If you’re friends with dancers you may have heard about Rolfing—no, it’s not what you do when you drink too much or have an upset stomach. It’s not RALPHING. It’s a system of deep tissue manipulation (notice I don’t say massage) that was created by a woman named Ida Rolf and is really popular among dancers and professional bodyworkers. Being a rolfer is a process that is overseen by a pretty rigorous certification program and required continued education.
Rolfing deals specifically with the fascia: the elastic, connective tissues that bind our muscles together. If you’ve ever cut raw meat, you’ve seen the filmy white layers that wrap around bundles of tissue—that’s what’s being manipulated in a rolfing session. By manipulating the fascia throughout the body, the rolfer aims to re-align various structures, stretch tight fascia and help to balance the movement of the body and by doing so, heal common ailments and issues like tightness in muscles, poor posture, headaches, and backaches. It sounds like pretty lofty goals, but people who get rolfed regularly swear by it the same way that some people swear by acupuncture, or regular massage.
The problem with rolfing—well, the one thing that kept me from going—was that I’d always heard that it’s excruciatingly painful because it’s so deep tissue that it’s just ridiculously intense. Big secret coming up here: I hate getting massages. I’ve always felt like I have skin that is really tightly adhered to my muscles or something, because my skin is just not loose and any kind of massage has always felt uncomfortable, and I tense up like I’m in the dentist’s chair. I know, how can I hate massages, blah blah blah. I would still get them, especially to combat tightness and tension, but it wasn’t ever fun for me. And as a pole dancer, I have very tight traps, shoulders, and back muscles, and it always felt like I was getting ripped apart when an overeager sports masseuse starting digging in with elbows or thumbs.
So, I figured, if I dislike massage that much, rolfing is just not for me. But as I’ve moved into a world of movement and dance and athleticism, my boundaries and willingness to try new things have shifted. And in the span of a week, I had a bunch of people, randomly, recommending that I try rolfing. The world was sending me a message, sort of, I think… so I asked around, got recommendations, did some research, and signed up for my first session. I honestly felt that a lot of the tight skin-ickyness issues that I had with massage was due to very tight fascia and very tight connective tissues, and thought that rolfing might help with my hip flexor tightness.
Rolfing, in the most traditional sense, is often done as a 10-session series, with the first series done as an overview of the body, and the sessions thereafter progressing in intensity and depth. I’ve only done two sessions so far, but about halfway through the series is a “hip flexor” session which is supposed to be one of the most serious and “WOOOAH” because depending on how far you let them go, they may or may not move muscles up and around to get to the deep hip flexor and soas.
Rolfing is very different from traditional massage. For me, the sensation is like someone giving you a really deep, indian sunburn (remember those?) by twisting skin and muscle and tissue apart and separating things that have always been locked together. It feels like incredibly intense stretching underneath your skin, and there have been moments where I wanted to tap out, but after wards, it was a feeling like being very, very tall, loose, and released. Super super pressure applied directly on tendons and connective tissues. Pressing on a muscle while you’re being asked to contract it (OUCH). Deep tissue massages that I’ve had in the past left me feeling sore the next day, but this was like immediate pain with awesomeness afterwards– sort of the reverse.
Would I recommend rolfing for everyone? No. Would I say that everyone should get rolfed? No. But, I think that it’s an interesting idea to explore for people who are looking for a new way of dealing with a lot of muscular stress and tension, and I also think that like acupuncture, it is a type of treatment that requires an open mind. Research is sort of skeptical with treatments of this type, and definitely inconclusive, but if you have a rolfer in your area, it may be worth a try.
Monday’s post: Buying a Pole- Finishes…