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Frequently Asked Questions

By now you know that Rolfing is bodywork and movement education that balances and aligns structure. Also, that Rolfing is able to significantly change the body because it reorganizes connective tissue — the stuff that holds everything else (bones, muscles, nerves,and organs) in place. But most people still have a lot of questions about Rolfing; here are some of the most common:

What, exactly, is connective tissue?

Why should I consider Rolfing?

What does conventional medicine think of Rolfing?

How can I tell if Rolfing is for me?

Does it hurt?

Does it last?

Why a ten session series?

Do I have to commit to the whole series?

What if I'm already seeing a chiropractor?

What about massage?

Can I exercise during Rolfing?

I’ve heard that professional athletes receive Rolfing -- is this true?

Are there benefits for performers?

Can children receive Rolfing?

How long are the sessions?

How far apart should they be?

How does a typical session go?

Are there psychological effects from Rolfing?

How can I get the most from Rolfing?

What happens after I finish a Ten-Series?

How much does it cost?

Does insurance cover Rolfing?

How are Rolfers trained?

Tell me more about the Rolf Institute.

How do I make sure my practitioner is a Certified Rolfer?

What, exactly, is connective tissue?
Connective tissue, or fascia, (seen on the right) is strong, tough, fibrous tissue that acts as the support system—and spacers—for the entire body.
Composed of the protein collagen, Connective Tissueconnective tissue accounts for half the protein in the body. No tissue in the body is as abundant. It binds cells into tissues, tissues into organs, connects muscles and bones, wraps every nerve and vessel, laces all internal structures into place and envelopes the body. When tightly bundled together, it forms tendons and ligaments; around muscles and organs, it is thin and often transparent; in the low back and outer thigh, it forms large, thick white sheets that are amazingly strong.

All these linings, wrappings, cables, and moorings are continuous, connecting everything to everything else. Connective tissue so thoroughly permeates the body that if you removed everything else, there would still be a three-dimensional, recognizable human form.

Healthy connective tissue is characterized by flexibility, elasticity, length, and resilience. The tissue absorbs and responds to the earth's gravitational force, illness, injury, emotional trauma, and everyday stress. Any of these factors will, over a period of time, cause an imbalance in the tissue system. Imbalance is identified as a shortening, thickening, and dehydration of the tissue, which impairs joint mobility and muscle function. This is usually felt in the body as chronic pain, stiffness, or decreased flexibility and impaired movement.

The fact that fascia changes shape as a body deteriorates indicates it possesses "plasticity," a quality that can also be used to restore the body to balance. Connective tissue, unlike muscle tone, changes very slowly. Under the sustained and careful pressure of the Rolfer's hands, the tissue can be loosened, lengthened, and shifted to balance and align to the body.


Why should I consider Rolfing?
People come to Rolfing for a wide range of reasons. Many chronic pain sufferers turn to Rolfing as an alternative to surgery, shots and splints. Many turn to Rolfing to rehabilitate from an injury or resolve problems from scar tissue. Some people use Rolfing to combat a lifetime of poor posture that seems to be worsening with age. Others simply want to feel better—to have more energy and flexibility. Still others sense a need for change in their lives and in their bodies. They see Rolfing as a way to reconnect with their bodies—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—and ultimately achieve greater confidence, peace and joy. Many athletes and artists use Rolfing to improve performance and extend their careers.


What does conventional medicine think of Rolfing?
The organizations that represent MDs, physical therapists, nurses and so on do not take any formal positions on Rolfing, just as they do not take formal positions on other types of complementary health care. When Rolfing is understood by these practitioners, it is generally quite well received — more and more MDs are referring patients to Rolfers and are, themselves, being Rolfed. One reason for this is that Rolfing is based on Western ideas of anatomy and physiology that are familiar to and accepted by Western trained physicians. Many physical therapists readily embrace Rolfing because they view fascial manipulation (the cornerstone of Rolfing) as a significant factor in joint mobilization.


How can I tell if Rolfing is for me?
Talk to your Rolfer. If you are still not sure, try one session. This will give you a pretty good idea of what the work is about, what it feels like, and whether or not you connect with your practitioner. In general, most people know whether Rolfing will benefit them by session three. This session provides a good stopping point for people who decide that Rolfing is not appropriate for them. Most people, however, find the process enjoyable as well as beneficial.


