Most clients begin their Rolfing by receiving what is called a “10-series”. A 10-series is a neat little package of ten sessions that take a journey from the broad outer wrappings of superficial soft tissues into the core structures of the body and then into integration. If a client doesn’t want to or cannot do a 10-series, the first three treatments can make a perfect mini-series.
Ida Rolf, the creator of structural integration, used an image of a sweater getting snagged to illustrate what happens when our soft tissues get “snagged” by dysfunctional usage patterns and injuries. The same way the fibers of a sweater will get pulled toward a nail it got caught on, our own tissues get pulled toward points of strain. In the first three sessions, we work on unsnagging and spreading all the soft tissues away from points of tension, injury and strain.
In the first treatment, we highlight the breath. Ida originally began with the feet, reasoning that since they are one of the main supports of the body, it would be most useful to begin by helping them to function better. After many years, she realized that, in actuality, the breath is a more fundamental support system than the feet. She found that the body changes more easily when there is more breath available. Now, when someone comes in for the first time, we assess where in their body breath is flowing well and where it looks like it could move better (the client remains clothed in underwear for the assessments and treatments). We look for movement in the ribcage: towards the front, back and sides as well as up and down. We look at the diaphragm, front and back, assessing where it could use more movement and responsiveness to the breath. At the same time, we are looking broadly for areas of “snags”, places where tissues appear to be too tightly wrapped. And, since each Rolfing session is also a preparation for the ones that come next, we also begin to encourage openness in the shoulder and pelvic girdles.
In that first session, the client is often lying on his or her back and we work those areas where it looks like there could be more breath (e.g. in between the ribs, in the upper torso, on the sides of the body, or wherever breath and movement look restricted, in order to encourage a three-dimensional experience of breath). The touch is often broad rather than focused, and we keep in mind the intention of spreading the tissues away from snags and of loosening any tight shrink wrap. We often encourage greater awareness of breathing patterns during this session, and most people realize they chronically breathe more shallowly or less smoothly than they would like.
After working the breathing restrictions, we begin to address shoulder and hip/pelvis patterns that might be creating strain, often moving the client into a side-lying position.
Each session also includes neck work and usually some back work. The back work most often happens with the client in a seated position, either on the massage table or a chair. This is a new experience for most clients and often becomes their favorite part. Ida was big on working on people upright in gravity whenever possible to help them discover a new way to be upright when going about their normal life. Seated back work gives the Rolfer a wonderful view of and access to tight muscles and any spinal rotations or imbalances.
The second session focuses on our other two main support systems: the feet/lower legs and the back. As always, the Rolfer does an assessment to decide where to focus the work. Sometimes this treatment begins to correct dysfunctional walking patterns that might have begun years ago after an injury. Specifically, it can help with ankles that chronically sprain, fallen arches, hammertoes and bunions. Clients who need more help with their back might spend more time seated, getting help loosening the soft tissues along the spine and between the shoulder blades.
After the second session, most people feel their weight coming down differently onto their feet and their walk changing. Others don’t notice much difference this early, needing the support of subsequent treatments for their gait to change. For some, it is the beginning of an ease in symptoms they may have been experiencing in their back and neck.
The third session is what one of my teachers used to call the “Oreo cookie” session. It is about helping to create a more distinct front, back and middle. Until Ida came along, no one had ever given much thought to the idea of having a middle. She realized, however, that in order for a well-functioning front and back to materialize, it is necessary to have a middle that is differentiated from, yet integrated into, the front and back. For work on the middle, the client is usually side-lying, and we spread tissue off the midline, manually showing the body how to have a front, back and middle. We work from the knee up to the base of the skull. It is a wonderful session, one people generally get up from feeling better balanced and more open.
Sometimes the work focuses more on the pelvis and low back, sometimes more on the ribs and shoulder girdle. As in the first two sessions, we do a visual assessment at the beginning to decide what is already open and moving well and what looks like it could use some help. We are also keeping that broad, snagged image in mind, always working the large patterns that might be causing problems.
If a client decides Rolfing is not the right therapy at this time, or wants to work with a different therapist, this is a great time to have completion or take a break. The first three sessions make a wonderful mini-series in their own right, and they also lay a great foundation for a ten-series if the client does want to continue.
When I begin with new people, I always tell them to come get the first session just to see if they like me and the work. If they do, I ask them to commit, in their own minds (not to me), to doing the first three. After three times, most clients can tell that in a general sense they feel better, or their symptoms have improved. If they continue with the 10-series, it is best to commit (again, not to me) to finishing the series over the next 7 weeks to a year, whatever works best for scheduling, finances and the needs of each body to pace appropriately.
by Jill Gerber, LMT, Certified Advanced Rolfer and Rolfing® Movement Integration Practitioner
© copyright 2009 Jill Gerber all rights reserved.