‘I once had an osteopath in my class. We did some fine work on a little two-year old, but I was very impatient. And he looked at me at once, in a kind, old-fashioned way, and he said, “Well, doctor, there’s just one thing that you forgot. In your prescription you didn’t put in any compound essence of time.”’ — Ida. P. Rolf
What should be the spacing between Rolfing sessions?
I am frequently asked about the spacing between Rolfing sessions. Here are some general guidelines, based on my twenty years of experience of taking clients through the Rolfing Series:
- A good spacing between sessions is weekly or fortnightly and the majority of my clients do this.
- The spacing does not have to be exactly regular. In other words, if you decide to do weekly sessions you can do Friday session one week, followed by a Tuesday session in the next week.
- It is possible to do two sessions a week. This means that you could in fact end up doing three sessions in eight days; e.g. sessions on Tuesday and Friday in one week, then a Tuesday session in the following week.
What if there is a long break between sessions?
If you are doing the Rolfing Series you may want to know if it is OK to have break of a few weeks or more in order to take a holiday or go on a work trip abroad. It is indeed possible to do this without losing the benefits of the treatment.
In my experience the Series will stand a couple of breaks of up to five weeks, without compromising the treatment. If your break is six weeks or more it may be necessary to do a ‘catch-up’ session, namely a session which repeats key areas of the previous sessions. So for example if you take a six-week break after Session 5 (the front of the body) we would do a catch-up session incorporating the key elements of the first five sessions before doing Session 6 (the back of the body). The reason for this is to make sure your body is well prepared for the next session after the break and that all subsequent sessions have maximum impact for the overall goal of aligning and balancing your body and creating ease of movement and efficient functionality.
What is the shortest possible spacing between sessions?
The shortest gap between two sessions is two days, i.e. if you do a session on a Tuesday it is possible to do the next session on the Thursday.
Generally two sessions a week is the fastest progression through the Series and most Rolfers have undergone this schedule in the Series they received in their Rolfing training. To my knowledge Ida Rolf’s first trainees received two sessions a week in their training, a schedule that persists to this day. It is also a requirement to have received a full Series in order to be admitted into the Rolfing training. This means that all Rolfers have received at least two full Rolfing Series. It is clear to me that the experience of receiving the Rolfing Series myself is highly important in enabling me to work effectively with my clients. Embodiment of the process is the key to being a good practitioner.
Why is spacing between sessions important?
Each Rolfing session covers specific areas of your body. The depth of the work varies, but it can be deep in terms of mechanical pressure from the Rolfer’s fingers, knuckles and elbows. Your muscles and fascia respond and change in a session and it is important not to overwhelm your body by doing too much. Also in any session a lot of information is communicated through the Rolfer’s touch to your brain and nervous system. There has to be sufficient time for you to process this information before your next session. This processing time is crucial: the Rolfer provides the skilful touch and information to set the change in motion, then your brain and nervous system use that as a catalyst to make multiple minor and some major modifications to get your various body parts better functioning synergistically and your whole body better aligned with gravity.
What about spacing between tune-up sessions?
After the Rolfing Series it is possible to do tune-up sessions, the purpose of which is to maintain and enhance the benefits of the Series. There are two ways to do tune-up sessions.
Firstly, you can do a session every four to six weeks, spread out in contrast to the weekly or fortnightly spacing of the original Series. The groundbreaking work of freeing stuck connective tissue and the resulting rehydration of fascia is done in the original Rolfing Series. Once this essential work has been done it is possible to do one-off tune-up sessions to focus on the key areas (e.g. lower back, neck and shoulders) in confidence that your whole body has a fundamental pervasive organisation in its myoskeletal system.
Because your whole body is already prepared and well balanced from the original Rolfing Series, a single tune-up session potentially has a much higher impact. This fundamental structural organisation lasts for some time after the last session of the Series, perhaps several months. A session every four to six weeks will not only maintain the postural and functional benefits of the Rolfing Series, but even enhance or deepen those benefits.
The second way to do tune-ups is to do a three- or five-session mini Series once more than six months have elapsed after the final session of the Rolfing Series. This mini Series will cover the main areas of your body in order to reinforce and build on the balance and alignment gains of the main Series and also to counteract any myoskeletal imbalance and stress that may have accumulated since your last session. As this is a mini Series after a number of months without receiving any Rolfing, the spacing of the sessions can be weekly or fortnightly as in the main Series.
Ida Rolf’s compound essence of time
I have been asked by clients keen to do the Series quickly whether we can do a session every day. The reason we do not, cannot, do this is not only that it would probably be overwhelming for your body (although I have heard of people undergoing extremely intense courses of massage treatment in India on a daily basis and they live to tell the tale) but also because of the wisdom behind Ida Rolf’s ‘prescription’ of compound essence of time.
Incorporating compound essence of time into your Rolfing Series schedule means that sufficient space is put between sessions in order for the work to have its maximum beneficial effect. The space between sessions allows your body to participate in the process of achieving better alignment and functionality. I am not talking about your conscious involvement, although it can be very useful while doing the Series to be consciously aware of your daily postural habits (e.g. how you sit and work at your computer) and attempt to modify them in order to minimise unnecessary physical discomfort and stress. Rather I am referring to the activity of your nervous system which responds intelligently to the precise and skilled interventions into your myofascial system which is provided by the Rolfing sessions.
This process involves the rich interactions of your brain, nervous system and musculoskeletal system. As well as mechanically changing connective tissue, the Rolfing treatment provides rich proprioceptive and exteroceptive information which enables your brain and nervous system to make multiple fine tunings of muscle and tendon dynamics throughout the myofascial network. Some of these changes happen as soon as you receive the Rolfing session but much of this is an ongoing process of adaption which takes place in between sessions as you move through your environment. It is the cumulative effect of these many fine calibrations made by your nervous system and caused by the Rolfing treatment which produces the overall whole-body postural improvement, functional optimisation and improved relationship with the gravitational field.
Keeping the benefits of the Rolfing Series
I always recommend a tune-up after the Rolfing Series and am frequently pleased to see that my clients look even better several months after the last session in the Rolfing Series. This shows me that the effects of the Rolfing Series do not disappear easily — on the contrary the body continues to self organise and improve its alignment several months after the last session.
The Rolfing Series is indeed very effective, but naturally the stresses of life and the continuous force of gravity on your body mean that doing tune-ups after the Series is advisable. I normally do an eleventh session one month after the tenth session and then recommend the first tune-up method outlined above, i.e. to do a session every four to six weeks. The point of the tune-ups is to maintain and improve the structural integration of your body achieved in the original Rolfing Series and to counteract any imbalances that may have arisen afterwards. Tune-ups do not need to go on indefinitely. The key is to find the right spacing and choose the best intervention. This is an ongoing fascinating learning process, even for experienced practitioners:
“He who sees the inaction that is in action, and the action that is in inaction is wise indeed.” — Bhagavad Gita