Does it hurt?
It is interesting that most people who have the opinion that Rolfing is extremely painful have never experienced the work firsthand. Much of the reputation for pain came from the early days when Rolfing was first gaining public recognition. Since that time, the process has greatly evolved. As far as the actual experience is concerned, the area being worked will vary in sensation and feeling depending upon the severity of chronic stress, injuries, and other factors specific to your body. Feelings can range from pleasurable release to honest-to-goodness discomfort. Fortunately, the work proceeds at your level and pace. Nothing is forced, and skillful Rolfing never feels sharply painful or invasive. When discomfort occurs, many clients describe it as a "good hurt" that the body wants and needs. Others say Rolfing significantly reduces the pain experienced in their daily lives or increases athletic functioning to such an extent, that discomfort on the table is worth the trade.

Unlike massage, Rolfing is a participatory process. You may be asked to “breath” into tissue to help it release, to make small movements under the practitioner’s hands, or to “stretch out of a place” being worked. Participating in the movement feels very different than having work “done to you.” Additionally, Rolfing proceeds slowly and deliberately; there is ample time to relax into the pressure. As an additional safeguard, I instruct clients to gauge the pressure from one to ten, and to notify me if I ever pass a seven. After the first session, clients often comment that the work was nothing like they’d heard it would be, and are surprised at how good it feels.


Does it last?
Yes! Photographs taken of clients years after the basic ten-series show changes still present. Physiology explains why: Our bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding themselves. Bodies determine how to build themselves based on the way weight and stress is distributed through the structure. When we loosen, lengthen, and shift connective tissue, we affect relationships between structures and change strain patterns. Next time, the body rebuilds itself a bit differently. This is how Rolfing affects structure over the long-term. Rolf Movement education supports these changes by teaching clients more effective sitting, standing, walking, and work habits. Obviously, if body-use changes due to injury, illness, or stress, additional work may be useful.

Believe it or not, structure keeps changing after the ten-series (a phenomenon so common that Rolfers have named post-series months, the "eleventh session”). Below is a series of photographs of a 60 year-old physician who underwent ten sessions. Notice that eight months after completing his series, his structure continued to change:

Before Rolfing
After ten sessions
Eight months after session ten


Why a ten session series?
Whether you’re quitting smoking or training for a marathon, long-term positive change takes time. Your body didn’t get this way overnight; helping it find a new way to be will take some time too. Each Rolfing session works different areas with different objectives in mind. Often, you will see changes as soon as you step off the table. But the time between sessions is just as powerful because this is when your body takes changes — such as greater range of motion in the shoulder, a shifted pelvic angle, or improved foot flexibility — and integrates them into your system (makes them yours).

During this time, the body experiments with unfamiliar movements and awareness, builds new neurological pathways, and influences your structure, movement patterns, and experience. This is why Ida Rolf used to say, “Gravity is the therapist.” At the beginning of the next session, we will observe what is changing and what hasn’t and use this information to refine our strategy. Ten sessions allow us to devote appropriate time to specific areas and issues that are common structural challenges and to customize work that is meaningful to your unique body and lifestyle.


Do I have to commit to the whole series?
Of course not. Plan to come in for the first session and see how you respond to the work. Most people notice results by session three. This session is the last of the “superficial” sessions and a natural place to stop if you don’t feel you’re getting what you need. If, like so many of us, you get hooked on Rolfing, session three is the time to take stock of changes and refine goals and expectations for the remaining sessions. If you do plan to continue, it makes sense to commit to completing the series in the next six months.


What if I'm already seeing a chiropractor?
Fabulous. Rolfing and chiropractic can be mutually beneficial. Chiropractic moves bones back to their proper place to restore joint function. Rolfing improves alignment by manipulating the tissues that hold bones — and everything else — in place. If adjustments don't seem to be holding as long as you'd like, there's a good chance tht connective tissue is the culprit. Before & after Rolfing

ActionPotential strongly encourages communication with chiropractors and other health care providers. With your approval, Rolfers can work directly with your health care team to provide work that supports and promotes current treatment plans. Additionally, a Rolfer can contribute how fascial organization may be affecting your condition, a factor that is often overlooked.


