A Yogi's Experience with Rolfing®

 *This is an article one client wrote about our time working together in Mysore, India.*  

See her full yoga blog!

'Rolfing', ashtanga and getting myself back...

A few weeks ago I began a course of ‘Structural Integration’ also known as ‘Rolfing’, as a yoga teacher told me once that it was the best form of body-work that they’d experienced. I hesitated at the price back in the UK (it can be quite expensive, I think 40-50 GBP and there weren’t that many Rolfers around) so when I saw that there were a couple offering it for less than half that in Mysore, I jumped at the chance to give it a go.

My yoga teacher has been working with me for a few months now, trying to entice my hips to open, but for some reason they just weren’t budging! He even said, ‘Michelle, I don’t understand, you’ve been here for 5 months now and you still cannot do baddha konasana?!’ So I decided to ‘get Rolfed’ and see if the manipulation of the myofascial tissue would somehow release my hips.

I explained I’d been having pain in the front of my right hip, but that both were sore most of the time, restricting movements especially in marichi A and C as well as ardha matsyendrasana. So she took a look and did some work on the SI and the hips as well as doing something to my arms as I had wrist pain but also across my collar bones. The results the next day were astounding! The wrist pain was gone, she said that because of the growth of muscle in my arms it was squeezing my nerve to my wrist and that by separating them it would release the nerve and there would be no pain and, the next day there was no pain. My SI and hips found a kind of space that they’d never had before and I could do leg behind head without ‘much’ pain! But the best result of this session was that I could instantly breathe deeper and without holding tension in my left shoulder which for some reason I noticed always happens. I was told that there was what Rolfers call the 10 series where they work on the whole body over 10 sessions to get your body back to its natural balance. So given the results I signed up for the whole course. 

So sessions 1-3 are referred to as the "sleeve" sessions, which address the superficial layers of connective tissue. They are devoted to improving the quality of your breath with work on the arm, ribcage and diaphragm. Opening is also started along the upper leg, hamstrings, neck and spine. The next aim is at providing you a powerful foundation by balancing your foot and lower leg.

Session 3 focuses on creating balance between the front and back of the body. This is done through a side view for understanding how the head, shoulder girdle and hips are related to one another when standing in gravity.

Sessions 4-7 are referred to as the “core” sessions and address the area between the bottom of the pelvis and the top of the head, as well as the deep tissue of the legs, which play a role in support.

Session 4 establishes a floor to the pelvis and brings awareness to the medial line of the leg through work extending from the inside arch of the foot, and up the leg, to the pelvic floor.

Session 5 is concerned with establishing balance between the surface and the deep abdominal layers with respect to the curve of the back.

Session 6 aims at finding more support and movement in the legs, freeing up the coccyx, and creating a horizontal pelvis.

Session 7 focuses solely on the neck and head, the positive pole of the body. Looks to balance the head neutrally over the spine.

Sessions 8-10 are “integrative” sessions strive to blend the previous advancements, and ones yet to be made, into the body in a way that encourages smooth movement and coordination. They are designed to further deconstruct twists and rotations, which affect the freedom and integrity of the lumbars (vertebrae of the low back) by lifting the thorax up and ordering the legs and pelvis below.

Session 10 relates the fascial planes to each other and creates an overall balance of the body. This is a final tuning taking you from a state of static balance to dynamic balance.

I have 2 sessions to go, but I am literally addicted to Rolfing now! It’s great to practice yoga in between the sessions because you can notice the changes so much. My balance whilst standing is better because she worked on my feet and heels, moving the heel into proper alignment and taught me how to stand properly. I used to stand with an exaggerated lumbar curve which has now gone and she also sorted out my head which I used to hold forward but now it sits properly at the top of my spine. A few years back I injured both knees (doing yoga in fact and have never been the same since) and my whole body contorted to try and protect them. The rolfing has ‘unstuck’ all my hamstrings and quads so that my knees now track properly and this has allowed me to use the muscles properly, instead of them acting like other muscles, pulling and straining and twisting my legs and knees. I’m not describing this well at all, but the overall experience has been amazing. Probably one of the best things I’ve done for my body ever. It’s one of those, ‘why didn’t I try this before’ moments.

This is the best comparison I have found for yoga and ‘Rolfing’ from www.connectivehealing.com.

“These two disciplines in many ways are variations on a single theme: both work towards the physical and emotional evolution of the individual by addressing structural alignment and whole-body integration. They share the same fundamental goals and principals, only their methods differ. Combined the two reinforce each other and allow for an even deeper exploration and awareness of self.

