This description gives a basic overview of the goals of a traditional ten-session Rolfing series. It is possible to work towards the same goals outside of the ten-session format; however, this format allows for a great deal of flexibility in dealing both with overall balance in gravity and with your particular problems or issues, in a way that will leave your body in good shape to hold the results over time. (Please note that the specific areas to be worked in a session might vary widely from one person to the next. I have listed some examples just to give a general idea of how it might unfold.)
The first session begins the work towards several goals. We start establishing a freer breathing pattern, frequently by releasing restrictions in the torso, shoulders and neck. We will begin to help the torso to “lift” and lengthen out of the pelvis, often involving attention around the ribcage, back and hips. The session will also begin work (which will continue each session) to bring the pelvis to a more balanced position. Often there will be focus on the restrictions around the hips, to ‘unjam’ the legs from the pelvis. Also, we will start working with the client’s specific structural issues or problems that need particular attention. Rolfers will refer to this and the next two sessions as “superficial” sessions, but we mean that in a very specific use of the word. We are referring to work on the body’s “stocking”, or the fascial sheath that lies just beneath the surface. It is important to lengthen and release that layer before moving on to deeper structures.
The aim of the second Rolfing session is to create a more stable base of support for the upper body. So the work usually centers around the legs, and especially the feet. By improving the function in your foundation joints (feet, ankles and knees) this session aims to give you a greater sense of ease in walking, and of ‘groundedness.’ You will gain awareness of your walking patterns and begin to sense how these affect structure and function in your entire body. This session will also usually include some attention to the upper, middle and low back, working to give more length all along the spine.
This is an integrative session that begins to tie the first two sessions together. It is the last of the “superficial” sessions and an important point for both Rolfer and client. Fundamentally, this session deals with what is called the “lateral line” from the head of the humerous, or upper arm, to the greater trochanter of the femur, or thigh bone. By releasing restrictions along the sides of the body, it removes tensions between the shoulders and pelvis so the major segments of the trunk can begin to move toward proper alignment. The first two sessions aimed to give more length along the front and back of your body; this session works to balance the front and back, so that when the “core” sessions begin, your body’s outer fascial layers are working in balance.
This session begins the focus on what is called the body’s “active core.” Rolfers think of “core” structures as those that lie close to the spine and the body’s midline. This is the first deep session (deep does not imply painful), a junction between the surface-layer work of sessions 1-3 and the core work of sessions 4-7. We will focus on patterns of tension along the inner line of the legs, and the aim is to have the legs more efficiently transmit weight and support the pelvis and upper body.
This session is a continuation of the fourth. It is recommended that not more than two or three weeks separate these sessions. The fifth Rolfing session creates an appropriate relationship between the superficial abdominal muscle (the rectus abdominus) and the deep-seated leg/hip flexor (the iliopsoas) located at the core. The iliopsoas is a key “connector” muscle between the torso and lower body, and it directly affects walking efficiency, breathing, length and stability in the lower back, and space for internal organs. The work of this session is key to having your body’s “core” begin to exhibit balance, movement and length.
Sessions 6 and 7 focus on the two ends of your spine – your sacrum and cranium. In the sixth session, attention will be paid to length along the back of your body. The calves, hamstrings, and back are all evaluated for tightness, and especially, session six has as its focus the structures affecting the sacrum, the bottom of your spine. Freeing the restrictions that bind the sacrum to the legs from below, and to the lower lumbar spine from above, will allow you to experience both more free movement and more stability in your pelvis and low back.
This session continues the work of the previous sessions by relating your head and neck to the rest of your body. The focus is directed toward balancing the neck and head on the spine. The Rolfer works on the fascia of the neck, opens the connective tissues around the skull and face, and helps to improve breathing further by opening nasal passages. This session also marks the end of the the process of freeing individual body segments, as the series begins to focus more on how the body works as a whole.
The final three sessions change focus again, in Ida Rolf’s words, from differentiation to integration. Now that your body’s segments are freer and less stuck in old patterns, sessions 8-10 aim to relate them to each other and to the field of gravity, to achieve an easy sense of balance. These sessions also give us a chance to continue working on issues that need to be addressed in your body, or any areas that haven’t quite “caught up” with everything else. The areas worked and the focus of these sessions will vary from one individual to the next.