Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 2

Volume: 44

Research is one of the missions of the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration (RISI). How do you either pursue this yourself or feel it can be taught and be beneficial to the training of Rolfers™ and our field?

A: RISI includes research in its mission statement. While we frequently think about research as being something that we, as practitioners, only read about, there are ways in which we contribute to research through our own practices. In 2004 I wrote an article for this Journal, “Overview of Research Designs for Rolfing Structural Integration” (Allen 2004), which is an overview of research concepts and designs that can be used by practitioners.

Over the past ten years, RISI USA has required that students write a case study of one of their clients in the clinical phase of the training (Phase III). The project was originally carried over from the ABR (Brazilian Association of Rolfing) by Pedro Prado. (See sidebar with resource information on page 5.) It includes a format for considering the structural, functional, and psychobiological aspects of the client, the sessions, and the Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) series. This project encourages student practitioners to organize their thinking about their client in regard to seeing, working, and planning for the sessions. It also develops a structure for discussing a case with another professional or for supervision.

When I am teaching, I use the case study throughout the two phases of Rolfing training to help both the student and myself see what areas of taxonomy, strategies, and tactics they are most comfortable with and which are more challenging. I typically do them after each cycle within the Ten Series: the superficial sessions, the core hours, and the integration sessions. In this way, students have the opportunity to reflect on the course of the Series to date, evaluate what has been working and what has not resonated with the client, and formulate a plan for the next section of the Series. After writing up a case study for a client, one student told me he “felt sorry for [his] other client,” because the process of organizing his thinking and taking the time to make a plan for the next stage of work was so enlightening for him.

Of course, the reasons that make the casestudy project valuable for students while they are still in class at RISI make it equally valuable for Rolfers in their own practices. The exercise of recording, synthesizing, and writing about our experience with a client and taking this experience forward helps us grow as practitioners. When we have documentation of individual process and then groups of process, we create a library of clinical experience from which we can glean indications of trends. These trends may be habits of our own practice (for better or for worse), or may correlate with certain outcomes of the Rolfing series. In this way we grow as both practitioners and as a profession.

Duffy Allen

Rolfing Instructor

Rolf Movement® Practitioner

A: Reading the question, I initially balk at the term ‘research’ and look to the mission statement for clarification. It says “To promote programs of research in Rolfing Structural Integration.” When I realize to my surprise that ‘research’ is not specifically designated as ‘scientific’ research, I feel more accessibility to respond. I consider fields like the arts and humanities, where so much of their meaningfulness does not lend itself well to scientific objectification. Of course, a grasp of the physical sciences is fundamental to our work and requires ongoing pursuit. Encouraging continued reading in the development of the pertinent scientific fields is a career-long endeavor.

I personally treasure that Rolfing SI is not a strictly scientific field and am drawn toward research in the psychobiological arena. The critical thought and time I’ve invested here has been pertinent and personally rewarding. I consider the concurrent self-referencing within the context of the practitioner/client relationship as research very worthy of pursuit.

Reviewing and reflecting via session notes is a simple, accessible way to cultivate this awareness in an ongoing process over time. It’s of great value to me when the client’s process is allowed to come forth and I as practitioner remain engaged without the imposition of my bias in the moment. And I like to emphasize this in my teaching. Assigning client records during training is intended to afford students the opportunity to review and personally reflect on their sessions. Maintaining client records is not only a good professional habit; objective note-taking also opens the process of subjective self-reflection.

With this in mind I come back to the original question. To promote development in the non-objectified field of relationships, I teach record-keeping as a technique to enhance students’ personal and professional development.

Sally Klemm

Advanced Rolfing Instructor

Rolfing Instructor

Rolf Movement Practitioner

A: Back when I was chair of the RISI Research Committee, the mission assigned to me by Michael Salveson was to repair the relationship with former committee members Francis Wenger and Thomas Findley so that research into Rolfing SI could move forward. I am not sure I was able to accomplish much. But it was interesting to hear what people conceived of as ‘research’. Wenger was still thinking in terms of computer-aided topography, to measure the contours of the body before and after Rolfing sessions. Findley and Robert Schleip and others went on to help create the Fascia Research Congress, which has been a great success in promoting the importance of fascia. We need to appreciate that in 2007 the realization of that dream was an enormous step, and it continues to be a vital legacy of Dr. Rolf.