In yoga you practice asanas to lengthen, strengthen and align your structure. In Structural Integration (SI) your practitioner uses their hands to work with 3-dimensional soft tissue patterns that limit the body's comfort, balance and alignment in the gravitational field. It does this by focusing on the fascial system.

Fascia surrounds, supports and penetrates all of your muscles, bones and organs throughout your body in continuous web-like layers. This fascial net is the body's internal system of flexible support giving strength and shape to our bodies. This system responds to injury, chronic tension and habitual movement patterns by shortening, thickening and becoming glue-like thereby locking in these unhealthy patterns of strain and pulling the body out of alignment. SI works systematically and globally to release fixations, restore ease and create deep, comprehensive order in your body. It literally changes your shape, sometimes quite dramatically. People feel lighter, energized, more grounded and balanced. They experience greater breathing capacity, increased range of motion, ease and fluidity of movement, and a body more resilient to injury.

Yoga actually had an early influence in the birth of Structural Integration. Dr. Ida P Rolf, the biochemist who created SI, studied Iyengar yoga and drew upon its principles along with those of osteopathy, homeopathy, and the Alexander Technique. Dr. Rolf believed yoga was the best exercise system ever devised if done with the right teacher. She also believed that hands-on manipulation was needed to fully free the structure and to achieve ultimate length and separation in the joints. This led to the development of what is commonly referred to as "The 10 Series."This series is comprised of ten sessions, referred to as hours, which balance your body in segments with each session addressing a different aspect of your structure and movement. The results become cumulative as each session adds to the results of the previous ones.

Just as breath is the foundation of a yoga practice, it is also a focal point of The 10 Series. The first hour is devoted to improving the quality of your breath with work on the arm, ribcage and diaphragm. Ida once pointed out, "When the position of the ribs change, breathing changes. Getting more air into the lungs and getting it to move faster is going to change the chemistry of every cell in the body. So, in a first SI hour, we have started changing the chemistry of every cell in the body in the first 10 minutes."

One client of mine recently told me that for her SI is "like being yoga’d." Another described her experience with the following: "

Prior to being structurally integrated, I "worked" on having better posture. Now, I can "relax" into good posture because my body is properly aligned from head to toe. In yoga my balance increased significantly as I was able to spread my toes to increase surface area and reach longer through my spine. In addition, my flexibility increased exponentially with no additional effort. ."

While SI is successfully used to treat everything from migraines to fibromyalgia this was not Ida's primary objective. She was more interested in the evolution of the individual. Dr. Rolf saw SI as a means to evoke the greatest human potential lying within each one of us. In this way SI and yoga also share the common goal of facilitating deeper levels of consciousness and aliveness. As a more intimate and comfortable relationship with your physical body is fostered, the emotions and attitudes which are housed and expressed in your posture and patterns of holding are brought to light and given the opportunity to dissolve and become integrated.

Yogis have long been noticing the effects of SI as they find they are able to reach new depths and levels of ease both in mind and body. At the same time yoga is one of the best ways to support and maintain the benefits of SI. The combination of the two is a rich opportunity to broaden your sense of self thereby allowing the chance to transform limiting patterns of movement, thinking and behavior.” (http://connectivehealing.com/index_files/structural_integration_SI_and_yoga.html)

Well, I still can’t do baddha konasana and get my chest to the floor, but it’s improved greatly! However, something's definitely shifted as I can now get both legs behind the head relatively comfortably (eka pada for some reason is a little harder but I'm putting that down to a wonky SI joint/anteriorly tilted pelvis on the right), over the past 3 weeks I've been working on the Tittibhasana sequence in Intermediate and can now complete the sequence with full correct vinyasa, without collapsing in a heap and dead thighs on my mat! I think Vijay's pleased with my progress...well he must be cos he's given me Pincha Mayurasana to practice now...and I know what's coming next...more baddha konasana, upavistha and lotus work needed for that one for sure...

Nevertheless, the bit in the article about feeling energized is completely true too. I used to feel a lot of weight in my legs and the lower part of my body but now feel like that weight is distributed evenly throughout my body, I feel like my energy is moving a lot more freely now and I can differentiate single muscles now, when before they were all just ‘stuck’ together. I’d got to a point where my body no longer felt like my own body, I knew something was wrong but just couldn’t work out what was wrong. I knew there were blockages in energy, I could feel them and I have tried physiotherapy, psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, cardio-work, even an energetic healer and I would have to say that Rolfing by far, is the best thing I’ve done. Yep, even over yoga. But now I can continue my yoga practice with greater energy and use it to ensure that the blockages and unhealthy patterns, those physical and mental samskaras don’t come back!!