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Touch & Movement Therapies
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A variety of massage therapies exist today, each one based on a different theory and using specific techniques. The massage therapy Rolfing is named for the American biochemist Ida P Rolf, who developed this method in the 1950s as a system of body education and soft tissue manipulation designed to bring the whole body into vertical alignment.
Dr. Rolf believed that the body has natural symmetry, enabling it to work in harmony with gravity, but that injury, poor posture, or emotional distress could throw it out of alignment. Rolfing has been used by athletes, dancers, and singers to improve breathing patterns and increase suppleness, and many people use it as an aid to physical and emotional well-being.
Dr. Rolf compared the body to a tower of bricks: any misalignment puts the structure under stress, but if the bricks are aligned the structure is stable.
Very similar to an intensive massage, Rolfing is based on the theory that gravity has a strong impact on people and that physical functions improve when the body parts are properly aligned. Poor posture means that the body is no longer in balance and gravity has more places to attack, pulling the body downward. People must struggle against that stress, which manifests itself in a hardening of the connective tissue and an increased strain on muscles and tendons. As a result, the body as a whole weakens. A therapist who is skilled in the Rolfing technique brings regions of the body that are out of balance back into line, restoring fuller movement and balance to the body. A holistic process, Rolfing affects both body and mind.
MAIN USES OF ROLFING
Poor posture. Sports injuries. Persistent muscle pain, including neck, shoulder, and back pain. Respiratory problems. Prevention of postural or stress-related problems. Promoting health.
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Dr. Ida Rolf based her theory on her knowledge of yoga, physical therapy, and a study of the effects of gravity on the structure of the human body.
Rolfing, also known as "structural integration," was developed by Dr. Ida Rolf, who became interested in body manipulation after receiving osteopathic treatment for a displaced rib. Dr. Rolf's research lead her to conclude that the physical structure of the human body affects its physiological and psychological makeup and is the key to well-being. Her work took many years to gain recognition, but in the 1960s an awakening of interest in the relationship between body and mind aided by the well-publicized treatment of a number of celebrity clients and the personal growth movement (psychotherapy & counseling), brought Rolfing to the fore as a complementary therapy. In 1971 Dr. Rolf established the Rolf Institute for Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado. Over 900 practitioners have since been trained by the Institute; most practice in the US, but there are some in Australia, Brazil, and Europe, particularly in Germany and the UK.
THE FUNCTION OF FASCIA
A kind of connective tissue, fascia wraps every muscle in the body, forming a sinewy web around and through each layer of muscle. When an area is under strain, fascia shortens and thickens, "storing" tension. Rolfing releases this tension.
KEY PRINCIPLES OF ROLFING
Every muscle in the body is enveloped in and separated by a network of thin, elastic connective tissue known as fascia. Rolfers maintain that when the body is subjected to physical and emotional stress, fascia loses pliability and bunches and hardens, so that movement becomes restricted. This process is believed to be gradual, and people subconsciously adapt to cope with the limitations it imposes on the body. They stop breathing easily and moving freely, and as a result they lose their natural vertical alignment. Gradually, the nervous system, circulation, and digestion become impaired, affecting both physical and emotional health and even contributing to premature aging.
Rolfers compare their work to sculpting, realigning the body so that it can work with, rather than against, gravity. In a series of 10 sessions they systematically work around the body using firm pressure applied with elbows, fingers, and knuckles to remold the fascia, stretching and opening the soft tissues to correct any misalignment of the head, shoulders, abdomen, pelvis, and legs. Once the body is correctly aligned, aches and pains caused by muscular tension are alleviated.
THE PRINCIPLES OF ROLFING
Rolfing relieves chronic symptoms and pain, primarily those resulting from poor posture and tension. Older patients have experienced particular success with the treatment.
The Rolfing method of massage is beneficial for treating back pain, chronic headache, myogelosis (hardening of a muscle) in the shoulder and back areas, wear and tear of the hip and knee joints, mispositioning of the feet and jaw and recovery from disk operations. Digestive or menstrual discomfort may also be improved by a Rolfing massage.
The position of individual vertebrae in the thorax can greatly influence respiration. When the spine is straight and relaxed, breath can flow freely and the blood is able to receive sufficient oxygen.
Restoring balanced posture will stimulate the energy flow of the entire body, which enhances the patient's ability to heal herself.