But do an apparent changed shape of the body or the miraculous ideas discovered by the fascia researchers constitute a path that will validate our work? It’s not clear that it does. It will help the world in other ways, and it’s good to learn more about how body posture and fascia can be influenced.

The real prize would be to show that the Rolf ‘products’ induce lasting change in the motor patterns of human beings. Posture is the expression of motor patterns. It’s not a re-alignment of the physical stuff. The realignment fantasy is not so helpful to show the efficacy of our work. How could we more effectively show the lasting changes we claim?

The most likely pathway is by aligning ourselves with researchers already studying motor-pattern change: folks using EMG, motion-capture technology, video analysis, and so on. This type of study requires expensive equipment and skilled staff, so it’s not so practical to do it in-house at RISI. The likely alliance would happen as a result of research work that people like Eric Jacobson or Russell Stolzoff are engaging with, or in some new situation that falls in our lap as a result of networking.

For my money, it’s worth reflecting on the brilliant moment in which Jeffrey Maitland and John Cottingham, two of ‘our guys’, demonstrated clinical significance of holistic change in the work Cottingham did at the Christie Clinic. Cottingham had worked closely with the guru of polyvagal theory, Stephen Porges, who invented the vagal tone meter. Cottingham, out of his own pocket, purchased the device and used it alongside standard physical therapy (PT) measurements. He showed that when the sessions became holistic – when the whole client’s system was considered and treated for shifts in pre-movement as an example – not only did client symptoms and PT parameters make stable change, but there was an accompanying integrative improvement in respiratory sinus arrhythmia, what is now called heart rate variability, as measured by the vagal tone meter. This single case study (Cottingham and Maitland 1997), published in Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, to me represents the most impressive research into the profundity of a holistic approach to SI that I have seen, and done by Rolfers. For convenience, their article from 1997 is posted on the Resources in Movement website:

http://resourcesinmovement.com/ wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ Cottingham-3-Paradigm-TreatmentJOSPT-1997.pdf

As I contemplate the question about where research exists in my practice and in my teaching, it is this: to convey to clients and students the unfulfilled need to re-frame the meaning of research around the issues that are fundamental to changes in posture – how can we observe and make reproducible the small shifts that have larger implications in people’s lives, that integrate, that lead to better motor patterns? By asking these questions over and over and inviting others to contemplate them, I feel we will someday achieve the kind of synergy that Cottingham, Maitland, and Porges were able to realize.

Kevin Frank

Certified Advanced Rolfer

Rolf Movement Instructor

A: I know that Dr. Rolf was very interested in scientific validation, and was always looking for ways to prove that her work worked. The big problem in studying a holistic system like Rolfing SI is that you have to take it apart and study it segmentally. Of course, we would have simple blood chemistry profiles, and rangeof-motion studies for the gross physical body, but how do you validate that someone feels his feet on the ground, or that he is internally better balanced?

For my part, I am a clinical empiricist. That means that I study technique that works for most of my clients to produce the result of felt ease of movement and increased vitality. Like Rolf’s ‘Recipe’, I am interested in predictability of outcome, and the actions that reliably produce those outcomes. Rolf insisited that Rolfing sessions were both education and manipulation. This combination, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, delivers the ease, vitality, and resolution of historic adaptation that make up the real value and impact of the work. I love research to the extent that it supports my being able to claim that what I do is working by some external measure.

Jan Sultan

Advanced Rolfing Instructor

A: So, as far as research is concerned, I personally feel more like Odysseus than Einstein. What I mean is that, in my experience, our professional field offers incredible possibilities to explore, challenge, and improve ourselves. In this sense I feel I’m an explorer, and a researcher, as I’m providing space for questioning, wandering, studying, experiencing, and being at peace with silence, or with doubts, or not knowing.

In my experience, curiosity is a great motivator in our field. And curiosity is a propellant for research. In teaching I want to nourish this attitude in my students: curiosity, willingness to develop as human beings besides – or even before –building professional competence. I have to say that I also carry this same attitude, in a different shape, when I work with clients.

