Rolfing structural integration


Rolfing structural integration

Premises of the work

Rolfing Structural Integration1, developed by Ida P. Rolf, PhD, organizes the human being in gravity. It enhances structural and functional integrity, as revealed by proper alignment and coordination. Two foundational premises distinguish Rolfing from other somatic practices: first, that physical balance, fluidity, ease and grace, and indeed personal well-being, all require appropriate adaptation to the field of gravity; and second, that the fundamental organ of structure is fascia.

Rolfers approach misalignment and chronic musculoskeletal complaints from the perspective that symptoms manifest a more generalized dysfunction; and that if posture and movement quality improve, complaints are likely to resolve spontaneously.2 Rolfers therefore address the whole person, rather than the person’s presenting complaints.

Key characteristics of fascia for Rolfing Structural Integration

Rolfing works because fascia is:

Fascia forms a continuous web throughout the whole body, surrounding all muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Because the fascia associated with any body structure typically lacks an anatomical name, we use the name of the structure itself to refer to its associated fascia. Through the fascia, the entire body is affected somewhat by any local change. This fascial continuity allows Rolfers to facilitate change in tissues distant from the contact point – even those that cannot be touched directly. To influence the body’s many layers and planes of fascia, the distinctly vectored touch of Rolfing is highly educated and versatile.

The fascial web constantly changes shape, chemical composition, and physical properties to adapt to mechanical and other stresses. Recognizing fascia’s capacity to self-correct over time, Rolfers facilitate limited positional and functional changes to which the body can adapt, allowing adequate time between interventions for the adaptations to occur. After each adaptation, new changes become possible.

The fascial web, dense with various mechanoreceptors, is a body-wide mechanosensory organ (Schleip 2003) telling us where we are in space and what our bodies are doing. As information is collected and carried through the fascial web (Langevin 2006), the mechanoreceptors communicate with a self-regulating aspect of the neuromotor system.

Finally, fascia responds to gravity – the force to which we are all continuously subject. As a ship’s sail needs wind to function, fascia needs gravity. In a sense, gravity is a fixed vector against which fascia organizes bodily structure and function.

Facilitating integrated structure and function

Much of the Rolfer’s work is to balance opposing lengths and tensions within the fascial net. Structurally, Rolfers look for a palintonic quality of posture (relative segmental arrangement). The Greek palintonos refers to a dialog between opposites within an orthogonal order, which order is manifest in the relationships among structures, spatial dimensions, volumes and planes. An imaginary plumb line through the center of the body expresses occupation and use of space in the sagittal, frontal and horizontal planes (see Fig. 7.3.1). Posture both potentiates and limits movement options. Functionally, Rolfers assess movement for ease, fluidity, and contralateral movement in the limbs, shoulder and pelvic girdles, and spine. In general, as palintonic right angles are established in the structure, the diagonals of contralaterality emerge in function.

Before we can move, we perceive and orient to directions in space. The Rolfer’s work reaches beyond fascial patterns to patterns of sensory perception (touch, vision, hearing, and proprioception) and neuromotor coordination (balance between tonic and phasic muscles, and between local and global body stabilizers), as dysfunction in either realm limits structural and functional order.

Finally, because Rolfers understand that both structure and function are in some sense relational attitudes based on all aspects of experience, they consider not only the client’s perceptions of the social and physical environment, but also awareness of and attribution of meaning to them.

This chapter uses the traditional 10-session series to illustrate how Rolfers take advantage of fascia’s key characteristics. The discussion of each session is descriptive only, and far from comprehensive as to elements or processes.

The traditional Rolfing Structural Integration series

Dr. Rolf’s 10-session protocol is both a teaching tool and a basic strategy to deliver the work, though in practice the number and content of sessions are influenced by the client’s needs and the practitioner’s expertise.

The protocol builds on key characteristics of fascia as an organ of structure and communication, its logic producing an orderly and well-supported arrangement of body segments in 3-dimensional space along the imaginary plumb line. Because fascia wraps body parts in layers of varying depths, the protocol starts from the outer layers, first working inward — and then back outward. Since fascia is malleable according to changes in functional demands and over time, the protocol induces changes in the right order – i.e., in an order such that the fascia can adapt and integrate them. Because the density of mechanoreceptors and other characteristics of healthy fascia make it an information highway (especially for information related to the gravity response), the protocol addresses early on the fascia of key orienting areas such as the feet and the occiput. Finally, because fascia responds to gravity, the protocol starts from the ground and works up – and then back down – building from an adequate foundation a balanced structure free of torsions caused by cantilevers.

The logic of the protocol is functional, too; e.g., we begin by freeing the breath, progress through finding the ground, and conclude by integrating the person in his or her surroundings. The sequence facilitates progressive levels of movement integration, manifesting as enhanced contralaterality.

Session 1: Open the superficial fascia

We begin by opening the superficial fascia, giving particular attention to its attachments at bony margins (e.g., the iliac crest and scapular spine) and to regions where it limits the position of major bony segments (e.g., superficial rib fascia and femoral head fascia). This is essentially preparatory, as restriction in this outermost layer limits changes in layers below.

Structurally, we differentiate thorax from shoulder girdle, thorax from pelvis, and pelvis from legs. This differentiation is a precondition for a balanced and palintonic arrangement among these major segments. For example, as femoral rotation approaches neutral, the pelvis has greater independence from the legs and can find better balance over the feet. This, in turn, allows the pelvis to provide greater support for the thorax.

Functionally, Session 1 frees the breath. The ontogenic logic is evident: a newborn’s first act is a deep breath. Improving the pelvis as a base of support enables adaptable sagittal plane movement of the upper body’s center of gravity (at the approximate level of T4), which Rolfers call G-prime (G′).

Session 2: Establish a base of support

The upright body needs sound and adaptable feet. Loaded with mechanoreceptors, the feet gather information for the entire body to maintain balance. As the fascial system as a whole responds to gravity, better feet allow greater ease throughout the body. Session 2 differentiates and makes adaptable the myofascia and bones of the feet and lower legs, and begins to release fascial restrictions of posterior structures such as hamstrings and spinal erectors.

Structurally, Session 2 balances the feet from front to back, and from the lateral arch to the medial arch (through the transverse arch); restores resilience to the interosseus membrane of the lower leg; and organizes the medial, lateral and posterior compartments of the lower leg. This brings greater order to G (the lower body’s center of gravity, located at approximately L4) by giving the lower body a better place to rest its weight.

Functionally, it decouples the foot’s intrinsic muscles from the extrinsic muscles crossing the ankle, allowing the toes movement independent of the ankles and improving the propulsion phase of the gait. Stimulation of the intrinsic muscles improves contact with the ground and introduces movement in the frontal plane by restoring the interplay between the cuboid and navicular bones. This enhances the ability of the feet (in conjunction with the eyes, inner ear, and temporomandibular joint) (Bricot 2001) to maintain dynamic equilibrium.

Work on the superficial spinal erectors begins the task of optimizing the transition point for contralateral spinal movement, ideally located between T8 and T10. A higher transition produces a long or exaggerated lordosis, which dissipates the impulse coming from the legs at the level of the abdomen. This manifests as excessive motion in the pelvic girdle and legs relative to that of the shoulder girdle and arms. Conversely, a transition below T8/T10 produces relatively flat lumbars and a long or exaggerated kyphosis. This configuration cannot efficiently transform the impulse from the legs into contralateral movement at the axial level, and the shoulder girdle and arms will compensate with excessive motion relative to that of the pelvic girdle and legs.

Aug 24, 2016 | Posted by in ORTHOPEDIC | Comments Off on Rolfing structural integration
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