Rolfing Part 2: Learning to Breathe

This is the second in a series about Rolfing.

In my first article, I shared how I stumbled upon Rolfing while I was in desperate search of an alternative to surgery to treat De Quervain syndrome, an inflammation of the tendons in the thumb and the wrist. A Rolfer quickly determined the pain was actually emanating from my shoulder and treated me several times. I have been pain-free for over a decade.

Rolfing usually involves a 10-session series of 60 to 75-minute sessions. Painful areas are addressed immediately, but the overall treatment involves the entire body.

My first three sessions followed the recipe defined by Dr. Ida Rolf, who created the process, which is also known as Structural Integration. Those first three sessions are called the "sleeve,” and are designed to loosen and balance surface layers of connective tissue.

The first session is devoted to enhancing the quality of breathing and to work on the arms, ribcage, and diaphragm. Initial work also begins on the upper legs, hamstrings, neck, and spine.

The second session is designed to give the body a stable foundation by balancing muscles in the feet and lower legs.

The third session typically involves a "side view" for an understanding of how the head, shoulder girdle, and hips are positionally related to each other when standing. Then, the entire body is addressed in that context.

By the end of the first session, I found myself breathing more deeply, more evenly, and more consistently. Despite having practiced yoga for years, I had been unaware of how much I habitually held my breath. The session gave me a new appreciation for the value of high-quality, consistent breathing. At rest, the average person takes approximately 17,000 breaths per day. Restrictions in the way we breathe affect movement and function throughout the entire body.

My second and third sessions held a big surprise: I needed to re-learn how to walk. This re-education of walking continued throughout the series. Somehow, I had developed a walking pattern, a way of moving my feet and arms and how I held my head, that produced more of a shuffle than a full and complete stride. This caused strain on the muscles of my feet, legs, neck, and shoulders. Becoming attentive to how I walk did not come as easily as you might think, but the payoff has been significant.

I left each of those first three sessions more knowledgeable about my body and movement and feeling lighter. I began breathing deeper with ease and with all body parts in sync. It is a feeling I have been able to maintain by continuing to focus on two things I had always assumed I mastered in childhood: walking and breathing.

Rolfing takes effort and a commitment to truly understand the body and its interconnectedness. It takes a willingness to do the work. But as you begin to feel and see the impact, the value of investing the time and effort is undeniable.

Perhaps that is why, this past fall, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater engaged Certified Advanced Rolfers to support their performances at the New Luxor Theater in Rotterdam.

Sheyi Ojofeitimi, owner of Synthesis Physical Therapy and senior physical therapist at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, explains. “Our dancers have been described in the media as 'superhuman.' They are athletes who perform incredibly powerful feats at extremes of range and make it look effortless. As a result, their bodies take a beating! I work with them for five hours every performance day, but still need additional help to keep them at their peak. I prefer to hire Rolfers because they are experts at deep tissue and fascial work. Their in-depth understanding of the fascial system enables them to easily navigate its complex connections from superficial to deep levels, resulting in systemic release of tension, adhesions, and improved function.”

The benefits of Rolfing can be profound. They can be life-changing, even if you aren't a 'superhuman' world-renowned dancer. Just about everyone can benefit.

In my next article, I will describe my second set of four sessions, what happened, and how they affected me.

Locally, Westport Rolfing is celebrating ten years in Fairfield County. Owners Mikel Bensend and Sachi Nakayama are Certified Advanced Rolfers. They are located at 1071 Post Road East in Westport. (203) 216-9770.

Articles in this Series:

Part 1: Pain Free Living.

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