Further, I think scientific research is crucial, especially in our Western culture, for the development of our work and our school. All the incredible work and discoveries we are seeing from some scientists and researchers shed light for us, helping us to know from a different, objective, viewpoint what we experience – evidence-based – in our work

Research in different fields (fascia, biology, the nervous system, psychology, etc.) deepens our understanding of the wisdom of the Rolfing educational process – the language through which with we interact with our clients. Through research, we gain insight into the unspoken bases that allow our work to be so effective and why the process through the Ten Series has such logic and potential. Through this we gain more trust and confidence as practitioners. Understanding more about how the Rolfing process works frees our capacity to be creative in interacting with our clients, finding ways to be more in tune with their levels of availability. It’s not about applying a technique but about using a vision in a way that matches the client’s capacity to understand, feel, and integrate the information we give in sessions.

A solid base provides more freedom and options. ‘Evidence-based’ wisdom and scientific knowledge together build a more multidimensional capacity from which we can grow and communicate, and where any of us can contribute. And we all do, at the level that best matches our preference.

Rita Geirola

Rolfing Instructor

Rolf Movement Instructor

A: I introduced a questionnaire to one of my later classes in a European Rolfing Association Modular Unit 3. This questionnaire was based on the NAPER questionnaire from ABR, examining clients’ ‘status’ before and after a ten-session series. It had been translated into German with some changes regarding questions, which examine the cultural background of clients. The intention in working with this questionnaire was:

• Anamnesis – collecting all ‘data’ that could be relevant for the sessions.

• Examining the therapeutic relationship, how we were creating an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, openness, and compassion.

• Providing a base for strategizing and accomplishing single sessions and the whole series.

• Determining the individual goals of the clients.

• Examining the results at the end of the series.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to finish the evaluation during that phase of training, so I have the data but not the analysis. Nevertheless I’m convinced that the introduction of questionnaires should be part of the curriculum in order to give options for lines of inquiry.

The class spent time practicing interviews with each other before their first contact with models. The main goals of this were 1) finding balance between collecting ‘objective data’ and creating an empathic setting for the client, and 2) sharpening students’ awareness for reflecting on the process through the whole series.

For the future I’m very interested in how we as teachers can learn methods for scientific inquiry, and how we can include this in our curriculum and our teaching.

Jörg Ahrend-Löns

Rolfing Instructor

Rolf Movement Practitioner

A: The most basic skill that we can teach our students and members about the science of our work is how to ‘read’ research and be able to intelligently know if it is legitimate, or even how to judge its validity. As chair of the Research Committee for many years while on the Board of Directors, I tried to bring in half-day workshops on research literacy. They did not work, as the presenters were not oriented to our field in the way we needed the work to go.

RISI founded the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation, which is the place for larger funding for the SI field. Within our school, however, we still have the obligation, due to our mission statement, to teach a basic understanding of research; how to read it and, if interested, how to begin creating valid research. Rich Ennis, the Research Committee chair over the past few years, has created a beautiful way to understand the hierarchy of the various levels of research (see his article on page 9). Thanks to Pedro Prado, we also have students do case studies in Phase III, which teaches them at a very basic level the beginning of how to think critically and analyze what we are doing. The ‘art’ of Rolfing SI is not lost in teaching critical thinking and analyzing.

Future projects will include identifying the curiosity of new students and helping them formulate ways to begin basic research in our practices. Helen James, a long-time member of our community, kept track of something like 700 clients, recording data on the range of motion of their necks.

Our community has scientific minds and we need them. Educating certain clients about the scientific validity of our work has its place. The Research Committee is one of the best-functioning committees I have served on in our organization. If you have skills to contribute, consider joining us.

Valerie Berg

Rolfing Instructor


Cottingham, J. and J. Maitland 1997. “A Three-Paradigm Treatment Model Using Soft Tissue Mobilization and Guided Movement-Awareness Techniques for a Patient with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Case Study.” Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy 26(3):155-167. Available at http://tinyurl.com/h6g9hgc.

Allen, D. 2004 Dec. “Overview of Research Designs for Rolfing Structural Integration.” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 32(4):17-19.

Considerations in ResearchConsiderations in ResearchConsiderations in Research

To have full access to the content of this article you need to be registered on the site. Sign up or Register. 

Log In