What is Rolfing®?

by Kathleen McBride

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Unusual name — Yes, I hear that a lot and it is my opportunity to explain this very effective bodywork/physical therapy…And the name is attributed to Dr. Ida Rolf who was the developer and founder of Rolfing®.


Rolfers work most directly with the myo-fascial system which can best be described as a ‘wrapping’ of the many tissues and organs of our bodies. Fascia is a complex web of tissue that covers and connects muscles (‘myo’) and bones as well as organizing and holding in place other structures including our skin and internal organs. It covers individual muscles, but also forms broad sheaths that in turn form a completely interconnected web throughout the body. Dr. Rolf called this network of fascia, with its ability to compensate for and adapt to stress/strain and injury anywhere in the body, the “organ of structure.” If you have had a fever that felt like an inflamed sheet covering your entire back, that virus or infection is spreading out in some of the facial layers of your back, in this example most likely involving your latissimus dorsi (‘lats’) and its associated facial layers.

As we move through life we compensate for injuries and traumas, work postures, habitual activities including athletics, and even emotional traumas. A Rolfer® looks at where you have become “stuck”, whether it be over time or due to an accident or injury…including some of those weekend warrior exertions we are all guilty of. Our bodies ARE our life experiences both good and bad. Activities, and inactivities, traumas and injuries result in compensations.

A very common example, sitting at a computer all day shortens and weakens muscles and facia of the abdomen, chest/shoulders and neck resulting in postural problems and often carpal tunnel/arm/hand issues too. Rolfing can help you go into your after-work activities and not look, and feel, like you are still sitting in front of that computer. Of course accidents and injuries create more obvious imbalances leading to neck, back, hip, groin, leg and foot pain. Sleeping is not as restful and getting out of bed becomes a daily habit of ‘working out the kinks’. Experiencing life as we do can lead over time to discomfort and pain in simply sitting, standing and moving though our day to day routines. This challenges efficiencies in movement and therefore your enjoyment of your chosen social activities and athletic endeavors. Simple movements can become cumbersome and exhausting and Rolfing can help you improve.

You can ‘see’ a person’s mood. A person who is sad or depressed typically has a more slumped posture, walk heavily, eyes not focussed and/or downcast. A person who is feeling great is ‘be-bopping’ down the street, walking tall, eyes alert and animated. When the body can handle each of these moods with ease, quality of living improves. Physical compensations from ‘life’ result in the muscles, facia and other tissues becoming out of place, sore, stiff, and shortened causing a loss of elasticity and reducing ease and range of motions thus dampening your vitality.

In a Rolfing session, I apply pressure to the fascia/connective tissue using my hands and forearms. In applying this pressure and with direction, and sometimes asking for small movements on your part, the fascia/muscles/tendons/ligaments lengthen, reposition, and release where it is sluggish or stuck. Where this fascia has adapted to strain, Rolfing relieves those strains facilitating your rediscovery of more freedom of movement, improved balance and function, alleviate pain and muscle soreness, and give you greater sense of well-being.

Rolfing is often assumed to be a type of massage therapy, however it very different in both methodology and the goals of a session which are to make lasting beneficial changes to your body. Rolfing is an intersection of physical therapy, myo-facial therapy, and Chiropractics in that a Rolfer® seeks to bring relief to areas of tension and injury while simultaneously bringing balance back into your body. As such, Rolfing can be an excellent complement to other therapies giving you even better results all around, while at the same time it is an excellent stand alone therapeutic solution to aches, pains and injuries.

Humans have always developed and still live within the gravity pull of the earth. They must make peace with this energy field, whatever it really is…..The energy of this field can enhance or dissipate the energy of the individual man. You cannot change the energy field, but you can change the man.” Dr. Ida P. Rolf (1896-1979)


Rolfers are Licensed/Certified only through the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute™ located in Boulder, Colorado. Kathleen McBride has been Rolfing for 29 years. She can be reached at 210.317.4242 or rolferkathleen.com

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