What Does Rolfing Have to do With the New Age?

MF writes: “I am inquirinq about a bodywork technique called rolfing which I had done. I read about it and it said it was about movement of the facia connective tissue but it is mentioned in the document ‘Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life’ as being new age. Could you help me out with tis question.”

There is definitely a New Age component to rolfing and although the practice is essentially a type of deep tissue massage, which has many physical benefits, there is quite a bit of hooey attached to this practice that needs to be exposed. 

Let me explain.

Rolfing, otherwise known as Rolf Structural Integration, was created by Ida Rolf (1896-1979). She was an American biochemist who studied mathematics, atomic physics, and homeopathy during the 1920s. Frustration with modern medical treatments led her to explore alternative therapies. A few decades later, she developed structural integration out of a combination of other disciplines such as yoga, chiropractics and the Alexander Technique.  She founded the Guild for Structural Integration in 1967 and today, rolfing is centered in Boulder, Colorado which is home to the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.

Rolfing is described as “a system of deep muscular manipulation and movement education” that reduces the “rigidity and tightness of the body’s soft tissue,” according to The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. It seeks to realign and balance the body so that the head, shoulders, chest, pelvis, and legs are in a better vertical alignment. Treatment consists of 10 one-hour sessions, preferably given weekly, starting from the head and working down to the feet. The cost of a session is around $120.

According to Medicinenet.com, “The underlying principle of Rolfing is that injuries, poor movement habits, and chronic muscle tension from stress, cause the fasciae (thin layers of flexible connective tissue that are wrapped around your muscles and form the tendons that attach the ends of your muscles to your bones) to stiffen. This in turn keeps you from moving freely and easily. The practice of deep tissue massage that Rolf developed more than 50 years ago is designed to loosen the fasciae so that your muscles can move more easily, which lets you unlearn bad patterns of muscle strain and misuse.” 

This sounds all well and good, but that’s because this explanation lacks the rest of the story – such as all of the aforementioned New Age hooey that Ida Rolf believed. 

According to Quackwatch, Rolf once said: “Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body’s energy field.” Her theory posits something called “muscle memory” which is allegedy the recollection of an incident “held” or “recorded” in a particular part of the body. Rolfers adjust the massage when they supposedly detect areas of “energy imbalance” within the body. Practitioners believe that one’s posture reveals past traumatic experiences, that Rolfing effects emotional and “energetic” release, and that this alleged release restores the flow of “vital energy” and integrates mind and body.

There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the positive effects of deep tissue massage, but nothing to prove that a body can be “balanced in gravity,” that muscles have memory, or that a person’s posture can reveal traumatic experiences which can be “released” through rolfing. And there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the existence of a “vital energy,” let alone the ability to restore or balance it in the body. 

This is probably why Aetna includes rolfing on its list of alternative medicine interventions that are considered to be experimental and “investigational” because there is inadequate evidence in the peer-reviewed published literature to substantiate its effectiveness.

And it’s also why the Pontifical document, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life lists rolfing among many practices connected with the New Age:

”Advertising connected with New Age covers a wide range of practices as acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractics, kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage and various kinds of ‘bodywork’ (such as orgonomy, Feldenkrais, reflexology, Rolfing, polarity massage, therapeutic touch, etc.), meditation and visualization, nutritional therapies, psychic healing, various kinds of herbal medicine, healing by crystals, metals, music or colors, reincarnation therapies and, finally, twelve-step programs and self-help groups. The source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy.”

Rolfing may not look New Age on the surface, but it’s there none the less, which means there is the risk of practitioners being involved in other New Age practices/beliefs that they may choose to incorporate into their practices.

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