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Natural Awakenings Boston

Rolfing Structural Integration Digs Deep to Restore Balance: An Alternative Healing Method for the Body

Dec 30, 2011 11:51AM ● By Linda Sechrist

Rolfing Structural Integration, although less well known than massage, has the ability to restore lasting balance in the body. Its rise in popularity has been seen particularly among those in search of relief from imbalances resulting from physical injury, illness and the pull of gravity. Unlike massage, Rolfing Structural Integration has a hands-on approach wholly focused on the fascia, the protective layer of muscle and various connective tissues throughout the body.

Fascia surrounds our muscles, bones and organs; it shapes muscles and gives structure to the body. Rolfing structurally changes the body by shortening or lengthening fascia. It does this through a series of 10 weekly sessions of one hour each, performed by a certified Rolfer or Rolfing practitioner.

A structural integrator’s education and certification may come from one of several schools. Certified Rolfers, however, all have trained at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI), established by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, founder of this holistic system of soft-tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity.  RISI and the Guild for Structural Integration are the best known, having been around for several decades. Both are headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, and each employs teachers who studied with Rolf.

According to Faraday Melchoir of the Guild for Structural Integration, structural integration’s series of progressive sessions is what sets it apart from other healing modalities. “Each session builds upon the last and balances the body in segments,” Melchoir explains. “Sessions one through three begin with a focus on the upper body and diaphragm, move on to the foot and lower leg and then to the lateral sides. During sessions four through six the Rolfing practitioner works on the inside of the leg, focuses on the stomach and the relationship between the muscles, rectus abdominis and psoas, and then moves on to the back of the body, head and neck, followed by the upper and lower areas of the pelvic girdle.” The final session covers the whole body.

Simplifying Melchoir’s explanation, Jazmine Fox-Stern, a certified Rolfer who trained at RISI, notes how vertical alignment generally is achieved by balancing the body from front to back, side to side, top to bottom and inside out. “While most clients receive once-a-week sessions for 10 consecutive weeks, some prefer fewer sessions or a little more time for personal integration and adaptation of the results of this therapy,” says Fox-Stern, who emphasizes that the system of the 10-session series is adapted to the needs and limitations of each person.

Being the miracle that it is, the human body, in the daily course of events, will automatically accommodate and adjust to various misalignments by shortening and tightening its fascia. Resulting imbalances may manifest as stiffness, discomfort or a loss of energy experienced as a result of inefficient movement.

Upon the release and lengthening of affected fascia, the body is freed to return to its structurally optimal position and consequently requires less energy to move about. Good posture thus becomes effortless, breathing is easier and the body can once again enjoy greater flexibility, improved coordination, increased breathing capacity and more energy.

The results of structural integration last. “After a Rolfing Ten Series, the new groove is established well enough that it’s easy to avoid falling back into the same old uncomfortable ‘posture rut,’” explains Fox-Stern, who has offices in Boston and Cambridge. As a result, additional work may be required only in the event of a later accident, lengthy illness or heightened emotional stress.

Once stereotyped as a painful process too intense for those frail of body or faint of heart with a low threshold for pain, today’s practice of Rolfing has moved well beyond its former image while still producing profound results. The key is an educated touch acquired in part from intensive study of anatomy and physiology.

Fox-Stern reflects on the early years of Rolfing Structural Integration. “It was popularized at a time when people believed that the more intense the experience, the more therapeutic it was,” she says. “Rolfing was described as painful in order to differentiate it from a soothing massage, and to emphasize how it profoundly it impacted the body. Today, Rolfers are much better at achieving their therapeutic goals with more grace and less force. Rolfing does not need to be painful to be effective.”

For more information, call The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration at 800-530-8875 or visit; or call The Guild for Structural Integration at 303-447-0122, email [email protected] or visit In the Boston area, call Jazmine Fox-Stern at 617-308-7104 or visit

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