When most people think of Rolfing Structural Integration, one question immediately comes to mind: Does it hurt?
“This is the most common question that Rolfers get,” says Adam Mentzell, Certified Advanced RolferŪ at Chautauqua Health Cooperative. And after more than a decade in the profession, his answer is “generally not.”
Despite a bad rap for putting clients through the ringer — how many of you imagined an Inquisitor’s rack just reading the headline? — RolfingŪ Structural Integration has done much more to relieve pain than to cause it.
Amy Hayes of Boulder, who recently completed her own series of Rolfing therapy, had heard the rumors, too.
“I expected it to be excruciating,” she says. The fact that she decided to give it a try it is a testament to how much pain she had been in. And for Amy, the leap of faith paid off.
“I felt like I was let out of a straight jacket,” she says. “After 20 years of sitting at a desk, my posture was not perfect […] and I actually had a lot of pain in my hips and shoulder.”
Amy went through what is known as the Rolfing Ten Series, a set of ten sessions that works through body, posture and movement issues in a methodical, structured way — though Amy says she added an 11th session for some more targeted work.
Named for its founder, Dr. Ida Rolf, Rolfing Structural Integration is a method of “soft-tissue manipulation and movement education” that aims to improve posture, lessen aches and pains, increase flexibility and improve overall physical well-being. The basic premise of the Rolf method is that an imbalance in one part of the body leads to compensations and “restrictions” in other parts, which in turn causes the pain, aches or stiffness we generally associate with aging. By manipulating — as gently as possible — the underlying connective tissue, Rolfers try to correct those imbalances, misalignments and areas of tightness.
Most of Mentzell’s clients are young adults to middle-aged, he says, though he also treats a number of athletes who are either looking to undo some wear-and-tear, or who want to get a little extra edge to their performance.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced this method of structural integration, Mentzell is keen to point out that while it might look a little like shiatsu or a backrub — the practitioner does put his or her hands on certain body parts and move them around — it’s not like a “really hard massage,” as many people assume.
“People compare it to what they think it’s like,” he says.
For one thing, diagnostics and education play a much bigger role in Rolfing than in a relaxing hour of massage.
Whether a client is looking to solve a specific problem — a tight shoulder or painful back — or just looking to get more in tune with their body, each session starts with communication: questions and answers about what’s working, what isn’t and what the client is looking to accomplish. That means there’s no “checking out” during a Rolfing session.
“It’s not a passive process,” Mentzell says. Throughout the session, as the therapist moves and manipulates different parts of the body, the client is actively engaged. And once the session is over, there’s a take-home portion, too.
“There’s a fair amount of homework,” Mentzell says. That homework involves noticing how you are moving or sitting and learning what you can do differently to avoid causing more tension and imbalance. A great session isn’t wholly effective if the client doesn’t incorporate new habits, Mentzell says.
“A real strength of the work is that it gives people options for the habitual things we do in daily life,” he says. “The goal is to get clients to a place of self-managing …”
Despite the physical focus of the work, Mentzell says the most exciting part of his career has been seeing the emotional impact successful treatment has for his clients.
“As we change the way we move and stand and go through life, it’s not just a mechanical issue,” he says. “It’s something that transfers over to how we are in the world. And that’s one of the things that keeps me excited about the work over time, getting to witness those changes.”
For anyone considering giving Rolfing therapy a try, Mentzell says successful treatment requires open communication between client and practitioner. He suggests talking to several different certified Rolfers and finding someone you feel comfortable opening up with.
“This work is really a partnership,” he says. “The fit is important.”
The Rolf Institute for Structural Integration, founded in 1971, has its headquarters in Boulder. For more information, visit www.rolf.org, or call 303-449-5903.