advanced faculty has continued to deepen this understanding and develop new techniques designed to enhance and integrate the self-sensing, self-organizing nature of the body with respect to itself. New regional and global techniques have been developed that both take advantage of and normalize the body's inherent motility and fluid dynamics. Techniques also have been developed that address the unique internal pushes and pulls in the cavities of the body and how they affect they whole. Other approaches have also been designed to enhance the organization of the body in gravity and the unique orthotropic, morphological whole that is living to express itself in each client.

Dr. Rolf began her investigations by emphasizing structure. But over the years the faculty has come to realize that equal weight must also be put on understanding function, movement patterns, the various energy systems of the body, and the effects of physical and emotional trauma on the body. Rolfing now works not only with structure (myofascial strains, joint fixations, cranial, visceral, the celomic sacs and other membranous strains) but also with unconscious patterns of holding in movement, suppressed emotions, trauma, neurological fixations, perceptual and worldview confusions (14,18), and blocked or distorted energy.

Even though Dr. Rolf believed the functional approach was very important and even though she created a form of movement education, she tended to develop her structural approach almost to the exclusion of her functional approach. Over the years, the movement faculty has significantly developed Dr. Rolf's early functional approach far past her original insights and practices. Rolfing movement work has evolved into a therapeutic exploration and education in somatic awareness and unencumbered movement. (20,21,22) Rolfing movement practitioners work with a variety of techniques ranging from verbal instruction, touch, self-awareness, and other forms of education that are designed to guide clients toward finding more appropriate options for movement in their everyday activities as they relate to gravity and their world.

Without attempting to make Rolfing a substitute for psychotherapy, the faculty has also developed new ways of understanding and releasing the effects of emotional and physical trauma on the body. (23) These advances in Rolfing are continually being refined as new insights and discoveries are integrated into the work.