What about massage?
The goals for massage and Rolfing are often very different. Massage is usually about relaxation; Rolfing is about aligning structure and improving long-term function. Both modalities are valuable and one does not exclude the other.
Regular bodywork (massage or Rolfing), at least once a month, is highly recommended after your Rolfing series for keeping the kinks out and maintaining a sense of well being.


Can I exercise during Rolfing?
Regular exercise is great, just pay attention to your body. Balance and coordination can be temporarily affected as your structure changes, and time is needed to integrate changes. Although you should avoid intense workouts the day of a session, movement is key to reaping the rewards of Rolfing. ActionPotential introduces range of motion exercises, stretching with a focus on alignment, and Rolfing movement techniques throughout the ten-series. Walking, rock climbing, and hiking are particularly good at assisting integration and are strongly recommended.


I’ve heard that professional athletes receive Rolfing…is this true?
The high demands athletes place on their bodies repeatedly stress specific areas. The golfer who works to develop a reliable swing, can suffer from repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), much the same as the worker assembling parts in a plant. The key to avoiding injury for both is balanced body alignment. When joints are free from torques due to rotations, when the pelvis is positioned to appropriately support the spine, and when good balance results from full range of motion in our feet and ankles — then we are less likely to get injured. For this reason, many professional athletes such as Brian Orser, Mario Lemieux, Charles Barkley, Quadry Ismail, Elvis Stojko, Michelle Kwan, and Tom Seaver, use Rolfing to enhance and extend their careers. Even a professional basketball team, the Phoenix Suns, keeps a Rolfer on hand. Athletes routinely use Rolfing to rehabilitate from injuries; resolve problems with scar tissue; reduce the occurrence and severity of injuries; as well as increase their speed, flexibility, balance, and coordination. (See what they have to say...)


Are there benefits for performers?
Musicians, dancers, actors, and artists of all disciplines come to Rolfing. Some use Rolfing to increase their competitive edge — greater comfort in and awareness of their bodies allows them to more fully embody their art. Others try Rolfing for more fundamental reasons, such as allowing them to keep working. Musicians, in particular, can struggle with repetitive stress injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome kept virtuoso concert pianist Leon Fleisher from performing for thirty years — until he found the right Rolfer. The “results were remarkable." — Johns Hopkins Magazine, 1995


Can children receive Rolfing?
Absolutely! Rolfing can be extremely effective with children due to the rapid rate at which their bodies break down and rebuild (as we get older this process slows down). Consequently, profound structural changes can occur with minimal intervention. Rolfing can assist children and adolescents with growing pains, scoliosis, poor posture, leg imbalances such as knock-knees or pigeon-toes, and headaches, among others. Work on children is gentle, and always within the comfort level of the child and parents.

Sessions for children are usually shorter than for adults, and the Ten-Series is usually not received until adolescence. Rolfing can also help children who have had accidents, or seem to be unusually detached from others and their surroundings.


How long are the sessions?
Allow an hour and a half for your first session and 75 minutes for following appointments. Session goals, the intensity of the day’s work, health history, client energy level and ability to integrate work, are just a few of the factors that Rolfers consider when determining session length.


How far apart should they be?
Most clients schedule sessions about a week to two weeks apart. Depending on schedule and financial considerations, sessions can be spaced up to a month apart. Although some practitioners are comfortable with monthly visit, I think it’s better to do the series in chunks, if necessary. Sessions 1-3, 4-7, and 8-10 are like little series within the ten-series. If you have to break between sessions, I believe it is beneficial to do these sessions fairly close together, and then take longer breaks (continuing assigned movement and stretching techniques on your own!) after sessions three and seven.


How does a typical session go?
After a thorough intake, the session begins with the therapist evaluating your structure and movement patterns while standing. Most clients receive the work in their underclothes, but other options are available. (Find out more.) While you’re lying on a physical therapy table, the Rolfer uses hands, fingers, and arms to apply slow, specific pressure to different parts of your body. The goal: To begin easing restrictions in the connective tissue and realign the body. You may be asked to make small, synchronized movements or to “breath into the area” being worked. Sessions often close with some form of movement education, such as developing supported sitting posture, refining the walking gait, or working on specific stretches.


