Friday, 29 April 2011

Have you been Rolfed?

As the week ran on, I became increasingly aware that my two current side projects for this blog were not going to be resolved in time. So, rather than rush a post that really deserved a little more input, I decided to go ahead and be skeptical about the deep and interesting practice of Rolfing.
“Wait”, you may say, “surely what happens between two (or more) consenting adults is their own business?”. Well, get your head out of the gutter. Rolfing isn’t nearly as exciting as whatever it is you’re thinking about. Rather, it’s a fairly widespread form of woo with practitioners stretched from it’s founding school in Boulder, Colorado to our very own Ireland.

What is Rolfing? 
Essentially takes the form of a very deep tissue massage, aimed at realigning your fascia, or soft tissue. Why? So that your organs can be arranged into a better structure, allowing your personal gravity to ‘flow’ more freely. Depending on which Rolfer (As they are known. No, really.) you ask, this is either a metaphor for how the treatment allows you to better manage your body under the constant effect of gravity, or an actually metaphysical realignment of ones ‘gravity field’ to allow said field to reinforce your ‘personal energy field’. Presumably this gives you some benefit in deflecting photon torpedoes, but this goes strangely unmentioned. There is no lack of other claims of incredible benefits, however. The regulating bodies website,, promises that the procedure will remake you ‘physically, emotionally, and energetically.’ Another practitioner promises to take 10-15 years off your biological clock, improve sports performance and leave you better equipped to deal with emotional difficulties. All this from a massage.

While clearly I’ve enjoyed writing the name over and over again, why exactly is Rolfing called Rolfing? The practice was founded by one Ida Rolf, who called the technique Structural Integration, a name which thankfully, for those of us with an appreciation for ridiculous sounding names, didn’t take. She established the school in the 1950’s, having previously left a career in biochemistry to experiment with Homeopathy, Chiropractic and Yoga. She’s the one who wrote the claim above that Rolfing could help align your personal energy field (whatever that is), and emphasised the link between Rolfing and gravity. Eventually a formal school was formed in Boulder, Colorado, which brings me to my main three criticisms of Rolfing. 

Rolfing makes a lot of claims to aid your health in a myriad of ways, and some of these claims even seem to have a kernal of truth about them. A number of studies have shown that Rolfing can help with stress, some muscle pain and a few other symptoms; for example, those which seem to respond with any other form of massage. It’s in the bold, metaphysical claims of Rolfing where the problems lie; there’s no evidence for most of it’s supposed benefits at all. It’s like massage mixed with Reiki in that regard, interacting as it does with a strange and untestable energy field which regular medicine for some reason ignores. 
My second complaint is the cost; at €1,000 for a 10 session treatment, it’s an fairly expensive form of not doing anything for your health problems. But that’s really par for the course when it comes to most forms of ‘alternative’ medicine.
Finally, there’s an extra element of exploitation involved in Rolfing; that of the practitioners themselves. Remember that school I mentioned in Boulder? It’s the only place you can become a certified Rolfer (thought rival schools do exist) and charges between $15,000 and $17,000 for the c.1,100 hours of training required to receive your certification. All that time, money and effort for what essentially boils down to a pseudo-scientific massage. After buying into the practice to that degree, I can only imagine most Rolfers are themselves more than a little insulated from criticism of their chosen profession. I know I would be.
So the moral of the story is this; if someone offers to give you a good Rolfing, just remember; they might be well meaning, and something of a victim themselves, but regardless they're unlikely to do you any good.


  1. I know a woman who had this done. I thought it was legit until she showed me the bruises on her legs; it was like someone had been hitting her in the same spot with a baseball bat for a few hours. After seeing that, I wouldn't wish that treatment on my worst enemy, let alone pay €1,000 for it.

  2. You seem to have missed the key point with rolfing. It manipulates the muscle fascia rather than the muscle. You never even mention this. By doing so it can increase range of motion and correct chronic muscle tightness. I'm a powerlifter who has spent years stretching with imperceptible increases in mobility. I had a huge increase in mobility (going from touching my knees to reaching the floor) in a single session. This was without heat and without any the pain of a useless deep tissue massage. If it hurt your rolfer likely didn't know what they were doing. For me, this was a huge return on time invested. Never once did my rolfer (who is a tiny woman) mention any hippie metaphysical mumbo jumbo. She described the fascia, how it connects unrelated muscles and how releasing little snags that develop over time in seemingly unrelated parts of the fascia can have an effect on flexibility. I don't know or really care if the theory is exactly right because I do know I can now touch my toes for the first time in my life. I'm officially far more skeptical of PNF stretching and static stretching for increases in flexibility than rolfing.

  3. Have you tried it? know what they say about opinions.

  4. This article seems to be written by someone who has zero experience with Rolfing and read some random assortment of articles on the topic. I am a tall guy and have posture problems, low back pain and general achyness after physical actovity.... Have tried 10years of a myriad of physical therapy, stretching, almost underwent a back surgery and many other things... All with short term and limited progress. I would often take pain pills weekly and some time daily to get through life. After 7 Rolfing sessions and using Foundation Training to support it, I am 100% pain free, have the best posture of my adult life and can work and play with nearly no achyness at all. I would say it works, and maybe it made a larger difference for me bc I am a prime candidate for its benefits, but for what I described it 100% works. As for its meta physical and spiritual benefits I agree that sounds a little tougher to prove.

    If you think modern medicine works why is cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes at an all time high and still rising?