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The principles of Rolfing contradict established medical knowledge, and there is no good evidence Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition. It is recognized as a pseudoscience and has been characterized as quackery.
Ida Rolf described the body as organized around an axis perpendicular to the earth, parallel to the pull of gravity, and she believed the function of the body was optimal when it was organized in that way. She saw the body as continuously in a struggle with gravity; in her view, gravity tends to shorten fascia, leading to disorder of the body's arrangement around its axis and creating imbalance, inefficiency in movement, and pain. Rolfers aim to lengthen the fascia in order to restore the body's arrangement around its axis and facilitate improved movement. Rolf also discussed this in terms of "energy" and said:
Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body's energy field. This is our primary concept.
On its website as of August 2016, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration described Rolfing as "a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body."
The manipulation is sometimes referred to as a type of bodywork, or as a type of massage. Some osteopaths were influenced by Rolf, and some of her students became teachers of massage, including one of the founders of myofascial release.:188,208
Rolf claimed to have found an association between emotions and the soft tissue, writing "although rolfing is not primarily a psychotherapeutic approach to the problems of humans", it does constitute an "approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body". She claimed Rolfing could balance the mental and emotional aspects of subjects, and that "the amazing psychological changes that appeared in Rolfed individuals were completely unexpected". Rolfers suggest their manipulations can cause the release of painful repressed memories. Rolfers also hold that by manipulating the body they can bring about changes in personality; for example, teaching somebody to walk with confidence will make them a more confident person. The connection between physical structure and psychology has not been proven by scientific studies.
Rolfing is typically performed in a progression of 10 sessions, sometimes called "the recipe". The first three sessions of the protocol focus on superficial tissues, the next four focus on deeper tissues and specifically the pelvis, and the final sessions address the whole body.
Rolfing treatments are sometimes painful. For adults, there may be moments of intense sensation during a treatment or soreness afterward. However, the technique can be done gently enough for children and the elderly. Rolf believed fascia tightens as a protective mechanism, and therefore thought an aggressive approach could be counter-productive.
Effectiveness and reception
In 2015 the Australian Government's Department of Health published a review of 17 alternative therapies including Rolfing which concluded no clear evidence of effectiveness was found. Accordingly In 2017 the Australian government named Rolfing as a practice that would not qualify for insurance subsidy, saying this step would "ensure taxpayer funds are expended appropriately and not directed to therapies lacking evidence".
Because of its dependence on vitalistic concepts and its unevidenced propositions about the connection between physical manipulation and psychology, Rolfing is classified as a pseudoscience. Medical historian Barbara Clow writes that, in common with many other types of alternative medicine, Rolfing takes a view of illness and of therapy which conflicts with mainstream medicine. Psychologist and attorney Christopher Barden has numbered Rolfing among "dangerous and controversial" methods that pose a risk to the public. Biologist Dan Agin has identified Rolfing as a popular kind of "quack medicine" in the "raucous bazaar" of the United States's alternative medicine scene, Health journalist Rose Shapiro lists Rolfing among the many popular "quack treatments" that rally today under the banner of integrative medicine, and skeptic Robert Todd Carroll has said the vague health claims made by Rolfers are characteristic of those made by "quacks".
Ida Rolf began working on clients in New York City in the 1940s with the premise that the human structure could be organized "in relation to gravity". She developed structural integration with one of her sons and by the 1950s she was teaching her work across the United States. In the mid-1960s she began teaching at Esalen Institute, where she gathered a loyal following of students and practitioners. Esalen was the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, allowing Rolf to exchange ideas with many of their leaders, including Fritz Perls. Rolf incorporated a number of ideas from other areas including osteopathic manipulation, cranial osteopathy, hatha yoga, and the general semantics of Alfred Korzybski. In 1971 she founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. The school has been based in Boulder, Colorado, since 1972, and as of 2010 included five institutes worldwide.
Since Rolf's death, the field of Structural Integration has fragmented into various schools as a result of legal disputes among her followers. Of these schools, the Rolf Institute is the only one with the use of the trademarked terms "Rolfing" and "Certified Rolfer". Other schools of Structural Integration certify "Practitioners of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration" including the Guild for Structural Integration, Hellerwork Structural Integration, Aston Patterning, SOMA, KMI, and a dozen other Structural Integration schools. A professional membership organization exists called the International Association of Structural Integration, which has certified practitioners by exam since 2007.
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Some massage styles with different names may be essentially the same (e.g., Structural Integration and Rolfing®)
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This is the gospel of Rolfing: When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.
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Before we explore medical reactions to therapeutic innovations in this era, we must stop to consider the meaning of 'alternative medicine' in this context. Often scholars use the term to denote systems of healing that are philosophically as well as therapeutically distinct from regular medicine: homeopathy, reflexology, rolfing, macrobiotics, and spiritual healing, to name a few, embody interpretations of health, illness, and healing that are not only different from, but also at odds with conventional medical opinion.
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Dr. Rolf based her techniques on the realization that fascia surrounded all tissue and body structures, so it also influenced those tissues and structures when it is modified. She observed that the body centers on a vertical line of pull created by gravity. It was her theory that the body is most efficient and healthy when it can function in an aligned and balanced arrangement. With gravity's continuing pull, stresses and injuries occur to pull the body out of its normal alignment; imbalance occurs and causes the body to become painful, malaligned, and inefficient. Rolf's philosophy and techniques focus on improving the body's posture so all functions including breathing, flexibility, strength, and coordination are optimally efficient.
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Named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body.
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Practitioners suggest pent-up mental anguish tied to initial traumatic event or subsequent chronic pain is released as the fascias become more pliable.
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She eventually opened a school in Boulder, Colorado, The Rolf Institute; there are now five institutes around the world teaching what is now known as Rolfing.
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