Who Was Ida P. Rolf and What Kind of Impact Did Rolfing Have on the World of Healing?

Do women change the world of healing? Before you answer that question, consider the case of Ida P. Rolf, and the tool she created, aptly called, “Rolfing”. Some years ago, Ida P. Rolf (1896 – 1979) wrote a book that changed the world and my life. The title of that book is The Rolfing Integration of Human Structures. In this intriguing book, she describes how she worked with the structural alignment of her patients. Rolf’s book uses before and after photographs to show the results she was able to achieve with her patients.

I found the book fascinating. I resolved to do some research on this interesting and intriguing woman and her healing approach. Rolf was born in New York City, in the Bronx, on May 19, 1896. An only child, her father, Bernard Rolf, was a civil engineer who built docks and piers on the east coast.

Rolf graduated from Barnard College in 1916 with a bachelor’s degree. She was in the Mathematics Club, German Club, Vice President of the class of 1916, a member of the Young Women’s Christian Assn., was the alternate for the Graduate Fellowship while working at the Rockefeller Foundation, Business Manager of The Barnard Bulletin, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She received Departmental Honours in Chemistry at graduation. In 1917, she began her doctoral studies at Columbia University, and, concurrently, Rolf also began work at the Rockefeller Institute as a chemical research worker. In 1920, Rolf earned her Ph.D. in biological chemistry.

I learned that Structural Integration is a type of manual therapy that improves human biomechanical functioning as a whole, rather than treating particular symptoms. I discovered that Rolf began developing her system in the 1940s. Her goal was to organize the human bodily structure in relation to gravity. Rolf called her method, “Structural Integration”, now also commonly known by the trademark, “Rolfing”.

Rolf was able to create a form of healing that has positively impacted not only me but countless numbers of other people. She created this healing modality from three threads of her life’s experiences. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry of connective tissue. That was her scientific thread. Ida also developed a very deep yoga practice. She used some of the concepts and ideas she gleaned from this practice as a second thread in her creation of Rolfing. The third thread that helped form her unique healing approach was her friends and family members.

From time to time, friends and family members would come to her requesting relief from their bodily aches and pains. In trying to help them, Ida used her educational and practical knowledge of the biochemistry of connective tissue. She also took her practical knowledge of yoga and its’ concepts about alignment and stretching, and combined them. She took these two threads and applied what she knew, to rid her friends and family of pain. By combining her knowledge, insights, and experimentation with those individuals, she began to put together an approach that effectively helped give them lasting relief.

She worked on a person’s fascia (connective tissue that wraps all of the body’s muscles) then had them stand up and asked them, “How does that feel?” Then she would try something else and compare the results. As she would repeat this process over and over again, she noticed that the better her “patients” felt correlated closely with significant improvements in their structural alignment. She worked long enough until she had enough evidence to codify her work in a powerful 10 session process she called, “the recipe”.

After a period of time, she had enough practical knowledge to know what worked and what did not work. Her initial intention was not to create an alternative healing model but to help her friends and family with pain.

Soon, more and more people who heard about these results requested treatment from her. At that point, she decided to expand her ability to help people and started teaching her methods to others. In the process, she wrote her first book, documenting through pictures, the results she attained for her patients. Ida was quoted as saying, “When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body can heal itself.”

In addition to the proliferation of practitioners and training institutes that are devoted specifically to Structural Integration, Rolf’s concepts and methods have influenced a wide range of other contemporary manual therapies. A growing number of organizations (i.e. massage therapists, chiropractors and physical therapists) offer training in, “structural bodywork”, or in techniques of fascial manipulation that are clearly derivative but lack the transformative holistic perspective of Structural Integration. These therapies focus on specific symptoms).

As I mentioned in a previous article, my research led me to seek treatment for my bodily conditions and eventually resulted in my study and certification as a practitioner of Structural Integration.

Do women really change the world of healing? Absolutely. The vision and follow-through of this phenomenal woman, Ida P. Rolf, has helped create a less painful and healthier planet through healing our relationship with gravity.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jacobson, Eric: The Journal of alternative and complementary medicine. Volume 17, Number 9, 2011, p. 778; Myers, Tom: Structural Integration. Developments in Ida Rolf´s recipe. I. J Bodywork Movement Ther 2004, pp. 131-142.

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About the writer: Robert Auerbach

~ Since Robert began practicing in 1996, he was asked what he finds most compelling about his work with Structural Integration. He answered, "Watching my clients change before my eyes, ... watching life-long postural and structural problems disappear, ... seeing their amazement as their breathing dramatically improves in the first session, and the smiles on their faces as they get off the table and find the pain and limitations they came in with, gone or significantly improved." In addition to his Rolf Training, Robert has been trained in Comprehensive Energy Psychology (including EFT and TAT). He has developed the Higher Self Repatterning Process for clearing out old emotional and karmic patterns quickly. For more information contact Robert at : (313) 407-6343

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