CAPA 1992-02-spring

Definition and Principles of Rolfing

Pages: 16-20
Year: 1992
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES – Vol XX nº 02 – SPRING 1992

Volume: 20

In the June/July 1991 issue of Rolf Lines, we provided a provisional statement of the principles of Rolfing. We asked that our statement of principles be regarded as a work-in-progress. Since the publication of those articles, we taught an Advanced class together and worked out what we believed to be a much more satisfactory statement of principles. We then presented our new statement of principles to our colleagues at the January,1992 faculty meeting requesting their critiques and suggestions for improvement. Michael Salveson previously had worked with Jan Sultan in a number of Advanced classes on the principles and suggested several important additions. Other faculty members also offered important suggestions and criticisms. Much of our discussion followed on the heels of a wonderful experiential and theoretical presentation by our Movement Instructors on the principles and new developments in Rolfing Movement Integration. We recognize how important these discussions with our colleagues have been and wish to acknowledge that this present article represents the work of many people.

As we continually re-examine and re-think these principles in the context of teaching Rolfing, further refinements may be forthcoming. We are, after all, still in the early stages of defining and articulating the field and domain of inquiry created by Dr. Rolf. If particular interests are the implications about the force of gravity indicated by Einstein and described in the new physics, and how that changes our thinking. Nevertheless, at this point in time we feel confident in and excited about being able to offer this short summary statement of the definition and principles of Rolfing Manipulation and Rolfing Movement Education.

A Definition of Rolfing

Among systems of manipulation and somatic education Rolfing is unique in its focus and goal. As Rolfers we are interested first and foremost in integrating the human body in gravity. Our training and experience shows us that bodies function best when they are well organized in gravity. In other
words, a structure integrated in gravity displays what Hans Flury succinctly calls functional economy. Since structural integration and functional economy arise together, that is, since one will not appear without the other, they are strictly speaking logically equivalent:’ Logical equivalence is a convenient short-hand way of calling attention to an important relation between functional economy and structural integration: whenever structural integration appears in a body, functional economy will also appear and whenever functional economy appears in a body, structural integration also appears. Thus, keep in mind that functional economy is necessarily implicit in the following definition of Rolfing.

“Rolfing is the philosophy, science, and art of integrating the human body-structure in space time and gravity through myofascial manipulation and movement education.”


Rolfing values human well being responsibility, self-regulation, and autonomy.

The values of Rolfing are promoted by educating our clients in how to organize their bodies in gravity to achieve better function. The practice of Rolfing engages the whole person in the attempt to integrate the body-structure in gravity.

As a philosophical discipline, Rolfing can be considered a form of Somatic Ontology. The Greek word “soma” refers not to our body as we think about it, but rather first and foremost to our bodily being as we live it. Ontology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the investigation into the nature and meaning of Being. Somatic ontology is the philosophical inquiry the appropriate relationship between Being and human being through the practice of transforming the human body. Transforming the body by integrating it in gravity not only creates the possibility of realizing well being, it also creates the possibility of realizing authentic being with-others in the human world. Thus, somatic ontology is concerned with articulating and promoting the fundamental values of well-being,. self regulation, responsibility, autonomy, and authentic being-with-others.


Rolfing is also a scientific investigation into the conditions which must be fulfilled in order for the body to function optimally. Beginning with the recognition that the human body is a unified structural whole which stands in an unique and uncompromising relation to Rolfing asks, “What conditions must be fulfilled in order for the human body-structure to be organized and integrated in gravity so that it can function in the most economical way?”

Rolfing is a science and phenomenology of normal structure and movement. The concept of “normal” is based on years of empirical observations of how gravity impacts with the human body. Normal structure and movement do not result from simply aligning “body parts” or from balancing the body with respect to itself. Normal structure and movement arise only when the body is both organized with respect to itself and the gravitational field. Normal structure results when the centers of gravity of the various segments of the body are organized around a central vertical axis called the line of gravity.2

Because of its alignment and integration in gravity, a Rolfed body will exhibit a characteristic ease, awareness, and sense of presence in all activities. Because of its integrated structure and economy of function, a Rolfed body will not expend as much energy as an average structure in remaining upright orin moving. In an integrated structure, the typical patterns of strain, compression, shortness, torquing, and twisting in the myofascial network begin to ease and be replaced by vertical and horizontal planes. As a direct result of the integration that the Rolfing method of manipulation and education creates, structurally integrated bodies exhibit a continuity of tonus and grace that is unique. Indeed, structural integration, functional economy, appropriate movement and openness within the articular system, grace, continuity of motility, mobility, and tonus, are all logically equivalent.

The phenomenology of structural integration and functional economy created by Rolfing is, by implication, a phenomenology of what constitutes optimal human form and thus also what constitutes healthy relationships in the human world. A phenomenology of human form is necessarily also a Somatic Psychology. As somatic psychology, Rolfing is concerned with the psychologically healthy and unhealthy ways in which human beings structurally and functionally organize and orient in space and time. Unresolved psychological /emotional conflicts and fixations tend to manifest as conflicts and fixations in how we organize and orient in space and time. As individuals approach psychological well-being and freedom, they begin to approach the ease of movement and optimal body-form which Rolfing articulates as normal structure. Therefore, structural integration and functional economy contribute to the realization of adaptability, psychological well-being, and healthy relationships.

