Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Rolfing is kind of a gross word. But founder Ida Rolf wasn’t worrying about any untoward near-homonyms when coining the term for her unique brand of structural bodywork in 1971. Instead, she was focused on fascia, the thin connective tissue throughout our bodies that covers our muscles .
I had never heard of fascia before venturing to Fells Points Sanctuary Bodyworks to meet with certified advanced Rolfer Ray Allen. But after 90 minutes of having my fascia manipulated, I’ll never forget it.
HOW IT WORKS: “Rolfing resets the body to neutral,” Allen says. “It balances the body to help one have more energy, feel better and live a happier life.” And how are such lofty goals realized? You guessed it — through the fascia, which has been become a bit of a buzzword in the fitness world of late. According to Allen, manipulation of the tissue network works to release tightness and restrictions that result from the patterns of daily life — such as sitting at a desk all day or a nightly jog — by lengthening shortened fascia and restoring the elasticity of lengthened fascia. The entire re-balancing of the body takes an average of 10 sessions per Ida Rolf’s “recipe,” but is individually tailored to each client’s needs.
To begin the process, Allen observed my body when walking and standing, all the while remarking on what worked (my full range of motion and pretty good posture) and what didn’t (my forward-facing pelvis and tendency to lock my knees). Then, I stripped down to my underwear and lay on the table, then sat on a bench as Allen pressed on various parts of my body, often asking me to move another part to aid in the process. It was an experience unlike any I’ve had, but if I had to compare it to something, I’d say the sensation is a bit like using a foam roller on one’s deeper-down muscles (like those on the sides of the hips).
WHAT I LOVED: After my session, during which Allen worked primarily on my lower back, I actually felt like my pelvis had been realigned. I was standing taller and straighter, and when I lay down for bed that night, I didn’t have to make my normal adjustments to relieve the tightness at the base of my spine.
WHAT I DIDN’T: Rolfing is certainly no relaxing massage. At times, the pressure Allen applied really hurt. (Though, I should note, he was incredibly attentive and immediately softened his touch whenever he felt me tense up.) And while the effects were immediate and powerful, they were relatively short-lived. But, in fairness, I only attended one session, so I can’t speak to the long-term results of the 10-session package.
FINAL VERDICT: I’m a Rolfing believer. Here’s hoping fascia doesn’t go out of fashion anytime soon.