What Rolfing Is Not

By Jenny Rock, LMT, Certified Advanced Rolfer

As soon as people find out that I’m a Certified Rolfer®, I spend 20 minutes engaging in damage control due to the popular misconceptions about Rolfing. I’ve heard everything from people confusing it with Reiki to people associating it with torture. It is neither. Let me repeat that last part in particular.  Rolfing is NOT torture.

In my experience, the largest inaccuracy regarding Rolfing pertains to how unbelievably painful it is. However, the people most likely to slander Rolfing in this manner have never actually received the bodywork themselves. It’s all multi-generational word of mouth. Play one game of “telephone” and you’ll see how unreliable that is. For example, when I was in massage school, one off my instructors defined Rolfing this way: “It’s where the practitioner takes your muscle and separates it from your bone.”Uh…… no.  If that happened, you’d need surgery. And a lawyer. Let me say it again.  Rolfing is NOT torture.

Back in the old days, Rolfing did have a reputation for being exclusively deep tissue, very painful, and many people believed that you had to experience pain in order for it to work. As the bodywork community has evolved, so have Rolfers (and other Structural Integrators). While Rolfing is FREQUENTLY deep, there is as much variety in the depth of the touch as there are practitioners who practice it. Ida Rolf herself worked on babies and children, as do many practitioners. We ALL adjust our touch to meet the needs of the person in our care.

But this leads us further down the rabbit hole of misinterpretation, as Rolfing is also NOT defined by the touch used. It is defined by the method we all employ, called the Rolf Method or The Recipe. Within the Rolf Method, Rolfing is further distinguished by the assessment protocols and goals of each session and how they work together to benefit the entire body as a whole. 

To recap so far:

Rolfing is not torture
Rolfing is not necessarily deep tissue (though my touch does lean that way).

Here’s what else it is NOT:

  • massage
  • chiropractic
  • physical therapy

While Rolfing overlaps in some ways with all of these disciplines, we are distinct from them, and Rolfing did not originate from any of them. In fact, Rolfing is derived from Osteopathy, which is why Rolfing embodies that same holistic approach to health. Perhaps because “massage therapy” isn’t any one particular approach, with over 200 styles, the most common misconception is that Rolfing is a massage modality, specifically a type of deep tissue massage. This myth is propagated by all of the misinformation available to anyone with Internet access. Rolfing is not massage, and massage is not Rolfing. So please, don’t rely on Wikipedia, online dictionaries, or other non-Rolfing sources for edification.

As well-meaning as they are, even massage therapy sources also claim Rolfing as a massage modality. Insurance companies don’t get it either. They all have it wrong (and there is a team of us working diligently to correct them all). However, every time I treat someone with Rolfing who has had massage (some for many years), the first thing they say is, “Wow….. this IS different from massage.” And remember, I was a massage therapist for 13 years before I became a Rolfer. It’s just different, but that’s a topic for another article.

Since both Rolfers and chiropractors use the term “alignment” and both address “posture,” it’s easy to confuse our work. However, where chiropractic focus on addressing the nervous system function through manipulation of the spine (and other joints), Rolfing focuses on repositioning the fascia to achieve long lasting balance and alignment of the entire body in movement and gravity. Bones can and do move, they even change shape (remodel), but over time.

Physical therapists and Rolfers overlap with soft-tissue manipulation, but PTs also use modalities (ultrasound, electrical stimulation, cold laser, etc.), incorporate exercise and stretching, and typically work toward problem resolution. While Rolfers may do any of those things (depending on training and licensing), the focus is still a bit different, and treatments are not typically for short term rehab. However, I’ve had great success in co-treating with a fantastic PTs over the years since our work is complimentary. As a Rolfer, I help move the fascia SO THAT the physical therapy is more effective.

Ok, so now you know this, Rolfing is NOT:

  • torture
  • necessarily deep tissue
  • massage
  • chiropractic
  • physical therapy

Another misconception I often hear is that people think that Rolfing is for a different CLASSIFICATION of person than they are. Here is a list of the types of people that receive and benefit from Rolfing, in other words, Rolfing can help you if you are:

  • Young
  • Middle-aged
  • Old
  • Healthy
  • Injured
  • Experienced with bodywork
  • Unexperienced with bodywork
  • Muscular
  • Fat
  • Thin
  • Regularly working out
  • Sedentary
  • Have a history of surgeries
  • Have a history of taking medications
  • Under a doctor’s care
  • Not under a doctor’s care

So you see, there is no “type” of person who would benefit more from Rolfing. Ok, that’s not entirely true. The ONE factor that I have found to be an indicator of success (however that’s defined) is “willingness.” Rolfing will require your participation, on and off the table. If you are not really willing to do your part, then Rolfing is not for you. In Rolfing, the client and practitioner work collaboratively, as a team, to maximize results.

I hope this helps you understand more about what Rolfing isn’t. For more about What Rolfing IS, or to discuss your particular situation, please feel free to contact me any time.