“The phenomenology of structural integration and functional economy created by Rolfing is, by implication, a phenomenology of what constitutes optimal human form and thus also what constitutes healthy relationships in the human world.”

As a science, Rolfing is concerned with investigating and exploring the disciplines and domains of inquiry that are essential and specific to structural and functional competence. These areas of investigation include but are not necessarily limited to: the study of normal movement; the study of particular mechanics; the study of the role of the nervous system in posture, structure, movement and our techniques of manipulation and education; developing psychological theories and models that are based in appropriate structure, form, and movement; and perhaps most importantly, developing a language that coherently and appropriately expresses the nature of structural integration and functional economy.


The art (or craft) of Rolfing consists of the development and application of a highly specific and refined set of skills. Some of these skills are unique to the practice of Rolfing and others are common to any health care profession that employs touch and education to benefit others. Rolfing creates the possibility for economy of function and structural integration in gravity through the simultaneous understanding and application of the principles, strategies, and techniques of myofascial manipulation and movement education, i.e., practice the art.

The Principles of Rolfing Manipulation and Movement Education

The principles of the Rolfing method of structural integration are foundational. They state the fundamental conditions by which any individual body-structure can be brought more toward normal.

In order to assist any particular client in finding his/her own highest possible level of structural integration and functional economy, Rolfing practitioners first must be capable of recognizing and evaluating varying degrees of structural integration and functional economy in the great variety of body-structures. Then, in order to be able to formulate and implement a series of effective strategies for organizing any particular structure in gravity, the Rolfing practitioner must know and work according to the principles of Rolfing manipulation and education.

The principles of Rolfing manipulation and movement education are constitutive. They state the necessary conditions3;’by which a Rolfing practitioner attempts to assist clients in finding structural integration and functional economy. They apply to every possible body type and structure. And they govern any and every Rolfing intervention.

Constitutive principles are the rules that define the nature of some activity. They also determine the kinds and sequences of actions that are permissible within a defined arena of activity. The constitutive rules of a game, such as checkers for example, not only define the nature of the game, they also determine which moves are and are not permissible. Of constitutive rules one can say “always” or “never” do such and such or so and so when playing the game. Since constitutive rules define the game itself, breaking one or more of these rules is tantamount to no longer playing tile game. In the same way the principles of Rolfing define the art or practice of Rolfing. The principles state the necessary conditions for integrating the human body-structure in gravity. Ignoring or not abiding by one or more of the principles is tantamount to no longer engaging in the practice of Rolfing.

Constitutive principles must be distinguished from strategies. Strategies are rules of thumb. They do not define the nature of an activity. Instead, they state generalities about and suggest what are usually the best ways to proceed in certain recurring situations. “Always” and “never” cannot under any circumstances apply to strategy rules. Breaking a strategy rule may indicate either the creativity of an experienced practitioner or the limitations of a beginner. Unlike breaking a constitutive principle, breaking a strategy rule does not imply that a practitioner is no longer engaged in the practice of Rolfing.

To be effective, strategies must be formulated in accordance with the principles of Rolfing and the recognition/evaluation of how well or poorly a client’s structure approaches integration in gravity.

The difference between a statement of principle and a statement of strategy can be recognized easily. Strategies are stated in terms of temporal priorities and principles are stated in terms of logical priorities.

A strategy, for example, might be formulated in the following way: “Before the side bending rotation in this client’s lumbars can be handled, the toss of range of motion at the acetabulum must be addressed first.” This particular example of a Rolfing strategy, like all Rolfing strategies, is obviously formulated according to our understanding integration in gravity and governed by the principles of Rolfing. It states what must be done in order to effect a certain change.

Principles allow one to formulate strategies and are expressed in terms of logical priorities or necessary conditions. To say, for example that differentiation precedes (is logically prior to) integration or to say that differentiation is a necessary condition for integration neither requires nor means that differentiation must occur at some time prior to integration. It means only that integration cannot occur unless differentiation occurs. In the actual practice of Rolfing, for example, differentiation and integration can occur separately or together. In some structures, for example, the upper body must be prepared or opened up to allow the whole body to adapt to a new level of order that could emerge from work on the legs. In other cases, for example, differentiation and preparation of the shoulder girdle, rib cage, and axial complex for the purpose of normalizing breathing often creates integration.

“The human body is not a soft machine or complex thing composed of thing parts. It is, rather a living unified whole that stands in relationship to gravity.”

Principles do not state the temporal order in which Rolfing interventions must be performed. They state the necessary conditions which must be met any time a practitioner attempts to organize a body in gravity. They govern, therefore, the formulation and implementation of any and all Rolfing strategies. Strategies are formulations of the sequences of interventions designed to bring individual structures toward order, (structural integration and functional economy). Therefore, they cannot apply to every situation as principles do. They necessarily vary from client to client and session to session.

