Most of us assume that high amounts of stress and the accompanying physical pain that can result are a normal part of the everyday life and work experience. In an attempt to deal with it, we work out, take pain killers and try massage only to find that the pain and stress return continually in precisely the same spots.
"Normally the places where we experience pain and stress are only part of an entire strain pattern which can run throughout the body in the same way a snag runs through a sweater," comments Suzanne Lucas, Certified Rolfer. "Unless the entire pattern is addressed and the body brought into balance, the problem can't really be resolved. It will inevitably return no matter what type of treatment is tried.
"Rolfing has been in existence for about 70 years. Originally called Structural Integration, it later came to be known as Rolfing, after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist.
Dr. Rolf based her work on some very basic principles, the key one being that all structures, including the human body, appear here in gravity and when it isn't aligned properly gravity will pull the body down.
"It's this downward drag of gravity on a body that's misaligned that is responsible for much of the pain and misery many of us experience and seem unable to rectify," says Lucas. She further adds that much of the stress and disfigurement we witness as we age is also a result of the same problem and that it can be changed.
A typical example of this kind of structural problem would be the person whose pelvis tips forward causing the abdominal contents to spill forward in an unflattering protrusion of the belly.
"This problem is rarely limited to the pelvis alone but often begins in the feet with the weight being shifted too far to the inside or outside. Strain is then transmitted through the legs and into the pelvis which results in its forward tilt. Above you'll often see a collapsing chest with rounding shoulders and a head that is thrust forward," says Lucas. "The owner of this body would probably complain of frequent neck, shoulder and lower back pain. And these same structural problems might be responsible for chronic fatigue and susceptibility to injury.
"From the Rolfing perspective, unless the entire problem is addressed from head to toe and the body returned to balance, the pain and distress will continue necessitating ongoing treatment.
The Rolfing process works with these problems in a systematic ten session series developed by Dr. Rolf. Each session lasts approximately one and one-half hours and builds on the work of the previous session. Within this format the Rolfer is able to follow and release the strain patterns throughout the entire body.
These strain patterns occur in a type of connective tissue known as fascia. This tissue surrounds, separates and connects all components of the body and gives it its unique shape and form. Fascia responds to trauma, stress and injury by shortening, thickening and hardening to support the traumatized areas, thereby pulling the body out of appropriate alignment.
"Each bump, bang, fall, accident and injury we've ever experienced has molded and shaped us by means of the fascia and its plasticity," says Lucas. "It doesn't matter whether the stress is of an emotional or physical nature, the body responds. The end result is a body which becomes a living history of all our life experiences," reports Lucas.
Dr. Rolf's work utilizes the plasticity of this fascial tissue to literally sculpt the body into alignment, allowing it to move into a position of balance and ease. "The resulting new alignment is of a more permanent nature because the entire body and the relationships within it have been shifted. The energy once exerted to remain upright and to deal with pain and stress is now freed to be used in more creative ways.
"It's sometimes only when the tension is released through Rolfing that a person recognizes just how much pain and stress has been present in their lives. It can be the freedom from the difficulty that makes us more aware," comments Lucas.
Research conducted at UCLA showed that Rolfing created more efficient use of the muscles, allowing the body to conserve energy and enhancing more refined patterns of movement. Another study at the University of Maryland demonstrated that Rolfing significantly reduced chronic stress. Also in this particular study Rolfing was shown to have reduced the excessive spinal curvature known as lordosis and to improve neurological functioning.
The benefits of Rolfing are many, including a fine-tuned edge in athletic performance, greatly reduced stress both in personal and professional life, grace and ease of movement, enhanced self confidence and relief of pain.
Suzanne Lucas is a Certified Rolfer currently practicing in Phoenix. She may be reached at (602) 404-8483.
Rolfing Qualifications and Growth
The Rolf Institute requires a college degree or life equivalency for admission. In addition, prerequisites to become a Rolfer include a 20-week pre-training course called Foundations of Body Work, which is broken down into 130 hours of anatomy, 96 hours of physiology and 96 hours of kinesiology, and a 13-week home study course.
Additional Rolfing prerequisites include training as a massage therapist, with a required 200 hours of actual massage practice to help familiarize potential Rolfers with bodies and tissue.
A 30-page research paper and interview complete the admission process.
The actual training is in two segments - approximately 720 hours of class work.
The Rolf Institute also offers advanced training - a total of approximately 400 additional hours of class work which can be completed over a 3 to 7 year period. Ongoing continuing education classes are required.
There are approximately 1,300 Rolfers and 29 instructors worldwide.
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