Are there psychological effects from Rolfing?
While Rolfing is primarily concerned with structural modifications, any change in the physical body affects the whole person. A shift in structure alters the way you relate to the world. Sometimes this is physical experience, as when your head moves up over your torso, changing your line of sight and modifying your “view” of the world. Just as often, changes are less physical but just as profound — after a session, you might feel you’ve “let go of something” and can work with an old fear in a new way. Rolfing helps people access patterns of holding that are emotional as well as physical. As such, Rolfing is an excellent complement to psychotherapy and other personal development work.


How can I get the most from Rolfing?
Movement. We are made for motion. The health of all of our systems — respiratory, circulatory, digestive, you name it — depends on movement. Furthermore, activity allows the body to take unfamiliar movement options introduced by Rolfing and make them it’s own. Our body is very smart and doesn’t waste energy providing functional options we don’t use. So, if you always use your shoulder, a ball-in-socket joint, as a hinge ... guess what? It won’t be long before it only works as a hinge. Mom was right, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

ActionPotential introduces range of motion exercises, stretching with a focus on alignment, and Rolfing movement techniques throughout the ten-series. To get the most out of Rolfing, do your movement homework — every day. And walk, walk, walk.


What happens after I finish a Ten-Series?
The ten-series is designed to leave your structure balanced and in a finished place. Many clients complete a ten-series and never feel the need for another session. Others view Rolfing as an important way of maintaining their bodies and come in for regular "tune ups" (anywhere from bimonthly to quarterly). This is particularly common among athletes, heavy computer users, and adults with scoliosis. Some clients find so much more ease and relaxation in their bodies after Rolfing, that they use it instead of massage. Others take a break for several months after the ten-series, and then request a post ten series, generally five sessions, which may focus on the client's specific goals.
Lastly, some clients only use Rolfing on an as-needed basis, such as after a fall. These are all good ways to use Rolfing after you've completed the initial work. Do what makes sense to you.

How much does it cost?
The cost of Rolfing varies according to the Rolfer and the locale. Most Rolfers charge session by session, and fees range from $75 to $165 per session. Rolfing Movement Integration sessions are comparably priced. (ActionPotential charges $135 per session. See the Payments page for more information.)


Does insurance cover Rolfing?
Rolfing work may be covered by your health insurance, but often it is not. Many times a letter of medical necessity is required from your doctor or chiropractor; it is best to check with your insurance provider to identify their requirements. Sometimes it’s a matter of wording — "myofascial release" or "neuromuscular re-education” may be terms your provider prefers. ActionPotential can supply you with a receipt, but does not bill or accept insurance.

Check to see if your employer provides flexible spending options (sometimes called a “medical spending account” or "cafeteria plan"). These plans set aside a portion of your annual income tax free to be used for medical, dental and childcare expenses. Plans such as these usually cover Rolfing and don’t require a referral.


How are Rolfers trained?
Rolfers are trained and certified by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado — the only school accredited to teach Rolfing. Successful applicants complete a training program that usually requires two years of study. Following certification, ongoing continuing education is required to maintain active status in the institute. Training covers anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology; Rolfing theory and structural analysis; soft tissue manipulation, spinal mechanics, and joint mobilization methods; Rolfing Movement Integration techniques; individual research and written essays; and extensive supervised clinical sessions. After a period of usually 3-7 years of practice and meeting continuing education requirements, Certified Rolfers can do additional training to become Advanced Certified Rolfers. Practitioner may also pursue an additional certification in Rolf Movement.


Tell me more about the Rolf Institute
The Rolf Institute was founded in 1971 to carry on Dr. Rolf's work. Its major purposes are to train Rolfers and Rolfing Movement practitioners, to carry on research, and to provide information to the public. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, the Rolf Institute is the only school accredited to teach Rolfing and is the sole certifying body for Rolfers. Only individuals trained and certified by the Rolf Institute may use the Rolfing® service mark.


How do I make sure my practitioner is a Certified Rolfer?
Good question. There are a lot of people out there who claim to be trained in Rolfing. The Rolf Institute follows up on cases it finds out about, but this is still a significant problem. When someone tells you they learned Rolfing at a workshop, move on. This is not something you pick up over a long weekend. Ask a potential practitioner if he or she is certified by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. Even better, check it out for yourself — go to the Rolf Institute website, www.rolf.org, and select “Find a Rolfer” from the menu. Or contact the Rolf Institute directly at:

Rolfing Little Boy Logo
The Rolf Institute
5055 Chaparral Court, Ste. 103
Boulder, CO 80301
(800) 530-8875

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