A Short Guide Through a Rolfing Series

Rolfing is best done as a series of sessions, where we work to build support for changes made in each upcoming session.  In this way, changes are more able to be adopted by the individual and integrated into their own structure and movement patterns.  A full Rolfing series is usually conducted in about 10 sessions divided up into 3 cycles. The sleeve cycle, the core cycle, and the integrative cycle.  

The sleeve cycle

During the sleeve cycle we work to address the larger muscles of action and the superficial layers of connective tissue.  We separate muscles that have been glued together, decompress joints, and free the deeper core muscles from the constriction of the sleeve muscles so they can begin to do the tasks they are designed to do.  

Session 1 Breath

In the first session we try to free up the breath from the constriction in the torso.  Not much can be achieved if even the act of breathing is tugging and pulling on things.  We also address the hip and shoulder girdles to assist in freeing the chest and abdomen, and to allow for smoother contralateral movement when walking.   Rolfing is primarily concerned with movement, and how we use these changes in life.

Session 2 Feet

Our entire structure is affected if we don’t walk well, and for this we need to have the full use of our feet and ankles.  Also important to this session is the lower leg and the knees. We try to open up the arches, the toe hing, the ankles, and free up the calves and shins.  We take in a lot of information through our feet. Developing a new relationship with the foot can help to inform the entire body. This is what we need to help reorder our structure.

Session 3 Sideline

In this session we come back to the hips and shoulders again, and address the entire sideline of the upper body, differentiating front from back.  Hip constriction affects feet and knees, feet and ankles affect knees and hips. The hips support the upper body and the upper body supports the shoulders.  So we come back to these areas again after we address the feet and the lower legs.

The core cycle

In the core cycle we are addressing the deeper muscles of posture, which usually become constricted by the larger muscles of action, the sleeve.   Our core muscles use less oxygen than our sleeve muscles and therefore do not tire as easily. Over time it is common to begin to use our large muscles of action for finer movement and just to hold us upright.  When this happens we get fatigued more easily, and the core muscle become less active. The sleeve sessions were more about separation, the core sessions are about bringing awareness to the core muscles in order to encourage them to become more active again.  When this happens movement and static posture become more effortless, more graceful.

Session 4 The pelvic floor

The next few sessions address freeing the pelvis from all aspects- front, back, top, and bottom.  This session addresses the pelvis from the posterior lower aspect. We do so by working up the inner leg, through the adductors to the pelvic floor.  Unknown or simply overlooked by many people, the pelvic floor is a diaphragm, and much like the respiratory diaphragm, it also needs to be able to move as we breath in order to allow the organs to shift up and down with each breath.  An unresponsive pelvic floor can lead to many problems, from incontinence to hernia. Life is better if we can breathe freely, and the pelvic floor is a factor in the freedom of breath.

Session 5 The Core

As suggested above, this session could be considered the fulcrum of the 10 series, and gets to the very core of the matter.  We address the abdominal region as well as the front top aspect of the pelvis. We try to cultivate awareness in the psoas, which is basically the muscle our leg hangs from, via our our lower spine.  The psoas can act as a stabilizing muscle, but it is primarily needed as a hip flexor. When the psoas is tied up as a stabilizing muscle it can not do this job well, and will put excess strain on the lower back.  In this session, as with all the core sessions, cultivating awareness is the key to restoring functionality.

Session 6 Posterior Pelvis

In session 6 we are concerned with working up the entire posterior aspect of the legs to the backside of the pelvis, the larger muscles and the ligaments of the pelvis.  By this time we have addressed the pelvis from top to bottom, and from front to back and have tried to achieve some degree of horizontal stability. With this stability spinal work can be more effective and long lasting.

Session 7 The neck

We address the neck in every session, as it supports the head, and it is with the proprioceptive ability of the head that we find our way through life in gravity.  Although we touch in on the neck briefly in every session, this is the session devoted to the neck, face and head. We separate muscles, address the mobility of the vertebrae, and try to get some separation of the throat from the neck muscles too.  We then move on to address the face and head, as well as the jaw and even the nasal passages. The overall effect is to encourage the neck to sit upright on the shoulders and to have a feeling of the neck extending up out of the shoulders towards the sky.  We are truly upright beings!

The integrative Cycle

During the integrative cycle we work to get the body to function more smoothly over larger areas.  In the first cycle we were concerned with separation, now we are concerned with co-operation. We have addressed obstructions and constrictions, now it is time to get the individual using the things they could not previously uses well, and to integrate it into their everyday life.

Session 8 Lower Body Integration

In this session we focus on the legs up to the hips and the lower spine up to the middle of the torso.  We want to encourage the lower body to to communicate with the upper body when walking, and every other aspect of ordinary life.

Session 9 Upper Body Integration

Now is the time for the serious spine work.  Just about anyone, if asked, would want to start there but we have been building up support through every session until now,  with the idea that spinal manipulation will be more effective and lasting when we have the support to hold onto changes made. Back, chest and neck work are all fair game here as well.  We work to encourage the upper body to communicate with the lower body in motion, across the middle of torso.

Session 10 Diaphragms

We consider all the horizontal structures to be diaphragms.  This breaks with common anatomical terminology, which only consider the thoracic, respiratory, and pelvic diaphragms.  We view the arches, the ankles, the knees, and even the jaw as diaphragms too. Just as sounding a drum will trigger resonance with surrounding drums in the room, we have the opinion that diaphragms in the body all affect one another.  This session, as with the other two integrative sessions, is a good time to see what needs to be addressed and to wrap up loose ends as we aim to finish the series with it. Another session or two may be called for after this, if we feel there are some things that still need attention, but usually this is the last session of the series.  Structure and the functun have been optimised and integrated. A person will continue to adjust and change for a good year or so after we are done. We helped get the ball rolling, now the process takes on a life of its own.


Key Points:

  • Contralateral Movement

  • Lift

  • Extension

  • Expression

  • Grace

  • Vitality

  • Support

  • Stability

  • Endurance

  • Confidence

  • Proprioception

  • Sensation

  • Expansion

  • Awareness

  • Centeredness

  • Efficiency

  • Balance

  • Organization