Rolfing works by addressing range of motion restrictions throughout the body to establish a more balanced, efficient whole. It is believed that Rolfing and myofascial release techniques work by contacting fascia, the filmy white stuff that surrounds and is continuous with ligaments, muscles, bones, and organs. You’ve seen fascia if you’ve ever prepared raw meat. It’s that icky white stuff under the chicken skin and on your slab of raw steak that is always a struggle to cut away no matter how sharp the knife.
Though fascia is 3D and loops around and about all over the body, it may be helpful to envision it as latex. The entire body is wrapped in latex. The structure of the body is being held together by constant tension. When, say, a shoulder is moved out of place, the latex still keeps the shoulder sucked into the torso, but the shoulder doesn’t move right. The hips are a bit skewed. The knees are bowed. The neck is craned. There are a host of structural issues being held together by the latex wrapping. Rolfing loosens up the latex (fascia) around all this to help all the parts of the body find their ways back home. Basically, when the latex gets loose, the pull of gravity brings everything towards the plumb-line.
How exactly the actual touch techniques work, however, has been up for debate for decades.
According to the latest research, Rolfing and other forms of myofascial bodywork work by contacting mechanoreceptors within fascia, thereby changing the way the body’s self-regulatory mechanisms function.
Mechanoreceptors are sensory receptors that respond to pressure or distortion and belong to a regulatory system known as the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is typically thought of as the circuitry that controls bodily functions without our conscious effort (e.g. breathing, digestion, circulation, muscle coordination, hormone secretion).
By contacting these mechanoreceptors, Rolfing initiates changes in the autonomic system that allow for more efficient postural and movement patterns.
You may also be interested in “How can trauma be stored in the body’s tissues?” if you want to learn more about chronic pain issues and Rolfing.
This explanation relies heavily on a research article written by Dr. Robert Schleip and published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in January of 2003. The article is a fascinating view of myofascial therapy and is highly recommended reading for those interested in learning even more about the science behind Structural Integration. Fascial Plasticity – A New Neurobiological Explanation can be accessed here.
Last updated 9/4/08