Rob Miller of Richmond Rolfing works with a client. Photo by Jay Paul.
Various studies have shown that the way we think affects how we move. Excitement makes the body more alert; depression tends to produce slow, slouching movements. Some believe that by applying changes to posture and movement, and through soft-tissue manipulation, the body can also affect the mind.
The concept, called Rolfing, is named after the late Dr. Ida Pauline Rolf, an American biochemist who theorized that fascia, the skin's connective tissue, could bind together, restricting proper coordination in the body. She taught that through soft-tissue manipulation, tension can be alleviated, leading to the lifting of one's mood. Rolfing practitioners call this "structural integration."
"We look at a person's body the way an engineer looks at a building or bridge — we look to make it function better," says Rob Miller, owner of Richmond Rolfing in Carytown. "It's all about being balanced as a human being, and how to live better."
During a Rolfing structural-integration session, a client lies down and is guided through specific movements. A typical course of treatment is 10 sessions lasting 60 to 90 minutes, each about two weeks apart. Each session builds on the previous session's progress, and the time between allows the client to adapt physically to new patterns of movement. Between the sessions, Miller might suggest that his clients practice new ways to stand or to sit at a desk, or adjust the height of a chair. Rolfers try to help clients to see what's right with their bodies, rather than focus on what's wrong.
"When you're in pain, your world gets smaller and smaller," says Francine Alison Blum, who practices Rolfing in Richmond through her Body Cosmos business ( email@example.com ). "When you start expanding and opening up, you see things differently."
Rolfing first gained popularity in the 1970s, and has become more mainstream in recent years, but there is still limited scientific research about its effectiveness.
"It's definitely not a cure-all, but helpful to some [people]," says Dr. Hillary Hawkins, medical director at Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Center in Hanover County. "I always tell my patients that if it helps and makes the pain better, then they should continue it."