One of the most common, one-word answer questions in today’s society often turns into a lengthly conversation in my world.
“What do you do for work?”….and when I give my answer…that person’s seemingly inevitable reply, “Ohhh really….I heard that hurts…”
Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about my profession. I could chat for hours, literally, about Structural Integration, bodywork in general, the body, different healing modalities, and anything else related to the topic. And I am grateful that some people are already familiar with Rolfing and its benefits. However, even many of these people have the misconception that it has to hurt to “work”.
I believe this thought is credited to an “old school” set of assumptions that Rolfing operated from and practitioners utilized in the first decades of the work. One of these ideas was the Gel-Sol theory, which maintained that the fascia(connective tissue of the body) would respond to immense pressure and heat by moving from a solid (gel) state to a more fluid state (sol), thus allowing great malleability and change. During that time it was believed this change was likened to an ice cube turning into water when pressure or heat was applied. Mistranslation occured: the more perceived change was needed, the more pressure was applied.
Ida Rolf started the technique in the 1940s. That was the decade of the Second World War, color television, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and movies like The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Cane. Many things have changed since then…(hopefully) including the manifestation of the work she created.
The Gel-Sol theory has been scientifically disregarded as the reason of why and how Rolfing works and replaced with more of a neurobiological explanation. Sensitive mechanoreceptors in the fascia are contacted and this causes change in the body’s autonomic nervous system, or the self-regulating systems(which are mostly subconscious). How does this translate? Far less pressure is needed for the desired change.
Still, the perception of touch is relative. In a session, intensity can definitely occur(as long as the client is okay with that), but pain should never be present. A client should not be clenching fists, grinding teeth, or stifling breath. These are all signs that the body is resisting the work on at least one level. The most important thing is that the client know that he or she is always in control, and can and should let the practitioner know if the tolerance level for pain is being surpassed.
Sometimes there can be what clients tend to call a “good pain”. This is normally a sign that restriction is being released or old patterns of holding are being let go. This is what Ida Rolf called the “key to the work”…finding pleasure in releasing the pain, instead of hanging on to it.
Ida Rolf was unquestionably ahead of her time; a true trailblazer. But the times have changed…technology itself has gone from color television to a digital world of internet, texting and social media. I would like to think we, as practitioners of the Rolf Method, have changed with the times as well. And I also personally think Ida would be proud.