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What's this Rolfing I've heard about?

And is it for me?

First things first: let’s all acknowledge that the word Rolfing is fun to say. As the name for a form of structural manual therapy, it may also be a little weird. But never mind that. We’re all adults here. Rolfing® Structural Integration is a system of bodywork first developed by Ida Rolf. Now you know the origin of the term, you can release that suspicion that Rolfing might involve rolling on floors, laughing. Or getting rollicking with golf clubs.

Sounds fun, but nope.

In fact, Rolfing is a hands-on therapy that works with the body's fascia, or connective tissue, to find structural alignment to improve balance and allow movement to be better supported against gravity and the circumstances of life. For many, it may also diminish chronic pain. It is unique among the various forms of bodywork because working with connective tissue means focusing on how things are connected in the body. Imagine a rope bridge across a river. If some of the ropes are far too long and loose and others are far too short and taut, you’re not going to be able to cross the water unless you’re prepared to swim.

In the body, our connective tissue acts like the lines of support around, between and even within our muscles. It wraps up muscle fiber and becomes the tendons that grow into and around our bones. It forms our ligaments between joints and the discs between our vertebrae. Thanks to all the vicissitudes of life- your workouts, your work, your slouch, that endearing way you walk-- some of these connections may grow slack or they may become dense, immobile and stuck.

Sure, we find ways of compensating for these little imbalances but compensatory patterns can be exhausting and possibly painful. Maybe you suffered a little whiplash 15 years ago and it healed. Five years later, you had a tight neck and you blamed it on stress. Five years after that and your shoulders were stiff; you said things like, ‘I’m just tightly wound.' Now you can’t remember if lifting your arms over your head was ever part of your repertoire. You tell yourself this is just part of the ageing process. You sigh.

This is how our body compensates. As Mary Anne Gabriel, Rolfer since 1990 puts it, ‘function determines structure and structure determines function.' Thankfully, persistent stiffness doesn’t mean we fall down all the time. But it can indicate that our connective tissue-- that network of cables that gives our bodies a fluid integrity-- aren’t functioning optimally. Rolfing works to free up the tissue that has become immobile so healthier patterns can emerge and our movement can become more natural, more comfortable and possibly pain-free.

Mary Anne is one of two Rolfing practitioners at the Natural Health Centre. As we charge into the new year, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate her enduring commitment to helping others by sharing the trans-formative experience of one of her clients.

Yvonne*, a massage therapist and nursing student, came to Mary Anne out of professional curiosity. But there was something else bothering her. She had persistent pain in her hip that no other remedies had helped. She wasn’t sure Rolfing was the answer but she was willing to try.

Traditionally, Rolfing was designed to be implemented over a series of ten sessions. The format allows time for a practitioner to attend to the whole body, and time for the body to attend to itself in response. The commitment alone, notes Mary Anne, is part of the self-selection process. Most of her clients are either tired of pain or suspicious that some unease-- physical or emotional-- is ready to be settled. And ten sessions may not be the extent of it for everyone. Mary Anne is known to ask some of her clients to join her for movement sessions, in which she’ll have the chance to see how the body is integrating the effects of bodywork sessions. In general, says Mary Anne, 'people looking for a quick fix aren’t going to find it anywhere.' But with Rolfing, they won’t be cajoled into believing it to be possible. Change takes time and curiosity. Even after the ten sessions, says Mary Anne, the body will continue to improve itself over six months. And then, with an occasional tune-up, the body’s structure will remain strong and supple in its restored functional patterns.

The Rolfing adventure was interesting and magical... I find that I have a lovely new silhouette.

Yvonne’s first surprise in working with Mary Anne was not because of the time or effort required. She was prepared for all of that. The surprise was discovering that her body reacted immediately to Mary Anne’s treatment before Yvonne’s mind had a chance to understand what was going on. She says, ‘the Rolfing adventure was interesting and magical.’ Her body started to feel different. She noticed a greater comfort on bus seats on the way home but couldn't understand what had changed. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and saw that her shoulders had dropped into a more relaxed position. The slight hump in her upper spine decreased. A niggling back pain disappeared. And then, she realized, that loud and persistent pain in her hips was quieter. Almost silent at most times. ‘I’m taller, more confident, more positive about my life and filled with more energy to go through the day,’ says Yvonne. 'I find that I have a lovely new silhouette.'

Her assessment is precisely what Mary Anne hopes her clients will find. Still, she’s quick to write herself out of the dramatic shift in her clients’ stories. ‘It’s their decision to find me, to show up, to process the work. They have to recognize the different between old patterns and new. Then they have to find ways to carry it on.’ And here, Mary Anne’s words perfectly anticipate Yvonne’s experience. When asked whether she felt like the effects of Rolfing would last, Yvonne replied, ‘I notice my posture now. I understand it. When my body goes back to its old patterns, I feel it immediately. And I know how to fix it.’

If you’re interested in finding a guide to escort you down a path toward better balance, stability and alignment, consider working with Mary Anne. She's available for appointments at the Natural Health Centre on Fridays and Saturdays. Please give us a call with any questions or to make an appointment.

*For purposes of confidentiality, Yvonne is not the client's real name.