How are Rolfers Trained?

Courtesy of the Rolf Institute

Courtesy of the Rolf Institute

When I first embarked on the journey to become a Rolfer®, 40 years ago, one needed to have completed an undergraduate degree, including college courses in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Fortunately, for me, I had satisfied these requirements. One also needed to have a license to touch a body (MD, RN, Physical Therapist, Chiropractor…), which I did not have. Certification as a massage therapist did satisfy the requirement, however, so I and many other Rolfers® of my generation spent a year obtaining a massage certificate in order to make application to the Rolf Institute®. 

Part of that application packet was a series of lengthy essays responding to questions about connective tissue, the pelvic floor, and integration of systems of the body. The questions helped guide a months-long intensive program of self-directed study into the anatomy and physiology of Rolfing®. 

Once admitted to the Rolf Institute®, students spent weeks learning to “see”. In this phase of instruction, we spent many hours just looking at bodies, learning to discern the patterns of rotations, compressions, and internal stresses that had caused their deviations from good alignment, balance, and ease of movement. Those who became sufficiently able to see these patterns, as well as how they were changed by Rolfing®, were able to go on to the next period of the basic training, in which we worked on clients. There were further refinements in seeing (what did we accomplish in that session?) and more attention to learning the famous ten-session series of Rolfing®. At the conclusion of that journey, which took me two years from start to finish, I received my basic certification as a Rolfer® in 1979. 

The training is similar today, although there have been a few changes. Dr. Rolf called her work first “postural release” and then “structural integration”. As the story goes, early clients of hers felt they’d had a profound, direct, and intimate encounter with her while receiving a session of the work, and colloquially said they’d been “Rolfed”. The name stuck, and the Rolf Institute® was born, although the work was still officially called Structural Integration. In later years, as her ideas become more well-known, and others emulated her techniques and insights, the term Structural Integration came to denote an approach to working with the body shared by many practitioners not directly trained by Dr. Rolf. At that point, her school and students adopted the term “Rolf Institute of Structural Integration” to clarify the lineage of instruction with which they were associated. It is to that lineage that I belong.

What is a certified advanced rolfer?

Courtesy of the Rolf Institute

Courtesy of the Rolf Institute

Having satisfied the basic training requirements and been certified as a Rolfer®, practitioners are invited and encouraged to deepen and broaden their understanding of the work by engaging in the many continuing education opportunities offered by the Rolf Institute®.  Some of these courses of study facilitate a more thorough understanding of the structure and function of specific anatomical structures such as the feet, the cranium, or the spine. Others may introduce new topics, such as incorporating manipulation of the viscera into the Rolfing® process, or helping clients take the work further through movement education. After years of practice, with several hundred hours of continuing education which includes completion of the Rolf Institute Advanced Training®, practitioners may become designated as a Certified Advanced Rolfer®.

How often do you need to get rolfed?

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The goal of Structural Integration is to make changes in the body that are long-lasting, if not permanent. This is achieved in a carefully constructed series of 10 sessions. The longevity of the changes is possible because Rolfing® addresses whole-body patterns of strain, such that changes in one part of the body reinforce changes throughout. Illness, surgery, accidents and chronic misuse of the body can cause clients to lose some of the benefits of Rolfing® over time, but generally after the initial 10-series has established a new level of order, no more than 3-4 sessions a year are required to maintain optimum function.

Clients may benefit from combining Rolfing® with complementary disciplines whose approach to the body is consistent with Rolfingv. Many people have reported that the bony manipulations of chiropractic are easier to achieve and the adjustments more long-lasting when the soft tissue is balanced. Conditioning regimens such as Pilates or yoga use the body in a balanced way and help maintain the changes of Rolfing®, while disciplines like Feldenkrais or Alexander technique affect how our nervous system organizes movement, resulting in more  efficient and integrated patterns. Any or all of these systems, as well as others like Sweigard’s Ideokinesis, can be combined with Rolfing® to accomplish long-lasting structural and functional changes.