Born in 1896, Dr. Ida Pauline Rolf earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1920 when she was 24 years old. Dr. Rolf could have chosen any field she wanted for her lifes career, but partly due to her own spinal problems related to arthritis, she began to delve into a little known field at the time. She was researching the structure and function of the body’s connective tissue, and its effect on body shape and posture. She researched the work of osteopaths and the effects of Yoga on the body. She traveled around the country between the 1930s and the 1950s teaching and treating people. In the 1950s and 1960s she brought Rolfing to the chiropractic and medical communities where it has become common practice.
She named her body changing techniques Structural Integration (SI), but the common name for this form of therapy has been coined after her name, Rolfing. Dr. Rolf had a mothering instinct, and worked on children that might not have been able to walk without structural integration. A desperate mother brought her child to Dr. Rolf when doctors had given up on him. She was told her son would never walk.
Prior to the 1960s not much was known about fascia. Dr. Rolf identified fascia as an organ system that covers and protects muscles, and connects with tendons and bones. Fascia also covers the visceral organs, and is commonly known as deep connective tissue. Fascia is a matrix, or non-cellular tissue that gives the body its shape. She was one of the first to discover that connective tissue keeps all the body parts separate. Without fascia all the cells of the body would be jumbled up together and you wouldn’t know where one tissue started and another tissue ended. Fascia gives our organs and muscles their shape.
In the early days of Rolfing, Dr. Rolf taught that for the procedure to be effective the technique had to be fairly rough and painful. But in recent years the technique has softened and become less painful, however it can still hurt, but usually in a good way. Techniques have evolved over time and the results have been spectacular. Clients have gained a little in height after being treated over time.
Dr. Rolf was famous for working on children and restructuring their little bodies. She had a penchant for kids, and worked on many young children and babies. She also practiced on her own children. After her death in 1979, her protg Jim Asher took over her practice. Dr. Rolf believed it was important to work on children that had structural problems related to posture, because it was easier to correct imbalances when they were young, rather than when years of bad posture caused multiple other problems.
The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Bolder, Colorado was established in 1971. There are now many Rolfing schools in existence around the world in 27 countries. Many massage therapy schools have evolved and included curriculum similar to that as to that of the Rolf Institute, but the Rolf Institute is the only accredited Rolfing school.