Several therapeutic movement-based treatments work with massage, or separate from it, to improve the body’s alignment, and through that, other physical complaints from bad posture to pain. Rolfing, Feldenkrais and the Alexander Technique have that in common, but differing approaches to getting there. Actors, musicians, computer users, athletes — both professional and recreational, and those of us whose bodies are changing as we age, have all claimed to get relief from these approaches.
Some massage therapists study them to supplement the health benefits of massage with the tools for patients to help themselves, on or off the massage table, including exercises and increasing mind-body awareness.
Repetitive movements, say, like that of a cello player, hunching over a computer, holding the body in an awkward positions due to laziness, habit, stress, emotional blockage or other psychological issues, all can contribute to pain, discomfort and inefficiency of the body. Proponents and practitioners of these therapies make claims of good health through improved behavior of the muscles and muscle systems, leading to better posture and more balanced body alignment, less discomfort and pain and reduced mental stress. The patient is guided, through hands-on body work and/or exercise instruction, to go beyond being just a passive recipient and re-think old movement habits, making changes in the way they carry themselves and move that will lead to looking and feeling better. Some people claim that their chronic pain fades, their hunched back straightens, and that others tell them they look taller and slimmer or more graceful and confident.
Rolfing was founded by Dr. Ida Rolf, a physiologist and biochemist in early 20th century New York City. Her approach used hands-on, deep tissue manipulation of muscles to reposition tissues in order to improve postural misalignments and sagging caused by pent-up emotions. Her technique separates opposing pairs of muscle fibers, which take turns contracting, and was originally called Postural Release, then Structural Integration, and finally Rolfing. Done as a “recipe” of ten sessions, it is mostly hands-on, although exercises are also involved, like arcing and pelvic tilts. Both passive and active movement retraining are used with the goal of creating a vertically aligned body that will stand up better to the forces of gravity.
Some have considered Rolfing more painful than other modalities of bodywork and others say much less so than it used to be. Many claim relief of stress, pain, headache and improved balance and flexibility. Certified Rolfers can be found at www.rolf.org/find.