I ❤ Rolfing
Structural Integration


The First Three Sessions

The First Session

The first session’s goal is to systematically release the body’s “stocking,” or the fascial sheath that lies just below the skin’s surface. Some lengthening of the trunk up and out of the pelvis is also anticipated, as well as a relaxation of the legs below the hip joint. Some people appear to be jammed into the pelvic structure from both above and below. After the initial session, clients usually feel longer and experience freer movement in the pelvis.

The breathing pattern of the client is also affected by this session. Most of us employ only the upper rib cage, or only the belly, when we breathe instead of using the full rib area and the diaphragm. By skillfully working with the superficial fascia as it spans the ribs, shoulder joint, and costal arch, a Rolfer can help fashion a breathing pattern which uses the diaphragm and the front, sides, and back of the rib cage to create one smooth, bellows-like motion. The lungs get some help gliding freely within their cavity. As breathing becomes deeper and easier as the sessions go on, more oxygen is available for metabolic and catabolic activities, and the client feels an increase of energy.

The first session often involves some freeing of the fascial planes around the neck and shoulders, a lengthening of the structures on either side of the spine and those covering the lower back. Finally the client is asked to walk and describe what changes he or she feels. Reports of “lightness” and ease, and the sensation that one is taking up more space are common. Some kind of “homework” is often assigned in order to reinforce the session’s results. Your Rolfer might suggest that you imagine a string hanging from a helium balloon and tugging on the top of your head as you walk. Or you might be told to allow your breaths to press against the sides of the ribs or to both rise toward the head and drop to the navel.

Want homework to practice between sessions? Check out the recommended reading on the Supplemental Materials page, and try these videos of Rolf Movement Exercises – there are three exercises to go with each session in the series.

The Second Session

The second Rolfing session centers around the feet and the legs up to knee. Many people don’t use their whole foot.  Old ankle injuries may cause you to rely on the outer edge of the foot, or cause you to collapse inward.  In addition, most people walk by stepping too far forward and forcing the legs to pull the upper body along after them. This habit puts too much pressure on the heels, reduces flexibility in the toes and metatarsals, and causes hamstring tension. If, on the other hand, the upper body initiates a step by “falling” lightly forward, the legs can easily swing forward in response, and the body’s weight will be “caught” by the whole foot. Then the foot is able to roll through each joint, including the small bones in the toes. To teach this way of walking, the second session begins with the feet.

After one leg has been worked with, clients are asked to walk and compare the action of the two legs. Invariably, they report that the leg which has been Rolfed feels stronger, more secure. Often they notice that the weight travels differently through the foot during walking. Sometimes they notice a difference in sensory input as well: Ida Rolf said with a smile that “the carpet feels more expensive” under the foot that has been worked on. The other leg will then have its turn, along with some work on the back and neck to complete the session.  

The Third Session

The third Rolfing session is about integration. It ties the first two sessions together into a complex whole. It is the last of the introductory sessions and a crucial point for both Rolfer and client. If, for any reason, either one wishes to delay the series, it is advantageous to do so before the fourth Rolfing session, which begins to deal with the deep structures of the pelvis.

Fundamentally, the third Rolfing session deals with what’s called the “lateral line” from the greater trochanter of the femur, or thigh bone, to the head of the humerus, or upper arm. The client lies on his or her side as the Rolf practitioner arranges the shoulder, ribs and pelvis so they can stack up evenly. The rib cage must be free from the shoulder girdle on top and the pelvis underneath. The Rolfer’s goal is to set each in its own space without crowding from its neighbors. The result will eventually be freer breathing and less painful crowding of the structures.

Your Rolfer may assign a mental exercise as homework after the third session, such as asking you to imagine that your pelvis is hanging from the rib cage like a swing hanging from a tree limb.

Next Section: Sessions 4 – 7