Ida Rolf is the creator of a type of alternative medicine or therapy she called Structural Integration, more commonly known as Rolfing®, a type of therapy aimed at improving body alignment and functioning.
She is credited with discovering the important role of fascia and connective tissue, and most importantly, how it can be manipulated to release tension and pain in the body. This focus on the fascia or connective tissue distinguishes it from Chiropractic, which focuses on the skeletal system, and massage, which works with the muscles.
Dr. Rolf was a biochemist from New York City who studied alternative methods of bodywork and healing beginning in the 1920s. She graduated from Barnard College in 1916; and in 1920 she earned a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. For the next twelve years Ida Rolf worked at the Rockefeller Institute, first in the Department of Chemotherapy and later in the Department of Organic Chemistry. Eventually, she rose to the rank of Associate. In 1927, she took a leave of absence from her work to study mathematics and atomic physics at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich. During this time, she also studied homeopathic medicine in Geneva. Her research, aimed at resolving her family’s health problems, lead her to investigate many therapeutic methods, including osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga, the Alexander technique and Korzybski’s work on states of consciousness.
By the 1940’s, she was working in Manhattan where her schedule was filled with people seeking her help. Although she considered herself a scientist, many breakthroughs came intuitively as she worked with chronically disabled persons unable to find help elsewhere. The techniques she developed there eventually became known as Structural Integration.
Dr. Rolf developed a theory that the body’s aches and pains arose from basic imbalances in posture and alignment, which were created and reinforced over time by gravity and learned responses among muscles and fascia — the sheath-like connective tissue that surrounds and binds muscles and supports the skeletal structure of the body. Rolfing developed as a way to “restructure” muscles and fascia. It is a focused system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity by manipulating the myofascial system. It is typically delivered as a series of ten hands-on physical manipulation sessions sometimes called “the recipe”
Research has demonstrated that Rolfing creates more efficient muscle use, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement.
During the 1950’s, she spent summers as a guest of John Bennett, a prominent mystic and student of Gurdjieff in England. Then, in the mid-60’s, Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, invited her to the Esalen Institute in California, where she began training practitioners and instructors of Structural Integration.
Her reputation grew and in 1967, the first Guild for Structural Integration was formed in Boulder, Colorado and in 1971, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration was formed.
Today Rolfing is taught around the world along with many other methods of “structural bodywork” or fascial manipulation that have been inspired by Dr. Rolf’s work.