Rolfing® is a kind of massage that means listening with your hands
By Patrick Robinson
Human beings are a mix of brain and muscle, bone, and emotion and many say spirit and energy. Thought and habit shape us. We are animated by our mind and often held in patterns of motion by thinking about sensory input in only one way. We suffer from injuries, exercise too hard, and develop patterns of posture and rest that can lead to chronic pain. Millions of us seek relief in medications, braces, pads, creams, and much more. For others the answer is some form of massage.
In fact research estimates that massage therapy was an $18 billion industry in the country in 2018.
The history of therapeutic touch dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures that believed in it's medical benefits. The first written records of massage therapy are found in China and Egypt.
One form called Rolfing® was developed by Ida P. Rolf, Ph. D, in the 1960's and 70's and goes by the formal name of Rolfing Structural Integration®. It combines manual hands-on therapy and movement re-education to realign the body by applying a range of pressure and vectors to reorganize connective tissue which encompasses all the muscles, fascia, nerves, organs, ligaments, tendons, and bones. Dr. Rolf was a combination of intellectual, spiritual and practical. She was able to blend aspects of eastern healing traditions with her own uniquely grounded way of thinking about physical movement.
One of forty Rolfing® practitioners in the greater Seattle area and the only one in West Seattle is Jeanne Vadnais. She's a Certified Advanced Rolfer™ & Rolf Movement™ Practitioner with six years of experience.
Her own story is remarkable. A ballet dancer during her youth she found her lower back pain had become chronic and nothing provided full relief. But she had had some Rolfing® therapy done in her late 20's in Seattle. It changed her life. Not only was the pain gone but it would eventually give her a new career direction. Her education included a degree from UCLA and then a job with Amazon for 14 years. So powerful was her experience with Rolfing® she weighed taking the training against a move for Amazon to Ireland. Once there she went to one year long night school program on massage. She came up for an important assignment for the company, one for which she was uniquely qualified, and made an agreement with them that she would take the new assignment if she could get time off to go study Rolfing® at the only place in the U.S. it is taught, Boulder Colorado. It meant moving, along with her Irish born husband back to America. After taking the new assignment for Amazon to completion she finished her studies and made Rolfing® her new path.
For some time, in its early development, Rolfing® developed a reputation for being painful, but that's not accurate Vadnais explained , “If it’s painful it’s not being done properly. That’s not to say it’s completely comfortable but there should be no pain involved.”
I encountered Vadnais at the West Seattle Summerfest where she offered ten minute trial sessions. Since I had suffered a fall the previous December and twisted my knee, back and shoulder which remained in chronic pain, her offer sounded good. I booked a session. It was like nothing I expected. Normally Rolfing® involves a ten session approach aiming to both relieve pain but perhaps more importantly re-educate the body through a series of sessions focused on different areas. As Vadnais explained, for perhaps 30 minutes of the 90 minute session, nerve signals travel to the brain, which then interprets the signal. If it's perceived as pain you respond by recoiling or using that body part in a way to avoid the pain. While that's natural, beyond a certain point your body can develop patterns of movement that don't let you move naturally. She teaches you and your muscles to think about the information flow in a different way. For me that meant "pointing my shins" into each step. She arrived at this after having me stand, walk, and tell her where my weight was concentrated. She agreed that given my specific chronic pain issue my leg was a good place to begin. I've had massages before but this was very different. It was slow, deep, deliberate and she would pause at times to feel how the muscle was responding. She worked on entire muscle groups and asked that I participate by turning my leg at points. In researching this and in her comments and actions the idea of "listening with your hands" was reinforced. This isn't just meant to make you feel good. It's genuine therapy aimed at correcting problems.
Did it work? I was skeptical but upon walking out did feel markedly better. The next day in all honesty the pain was back but I took her at her word that the hands on aspect can only accomplish so much. It's a cooperative, collaborative process. So I followed her instructions. I got some odd persistent neck pain, my knee still hurt but it had absolutely changed. Five days out I can report that it now feels much better. Not perfect but I didn't expect one session to completely fix it.
Would I recommend it? Yes. Rolfing® doesn't hurt. It does teach you how to be more thoughtful about movement, how your body works with gravity, how to change your way of thinking about healing. Be prepared to spend more than you might for a conventional massage. But it's money well spent since it's not meant to just feel good.
It's meant to help you help yourself heal.
phone: 321-ROLFING (321)765-3464