The new body awareness also has a positive effect on the mind: Your self-confidence increases, and it will be easier to overcome depression and anxiety.
Children suffering from curvature of the spine and postural problems may get some help from Rolfing treatment when it is performed by specially trained therapists. Mothers-to-be can also seek relief from back pain through Rolfing after the fourth month of pregnancy.
EVIDENCE & RESEARCH
Clinical studies into Rolfing are limited. However, in 1988, researchers at the University of Maryland found that Rolfing reduced stress, strengthened the body's physical structure, and improved nervous system functioning. In a 1977 study at the University of California at Los Angeles, patients who had received Rolfing exhibited improved posture and body control, and less constrained movements. Rolfing has also been reported to reduce anxiety more efficiently than exercise and to help correct excessive inward curvature of the spine (swayback).
CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL OPINION
Most conventional health care practitioners view Rolfing as a form of massage therapy and see its use as a matter of personal choice, provided the patient is in reasonable mental and physical health, and the practitioner fully trained. Some conventional health care practitioners appreciate its potential value for the treatment of persistent pain.
Conventional medicine is increasingly interested in Rolfing and other holistic healing methods, and some conventional practitioners in private practice have been trained as "Rolfers". The effectiveness of the technique is currently be researched in several projects in the United States.
CONSULTING A ROLFING PRACTITIONER
Treatment usually consists of 10 weekly sessions, each lasting 60 to 90 minutes, the costs of which are not reimbursed by most health insurances.
The Rolfing massage therapist will take a detailed medical and personal history and ask the patient about his or her musculoskeletal condition before asking you to undress to your underwear so that she can examine your posture and body structure. Any physical problems revealed are then discussed. Before and after treatment you will be photographed from several angles so that any changes from the treatment's impact on the patient's posture can be recorded.
During a session, you lie or sit on a massage table or mat, and the practitioner uses her hands, fingers, knuckles, and elbows in a series of slow movements, manipulating connective tissue, often applying considerable pressure that may cause some pain. You will be asked to synchronize your breathing with the manipulation, and sometimes to move your arms and legs in a controlled way.
Each session focuses on a particular body area, the final sessions intended to "reset" muscles and fine-tune posture. Treatment can sometimes release memories of emotional anguish. As a follow-up, self-help exercises, known as "movement integration," are often taught.
WORKING ON THE SPINE
In early sessions, the practitioner focuses on areas such as the spine, where the surrounding muscles are close to the surface of the skin. The patient breathes in rhythm with the massage.
TREATING THE HIPS
By the third session, the practitioner starts to apply pressure down the side of the body to lengthen fascia at the hip and increase mobility. The practitioner uses her elbow to apply stronger pressure to the hip joint.
TREATING THE PELVIS
Later sessions focus on deep tissue. The practitioner applies pressure to the back of the legs to aid pelvic mobility and relax the hamstrings. The practitioner may use her body weight in deep tissue work.
KEEPING A THERAPY JOURNAL
You should keep a therapy journal to promote the effect and success of Rolfing. Observe your entire body very carefully both during and after the sessions, paying attention to the smallest change. Record your observations in a small notebook or on a calendar. Your notes will help you to recognize progress and will guide you in discussing any problems with your massage therapist.
HOW ROLFING WORKS
Rolfing's intensive massage corrects poor posture and aligns parts of the body that are out of balance, restoring mobility to the joints. Therapists loosen hardened tissue and stimulate the body to form and stabilize the harmonic posture patterns, allowing the energy of gravity to flow unimpaired through the body. Be aware, though that Rolfing may cause repressed emotions to surface in some patients and may even trigger people to recall previous diseases, injuries and traumas.
See Aston-Patterning for a system of movement education that was intended as a supplement to basic Rolfing techniques.
Avoid Rolfing if you have cancer, rheumatoid arthritis or to treat rheumatic symptoms, or any other inflammatory condition. Rolfing should not be used to treat patients with osteoporosis or degenerative muscle diseases. Patients with severe organic diseases should be treated only after consulting a health care provider. The therapy should not be used on patients with severe mental problems, such as acute psychosis, because Rolfing may release strong emotions that have been repressed. Once considered rather painful, new techniques make Rolfing quite tolerable and very effective in improving posture and physical and mental awareness.
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