Rolfing: What is Connective Tissue?

Rolfing: What is Connective Tissue?

Our bodies are complex systems.  Isolating one aspect of our being is largely impossible.  When a bodyworker holds a head in their hands, they are cradling the upper most portion of the central nervous system, the galea aponeurotica, the occipital nerves and countless other structures.  The collective understanding of the body is moving beyond the purely anatomical model, where we are seen as the segmented parts of 206 bones and 650 muscles. 

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One framework for viewing the body is through the endless connective tissue web of the fascia. Until recently, the scientific community disregarded this web of collagenous, fibrous tissue. In cadaver labs, the practice was simply to cut the fascia out to better reveal the individual muscles. However, Ida Rolf, who graduated with a PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University, (that is six years before the Law School even admitted women!) was a pioneer in the field of fascia. Though the research was not yet there, she and her colleagues found that through long, slow sustained pressure and an intelligent, systematic approach to the body- they were able to create lasting change. 

 Though still a new field of study, the importance of fascia is now well documented. Beginning in 2007, there has been a Fascial Research Congress, meeting once a year at Harvard Medical School. Top fascia scientists such as Robert Schleip, Frans Van den Berg and Peter Huijing are beginning to unwind just what is going on with this mysterious network. Fascia is the proprioceptive organ of the body . The fascia is highly innervated, more so than the muscles, and is in constant dialogue with the central nervous system about where the body is in space.  Fascia wraps around each muscle fiber, each muscle bundle, every muscle, organ, even bones are made up of the stuff of connective tissue. It is truly an endless web that connects the entire body.  Someone who works with the fascia understands that doing work on one area of the body has an effect throughout the whole system. 

Rolfing is a form of bodywork focused primarily on the connection of the fascia and the central nervous system.  Over the course of our lives (and as we are learning from epigenetics, from our ancestors’ lives as well) we accumulate injuries, bad habits, emotional stresses, and repetitive movement patterns that affect our posture and how we walk. Vivian Jay, a Rolfer with an MFA in dance says, “The way we walk across a room is the way we move through life.”  The ten series of Rolfing helps guide an individual through the process of increasing body awareness and shifting alignment so that the physical body can move from a more neutral place allowing for a connected, pain-free existence. 

The people who typically seek out Rolfing are often athletes looking to fine tune their bodies, people suffering from chronic pain, individuals with postural distortions, or people who just feel blocked in their daily life. While each session is fine tuned to the specific needs of the individual, there is an overarching ‘recipe’ for how to address the structure. The first three sessions touch in on the entire superficial facial network. Some people find their underlying issues resolved after these initial sessions. Sessions four and five horizontalize the pelvis by working above and below it and releasing the psoas. Session six works the entire back line of the body, while session seven focuses on the upper pole, including the face and neck. The final sessions work to integrate the entire body.  Though the most significant and lasting changes come from going through the entire process, some people prefer to just receive spot work on the areas that are causing them pain. 

In the 1960s the work was initially very deep and often described as painful. At times, the work can still be very intense; it took lifetime to acquire these structural misalignments, so breaking them apart can at times be intense. However, the nervous system does not integrate changes if the body is in fight/flight or freeze mode.  Rolfing has evolved over the years and become more intelligent.  Sessions will not take anyone past their threshold for pain. Everyone’s experience with Rolfing is different. Some people experience emotional releases that shift the direction of their life, while others simply stand up straighter, taller and with less pain. Our posture reveals our story. Take time to care and develop your story as you wish. 

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