This article, by Eloise Napier, appeared in the July 2003 edition of The Resident magazine.A man I don’t know terribly well has just stuck his finger in my mouth (See Note below). Although not an enormously pleasurable experience, I’m quite glad he did it because it now means I don’t grind my teeth at night — which is going to save a fortune in dentist’s bills. He has performed a number of other apparently bizarre acts on me over the last ten weeks which have meant that for the first time in about eight years I am free of chronic back pain, my energy levels have shot up and my body looks noticeably different to how it did before.

This is all a result of undergoing a course of Rolfing, a form of deep tissue massage which was extremely popular in the 70’s but which subsequently fell from grace as people turned to more sybaritic — and less painful — forms of treatment. However, as a veteran of virtually every massage and osteopathic therapy under the sun, I can happily say that nothing seems to touch Rolfing in terms of sheer effectiveness on both a physical and — more surprisingly — a spiritual level.

At first sight, Rolfing appears to be just another form of intensive massage and after the first treatment, if I had not been forewarned by a friend of what to expect, I think it is unlikely that I would have made the effort (and gone to the expense) of completing the ten session course. But as Alan Richardson, one of only 12 Rolfers in the country, gently explained to me as he used his knuckles to release years’ worth of tension trapped in my ribs, Rolfing works so effectively because it bypasses the muscles and focuses instead on the fascia—the connective tissue which links and contains every muscle, bone, ligament and organ in the body. It’s quite remarkable stuff fascia. By constantly adapting and compensating, it facilitates movement and keeps the body’s entire structure in place. For example, if you bunch your shoulders so you can hunch over a computer, your fascia obligingly develops into knots to allow you to hold your position. Likewise, if you have a sports injury, the fascia will lengthen or shorten to accommodate you. Needless to say, there is a negative aspect to such versatility which Alan points out. “The body has great ability to adjust—if you damage yourself it will adapt in ways to allow you to get on with life. However, the system is very bad at adapting back to what it was before the injury occurred and, as a result, imbalances develop.” Hence we spend out lives carrying around the muscle memory of years’ worth of injuries.

It was only in the 1940’s that a remarkable American bio-chemist called Ida Rolf discovered that this process can be reversed: by manipulating and lengthening the fascia you can return the body to its original state of balance. Her technique — known as Rolfing — changes the neurological pathways and enables gravity to bring the body back into alignment. But to do this, the therapist has to go in quite deep and thus Rolfing developed a reputation for being extremely painful. Over the years, however, the technique has been refined and nowadays, whilst there are still moments of pain, the discomfort is fleeting. Another reason why Rolfing results in long term success is that you are treated from head-to-toe through ten specific sessions. Any underlying problems are rooted out at source and dealt with. Everyone reacts differently to the treatments and it was only after session nine (neck and shoulders) that I began to notice the major changes — a lack of pain, improved mobility and vision. For years my balance has been shot to pieces and suddenly I realized that it was back to normal. When I first saw Alan, he told me that I was lopsided and that my head tilted to the right, my spine was compressed (as a result of birth trauma and numerous riding and sports accidents) and my mobility was impaired. Standing in my bra and knickers as he scrutinized me, I felt extraordinarily self-conscious, but by the end of the tenth session, the self-consciousness had vaporized. I felt at home in my body — everything was straight, my shoulders had dropped about six inches and my head was absolutely vertical. Emotionally (and I’m pretty skeptical about these things), I have been feeling what can only be described as an extraordinary sense of well-being; it didn’t happen immediately but gradually developed.

In quiet self-deprecating tones, Alan mentions some of his other successes — prolapsed disks which have ceased to cause pain, scoliosis which has straightened out, flat feet which have developed arches. Having had my road to Damascus moment and been thoroughly converted to Rolfing, none of it surprises me at all. It’s not cheap, it requires dedication and at moments it’s definitely peculiar, but Rolfing should be mandatory for all of us.

Note: Sometimes inter-oral manipulation is used to treat chronic jaw tension. A finger is inserted into the mouth to release the Pterygoid muscle, a key contributor to Tempero-Mandibular dysfunction. The process is carried out respectfully, as non-invasively as possible and, of course, only with client permission. Finger cots are used to maintain hygiene.


This article appears in the book Rolfing – Stories of Personal Empowerment, by Briah Anson

In the past few years, I’ve eaten enough pain pills to fill the back end of a truck. At one time I was probably taking 100 to 150 aspirins a week, but it never took away the pain. I’ve taken everything from Bayer Aspirin to Tylenol #3, and there was nothing that ever helped.

I’d just get numb, and then I’d get sick. I’d have probably been better off drinking a quart of whiskey, which I’d tried. I haven’t taken a pill since I started going to see Briah. I’m a rough-in carpenter. I put up the sides of buildings, and its hard, heavy work. The accumulation of 41 years of heavy labour took its toll. I hurt all over. My muscles hurt. My bones hurt. I tried doctors and chiropractors and every type of therapy.

Two years ago, I became unable to do a day’s work. I couldn’t use my hammer at all. I couldn’t use a saw. I was just on the site as an advisor, not a builder. I had been thinking about retiring this summer, but because of Rolfing, I’ll probably be good for another ten years. I still hurt now, but not nearly as much as before.

When Briah first worked on my legs, it felt as if she had set fire to them from my knee down to my shin. Later, it didn’t hurt at all, and the same thing happened with my arm and left shoulder.

Before I was Rolfed, I couldn’t sleep. A lot of nights I didn’t get any sleep. I’d sit in a chair and doze off for a few minutes until the pain got so bad I’d have to get up and walk around. As long as I was moving, the muscles didn’t hurt as bad. The only problem I have is that I go to bed before dark and don’t want to get up until after daylight. I want to catch up on all that sleep I lost.

Even while Briah was working on me, I couldn’t hold still for ten minutes. She’d try to get me to stay in a certain position, but my arm would hurt and I’d have to move it. It sure is nice now that I can move around and not hurt all the time.

One of the worst things about the pain was that I couldn’t ride my horse anymore. I started riding before I could walk, and it was always one of the most important things in my life. Now I can jump up and down off my horses like a two-year-old. I even do a little roping too. I feel 30 years younger than I did six months ago.

There are some people who seem to want to turn their heads and snicker when I tell them about Rolfing, but others are really interested. They’re like I was. They’ve tried all kinds of other things that haven’t worked, and they’re looking for any kind of help.

The chiropractors I tried said: “Come in and we’ll loosen your joints because you have calcium deposits hurting you. We can’t get them off, but we can loosen them up so you can move easier.” But after a while that didn’t help any more. It felt just as bad when they finished as it did before they started. That’s why I was so glad to find Rolfing.

I had 40 years of cumulative injuries, falling off steel beams, having big walls fall on me I was disabled on the job because I couldn’t do the work. I was more than surprised at the amount of improvement. After the fifth or sixth session, I was as amazed as anyone could be.


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