In the following statement of the principles of Rolfing, wherever the word “precede” occurs (as, for example, in ” back/front organization precedes side/side organization”) it should not be understood as a statement of a temporal priority, but as a logical priority, with the foregoing considerations.

I. Principle Of Wholism

The human body is not a soft machine or complex thing composed of thing-parts. It is, rather a living unified whole that stands in relationship to gravity. Therefore, the organization and functioning of the body considered as living and functioning of the body considered as a living whole person in relation to gravity, determines the organization and functioning of any structural-functional-segment and the organization and functioning of any individual structural-functional segment influences the organization and functioning of the body as a living-structural-functional-whole-in gravity.

1. Every intervention affects the organization and functioning of the structural-functional-whole-in-gravity and the organization and functioning of the structural-functional-whole-in-gravity either limits or augments how any particular intervention will affect the whole.

2. In order to optimize and stabilize any new level of order introduced into a structural functional-whole through a cycle of interventions, the newly emerging pattern of order must be brought to the highest level of available integration.

3. No principle can be fulfilled appropriately unless all principles are.

Because the principle of wholism is an overarching principle about structural/functional wholism and includes a statement about how principles function together it is a third paradigm (wholistic) system, properly speaking, it is a meta-principle.

II. Palintonic Principle

Order is palintonic.

This principle expresses and defines the unique spatial geometry toward which the practice of Rolfing always aims.

1. The manifestation of vertical and horizontal lines/planes in the human body-structure are indices of spatio-temporal order.

2. Back/ front organization precedes side/ side organization. Or, rotational patterns can only be effectively handled to the extent that back/front organization has been addressed.

3. Sleeve preparation/organization precedes core preparation/organization. The shape, volume, and organization of the core is a function of:

a- the organization of the sleeve, axial complex, and cranium.

b- available support and organization in the legs and pelvic girdle.

c- the relationships within the shoulder girdle, arms, and jaw.

III. Preparatory Principle

Preparing the body to receive order precedes establishing order. Changes introduced anywhere in the body must be capable of being sustained and integrated by the whole.

1. Differentiation precedes integration. strategies might include:

a- radial decompression

b- appendicular precedes axial

c- motility and continuity of mobility in the axial complex precede higher levels of integration of the whole

2. Congruence of segments pre cedes order. Or, bringing a structure into congruence with its basic type precedes organizing it in gravity.

3. Appropriate continuity of motility, mobility, and tonus in the myofascial and articular systems precede positioning of components/ segments.

IV. Support Principle

Order is a function of available support.

1. Organization and functional economy of the spine is augmented and/or limited by available order in the legs and pelvis.

2. Easy carriage of the head is augmented and/or limited by available order in the axial complex.

3. Functional economy at the hips is augmented and/or limited by available order and competence in the legs and feet.

End Notes

1. Logical identity and logical equivalence are not the same. For the purposes of this discussion assume that SI stands for structural integration and FE stands for functional economy. Logical equivalence holds when the following statements of implication are both true: if SI, then FE and if FE, then SI. Logical equivalence can be symbolically notated as SI FE and stated in the following way: SI if and only if FE. If a body exhibits SI it must also exhibit FE and if a body exhibits FE it must also exhibit SI. FE and SI are not identical. They are not one and the same concept. But, one cannot appear without the other.

2. From the objective point of view, for the most extensive and valiant attempt in print to articulate and make sense of our concept of the line, see Hans Flury’s NOTES ONSTRUCTURAL INTEGRATION. All volumes are available through the Rolf Institute or directly from Hans.

3. A necessary condition is a condition or set of conditions without which a phenomenon could not occur. Thus, for example oxygen is a necessary condition for fire. Without the presence of oxygen, fire could not happen. A necessary condition must be distinguished from a sufficient condition. Oxygen is not a sufficient condition for fire. That is, oxygen by itself is not enough to create fire. Thus, the principles of Rolfing are necessary conditions for bringing about structural integration in gravity. They are not sufficient conditions. Something more than these principles is required to effect structural integration, such as a competent Rolfer, a willing subject, etc., etc.

4. Palintonos is an ancient Greek word which means literally, stretched back and forth. Hence, it means unity of opposition or oppositional balance. It was used by the pre socratic philosopher, Heraclitus (c. 500 B.C.) The two following translations of the same fragment display how he used the word:

1- “They do not apprehend, how in differing with itself it is brought to agree with itself – palintonic harmony like that of tile bow and lyre.

2- “The harmony of the world is palintonic – like that of the bow and the lyre.

Palintonos has been appropriated by us to describe the spatial geometry of a structure that has been integrated in gravity. It carries all the meanings that Dr. Rolf liked about the German word Spannung. It can also be used to describe the lack of a conflicted and fixated organization and orientation (i.e., intentionality) in lived-space and lived-time.

For a more complete explanation see Jeffrey Maitland’s The Palintonic Lines of Rolfing in the Jan/Feb 1991 issue of Rolf Lines. As the lines of transmission, i.e., the lines of strain that appear in a body- at war with gravity, are eased through Rolfing manipulation and movement education vertical and horizontal lines/ planes, i.e., palintonic lines, show up in the body.Definition and Principles of Rolfing

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