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Dr. Ida Rolf spent her life exploring the healing possibilities held within the human mind and body.
Born in New York City and raised in the Bronx, Ida P. Rolf attended school in the New York area and graduated from Barnard College in 1916. In 1920, she graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons with a doctorate in biological chemistry.
For the next 12 years, Dr. Rolf worked in the departments of chemotherapy and organic chemistry at the renowned Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, attaining the position of Associate Professor. No minor achievement for a female, in this era. During an extended leave of absence, she studied atomic physics and mathematics at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich and homeopathic medicine in Geneva.
Over the next decade, Dr. Rolf applied her knowledge of science and wellness to seek answers to the health concerns of her loved ones. Unwilling to accept the limitations of medicine at the time, Dr. Rolf embraced a wide range of approaches including osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, and mind-body disciplines such as yoga, the Alexander Technique, and Alfred H.S. Korzybski’s study of consciousness.
Bringing together such a rich variety of perspectives, Dr. Rolf discovered that she could achieve remarkable changes in posture and structure by manipulating the body's myofascial system. Dr. Rolf eventually named her body of work "Structural Integration" – a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity.
Recipients found the work dramatically altered posture and structure. Increasingly, people sought out Dr. Rolf to receive Structural Integration as a way to ease pain, address chronic stress, and improve performance in their daily activities.
Her ambition to bring Structural Integration to as many people as possible took Dr. Rolf all over the world. Her desire was not simply to help others but to teach future generations the fruit of her life’s work. Dr. Rolf dedicated the rest of her life to developing and teaching the technique that was to later take her name.
Clients and practitioners dubbed this work "Rolfing®" and the name stuck. Once synonymous with "Structural Integration" because it was the first form of the work, "Rolfing" is actually a registered service mark owned by the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration (RISI), the school Dr. Rolf created. Dr. Rolf established the Rolf Institute in 1971 with a three-fold mission: to train practitioners, educate the public, and promote research. In 2007, the RISI responded to Dr. Rolf’s vision by setting up the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation as an independent entity that unites the interests of professional conventional and complementary medicine, and charts the course for significant scientific research into Structural Integration.
Dr. Rolf envisioned Structural Integration as a body of work that would address a wide range of persons and needs. The ongoing growth of SI through a variety of schools with unique emphases has made this a reality. There are currently 17 schools of Structural Integration recognized by the International Association of Structural Integrators®. At her death in 1979, Dr. Rolf left a dynamic legacy in a craft that is now practiced by 4000 practitioners across the world. It's estimated that more than one million people have received Structural Integration.
Dr. Rolf was famous for her cryptic observations and common sense approach to the philosophy and art of Structural Integration. Following are some examples of her insightful comments, taken from Rolfing and Physical Reality by Ida P. Rolf (ISBN 0-89281-380-6).
Fascia is the organ of posture. Nobody ever says this; all the talk is about muscles. Yet this is a very important concept, and because this is so important, we as Rolfers must understand both the anatomy and physiology, but especially the anatomy of fascia. The body is a web of fascia. A spiderweb is in a plane. This web is in a sphere. We can trace the lines of that web to get an understanding of how what we see in a body works. For example, why, when we work with the superficial fascia does this change the tone of the fascia as a whole?
An effective human being is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created.
Some individuals may perceive their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body, others as constant fatigue, yet others as an unrelentingly threatening environment. Those over forty may call it old age. And yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem so prominent in their own structure, as well as others, that it has been ignored: they are off balance, they are at war with gravity.
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.
We are not truly upright, we are only on our way to being upright. This is a metaphysical consideration. One of the jobs of a Rolfer is to speed that process along. We want to get a man out of the place where gravity is his enemy. We want to get him into the place where gravity reinforces him and is a friend, a nourishing force.
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.
Go around the problem; get the system sufficiently resilient so that it is able to change, and it will change, It doesn't have to be forced. It's that forcing that you have to avoid at all costs.
Over and over again, people come to me, and they tell me, You just don't know how strong I am. They say "strength" and I want to hear "balance." The strength idea has effort in it; this is not what I'm looking for. Strength that has effort in it is not what you need; you need the strength that is the result of ease.
When the pelvis is not balanced, we do not have the upward thrust that creates zero balance, the sense of weightlessness that can be experienced in the body. When the pelvis is aberrated, it does not allow this equipoise, this tranquillity in experience that a balanced pelvis shows. The combined forces acting on a balanced pelvis are in a moment of inertia near zero. It is always in dynamic action, but the forces balance out to near zero.
This is an important concept: that practitioners are integrating something; we are not restoring something. This puts us in a different class from all other therapists that I know of. It takes us out of the domain designated by the word "therapy," and puts us in the domain designated by the word "education." It puts our thinking into education: how can we use these ideas behind Structural Integration? How do we put a body together so that it's a unit, an acting, energy efficient unit? One of the differences between Structural Integration Practitioners and practitioners of medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, etc., is that the latter are all relieving symptoms. They make no effort to put together elements into a more efficient energy system.