The Fundamental Question
The American Biochemist, Dr. Ida Rolf (1896 – 1979) is the Founder of Rolfing® Structural Integration. A pioneer in the fields of soft tissue manipulation and movement education, Dr Rolf asked a fundamental question which became integral to her life’s work:
“What conditions must be fulfilled for the human body’s structure to be organized and integrated in gravity so that the whole person can function in the most optimal and economical way?”
One of her greatest contributions to the field of bodywork was the discovery that gravity, as an organizing element, is uniquely important for body structure, movement coordination, spatial perception and human expression.
Dr Rolf observed that to achieve a lasting improvement and overall sense of wellbeing, one needed to examine the effects of gravity on our bodies. She believed that imbalances in structure placed demands on the body’s pervasive soft tissue network – muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments - resulting in compensations throughout the body structure.
To more readily share her work with others, Dr Rolf developed a series of ten sessions now called The Ten Series. She referred to this methodology as ‘Structural Integration’ which has since gone on to inspire generations of bodyworkers around the world as the internationally registered movement - Rolfing® Structural Integration.
How it all started
Dr Rolf was driven to find health solutions for herself and her two sons, one of whom had problems coordinating his movements as a child. She spent many years exploring alternative healing methods including homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, yoga, the Alexander Technique, and Korzybsji’s work on states of consciousness. While Dr Rolf’s investigation remained firmly grounded in science, she also acknowledged the value of intuition in finding solutions.
A life in science
Dr. Rolf earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in 1920. The following 12 years, she worked at The Rockefeller Institute in the Department of Chemotherapy and later in the Department of Organic Chemistry. Whilst at the Institute, she also took a leave of absence to study mathematics and atomic physics at the Swiss Technical Institute in Zurich, as well as studying homeopathic medicine in Geneva at weekends.
The Rolfing® logo depicts one of Dr Rolf’s most famous cases, that of a four-year-old boy, Tim Barrett, who was diagnosed with Leggs-Perthes disease in 1959; this is an orthopedic childhood condition that causes limited movement in the hip joint, knee pain, and limping. Doctor’s advised Tim’s mother to put him in a cast for five years and the prognosis was that Tim would be in a wheelchair by the age of 20. Dr Rolf believed she could help Tim without having to him put into a cast and she worked on him for several months. Tim grew up without any handicaps and went onto to enjoy a healthy life in Hawaii where he became a keen surfer.
Influences & legacy
In 1971, Dr Rolf founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) in Boulder, Colorado as an educational centre and professional organization for certified Rolfers™.
The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado and its more recent affiliates including the European Rolfing® Association e.V in Munich, Germany (founded in 1991) and Rolfing UK in London, England (launched in October 2016) have continued to share her work by certifying Rolfers™ and Rolf Movement® Practitioners, supporting research, and building upon her inspiration.
Many branches have evolved from the original Structural Integration “tree”, each with differing interpretations of Dr Rolf’s original teachings. These branches are represented by the International Association of Structural Integration (IASI), which continues to promote Structural Integration in the healthcare field.
Several of the more commonly known forms of Structural Integration derived directly from Dr. Ida Rolf’s legacy include:
Guild for Structural Integration
Kinesis Myofascial Integration (Thomas Myer’s Anatomy Trains)
Institut fur Strukturelle Korpertherapie
SOMA Institute for Neuromuscular Integration
Dr Rolf died in 1979 at the age of 83 but her work and methodology still carries huge influence today. Rolfing® Structural Integration is a rapidly growing profession worldwide. There are now over 2000 certified Rolfers™ worldwide. In Europe, there are now 697 Rolfers, a 7% increase on last year.
For a detailed chronology of her life and key events in the development of Rolfing® Structural Integration, see Dr. Ida P. Rolf – Chronology.
The Future of Rolfing® Structural Integration
Scientific research on fascia and its implications for posture and movement, as well as on studies verifying the positive results of Rolfing® support the vast scope of the method and its application in a diversity of fields.
The concept of the plasticity of the human body and the key role of Fascia specifically, remain highly topical and will continue to spread as more and more people seek Rolfing® Structural Integration both as clients and as an exciting career choice.
The Rolf Institute® has been at the forefront of scientific research and sponsored the first Fascia Research Congress at Harvard Medical School in 2007. Dedicated to the emerging field of “Fascia Studies”, the latest Congress - the 5th International Fascia Research Congress - was held in Berlin in November 2018.
Throughout the growth of these Congresses, the European Rolfing® Association e.V. has been a key sponsor, contributing both presenters and attendees to these events.
For more information on Rolfing® Structural Integration or to find a certified Rolfer™, please visit: www.rolfing.org.