Rolfing is a type of muscle release that has been likened to torture. Deep kneading of muscles, the classic image of an elbow digging hard into a back with a guy on a massage table flailing underneath. It hurts so good, however, that it’s estimated that 1.5 million people have tried Rolfing.
Rolfers — descendants of the original teachings of Ida Rolf — do not see themselves as massage therapists. They focus on finding inconsistencies in the muscle and fascia (read more about what is fascia here), and then integrating these back into the body to provide relief from a body’s aches and pains.
Does Rolfing Hurt?
Honestly, yes … although the Rolf Institute website has this to say …
Several factors determine the level of comfort or discomfort during a Rolfing session. One is the degree of trauma in the system; another is how long fascial distortions have been in the client’s body. Long-term distortions create more tenacious and widespread compensatory patterns, which may require more sustained pressure to release. Another factor is the degree of emotional charge associated with an area of injury or strain.
(The Institute also says there is a big range for how “hard” practitioners work into the body, so you might want to check a few different practitioners before you decide who’s best for you.)
Did the statement about “emotional charge” surprise you? Yes, Rolfers believe that we can hold emotion in our bodies and when we release a knot, we can also release the emotion associated with it. I have to say that when I went I didn’t feel any particular need to cry, whoop with joy, or hug someone … I was just curious about the whole process. But I have friends who say they experienced release.
When it comes to muscle release, there is a big range of what people like. From the gentle Swedish massage to the potentially quite rough sports massage and, of course, Rolfing.
Me? I’m a wuss … a big ol’ baby when it comes to this stuff. And while I want more than Swedish (because it feels great, but I don’t think it does much), I definitely don’t want to leave in tears and with bruises. As has happened to one of my friends who has done several Rolfing sessions.
I decided to finally try Rolfing because my hip has been bugging me since I went to a personal training weekend last November. I was doing HIIT training after a kettlebell segment and somewhere along the way I tweaked my hip. It was fine generally, except that whenever I tried to sit pretzel legs, it hurt a bit. That, plus I’ve been researching fascia like crazy and that’s what Rolfers do … release fascia.
So I signed up with Diana Phillips, a “gentle rolfer” near me, and rushed in late and apologetic to her treatment room.
Diana was great! Warm, funny, and effective. She released my hip and my shoulders and I feel a whole lot better even three weeks later. She was not cheap though … $160 for 90 minutes! But since I feel better, it was money well spent.
Rolfers take their time. Diana worked primarily on my neck and shoulders, especially around my shoulder blades (which are frequently tight) and a bit on my hip. Rolfers prefer you take a 10-session package and work on a different area of your body each time you come in.
When I left, I felt calm, restored, and a lot looser where she had worked. I went home happy and definitely plan on going again (as soon as I save up some money!)
If you’d like to try Rolfing, I suggest you start at Rolfing.org and poke around to see practitioners in your area. If you have friends who have tried it, ask for a referral and for what their experience was like.
What about you? Have you tried Rolfing? Are you curious about it? I’d love to hear your stories.