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Dr Rolf, Rolfing and Structural Integration

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 56 - September 2000

Jesus said "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same...then you will enter the Kingdom of God."
Gospel of Thomas

"This is the Gospel of Rolfing: when the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through, then spontaneously the body heals itself."
Dr Ida P Rolf

*The words 'Rolfing' and 'Rolfer' are a service mark of the Rolf Institute.

In the Beginning

Ida P Rolf was born in the Bronx, New York City in 1896. She was fortunate to have prosperous parents who were supportive in her desire for higher education (highly unusual at that time). She graduated from Barnard College in 1916, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and was hired by the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University) as a Research Associate. It was at the Rockefeller Institute that she began her research on fascial human connective tissue, which was later to form part of the basis of her true life's work – Structural Integration.

In the early 1920s Dr Rolf briefly moved to Switzerland to study physics and mathematics and while in Zurich she also seriously studied homeopathy. During the 1920s she also studied osteopathy, yoga and eastern philosophy. Later she also explored the Alexander Technique and the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski. All this study, particularly yoga, formed the basis of her own work which began on an experimental basis. That is, various people came to Dr Rolf and she would 'experiment', using her knowledge and intuition to help them. As she was slowly concentrating her ideas about the work, Dr Rolf created a teaching format for her work which consisted of a series of ten sessions to balance the body in gravity.

Dr Rolf's Structural Integration Classes

Dr Rolf taught her first class in the formalized version of her work, mainly to a group of osteopaths. It was held in Tunbridge Wells, England in the early 1950s. At that time her work went under the dual awkward names of Structural Dynamics (the theoretical aspect) and Postural Release and Integration (the practical aspect). Dr Rolf described the class as a great disappointment. She felt some of the students were attempting to steal her work and, probably more importantly, her work was being broken up into a series of separate techniques and combined and mixed with other techniques, and also being applied in a mechanical fashion; the result being something totally different from Dr Rolf's vision. (An example of this bastardization is the interesting book, Progressive Vitality and Dynamic Posture, by O and J Lawson-Wood.) In the 1950s she taught various groups of chiropractors and osteopaths around the USA until she realized these students were not the appropriate ones to carry on her work.

The turning point for her work's perpetuation came in the mid-1960s when she met Dr Fritz Perls at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Perls was amazed by the power of her work and credited Dr Rolf with adding many years to his life. Thanks to the persistence and insistence of Fritz Perls, Ida Rolf found herself teaching on a regular basis at the Esalen Institute.

Structural Integration, the name Dr Rolf now chose to call her work, began to flourish due to the favourable press it received nationally (USA) and a seem-formal organisation was set up; the Guild for Structural Integration which was headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. Dr Rolf called her work Structural Integration but other people were calling it Rolfing and were calling the practitioners of Structural Integration, Rolfers. Eventually Rolfing became the more accepted term and the Guild for Structural Integration metamorphosized into the Rolf Institute.

The Basics of the Rolfing (Structural-Integration) Process

The Rolfing process is a profound system of connective tissue manipulation and education; it is a way of restructuring the physical. It is based on two central ideas.

1 Most human beings are significantly out of alignment with gravity. That is, the human body is an energy system which, in the average person, is being stressed by a greater energy system – gravity. And to the extent we can align these two energy systems, we can create a better functioning person.

2 The organ of structure, or shape of the body, is the web of connective tissue which has a plastic property. Think of a leather shoe as fascia or connective tissue. After the shoe is worn for a few months, it takes on the shape of the wearer's foot. Or think of a tree at the sea-shore – the wind blows year in, and year out, and slowly shapes the tree.

The practitioner of Structural Integration applies systematic pressure (energy) to re-shape and re-balance the body structure. Tissue which was short and hard becomes soft and has more length and resilience. People look very different after undergoing the process. We can say people become more vertical in the field of gravity: see the photos.

Although the Rolfing process is a mainly physical procedure, its effect is to integrate and balance the psychological, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of man. Dr Rolf was not primarily interested in the relief of symptoms, whether physical or mental (this is the 'free lunch'); she was interested in raising human potential.

The procedure she developed is called 'the recipe'. It involves a series of 10 sessions. The word 'recipe' is somewhat of a misnomer as it is not a strictly fixed procedure to follow; after all, people's needs vary greatly. It certainly does not imply a totally mechanistic approach. It is a path to approach the process of Structural Integration. It is a reliable guide which ideally opens a dialogue of further enquiry between the practitioner and the client.

Experiencing Connective Tissue

Muscles, nerves, organs, blood and bone are forms of living human tissue which people are relatively familiar with. However, surprisingly, connective tissue, the most pervasive tissue in the body, is the most mysterious. It is the tissue which connects all other tissue together and gives each person's body its unique shape. It is the organ of structure and, because of its plastic property, it is the key to Rolfing. Here is an experiment to allow you to experience the connectedness and importance of connective tissue in Structural Integration.

Sit upright in a chair which has a relatively solid hard bottom. Use the thumb and forefinger of one hand to gently grasp the bridge area of your nose (see photo). Next wiggle the toes of either foot (keeping all other areas of your body motionless) and notice if you can feel this wiggle with your fingers on your nose. If you can't, try varying the pressure of your grip. You can also try this experiment by placing the flat of the hand on top of your head instead of on the nose.

This experiment shows how the connective tissue connects us. It should be clear that if any area of connective tissue becomes short or hard, it will cause compensations throughout the body. Structural Integration re-balances this web of connective tissue.

The Evolution of Structural Integration

Dr Rolf died in 1979 and the Rolf Institute continued to perpetuate her work. However, it is in the nature of organizations for factions to develop and the Rolf Institute was no exception.

Personality and philosophical differences led to an irrevocable split and eventually Dr Rolf's two most senior teachers and others broke away and in 1989 resurrected the Guild for Structural Integration to carry on Dr Rolf's work.

It was a bitter separation but fortunately shortly afterwards the deep wounds began to heal and I believe this healing process continues to this day.

As it stands currently there are now two organizations teaching Structural Integration. The Rolf Institute (which owns the rights to the words 'Rolfing' and 'Rolfer') and the Guild for Structural Integration. These organizations teach different versions of her work. The Guild is the more traditional organization following a path closer to the original teachings of Dr Rolf whereas the Rolf Institute has attempted to modify the original teachings, while staying true to all the basic concepts of Dr Rolf. Everyone agrees that the process of Structural Integration is open to further evolution.

Further Information

The Rolf Institute, 205 Canyon Boulevard, Boulder, Colorado 80302. Tel: (303) 449-5903; (800) 530-8875; Fax: (303) 449-5978.

European Rolfing Association EV, Kapuzinerstr. 25, D-80337 Munich, Germany. Tel: +49-89 54 37 09 40; Fax: +49-89 54 37 09 42.

Guild For Structural Integration, PO Box 1559, Boulder, Colorado 80306 USA. Tel: (303) 447-0122; (800) 447-0150; Fax: (303) 447-0108


  1. Will said..

    Is Allan Rudolf contactable these days? Anyone know how to contact him?


  2. Carl Troop said..

    Bravo Allen Rudolf, a great man, who Rolfed me twice and entirely changed my life. Would that he were still here in New York; I could have a few extra decades to live.

  3. Mike Howell said..

    Allan moved to China about 10 years ago to continue his martial arts studies. Unfortunately, we have no contact details.

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About Allan Rudolf

Allan is a Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner and trained with both Dr Rolf and Dr Feldenkrais. He now lives in China and is not contactable.


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