Robert Todd Carroll
A kind of deep massage developed by Ida P. Rolf (1896-1979), a biochemist and physical therapist. She authored several books on the relationship of form and structure in the human body, including Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures (New York: Harper and Row, 1977). Her dissertation was on the chemistry of unsaturated phosphatides and was published by The Waverly Press in 1922, though [Pathways Magazine] refers to her as a biophysicist . Dr. Rolf claimed she found a correlation between muscular tension and pent up emotions. Rolfing is the name given to Dr. Rolf's method of massage, which transcends chiropractic in that it is based on the notion that emotional as well as physical health depend upon being properly aligned. But in rolfing alignment must be of much more than just the spine. To be healthy, according to rolfers, you must align your head, ankles, hips, thorax, pelvis, knees, shoulders, ears, etc., in just the right way or else the evils of gravity will be felt. By being properly aligned, gravity enhances personal energy leading to a healthy body and emotional state.
There is a Rolfer in my hometown who advertises that Rolfing brings "a sense of integration and well being." The ad even quotes an M.D. who says: "Rolfing works. Not only can it dramatically change people's bodies. It can transform their lives as well." I guess that could be interpreted in a number of ways.
I first heard of Rolfing while watching the movie "Semi-Tough" (1978) with Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristoferson. Reynolds' character was a football player who got involved in several pseudoscientific enterprises in his quest for perfection on the football field. In addition to trying out est and putting a toy pyramid under his bed to enhance above-mattress performance, the character tried Rolfing. He was bent, twisted and pummeled by an old woman who claimed to be massaging and aligning him. I think it would be true to say that his body was dramatically changed and his life was transformed. Of course, this was just a movie, but that's where many of us get some of our basic notions about life and history.
Our local Rolfer may be aware of the fact that many of us get our ideas about reality from movies and we are therefore full of misconceptions. For he notes in his advertisement that Rolfing has "evolved into a gentle deep muscle balancing process that structurally aligns your body." (The word "gentle" is boldfaced in the ad.) He also claims that after ten sessions there are long term results, which include "Physical and Emotional Flexibility" and "A Sense of Integration and Well Being."
Rolfing can transform people in these dramatic ways, I suppose, because it is not just a massage but "deep tissue massage" which releases emotional tension along with muscular tension. Has this claim of the muscular/emotional connection been demonstrated by any scientific studies? No, but the proof is that it works! There are tons of anecdotes to verify Rolfing. Plus, Ida Rolf noticed this releasing of emotional energy while she was performing her, perhaps, less-than-gentle, massage/alignment.
Noticing and anecdoting: what true scientist could require more?
In fairness, it should be noted that some Rolfers claim that Rolfing is a 'scientifically validated system of body restructuring and movement education.' They claim that there is scientific proof that each of us has life-long patterns of tension and that realigning releases this tension, so that "overall personal functioning tends to improve." The expression `tends to improve' may sound like weaseling to you, but apparently it is crystal clear and scientific enough for Rolfers.
It takes one to two years to complete the Rolfing training at a cost of between $10,000 and $12,000. The training can only be taken from the official Rolf Institute in Boulder Colorado.
Barrett, Stephen and William T. Jarvis. eds. The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993). $18.87
Barrett, Stephen and Kurt Butler (eds.) A Consumers Guide to Alternative Medicine : A Close Look at Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Faith-Healing, and Other Unconventional Treatments; edited by (Buffalo, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1992).$15.96
Robert Todd Carroll