Sessions 4 – 6

(excerpt from Rolfing® Structural Integration by Jason Mixter, Certified Advanced Rolfer)
illustrations © 1993 by Vickie Kovar

session 4 symbolThe Fourth Session

The fourth Rolfing session represents a change in the therapist’s intention and commitment. His or her focus is no longer on the superficial fascial planes and is now concentrated upon what’s called the body’s “active core.” Rolfers define “core” structures as those that lie close to the spine and the body’s midline; they are differentiated from the “sleeve,” consisting of the shoulder and pelvic girdles, and the “lateral” structures of the legs.

The agenda for the fourth session is deceptively simple, and the session may actually take less time than those which come before. The inside of the legs, from the ankles to the pelvic floor, is treated, followed by work on the hamstring muscles and some “organizing” of the back and neck. The goal of the session is to establish improved support for the structures that make up the pelvic floor. Although most of the work is on the legs, a client will also often feel a “lift” throughout the torso. The fourth Rolfing session seeks to establish an inner pillar from which the limbs can be hung. That is, the Rolfer wants to hang the body’s “sleeve” from the supportive “core.”

session 5The Fifth Session

The fifth Rolfing session is a continuation of the fourth. It is recommended that not more than two or three weeks separate these sessions. Its province is the relationship of the superficial abdominal muscle (the Rectus abdominis) to the deep seated hip flexor (the iliopsoas). Most people wrongly use the wide band of external stomach muscles to do the work of stronger, deeper lying muscles. During this session the Rolfer slowly lengthens and separates the outer structures to allow room for the inner structures to reassert themselves.

Sometimes clients become anxious about this particular session, especially when they know a bit about anatomy. They fear manipulation deep in the body and in the area of crucial organs. However, Dr. Rolf discovered an ingenious and remarkably safe method of examining these deep structures with a minimum of discomfort. Only a properly trained Rolfer should attempt this method, but with the right education and experience, the fifth Rolfing session often becomes more enjoyable and produces less discomfort than those preceding it.

The deep stomach muscles have certain properties that make them unique in the body. They are the only muscles that extend from the legs to the trunk. All other muscles of the leg or trunk attach directly to some part of the pelvic girdle. As a result, the proper training and toning of these leg and stomach muscles are usually better for bad backs than traditional sit ups.

In fact, sit ups are likely to exaggerate back problems back shortening the front of the body from the collarbone to the hip joint. But the balancing exercises of Rolf movement work are designed to bring health and vitality to the under used deep structures, and they can do much more than the surface muscles to cure weak backs.

A healthy, active psoas muscle also helps other conditions. The nerve fibers located near the psoas become stimulated as the muscles respond to new movement. Menstrual cramping, constipation, and excessive gas are often lessened as a result. A satisfying feeling of the leg trunk connection of these muscles often emerges as the client learns to move his or her legs from the lumbar spine rather than from the hip joint. The holistic nature of the body becomes physical reality rather than an intellectual idea. The “pelvic tilt” is sometimes taught during this session to give the client a way to practice moving with the psoas at home.

session 6The Sixth Session

In the Rolfing series, each session focuses on some aspect of the pelvis. Even in the second session, work on the legs and feet is designed to establish support for the pelvic basin. However, the sixth session is very specific in its approach to the pelvis. The muscle structures that are the key here are the deep rotating muscles under the buttocks. If the client’s legs are unable to function smoothly while walking, balancing the “rotators” deep in the buttocks will usually even out the operation.

By this time in the sequence, both the Rolfer and his client have become aware of the balancing of the pelvic structure. As the body becomes more symmetrical and organized around a vertical line, disparities between the right and left sides become less apparent. In the sixth session, this symmetry is enhanced and extended above and below the pelvic girdle.

The incorrect use of the term “posture” to describe the results of Rolfing can now be better understood. The Latin root of posture is “positus,” meaning “to place, to put.” Consequently, “good posture” usually implies the “placing” of the body into a position that is considered appropriate and balanced. The goal of the Rolf process in its sixth session, on the other hand, is to create a structure which rests on a well supported vertical core and demands a minimum effort to maintain while the person is standing. Rolfing, therefore, is concerned with the integration of human structures and not with notions about posture.

The results of the sixth Rolfing session are generally dramatic and welcomed by clients. A sense of “bigness” and space are reported, as well as an ability to breathe through to the spine; that is, the spine appears to undulate during respiration in a wavelike motion. People who have decreased or eliminated chronic back pain through Rolfing usually point to the sixth session as pivotal in their progress. Others, who come suffering from anxiety, may also claim a great easing of emotional distress after this session.